francois_icon.gif sadie_icon.gif teo3_icon.gif

Scene Title Thorough
Synopsis Francois takes the necessary steps to settle into an old career in a new era. Teo provides moral support.
Date May 31, 2010

Queens: Near Roy Wilkins Park

Across the street from Roy Wilkins Park in Queens is a small apartment complex with a red brick exterior and landscaping that should be flourishing this time of year, but no roses bloom on the bushes and the branches in the trees are devoid of even the littlest sparrow. Inside, conditions aren't much better; although heat and power have been restored to the neighborhood, the pipes in the walls froze and burst during the prolonged winter season, and have yet to be repaired by the city's maintenance crews.

Of course, when you're an old associate of the Company and called upon from time to time by the illustrious Linderman Group like Teo and Francois' hostess, you tend to get along better than your neighbors do. Sadie, the dowdy old woman who calls this small, one bedroom apartment home and shares it with her eight cats, has enough fresh water at her disposal to have boiled a pot of it on the stove and steeped tea in what came out of it. Cream and sugar, two ceramic cups, silver spoons and a glass bowl of peppermint candies with crinkly plastic wrapping that the felines show a suspicious amount of disinterest in are all laid out on the coffee table in front of the yellow and pink paisley sofa that the men are seated on while Sadie continues to bumble through the cupboards in the adjacent kitchen, a lit cigarette clamped between arthritic fingers and an overweight Scottish Fold watching her guests forlornly from its perch on the edge of the counter, gold eyes bright and accusing.

The apartment smells like smoke and cat piss, the carpet hasn't been changed in at least twenty years and there are scorch marks on the sofa's cushions and arms, but there are certainly worse places they could be.

There are also better places they could be. Especially for what they are here for. Francois had imagined something reflective of what he'd envisioned beyond this, a place that was all sterile surfaces, bright lights, silver and white and a complete lack of cats. He imagines procedure and maybe someone telling him what to do beyond where to sit. Of course, he had also known he was imagining things, especially after picking questions at Teo until something approximating this had steered its way into reality and now he is—

Here. And stressed. His overcoat is hung up elsewhere, a woolen jacket dragged and half-zippered over a button-down, because it's still cold outside, no matter how much of the sun they can now see. Green woolen sleeves dragged enough to envelope his knuckles, and dignity in the straightness of his spine and lift of his chin. Dignity and tension both.

Ignoring the cat. There's been adequate smalltalk at the door — a kind of genuine European friendliness and gratitude, but he's lapsed into preoccupied silence by now as the rhythm of the woman moving around her kitchen overtakes whatever it is Francois might say, that he's already asked Teo. Does it hurt?

Teo finds the room familiar and promising in a way that would probably have Sabra Dalton tapping her fingers together like a Simpsons' character and murmuring, Eeeexcellent. The Company witch is nowhere immediately in evidence, however. There is only the three of them in the room, plus a varying and irregular rotation of eight whiskered faces, and Teo is the one perhaps second most at ease.

There's a background hum of tension to him, but there's almost always a background hum of tension to him. It was the way he was built, a cord spattering sparks or a screw loose in the ventilation fan, an uneasy one-note of strain that was there long before he was rebuilt in poise permanently on the brink of waiting for the other shoe to drop. He's making a divot in the couch and not a lot else, until he remembers— somewhere between drawing breath and idly analyzing the clink of ceramic for the scrape of gunmetal composite, or the cadence of her totter for something a little more adrenalized— to look sidways at Francois.

And slip a wink in like it's a secret, before he schools his scarred face back to neutral.

"Now then," says Sadie from the kitchen as she finally closes the cupboards and steps down from the short stool she'd climbed on to reach them. For someone so old, she's unusually spry, and maybe that has to do with her connections, too. She needs neither a cane nor a walker to get around her apartment, navigating around oddly-sized pieces of furniture of oak and glass, many of them antiques, though it's probably safe to assume that they weren't when she first purchased them.

