Logs:Auntie Asks

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Auntie Asks


Characters: Gert, Jacob
Date: 2020-06-28
Summary: Jacob gets questioned by a clown.
Disclaimers:

Jacob doesn't live at the CCC, but he frequents it often enough that everyone there is familiar with him. Except, perhaps, Gert. He strides in, moving straight across the room and to the fridge, where he snags a bottle of lemonade, which is always stocked. And then out towards the dorms. He's on a mission, it seems, rather than simply hanging out.

He's dressed in his usual charcoal gray suit, finely tailored and made from a silken fabric. A pale blue shirt accents it. He has a mop of dark, curly hair, overshadowing even darker, depthless, somewhat alien eyes, eyes lacking iris or white. Darkness. It's not just his eyes that set him apart, either, but the fact that he's difficult to look at. Not in that he's ugly - although for a Fairest, he's no beauty - but in that his edges seem to blur, he's never quite in focus, as if he has one foot in another world at all times. And there's the fangs, but those at the last thing most notice.

He cracks open his bottle of lemonade and looks around at the various dorms. "Green house? Blue house?" Now that he's here, he can't quite remember. He speaks in a relaxed baritone, with a definite British accent. "Why not both?" He smirks to himself, then heads towards the little blue house.

Jacob isn't the only unnerving presence in the community center tonight. As he strides off towards the houses, another figure appears, ambling casually around from behind one of the little cabins. It is, initially, of indeterminate gender, though the strange, creaky voice it's singing to itself in sounds as though it's the amalgam of every horror movie witch ever created.

"Johnny was bashful and shy
Nobody understood why
Mary loved him..."

It has a little cane in one hand, though it isn't /walking/ with it. It's swinging it lazily through the air in little circles as it strides across the yard. When it spots Jacob, it stops, and... grins. God, those teeth. That /mouth/. It's a clown, and a horrifying one. A woman, now that it's closer and more detail can be made out.

"Evening, dearie," it says brightly, in that high, raspy voice. "Don't mind me. New in town, asking about a bit. I don't suppose you'd happen to know a man by the name of Jacob?"

Jacob isn't exactly sure where he's going, anyway, so he's almost relieved when he hears the singing, however creeky and terrifying as it is. He's spend three times as many years in Arcadia as he has in the mortal world, so some things that would bother a normal person, or even a normal Lost, don't affect him so strongly. It's just... normal.

So he turns, spotting the clown. His eyebrow lifts slightly, and there's a faint smirk across his lips. Not what he was expecting, exactly. But when you're not expecting anything in particular, that hapens a lot. He's intrigued immediately, though.

He looks her up and down, forgetting about whoever it is he's there to see and moving closer to the clown. "I know you are. I'd have remembered you." He stares at her intently, as if he's trying to look straight into her, as if there's something inside her he really wants. A clown. He's never seen one in person.

"No, I don't know anyone named Jacob. I know a man named Jake, though, who is far more interesting. And, to be honest, probably who you are looking for."

"Well, that'd probably be him, then," the clown says brightly. She sets the tip of her cane on the ground and leans casually against it as her other hand goes to rest on one hip. It's an absolutely horrifying expression on her face, but... strange. The teeth, the mouth, the eyes all scream danger and nightmares, but she herself actually seems quite casual.

"Name's Gertrude, love," she adds. "Gertrude Wexley. Call me Gert. Everyone does." She tilts the brim of her bowler hat back slightly as she peers up at him, which has the unfortunate side effect of making more of her face visible, and those bright green eyes give him a quick once-over.

"Apparently this Jake fella," she continues brightly, "is looking a bit into ghosts and the like. And I love a good ghost story, me. Nothing like a bit of the old heebie-jeebies to start the day. Thought I'd come along and offer some assistance, you know. Now that I'm properly oathed and all."

He's fascinated. And he's open about it, staring at her, transfixed. She might (no, definitely is) horrifying to the average person, but Jacob is entranced by her. The way she leans against that can. The way she smiles at him. All those teeth! He can't help but smile, and there's delight in his expression. "Gert." That delight grows as she tips her hat. There's something almost boyish about it, and perhaps a bit unsettling as he looks to be a 30-something year old man.

