chanter_greenie: an older house and surrounding autumn scenery (Wisconsin autumn: smells like fall)
[personal profile] chanter_greenie
This story was originally going to be held until after two in-progress pieces got finished and then posted, but I looked at it tonight and said... eh, why not? The two immediately preceding stories are still in progress, for the record, and a number of the details in this one will make more sense once those two pieces are revealed. This particular story's been sponsored by R. A. Olivero, a very old and dear friend.

Trigger warning for internalized and societal transphobia and the visible details of same, language (Quinn has a potty mouth), and the aftermath of one very, very rough night on the border (discussion of callous violence and narrative description of its effects).


The youngest of the three newest refugees turns up in Windsor with a red-flecked coat that probably won't ever be properly clean again by the looks of it, a ragged nylon bag she clutches in the crook of one arm like a lifeline, a costume jewelry crucifix dangling around her neck and an edge-of-something mark shadowing a line diagonally down her left cheek, looking as though it can't decide whether it wants to be a bruise, a scratch, or nothing at all. Her eyes are fifty years older than she is, staring straight ahead, and her shoes and socks squelch in two different voices, each a split second out of rhythm with its fellow.

Helen doesn't comment on what's being left all across the kitchen floor; there are times you mention those sorts of things, and then there are times you keep your mouth shut out of plain decency even in what's essentially your own house. This is the latter, the mop's in the closet, and Helen's got bigger things to worry about anyway. That much shows in her face when Eric looks sideways at her, at least for the instant her face is visible; she's buried head and shoulders in the hall cupboard a split second after he glances at her, a folded blanket almost immediately draped over her visible left arm, and he just catches her muttered list of necessities through the muffling effect of the fabric she's leaning into. When in doubt, he knows, Helen will turn to the sensible and the invaluable, and so she has.

The second new arrival, the darker and slightly older one, shows up wrapped in a blanket that covers all but her dangling left arm. There's a bandage around her visible shoulder, the left sleeve of her shirt's been cut away almost to the neckline, and there's a red trail from dressing to wrist that no one's had time or opportunity to wash away. Alain has to half-carry her through the door - "She's not badly hurt, Helen. Most of this is shock. The other two will be back later. I'm taking her to lie down," the teacher adds, and Eric's mouth quirks a little, but neither he nor Quinn crack a joke about the choice of words. Wrong time, wrong situation.

For his part, Eric's half-risen from his chair by the time Quinn and the younger girl are almost alongside the table - chivalry never died with him, it only got a brash companion in humor - but an entirely empty seat is closer, a rough ninety degrees from the Dutchman's own, and Quinn's nodding Eric's way as he maneuvers the blonde into it. Her limbs don't creak audibly as she sits down, but by the way she's moving, it almost looks as though they should do.

"The last room on the left," Helen calls, though she doesn't raise her voice much past normal. "I made it up tonight; I knew we had people coming." Alain doesn't respond aloud to the information. "Come on, cherie," is all he says, low and comforting, and then he and the dark girl are shuffling off down the hallway.

Quinn has a fraying case in the hand he hasn't been using to guide the stiff-legged blonde girl; Eric assumes it belongs to Alain's half-asleep charge. "Third person got it worse," he says, and then adds something about the belltower of a church that Eric can only guess is a Quebecois brand of rude language that he hasn't added to his own vocabulary as yet. Alain snorts from the shadows of the passage's near end but doesn't smile. The refugee he's leading doesn't do more than flicker a barely-visible drooping eyelid.

Quinn drops the ragged-edged suitcase into an empty seat as Alain and the dark boat person disappear from view, then claims a chair of his own with a thump as Helen emerges from the closet, her arms full of blankets and cloths, smaller folded atop larger, as neatly balanced as only she--or one or two others, part of Eric's brain muses, to be fair--could manage in an emergency.

