A Bigger Cage


vf_munin_icon.gif vf_rickham_icon.gif

Scene Title A Bigger Cage
Synopsis After her escape from the incinerator, Munin has found what she's looking for.
Date November 10, 2011

The Hub

Three concrete walls glisten with water. Steam rises up from the still cool floor where the water collects in an inch or so of grime and swirls down into a rusted drain in the floor. Four copper pipes overhead, with holes drilled into them and a chain to control water pressure, is the makeshift shower for the Hub. One of six. A single metal rod fitted with a faded blue and green Finding Nemo shower curtain salvaged from the ruins partitions the shower off from the rest of what was once a water pumping station. It’s a six minute walk from the incinerator. The smell of soot still clings here.

Standing under the hot water forced through the pipes, Munin feels mostly human for the first time since her captivity. Filthy clothes are piled up on the floor at her feet, heedlessly soaking in the same water in the hopes that it’ll at least get them clean. Bare feet brush across chilly stone, pale arms lift up and rake long and thin fingers through dark tendrils of oily hair. The water is a little too hot, pinking her skin at shoulders and back, but it is painful in a refreshing way.

Entirely unlike the feeling of fingers winding in her hair and lifting her off of her feet. Pale legs kick, a scream, then an ice cold iron hand claps over her mouth before she is dragged out of the shower and slammed up against the nearby wall by a tall and wiry man made entirely of pitted, dark iron wearing ratty clothes. The lines in Allen Rickham’s face are unmistakable. She and Gabriel did try to assassinate him, she remembers her target.


He remembers her.

Munin remembers him, too, so it might seem strange to Rickham when her body relaxes in the narrow space between him and the wall. She releases the tension in her hips, letting her long legs hang loose with toes pointed down toward the floor; at the same time, he feels the muscles in her neck and shoulders slowly go slack in a conscious effort not to strain against the arms pinning her to the concrete.

The only thing she doesn’t have control over is the hard pummel and skip of her heart, which makes the raised veins in her neck throb. Her greenish eyes meet his steelier ones in the darkness of the bathroom and hold his gaze, regardless of how it makes her feel: small.

Her face settles into an expression that is a little like the period at the end of a sentence. Water carves branch-like paths down her thighs and calves and drips onto the floor. Naked as she is, it’s impossible not to notice how much skinnier she looks than the last time they saw one another; piano-key ribs stand out on either side of her torso, and the angles of her face create deeper shadows, highlighting the fact that things aren’t much better on the outside than they are here.

She might say something to him, but. You know. There’s a hand on her mouth.

Rickham’s iron countenance stares Munin down with the barely-tempered expression of someone who enjoys himself in this, even if just in part. Realization of that feeling of power, intoxicating and complete, suddenly soften his expression and he lowers Munin to the ground. The fight being drained out of her gives him time to think, lessens his resolve to keep fighting. As his hand comes away from her mouth, his black eyes narrow to slits with a creak of metal on metal.

Stay.” Like she was some kind of animal. Rickham turns to retrieve her clothes, sopping wet and cold, from the floor of the shower. His strides are slow, purposeful and heavy, and it is the only thing Munin can hear beyond the flutter-beat of her heart and the blood pounding in her ears.

Munin stays. It might be because she isn’t wearing anything and, at least for now, values her dignity more than she does her life. More likely: If she had any plans of escape in her head, she would have acted on them already instead of locking Magnes in the incinerator and immediately seeking out the nearest shower.

She reaches up to wring the excess water from her hair, twisting it into a tight black rope over her right shoulder. No attempts to cover up while Rickham fetches her sodden clothes. She’s neither self-conscious nor afraid of him, and they both have bigger problems than the fact that her breasts are hanging out.

“Kazimir would have finished it,” she says, and that’s a compliment for Rickham, the closest thing he’s going to get to a proper thank you.

There’s a hollow, metallic grunt from the shower as Rickham’s response. He grabs the sopping wet clothes, turns around and hurls them at the wall beside her with a wet slap, echoed when they hit the floor at her feet. “Get dressed.” At the very least, he wasn’t going to march her unclothed through the Hub.

