Ask What You Want To Ask


byron_icon.gif eileen2_icon.gif

Scene Title Ask What You Want To Ask
Synopsis Mid-make over, Eileen and Byron find that the answers they seek from each other don't all come from the questions they ask.
Date March 23, 2019

The Rookery

Byron’s strong jaw and dark, expressive brows have led Eileen to believe that he’ll clean up well. He has the physique of someone who could have modeled menswear professionally in another life. In other words: He’ll fit in better than almost anyone else at Yamagato’s Pink Tie gala.

Suits purchased inside the Safe Zone come with taxes attached, so she’s turned to Staten Island’s rejuvenated Rookery district instead. She knows a man whose shop at the end of a narrow, poorly-lit alley carries a selection of designer labels, most pieces scavenged during the war from the city’s high end shops and abandoned multi-million dollar apartments. Rumour has it that some might have even been stripped from their previous owners’ corpses, but the Eileen likes to think this is just a strategic exaggeration designed to maximize the storefront’s word-of-mouth.

She’s purchased a few items herself.

Either way, the shopkeeper isn’t around for Byron to ask. He’s excused himself to the back, leaving the pair alone with a selection of handsome jacket and slacks he pulled for the occasion. They range from light charcoal all the way to black in colour, their cuts varying degrees of sharp. One will fit Byron better than the others. Until he’s found it, he’s trapped in this small, dingy room with its layered Persian throws and dusty chandelier lighting with only his reflection in the mirror and Eileen for company.

A curtain made of crushed black velvet fraying at the ends separates him from the Englishwoman patiently lounging on the other side of it. She’s found a chaise. Also: a rumpled issue of Vogue, dated November 1975.

The main obstacle seems to be finding something that doesn't swamp his shoulders but still reaches its sleeves down to his wrists, the first thing Byron checks once he eases his way into a jacket without really minding what colour it happens to be. He's been a quiet, slightly put upon presence since they entered the store, deferring to Eileen Gray to do the talking for him while he lurked, hands in pockets, looking at anything but either her or the shopkeep until he was ushered into trying things on.

He stands, now, in front of the mirror, wearing a dusty-grey jacket that he is unenthusiastically buttoning shut. Beneath, a T-shirt, jeans with their frayed ends, and filthy beat-to-shit trainers. Despite being a tall man in his thirties, he has the air of a teenager being asked to select a new Sunday best.

In the reflection, he switches his attention to Eileen, and says, "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were looking for an excuse," goading in his flat affect, tugging a cuff straight, "for some alone time."

The magazine’s glossy pages rustle. Eileen looks up, mid-article, and levels a steady look at Byron from her perch. Her clothes are in better condition than his: a long wool coat she’ll shed when the weather warms up another ten degrees Fahrenheit, trim black leggings, and a pair of freshly scrubbed riding boots. It seems likely that she’s wearing some sort of sweater as well, but its neckline must fall below her collarbone.

“But I’m not alone,” she reminds him, allowing some amusement to shine through her tone as she flips the page between her gloved fingers. Rather than steer her gaze back to her reading, she focuses instead on the fit of the suit on Byron’s frame — or tries to. The state of his shoes makes that difficult.

“Unless,” she says, “you mean alone with you.”

He isn’t wrong.


That is what he means. Byron tracks her stare in a shoe-wards direction — or perhaps that's just where his focus naturally drifts — and then assumes a straighter posture. Shoulders down, chest out, the affect crumpling a moment later with a shifting shrug.

So? is what the gesture says. How's it look?

But with his mouth: "Ain't this party for charity?"

Eileen prickles at the word charity. Not because she knows someone with that name, but because of the implication. Accusation? She isn’t sure.

With the stiffness of a disgruntled housecat roused prematurely from a long nap, she drops the magazine onto the cushion beside her and climbs to her feet. “Surely a multi-billion dollar corporation like Yamagato can afford to cover their losses,” she purrs. “Forgive me if can’t muster much sympathy for Nakamura or her glorified vanity project.”

The wooden floorboards beneath the carpets creak in muffled protest. She crosses to him on a lazy diagonal. “Quit your stooping. I need you to think Wall Street, not Street Rat.”

It's when she starts over to him that he flicks her a look, at once guarded and wary — less like he might be for someone coming at him with a knife, but just for imminent tailor-related fussing. Byron scuffs a step backwards, mouth pressing into a line at her advice, eyebrows winching together at the middle. "That's insulting," he says, blandly, but smooths a hand down a lapel anyways, once again rising to his full 6'3".

Despite being given a place to put his head down at night in Providence, there are still circles under his eyes. Sweat has gathered and dried along his hairline, in the plane where his nose smooths into cheekbone. Maybe he's nervous.

It's a nervewracking thing to be asked to do.

Next to Byron’s trunk, Eileen isn’t much more than sapling. He easily has more than a foot of height over her, even when she tips up her chin to regard him from beneath her lashes. This might be nervewracking for her too, if she didn’t feel so at home in his shadow.

Ethan Holden, Jensen Raith, and Gabriel Gray were all tall men. Flint Deckard, too.

