byron_icon.gif charity_icon.gif chris_icon.gif eileen2_icon.gif kara_icon.gif max_icon.gif yi-min_icon.gif

Scene Title Vignette
Synopsis It's a celebration: Chris Ayers has returned home.
Date March 14, 2019

Sunken Factory

It's deer tonight.

It's deer most nights, actually, but tonight is special because Chris Ayers has arrived with the last of the horses to make the long trek East from Sedro-Woolley.

Spirits are high. Bonfires burn in squat oil drums placed strategically throughout the factory's railyard, where springtime crocuses sprout between the iron tracks. The woods on the other side of Oswego River are dark and wet and fragrant: all signs that the worst of the cold is over.

A carcass crackles and blackens on the spit above the largest of the fire pits. Johannes Moser strips the meat from its bones and divvies it up among the gathered crowd. Under the stars, liquor flows freely. Most of it is whiskey, but some of Iago Ramirez's rum has found its way into the mix.

Kara Prince is in a fine mood this evening, in part thanks to the drinks she's taken in, but also due to the company she's surrounded by. Another familiar face traveling from the West is something worth celebrating, and she'd been a voice adamant that the occasion be marked. Her usually stiff demeanor has been traded in for something rough but far from unfriendly, stories and laughter ebbing and flowing.

She's mostly spent her time going from bonfire to bonfire to ward off what she can of the nighttime chill, but leaves that in order so she can go elbow the man of the hour — night? Both were true. "What took you so long to get out here," she teases. "Feels like it's been ages since we've seen you." It had certainly been a while, anyway.

"Well, the horses acting skittish about a mile out," Chris returns easily before his tone dips toward deadpan. "No wolves around, so I'm guessing they smelled you and thought better of coming here." He casts a look at Kara, a faint grin touching his lips. He's found himself a comfortable place to sit while he eats, just back from one of the smaller fires. It might be deer, but it's fresh and it's hot.

The comforts of cosmopolitan living are far from here, but Yi-Min has adjusted unexpectedly well to this much more backwoods life: in an oddly familiar fashion, many of these more rustic elements have been reminiscent of long-gone summers spent with her father's family in little Beipu. Some things do not change, a world apart though they may be. Legs comfortably folded at her perch by the cheerfully roaring firepit, half-full stein of rum in hand, she observes Chris over the lip of it as she takes a drink. "Were your horses brought all the way from where you came?" she inquires, not bothering to hide her curiosity— and quiet respect for the implication, if so.

"Oh, so it's going to be like that, is it!" Kara laughs. Any threat she might make following the comment will be forgotten before morning, surely. Maybe that's why she doesn't go through the effort of immediately returning fire. Instead she asks, "Have you met all our new faces? Gray keeps adopting strays." She's immensely amused already by whatever it is she's about to say following that. "There's a wolf, a snake," After taking an impromptu, poorly timed drink from the bottle she's been nursing, "But you're back now, little duckling, so that's as good as three. And these things happen in threes, right?"

She smiles warmly in Yi-Min's direction, either wonderfully oblivious to the woman's demure state or blissfully ignoring it. "This is Yi-Min. She's the new doctor around here." A look is shot back in the woman's direction, to confirm she's not misunderstood somehow. "… Or something. What do do you again?"

"A wolf, a snake, and a duckling." Letting the thought hang, Chris cuts a bite of venison with a thoughtful look. That look is slanted at Yi-Min, he didn't outright ignore her question, he just hadn't gotten to answering. "Sounds like the start of a really bad joke," he finishes to Kara first, around a mouthful of supper. "I brought them all, yeah."

On the other side of the railyard, someone has jerry rigged a freestanding tape deck to siphon music through a battered pair of scavenged speakers that weren't in the best condition even before abandonment. That same someone has been cycling through the greatest hits of the 80s for the past hour and change, but has yet to receive a formal complaints from anyone of consequence.

These are songs that everyone knows: anthems from a brighter, better time. Some of the drunker men make an effort to sing along in their loud, thick voices.

All of them are horribly off key, but somehow there have been no complaints about that either.

Eileen has so far kept to the fringes of the gathering, hovering on that strange border where the darkness of the woods meets flickering firelight. The conversation she makes with the soldiers playing lookout seems to be out of necessity, or maybe she's just trying to avoid the tall, slim figure of Charity Thornton, who holds court at an oil drum near the one where Kara, Yi-Min, and Chris have congregated.