The Scottish Fold breaks its gaze to cant a tired look down at the floor and, with a flick of its puffy tail, decides that jumping the scant few feet from the countertop to the carpet isn't worth it. It curls in on itself instead, leaving its brethren to continue quietly scrutinizing their visitors from the top of high bookshelves, glass display cases filled with dusty old figurines and the lid of an upright piano positioned against the wall furthest from the kitchen next to a window overlooking the park.

"Onto business. What is it exactly, Francois, that you need?"

Seven pairs of bright nearly unblinking eyes is unsettling enough without simple-difficult questions too. Francois had allowed himself to smirk, a little, at the schoolboy sharing of a look before Sadie's authority ribboned through the moment, forcing him back to pensive neutrality and letting go of where his fingernails have uneasily caught in a wrinkle of his jeans. "A favour, madame," he says, none of the tension so visible in his body language— at least to Teo— showing in his voice.

"I need knowledge enough of medical procedure and education that I might pass as a licensed surgeon. I have only a little formal education— outdated education— and learned my way from there, and now I have paperwork sufficient enough to build a career, but— "

Hesitation hitches his pitch — there's nothing necessarily rehearsed in it. Formality comes naturally to him — more so in English than it does French — and he seeks to explain in plain terms and clarity. Pauses here as he thinks, tries out phrases silently, feeling Teo's presence beside him in the dip of the sofa and the intangible warmth of someone close by, but manages not to glance save for a flicker of assessment for the peripheral blur that makes up his boyfriend. "But I need updating," he says, a wry tilt of a smile and a glance downwards at mottled carpet. "And Teodoro gave me your contact details."

Teo's words follow as a natural corollary to that, somewhat less formal, not quite as even, but characterized by insoucience rather than simple ease. "You did a really good job with my brain, the other month. I'm still grateful." He touches the tips of his fingers to his own temple, indicating the zone of his person that he feels she had most greatly affected. It was either that or a hand over his heart, after all, and while both sincere and ever so slightly brainwashed, he isn't that confused about the truth of that exchange or the relationship that's come of it.

'Relationship.' Is not Teo's usual choice of word for a single evening's visit to the living chamber of a lonely older woman, but he probably isn't referring to the fact that they are now all the way up to encounter number two. He doesn't look back at Francois, probably because he's gathered that Francois doesn't want him to. His arm falls again, fingers lacing with a schoolboy's attentiveness between his knees.

At Francois' use of the word madame, Sadie gives an indignant little flip of her hand, which pivots on a glass-brittle wrist delicate enough for the Frenchman to crush to dust in his grasp if he possessed any inclination to. The same couldn't have been true in her youth; she moves with purposeful confidence in spite of her skin's leathery texture and the opaque quality her eyes have taken, and if either man were to compare her appearance to that of he vibrant redhead portrayed in numerous pictures throughout the apartment — one on the top of the piano, framed in silver, sun-dappled and sallow in her wedding gown with off-white flowers woven throughout her fiery hair — they would have no trouble seeing the resemblance between them.

She had been strong and handsome, then. Regal in the same standoffish manner the Scottish Fold is, minus all the excess weight and rolls of furry bellyfat. Taking a seat in an armchair opposite the sofa with a black Persian lounging on its back, Sadie draws on her cigarette and offers Teodoro a smile around it. Her next words, however, are meant for Francois. "What's it worth to you?"

"Much." He doesn't mean to be facetious — it's just a large answer for all that the question is deceptively small. Unconsciously, Francois splays his crooked fingers, a common gesture designed to relieve their everpresent ache, and a reminder that he doesn't look like much of a doctor. The fact that he is white, male and appears to be in his thirties aside, he also has a piece missing from his left ear and a ribbon of scarring only just hidden by his collar. "Your power makes me nervous — I would not be here if it this did not have worth to me. It is the difference in how I choose to spend my life now."