“Are you not very used to being insulted?” she asks him like they’re casually discussing the likelihood of rain. He’s already seen to his lapel, so she concentrates on adjusting the back of his collar instead as she encircles his neck in both her arms — without touching anything but the area she’s targeted.

Something about this particular jacket looks not quite right.

The subtlest of flinches seems to tug his shoulders in, even as Eileen takes her own precautions, and Byron looks at the far wall past the crown of her head. She can hear the sound of his throat working around a swallow in lieu of clearing his throat. It's probably a bit like you'd imagine petting a real wolf to be like — still and waitful, ears back, undecided about what he thinks of this. She's close enough that his senses are saturated with her presence, from the subtle lift of perfumed hair to the barest degree of warmth shared in the space between their bodies.

He rolls his eyes ceilingward, configures his face into an expression that's the impatient side of neutral. She did, after all, slap the shit out of his face the last time they were this close.

"You like everything you're used to?"

A slight cant of her head indicates that Eileen gives serious consideration to his question. Her eyes fall somewhere between the bottom of his chin and the middle of his chest as she does. “No,” she confesses, because what would be the point in lying?

She’s used to loneliness. She’s used to not being touched. She’s used to concealing her real emotions with the skill of a practiced magician with a dove hidden up their sleeve.

“I’ll try to be kinder.”

No sorry from her lips today. Her hands fall back to the level of her waist, folded demurely atop one another. “I don’t like this one,” she says, kinder, as promised. “Try the next?”

No acerbic retort from Byron — just a look that is altogether far too perceptive in the way it leaves an impression, before he's shuffling aside to shuck the jacket off his shoulders and down his arms. With as much mindfulness as Eileen is with her words, he takes care not to crumple the rejected article, laying it out with the others before he reaches for the next. This one is coal black, lined in grey satin, a subtle musty smell lifting as he shakes it loose.

You could probably get married in this one. He ducks his head, slides his arms in, rolls his shoulders to settle them beneath the shape they cut across. Silent, for now. Cat got his tongue.

She watches him dress, brazen, unabashed, but completely at a loss as to why. The only thing more of an enigma than Byron Wolf is the response his presence evokes in her. It comes from a quiet, forgotten place and is as intuitive as her ability. Her ability, not the parasitic one piggybacking atop it.

“You lost someone because of the Ferrymen,” she says, perhaps seeking to distract herself from too much inward reflection. “Or at least that’s the rumour around the oil drums. Any truth to it?”

Under her observation, she notes his hands still from where he's tugging the jacket straight, a pause that is telegraphed all through his body before he resumes, slower than before. He keeps his back to her.

"Why would I lie about something like that?"

Their conversations are developing a complex — question stacked on question.

“I didn’t say you lied.”

And yet something about him suggests that he still is, the conduit whispers, more of an impression of words than the actual words themselves — except that Byron, or rather the man behind Byron’s mask, hears it too.

The voice is weak, and it comes to him through the tenuous connection he and Eileen still share, even if it’s been so long since she used it that she doesn’t recognize what it is, or that it’s capable of communicating to a wider audience.

Chances are the conduit doesn’t realize this either.

Ask him what you want to ask, it implores.

“What happened to her?”

There's a version of this moment where he makes a mistake. He can feel it like it happens, a sudden rush of fear that converts swiftly into violence. It's really the lack of target that has it just burning away, even if he can feel a reality where he pushes her into the mirror, or vanishes into the wall, or slams his consciousness into hers to shove it from her mind. He knows in time that it's not an anger he has for her.

Just that voice.

In the version of this moment that they live together, he's perfectly still, but his expression has shut down. Understandable. Dead girlfriends are touchy subjects.

Byron has to lie, now. He's been doing a good job. Grounded in truth, embellished from there. But here, he can't play this too uncanny. "Missed connection," he roughs out, sandpapery voice even rougher, quieter. Steady. Looking at the wall. "We got separated, when all that went down in November. I thought the Ferry had taken care of her, but she never made it that far. I found out weeks later, when there wasn't a Ferry anymore."

It’s a common story. There’s nothing unbelievable about it. Byron provides exactly the right balance of detail and ambiguity to put Eileen at ease.

The conduit is not so quickly appeased. It presses in on the edges of her consciousness, feeling around the emotional barriers she’s put up for any weak points in her defense. Your fault, it informs her, very matter-of-fact. You thought you could protect them. You were weak, but we can make you strong.

Eileen takes only the first two words to heart.

“More people died than we were able to save,” she says. “I still think about it, all the time. But I don’t know what I could have done differently that would have balanced those numbers out.”

Bryon has forgotten that he is wearing a jacket that doesn't belong to him, pacing around the little room and coming to sit on one of the ornate chairs shoved into a corner. His attention is back on her, and very serious. Piercing, even.

"Word around the oil drums— " see, a callback, everything is fine "— says you were betrayed."

Which might have evened out a thing or two.

"And that you died," is clearly not something that happened, says a nod of his head. "For a while." If he had a little voice of his own, it too would be imploring him to just ask the thing he wants to ask. "Who did it?"

