Wise Decisions


eileen_icon.gif francois_icon.gif

Scene Title Wise Decisions
Synopsis Eileen consults Francois about a paper crane.
Date September 8, 2010

Jamaica Bay

Eileen's home at the Old Dispensary on Staten Island is the closest she's ever come to living in the country despite passing through it across multiple continents, and although no two wildernesses are exactly alike, they contain the word wild for a reason. Brooklyn's Jamaica Bay is surrounded by concrete and steel, but its interior reminds the Englishwoman of her homeland's saltmarshes and the estuaries that bleed freshwater into the North Atlantic ocean. Plovers and sandpipers nest in the tall grass and fill the misty morning air with their plaintive, slurred whistles, which are sometimes answered by the shrill, bugle-like trumpeting of the park's cranes and the more nasal calls of the harriers that patrol the coast on thermals.

She likes it here. As a general rule: the more birds there are in one place, the greater her awareness of her surroundings, and awareness is something she absolutely needs to have now that she can no longer see through her own eyes. A light, drizzling rain keeps temperatures cool without requiring an umbrella. Moisture gathers as tiny beads in hair and creates a fine, silver sheen where it comes into contact with exposed skin. The clothes she wears are damp and cling to her shape, a wool skirt plastered to thighs, and a dark blouse she wears beneath a navy coat with antiquated bronze buttons, flat leather boots and a scarf to hold back her hair, its ringlets rippling in the breeze that wafts off the ocean.

The crane she holds between her fingers is made of paper rather than flesh or blood, and she turns it between them as she walks down a shadowed path flanked on both sides by trees with skinny canopies, displaying it for her companion. "Does it mean anything to you?" she asks.

Despite growing up within a stone's throw away (granted, a formidable throw) of the Pyrenees mountain range that divides France from Spain, it was the low lands and the marshy terrain that Francois was better acquainted with before moving for the cities. The amount of different landscapes within his home country makes Francois used to the concept of wildly diverging scenery from location to location — but he has to concede that New York City is particularly impressive, as densely packed with environment as it is people. He doesn't remember Jamaica Bay from when he'd come to this city before, some several decades ago. It's nice to be out here, where he can forget about commuting and the now molasses slow crawl of traffic onto Roosevelt Island he has to contend with if he wants to keep his position at the Centre.

Dressed with the same sensibilities, today, as when he was woefully unemployed in the days leading up towards landing his ambitions in St. Luke's. The ankles of his jeans are dirty from prior trekking on Staten Island and pathways such as these, but at least now it's difficult to tell with fresh dirt clinging to the worn hems, with stringy white thread catching beneath the heels of his sneakers. There's a light grey shirt just visible beneath the loose knit of a climate-sensible light blue sweater of the correct shade that makes his eyes all the more vivid, with the sleeves rolled and the neck hem wide, baring the collar of grey cotton and the scarred column of his throat.

His hands were folded gentlemanly behind his back as they walked, but now drift as if to take the crane — Francois never acually removes the item from her fingers, unless it's passed to him, able to otherwise observe. "Not without context," he says, a note of apology in the downturn of his tone. "You found this when?"

"Yesterday evening," says Eileen, relinquishing the crane to Francois when his hands unclasp and he reaches for her. With Jensen and Gabriel she'd been possessive, secretive, not wanting to alarm either of them before having ample opportunity to think about what the next step is to take and seek a second opinion. She spent hours agonizing over the little paper bird, desperately trying to remember if she passed over it before the first time she thumbed through the pages of Kazimir's journal before arriving at a conclusion: while she has no recollection of encountering the crane before last night, it's not impossible that she missed it, but considering the accompanying message—

It just isn't very likely.

"Jittetsu Arms is a swords dealership," she explains. "Or was. It's not in business anymore, but the address traces to Manhattan, and if someone was planning an ambush, why not do it when they came to leave the note? If they can get past the people I live with, dispatching me where I sleep wouldn't have been an issue."

