Doubt and Fear


byron_icon.gif eileen2_icon.gif

Scene Title Doubt and Fear
Synopsis Paths cross after dark.
Date March 9, 2019

Sunken Factory

For people who are pretending to be someone they aren’t, the sunken factory that hangs precariously on the edge of the Oswego River is a dangerous place to call home.

There are at least two individuals who fit neatly into this category — and both of them have questions about the other’s identity. Eileen, at least, has shelved hers for the time being and turned her attention toward more pressing matters: preparing for the militia’s next scavenging expedition into Philadelphia, or what’s left of it.

She’s distracted herself with the laborious task of reconstructing old maps of the area through hearsay and the careful utilization of her birds, her days spent sequestered in a room on one of the factory’s upper levels with only tea and meals taken alone for company.

Nights are a different story, but the dreams are as relentless as the intrusive thoughts she has about the newest addition to the group during her waking hours. If Gabriel isn’t blowing away in the wind, then Epstein has her trapped against a hard, flat surface and is pressing the air from her lungs until she jolts back to consciousness on account of there being nothing left.

Tonight it was Iago’s brand slipping expertly between her ribs.

And you don’t go back to sleep after something like that.

So she wanders the factory’s sloping cement halls instead, one arm extended so the tips of her fingers can skim along the windows to her right. The left she holds across her midsection like a bird tending to a broken wing, palm pressed against the V-shaped scar on the opposite side of her body. She can feel the raised tissue through the material of her nightgown even when she isn’t tracing the slightly irregular edges of its shape — which is often.

The world is still and quiet except for the sound of the wind in the trees outside and the gentle patter of rain falling on the glass skybridge all around her.

That’s nice.

He hasn't made a lot of friends. Some formalities, mainly. He has yet to display particular interest in ingratiating himself among the men, and some women, that seem to gravitate to Iago Ramirez's very specific brand of charisma, nor has he displayed much interest in slipping into the civilian circles that this facility has been set up to protect. But Byron is, nonetheless, oddly ubiquitous, and easy to find, except for when he isn't, phasing in and out of group awareness as easily as his ability allows him with concrete walls.

Wolves only form up pack structures in captivity. They otherwise exist in families, or none at all.

At the windows, which have fogged up in places from the internal warmth of the factory, Byron has two fingers pressed against the glass, quietly painting clear shapes without looking at the faint marks he leaves behind. Beyond the windows, there is very little to see, the wilderness and abandoned Jersey sprawl all cloaked in overcast blackness, and so his attention must be somewhere inwards.

Eileen barely makes a sound as she enters this space and so he doesn't look to acknowledge her, although careful study of posture might indicate to her that she has been noticed. Maybe out of politeness, she has a chance to slip away before he can comment.

She doesn’t know whether she should be relieved that he isn’t someone more equipped to see past her deception, or if she should be concerned their paths are crossing at a time when no one else is awake. In many ways, they are more isolated here, now, than they had been on the road just a few days ago.

Perhaps this is to Eileen’s benefit.

Rather than turn away and retrace her steps, she pushes forward, ignoring that the chill of the floor underfoot has turned her toes numb even as moisture beads on the glass. It’s a strange juxtaposition between warm and cold, like Byron is a strange juxtaposition between something alien and something familiar.

Moths do not fear the flame; Eileen does not fear this stranger or his curious mannerisms.

Byron sees her reflection in the window pane before she enters his periphery. It’s small, dark, vague.

This is the part where she should say something.

She doesn’t.

"Remember looking out the window at night and seeing something?"

On the rare moments when the room Byron Wolf is in is filled with noise — engines, gun shots, voices — he doesn't often speak, perhaps for the simple reason that his voice manifests as a textured mumble. Out on the snowy road, it had carried fine. Here, it almost mingles with the white noise of pattering rain, but she's close enough, and the factory is quiet enough, that to hear him isn't a struggle.

His hand flattens to the glass, smearing the dripping angles he'd written into the steamed surface. "Take it you didn't come up here for the view."

“No,” Eileen agrees, “but I’ve found something I want to look at regardless.”

It’s easier to be on the offensive than it is to be on the defensive. Byron ended their last conversation with the upperhand, but the low velvet purr of her tone implies she has no intention of letting him keep it.

