Un Ange


carlisle_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title Un Ange
Synopsis Francois receives a late night visitor.
Date April 25, 2010

West Village: Maison d'Allegre

The brownstone home, number 57 on West 11th Street, is three floors tall, all old brown brickwork as the name implies. A curving stepped stoop leads up to the door, wrought iron barring it off from its neighbours, with the building's number in brass nailed into the painted wood without any glass inset to give a glimpse of the space within.

Once inside, the immediate hardwood foyer offers space to hang up coats and set aside shoes, with a wooden, open flight of stairs curving up into the second floor. The first opens up into three designated areas — a spacious livingroom with a rug of earthern tones thrown in the centre, a generous hearth set into the wall with traditional log-burning capabilities. The walls are exposed brickwork, lined with shelving of a slowly growing book collection. Next to it is a dining area defined as such by an oval dining table, generous and able to expand to sit up to eight people, and usually littered with too many things to be good to eat at until cleared. The kitchen is barred off from the rest with a counter, all stainless steel appliances and a sliding door that leads into a modest backyard. Tucked away to the right is a laundry, cramped but sufficient.

The second floor has more walls, closed off areas — a master bedroom with a connecting bathroom, a hallway that slides between the stairwell and said bathroom, into unfurnished open space that provides linen closets and such storage. The third floor is similar, if reversed, and almost designed to be its own separate apartment, with a bedroom and bathroom at the back of the house, an open social space with a squat coffeetable, and an open, unfurnished space with a balcony hanging off it. The stairwell spirals all the way up into rooftop access.

The silence of the house implies absence to some — to Francois, it simply implies an uncomfortable amount of space he still has yet to get used to. There are rooms, whole rooms, that he might give away if such a thing was possible, and on the day that furniture was getting installed into the West Village brownstone, he'd already been wondering exactly who might benefit more from a two million dollar building than he does. But he took the advice — make a nest, expand outward, enjoy it for a time.

And so the bedroom is probably the most comfortable place for him to be. The living space isn't bad either, and something of a separate home has been made for Abigail on the third floor. At any given time, this might be where Francois is, with company or not — instead, he's almost defiantly situated in one of the empty rooms of the second floor, the yellow light flooding the room.

It's late, and he could be considering sleeping, but without further distraction, Francois is driven to the other kind that ensures he does not, no matter how tired he may be — thinking. Seated upon the expanse of carpeted floor, in blue jeans and a blue loose-knit sweater, he has his elbows against bent knees and chin rested on his hands pensively, utterly neglecting to read the assortment of pages, both written and printed, scattered on the carpet. It's Eileen's Ferryman plans finally given the proper perusal they deserve, except he's thinking about where certain people are right now (Teo and Abigail kind of like a horse race in his mind with the former already getting texts drafted in the very back of Francois' thoughts), and what he thinks about Hiro dying, and the guilty glimmer of hope he gleans from the thought.

Sneers at himself, in the private of his home, and picks up his half-full glass of red wine he's indulging in on his own. The mystery of the Cat and the Nightingale snags back his attention around when he's looking back down at the scattered folder on the ground. Blinks. Setting down his wine glass, Francois eases onto his back to better nudge his cellphone from his pocket, and slowly draw up his contact list for Eileen's name. Wine-muzzy thoughts link the bird-whisperer with bird-names, and he starts texting with the light of the room haloing his vision of the screen.

w h o space i s space n i g

"Casse toi," he tells his predictive texting.

Predictive texting does not answer back. Neither does the street outside the brownstone, absent of traffic and people-sounds, birds darting between trees and the occasional chime of a distant bicycle bell. These are noises that will filter in through his windows after the snow has melted — if it ever does — when leaves are unfurling green and flowers blossom on the knobby tips of long, sallow branches with bark the texture of worn velvet. All Francois has tonight to keep him company is the creak and moan of the settling house and something that sounds like a mouse making a nest in the wall that separates the bedroom from the hall outside it, small teeth and pointy claws turning the insulation into a bed of loose shavings.