'Nervous' is still not something he sounds. When he can't think of what the person opposite him desires to hear — and Sadie is kind of a sphinx in this way, not helped by the presence of so many impassive feline shapes all around the damn place — then blunt honesty seems to be his fallback. "If you do not mind me asking, what you consider it is worth to you? I would not insult you by presuming."

Teo's poker-face is pretty good when he's making a point of wearing it. And he is. He shouldn't be surprised, really; the only reason he and Sadie hadn't discussed price was, no doubt, because he'd been going through Sabra with a considerable amount of theatrics, kidnapped psychiatrists, leering across furniture the property of Homeland Security, the scintillating awareness that that mute aide of hers was standing behind him and could have had a gun or a power out at any given moment.

Would that this were merely a round of fleamarket haggling. The Sicilian doesn't do Francois the discourtesy of saying a word.

The Persian on the back of the armchair responds before Sadie has the opportunity to and lets out a shrill sneeze through its nostrils, turning its head away from the smoke as it rises in tendrils from the smoldering tip of its mistress' cigarette. With a cluck of her tongue, she reaches up with her same hand and uses the edge of her nails to scratch the underside of the Persian's chin, eliciting a lower, huskier purr.

"I don't do favours," she says in a voice that sounds like paper withering under an open flame, made thin and hoarse by decades of excessive tobacco use. There's a portal oxygen tank propped up against the side of the piano, and unlike the figurines in their display cases, it is conspicuously free of dust. "But you can't afford to pay in dollars what it is you're asking for.

"Don't deny it," she adds with a decisive flick of her cigarette, scattering ash across her lap. "I can tell just by the look of you. No, you and I— we'll trade instead."

No, this is not a part that Teo and Francois had gone over, discussed, possibly taken for granted though the Frenchman can't be sure. Still, he is not bad at improvisation — it would be hard to be bad at that, after seventy-seven years of living, as Sadie might know. There is a blink of concession instead of a nod — no, he cannot afford it. Sarisa could afford it but it's gone unspoken how little Francois wants to tap into that particular source, and further unspoken why he really doesn't, anymore.

Vague affront that he looks like it, though. He has a nice house, okay. And a car. A stable relationship and a coffee maker. There is only a subtle, prideful toss of his head before he responds. "I can trade," he agrees, with reservation icing his tone. "What, if not money I don't have, matches memory?"

"Science, medicine, academics— maybe this surprises you, but price tag aside, these aren't the things that most people come begging for on their knees." The Persian waterfalls off the back of the armchair onto Sadie's shoulder, then trickles the rest of the way down into her lap so she can run her knuckles down the length of its spine, each stroke following the grain of its woolen fur. "The knowledge you want provides no comfort in a world as unhappy as this one. Love sells.

"Doctorates?" Sadie asks with an arch lift of her brows. "Not particularly. A memory for a memory. Have you ever been married?"

And rigid-backed soldier posture is cut loose as Francois slumps back into the couch, green-eyed gaze narrowed as he studies the small, elderly woman sitting across from him as if trying to deduce if she's serious. If she isn't, there is nothing to indicate as such, and Francois can't help the vaguely compulsive glance, now, that he deals Teo's profile — one third helpless, one third accusing, one third something less readable but possibly verging on wearily amused.

Like he'd announced obliviously over vodka in Russia, once— "Non, I've never married," he says, and by now, a small smile has managed to work its way into the corners of his mouth, hooking an elbow over the couch arm beside him, fingernails picking at a burn mark without looking. There is renewed tension — it just isn't the same as the kind he had like he was in a waiting room for a dentist appointment.

Love whats. Teo's eyebrows have gone up on his forehead, laddering it with lines. It takes him a few seconds and a conscious effort to smooth his face out until it reads as entirely expressionless, barring the exception posed by the snarled rift exposing the gums and molars through his cheek. "I find it hard to believe that a couple on the verge of divorce would come to you to soldier their bonds back together with somebody else's memory of obligations fulfilled and trust kept," he says. "That seems antithetical.