"Everybody else's at the hospital," Quinn says, flicking turquoise bangs out of his eyes. "Good God, but this night turned worse than the usual. Damned overzealous American borderguards and their surplus of hardware again--no, Helen, I'm okay. I swear. Our third passenger didn't look like he was going to make it very far though--sorry, petite." The blonde girl is wincing, covering her face with one long-fingered hand, and Eric catches a sound from her that's half small child, half Labrador in pain. He has to stop his own hand from instantly seeking hers across the table, and it takes effort to keep it at his side.

"Again with the guns?" Eric says, half an indignation that makes his accent stronger on the last vowel, half a resigned sort of disgust that's getting to be worryingly familiar as it sinks into his belly. "You're--" Helen starts her own question at normal volume, stops short after the first word, then continues with the sound dialed down to about two thirds of mellow usual.

"You're sure it wasn't just a warning?" she's still on her feet, aiming her questions at Quinn - she already knows the answer, Eric's sure she does - but angling toward the blonde's chair from one side. Visibility, Eric thinks, then amends his own idea; the girl's still staring straight ahead, left hand crumpling the strap of the bag now in her lap, angled arm throwing her flat chest into shadow under the kitchen lights. Even a little visibility is better than nothing. "Here you go," she says, talking directly over Quinn's answering snort, and peripheral vision must account for something because the refugee only flinches a little as Helen tucks the plain brown fabric around her shoulders. "You must be freezing. We can get those shoes off you and cleaned up in a minute. Get a little warmer first." She backs off as deliberately as she came in, palms up and expression kind--that's not acting, it's honest--but the girl's not moving any closer to Helen than she can help. She's hunching beneath that blanket, bony shoulders curving forward around empty space, one arm still bent to accomodate the bag she's holding. Eric's willing to bet quite a few of his own belongings that that's everything the kid has got left in the world, right there.

"The hell it was a warning shot," Quinn snaps, and utterly ignores the hint of motherly disapproval in Helen's expression as he takes a breath to continue. "Hit two of us square on, no messing around and trust me, they were trying for people. Searchlights were a--" he interjects something about a church again, the altar this time, "--given. Had to fishtail halfway across the lake before we lost them. Warning shot, bah! You know it wasn't, Helen. They picked that Kendra girl and the man we were carrying out like fish in a river. I honest to God saw one of them pointing people out. You know they don't do warning shots. You know they don't care how much damage they do, the--" Eric's French is good enough to make out what the next couple of words mean, even if Quinn's voice is fast approaching a snarl.

"Quinn!" Helen scolds, as much, Eric suspects, for the tone the younger man's using as for his language. She's got reason; the refugee's eyes dart abruptly sideways for the first time at their exchange. One sharp glance toward the two Canadians and then she's staring at the far wall again, and Eric's not sure what's scaring her the worst, but the fact is her expression's abruptly starting to remind him of a frightened deer with a moving car in its path. That's not something Eric can ignore, or abide, even if he isn't entirely sure what the best thing to do about it is just yet.

"Doc and Sister took the third," Quinn continues, and it's obvious he's making at least a little effort where his voice is concerned. "Checked over the rest of us and got the man--Mackenzie, I think it was--out of there in a hurry. Bad news, but you know those two. Fuckin' miracle workers until they can't be anymore." He ignores Helen's renewed disapproving look and goes on. "Trauma, shock and terror. Fine goodbye, à l'américaine. Glad Alain was there to help, and I don't just mean the drive. A night like this'd kick anybody in the teeth, present company included. That other girl lost her own share of blood, and I can't really blame her for needing somebody to hold her hair back while she lost her--"

"Quinn." This time Helen's firm. "Be quiet." The blonde girl makes another sound at almost the same instant, a whimper scaling upward from a creak to something not unlike a dry sob,. The Quebecois closes his mouth as the refugee's stare wavers; if eyes can shy, hers do exactly that. She's avoiding even looking at the Canadians now, visibly so, and there's panic in her hazy gaze as it lands on Eric.

And what else can he do?

He tries, God he tries, but he isn't sure he manages to keep his own face calm as he looks at her. He takes everything in at a glance - the tumble of light hair just sweeping her shoulders, the bruise shadow on her cheek, the visible Adam's apple and the ancient, bark-brittle blue eyes now staring everywhere but into his own.