It will be problematic if he bites down on a wire and plunges the second floor into complete darkness, but so far his presence in Francois' home has been mostly harmless. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of what's lurking downstairs. Somewhere in the brownstone, a door opens and shuts, and whoever is clutching the handle in their fingers does not attempt to muffle the sound. It isn't a stretch to assume Teodoro. In weather as dire as this, many of the boats that travel across the stretch of water between Manhattan and Staten Island have stopped running, making it difficult to secure safe passage.

Or maybe the Dispensary burned down.

Francois doesn't startle, but does stop what he's doing with a guilty kind of stillness. He would rather neither Teo nor Abby find him drinking over a scattered sea of paperwork. It's a little weird and one of them is bound to worry, as much as it's probably not one of the stranger aspects of the Frenchman. De rien. Short of throwing his glass of red out the window, Francois pushes himself back up to sit, rolling over with an artful talent for not spilling staining red onto cream carpets, scuffing to his feet and leaving his cellphone dropped upon the folder. Takes the wine with.

Because going to greet them first would be better, as much as he does it with a sort of laziness. Added illumination in the form of the second floor's hallway light floods itself down the empty stairwell — both invitation and courtesy, and guidance for himself as he moves. "Bonsoir," he calls down, bare foot hitting the first step. The wooden cage of the staircase has a bend to it, Francois only shadows and suggestion before he hits the turn around.

More disconcerting than any answer Francois could have received is the fact that there isn't one offered in exchange for his greeting. Robberies are not uncommon in Greenwich Village, or anywhere in New York City for that matter, and the number of fatal incidences have steadily been climbing since the Bomb claimed nearby Midtown. A semi-darkened brownstone on a well-maintained street in dimly lit conditions makes a perfect target for either an experienced thief or a bold one, and with the luck Francois has been having lately—

Well. Let's just say it wouldn't be a surprise. If it's Teo, there's always a chance that the Frenchman's words somehow neglected to reach him. Cellphone at his rosy cheek, another tinnier voice chattering away, ears numbed by the cold, exhaustion, distraction. There are any number of explanations, most of them simple, none of them particularly contrived.

At the bottom of the stairwell, where the foyer opens into the dining room, there are only creeping shadows and a presence hanging in the air that Francois can't quite place but feels familiar in the same wrong way that the situation does. It doesn't belong to his lover.

He's had some good luck, too. This house and the CC'd paperwork in a brown envelope he got in the mail several days ago about his fake illustrious career as a physician are both a measure of that, if you forget about what he did to earn it. Clinging like a lizard to a dangling nuclear weapon in a vertical ice tunnel slowly collapsing in on itself was a genius stroke of bad luck — Francois doesn't do too much halfway. His descent isn't very hesitant either, not until he is three-quarters of the way down do his plodding, bare-footed steps downwards slow.

Both his hands clasp his wine glass, and some subconscious flicker draws his mind to his pistol stashed in his bedroom, and the boots not on his feet. He thinks he's seen this movie, once. Breathes out a sigh that makes steam in air shock-chilled by a freshly opened door, and hopes nothing is so wrong that he can't help soothe it away.

"Salut?" Francois tries again, and drops a few more steps downwards and into the dimness.

In the wild, when animals walk into an ambush, it's over before their bodies are tipped heavily to the ground. Jaws close around throats, teeth perforate windpipes and the life is crushed out of them in the time it takes for the predator to finish securing its grip with its claws. There was a time, too, when mankind had to worry about monsters with eyes that burned like firelight in the dark, and although this was thousands of years ago, Francois experiences the same surge of adrenaline that his ancestors did when the arm hooks around his neck, pulls him back against a broad chest and starts squeezing the breath from him as an opposite hand seizes his roughly by the wrist, twisting the wine glass away from his body so it can't be used as a weapon.

Dark liquid roughly the same colour and consistency of blood splashes across the carpet and makes a wetter noise when it hits the nearest wall, runs red down the paint and gathers sticky in the space between the floor and the crown molding.

Carlisle Dreyfus does not say salut, but that's who it is; they've been in similar positions too many times for there to be any doubt.

