Brain Damage

Title: Brain Damage
Time Period: June 19, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Deckard makes a false friend, unwitting and worse, unwillingly.

There's an important distinction between gardening and groundskeeping. Gardening suggests domestic crops, miniature agriculture for the middle class dabble. Groundskeeping belongs to a land large enough to require real and effortful maintenance. It is a struggle to define the domestic as a boundary, a line between home and 'out there'.

Which makes 'out there' a zone that must be constantly maintained. Out on one of the rougher border of the Ross grounds, a man sits, perched upon a moss-covered tree, a little giant of an oak that has lain dead for who knows how many seasons. He's a stranger, though he seems like he's made himself at home, carving notches and curves into the trunk with the tip of a knife. Watery blue eyes peer out from a narrow face that manages at once to look attentive and bored, as if everything it regarded were an onerous but necessary task.

He's been out there for hours, just past the notice of the guards.

Deckard's been out there for hours as well. Not exactly the same open span of 'there,' mind. Dragging a rake behind him, he cuts a tall, rangy figure against open grass, grey and white and brown on green when he enters the stranger's sphere of observation.

If there's something he should be doing, he doesn't appear to be doing it now. The rake presses grass down in a wandering series of lines behind him, occasionally picking up a stray leaf or stick and battering it along a ways before spitting it back out into solitude.

Eventually, after stopping to crane a look back over his shoulder, he fishes in his pocket for the stub of a half-smoked cigarette and crouches to light up.

Unnoticed, the duration of his stay cannot be discerned. He sits as a nomad does, making a home in the moment. The knife turns, tip tested now against the thick leather thumb of a glove. It's as if to prick him from a doze, because his mien changes moments after, just as Deckard comes into view. He doubtless sees him. At first, he just watches.

When the cigarette-remnant appears, he tugs off his glove and sets two fingers between his teeth.

A long, sharp whistle cuts though the air, then a voice. "Oi!" Another whistle, this one shorter. He beckons with his hand. "Come on." He reaches into his pocket, and extracts a chunky stainless steel lighter. "You want a fuckin' light or wot?"

The first whistle is enough to spur a fight-or-flight bristle through the gardener's hunch: his elbows jut and his skull swivels to the source. Match already in hand, not yet scuffed to flame, Flint studies the man in the tree at a distance.

Unsure.

He has met a lot of people around the grounds over the last few weeks, but to date none of them were in trees.

Long as the day's gone on, uncomfortable heat is yielding to long shadows and chilly wind — it drags through the once-white sail of his shirt as the only motion about him until cost-benefit weighs in favor of the offered service and he uses the rake to push back to his feet. He doesn't have many matches.

To be fair, he's less in the tree than just on the tree. Perching proper is too puckish a practice; one doesn't want to give the wrong impression. The stranger flicks the lighter open, striking it into flame, then closes it.

"Come on," he says again - his accent is distinct when he does, a sour thing from out of London that was. "I'll toss it if you'll juss' get wiffin a polite fuckin' distance." His smile gleams silver in places. "You're the new fella, aintcha?"

On the tree, then. Against the tree.

Deckard weaves his way over without hurry, still dragging his rake. 'Raking.' Maybe.

Abrasively, he doesn't get too much further before he draws up into another wary stop. Tired and drawn flat about the face, he's healthier than he was. Seen some sun. Eaten some sandwiches. The marks around his wrists have healed over and his eyes are clear in their asssessment of that smile. He's even sober.

"Yeah."

"Good enuff," the stranger judges, and sends the lighter spinning over to Deckard wtih a flick of the wrist. "Pass it back when your fru, eh? I get a whiff, I gunna need a puff of me own." In anticipation he reaches into his coat pocket and fishes out a tin, which he pops open with his bare thumb. Inside is loose tobacco, and some yellowed papers.

"It's shit, this stuff," the stranger admits, "but helps you not notice it 's much when it goes off, eh?" A chuckle at this, self-appreciation of wit.

"So tell me straight- wots your story? Heard this and that, but I been meaning to get that from the 'orse mouf, so t' speak."

The lighter is caught up in his left hand where the right stays with his rake, flipped over and brought to the half a cigarette he already has loose in his mouth. It's a nice lighter.

But he is here on Mrs. Ross's good graces. And this is Mrs. Ross's field. And he may be Mrs. Ross's man. So. After a moment's aimless speculation, he tosses it back and drags deep. Behaving, insofaras his only crime now is being a waste of space.

"Can't remember."

"You're fucking joking," the stranger says, giving a wheezy chuckle as he rolls a cigarette between his fingers with the idleness of long practice. He plants it in the corner of his mouth and lights it moments after the lighter returns to his hand. A draw- a cloud of gritty, unfiltered smoke. "Can't remember- fuckin' 'ell. I've 'ad mornings like that meself, truf be told."