Charity‚Äôs laugh is bright and sparkling like her public persona, easy on the ears unless the listener knows her intimately — in which case it's as grating as anything else about her.

The trio can only make out the occasional cluster of words, mostly English interspersed with a playful peppering of French. Right now she's entertaining Iago's closest followers with a story about a sex worker she once knew whose ability allowed her to "change the size of her doorknobs."

Whatever that means. The women probably have a good guess.

If Yi-Min takes offense to this conspicuous indication that she is the snake, she does not vocalize it, raising her alcohol to her mouth once more in a motion that is noticeably more droll than before. "This snake is here to make you things that'll make your life better," she says with a fine arch of her brow, her explanation taking on a slightly slower and more juvenile bent as though to account for Kara's drunken torpor. "I'm not that kind of doctor. Sorry."

If a certain someone manages to get the stuffing beaten out of her again while here, then she is shit out of luck.

"That would make you the butt-end of the joke, wouldn't it?" Kara asks with mock thoughtfulness to Chris, lifting her free hand to pat him on the shoulder while she drinks again with her alcohol-occupied one. She hums along to the music currently piping through while she considers Yi-Min's response, only mildly disappointed. "That's my bad, my bad entirely." she apologizes with that profuse offhanded sincerity only the truly drunk can manage. "Yi-Min."

"And a fine butt at that," Chris rejoins with a brow-raised look. "So Yi-Min," he rolls his head to look at the woman. He chases a bite of venison with a drink of… something. He's not sure what he's got. "You make things that make life better for us. How's that go now?"

Eileen's path eventually draws her into the light. She's still bundled in her riding clothes and has yet to scrape the mud from the bottoms of her tall leather boots, but a communal bottle of whiskey dangles from one of her gloved hands. The other clutches a copy of Filip Mikhailov's By the Victors, a wilted purple crocus caught between its crisp pages in lieu of a proper bookmark.

She looks like she might join them by the fire — until she hesitates.

By now, the horrific overlay of music has fully taken root in Yi-Min's ears, and her gently animated buzz of inebriation is not even close to coming close to rendering such a noise acceptable. Grimacing with something partway between apprecation and revulsion at the sounds of the choir that has picked up, she answers Chris with the same dry look beneath her eyelids from before. "Drugs," she says simply, and does not bother to elaborate further. The earlier turn of the conversation should give a hint as to which kind she means, but if his mind chooses to fall on the other first, then so much the merrier.

"Meimei!" she calls out to Eileen, noticing the younger woman's presence encroaching at the side of her vision and turning her head in a clear note of invitation.

Kara's suddenly eyeing the meal that Chris is taking part in, head turning toward where she last smelled a batch of food. "Mmm, now that does sound like a good idea," she replies to her own thoughts, beginning to wander away from the pit in said food's direction. Hopefully she won't be throwing it up later. Deer would be a bad choice of food to become unenamored to around here. "Go say hello, Gray~" she encourages in a singsong voice as she walks, if not stumbles, past.

There's a clink and rattle of glass, heralding two figures roaming nearer. They split off from one another, one headed for the source of the venison, the other a little more aimless — without being given something to do in specific, Byron Wolf takes to a wander. His last instruction had been to carry these packs of beer out to the revelry, possibly under the guise of attempting to get the elusive young man to join in with it.

Holding his contribution in both hands, he roams nearer this particular congregation, sliding a glance to Kara as she moves off in the direction he'd come. In firelight, his palette of grey clothes and blonde hair all absorb the orange-gold glow, and his presence is a silent one as he steps in amongst the circle to find a place to set down the beer bottles, all wet with condensation in the cardboard.

Unclear if he actually plans to stay and drink any.

"Huh." Chris' tone is flat and his look skeptical. He cuts into his supper again, slowly, processing what Yi-Min implies. "Huh." The bite of meat follows, and he lets his attention be pulled along with the good doctor's. A nod is tipped toward the woman lurking just inside the fire's light. "Eileen, how are you now?"

Eileen still hasn't gotten used to being called by her counterpart's married name. Every time she hears it, she has to stop herself from turning in a different direction in search of the man whose memory she associates it with.