Some people get complacant in their old age. To say this of either Carlisle or Francois would be inaccurate, or at least a sweeping generalisation that allows room for fuck ups like— this. Crushing surprise and Dreyfus' own arm drives air and tension out of Francois' body, fingers compulsively tightening around the fat belled wine glass with its contents dripping down the walls, although the glass soon falls too from crooked fingers, cracking against hardwood. You can tell things are expensive when they break on impact.

His right hand snags tightly onto Carlisle's arm, head compulsively jerking backwards for room, hissing air escaped through gritted teeth. Heart pounding with the same hard rhythm as any captured prey, Francois levers his bare feet against the ground, tries to throw his weight backwards into the broad-framed man behind him.

Francois knocks Carlisle back, and the sound of the taller man's shoulders impacting with the wall resonates throughout the house with enough force to leave a dent in the plaster as well. He's rewarded with a low snarl of pain, hot in the Frenchman's ear, and a fraction of an inch of breathing room that he didn't have before. Freedom eludes him. So do the details in the corners of his vision.

A knife slivers across Francois' ribs through the material of his sweater, but it's the flat side rather than the edge, a warning instead of a death blow. If he wasn't wearing it, he'd be able to feel the cold bite of the metal against his skin and the point puckering just above his belly button.

If Carlisle intended to kill him, he'd have several inches of steel buried in his gut right now instead of a rough hand closing around his jaw and angling his face toward the ceiling. "Where's Kozlow?"

Getting stabbed is the worst. Up there with burning. Francois' body gives a start at the recognisable feeling of a knife hovering its threat through jewel blue wool, stunning him into more stillness than a head blow might have done, his breathing becoming shallow and hurried as he waits for it.

It doesn't come, and the immediate vicinity is filled with Carlisle's snarled question and the Frenchman's adrenalinised breathing — he assumes only he's hearing the sound of his blood flushing in pounding thuds through his body. Warm enough that the icy tundra that New York has become is a distant dream right outside the front door this particular breed of monster casually opened and shut. It's possible Carlisle can detect the beat of his heart through his back, at his throat beneath his palm.

"Dead," is bleated out, impulsively, his snarled hand gripping onto the other man's knife wielding sleeve. Doesn't thrash for now, not with that hovering tip of steel threatening to gut him, but the winding tension coiling up Francois' lithe frame practically vibrates in conserved energy.

The answer does not appear to surprise Dreyfus. There's certainly no remorse in the affirmative noise he makes at Francois' confession. No explanation as to why he isn't upset to learn he's down one man, either, but explanations turn out not to be necessary. The shadows in the kitchen take shape, and two men swathed in black that Francois doesn't recognize loop around the counter at a lazy crawl, exploring their surroundings like a pair of lean, dark dogs with eyes more interested in Francois' possessions than Francois himself or what Dreyfus is doing to him.

Evidently, he's added to his ranks since the incident at Sea View in which he lost Sasha, and the fact that both of the men are young, able-bodied and capable of restraining Francois without expending the amount of energy that Dreyfus is sends a clear message.

This is personal. For the first time, he's taking from someone else's fear and suffering, and while it might not be pleasure it's something close to it. Satisfaction of a sort. "How?"

Get out of my fucking house would probably be a waste of air and time, couldn't imagine separating it from the expletive, and though Francois can be verbose, especially on paper, long years have also taught him how to edit out the more useless of words. Because they won't. Not on his command. He only spares a grunt at the back of his throat at the sight of still more intruders, almost shrinking against Dreyfus — it's a common myth. If you cut off one head of the hydra, it grows two more.

"Fils de pute. Put him down like your son, ah? Like a dog."

Making his elbow into a sharp and jarring angle, Francois thrusts it back into Dreyfus' belly, but doesn't wait or even put as much investment in the blow as he does wrench himself into the loop of the (apparently) older man's knife-wielding arm, twisting to throw himself into freedom and launching for the staircase.

Of all the things Francois could have said, that probably ranks among the very worst. While Dreyfus is snapping back on the reins attached to his anger, the Frenchman makes his move, and perhaps if Dreyfus was twenty years younger he might be able to successfully combat it at the same time he wages his covert war on his emotions.