"If you would please explain," and that sentence doesn't get finished, insofar as that it ends there. The easy link of his hands bridging his lap has not changed, long fingers prone and serene between callused knuckles, the lean musculature of his shoulders corralled inside the outline of a rectangle. He feels Francois looking at him, but doesn't look at him until afterward, turns his head to do it, brow coming into a harder knit as he stares back at Sadie again.

"Not married, but you've been in love." And she must know this just by the look of him too because — whether or not it's true — she doesn't give Francois the chance to protest this assessment, which is as abrupt as her first had been and leaves equal room for argument. That is to say: little to none.

"Your first," Sadie says. "The feel of her body in your arms, the way her shape conforms to yours. The texture of her skin. Smell of her hair. Maybe you were twelve, maybe you were twenty-one — it doesn't matter to me, and it won't matter to the next lonely soul who asks me for a first kiss. All this, and in return I'll give you what it is you need."

It isn't until she's made her proposition that she's ready to address Teodoro's accusation, the corners of her mouth hiking up even higher and wrinkling around yellowed teeth stained brown by the same stuff on the pads of her fingers. "Never couples," she tells him, her tone conspiratory, and it sounds like there's more to it than that but she opts to hold her tongue rather than elaborate except to say, "If that thought bothers you, pet, better you don't ever ask about the rest."

"You would have to dig deeply. I am much older than I look." His voice has gone chillier than it was several moments ago — they're even, in a sense, as the prices are steep. For a diary-keeping relative romantic. That he's also pragmatic stills the no that should be following, the refusal and the leaving rather than the silence and the sitting. His fingers curl beneath his chin — he's thinking, not only of the memory itself and the fact that it isn't simply a fragment of an experience but also, in a way, a piece of south France.

His other hand tucks into the space between his thigh and Teo's, the arc of fingers subtly felt. "What I need would want to be a very thorough thing," he notes, looking ahead, now, as opposed to steal glances leftwards. "You can do it?"

Teo's eyes close and open, blink-blink surprise. It says something about his upbringing— he's not sure what, exactly, that that was what he thought. That he was so wrong, at least according to Sadie's depiction, but what Sadie depicts is all too believable, in retrospect. There are people so lonely, out there.

Which matters, and Teodoro is willing to pretend up to a considerable point that it matters near as much as Francois' willingness to give up such a prize. He is sitting very still, fighting through some vagary of thought in his mind. He remains silent, but it's clear from the look on his face when his attention is sharpening back to the present, eyes coming to rest on Sadie with the expectation of an answer to his lover's question. His fingers twitch on his lap, the obvious urge stemmed.

"No more thorough than what I want," is Sadie's gentle rebuke. The cat in her lap appears to have drifted off again, albeit with one green eye cracked open in the form of a sliver-thin emerald crescent. No more purring. "Given your consent, and I can and will."

No more bargaining, either. Sadie is reaching out across the space between them, offering Francois her left hand and the gold wedding band glinting beneath her ring finger's swollen knuckle.

The hesitation is almost rude, Francois' gaze settled on her arthiritis-nipped hand and mute and still for several moments. He'd been dubious enough about memory being overwritten into him — it's a little graver and a higher demand of trust, that something is being taken away. About what else she could take away. There's a subtle rise of colour on his face that had begun when the bargaining had steered this direction, and he lets out an exhale.

Another glance to Teo, almost a question, wordlessly settling between requiring abstract permission and inquiring as to why on earth this trust exists besides a good customer review, but it only lasts a second. Francois' hand lifts from its lax perch on the couch arm, reaching to take Sadie's.

Teo intercepts. Hand out, fingers splayed, snaring his lover's wrist fast as a snakebite, which is probably no less telling than the half a dozen looks that his lover had given him sideways over the past few minutes, to Sadie's discerning eyes. "Take mine," he says, stiffly, and none too quiet. Blaring tenor through the quiet cat-stink of the apartment, awkward, weighty with the awareness of how fresh, isolated, singular his own first love was, no less melodramatic in its own way than the older parchment and layered tapestry of Francois'.

