What's Worth Knowing


emily_icon.gif etienne_icon.gif

Scene Title What's Worth Knowing
Synopsis Emily finds Etienne Saint Jaimes, and has questions for Gabriel Gray.
Date May 4, 2019

Memorial Wall, Ferrymen's Bay

"Holy shit."

The cup of coffee slips from her hand, landing at such an angle the top pops away and the contents spill all over her feet and the wooden platform she stands on.

"Fuck," Emily swears much louder than her initial whisper, this new development much more urgently distressing. "Son of a— Em, you fucking clutz," she mutters at herself, bending at the waist and beating her pantleg free of coffee.

She's not sure she wants to look back up, or draw any more attention to herself than she already has. At least not without processing, first.

She needs a minute. She thinks she just saw Etienne St. James.

To everyone else on the boardwalk, he does not stand out to them in the same way as he does to Emily — but that's not to say he doesn't at all. It's something of unspoken knowledge, for those that frequent the varied ports around the Safe Zone, that you may encounter the kinds of characters that spend their days out in the wilderness of places like Staten Island, and for the most part, you can identify them by sight. Etienne is one such man, large and imposing, grizzled edges, his mane of hair unkempt from exposure to salt and wind.

To the west, the ruins of Coney Island, and if you squint, their shapes might gesture towards the days when it had been an operable attraction of any kind. It hasn't been, even since the early, early days of the first Bomb, capital-B.

Also not his fault.

Directly in front of him, however, is four hundred feet of accusation in the form of faces, flowers, cards, love notes, prayers, melted candles, a long wall of memory that Etienne is observing for the first time since he returned to this fucking city. Strangers, all, just a garish mural of anonymous, meaningless people, except, of course, they're not that. A whole person had to physically pin or tape or nail commemoration to this boardwalk that overlooks shitty pier and grey waters. And a whole person can be everything.

Around him, a sparse crowd moves along, some holding their own warm beverages. He doesn't notice Emily spilling her coffee, of course, but he is at least unmistakably himself, alone, and not going anywhere soon.

By the time Emily finishes, in vain, her attempts to rough away the hot coffee from her shoes and jeans, she stands back up with the quarter-cup of her drink that remains. With some disappointment caused by her loss, she sips at what's left of it, noting how the figure of him — recognizable as it is — remains, and is forced to decide what she means to do. Coming here in the first place had not been anywhere on her 'desire to do’ list, but one of the class assignments she was working on required it.

She could have lied and just said she visited, written about that experience — and probably gotten away with it, too, but then she wouldn't have had this run-in. If she was remotely honest in her journaling about the experience, she likely already had the most interesting entry (save Joe's) in the bag.

Still, she leans forward into a walk to close the distance, trying to ignore how the sight of him instantly reminds her of the very long, cold night she'd last seen him. Emily can't immediately decide if that memory is better than facing the wall and the many foreign, heavy memories it also holds. “Hello, Etienne.” she says softly as she approaches, before she bothers to wonder whether or not he even remembered meeting her. That part happens after she's already committed to the greeting.

The bright, spring green of her jacket swishes softly with each step, each movement of her arms another small whisper. Her slip-ons were thankfully already dark in color, pairing closely to the heather-gray and black scoop-necked shirt she wears with the unzipped jacket. Emily pauses, glancing to the wall itself for only a moment before tearing her gaze away so it settles on the living man before it. “What brings you here?” she asks with a mild evenness, no lift to her voice to accentuate one word over another.

There aren't a lot of people in the world who can — or would — just greet Etienne in the street by name, and fewer still are the people who can and know exactly who they're addressing when they do.

He is not so enraptured by the faded faces of dead New Yorkers for her to startle him, gentle as she is about it, and he steers his attention aside and down at her. The expression is not encouraging, tense at the edges — she might almost think that he doesn't recognise her after all, but in truth, he's waiting for her to state her business. His world, currently, is full of people who just show up to tell him things, ask him for things, demand answers about things. (At least three whole people so far. That's more than the average zero.)