He does manage to pull himself together as she continues, however. His eyes are still locked on her, drinking in every movement. "Not ghosts, although he's seen quite a few. In Twilight, in the Underworld. Now door is locked if you understand how doors work." He smiles. He has fangs, but compared to her he's all innocence. "But what do ghosts concern us? I think you mean something else. What is it you're looking for, exactly?"

He remembers his lemonade, and takes a long draw from it, savouring it a moment. Then those eyes are back on her again. There's no hint of a season about him. None at all. But it's clear the Wyrd is strong within him. Perhaps dangerously so.

There's not much Wyrd about Gert, beyond the obvious. At least, nothing visible, but she does keep everything but her face covered. Not so much of an inch of her is visible below the neckline. The odd little Chaplin suit covers everything. Even the hands. But there's the undeniable mark of Autumn on her, the sign of the Court of Fear. Honestly, it's probably not surprising.

She returns his apparent fascination in kind. Not so openly transfixed, but obviously interested. Those bright little eyes study him, carefully and thoroughly but without fear. Her free hand reaches into the jacket of her suit, rummages around for a minute - there are a series of interest noises, including a soft honk - and withdraws a small metal flask, which she uncorks and takes a pull from before speaking again.

"Oh, ghosts always concern me, dear," she says brightly. She takes her weight off the cane and waves it theatrically through the air. "I love ghosts, me. And graveyards, and skeletons, and old abandoned castles, and the fairway at night, and all sorts of things like that. I'm a simple clown. And more than that, I consider it my business to know all about this sort of thing. Somebody's got to, after all."

Another pull from the flask - god but those lips are horrifying - and she flashes another heart-stopping grin. "Something called the Ghostmother," she continues. "Something that might know something else, about why the gates were closed. Your old Auntie Gert came to this place because, when doors like this are closed or opened, there's usually a reason. A dangerous reason. And somebody's got to work out what that is, before anyone else goes putting their foot in the bear trap."

He, himself, is rather conservative. He doesn't wear gloves, but he always wears a suit. Always. Some things just are. Although he doesn't wear a tie, and the top button is undone. Still, he's had no shortage of questions about 'aren't you hot?' or 'why are you wearing a suit to the park?'. Those are unimportant questions.

Right now, he's focused on her, watching her. The little honk as she searches for a flash has him smiling. Even as he looks straight at her, at her teeth, as the horror. It seems to be intermingled with his delight.

As she talks about ghosts, he just smiles. It's a quiet smile, but it's a powerful smile. A smile that makes it obvious he knows things. A smile that makes it clear he's /done/ things. A smile that marks his personal involvement with ghosts. He murmurs, "And what do you do with them?" The ghosts.

He watches her with her flask, then holds out a hand for it. "The Ghostmother's is a wise woman. She's a woman who deals in death, a shaman, a witch, a priestess. Whatever you want to call it. But she doesn't create ghosts, no. She doesn't understand them. If she did, she wouldn't ask what she asks."

A breath, and he's studying her. "She offered us information, at a price. Most didn't think it was worth it. Maybe you do. I do."

"Well, that depends on the ghost, doesn't it?" Gert responds, as if the answer were pre-prepared. "The act depends on the audience. Sometimes you chat with 'em, sometimes you run 'em off." A gloved hand waggles noncommittally in the air. "Point is, it's always a hoot. And, more importantly, it keeps any of the ickle kiddiewinks from stumbling into a spookhouse and getting upset."

The flask gets stowed away again, and this time, when she leans on the cane, she sets both hands atop it, peering quizzically up at Jacob's face. "I did hear about her price," she says. "Three ghosts. Three valuable ghosts. I don't know yet that it'd be worth it, but I haven't spoken to her, and it's almost always worth lookin' into this sort of thing, at least."

She moves quickly, tossing the cane up into the air and catching it, halfway up its length, in her left hand. The other glove moves to resettle her bowler hat atop her head. "But, if we're gonna have this conversation, Jake," she says, with a wry little smile, "'cause I think it's a fair bet that's who you are, love... old Auntie Gert has missed suppertime two nights in a row, now, and these old bones need nourishment. I was on my way to the kitchens when I stumbled across you. Care to join me for a bite?"