"It's— newer. A man, though. I remember him very well," two copies of the same film reel overlaid, one another, filling in each others' scratches and faded spots. "Years' worth, if you'll take it." Years that his current body hasn't even had the time to live yet. Teo's fingers tighten slightly around Francois' wrist, knuckles peaking faintly white: with certainty. Insistence.

It's difficult to say which might be worth more in Sadie's mind. The age of Francois' offering makes it more valuable than Teo's in that it — like much of the Englishwoman's furniture — is an antique. On the other hand, although in higher demand, heterosexual love is also as common in spring as the sparrows that are supposed to be flitting between branches in the trees outside.

Take a walk through Central Park when the flowers are blooming and count the number of men and women holding hands and compare it to the number of women whose fingers are interlaced with those of other women, men with other men.

Something changes in Sadie's eyes. They grow sharp, almost greedy, but she ultimately defers to Francois on the matter, expectant.

It's his decision.

This is an easy answer — no. A thousand times no. Or non.

Except that the squeeze to Francois' wrist makes him stop and somehow crumbles defenses, ignoring the light in Sadie's eyes in favour of staring at the Sicilian instead. It takes approximately four seconds to convince himself a fraction that maybe it's what Teo would want— as opposed to, say, what Francois would want, and fuck what Sadie wants— until he only goes to tug his hand free.

And doesn't go to offer it again to the woman opposite them. Better fingers roam over warped knuckles, edged scarred skin, and Francois deals a glance at Sadie in a silent kind of consent. It's only in the knowledge that it would make Teo go <:/ that he doesn't wrap the younger man in an embrace. Here.

Teo likes to think that he will have time to explain, except that time has nothing to do with it. He just likes to think so. Preferable to thinking about what the actual plan is, if 'plan' is the word for it, this mucusy lump of abject and miniature offspring, the great stinking mothership like the pregnant snail beneath its countless babes that he had seen in the woods once before Lucrezia called out the fireflies, a great gelatinous mess of cellular disorganization. All appetite and tentacles.

He isn't thinking very clearly. He is merely moving in one direction, and with certainty. Teo closes his eyes, squeezes, reopens them, gives Francois a smile that is probably a little weaker than he ssstrictly wannnted it to be. It is better by the time he refocuses on Sadie, the essential conduit and surgical implement here. He lets go of Francois' wrist and puts his hand out, matter-of-factly. "For you," he says. Not the most accurate choice of words. Possibly, he's trying for brave.

Sadie takes Teo's hand in hers, using the tips of her fingers and thumb to trace along the creases on the inside of his palm. Her cigarette, still lit, hangs from the gaps between them, a squat block of pale ash surrounded by an amber ring where the paper continues to burn, peeling away a fraction of a centimeter at a time.

She and the Sicilian have been through this before. His mind is not unfamiliar to her, and given their previous relationship it's possible that the old woman already knows what it is she's looking for. Her other hand goes to his temple and splays fingers there, long nails tangled in the scruffy wheat-blond of his hair.

Blue eyes close.

There is a full-bodied twitch where Francois might get up, but he ends up not doing so, even as Sadie reaches across to touch the Sicilian. To him, the deal is sealed even before her other hand drifts for Teo's head, sealed when Teo offered out his hand, and Francois does nothing. Allows some secretive contact, two fingers borrowing and hooking into Teo's backpocket, leaning against couch arm to the right as he watches with a sort of guarded protectiveness for all that he would probably lack defenses against what Sadie is doing.

Teo remembers how this works. The sudden full-psyche dunking into syrup, event and memory crystallizing like a prehistoric insect's guts in amber, with a sepia cast that has nothing to do with color. He remembers that remembering makes it go faster. He remembers that the first time he sat down here and manufactured carbon dioxide from the clingfilm stink of rancid cat piss, regurgitated notion after precious notion, he'd had an ability of his own to help him keep an eye on her. What she looked at, what she was permitted to keep for herself— or more specifically, what she wasn't.