Reflexes kick in half a second too late. The knife takes a slice out of Francois' sweater in the scuffle and leaves a stinging red mark between two of his ribs that he's too energized to feel even as he's hauling himself up the stairs.

Dreyfus' companions track his movement without taking chase. Patient hounds, they wait for the command to pursue, and when it comes in the form of a raised hand, they move swiftly past their employer and lope after Francois two steps at a time.

Somewhere up there, his bedroom is dark, with a black pistol tucked somewhere safe and secure, and a landline leading out into the world. In the split second Francois has to decide when he's free of the man and bearing a slash to his chest he doesn't feel at all right now, maybe later, it seems the better option than rushing bare foot out into arctic temperatures in a New York neighbourhood, and there isn't room in his head for second guessing as he makes his rush up the stairwell with significantly less grace and ease as Carlisle's two hounds.

His bare feet make the whole structure shudder with each impact, and his shoulder clocks against the curving rails as he meets the sharp bend at the middle. Hands like claws, snarling them onto the railing to swing himself up and around, the roof of his foot catches against hard wood and bruising his shin as that leg buckles. Slows him, but doesn't stop him.

What does are two pairs of hands gloved in thick, coarse leather that catch Francois by the shoulder and arm. One shifts from his elbow to grab a headful of tousled brown hair between its fingers before driving his skull into the wall, just once, because once is all that's necessary. The blow doesn't steal consciousness away from him, but the effect is something like having his legs knocked out from under him by a car accelerating into a crosswalk. Skin splits, blood runs hot down the side of Francois' face and pain fills the cavity between his ears, expanding like a sponge soaked in ice cold water.

"I can't seem to recall you explaining how you managed to survive our last encounter outside Butte La Rose," Dreyfus is saying, and Francois may find some small amount of satisfaction in the fact that his voice is hoarser than it was before. If such a thing is possible, there's more gravel in it.

You don't have to be a doctor to know that head wounds always bleed more than they imply in terms of damage. This is small reassurance when Francois can't will away the sudden dizziness and aching pain, the slackness of his body that isn't quite ready to give up. He's a collection of resistant limbs as he loosely tries to shake the grip secured on him, despite the way he's crumpled against the wall. Eyes are shockingly green in contrast to the thick red lines painting over his skin, slightly unfocused.

A huff of reedy laughter unwillingly leaves his chest. "Un ange." You don't have to be fluent in French to guess he means an angel. Even if she'd dyed her hair at the time, and came accompanied by a smaller Englishwoman and a time traveler.

"Perhaps the best argument against the existence of God I've ever heard." Stiff and immobile, one hand splayed across his midsection where Francois elbowed him, Dreyfus watches his men manhandle the hostage between them as they drag Francois back down the stairs and force him to his knees on the foyer floor. "Where was your angel when I sent Kozlow for Laurel Bail?" he asks. "Why didn't the Lord intervene and spare Father Cipriani or the Gibson girl?"

Dreyfus' wife. Dreyfus' son. He doesn't invoke their names, but his accusatory tone makes those additions clear. "I waited until I was certain the crisis that brought your people to Ryazan had passed before starting this, and do you know what I learned while doing my research?"

There is nothing willing about Francois, from the two men dragging him up off the wall and finally on his knees in the foyer, to the fact he studies spattered wine on the ground as opposed to the man talking to him.

The ringing in his head is eased to a dull whine, both hands compulsively making fists even as a rivet of pain passes up as far as his wrist on his left. Sasha's handiwork is easily written there, as with the modest, bite-size piece taken out of his left ear, plainly visible to Carlisle from the cant of the Frenchman's head. However, he is less willing to respond than he is to look, so Francois does the latter. Resentfully, he casts a look upwards, and keeps his mouth in a flat line of anger he hasn't the tools to express in other ways.

Dark eyes move between Francois' mangled hand and the chunks missing from his ear. There's less satisfaction to be taken in his physical condition than there is in this, but it's impossible for him to miss the way his gaze catches on the injuries and begins a slow, churning process behind its stare. "I don't know if you're already aware," he says, "but several of the friends you've made here in New York used to belong to an organization called PARIAH. Firestarters, bus bombers, terrorists. They don't go by the same name now, of course. There's too much negative publicity attached to their old image.