She directs a vaguely worried glance at Kara's retreating back instead, making a mental note to check in on the munitions chaplain at some later point in the evening when both fires and celebration have begun to die down.

At Yi-Min's urging, she folds herself into an empty seat by the fire and takes a measured swig of whiskey. "I'm well," she tells Chris, not unkindly.

Max doesn't have any excuse such as the bringing of beer to be arriving, nor does he have any excuse to be arriving late, but here he is! And, well, it's not entirely true that he hasn't brought anything, since he's carrying a tray in his hands that looks like cornbread. Never come to a gathering empty-handed, something something Southern hospitality, though he is no longer in the south.

"Hey, y'all," he says once he gets close enough, setting the tray down on whatever surface is convenient. "Glad you got here all right." This to Chris, as he moves to take an empty seat near-ash the fire. There's a wave that encompasses Eileen and Kara, as well as the others he knows, and a more curious look to Yi-Min, though it's accompanied by a friendly nod.

"Yeah?" From Chris it's a lightly probing response, but one that doesn't expect any elaboration. "You sure? There's a doctor here that makes drugs that help us." He makes a vague motion toward Yi-Min, in case it wasn't clear from the ribbing who he's talking about. A look after lifts to Max and he gives the older man a small nod. "Me too."

Yi-Min has also not become accustomed to hearing Eileen addressed as 'Gray,' and she spends the next few minutes reflecting on the faint strangeness that the label still brings to mind. Of all conceivable futures she once had the ability to foresee.

When Max looks in her direction, she has found that her own gaze has drifted a few inches sideways into the glow of firelight. The nod given to her is returned to him with a slight lift of her stein in acknowledgement: a small but rough motion, as she draws in a silent inhalation through her nose.

She does snort at the tone of the summary that Chris gives to her, but nothing more.

Like a shark that's sensed blood in the water, Charity joins the growing crowd. Iago's absence — and now Kara's as well — emboldens her. "It is so good to see you, Mr. Rainier," she greets Max, and although there isn't an ounce of sincerity in her voice, her arms have already looped around the preacher to gather him into a hug.

Her painted lips kiss one grizzled cheek, and then the other. "You are such a stranger, always!"

That isn't necessarily true either, but she's putting on a good performance. "You should stay here with us. I feel so far away from God."

Saying nothing, for Charity's arrival leaves little room for it, Eileen opts to refill Chris' cup with whiskey from the bottle she wields. Yi-Min receives a knowing look from beneath her feathery lashes.

She's glad she's here.

Max starts to reply to Chris, but then he's getting hugged by Charity. He doesn't exactly look surprised, per se…or if he does, he hides it well. "Well," he says as he returns the hug, "I was a stranger, but you welcomed me, so seems like you ain't as far away from God as all that." See Matthew. His tone is still as it usually is, so if he isn't being serious, he's hiding it well.

"You know I like to be at home," he continues as he lets her go. "Gotta make allowances for old men set in their ways. But you know you're always welcome at New Hope." Again, if it's not a genuine invitation, it's indistinguishable from one. "You, too, Ms…" he adds as he looks toward Yi-Min again.

A faint grin is directed at Eileen, a sign of thanks for the refilled cup. Chris washes down the last traces of supper with a quick swallow. One that he almost chokes on as Charity goes on talking. He folds an arm across his mouth to cough into the crook of his elbow, and he looks from woman to preacher and back again. "I don't think she means in the biblical sense," he points out in false seriousness, once his arm lowers again.

Though Yi-Min does not bother to return Eileen's meaningful glance directly, she does not need to. It is clear enough by the way that she is now looking at Charity: as though the clairvoyant was something slowly sliming up her front carpet. She does not bother to hide her aversion for the show of insincerity being put on, either, a feeling only matched by her sudden pang of disappointment upon noting that her mug is empty.

"Dr. Yeh," she corrects Max, possibly a little more bristly than she had been before. But she at least sounds completely candid. "Thank you, I'll keep that in mind."

Charity tracks Max's gaze to Yi-Min, lips thinning out around an unhappy smile. Something about the Praxis representative puts her on edge, but whatever that something is, she's had difficulty articulating it to anyone.

Such is the nature of her ability. She tries anyway: "Dr. Yeh is the newest darling of Praxis Heavy. Kara calls her a snake."

She lets her hand linger on Max's forearm a moment or two too long. "I think because her blood runs so cold. You see how stiff she looks?"