And, again, the horrible, sharklike grin. The pun, it appears, is entirely intended.

"Or it depends on your definition of ghosts." He offers a smile. He doesn't add more to that. "You're right, though, in that no matter what happens, it won't be boring." He smirks faintly at that. As the flask gets stowed away despite his hand out entreaty, he shrugs and drops his hand. He doesn't seem too upset by it, but his gaze says it will be remembered.

"Oh? Yes, the price. It's fascinating how many people have offered to take care of the 'murder' bit, without addressing the others. I've declined all offers. That one, that one's easy. The memory, that one's easy, too. Love is more difficult, yet not as difficult as people think. It's vague. Easy. It doesn't even mention them having to be people, humans, nor does it mention that it can't be metaphorical."

Jacob seems largely unconcerned about meeting the price. His dark gaze shifts towards her and he smirks. "The price wasn't set because it was hard to get. The price was set because people would disagree and therefore the truth would be safe. Smart, really. And because a group of people successfully entered a door, and talked to some people, they feel successful. They feel like their plan is the best plan and it's unimportant to have other plans. Because that is what they always do."

He doesn't bother responding to who he is. There's no need for it. He starts towards the kitchen with her. "So, do you think it's worth it?"

Gert ambles along at his side, still gripping her cane halfway along its length. Closer up, more details are visible; the way her hair is tightly bunned in the back, beneath the brim of the bowler, and how the greasepaint is very obviously supernatural - there's not so much as a speck of it on her suit, which is weatherbeaten and cheap but painstakingly maintained.

"Oh, there are always ones happy to offer to send someone off to the big sleep," she says, waving her free hand dismissively. "Fakers, most of them. More concerned with looking impressively disaffected than actually getting anything important done. I generally ignore them. If the circus ever needs strongmen, we know where to find them."

She leads the way into the kitchen and hooks her cane over the countertop before striding over to the refrigerator. "As for whether or not it's worth it, well, that's not something I'm really in a position to say," she says. "I'm not the one who bumped gums with the lady. Haven't got a clue how trustworthy she might be. But it's almost definitely worth thinking about, anyway. And I'm glad someone's thinking laterally on this, too."

She opens the fridge and begins to rummage. When she speaks again, there's a slight echo to her wicked-witch voice as she pokes her head in as well. "But it seems like /you/ think there's something to her," she says, "and for the moment, I'll take your word on it, dearie. As for how to go about it... well. There are always options. Did anyone bother to ask whether she even meant literal ghosts, or are we working with complete rubes?"

Jacob's own suit is near perfect. He has a Fairest knack for avoiding anything that might mar it. Even if he has a closetful. He smirks faintly at her works about fakers. "That's not limited to this particular situation. People always want to believe they aren't as bad as the people they don't like. That's rarely the case. We're all horrible."

There's a hint of amusement in his tone as he says the last, but then he's following her into the kitchen and considering her words. "I am. The one who 'bumped gums' with her. Others listened, but I don't think they understood. They heart 'ghosts' and immediately retreated into their ideologies about ghosts. Without bothering to think about things we have already discussed. I don't think any of these things would be difficult to find. Even literally. But I don't think it's literal she wants."

He leans against the counter as she goes to rummage, his gaze wandering, his brow furrowed in thought. "No, I didn't ask her. Because the moment I did, the entire bargain would have changed. She exists in the Hedge. The hobs nearly worship her. She won't go back on a deal, even if we take a roundabout route." He smirks. "The less things are defined, the more creative you can be. So that, that was my choice, and I stand by it."

"Tricky one, I see." Gert's tone is approving as she emerges from the refrigerator again. "Good. Every circus needs its charlatans. Keeps everyone on their toes." She straightens up, bearing an armful of ingredients, and lays them out upon the counter. "No objections to a basic fry-up, I hope? I'm a simple carnivore, meself." And she chomps her horrific snaggle-teeth together a few times, theatrically.