My lord, he thinks as some corner in the back of his mind puts the crucifix, the pale pink coat and the baggy, beltless jeans she's wearing quietly together without him telling it to, dat is niet alleen uit vanavond.

Two feet away, Quinn's gritting his teeth and silently rocking his chair back onto two legs. Ten feet further out, Helen's rattling the teakettle one-handed, still balancing everything she took from the closet on her other arm as she fills the reservoir from the sink. Eric cares about all of it.

But Eric can't look away. It's not that he physically can't. It's that he won't. Looking away might make a bad situation worse, and that is the absolute last thing he wants to be a part of. Looking away might do more terrible things to this girl than she's already had done to her, earlier tonight, some previous night, whenever--good God. A face like that, and she's how old?

He's pretty sure somebody's hurt this kid. Eric's never claimed to read situations or people with any kind of consistency; he's flying by the seat of his trousers and he knows it, continually stomping on the full, terrible knowledge that his instincts might steer him off a cliff the next time he moves. But he'd swear somebody's been hurting this kid. He thinks he knows why, and even if he's wrong, the story behind the reality doesn't mean that the reality is any less, and stopping people suffering even a little bit is all over the reasons why he does what he does. If it's literally one person at a time with a lighter heart because of him, then okay.

His voice is steady when he speaks. He's inwardly blessing his years on the air the second he realizes nothing he says is coming out shaky. "You don't have to be afraid of them," he starts, and it's in the sort of voice he uses during a broadcast on the rare occasions when a laugh or a joke just doesn't suit. It's as honest as Helen's motherly kindness. So is the warmth running beneath it. "They're okay. Helen acts like that to everybody, like she's everyone's mother, and I can promise you that Quinn is definitely not angry at you. He would tell you, I think. They really are okay." Half a second's pause. "I'm Eric."

Two seconds, three seconds, four, five. "I'm Erin," the girl says, and the raspy, defeated half-whisper she uses all but puts it together for him. Her voice wavers as much as her eyes, or maybe her eyes are doing more of that now. They're exhausted and they're terrified, they still won't meet his and God, God they're old. Dat is niet alleen uit vanovond, of deze week of dit jaar. No way.

If it's one person at a time who's got a lighter heart, well then. Okay by him.

Eric chooses his next words very carefully. When he speaks, it's with the slow deliberation of a native speaker talking to a student who's made an effort at learning the basics of a language rather than just waiting for the exam results to come out and moving on. Not that he can know who she's been talking to or what broadcasts she's been listening to, but she's here via the lake, and that brings his chances of being understood up at least a little bit from zero. If nothing else, the sound of it might be familiar. It won't do any harm. It might even help. God, he hopes it helps. It's worth a try.

"Erin," he says slowly. "U bent van harte welkom hier, jonge vrouw."

Again with the one second's pause, two, two and a half. Erin's lips shape the last two words and then her breath catches in a ragged squeak on its way out. Her mouth's gone round, an O that might be comical if the situation weren't so tense, and now, now those eyes meet his. They're still wavery, and they're a telling kind of overbright, but they're looking him squarely in the face for the first time, and he's a liar if he ever says the amazed, half-disbelieving hope sticking tiny pinpricks in the unnatural age of her expression doesn't melt his merry outlaw's heart. That got through, he thinks, and his smile is as reassuring as he can make it. Hell if it isn't plain old happy and relieved atop it all, too.

The transgirl's free hand reaches across the table. Eric wouldn't be himself if he didn't meet it halfway. Her palm ends up atop his own and then her fingers are curling around his, all kinds of quiet desperation and not much grip at all. Part of him wants to clasp that hand in both of his and rub warmth into every part of it. He doesn't do it. He wants to get up, swing around the table and hug her, clap her on the back, twirl her around in place, chatter a longer welcome at her. He stomps on that, too. He has no idea where it's coming from, but something tells him that the idea of closing any part of this kid in, even her hand, is a seriously bad one.

There are tears running down her face. Eric doesn't say a single word about them.