Without slowing an already leisured pace, Francois uses fingernails and fingertips to edge back the folds of the origami bird, peering at the message within without undoing the little paper creature for fear of not being able to put it back to its rights despite the guiding lines of its creases. "Perhaps," he says, after a few seconds of thought, "it is a demonstration of trust. Ah…" That is an uncertain sound, contemplating how to better phrase his thoughts before adding, "The invitation would not be a trap, if the deliverer has no need for a trap."

Not that it can't still be a trap, says a mild amount of reserve in Francois' tone, but he figures— the woman walking alongside him doesn't need that speculation if she's already seeking some form of counsel. The pad of his thumb smooths over paper edges, better conforming paper into crane shape.

"The journal is an interesting choice."

"It's what worries me the most," Eileen agrees. "Only one other person I know is familiar with the contents, and he agreed not to share them with anyone. I trust him, but that's not his handwriting — it's someone else's." A tiny finch with deep blue feathers and sharp black markings on its wings flits down from the canopy and alights on her wrist when she offers it to him. And it is a him. Very few female birds have plumage as rich as this one's. "I don't like to think that a stranger has been touching my things, or reading what he wrote about me. If it involves him—" There's reserve in her tone as well, if for different reasons. One person advises her to stop digging in the past, another puts the shovel in her hands and wraps her fingers around it.

"I feel like I ought not to go," she says, "but I can't, not knowing what the consequences might be if I don't. I'm going to spend the rest of my life grieving for him. I won't mourn lost opportunities as well — it's not as though I initiated this."

Pinching the sharp jut of the paper crane's tail, Francois spins it between the simple rub of fingertips, a glance towards the brightly plumed creature on Eileen's wrist with a touch of a smile. "I would go," he says, that smile evident as warmth in his voice. "But I cannot say that this makes it a wise decision." With cut throat and the twist of scarring that laces over the curve of his ear, and further scars hidden by wool, cotton and denim, wisdom and decision making are complicated and unexclusive concepts. "I presume there will be a capacity for choice after you have seen what you have been invited to see.

"It does not say 'come alone'." He offers the paper crane back to Eileen, now, other hand pushing into denim pocket, his posture relaxed and as without tension as his voice. "Or really very much offer a lot in the way of specific instruction, non?"

A pause carries after, thoughtful and minutely distracted, and with the eyes of birds watching Eileen's path where her blind eyes cannot, she might not notice the pensive switch of his attention through skinny trees, towards the gunmetal reflection of river beyond, turned hard and dark beneath an overcast sky. The continual dampness of falling, misty rain goes ignored still, despite its determined insidiousness. It's warm enough not to be particularly annoying. Whatever it is he's thinking of saying, he first allows her time to speak of the problem she presented first.

Perhaps to protect it from the rain, Eileen slips the crane into her coat's silk-lined interior. She wears no lambskin gloves on her hands this morning, and the silver rings at her knuckles wink in the pale light, including a stylized snake twisted around one of her fingers. The bird, an indigo bunting with fishhook feet, flutters from her wrist to her collar and snags the material in its claws, taking shelter under her chin. "If I go alone," she says, "it will be as this little fellow here."

This would be the part where she asks Francois if he'll accompany her instead so she can investigate in her own shape rather than one whose best defense is a swift, scissoring escape, but her lips do not move around the question and her eyes are solemn. Booted footsteps float her through the fog alongside her companion, leaving shallow prints in the dirt path that winds through the trees and will eventually swing them past the bank of the river and the crane fishing for a breakfast of frogs in the mud. The bunting studies the Frenchman from its perch, head cocked, and offers a quiet, warbling sound of encouragement: You were saying?

