|Witness to Murder|
|What: The old mutant meets the new.|
Central Park is never truly private. Even though the trees muffle the screaming and groaning of New York traffic, too many people pass through the park or loiter around for hours at a time. Still, Annetta finds a measure of solace in the shade of the trees. On a weathered bench in a quiet corner of the park, the teenager sits by herself, a paper bag in her lap. Surrounding her are two dozen grey and white pigeons, cooing softly as they peck at the bread crumbs scattered around her feet. Above the girl, perched within the trees' branches, a handful of crows act sentry over the scene.
One such passerby strides leisurely along one of the park's many winding paths, cane thumping rhythmically against the ground. Erik tips his hat slightly, adjusting to the glare of the midafternoon sun as he strolls calmly along, every bit the elderly gentleman out for his afternoon constitutional. A newspaper is tucked under his arm, though as he proceeds along his walk, his attention is drawn to the array of birds and the girl situated among them. "Marvelous things, aren't they?" He inquires blithely, drawing near enough to be heard, though still maintaining a respectable distance such as to not upset the assembled avians. "Quite simple, though happy to have a bit to eat now and again."
The crows and pigeons immediately turn their unblinking gazes upon the stranger, though Annetta reacts less fiercely, instead raising her eyes to regard the man with a mixture of confusion and alarm. When he makes no sudden movement toward her, she relaxes somewhat, and the pigeons presume eating; the crows remain vigilant. "Well, they like eating," she offers lamely. "I mean, it's sort of all they know. The pigeons, anyway," she adds hastily as a crow screeches indignantly above her.
"Is it?" Erik inquires mildly, a quirked brow the only indication of his surprise at every feathered eye orienting upon him for a moment. "I do my part for them, now and again, though I must say I do not make a habit of coming before such a profusion of crows, not in the city," he comments, glancing up to the tree, laden with the aforementioned birds. "Rather ominous, don't you think?" He tips his hat, endeavouring to approach a further step, then two, smiling urbanely.
The pigeons flutter restlessly around Annetta's feet as the gentleman approaches, but they continue to feed. Annetta, however, has stopped tossing them crumbs. "There are crows everywhere," she replies carefully, lowering her gaze a few degrees. "It's not like it's... not uncommon or anything, to see a bunch gathered."
Erik Lehnsherr chuckles lightly, obviously amused. "Precisely," he enunciates. "It is decidedly not common. Let me see," he murmurs, glancing at the crows appraisingly. "One is bad luck, two are good. Three health, four wealth, five sickness..." he frowns. "There are six here, and six historically indicate death." He shakes himself slightly, tipping his hat. "Still, forgive an old man his superstitions. You, at the least, don't seem concerned in the slightest, so I believe I shall draw on your example. Ah, may I sit? I had hoped to finish my paper, if it isn't an imposition..."
"I meant not uncommon," Annetta murmurs, frowning, but nods at his request. As she scoots toward one end of the bench, making room for the man to sit, the pigeons move with her. The crows mutter amongst themselves, shifting back and forth upon their perches, but otherwise don't react to the elderly gentleman's approach. "I didn't know that about crows," Annetta says once he is seated. She breaks apart a slice of bread between her fingers and lightly tosses the crumbs to the ground, exciting the pigeons.
The man inclines his head gratefully, moving to sit next to Annetta. "Hm," he comments idly, glancing over the pigeons as they scoot to one side. "They seem to rather like you, I should think." He leans his cane against the bench and takes the newspaper in both hands, unfurling it with a shake and tutting gently. "Too much violence, these days. I don't know why I bother with such rags."
The girl glances sidelong at her bench neighbor and the newspaper in his hands. Subconsciously, she clenches her hands into fists in an attempt to stop them from shaking; in response, several pigeons hop onto the bench, then onto her arms and lap, ignoring the bag of bread to form a soft, grey-white mass of comfort. Annetta would normally welcome the consolation, but with the man beside her, she dares not act strangely. "What does the paper say?" she asks, hesitantly.
"Ah, nothing for fair ears," Erik scoffs derisively, glaring at the paper. "Some senator or another railing against mutants. Freaks, he calls them," he growls. "As though anyone with two arms and two legs deserves that classification." He opens the newsprint with a rustle, taking the motion to catch a sidelong glimpse of his erstwhile companion. "Oddly friendly," he adds, almost as an afterthought.
Curiosity getting the better of her, Annetta tilts her upper body to peek at the front of the paper, searching for the article about mutants. The pigeons continue to flutter around her, cooing softly. "I don't really understand politics' obsession with mutants," she admits, briefly peering up at Erik. "It's like... being gay or whatever, right? It's not like we'd -- they'd -- harm anybody by being a little different." Above, a crow's caw echoes warningly.
Erik Lehnsherr turns a page in the paper, grunting noncommittally; if he's noticed the girl's brief slip, he makes no sign of showing it. "Why, of course. Humans fear what they cannot understand," he murmurs, "And they despise, on some level, that which they fear. Riots, hate speech, oppressive legislation - I imagine it will only be some time before these hate mongers reap what they sow, shouldn't you think?"