Out of all but the barest corner of his view, Quinn is suddenly smiling.


Notes go over here:

*EDIT* I almost forgot! The title refers to a radio signal audible with no interference from another source, as in 'That station was blocked by a louder broadcaster until they signed off, leaving the weaker signal in the clear.'

Eric is thinking and speaking in Dutch. Translations:
Dat is niet alleen uit vanavond: That didn't happen in an evening.
Dat is niet alleen uit vanavond, of deze week of dit jaar: That didn't happen in an evening, or a week or a year.
U bent van harte welkom hier, jonge vrouw: You are welcome here, young lady.

Quinn is cursing in Quebecois, Canadian French. That language really does have a whole category of swear words dealing with religion.

Credit for the original Alain goes to Georgia at Milliways.

The lake being referenced is Lake Saint Clair, between Detroit, Michigan, USA and Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Yes, this is the Erin from 'Outbander'.

Yay!

Date: 2015-01-03 08:03 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
I'm delighted to see this. It's very timely. I like how determined they all are to help the refugees. I have linked to it, and listed it under Schrodinger's Heroes.

Re: Yay!

Date: 2015-01-03 09:14 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
I really look forward to seeing those.

Re: Yay!

Date: 2015-01-03 09:50 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
I vote for trying at least one of them as a story that can be sponsored in small bits. A $5 segment I could manage most months. $10 maybe once in a while. More than that is hard for me to scrape up, though I would if I could. A serialized story has the potential to pick up an audience as it goes along.

Date: 2015-01-03 06:02 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Quebecois, Canadian French. That language really does have a whole category of swear words dealing with religion.

*chuckles* yes, yes it does... 'sfunny, that's specific to Quebecois; in Metropolitan French the "sacres" have no real significance...

And then you get my good friend who is (a) big into all things Quebecois (chiefly because of the folk music) and (b) Southron... and she starts mixing her swear words... *grin*

I love how you take Rowling's approach to coarser language... 'Ron said something that made Hermione say, "Ron!"' :)

OTOH, I do not want to think *too* much about what might be going on Oop Narf if folks are risking *American* border guards to get south... I'm hoping Harper has won his last election and we get something Blue-er or preferably Green-er next time... *sigh*

Date: 2015-01-04 03:49 am (UTC)
technoshaman: (cascadia)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
oooh, I missed the direction. *That* doesn't surprise me.

Not my b----y PM, despite my use of Proper English (v. Noah Webster's hack job)... I don't envy my Canadian friends, though. (S'funny, I swear in the strangest way myself... Brit diction but an American accent. "Bugger" sounds like it's spelt, instead of missing an R as all but the Cornish do... two year love affair with the Sceptre'd Isle will do that... :)

Oh, no, she taught me about the Sortilege, too... :) if you like your booze sweet, Get Some. :)

Date: 2015-01-03 10:19 pm (UTC)
thnidu: warm red heart on orange streaked background (heart)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Ohh, these are good people!

As a language geek, I was proud of myself for figuring out all the Dutch — a language I've never studied even informally — except vanavond.* And oh! those last two words, and the chain reaction they trigger!:
"... jonge vrouw."

... Erin's lips shape the last two words ... and now, now those eyes meet his ... looking him squarely in the face for the first time, and he's a liar if he ever says the amazed, half-disbelieving hope sticking tiny pinpricks in the unnatural age of her expression doesn't melt his merry outlaw's heart. ...

Out of all but the barest corner of his view, Quinn is suddenly smiling.

Heel hartelijk bedankt!

A few typos, mostly from missing the shift key:

• worry about anyway. that much
→ anyway. "that much

• Thee other two will be back later.
→ The

• under the kitchen lights. even a little visibility
→ lights. Even

• know those two. fuckin' miracle workers
→ two. Fuckin'

• a la Americaine
→ à l'américaine

• "Erin, he says slowly. "U bent van harte welkom hier, jonge vrouw."
→ "Erin," he



*(Of course, for all I know these phrases are nearly transparent to everyone here.)

Also...

Date: 2015-01-03 10:22 pm (UTC)

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