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He had left the errant princess of the Grey family alone long enough. The situation in the city had quieted down, and the Red Cross staff that had gathered in Freetown were already getting to work establishing camps and hospitals, although even a casual glance quickly revealed that the military was not being terribly cooperative with their efforts. The small trickle of refugees still allowed into the city were combed for any they could find with Temne connections, and those ones were left stranded outside their secure perimeter.

With the loss of one of the city's main hospital, and the overwhelming number patients, medical supplies were in short supply, and with the airport closed down it was proving a challenge to get any more into the city any time soon. His people had already chartered a ship to set out of Casablanca in the next few days, loaded with supplies 'donated' by Morocco and equipment for his men, as well as more men from the company's headquarters.

He made his way to the rooms given over to Miss Natalie Grey shortly in the wake of the wounded Legionnaire that delivered her and the boy's breakfast. Ekene, from what he had read in the reports. The one that had laid up one of his men, although the boy's motivation for it seemed to be in the right place. A Temne lad too, meaning the boy could prove dangerous to have around. General Wallace-Johnson seemed the sort that would use anything to his advantage.

He knocked and waited, rather then just barging in. He may have owned the building, and thus have been afforded the right to come and go as he pleased, but that room had been given over to her, and he was far too intelligent to simply barge in on a woman. It was time they came to an understanding, of how they could help each other.
More nightmares had punctuated the night's sleep, and in the dark Ekene had whimpered over the pain in his hand. The first shafts of grey dawn light armoured his expression to iron, and he quietened at the birth of a new day, eyes black and staring as his demons retreated. Natalie sat with him silently, knees pulled up to her chest. The fireblanket draped over the both of them, and Ekene's head rested lightly against her arm. Words of comfort died in her throat; there was just the staunchness of her presence, the promise to see through the night with him. But as light brightened the corners of the room, she finally urged him to get up to wash and brace the day, appropriating the bathroom herself when he was done.

Breakfast arrived as it had the day before, and Natalie eked the morning's news from the soldier who delivered it. Ekene seemed less tense in the legionnaire's presence then he had before, though he said nothing even when the man nodded a cordial greeting to him. A small progress. Once the door had closed, Natalie retreated to the couch to share the tray between them, balancing a cup of mint tea on her knee. The day unfurled blank before them, but Natalie didn't intend to waste it.

The second knock was unanticipated, and after her eyes glanced up at the door they shifted to Ekene. He hadn't looked up from the food. "Yes?"
Jacques entered a moment after she had spoken, stepping in and shutting the door behind himself. He spent a moment to study Natalie and Ekene; he had seen both already by way of the recordings of the pair's rescue, or the highlights of it anyway. The boy had been earnest in his defense of Natalie, just mistaken. There would be repercussions of course, but more akin to a child that had made a mistake, not some form of corporal punishment.

"Good morning, Mademoiselle Grey. Ekene. I am Jacques Danjou, the CEO of Légion Première."
He gestured to the room's only easily moved chair, and at Natalie's permission made use of it, moving it so he could sit opposite the pair.

"I can see why the young man there fought so hard to protect you, and why Legionnaire Carpenter is so taken with you."
He smiled warmly; there was no tease meant to the statement. Ekene had been trying to protect her, and poor Vanders had set his hopes incredibly high. But he was American; they were like that sometimes.

He looked to Ekene for a moment, as if sizing the boy up, "You my boy. How do you feel about what is happening out there? Be honest with yourself most of all. I have no room in the Legion for liars."

"And as for you, Mademoiselle Grey. I believe we both understand that your mother expects you seen out of Africa by now. But I am not about to have my men bundle you in a sack and toss you on a plane against your will. Not when there is so much work to do here. So. I am assigning Legionnaire Carpenter as liaison with the Red Cross in Sierra Leone. I am strongly encouraging that you be the leading voice of your organization here."
By strong encouraging, he meant demanding of course. He would help pull strings to see it done, although he doubted her mother would be terribly enthused with the idea. But she was going to be one of the most well protected people in the country in short order.

"So what must I do to assure your cooperation? And understand that I may not entertain all your demands."

Edited by Jacques, Aug 24 2014, 10:02 AM.
"And I see why your men are so taken with you."
Dry amusement wrapped the words, the brief study as he entered the room mutual. Jacques Danjou was younger than she would have anticipated, but it wasn't so much his appearance she commented on as his reputation; it well proceeded him, even after so short a time amongst his men. In the flesh his charm had an unusual sheen of honesty. "I'm sorry for your losses in Mecca."
Words were a paltry recompense for such a tragedy, and not something she would usually indulge in for the sake of politeness. But men didn't come to stand in such awe by exhibiting indifference. She supposed she was searching for signs of sincerity.