When she just asks him what he's doing, he eases. A little.

"Seeing a friend," he says. Neutral. It's that same rough-as-gravel voice that she was greeted with the first time he'd spoken to her over the phone, before it had smoothed into something else. She might think herself dismissed with that, until he makes the subtle pivot to face her properly, a long look travelling down to her damp slip-ons, and up again.

"A living one or a dead one?" Emily asks of his friend, trying to put some care into her tone, but the question is blunt enough it almost doesn't matter. She's not the best at making charming pleasantries and idle talk on her best day, and today is certainly not one of those.

When he turns to her, looks down at her shoes and back up again, she turns away from him so they stand something like shoulder to shoulder, her posture uncomfortable. "Guess I'm still getting used to my new legs," she says half-heartedly, her feet shuffling as she makes her excuse. "The dysphoria isn't what it used to be, but there's still the occasional slip."

Even facing the wall, Emily still doesn't focus on it directly, her eyes downturned to the rivers of hardened melted wax caused from years of candles being burnt in memorial. It dawns on her somewhere in her study that she's asked him his business, and it'd only be fair to share in kind. "I don't make a habit out of coming to places like this, but it's for an assignment." she manages out, the discomfort in it plain. Once said, she tips the cup back to her face in the hopes of temporarily cutting off any more unsolicited remarks.


Etienne drags his attention off of her, back to the wall. Thinks to himself that he's done this before, made unlikely acquaintances with these children who seem impervious to who he is — and the one he's thinking of was blonde, too. Alice in Wonderland. "Came back to this city for one grave," he says. In spite of the fact that she knows who he is, his voice remains belonging to the body he is wearing — not just the timbre and gravel, but that strange accent, forged out of too many places to have loyalty to one. "She was buried on a hill next to a ruin, and I don't think anyone knew about it.

"I came here once, when I thought she was still dead." It's a novelty, to share thoughts and put them into words, and if Emily is going to do it to him, then she deserves to get some back. That there is a contradiction — confirmation of a burial, confirmation that 'she' remains alive, is not explained. But he expects he does not have to.

He doesn’t. Some of the tension eases off of her at the mention of their shared acquaintance, giving the illusion she’s somehow more comfortable. “Have you seen her lately?” Emily asks first, then reconsiders it. It’s likely a foolish question. Of course he has. She doubts there’s a willing scenario where the two of them hadn’t at least crossed paths again. And maybe it’s wrong of her to assume — maybe he has other friends besides Eileen, but maybe that friend he’s visiting —

She shakes her head then, wiping away the initial question and asking instead, “After what happened to make her whole again … what happened with Sibyl, exactly?” The look in her eyes shows she can intuit it, may have even been told something, but she’d rather hear it. Dead, braindead, left for dead — it (almost) doesn’t matter which of the three it was, it’s just a question she’s held for a while.

Etienne only nods at this first part, basic confirmation. In his world, this is an extraordinary act of generosity — that Emily helped, risked her life, affords her some right to the things she is asking.

And perhaps, the same goes for the next question. His eyeline shifts a little, but not to her — unfocuses, reducing the wall of faded photographs to a lively riot of colour. The blunt planes of his face don't lend themselves to a lot of undue expression, but even from here, Emily can tell that there is no great answer coming, and that it's not uncomplicated for him. Perhaps it should have been.

"Missing," he roughs out, finally. "When Eileen left her body behind, there wasn't anything left. Empty. We might've gotten rid of her then." But they didn't. In the unlikely event that something could have grown in a vacuum, a consciousness, anything— he doesn't know. But brains are tricky things. He'd have had to crack open Sibyl's twee skull to take a look at what was happening inside of it, properly. "She was hospitalised. And then she was gone."