Without waiting for an answer, she sets to work. Bacon and eggs are the order of the night, apparently. She keeps the gloves on the entire time, using tongs to keep the leather from getting smeared with raw meat. "The tickets have a tendency to do that," she says. "You show them a basic trick and they start believing it's real magic. Which is the point, of course, but it does make things irritating when you're expecting them to actually think things through."

With the bacon sizzling away in the pan, she turns and leans back against the counter, folding her arms over her chest and peering over at Jacob. "But you've already given this some thought, love," she says, "and far be it for your old Auntie to come charging in and making you start over. How far have you gotten in this? Think you've got things figured out at all?"

Jacob smirks at her workds about trickery and smarts. Of course, there's some pride there as well. He's Fairest, after all. Some things aren't forgotte nso easily. At the mention of a fry-up, he waves his hand, indicating that he doesn't mind either way. And his expression is thoughtful. Her teeth don't seem to bother her as much as they should. Not even as much as they should bother most lost. If anything, he views them with a certain familiarity. It's the /normal/ ones that put him on edge.

He seems content to lean against the counter, to drink his lemonade, and to watch her as she cooks. He doesn't offer to help. He wears the attitude that if she wanted his help, she's asked for it. Instead, he's thinking about her works. "Or you show them the trick too early, and they come to expect it. It's how things work. Words, manipulating them, oaths and pledges and debts. If someone leaves something that wide open, I'm not going to draw it to their attention. I'm going to /use/ it."

He inhales the scent of the bacon a moment, delighting in it just as he delighted in the whistling, in her appearance, in many other little things. He doesn't miss those little things. When she turns towards him, he smiles, almost boyish. Caught red handed. "Oh, yes. I've thought about it. The memory of a ghost is the easiest. I've met so many ghosts, myself, I'm happy to give up the memory of one. The ghost of one of violence? It takes just a step into the Underworld to find that, and most would leave with you willingly knowing they'd be moving on to somewhere else, and not really caring where. Although I've had several werewolves off to make new ones. The accords, I think, invites new problems."

He waves that aside and then looks at her, smiling as he takes in those teeth, the clown make up. He loves it. His words, however, are serious enough. "Ghost of a love is easy, too. It could be an actual ghost, or just memories or a lost love. We can likely get both at the same time, if we wanted. In fact, we could get /everything/ she asks for easily, at the same time."

He pauses a moment, enjoying a little more lemonade, then says, "A small team. Into the Underworld. We wouldn't have to go far. And I've been there before. We don't even have to bring back the ghosts, just their memories. Others thing the cost is too high, that they already know everything, but they didn't /meet/ her. She has wisdom. If not about /this/, then about other things. So why not?"

Gert isn't Fairest, but she doesn't seem at all unnerved by the attention paid to her. Presumably most of that which she gets is less rapt, less approving, but she's obviously used to being in the spotlight. Ogres, too, can command attention, even if they are well below five feet in height. A demon clown is somewhat difficult to ignore, no matter how much one might like to.

She returns Jacob's staring levelly, her broad lips twisted into a little smile. "Oh, now," she says, "surely you can do better than /that/, love. You were the one talking about how many doors she left open. You're a confidence man. If she's waiting to be conned, why not at least make the effort? She might not take it, but it's still worth a try."

She lifts her bowler hat from atop her head and brushes a strand of hair back into place. It's not rainbow-colored, despite the greasepaint. Just plain old brown. "Taking a walk into the Big Deep is always an option," she continues, "but there's no need. You said it yourself, dearie. Memories. Little pieces of things left behind. I'm sure we can find something that someone wouldn't mind parting with. A trinket from a lost love. A reminder of some crusty old bastard that you're glad to be rid of. That sort of thing."

The bowler hat returns to its original position, and she pats it once, adjusting its set slightly. "Unfortunately, Auntie Gert doesn't have too many of those to be sparing," she says. "Or I'd happily offer 'em up. But I'm sure we can find something to bribe her with. Just got to put the old thinking caps on, you know."

His smile grows as she talks. He wears the expression of one who has been shot down over and over again, who has never given up despite that, and who has suddenly found someone who sees just what he's been seeing. Sure, she's a demon clown who might terrify everyone else, but to Jacob she's beautiful.