"It's true, though, they found you washed up, all tangled wif seaweed?" Another unevenly gleaming smile indicates that he's joking about these embellishments. "Fink it was a boat you was on? Plenty of storms off the coast this time of year."

Not interested in conversation or strangers or speculation about where he might have come from and under what circumstances, Deckard chokes up his grip on the rake and takes a step back. Then one more, turning to make his trudging escape while still keeping half an eye turned back. All without so much as a thanks.

The stuttering sound he hears behind him is, in fact, a disapproving tut. The strange flicks the still-burning cigarette into the underbrush, where it smokes ominously until the he gives it a definitive stomp and grind.

"Look- I found some fings washed up since-" he offers, one last cordial gesture, "mebbe somefing I found was yours. Call if a gift even if it ain't."

Red light, green light. Deckard the gardener and his rake and his cigarette all stop and turn back. To look, rather than give up ground gained. The smoke sent cartwheeling off into the brush coaxes a furrow at his brow. Dimly disapproving. He lives here.

Anyway. He can't remember anything good on the ship and his expectations are set low accordingly. Even if Dornie is host to a disproportionately large number of benevolent strangers.

Yes they are rather aggressively helpful, aren't they? Or certainly that is the impression they seem to be after. And for the moment that doesn't change. "'Ave a drink wif me, bit before vespers?" goes the offer, bordering on solicitation, "I'll bring wot I found, let you poke fru it. Favor to me, as it's bad luck, you know, to plunder a mariner."

The cant of his brow is visible even from Deckard's distance.

"Didn't ferget your name on top of all else, didja?"

"I'm not supposed to drink," imparted with such automatic absence of feeling that he might not have bothered to say so at all, Flint scrubs blunt nails to his side and frowns (again, after the last flicker of the Londoner's cigarette). It's probably been long enough, now. She said a couple of weeks. At least, that's how he's electing to remember it. The harder he thinks, the more likely it seems.

"Deckard," he says. At length. Once it's clear he's reconsidered.

"It'll probably be fine."

"I'm not supposed to fight," the stranger says, shrugging, philosophical, "still get bloody knuckles on the regular."

"Can't be blabbering all fuckin' day, suppose. Sure way to lose us both our jobs, and then wot'd we do? Can't get pissed on nuffing."

He eases back on his heel, inner gravity already being tilted towards some other destination. Moving on. Thought first-

"I'm Thorpe," Thorpe explains, "bit new meself, really. Bit of fuckin work living with these Dornians. You know what they're like, these pig'eaded Scottish cunts."

Having avoided the majority of them, including the ones he's meant to work with and service, Deckard can only lift his brows at Thorpe's classification. Sure. Some of them are pig-headed Scottish cunts, he supposes. If not emphatically, with enough acceptance to be considered halfway companionable. At a stretch.

Deckard's full assent is not necessary. Thorpe seems satisfied. "See you in 'alf a mo then," he says, companionable for all that Deckard is not. He disappears into the 'out there', presumably tending to whatever it is he does for whoever it is pays him to do it. Hard to tell what's commonplace and what's suspicious when you're so thoroughly out of joint.

The finest trail of grey smoke continues to curl from what ought to have been the cigarette's final resting place. This, and the marks made on the tree trunk, are the only signs of his passing.


That's the name of the place, you see. The 'Alf a Mo is about the dingiest little regional expatriate bar you could imagine. Its decor, if it can be called that, consist of a motley of items that - forming a symptom rather than a theme - remind people of what they remember imagining London-that-was was like. A lot of postcards, many of them depicting what must be - to these people - iconic towers of palatial stone, and the broad, round face of a timeless clock. There is at least one that shows two people canoeing down a serenely wooded river in London, Ontario, but that distinction has been lost to these men. But so what, would it make any difference if it were the Thames?

Thorpe sits alone, in the corner. His demeanor is casually defensive, an effect achieved in part by the virtue of his keeping his knife so visible. This does not earn him goodwill at the bar, no matter how much invented nostalgia he may share with the rest, who at least have the good manners to be discreet with their armament. It does, however, keep the stool next to him clear, which is what he wants. He's waiting for someone.

Deckard does not have a knife visible when he sets himself uneasily down onto the stool at Thorpe's side. He doesn't have a knife at all, bare hand braced to the bar as leverage while he settles. Shirt's too big and too short in the sleeves — cuffs rolled to his elbows and slacks belted up threadbare around his waist.

He's even put his boots on. Pragmatic, in cramped, dirty quarters full of even dirtier glass. They fit, which is something.

He doesn't say hello.

"Ah, you found it," says Thorpe, lifting a hand to try and snag the half-rozzed bartender's attention, "so you ain't too fucking brain damaged or nuffing then? Couldn't tell, honest, way you were using that rake, mebbe like loonies use brooms. Thought maybe sumfing rattled loose."