Ekene stiffened at the intrusion, shunning the breakfast he'd been tucking into in favour of observing the man who had pulled up a chair in front of them. The darkness in his eyes rested somewhere between fear and venom, the conflicts of a child so very far from the safety of home and everything familiar. It was as if stabbing Jay Carpenter in the back of the leg had demanded an enmity towards the legionnaires he was powerless to release, lest admittance of a mistake received swift retribution. He was only trying to protect himself, but in doing do he painted a demon. "They deserved it."
The condemnation tripped from his tongue almost on the heels of Jacques' question, no thought required, a spew of dogma. "They take our jobs. They take our money. They leave us nothing."

Natalie's eyes flickered to Jacques, but she neither defended or interrupted the boy's hostility. Ekene's mouth snapped shut abruptly anyway. His gaze dipped, and his good hand folded delicately over his broken one, protectively insular. He'd not complained once this morning, but she knew it must be hurting him, and not just physically; it was a constant reminder of the theft of his innocence. If he admitted that his people were wrong he condemned himself. The blood on his hands served no purpose. He killed his friend for nothing.

Natalie's watchfulness over the child bore no immediately obvious symptoms; her posture, while straight-backed, was relaxed, her fingers snug about the teacup, her feet crossed at the ankles. She did not leapt to his defence. But protectiveness lined her gaze, a bone-weary concern that passed with a blink. She caught the subtlety of Jacques' words, of course; the question had a foundation, a purpose. Firm, but not unkind. Despite the displeasing answer, she hoped Jacques did not unduly write the boy off. He was Temne, easily discarded as a complication; one more refugee in a city of them. Not that Natalie would allow it; she searched Jacques' expression for a reaction, and then moved to consider her own situation.

She contemplated carefully the distinction between choice and manipulation. By now the airport had fallen under General Wallace-Johnson's control, complicating the issue of extraction if she should wish it. Had Jacques purposefully waited? A cynic might wonder if he intended to use her presence here as a means to extort more money from her family. Smart; he would presumably need as much financial backing as he could muster if he were truly committed to assisting the provision of aid. "And if you have assessed my character wrongly, and I wish safe passage home?"
There was a murmur of humour in her voice, the tug of a smirk at the edge of her lips. Truthfully the proposed mantel of responsibility sat awkwardly on her shoulders, an unwanted responsibility. Natalie was no natural humanitarian. She didn't consider herself a leader either, and though she had no intention of leaving Africa, her reasons were not altogether selfless. She was not her mother.

"You assume my co-operation requires negotiation, and I'm not sure whether to be amused or offended. I'm not going anywhere - I quite assure you, any attempts at bundling me in a sack and tossing me onto a plane would not have gone smoothly."
She smiled, but the intensity of her gaze suggested sincerity even if she made light of it. "You speak like a business man, Mr Danjou, but there's little money to be made protecting those caught in the middle of civil conflict. I doubt you grew quite so rich on performing good turns, but if you're offering to assist the work of the Red Cross here, I accept whole-heartedly."
There was a spark of curiosity as to his motivations, but she did not pursue it. "Though since you came prepared to entertain requests, I would ask that you offer Ekene your protection until we can return to Masiaka. And a reliable form of communication; my Wallet was damaged at the hospital. That's it."
The first something she rather imagined he had in mind anyway, in some form or other. The second a mere practicality.
Her condolences about the battle of Jeddah were met with a brief display of pride and sorrow. He hadn't the time nor the right to let their sacrifices slow him though, and so it was carefully returned to that carefully hidden box in his mind, the contents of which were never dwelt on too deeply.

Jacques studied Ekene for a long time in silence, listening to Natalie's words while watching the boy's brief flash of conditioned hatred and the quick drain of emotion that followed it. It was a common thing in Africa; children conditioned to hate, whether by fathers or warlords. If the influence could be removed early in a child's life, there would still be hope they would grow past it, develop their own beliefs and understandings of the world.