"I know. And you know that I was going to do it, anyway. Everyone else voted against it, but I made sure it was left open with the Ghostmother. I made sure I could come back. Because I was doing to do it anyway." Which is probably not the best of admissions considering he's Courtless. Some might think that worrisome. But he has his title to fall back onto, the one that no one knows.

He smiles, obviously feeling better now that he knows Gert's more or less on the same page as him. "Are you in, then? Come with me when I go back. I'll give up a memory of a ghost. I'll give up a ghost of violenec. But love... I was Taken when I was a child. I have no ghost to give up. Can you help me with that one? I wouldn't know where to even start. Even being pointed in the right direction would be a help."

He pauses a moment, then says, "And you should note, too, that the Ghostmother is no typical hob. She's clever. She survived the Butcher Queen. She commands the respect of all of Tumbledown. And not without reason. She's smart. So unless our choices are clever, she might well spin them right around on us. So they need to be solid."

Gert... doesn't laugh. "Laugh" implies something wholesome and fun and lighthearted. This is a high, shrieking, insane cackle, one that the Wicked Witch of the West would have sold her warts to be able to mimic. It's a horribly unrestrained, evil thing, and it puts all of those teeth on repulsive display.

It only ends when Gert finally puts a hand over her own mouth, as if shushing herself, and smiles crookedly up at him. "Oh, come now, love," she says. "With /this/ face? Do you really expect an old lady like me would have any love to sell? I'm flattered, but really. No. Nothing of the sort, I'm afraid. The last time I had any love at all, well."

She grins and turns back to the pan of bacon, flipping them with the tongs. "He was one of us, of course," she says. "His Keeper fancied themselves a sort of cartoonist. In the /old/ style. My, but that man could take a punch. The comic timing was immaculate. But I go where the shows are, love. I rarely stick around long enough for any of that king of thing."

She starts piling the bacon onto a plate, then cracks some eggs into the pan. "But I think I may as well go along, yes," she says. "I might not be able to supply, but I can sure as sugar do more there than I can here. Best to talk to these kind of people face to face. Can't say much about the act without having seen it myself. Besides, you have the look of someone who needs a bit of looking after, and I take care of my freaks."

That laugh. It's horrifying. And it should /horrify/. But Jacob just drinks it up. Once more, his expression grows exicited and he's clapping his hands together. He loves it. The fact that it's her laugh, that he can feel her amusement, but that it sounds like something from a nightmare. The fact that she doesn't even try to hide it. That's it, really. Gert is Gert, unabashedly, where everyone else Jacob is about hides themselves. And that appeals to him.

He meets her crooked smile with a slightly fanged grin of his own. Both are dangerous things, individually, and likely terrifying when combined. Thankfully, they're alone with the bacon at the momment. Jacob smirks, "Oh, we both know a /face/ doesn't mean anything." Jacob, the Fairest, isn't really that fair, himself. Yet he has the bearing. And the bearing, that's what really matters. Gert also has that bearing, despite being an Ogre. That bearing of 'I don't give a flying fuck, you're going to deal with me or you're going to regret not'. Or something like that.

He listens to her story, more interested in that than the bacon cooking. He can't cook, nor does he have any desire to learn. But he's vastly interested in Keepers, durances, other Lost. "That's how it is. A show. Like a man who's never experienced love writing a show about love. Like a woman who's never experieced death singing about death. That's what they are. And then they get surprised when we develope feelings, when we escape."

He laughs for a moment, then catches himself, clearing his throat. "Yes, yes. I'd like to have you along. I think you get it. That it doesn't matter if there are /better/ leads. Because what happens when those end up a dead end and you haven't followed any others?" He snorts, then smiles. "You're Autumn, yes?" It had nothing to do with anything they're talking about, but it seems an honest question.

"Oh, I'd quibble with that just a bit, love," Gert says airily. "Faces mean quite a lot. Watch someone's act, and you can figure out what kind of show they want you to think they're putting on. That tells you a lot about 'em, even if they don't realize it. But that's as may be."

She reaches for a spatula. "Hope you like 'em runny," she says, as she scoops the eggs out onto the plate. "Better for dippin' the bacon that way. Know where they keep the salt in this place, dearie? I haven't had the chance to look around much. Been running errands constantly since I got in. Busy as a bee for two days."