It's not Eileen's fault that Francois' partner happens to be missing forever and the substitutes in his place don't really provide comfort enough to just talk to, nor that his colleagues at work live as normally as medical professionals in New York City can feasibly manage. Thus it's not her fault if he feels compelled to talk, maybe, about strangeness or anxieties or plans for the future, although he hasn't done that much at all save for now, these walks through the wetlands. Besides— there's a common element. "I found a message myself," he says, with a tip of his head, not even thinking about how he's being prompted to speak via bird. "Or I am overthinking a coincidence.

"I still write journals. Teo has— " a hitch over that, as if maybe it should have been had, but he's not going to correct himself— "a habit of reading things he shouldn't, just for virtue of them being there. So he bought me this antique wooden lockbox to keep my things in." This story is incomplete, is what Francois reflects upon a pause, feeling a little like when one goes down a path that is unexpectedly more complicated than anticipated, but traveled too far in to backtrack gracefully.

It wouldn't be shocking that Francois appreciates a little grace. He soldiers on with, "I had seen it in my vision of the future, wherein I was still keeping letters and such inside it, but I was also an old man. The President was on the radio." Shoulders that still contain the slopes of youth in their shape shrug up and down beneath the deep blue wool. "The other day, I found an engraving within the lid I had not noticed before. It was dated for 1991, and named a museum in Caen. In French. It also said 'try harder'.

"It's old, so. It could be anything. But your— " His head tilts towards the crane, or rather, where it had disappeared to, within her lined coat. "Your story reminded me. There was something in it, perhaps because the box, I had seen in a vision, or with Teo being missing— "

And so ends the story, abruptly and markedly without grace, pensive and somewhat selfconscious silence lapsing.

Eileen has never been to Caen. Seen pictures, yes: the Jardin des Plantes and ancient medieval fortress that once belonged to William the Conqueror, dog-eared photographs in black-and-white dating back to 1944 during the Battle of Normandy with Allied soldiers in their drab military uniforms, their faces caked with mud, eyes bright and cigarettes burning between knit fingers wrapped in gauze. It's one of those places she wishes she could have gone, back when Kazimir still held Europe cradled in his palms.

How Francois, one of the more observant people she knows, managed to miss the engraving under the lid is as much a mystery as who carved it, or why. "Essayez plus dur?" Try harder. Whatever that means. Dark brows knit, her jaw grows hard and she lifts her chin, appearing to look out across the river, toward the Atlantic and the lights glowing like watery beacons in the fog. They might belong to boats. "What happened was in no way your fault," she wants to remind him, and she reaches out to touch her hand to his arm just beneath the elbow in a companionable gesture. "You're trying as hard as you can."

And as hard, she imagines, as Teodoro — his Teodoro — would expect him to.

"Oui," is ready agreement, sharp and precise and not insincere. What it otherwise communicates is that the amount of trying means as much as the results it achieves — which at this stage is very little. Whatever mix of soldier and doctor that Francois might be, both professions leave little room for error, or for assigning worth to trying hard. He neither resists nor yields to the light touch of her hand on his elbow, but a small glance of friendly acknowledgment is visible through the sharp gaze of her seeing-eye bird.

A small shrug isn't enough to dislodge her touch, but can be felt. "It was hidden beneath a thin panel of wood that broke away. I can't imagine that it is accident, but it must be. But what would you make of it?" He looks at her, now, with more than mere bouncing glance, studying sightless greygreen and the prim shape her profile makes. "It, and the vision I had."

Silent for a time, Eileen considers Francois' question and the dew she can feel gathering on her lashes even when she blinks and sends it trickling under her eye and down the length of her long, slim nose. Fingers curl and contract around his arm — a firm, brisk squeeze. "I would remember," she says finally, "that I'm surrounded by people who love and support me, and there are worse things in this world than crooked, yellow teeth and cataracts, arthritis. That no one knows for certain where or who we'll be when it happens, or even if it will. I don't believe in fate, Francois.