Something has changed. Eileen sees it in his body language and senses it in his energy, which feels — at least to her — like it’s too big for the room to contain.

In a way, this comes as a relief. Aggression is familiar: a known quantity she can turn to face head on. “Griffin Mihangle,” she answers. “I knew it was someone close to us, but I wasn’t quick enough to catch him until he caught me. He put a knife in my heart and pushed me out a window. The rest is noise. Suffering. Mine and other people’s.”

She thinks Byron deserves answers.

As usual, the conduit disagrees: You’re telling him too much.

“I lost someone, too. Not quite the same way.”

Maybe the name eases something in him. It's the most obvious assumption — the swallow, the breath out through sinuses, the way his expression remains fixed. (There are a few ways one could know who killed Eileen Ruskin. It takes restraint to remember that living through it is only one of them.) Byron is leaning forward, and there's a shift, like he wants to get up and stand, but he remains sitting as she says this last part.

"You should quit blaming yourself," he says, slowly, trying to ease off the intensity and only kind of succeeding, "for the actions of weak people."

That Mihangle overpowered her isn't a question of strength. Gabriel Gray should know.

He skipped over her speaking of loss. He shouldn't. He makes himself say, "Sorry." For your loss. For being weird. For being lost. It's open ended, and he seems to physically retreat within himself, hands resting on bent knees.

“Try not to be,” is a gentle suggestion, rather than an order. Eileen’s gaze dips from Byron’s face to his suit jacket, and she’s pleasantly surprised to discover that this one does for his frame what the one before it could not.

“That one,” she says, gesturing to him with a subdued but deliberate wave of her dominant hand. “It puts ten years on you, but it looks nice.”

The sigh that leaves her next makes her seem to deflate, although the conduit has at least given up for the time being. Eileen does not return to the subject of her loss, which is paradoxical — because he’s sitting right in front of her.

“We’ll find you a good pair of Italian shoes and have Charity tailor the slacks. No one will know you don’t belong bumping elbows with foreign investors and what’s left of this city’s social elite.”


He doesn't remind her, about what she said about being kinder. Maybe this is kinder. Byron stands, moving towards the mirror, a cursory zig-zagging look over the cut of his own silhouette, drawing the jacket closed. By his expression, you'd think he were getting a nice suit for a funeral.

And he doesn't pretend otherwise when he bids her, "Can I have a minute?" Then, "I won't disappear on you."

“Take as long as you need,” Eileen says. “Tell him,” the shopkeeper, “to put it on my account. I’ll be outside.”

She has no coat to gather because she never took hers off, but her hands drift up the garment’s front to check the status of all its buttons on her way out the door. It clatters shut behind her with a cheerless jangle of chintzy brass bells.

In the alley, she settles into a lean against the building’s brick exterior and goes fishing through her pockets for a cigarette.

So. That went well.

When she sets a flame to the end of her cigarette, smoke traces upwards. Beyond her comprehension, it freezes in time held suspended, as unnatural as water running for the sky. Within the shop, dust motes have paused their dance in shafts of light. The shopkeeper's pulse in his veins has gone still. The strange noise of Rookery foot traffic has gone silent.

The entire earth has stopped spinning.

Gabriel took off the jacket before he turned back into himself, letting out a gasp as a more familiar suit of muscle and bone settles back into place. The blonde bristle of Byron's hair grown out into lank black that he uses both hands to sweep out of his face before they grip onto the back of his neck and he simply stands there in the little room, waiting for the nausea to subside.

What takes a minute to Eileen takes more than a handful to Gabriel, who restarts time only when he's willing to shift back into a dead stranger and when the whine of complete silence starts to become needles piercing through his ears and into his brain. In those few minutes: uneven breathing, a weird grip around his heart, but it's not like grief, to which he has become intimate. If the ability to stop time can't be used to wrangle what he can only classify as something like a panic attack, then what is it good for? Not to mention, of course, the superhuman ability to control the flow of his own blood, the pump of his own heart.

By the time he comes out, he's holding a paper bag with a suit in it. Blonde, blue-eyed, unwell in no way that would be surprising.

"Can I have one of those?" Byron asks, of her cigarettes.

Eileen holds out the package in the space between them. They’re Marlboros, because that’s what she prefers to smoke in America where the blends and brands that she, Nick, and John Logan were weaned on are unavailable. Crumpled gold foil shimmers in the late afternoon sun.

There are three left.

He doesn’t look like he’s in a condition that would be improved by a cigarette. The subtle swoop of Eileen’s brows betrays this concern, except that she does not give it a voice.

Byron can make his own choices. She worries about what she sees when she looks in the mirror, too, and yet here she is.

“We should head back,” she suggests.

His nice black formal jacket has been replaced by a rattier denim, wool lined collar stiff with old sweat at certain patches. One cigarette disappears into a pocket, and another is lit and kept between sealed lips, head ducked against the occasion flutter of wind that courses down the Rookery street.

Byron nods, gusting curls of smoke out through his nose. Lead the way.

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