Oh but it's all in good fun. That's what his smile and wheezing laugh are meant to convey.

"Now- if I'm not mistaken, I promised you sumfing, dinnit I? 'ere-" Thorpe stoops to one side, snagging something from a faded knapsack that sits near his feet. The object is a smooth, round-cornered oblong of stainless steel. "This, mate, is yours. And the saints' witnessed miracle of it-" a press of his thumb, and it pops open to reveal a row of neatly rolled cigarettes.

"Waterproof or sumfing, would you believe it?" Thorpe extends the case, "fancy a fag, then?"

Regrets. Flint's already having them, jaw raked over while he listens to Thorpe rattle on. He's at a disconnect despite being well-suited to the setting, coarse and grey and shrill about the eyes.

Cigarettes are cigarettes, though, and their pristine condition warrants a look down away from his study of the rest of the establishment. After a moment, he reaches to hook one of them out of the case, paper passed under his nose before it's set against his teeth.

He holds his hand out for the lighter, next.

"What else?"

It's all the worse the way he says it, too. Thorpe's voice is a low rustle at his shoulder, a incorrigibly conspiratorial tone that assumes too much all at once - familiarity, fellow feeling, complicity. The bartender takes his time, and when he does rumble up, it's to Deckard. Thorpe receives only an unkind glance. But that's not about to perturb him.

The lighter flame flickers into life, nearly gnawing at the cigarette's closest tip. It awaits a puff.

"Patience, mate. All this was scattered over ten miles of beach. Least I can promise is, you'll get 'em quicker than I found 'em.

"I've got 'is," Thorpe adds to the 'tender, who gives him a more professionally neutral glance and a nod. He'll take the man's money.

Deckard wastes no time, conscious of reliable fuel's scarcity. The first drag pulls paper black from ash, smoke held and chased out again with a raggedy cough.

"Ale's fine," he tells the barkeep, eye contact avoided past a glance. Scabs are still blotted black around his far wrist here and there. On their way out, admist puckered scarring. Still fresh. He looks at them instead. Then at the bar itself.

Processing for a little too long before he puffs again. "Ten miles," he echoes, "is a lot of beach."

"Well, mebbe not ten whole miles," Thorpe allows, with a somewhat nasal snicker. His watery eyes watch Deckard with a fixity that might be unusual. Indeed, with attention to detail, attention measured, counting beats.

Meanwhile Deckard's drink is poured. To think people once complained, saying soap residue made a glass 'dirty'. Pray it's previous potable was strong enough to sterilize.

"And a mile in the sand's like five on the road- and fancy wearing a pair of work boots on top of that, eh?" Chatty bugger, inne? Well, it's one way to pass the time.

"Drink up, then. Don't insult me."

Not long after Thorpe's prompt, the ale is hefted, fogged with grime as the glass is, and swallowed without time taken to examine the state of it. Matter disturbed off the bottom drifts in hard-to-classify clumps about the middle before resettling.

He coughs again before replacing the cigarette, dubious health battering the backs of his ribs. And teeth.

As hard as he's trying to be sociably patient, restless tension is belting in across the sheer flank of his jaw. Unfortunately, the same try at his temper veers a dirty look over onto Thorpe at his side. One where his field of vision seems to keep on turning.

A shame, too, since few faces could be in more need of punching. His smile remains tight, no show of enamel and silver. But this smile is much sharper, much more real. A private smile that Deckard is privileged enough to see, paired with eyes that gleam in smug triumph.

"Alright there, friend?" he says, concern half feigned, and openly so, "how long since you last 'ad a drink? Is it giving you trouble?"

Saliva fills in where crud left off, suddenly, stemming nausia about as well as two deliberately drawn breaths work to steady the veer and skew of the bar around him. He almost sets the cigarette back in his mouth to boot. Shaken. Disoriented.

He winds up setting it next to his glass instead, still smoldering when he slides away off his stool. Confused. A little scared. Paranoid, even — his eyes tick from face to face as well as they can. Not interested in talking.

Maybe it's comforting, then, that Thorpe's voice seems to be getting more distant. But it's still awfully clear, however alien each word sounds, bubbling across some growing, murky divide. "Gonna helpim getsum heir-" is maybe something like what Deckard hears.

A second stool goes down at a tilt and clatter when Flint tangles into it, ringing static bleaching out the sound of impact the same way it fumbles a shove away from Thorpe's shoulder in pursuit. Bony fingers snarl into shirt and lock there.

The next thing he remembers is that he doesn't remember anything else: a moment's spittle-flecked struggle is coupled with snapping teeth until even that instinct is snuffed slug-under-salt and he goes slack.