Gone? It takes Emily by surprise. "I wonder if…" she starts to murmur, brow furrowing deeply. Usually she'd keep the thoughts to herself, but for some reason, she makes an exception. There's a catch of her breath as she glances back his way, wondering, "The Vanguard wouldn't want anything to do with her if she wasn't Eileen anymore. Right?" It's not a question meant to have an answer, and she emphasises it by looking back to the wall. There's a small photo pinned — colored with the limited scale of deadened vintage. It shows a woman, young. Emily tries not to get lost in wondering what happened to the dearly departed older woman it represents.

"Either way," she mutters, trying to remind herself maybe it wasn't her business and she should leave well the hell enough alone.

"Anyway, she seems all right," Emily pronounces, based on her brief, but long-spanning chain of meetings they've shared. "Which… that's good. Hopefully means she'll never need some place to…" Her free hand comes away from her side and lifts, massaging the side of her neck before letting her fingers hang.

"Don't let me keep you, if you've got somewhere you need to be," she offers up abruptly. He did say he was here to visit someone.

"You're not."

Keeping him, that is. Etienne— or maybe, more specifically, the man wearing his disguise, is notoriously difficult to make stay if that's what you really want to do. Ask anyone. Even Eileen. That Etienne remains where he is — oppressively, tangibly, keeping her company for as long as he deigns — is not out of something so inconsequential as social obligation.

He's been watching her now, as she speaks, as if trying to divine some other meaning beneath offered words, for all that they seem honest, and all. He doesn't have an answer for what the Vanguard would want from Sibyl's hollow shell, and he considers pressing her for what she even means by that, and who she means, before leaving it where it lies.

He asks, a little like he's attempting to uncover something, a minor dig at the surface, "How long did you know her?"

It takes her a moment to reply, but she opts for honesty again. “I didn’t.” she says clearly.

Know her. At all.

Emily doesn’t look back at him, gaze flickering uncertainly before her eyes narrow at nothing at all. An answer that opaque probably deserves some clarification, she figures. “I’d met her — I’d met Sibyl sometime in … November, I want to say. A few weeks before—”

And her lips purse, wondering what she’s doing speaking at all. But she does anyway. “—Before Eileen took me to see a healer.”

Her gaze falls, considering the uneven rivers of wax near their feet again. “And her I’d known just a little longer.” She’s acutely aware of the sounds of the boardwalk and the pier, the faint patter of life around them. These are things she’s told no one. Not even Geneva. Not to this extent. “She had asked that I watch for her. For you. Explained nothing really about the why, but over time I was able to put it together.” Her eyes shift, head not lifting, but she’s looking more in his general direction than before. Her shoulders shift. “It took being forced to see my father to get it confirmed, that Sibyl was more than just herself, and then from there…”

“The night I had to call you, I had asked her to speak because I needed to hear it for myself. If she really was Eileen, if she remembered it at all, or if — if it was just him and her and all the rest of them seeing something that wasn’t actually true.” Her lips part to keep speaking, but it takes until a breath comes for words to actually follow. “Then the accident happened, and I panicked.”

The nearly-empty cup is rotated in her hand as she considers, briefly, what happened afterward. Feels it pertinent to mention, “Eileen still showed up anyway after you came by for Sibyl.” There’s a heaviness at that memory, and she has to look away down the boardwalk to better focus on the here and now. Her gaze wanders back slowly and unfocused, head shaking.

“When I saw her again in February, she took the time to say thank you. I still don’t know why. All I happened to do was panic in the right direction,” She looks back to Etienne finally, her brow lifting as she meets his gaze. “You’re the one who put her back together.”

"She didn't have a lot of people she could count on."

This, Etienne says, and his voice has changed ever so. That pancultural accent has ebbed away to reveal something more local, albeit still transformed into the pirate's growl by virtue of his shape. "No one she could trust properly with what she was. Not even me, not for a long time." What he is saying is: panicking in the right direction counts for a lot, in certain circumstances.

What he might also be saying is thank you, without really saying it. That it hadn't even occurred to him to tally up the people who all participated in bringing a dead woman back to life until

right now

is just a part of who he is. To his credit, his 'friend' he is going to go see is one of them.