He reached out slowly, but with an expression that brokered no argument, and carefully took Ekene's broken hand between his, leaning forward as he did to close the gap between he and the boy. A solid grip on the lad's wrist to prevent him from trying to tear it free, while he inspected the injury and the splint that held the bones in place. "If I had assessed your character wrongly, Mademoiselle Grey, then I doubt you would have been in Sierra Leone to begin with. You, I think, are not one to blindly follow in the trail your parents have set, but rather seek your own path. As should young Ekene, here."

He released the lad's hand and settled back in his seat, "There is no money to be made. The money here is not mine to take. The people of Sierra Leone will need all they can to bring their country to it's feet once more. If the youth are willing to work for it, that is. My men and I shall do all we can to assure they get the chance. I tire of despots and warlords, Mademoiselle Grey. Of babies torn from their mother's arms, of boys with guns and drugs."

He was young in body; not yet into his thirties, but he had seen all that Africa had to show him. Every horror that man could imagine to inflict upon man. Not all had been first hand, but what his men saw he saw. Young in body, but aged beyond his years, a truth carefully hidden behind his mask. He smiled softly at her request of protection for Ekene; it had not been necessary. His men were not child killers. "Ekene will be safe with my men. And we shall do what we can to get you a Wallet. They are not widely used in much of Africa, but I shall get you one as soon as we can. My men have a info-packet for you, to bring you up to date on the situation."

His gaze moved back to Ekene, "Your time with us will not be easy, child. You will work, and learn. You will do your part, and shall be treated as a man unless you prove yourself unworthy of such respect."
They would not be cruel to the boy, but neither would they be easy on him. He would have tasks to do. Some would be mundane; helping in the kitchen, running messages. Others would be far more challenging; helping with the refugees and the wounded. "Masiaka is untenable at this time. Government forces have no hold there, and it was hard enough for my men to get the staff of your school somewhere more secure."
Ekene grimaced, almost hissed, as Danjou took his hand. His expression was akin to a snake ready to shoot venom, but Natalie saw the abject horror behind it. Tears glazed across eyes expectant of punishment and pain; he sat very still, staring. Not fighting the vice of trust, but utterly terrified of it. Jacques Danjou was the first to show voluntary interest in the injury, to wield the firm sort of kindness a lost child might learn to find comfort in. Another tiny step in a new direction. When his hand was returned Ekene cradled it carefully, eyes wide, lips sealed.

Danjou's explanation did not entirely soothe Natalie. But why? He said himself there would be no financial gain in such support, and she couldn't bring herself to truly absorb the validity of any other benefit in the eyes of a business man. Thus the question of motivation still beat like a pulse in her temples, its burn carefully excluded from the neutrality of her expression. He was an anomaly. The solemnity of his words was haunting, the passion irrefutable, but the vision painfully naïve. If she agreed with the sentiments, she saw no vision of their actualisation. And he overestimated her reasons for being here. She was not armoured in the same unshakable faith as Jacques Danjou. Neither so pure nor so hopeful. Yet she would stay, and she would help.

"A Wallet isn't necessary. Nothing so high-spec, just something able to make calls."
Hooked up to the office computer she still had access to her Wallet's contacts, but she did not intend to remain tethered to the embassy in order to do so. A wry smirk touched her lips at the misunderstanding: a Northbrook daughter she might be, but not quite so spoilt in mentality. Denied the advantage she would make do, but there were people she could lean on to aid the work here. If she had ready access to them. Of Masiaka she only nodded. Natalie had not believed otherwise. Rather, she had mentioned it to provide Ekene a touchstone. A promise that could gild his horizon, at least until he grew more comfortable amongst the legionnaires. She would take him home, when she was able. If he still wished to.

Ekene's eyes drifted over in hesitant question as his immediate future began to take firmer shape, as it slowly began to sink in how this treacherous journey, begun in a bloody dawn, was not yet over. It trembled over his expression, but though she could see he wished to, he refused to cry where he could be seen. Instead his chin dipped to his chest to shield his dignity, but it only made him look small and broken. Eventually he dragged the back of his arm over his face, still pointed resolutely downwards. "I'm sorry. I'm sorryI'msorry."
His breath caught, silence descended.
Jacques' attention settled on the boy as she clarified that she was not quite so spoiled as most CCD citizens. Of course, she had also spent many years working outside the CCD's borders, so it made sense. He could arrange a phone for her easily enough.

He studied the displays of emotion that raged across Ekene's features, and seemed satisfied with what he saw there. When the boy finally broke and shielded his eyes to the world, Jacques laid a hand on the boy's shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. "I know lad. Your first steps into adulthood have been poorly led. But you will get a chance to forge your own path, should you be willing to."