"Do me the courtesy of looking up Cameron Spalding the next time you have the opportunity. Washington Irving. Pinehearst. Citysoft Incorporated, while you're memorizing names."

"And you will afford me that opportunity?"

A brisk, compulsive shake of his head has ruby droplets flinging off the damp hair at his temple, marking the black trouser leg of the employed muscle standing at his shoulder, Francois squeezing his eyes shut and open again. "And did you warn your boy about what the Vanguard was, Carlisle?" His head is heavy on his neck, turning his face up to drink in the man's speculative gaze, mangled hand twitching a little beneath the way Dreyfus' attention picks it out.

"Or maybe that is what attracted him, oui? Meurtrier." Being an assassin, Carlisle Dreyfus has lived up to the accusation of murderer many times, but there is a very definite accusation in Francois' hissing of the word, as to who killed Robbie Dreyfus.

"My son idolized Kozlow and Zhukovsky," Dreyfus says, crouching down in front of Francois with his large hands resting on his knees, knife flush against his thigh. "War hero. Prestigious artist. All he knew his father as was a teacher. Department Chair of Philosophy and Modern Languages at Ryazan State University. I sometimes wonder, if I hadn't retired, whether or not Robbie would still be alive, if somehow I could have kept him under my own wing—"

The corners of Dreyfus' mouth crease into a smile with absolutely no mirth in it. "If you had a child, you'd understand."

There's a jarring, twitchy movement that shrugs through Francois' shoulders beneath the hands of the men keeping him on his knees, when Dreyfus descends to his level. Down here, his fear is more overt, eyes owlish despite the defiant steely set of his jaw and fisted hands, already pale skin gone even more drained, tension pinching at the corners of his mouth. Breathing erratic, even the promise of being able to Google Cameron Spalding someday at painstaking WPM doesn't completely deny the threat of death.

He doubts any angels are going to appear now, and if they do, they'll get hurt also. "They understand, you know?" A tremor in Francois' voice hitches the questioning tone up unnecessarily. "None of them wanted him dead, not as much as he wanted them dead for his idols. And they still think you are crazy."

"I am," Dreyfus concedes finally, "and so are you. The definition of insanity, according to Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." The knife at his thigh twitches. "None of us will ever change, Francois. Still, I wish that we could." He straightens his arms, hands still braced against his knees, and rises from his crouch, limbs unfolding with a great deal of care. Although Francois can't see the injuries beneath his clothes, he can sense in Dreyfus' movements that he did not escape Sea View entirely unscathed.

"Now," he says. "The Francois Allegre that I remember wouldn't allow an unarmed man to be put down like a dog, especially not one who might be in possession of valuable information. I'm going to call your little bluff."

With the same intensity of a predator eyeing movement, as much as the analogy is inaccurate in other respects, Francois keeps cattish attention on the blade in Dreyfus' hand as if he only just noticed it. The shadows are still deep down here, the light from upstairs continuing to glow down the stairwell like some off-angled mockery of heavenly glow, catching in the steel. Meanwhile, he manages to arrange his expression into something neutral, even if he can't rid himself of lines of tension. Unwilling to go back on the lie, Francois briefly pushes up against the hands on his shoulders, as if in need of an outlet to rid himself of panicked restlessness.

"The collapse half-killed him," he mutters on the tail of Dreyfus' words, the quiet rasp everpresent in his voice gone harsher. "Other people are rarely as fortunate as you and I."

Another gesture of Dreyfus' hand, and one of the men at Francois' sides yank his behind his back. A moment later, he can feel the sting of piano wire being wound around his wrists so tightly that it cuts into his skin, draws blood to its surface and further restricts his movements. "I have more faith in my assessment of you than I did Kozlow or Daiyu," Dreyfus says. "If you're still alive by this time tomorrow, I'll know that it was not misplaced. If I'm mistaken— "

The sound of the knife's hilt coming down across Francois' nose with enough power behind it to splinter its bridge resonates through the brownstone.