He has no idea if this is a change for the better or the worse. He can almost convince himself that tactical secrecy is his major concern, but not even Teodoro Laudani is quite so accomplished a self-deceiver.

And there they go. One by one, like ants incinerating under the pernicious examination of Sadie McEwan's magnifying glass. Memories first, vaporized within their context, before the red strings of association, influence, emotion go down like bridges and up in smoke. There was this other boy. Yes, all right, there were a lot of other boys: you can go ahead and shut up. It means something, though, that Alexander was the first, in the only way that Teodoro ever valued.

Though there is enough about flesh, certainly. Moments that not even the coldest-hearted incarnation of himself could ever dismiss as interchangeable. Hamfisted tenderness and a slightly moronic incapacity for subterfuge— that was Alexander's face. Below that, the honesty of white thighs and pink knees, the occasional appearance of dogtags and jack-boots. Darien had had some good Tex Mex. They went out to eat, but only that relatively inexpensive cuisine, and spent the rest of the pre-midnight hours in the production of firefly jars out of some farcical conviction that they had exceeded their budget for electricity.

Teo had fewer resources then, not merely in terms of unsavory friends under criminal overlords, either.

It finishes with a clearing of his throat, answering a cue and the indistinct awareness that some conclusion has been reached despite the self-erasing nature of excision. An awkward blink of his eyes, tousled scalp nudging up underneath Sadie's palm like a big dumb dog's, and his own hand moving in a rare moment's thoughtless instinct to snag Francois' fingers. His eyes are dry.

She leaves him with a name and a shadow of a face, ginger hair and the smell of fresh water running over sweat-soaked skin, and there is nothing about her expression or the eyes that define it — when open — that indicates whether this is a small mercy, a deliberate act of cruelty or just an oversight on Sadie's part. A wet smear of spackling paste slapped over the hole where Jesse Alexander Knight had been.

When she removes her hand from Teo's head, her fingers are trembling with the quiet ferocity of autumn leaves snagged by a passing breeze, and she pauses to adjust her wedding band in an attempt to still them.

It works insofar as the shaking is no longer noticeable. "For you," she says to Francois, rising from her seat in the armchair, "it will take longer."

The black Persian lands in a lump of fur and claws at her feet, its ears folded back, maw parted into a toothy yawn as Sadie steps over the feline and gestures for him to follow her into the bedroom. The man, that is. Not the cat.

Now that Francois has Teo's hand, he doesn't immediately release it even if the younger man would want to. His thumb skims over bent knuckles, scarred palm uneven against the pads of Teo's fingertips, but distangling obediently by the time Sadie is levering herself up to stand. "Much longer?" sounds like polite inquiry instead of complaint — a slight tilt of his head in Teo's direction to indicate the other man.

Standing, though. The time for hesitation and bargaining has ended, and Francois isn't even questioning the relocation. On his feet and adjusting the sit of his jacket, looking back at Teo with a fair amount of unabashed study scanning the Sicilian's face.

There is nothing particular on the Sicilian's face until the Sicilian's mind settles his grip on the revelation that something is amiss. It's a very small thing, though. So small, he's obliged to dismiss it as nothing. So discreet, he isn't allowed to make a fuss about it. Not to hit an old lady or snap with a vulgar epithet or three, at any rate. He merely scowls, suddenly, a big mean dent in his brow to go with the ugly rift in his cheek. An unrealized squirm stops in his wrist before he gets further than bending it around Francois' forearm, doesn't finish shaking the other man off or anything.

Which is like progress, or maybe just sufficient personal dismay. Teo blinks very hard, first to clear his face of potentially impractical impudence, second at Francois, then some middle distance. The snot-faced Persian, and then Francois again. On the upside, he'd feel worse if he knew what he was supposed to be feeling about this.