He stood then, still looking down at Ekene, "It is your generation that will pave the way for your country, Ekene. It will be up to you what Sierra Leone becomes. And in the mean time, you will help me make sure it still exists when your time comes."
The boy would be closely watched, taught and trained, but in the end, the decision would be his as to how he saw the world.

He looked to Natalie then. She would help, but he doubted she really understood his motivation. Few did. Most seemed to expect something behind his motivation, some selfish goal or plan. Many of the Legion's contracts were devilishly worded, and were certainly expensive. They were one of the highest charging companies of their ilk in Africa, and for good reason. Their profit margins were always good, making them an investor's dream in the otherwise unstable African markets.

But something like what they were getting themselves into in Sierra Leone offered no profits, and promised only to expend their coffers. Some would see the long term benefits in regards to reputation and PR, or seeing it as an investment into their future in the region of the Ivory Coast and western Africa. But while all of those considerations had crossed his mind, it was because of children like Ekene that he had committed so much of his company so quickly. It was time someone stepped up and did the right thing, damn it.

Jacques clicked his heels together, and took Natalie's hand, leaning forward to plant a grateful kiss there, and smiled charmingly, "I look forward to seeing you at work, Mademoiselle Grey. I look forward to strengthening the Legion's relationship with the Red Cross."
"Anybody seen the Red Cross girl? Miss Grey?"
Jay asked as he walked (hobbled) up to a trio of Legionnaires. Only one of the three was a Hell Cat, Stefin, and that one was the one to respond.

"Took food up to her room for breakfast. Probably still there. Haven't seen her or that fuck faced kid of hers around yet."
Stefin eyed the way Jay leaned on his cane. Which made him lean on his own two feet a little more.

"Watch the tone, Hellion,"
Jay said, jaw snug. If anyone had the right to be pissed at Ekene over their leg, it was Jay, and Jay alone. As it was, even if he were pissed about it, the kid didn't deserve to be crucified. Even if he would have seen Jay strung from a tree if he'd had a chance.

He left the three to get back to their work in order to begin the laborious climb up the stairs. Who knew stairs required so much bend in the knee. With the one leg straight as a board, he had to swing his foot up and around the step to make it up another level. Nearly kicked the feet out from under a staff worker too. "Shit! Sorry bro."
Jay waved and scooched on out of the way as best he could. Place probably didn't have a pole or something he could climb up, like an old timey firehouse. There was this county station two towns over from his that had an old golden pole that went through the floor. His friend Joey broke his ankle sliding down it without knowing what he was doing. Was funny as hell.

He contained the fact that he was panting by the time he made it upstairs and went off in search of Natalie's room. It took asking for directions once, but it was pretty clear by the guard outside as soon as he got there that someone important was behind that closed door.

He nodded a good morning at the guy standing outside, not a Hellion, but Jay knew him anyway, and reached up to knock.

And an uniformed hand snatched his arm away. Jay winced, ready to snap his wrist into the guy's throat, but obviously caught himself when he realized it was a friendly.
"What the-"
he started, but the guard shook his head and lowered his voice.

"Mousiour Danjou is inside. Probably should not disturb them."

Jay blinked and looked at the door again. Jacques Danjou, their CEO, was inside? Something welled up in his gut, something he didn't like.

It was probably innocent. She was Red Cross and he was L.P. He liked to make the rounds and greet everyone.

"What do you mean, disturb 'them'?"
He asked.

The other Legionnaire shrugged. "Mister Danjou and Miss Grey. He has been inside for quite some time."
There was nothing obvious in the things said, but Jay tried to ignore the gaping holes in the story.

Its innocent. Its got to be. But Danjou himself assigned Jay to be her laision. Then again he had admitted to how ... breath taking .. Natalie was. Or maybe that was Jay's word. But still. Danjou had eyes.

And a goddamned french tongue. Probably sweeping her off her feet with those two perfectly functioning legs. His own leg was throbbing from all the stairs. And brushing the hair from her face. Right before cramming that smooth-talking tongue down her throat.

He couldn't take it. He pushed open the door and immediately regretted it.

Danjou was kissing her.

And Jay found himself speechless. "Uhh,"
he looked back and forth between them, and all the emotion drained away until he was left with the heap of his own defeated conclusion. He was already sweating, but an extra bit washed under his uniform shirt none the less.

He rubbed the back of his head awkwardly and turned away. "Uhh, I have to go..."