"Maybe I'm the wrong person to ask." Some self-depreciating humour, there, and she doesn't necessarily mean to be facetious. Her grip on his arm loosens. "You could use your connections at the Suresh Center to find a psychometer," she suggests. "Surely there's someone on the registry who ought to be able to figure out that box of yours and tell you more about its history."

There are worse things is a sentiment Francois is pretty sure Teo had. That others must have had to, the ones he did manage to articulate it to, and oh, how he doesn't want to tell Abigail or Daphne for fear of receiving much the same, although the brisk, British care expressed in Eileen's gesture to his arm does more to curb bitter thoughts than anyone else has managed to do. "I could try that," Francois concedes, without dismissal — he sounds like he will, but he sounds like he'll probably take his time doing it, as usually does with most things. "I would say the same of your crane, but Friday is not very far.

"I should mention also that the other one— the one that took the Institute girl as its host— he is staying with me now. On the third floor," seems more of a necessary addition to make for himself than strictly required for Eileen, who really might only need to know the building as opposed to exact room-by-room geography. The bedroom above his own. "Do you know where the other one," the other other one, "is? I have not checked since."

"I haven't seen him," roughly translates to no. Quiet anxiety roughens the edges of Eileen's voice; its tone informs Francois that this is something she hopes to change. "But I've not sought him out, either. I brought Delilah a few things for the baby — I thought that if he was anywhere, it would be there with her." Which is to say that Teo is not as far as she knows, and she could be wrong — often, she is. "Ghost will have better luck finding him than you or I. They're the same person, more or less — the older should know the younger's mind."

If she's surprised to learn that he's living with Francois, she hides it very well behind a composed mask of porcelain with painted lips, their red stain dark, her mouth suddenly very grave and taciturn. "This is assuming you ask him to look, or that he hasn't already. What would you say to Teo if you saw him?" And it's probably fair to assume she means Ghost's other half and not the amalgamation in Institute custody.

The latter would be easier. Francois had corrected Teo's French, once, that in most cases of apology, pardon would suffice, and this included: knocking coffee over pages of writing, peeping at private script between journal pages or accidental kicks beneath bedsheets. It was only in moments wherein irreparable damage has been done of some kind that the more heartfelt je suis desolee was appropriate, describing desolation in asking for forgiveness. So.

They both have that covered.

The question she does ask is a little more complicated, Francois lapsing into a meditative silence as he, for the twenty billionth time, scrutinises his own motives. Shoulders roll beneath loosely knitted wool, pale fingers scuff through damp, dark hair. "I would ask how he is, if he needs anything," he says, voice rough in its quiet volume, "because I either feel responsible for him or because I want to be a part of his life. I have not decided. I was never clear on how it was supposed to work, if I was permitted to be friends with them, or be sectioned off completely. From his life with Delilah, or your Vanguard remnants, perhaps." For all that he might be desolately sorry for not playing effective hero to the one that matters, there is certainly a good amount of proud pissed offness shelved for later expression too.

The toe of his sneaker kicks a stone from where it was submerged in dirt track, skitters it off somewhere into brush. "I had hoped he would be trying harder himself, is more why I ask, than true desire to find him myself. I can go with you," is an abrupt divergence, manifest of some shame at the hijacking of conversation, "if you would not like yours to go."

"It isn't that," Eileen says on Gabriel and Raith's behalf, because it's not. "It's difficult to decide whether or not to involve someone in something when you don't know what that something is, or what consequences might result from it. I came to you with this because you've known him the longest and there was a possibility you might have an answer I already knew they didn't.

"You and I are the most informed. From a logical standpoint, we should be the ones to go." From the brush, a pair of sparrows criss-cross, sent scattering by Francois' kicked rock, and berate him on the wing. Clearly, she doesn't share their belligerent feelings — if she did, she wouldn't be winding her arm around his the way that adult siblings sometimes do, elbows loosely locked, although it's only for this stretch of path and the sake of emphasis. Thank you for offering. "They've not completely escaped, in any case. Let's see what we learn."

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