"— I'll have one less combatant to take into consideration the next time I cross paths with Harrison."

The crunch resonates through his skull loud enough to drown out half of Dreyfus words, Francois only barely listening when they do filter through when all he can smell is seemingly pain and copper blood. Brilliant red is fast to gush, painting the lower half of his face as his body crumples along with the momentum, shoulder hitting hard wooden floors and arms instinctively jerking against their bonds to offer his head protection. Blinking dazedly and giving a damp sounding, low groan of pain, Francois furiously blinks watering eyes.

His vision is tipped on its side from this angle, and from the ground, some vicious, slithery sounding French curse is barely audible. His legs move, feet sliding against the ground in some instinctive effort to put distance between himself and Carlisle.

Francois' efforts are rewarded with the heel of a boot driven into his gut, and with the tears in his eyes he can't be sure who it belongs to. Dreyfus. One of his men. Un ange. It comes down on his left knee a moment later, crushing it between sole and the brownstone's formally pristine floorboards, and with a wet sound like a chicken wing being twisted apart between someone's teeth, its cap pops off to float freely under his skin beneath his pant leg.

Through the haze, Dreyfus is reaching into his heavy woolen overcoat and producing a long, glittering length of piano wire that shines silver between his fingers clad in thick black leather. It's the same instrument he used to dispatch Jennifer Chesterfield, and while Francois has no way of knowing exactly how Catherine's mother met her fate, there are very few things Dreyfus looks as though he's prepared to use it for.

"Hold him."

No amount of old fashioned soldierly pride can keep a lid on the howl the dislocation of his knee produces, and if he's ever felt it before, he's feeling it anew with the shock in his voice and the tension of his breathing. The litany of French that follows as hands go to do as Dreyfus' instructs is nearly incomprehensible unless you're purely fluent, but there are key words.

Arretez means stop, s'il vous plait means please, and je suis desolee means—

"I'm sorry," he gasps out, in English, deciding this would be heard more. "I'll be still, I'll be still— " Thigh muscle cramping against torn ligaments seals off the rest of what he was going to say, does a little to seal up his resolve and clamp his teeth together against more. His gaze swims wildly towards the silvery wire.

There's a knee digging into the small of Francois' back and the hand that had been grasping at his hair before returns, angling his head back by force in case he decides to renege on his promise to be still. A flash of silver that belongs to the knife's edge and not the wire twinkles in the bottom of his vision, and between his head injury, broken nose and dislocated knee, that his throat has been cut may initially escape his notice.

It won't occur to him that Dreyfus could have cut deeper, and in a few minutes it won't matter that he can still breathe in between gulping mouthfuls of blood because the first thing Dreyfus does once the cut has been made is loop the wire around Francois' neck and fit it snugly against the wound before wrenching it sideways to tighten the noose.

As he's bodily hauled off the floor and into a pair of thick, waiting arms, one of the last things Francois will see is his bathroom door surging into view.

It might be around now that Francois would be willing to tell Dreyfus that Sasha Kozlow is alive and unwell, might even reluctantly draw out his location, and for all the struggling and cursing he's done, Dreyfus can't see the frantic, mental clawing for that old failsafe no longer present. No flooding, healing warmth, just the heat of damage and the same sharp absence he felt after he'd transferred his legacy into someone else. Breakable, scarrable, aging human flesh. Killable.

But rather than words of admission, he mostly just has blood in his mouth and gathering like cement in his stomach, his body ragdoll limp and yielding when it's hauled up. Unwilling choking sounds, sharper when that wire draws along the knife slash, the more saline gathering of water smeared greasily from the corners of his eyes, vision rolling around him as if in a tumble dryer, quickly fading into a blur and darkness.

The rattle of a shower curtain, rungs chattering. Metal on metal. The thin rasp in his ears does not belong to water rushing through pipes or to Dreyfus, whose laboured breathing hitches sharp in the background. Something heavy is raised off the ground and suddenly the world opens up under Francois' feet.

It swallows him whole.

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