She doesn't wait for an answer, instead moving to slide a plate across the countertop towards him. Bacon and eggs, over easy. "But oh, yes," she says. "That's very much what they're like. They understand theatrics, but not much else." She gives him a crooked little smile as he catches himself talking too much, then grins and chomps down an entire strip of bacon in one bite. It simply vanishes behind those demonic teeth and is never seen again, gone in a single swallow.

"To the bone, lovey," she adds, in answer to his question. "And proud. Your old Auntie Gert works hard to keep up her bad looks, you know." And another flash of teeth as she reaches for a fork.

He smirks at her first words. "They mean a lot, but nothing important. It's about the words, the setting. Thats why you have people throughout history believing that statues and gods spoke to them." He pauses at the question about the eggs, then shrugs. He has no preferences to that. "In a cupboard, I imagine." It's clear that he's no cook, and has never cooked /here/.

He doesn't move to help her with the cooking - it'll just go worse if he's getting in the way - and instead focuses on refilling glasses of lemonade. At her words, he nods. "And it's accepted when it's /them/. But they don't see it in themselves. To just ignore certain avenues because they aren't guaranteed. What do they think /is/ guaranteed?" He finishes with the glasses and slides one over to her.

He leans back, picking up a piece of bacon and chewing it up, himself. He doesn't have teeth like her. He has fangs, but he still manages to eat neatly, to lick his fingertipes, to not get a single spec anywhere else. At the same time, each bite has him smiling, moaning even, expressing his delight. He holds nothing back.

He finishes a piece and looks back at her. "I love your looks. If you tell me about Autumn. /Your/ view on Autumn why you joined it, why you stay. Without revealing too much, of course, I just want to know your thinking. You tell me that, I'll tell you about the memory of a ghost I have that's pretty much a sealed deal."

Gert is not much of a cook, either. That much is obvious. But bacon and eggs are hard to mess up /too/ bad, so while the edges of the eggs might be a little crispier than intended, and the bacon might be a touch greasy, it serves her purposes perfectly well. When he mentions cupboards, she reaches over and snags her cane, hooking it expertly around the handle of the cabinet overhead and tugging it open as she peers upward.

"Hm," she says. "Seems not. Got to be around here somewhere, though. Can't have egg yolks and bacon without some pepper. Oh, no. Can't be having with that nonsense. Not at my age." And she prods the cabinet shut again before going to rummage about in the drawers.

When he questions her, she glances up, one eyebrow raised. Her smile is crooked again, slightly wicked, slightly amused. "Oh, dearie, you shouldn't go making offers like that right at the start," she says. "I'd have told you for free, but now you're committed. Got to keep your cards a bit closer to the chest. You'll do yourself a mischief else."

She looks back down again, still rummaging, and continues, "Never wanted to be anything else, lovey. You can flatter this old woman all you like-" she says, not looking particularly old "-but your old Auntie is quite aware that she's an unholy terror, and she likes it that way. Started back on the other side of the Hedge, you know."

Another cabinet, considerably lower to the ground, opens up, and once again she sticks her head in to poke around. "Oh, you ought to have seen me then," she says. "It was a terrible place, that circus, and the Ringmaster was a slave driver. If you blew it, it was off to the Freak Factory with you." When she emerges from the cabinet, her expression is, for the briefest of moments, a /bit/ more serious. "No one ever came back from the Freak Factory," she says. "Not really. I did what I could for them, but most of them didn't last long, poor dears. Nor did the kiddies."

/That/ gets a full scowl. It's a horrible thing, to see that face actually looking thunderous. Happy is bad enough, but that snarl is the stuff that requires years of therapy to forget. "I couldn't be having with that," she says, staring at the wall for a moment. "Couldn't be having with that at /all/." And then she resumes her search, expression lightening again. "So I made myself a terror. Ingratiated myself with the Ringmaster, because he loved how I kept them all in line. Kept the other clowns safe, because they knew Auntie Gert would see them aright. And, when everything was ready, we made a break for it. I stole the keys, and we ran out through the Freak Factory, with the kiddies in tow, smashing everything we could."