Though Rickham does turn around to advance back toward her, after having turned over her comment in his head for a moment. “Why didn’t you run?” His movements are accompanied by screeching creaks of his body scraping against itself, terrible noises that remind him of his inhuman appearance. “You had every chance.

Munin bends at the middle and scoops her clothes off the floor. She wrings these out, too, but makes more an effort to squeeze as much water as she can from the material. Her hair will dry quicker than wool or leather. “I can see through the eyes of birds,” she reminds Rickham, a little haughtier-sounding than she probably intended. “I’m in the sky, the little gaps between the stones, every tree and crumbling church tower from here to the city’s edge.”

She puts one foot in the leg of her pants, and then the other. Pulls the garment up to her waist and fastens it with a metal button that winks at him when she does. “You think it’s strange I haven’t run,” she says. “What’s stranger is that you think I didn’t see your ambush coming on the topside.”

The Englishwoman presses a finger to her lips. “Our little secret, eh? I wouldn’t want to hurt Chao or Gitelman’s feelings.”

Rickham’s posture shifts, shoulders squaring and head tilting to the side. His eyes narrow again, though it's clear from the texture of that hematite surface that he's looking away from her slightly. “I don't believe you,” he rumbles, mostly out of defensiveness. “But I suppose it isn't me you have to convince. Right now.

Once she's dressed, Rickham leans in and presses a hand against the wall beside her, slouching his taller frame down so he can get at eye level. “Walk slow,” he rumbles, slowly moving his hand away and gesturing toward the doorway out of the showers. Someone is already there, a teenage boy with fresh clothes folded in his arms and a sliver of soap.

Rickham levels a look and the boy scrambles. Then, with a nod of his head to the side, he motions for Munin to move ahead of him. “Take a left when you get out.” That doesn't lead back to the incinerator.

Munin’s boots squelch as she hooks a left at Rickham’s command and heads down the corridor at an easy pace that disguises how much concentration she actually requires to put one foot in front of the other without swaying slightly sideways. She can’t remember the last time she had a full meal, or something softer than the cold floor of the incinerator to sleep on, and it shows in her body’s stiffness, as well as a faint limp that’s the result of resting too often on one hip and never the other.

“Why?” she asks. “President not calling the shots anymore? Does the Edward the Puppetmaster really have his mitt that far up your ass?”

I was never inaugurated.” Rickham may have been attempting a joke, but it's hard to tell. Either way, he seems to have little disposition favorable toward the simple manipulative barbs. Washington does that to a person, if they’re successful.

The change of path takes Munin down an unfamiliar corridor, past a room where a handful of children sit in candlelight around a small radio popping with static. “Right, here” Rickham explains as he leads Munin through an open doorway and down a short flight of steps to to a T-junction landing. It ends at rails, a subway tunnel. Both ends are blocked by rubble collapsed from above, and a partially collapsed train car pokes out from beneath the right-most heaping mound.

There's a sleeping bag in the train car. Probably some supplies, food, clothes might be too big.” Rickham stands in the doorway of this little tunnel segment, watching Munin. “Belonged to Eve Mas. She was a friend of mine and she died four days ago. Vanguard sniper.//”

Sliding his metal teeth together, Rickham takes a step back. “You behave. You cooperate. You don't wind up like her.” He sounds as though he has no real desire to honor that request. “Edward’s decided to not lock you in either. Airlock guards are under instructions to keep you from leaving. Everyone else might just kill you if they had the chance.

So, a bigger cage. Enjoy.

“Dolukhanov,” Munin says, in case Rickham wants a name to attach to his loss. It helps sometimes, she knows. “Ellinka.” Still dripping, and without looking back at the living statue, she grabs hold of the ladder mounted to the back of the car and uses it to heft herself up onto the platform.

She slides open the door and the sound of metal grinding on metal fills the tunnel like a brief peal of thunder. Her eyes move between the sleeping bag in question to the rations stacked like children’s bricks in another corner of the car. She won’t know if Eve’s clothes are too big until she tries them on, and while she might not have shied away from letting Rickham see her undressed before, there’s nothing to be gained by giving him a repeat performance.

“I appreciate the warning, Allen.”

The door scrapes shut behind her and finishes with an unceremonious bang.

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