What the Heart Deserves


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Scene Title What the Heart Deserves
Synopsis Nick gets unexpected advice when he seeks guidance from the one person he thinks will help him steer clear of matters of the heart.
Date April 19, 2011

Old Dispensary

Gray skies cast a gray light over the Old Dispensary and its grounds, though a break in the rain sees Nick sitting out on the concrete steps leading to the front of the building. His injured leg stretched out, the other, bent, acts as an armrest for his broken arm; a cigarette held loosely in his fingers sends curls of gray smoke into a sky of the same hue.

In the overgrown lawn, Tybalt II plays predator, crouching low on his belly and peering with huge pupils before pouncing through the air and batting at a white butterfly that flits up and forever out of the ginger cat’s reach; he chirrups and slinks low to crouch and lie in wait once more in the high grass and weeds.

Nick’s gaze seems to be watching the playful scene, but there’s a distant and unfocused look, his thoughts elsewhere.

Spring brings more culinary freedoms and a change of diet for those living in the Dispensary; although the preserves and pickled vegetables will still have a place on the kitchen's shelves alongside dense rye breads (a year-round staple), Eileen takes advantage of the thaw by looking first to the island's Greenbelt. Rabbits are more plentiful now than they were during the winter and she can go further afield to look for them — with Tybalt and Thomas around, the Englishwoman dares not set snares on the property anymore lest someone's pet get caught in the wires. Wild mushrooms climb from the damp earth and open into grotesque shapes, so it is that chanterelles dusted in dirt cover the bottom of the woven basket she's carrying under one arm when she appears at the edge of the treeline. Clumps of wild garlic and edible flowers delicately selected by hand, too.

Her other hand is wrapped around the feet of two lean pheasants dangling limp, necks swinging at her side — both of them are female, which suits Eileen fine because there are no iridescent feathers to gleam in the light and attract attention. At one time, this would have been more than enough food to feed Gabriel, Jensen and herself, but with Ethan's recent additions to the Remnant, she's needed to broaden her horizons and work harder to stretch their meager resources.

As she makes her way through the grass, which will be past her knees at the height of summer, a hawk with sleek blue-gray feathers and eyes like copper pennies alights on the Dispensary's roof. There's blood on its talons — the rifle Eileen wears slung across her back by a thick leather strap is a precautionary measure only, to be used on soldiers or unusually aggressive feral dogs whose paths she might be unfortunate enough to cross.

Catching sight of Eileen in his periphery, Nick’s blue eyes sweep from Tybalt to the huntress, a dark brow ticking up in a bit of awe and respect for the loot that Eileen hauls in to feed the strange motley crew that’s been assembled at the Dispensary. He shifts his weight to the boot of the bent leg, pushing off the steps to stand before dropping the cigarette to crush beneath his sole.

There is a visible wince but no expression otherwise of the pain it takes to step down with the injured leg, a limp that may take some time to heal. “Nice haul,” he says mildly. “Need help with ‘em?” he offers.

Aside from the couple of moments where he’s had to ask her permission or advice, it’s the first time he’s offered her his company since he’s been here — not that there haven’t been tense moments of happening into the same room or some small shared space. The words are said easily, casually, but there is a tension in his face, in the set of his jaw and the downward cast of his eyes that makes it anything but easy.

The hawk tips a glance up at the sky to judge how much daylight is left. Whether or not this influences Eileen's answer, Nick may never know — she holds out the pheasants to him in offering, and maybe if she wasn't making an effort to be kinder she would tell him to take them around back. Instead, she says, "You can pluck these," and continues inside the Dispensary, feet carrying her toward the kitchen. Her back does not provide Nick with much of an invitation to follow, but she keeps making conversation with him as she pushes open the door with her now freed hand.

That must count for something.

"Jensen will show you the butchering's done once the feathers are all off," she adds, because it's unfair to expect him to know how to do what she's only had to learn over the past few years by necessity. She stops at the table where Bran is perched on the back of Ethan's chair and fishes a hand into her coat pocket it. It comes back out with a dead mouse, which she hefts at the raven underhand. Dagger beak snatches the carcass out of the air, and the mouse is gone, slid down the old bird's gullet with a toss of his shaggy black head.

In the kitchen, she sets the basket down on the counter and sets about washing her hands in the sink. "Nobody's given you any trouble?"

He takes the carcasses, lifting them to peer at them curiously, and gives a short nod. Any work he’s been asked to do, he does with little comment or complaint, keeping mostly to himself except at meal times and to do the chores he’s able to do — more than he probably should, with the gunshot wound and broken arm.

“If by ‘nobody’ you mean Holden,” Nick says, moving to the counter to lay the birds down, making just the slightest grimace that suggests — despite his work — that he’s not all that hardened or calloused. A sharp contrast to the petite girl tossing dead mice to pet ravens.

“No one’s given me any trouble,” he says quietly, glancing back over his shoulder at her, then starting the tedious task of plucking feathers from dead flesh. Tension in the cords of his neck hints that there’s more to be said, and it takes a moment for him to muster the courage.

“Delia contacted me,” comes suddenly, breaking the silence of a minute’s pause, “in a dream. I —”

Nick swallows hard, his back to her, his head down, focused on the task it would seem, though the plucking is tedious but not thoughtful work. “I need your advice. I’m tryin’ not to… not to let
her close. Not to be close, but she’s…”


“She might be in trouble,” he finishes, finally looking back again, worry and something like hurt etched in the lines of his face.

Eileen has begun to gingerly scrub the loose soil out from between the gills of a chanterelle she holds in her fingers when Nick interrupts the train of thought she'd lapsed into — measurements of flour to coat the birds in, cooking oil and greasy stock diluted with the water stores they keep in the basement — but whatever it is she was considering lacks the urgency and importance in her brother's voice.