She looks back to him, a prideful glint in her eyes. "We made it," she says, a grin returning to her features. "Oh, yes we did. And I saw the little ones back home where they belonged, and went on my merry way. There's no more circuses, really. Not like when I was a girl. But people still need a clown. My freaks need looking after. So I do. I watch the dark places, and I keep away the things that would hurt them, and I kept them from wandering into places they shouldn't go. And, let me tell you, dearie, it's an absolute hoot- a-ha!"

And she yanks a salt and pepper shaker set free of their hiding place in a distant drawer, ambling eagerly back towards her plate.

He watches her. He doesn't get in her way - he stays on the other side of the counter. But he's leaning forward. He's watching her. Something about her draws him. The fact that she agrees with him when other people haven't, perhaps. The fact that she doesn't hide herself, perhaps. The fact that she's Auntie Gertie and he's never hand anything like that, perhaps. Any which way, he's enthralled. But it's easy to see how sharp he is, how smart. Even those dark, depthless eyes reveal how he's putting two and two and three and three together constantly. Constantly thinking. It has to be tiring.

He watches her as she moves around the kitchen, but he doesn't have much to add. He doesn't know where anything is. So he just watches. And listens. "It's a good offer. You don't want it, you say no. You think it's a steal, a deal, then you take it. You'd be stupid not to." He starts to say more, then stops. He could tell her how a small thing is worth the trust, how it can turn into a large thing. But that's really not to his benefit. Instead, he's listening to her story.

He's quiet for a long moment. He spoins his glass of lemonade. Then he shifts that dark gaze towards her. "Not too different from my own. No circus, though, no audience. But I had to perform. To collect, to listen, to... to be a part of the circus, a differnet kind of circus, and I performed my role. And I kept those I could safe but... I sacrificed others for my own freedom, too. And if I hadn't, I wouldn't be here right now. And I wouldn't be opening doors for those who need it, wouldn't be starting lives for those who need it."

He takes a gulp of lemonade, washing it down. Wash it down. He looks over at her. "And they tell me a lead isn't a lead. That one is all they need. As if they've forgotten all the other angles life comes at us with." He waves a hand, setting down his glass and pushing himself up. He looks over at her. "I never had a life. I guess I'm a freak, too, but without the circus." A pause. "What is it about fear you feel helps us most?"

"Most of us do, love. No shame in it," Gert says, as she reaches for a knife and fork. "Regret, yes, but that's a different thing entirely. We all do what we have to, when it comes down to it. I've eaten quite a lot of things most other people would retch at the thought of, but when there's no bread on the table, you do what you have to do."

She breaks the yolk of the egg open, sprinkles it with salt and pepper, then dips a strip of bacon into it before, again, swallowing it whole. "Not for a while, though," she adds. "Not when there's bacon available instead. It's the little things, you know. Like a kitchen with meats that you know where they all came from.

She glances back at him, when he poses another question. The grin returns. It's never far away, it seems. Even those moments when her expression is more serious, the teeth are always threatening to reappear. "Oh, I'm sure I don't have to tell you the value of a healthy survival instinct, love," she says. "Fear keeps you sensible. But more than that, fear makes you brave." Another strip of bacon disappears down that infinite gullet. "I'm not afraid of the things that go bump in the night, dearie," she adds. "I'm one of 'em, now. And that makes me strong. I can face 'em down on my terms. I understand fear, now. Mine and others'. I control it. It doesn't control me."

She pauses for a moment, then, all at once, turns and lifts the plate in one hand. The mouth yawns wide, and the jaw seems to almost unhinge, until it looks like the top of her head might be about to fall off- and she just tips all those eggs and bacon strips into her mouth at once, and bites down, and swallows. Grins. And reaches for a napkin to wipe her lips with surprising daintiness.

"But it's getting late, love," she says. "And as much as I love to creep about o' nights, these old bones need at least /some/ rest after two days of legwork and paperwork. It's off to bed for me, I think. But you know where to find me if you ever find yourself in need of a clown." And she reaches up to touch the brim of her bowler hat in goodbye, snagging her cane with her free hand.