"Your dad's Avi Epstein," he says, more presently. Stating unfortunate fact. He won't hold it against her. Maybe that's his thanks. "I don't need him knowing I'm alive, or where she is." He glances down to her, and it's not a threat, there — he is seeing what she thinks of this statement.

"I don't need him knowing we had this conversation, or any conversation at all," Emily replies, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye with some discomfort. She doesn't think she has to worry about him being the one to out them, but …

"As far as where she is, that's her business to tell. She and he already saw each other, though, last month." That remark is made with a glance away, considering. "If he remembers," Emily adds, care to her tone. Maybe he'd have figured it a hallucination or a dream brought on by the concussion. Her brow furrows, wondering. For the list of medical issues she's gone through in her comparatively brief life, being concussed is not one of them.

Her expression scrunches, face meeting palm as she scrubs her face with her free hand suddenly. Fingertips press into the crook of her eyes, draping over her nose. "I have a question for you, while you're here." Emily announces abruptly, eyes still closed. "And I'm not sure how to phrase it, because I'm not sure what the purpose of even asking is."

Bleary-eyed, she turns her back on the wall and looks out over the water instead. It still only feels like weeks ago, (it's actually six, to be precise) that Devon washed up on a beach not all that far from here. Her hand slides from her face, swinging by her side before it stills. "Is it better to know or not to know something?" Emily asks, distance in her voice. "If it's about someone you care about—" love is strictly avoided in the out-loud department, "even if it's awful, is it better to have learned with them, so you can try to support them, even if you can't? Is it better to dig until you know enough that it can be of use, even if what you find terrifies you? That such things exist in this world?"

Her tone implies that she does not believe ignorance is bliss.

"Is it worth knowing if you can't do anything about it, I guess." she sighs out.

Etienne issues a back-of-the-throat sound of acknowledgment, of Eileen already making contact with Epstein. He'd consider it very irritating how many shitlords she is willing to open her heart to if it wasn't for the undeniable reality that they are in love at least by partial virtue of this quality. He shoves his hands into his pockets. Still.

"I'm keeping my distance."

Only subtle emphasis on I'm and my. He is forced to wonder what the little girl next to him knows of him — if it's just old news, if it's all Eileen's dual perspectives, or if she is aware of the circumstances that led to Epstein's missing eye, and the messy context that surrounds it.

Isn't about to ask, of course. She's speaking now, anyway, and he listens in somewhat unreceptive silence. It might feel a little like monologuing to an old dog, who is certainly aware that you are making sounds, has some dim associations of tonal register, but is otherwise only the kind of animal on which you can project meaning. Somewhere in there, he retrieves a scuffed, crumpled pack of cigarettes, shaking one out into his rough palm. (More Byron's fare than Etienne's, but it is a clue too subtle for anyone else to mind.)

"If you're not willing to do that much," he says, once he has lit up, words coming up grudging, "then what's the point in caring about anyone?"

"I tend to keep mine, too," Emily murmurs in reply to the comment about distance. In a way, it's an answer to that silent wondering. It's probably safe to assume she knows little to nothing about messy context, else they'd probably not be having the sort of interaction they have been. She'd certainly not be querying him for life advice like he were a sapient crystal ball.

Is it worth it is a hard, almost unfair question to pose out there, but little has been fair for a long time. Even in the case something is fair in being dealt, rarely is it pleasant. Every little win is either hard-fought or entirely accidental, and each comes with consequences.

Which is to say, Etienne's response is an entirely fair one. It just holds no comfort.

Emily lets out a long breath like it's she who's doing the smoking, punctuating it by draining the dregs of the coffee.

"I think there's a difference in it," she explains finally, feeling the need to justify herself. "Between being a rock, and digging relentlessly." With that aforementioned rock, even. So she says as much. "There's a difference between being a rock, and turning it into a spade." It's not eloquently said, too much thought being put into it, probably.