Sitting up, Annetta wrinkles her face in a frown. "I... I guess that's true. Though I don't know if I'd say that bad people always get what's due." As she speaks, her voice grows quiet. The pigeons have long gone silent as they sit with a remarkably unnatural stillness around the girl. And then, suddenly, they pull away, flapping madly to give the teenager space as she shakes her head and slumps against the bench. "Sorry I brought it up. It's kinda doom and gloom."
Folding the paper, Erik favors the girl with a knowing look. "It is indeed doom and gloom, though it's certainly no fault of yours that it was brought up. A very real issue, miss," he states, tapping the side of his nose knowingly. "Though you are indeed right - bad people do not always get what's due, more's the pity." He sits the paper across his lap and crooks a finger idly; the man's cane straightens of its own accord and lifts off the ground, floating over into Erik's grasp. "Some must take measures into their own hands to protect themselves and their people."
Annetta's jaw drops, and all of the birds around her instantly go mad, screaming chaotically and taking to the air. Her gaze alternates between Erik and the cane in his hand until the implication of that simple movement descends forcefully upon her. "Holy shit. That means..." The paper, the cane, the old man's knowing smile. Emotion wrestles visibly upon her face as she fights to contain herself, but willpower is not enough; the girl turns away and covers her mouth with a hand, shutting her eyes tight against tears of relief. The birds return, and more come with them, flocking around her in protective, comforting blanket. One bronze-feathered hawk alights upon the back of the bench, arching above Annetta and staring pointedly at Erik.
"That means there are more of us than you think," Erik affirms gently, though makes no further motion. "That you, my dear, are far from alone." Those in Central Park continue to mill past at irregular intervals, though none seem to pay the bizarre scene unfolding on the bench any attention whatsoever - likely another trick of the gentleman's. He regards the hawk with a hint of amusement. "It is not a life we choose, but are rather born into. Is it one you shall hide, or wear proudly, I wonder? Would you be given the chance to wear it proudly, I suppose, would be the more pertinent query at hand..."
From underneath the mass of feathers, Annetta sobs quietly, "I don't even know what this is. They don't teach this in school. Like I've been trying to figure out why me, what does this mean, why birds? I'm scared all the time because of TV and stuff, like, what if they lock me up?" Shame colors her tone, as if she were embarrassed of her sudden emotional outburst. "They'll think I did it." Her voice cracks. "Then they'll really lock me up and I'll never... I'll never..." Her words trail off as she loses momentum. Finally, she shrugs, knocking loose a couple of crows. "I don't know anymore."
Erik Lehnsherr folds his hands over the knob of his cane, leaning forward slightly. "We don't know," he admits. "Why birds? Why this, why that? We don't know, dear," he murmurs. "We didn't sign a form, nor choose ourselves from a catalogue of options. We are nothing less than who we are, no matter what others think." He frowns slightly, taking in the birds nesting all about. "They will, though, you know," he grunts, coming to his feet and leaning on his cane. "Any excuse they can get, they will take, to put you into protective custody - for your own good, they might say - or under a microscope, to see whether they can determine 'why birds', when we cannot." He lifts the brim of his hat to regard her with a measure of concern. "The world is a dangerous place, young lady, and you must either run or fight." Whether he knows of what she speaks is not evident, though his tense tone lends credence to his words.
As Annetta calms, the animals around her give her space, leaving a mess of loose feathers clinging to her clothes and hair. She still sniffles when she wipes the tears from her cheeks, but her eyes are dry, and they regard Erik with both wariness and hope. "Fighting the politicians. Is that what you do?" she ventures, tremulously. "Are you one too, or some kind of..." She gestures vaguely. "Activist, I guess?"
"An activist?" Erik echoes, seeming to turn the word over on his tongue. "Something like that, yes," he chuckles. "I stand for those of our kind who cannot, and speak for those who go unheard. Someone must, after all." One hand slips inside his jacket, withdrawing a small white card which he proffers to the girl with two fingers. "I am afraid my time here is at an end, but I should very much appreciate your taking my card," he drawls smoothly. "I do believe we might be of some service to each other, should you require it."
Shakily, she takes the card in her hand and squints at the writing. "Emile La Barre," she reads aloud. Looking back up at Erik, she offers, "I'm Annie. Annetta Travers, but people usually call me Annie. I..." She pauses. "Thank you. I know you probably didn't come by intending all of this, but thank you anyway." The girl attempts a broken half-smile, pocketing the card as a couple of crows caw stubbornly at the elderly man.
The corners of Erik's eyes crinkle in a warm smile, and he tips his hat to the girl. "A pleasure to have met you, Annie, and you are quite welcome. I, ah," he glances downward, shaking his head slightly. "I like to think that I did indeed come here for this, whether I intended it or not. A good day to you, miss." And off Erik strides, newspaper folded neatly under one arm, whistling a cheery tune softly as he goes.