"Charity," Eileen warns, but Iago's paramour ignores her.

"If she were a snake," Charity continues, her next question directed at Chris, "what sort of snake do you suppose she would be?"

Max lets out a chuckle at Chris' observation, and he shrugs, holding out his hands. Perhaps not! What he says, though, is, "Dr. Yeh. Max Rainier." If he is put off by Yi-Min's briskness, well, he doesn't show that, either. He keeps a smile on his face as though this whole interaction amongst them all is just about as pleasant as anyone could wish it to be. "Good to meet you." Does he glance down at the hand on his arm? He sure doesn't seem like it, though he does reach up to pat Charity's shoulder with the hand opposite, though not in any lingering sort of way, himself.

He takes his seat again, crossing one ankle over the other knee and leaning back like he's on his front porch and not in a suddenly strangely high-stakes conversation. "I had a family in my parish whose kids had a pet boa constrictor. Damned if it wasn't the baby's best friend. I remember I visited them once and he was just sittin' in the middle of the floor with the snake wrapped around him like a blanket, as happy as could be. Real cute." Oh, were we not offering cute stories about really awesome snakes?

Leaning back a little, making himself more comfortable in his seat, Chris regards Charity for a good long minute. "The way I see it," he begins, leaning enough to one side so he can look at Yi-Min now. "Snake is a nickname. A nickname as the result of a story to which I'm not privy. If you were to ask me." He pauses again, to sit up and look at Charity. "The real snake would be you, and you would be a gopher snake; mostly harmless, but annoying as fuck."

Contrary to Charity's characterization, Yi-Min is not looking particularly stiff at this juncture in time. Her posture has become far more akin to that of a lounging cat: brazen and serene, holding her accuser quite firmly within the center of a judgmental gaze. "It's alright, Eileen," she says, eyes vivid and amused in the orange glow granted to them by the fire.

It is difficult for her to repress her entertainment at Chris' retort, and she sends an appreciative look winging his way as though to say: You. I like you. "…You know, snakes are useful creatures. Their toxins help us in medicine, and they eat pests that stray where they are unwanted." Pests, perhaps, like the one before them.

"If I were you— I'd spend more time with the God you claim to love, and less time being a pest."

Charity arches a brow at this deftly worded piece of advice. Her confidence is not borne from a gift for verbal sparring, but rather her position in the camp. There are shadows in the shapes of men that weren't there before, crowding in on the conversation's periphery.

Something in the air has changed. The music plays on — with fewer people enjoying it than there were just a few moments ago. Kindling pops and sparks in the belly of the drum positioned between Charity and Yi-Min.

"Iago will be missing you." This from Eileen, who has avoided pulling rank until now. Her voice is low and rough with a quality like coarse velvet. Leave, she means. So Charity does. It isn't until she's out of earshot that the Englishwoman rises from her seat as if to follow. She abandons the half-finished bottle of whiskey by the fire for either Yi-Min or Chris to sup from. Her book, too.

"You shouldn't have done that," she says, but there's no threat beneath these words, only a sort of grim resignation as though the energy has been bled out of them.

Chris watches Charity leave with a blank expression, and after she's gone from the firelight he tips back his cup to finish off his drink, perhaps strongly aware of the onlookers. "You know what I think," he says as he sets the cup on his also empty plate. He pauses to consider his own thoughts, but not long enough to answer. "I think the horses need to be checked." His words are followed by him standing, plate and cup left on his seat so he can make good of his plan.

It is almost idly that Yi-Min watches Charity's departure as well, and though she does cast a glance towards the abandoned whiskey, it is ultimately with a look of deliberation rather than temptation. "Sorry, meimei," she says a level more gently, troubled at the emptiness that can be felt behind Eileen's words. "I will see that no trouble comes of this." How precisely she intends on doing this is not something that she makes clear, but Eileen knows her well enough to know that she will hold true to her word.

An affirming hand on Yi-Min's narrow shoulder suggests there's no need for apology. "Well, perhaps it's better that it does," Eileen contends, making her gratitude clear with a small squeeze. She can elaborate when they're alone. For now, she leaves her — not to pursue Charity or even Chris, but to see the man with the tape deck about his music.

It's getting late, and there are things out in the dark that the sound of the churning river will not protect them from forever.

They can only risk so much revelry.

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