She lifts the cup again, even knowing it's empty. Her lips purse around the edge of it anyway, teeth flattening a line into the rim. Grudgingly, Emily lowers it, only to look into the droplets that streak the bottom like they'll have the answer for her. "If I learn more, I don't trust myself to stop at just knowing. How do you balance caring with not…" she trails off, less frustration in it than before.

The next breath out from Etienne, funneled through broad nasal passages, from the expanse of his barrel chest, is borderline impatient. He moves in place without vacating the area, turning his back, now, on the sad wall of dead people, cigarette caught in his paw, dangling at his side.

"Think about who you're protecting," he says, no less offhand than before. "Yourself, or them."

Note: he does not impart advice about who to protect.

Note also: he has no idea who this is about, if it's about Eileen, or about her father, or about— someone else in the vague periphery of this particular cluster of associations, or something else entirely. He does ask, "Why is it a question for me?" Because of course, he zeroes in on the part where he features. "Because I did that? Dug up horrible things. What Eileen'd become, what she could stay like forever. 'Cause then you already know what I'd say."

"You just happen to be here," Emily says with a lift of her posture, brow arched and voice light. She turns to him with a small smile that might be slightly self-deprecating. "Though you're right, maybe you're a shit person to ask."

His advice, despite that, is no less valid. It's surprisingly neutral, even helpful, when held up and examined under a certain lens. Her gaze flickers while she considers it, lapsing into another short silence.

"Still, though. It's an outside perspective. And for what it's worth, it seems like a solid one." After a pause, she mutters, looking back over the water as she explains, "I'm not great at either caring, or asking. I'm trying to work on both. So thank you for giving an actual answer, instead of just…" Emily tilts the cup in her hand to the side in a kind of shrug to indicate whatever throwaway response he could have put out. Even if he had just tossed out his answers, they at least felt like they had a base in thought, if not belief.

"I don't think there's hope for a happy ending here, not in the short-term or the long term." the teen admits, soft and vague as ever. She's not going to go into specifics unless he asks, because in her mind, she's already put enough on him just by asking him what she has without adding the burden of context. "But maybe if I put enough heart into digging, at least there might be something good along the path."

Etienne decides he agrees with her implicit decision; he doesn't need to know.

But he's close to asking, with an intrigue that probably has absolutely nothing to do with the conversation at hand and everything to do with understanding the peculiar creature that has found herself variously tangled up in people he loves, people he despises. See what she's about, pursue those deep seams of obvious fracture at the pressure points — and doesn't Gabriel Gray understand, best of all, daddy issues — but it's also from a part of him that he.

Makes an effort to ignore, most of the time. Not that asking Avi Epstein's daughter what's up in her life is tantamount to cracking skulls to see what's inside, but there's an alarming amount of overlap.

"Endings don't happen, anyway," he says. "It just keeps going."

But that's all the wisdom he has time for today. There's a long glance backwards at the memorial wall, but nothing about it moves him to amend his statement. Raises one scarred eyebrow, and adds, "Good luck with your assignment," before he starts to move off.

Maybe his quip is generic and obvious, but it's a little eerie it matches what her own inner voice has been telling herself for a long time: her fixation on happy endings doesn't work in real life. Emily casts a near baleful glance back Etienne's way as he starts moving off, remembering she's not done with the wall, even if he is. She has a number of more solemn things to contemplate before she goes home to write up her paper about the experience.

"Good luck with your friend," Emily replies in farewell. Seems only fair.

She turns back toward the wall without reluctance, resigned to it. Her footsteps take her much slower along its length than Etienne's Gabriel's do as he cuts a path away from it.

It's an abrupt mental transition, going from 'endings don't happen' to looking over hundreds of them that happened all-too-quickly. Maybe there's something she could take from that juxtaposition, some meaning she could derive from it. By the time she's left, though, she's not come up with anything. Nothing satisfying, at least.

'There are no happy endings' is something she's put a lot of effort into unbelieving, and she doesn't want to succumb to it again. Not now, not ever.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License