"You should pace yourself." It probably isn't altogether clear whether he's referring to the quiver in the old witch's hand or the toll this will presumably take on his lover's brain matter.

Pacing is exactly what Sadie intends to do. She leaves the bedroom door wedged open, not to give Teo visual access to their silhouettes, but to allow the cats free passage between it and the living area outside. The Persian hops up to fill Francois' vacated spot on the sofa without much zeal, and places its paws on the Sicilian's thigh so it can work the tension from its feet by kneading the fabric of his pants between its toes. Apart from the faint prick of its claws, this doesn't hurt — or at least not any more than the mental intrusion did, a faint ache above the bridge of his nose between his eyes, the kind of pressure easily alleviated by a pair of aspirin and a tall glass of water.

Inside the bedroom, Sadie takes both of Francois' hands before sinking down onto the edge of the mattress, the source of the cat stink that pervades the apartment. There's enough hair on the quilt at its foot to knit a sweater if someone had the time or inclination to weave it into one long string of yarn, but this — pungency aside — isn't what draws his attention. It's the stacks upon stacks upon stacks of journals piled throughout the room, some with leather covers, others fashioned from simple paper or plastic with metal rungs for teeth, paper clasped tight in sturdy jaws. Boxes, too, and Francois does not need an active imagination to deduce their contents. Altogether, it's enough to fill a small garage.

She has to keep track of it all somehow.

"Do you have any questions before we begin?" she asks while deliberately ignoring the one he just posed.

A twitch of hesitancy shoots itself up Francois' left arm, but he keeps it to that — just a twitch — and doesn't deny his hands for the taking. He's still conscious of the ugly job done to his left hand, the white scars and mottled pink from the cold outside, the skew of bone under the surface, the set of index and middle finger. They aren't the hands of a surgeon, but it's worse to not have the sufficient brain for one either. It might be on his to do list.

His gaze roams over the small library he's found himself within, unease in the tension of his shoulders, newly returned. "Ah oui. What did you do?" He feels like the worst coward, but he has to ask, even if it's afterwards. His voice is quiet because the door is still open. "How does— how does doing such things not change a person?" She probably meant questions about what's happening to him, but this might not even occur.

"I took Jesse from him," Sadie says, "and for the right price, I'll give Jesse to someone else. How it changes him is something for you and Teodoro to discover together, hm?" She lowers her voice next, snuffs out her cigarette in a nearby ash tray and returns her hand — now freed — to Francois'.

They're still shaking. "I once had a man bring me his wife. Poor little thing. Cancer. I took everything from her that she was, and when she died and he found another woman — I gave it all to her. Immortality. That's my gift."

Rather than lapse into silence and allow it to sink in, she gives his hands as tight a squeeze as hers can manage. "Don't worry, Francois," she fairly purrs, all grains of sand, scratchy and rough. Her hand with the ring on it goes to his temple. "I'm only giving you a piece of someone else."

Francois' expression of mixed dismay and horror at this idea is fixed even as she lays her hand against his skull. Does not twitch away. This just in — dealing in memories is not morally correct. This is not morally correct — even before selling a relationship for a free education in medicine and surgery, that last part was enough of a hang-up for Francois to sink back into his usual slow-going reluctance for progress and change.

Neutrality filters back in. He wouldn't want people judging him for what he's just done and is doing any more than the man with his dead wife would appreciate gossip. "D'accord," he says. Translates to harmony, consent, a degree of supplication — or simply, in English, okay, and he closes his eyes as if bracing himself.

A piece of someone else turns out not to be entirely accurate. There are several, and she takes her time making them fit into Francois' psyche, rearranging both thought and memory in an allocation of space required.

There's a certain kind of art to it that others with the innate ability to understand might appreciate and admire the seamlessness of the finished product Sadie is working toward even as, on the outside, two figures sit immobile, statues in the half-light of a Sunday afternoon.

Somewhere, church bells are ringing, and for the first time in many long months, mist forms a fine dew on the window panes. Wetness where eyes are dry.

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