There's a fractional pause, scrub brush hovering over the mushroom's strangely-shaped cap, and when she puts the bristles back to work the force behind her hand is stiffer somehow. Under normal circumstances, Delia Ryans would not be a subject she wishes to discuss with Nick. The younger woman's current situation, however, demands that Eileen's personal comfort move to the very bottom of her priorities.

"What sort?"

A hand comes up to rake through his hair — attention to the details like blood and bird germs apparently not at the forefront of his thoughts. “She had a dream… she’s had a couple… the other one, she thought the woman in it was connected t’me for some reason. She had my … she had my necklace, so Delia thought I gave it away.” There’s a flush to the back of his neck, as if he’s confessing something untoward in the fact that there is a shared token; just above the collar of his shirt, a glint of silver hints at the object in question.

“I donno if it’s someone pulling ideas out of her head or what,” he explains. “That was a bit ago, before she went to… Staten.” A feather is plucked with perhaps a bit more viciousness than it needs upon the word Staten, a euphemism for something else.

Someone else.

“But the other night, she came to my dream and told me about a vision she had… she said it was a memory. That she had a daughter.” He glances back with a jerk, eyes narrowed defensively. “Not mine, she made sure to tell me. And it was dead. And she says she has proof, a rubbing of it… of a real gravestone. But that it has’t happened.”

He sighs and reaches up to rub the creases of his forehead with the rough cast on his arm.

Eileen's mouth presses into a hard line. Now does not seem the best time to tell him that she had a dream as well, but that in it Delia had a son — not a daughter. She sets the mushroom aside on a cloth towel to keep it off the counter's surface, then selects another, larger specimen from the basket. "The woman you want to speak with is Kaylee Thatcher," she says.

"Delia's not the only one who's been having dreams. Last I heard, Thatcher was spearheading the effort to get to the heart of it — if anyone knows anything about it at all, it would be her. I've no real details, only rumours, but what you're describing sounds as though it's part of the same thing."

The words bring a slackening of that tension he’s had coiled in his muscles since the conversation began. “So it’s not someone specifically targeting her,” he murmurs, clearly relieved, hands going back to the task of cleaning the fowl. “With all the roaming she does in her sleep, I thought maybe she made ‘erself some sort of enemy… she trusts too easily, and I can’t…”

He can’t protect her. He already failed.

The words are cut off, and Nick shakes his head. “She said she thought I had somethin’ to do with the memorial, thanked me for it, for being there for her. Lee, I’m trying not to give ‘er any hope or aught like that, but these dreams, she…”

Strangely, the longer he’s around her, the more his accent disintegrates into the East End London of their youth, the training in France lost in a few moments, and Nick sounds like he did as a teenager, simply with a lower timbre and a different kind of hopelessness coloring his words.

“I’m trying,” he whispers, hands gripping the counter tightly.

There are days — like today — that Eileen doubts Sophia would recognize either of her children if she passed them on the street; they've changed too much in the years they've been separated and carry themselves too differently for their mother to give them more than a passing glance, though she sometimes likes to fantasize that if she caught a glimpse of their eyes

Bran is studying Nick's from the back of Ethan's chair. Even eyes have qualities that change, but she can still see the boy behind his when she's looking for him.

She curves the edge of her thumb along the chanterelle's ridged underside, dislodging a spider that tumbles down the side of the sink and disappears into the dark dampness of the drain. Dirt flakes off under her nails. She sucks in a short breath.

"Do you love her or not?

Nick’s eyes close and he shakes his head and huffs a humorless laugh. “It doesn’t bloody matter, does it? She deserves better’n me and I’m smart enough to know that much. I care enough that I’ll do what’s best for her.”

Which means staying away — he knows it. Eileen knows it.

His hand curls into a fist and he knocks it against the counter, pulling the punch that he knows will send a sharp pain through the mending bone. “I’ve done it before. Avoided ‘em when they get too close, y’know? But none of them could get in my head, and none of them knew what I really was, who I really am…”

Nick heaves a sigh and picks up the two birds. “I should do this outside,” he mutters.

"Nicky." Eileen's voice is abruptly sharp and edged with an emotion that's difficult to identify by harsh, plaintive sound alone. She slaps the scrub brush down onto the counter and covers it with her hand, which does not make as much noise as Nick's fist did, but serves as punctuation just the same. The back of her other hand rubs across her cheekbone, leaving a dark smudge of soil in the shadow under one eye.

"It isn't always noble." Pale fingers curl around the brush and bristles bite into her skin. "The only person who can decide what's best for Delia is Delia. The heart wants what the heart wants. What the heart deserves has got absolutely nothing to do with it.

"If you love her, then love her."

Brow furrowed, Nick stares at a spot on the floor between them, muscles in his jaw working for a moment before he looks up — a rare moment where his pale eyes seek her face, her eyes, even if they are not the eyes that watch him.

“I do,” he finally says, and his eyes slide away. “But it’s not just about her and what she deserves, is it.”

It isn’t a question. He turns away, wincing as the injured leg is pivoted on without thought. “I don’t deserve her. And she can’t fix me, much as she thinks she can.”

Limped paces take him toward the door, to finish the job of cleaning — and possibly butchering — their dinner.

19 April 2011

If I live until my bones are chalk and my hair turns to a fine white thread, it will be the guilt that finishes me: every day, I feel it gnawing a hole in my heart, and when it eats all the way through to the other side I shall stop whatever it is I am doing and simply drop dead.

Its teeth are sharper than usual lately. I did not ever think that I could be what's keeping my brother from being the man he wishes he was. There is forever a part of me that blames myself for what he did.

Why is it that a different part should blame me now for what he won't?

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