...anywhere but here.
Only darkness shows you the light.

As a child Natalie had never questioned her mother's devotion to the faceless masses, deserving of her aid over the needs of her daughters, but as she'd grown to adulthood she'd never understood it either. The optimistic future of which Jacques Danjou spoke reminded her of that, so it was his interactions with Ekene that touched her more than the passions in his words. The attention he paid to the boy, the purpose and importance he bestowed, showed her more than hope. A simple squeeze of the shoulder offered more comfort than grand talk, even if Ekene's own reaction was guardedly quiet. So if Natalie couldn't bring herself to share Danjou's vision, she found at least that she did trust him. Despite the flamboyant charm. And despite the short roads good intentions so often paved to hell. These legionnaires followed him for a tangible reason.

His request still did not settle easily, though for all appearances she accepted the responsibility with confidence. The risk did not concern her as much as it should, but not because she was in any way immune to the harsh realities of Africa. And an Africa, too, that had until now had been in peacetime. The accountability was a little harder to stomach though; maybe those faceless masses haunted her more than she might like. The ones she did recognise certainly did. The demon boy and his bloody past, who, head still bowed, earned her gaze now. The dead boy and the gleaming white of his skull, a ghost in both their dreams. A school of innocent faces. An impossible task. Not that her concerns penetrated the cool of her expression, of course.

In the moments she deliberated her feelings on this new role, Danjou had stood, presumably ready to leave. Ingrained courtesy lifted her to her own feet as he took her hand, pressed his lips to it. That was certainty an old-fashioned formality, a little theatrical in its charm, and she indulged an amused smile despite the dark mire of her thoughts. He was a strange one, for sure. A contradiction of archaism and earnestness. And hardly bad to look at. She imagined her mother had liked him.

"Then I'll try not to disappoint."
If he knew anything of her, and she supposed he did, then he'd be aware she was not exactly known for doing things by the book. A little self-aware dryness eroded the promise. He was stuck with her now, anyway. By conscience or by contract.

Then the door clicked open. If the legionnaire had knocked she hadn't heard it, though she wasn't particularly displeased with the intrusion. "Mr Carpenter. You've saved me a journey."
A modicum of surprise lit the address, until it occurred to her that he had probably already received notice of his assignment as her liaison. Which explained the visit if not the expression on his face. Her gaze dropped to his cast leg, then lifted back up. Sweat sheened his skin, face drained. He'd already turned away, mumbling. "Though I think it ought to have been the other way around. You look like you're about to keel over."

From the little she already knew of Jay Carpenter - of the legionnaires in general, actually - she thought duty would be enough to halt his shuffling escape, particularly in the shadow of his superior. Her eyes hovered on Danjou in askance, since she doubted she had the sway. Actually, it was probably more like curious accusation, the echo of his earlier words providing at least a hint of context. In the end she didn't wait on hierarchy. "For goodness sake, don't make me chase you, soldier."
It was probably cruel - Jay looked in pain - but she couldn't refrain from the morbidity of the dig. Besides, the tone was playful enough. The smirk soft. Hopefully this liaison had a sense of humour. And the ability to string together a coherent sentence.
Had Jacques known what Jay was thinking, he would have been hurt. Hurt that one of his men would think he the type to swoop in and rob from them what they desired. Of course, he was a business man first, or so people thought, and as such, perhaps it was not so surprising a suspicion. He did have a bit of a reputation for his taste in women, and Natalie Grey surely was not one he would otherwise have said no to.

But his men came first. And one of his men had set his sights on the lovely Red Cross worker. And besides, Jacques had enough on his plate. And would have more when her mother found out that Jacques wasn't stuffing her into a plane bound for safer parts of the CCD.

Considering his position, he had no need or inclination to explain himself to Legionnaire Carpenter. The man spun on his one good foot and hobbled from the room in a hurry, and Natalie started after him in a sarcastic huff. Jacques pondered giving chase and seeing the situation resolved, but there was little to be gained in that. This would perhaps be a valuable bonding moment for the pair, one that he would leave them to.

He stood watching Natalie and Jay as the Legionnaire departed, then glanced at young Ekene with a mischevious smile and wink, "Young love, perhaps? Well lad, shall we find you some work to do?"
He would gently urge Ekene off the couch. The boy had been hiding in Natalie's skirts, metaphorically speaking, long enough. It was time he faced the world and came to grips with what had happened in these past few days. "I think some clothes are in order as well."

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