Emboldened by the shadows and the physical protection Kazimir Volken’s ability affords her, she moves closer at a delicate creep. One foot weaves in front of the other. Then again, and again, like braiding her hair in front of the mirror in the morning.

“Many people have tried to kill me,” she continues, “and the only one who ever succeeded is dead. If that’s why you’ve come here, then you should know your odds.”

This first part jabs a response out of him — a look over his shoulder past the hand on the window, and she can just see the incredulous curl of his brow. He turns all the way, the barest squeak of skin of damp glass as his hand slides off of the window, as alert as someone ought to be when squaring with someone else whom many people have tried to kill.

Standing before her, Byron dresses a little like he's less physically imposing than he is. Less attractive, too. Jeans and a grey hoodie are all the same family of matte greys beneath a jacket, shoulders curled forward and head ducked under his own height. There's a sullenness to his expression, but it also seems like his face simply settles into this when left unchecked. His eyes are warier than that.

And curious, until she says this last bit. His face cracks with a crooked smile, fleeting. (Familiar.) "Why would someone wanna do that?"

Eileen’s heart is beating very fast. His smile does things to her insides that she can neither articulate nor understand, but her body — this body — remembers the last few times it experienced this dizzying sensation.

La estrella fugaz, Iago had said, and her heart had leapt.

Before that, it was—


Eileen steels herself against the wave of grief that washes over her with older memories. Does not let it show. Refuses to let it show. Instead, she reaches out to place her dominant hand on Byron’s chest.

He reminds her of Gabriel. She lies to herself and pretends she does this to see if he’s afraid. There are no soft leather gloves to separate her skin from anything she touches, only the worn layers of monochrome clothing between them.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I’m not a very nice person.”

That smile vanishes, and Byron's hands hanging at his sides touch the hip-high concrete wall behind himself, although he stops short of actually moving backwards, or flinching. It's confusion that flashes across his face, rather than fear.

Get a grip, is some internal thought, that has him schooling his expression. Relaxing. Bringing his hands back to where they were.

"Not much of a reason to die," he offers, despite the skip in conversation. Under her hand, there goes his heart, strong and steady. Human warmth, transferred through wool and cotton. There is a slight pressure, and she can feel more than see the slight lean in his posture takes on. His accent is mildly New York, but hooks a little pronounced as he says, "Why, you wanna be nice to me?" White teeth, glinting between a smile on its return, although changed a bit into a leer.

Her right hand remains where it is: centered above his heart. Her left answers his question with a cobra-swift slap cracked across his face, aimed to catch the corner of his mouth and split lip against teeth.

What Eileen apparently wants is for Byron to bleed.

Just a little.

There may be some small consolation to be gleaned in the instant afterward, because she initially appears just as surprised as he probably is.

Sudden and sharp enough to turn his head, Byron rears back to his full height a second too late, back bumping into the windows behind him. In the strange light of the skybridge, Eileen can't make out whether she succeeded in her goal, no creeping crimson seeping from his grimace, nor streaked on her palm.

He turns his face back to her on a second of delay, as if having needed to absorb the moment first. In this light, clear blue eyes are as dark as anyone's, and flash with dangerous malice before he manages to temper it.

He brings his palm up to test his mouth. Still no blood.

"Cool," he says, flatly. "That how you keep the fellas in line?"

Eileen decides she prefers the malice. That’s something she at least knows what to do with.

She lowers both her left hand and her eyes, although the right on his chest remains, and strains against the dark in search of any residue left behind on the tips of her fingers. Seeing nothing, she wipes it off on the front of her nightgown, which is a shade somewhere between old lace and blush pink. It would make a good canvas, and yet—

Still nothing.

“Just you,” she answers, equally flat, steering her attention back up to his face. At last the hand at his chest falls away.

"Not Ramirez?"

Her touch withdraws and potentially so too might this particular conversation, but it's caught up in sharp teeth. Stubborn. Byron does not loom back over her, affecting a slouch against the window where he'd landed. His tongue touches the corner of his mouth, soothing whatever smarting might linger. "Lang? They seem like the kind of gentlemen who need a firm hand."

The innuendo does not need to be laid on thick, but he adds, anyway, as he works a squashed pack of cigarettes out of a pocket, "Or might enjoy it."

In an entirely different context, these would be the words of a jealous man. Eileen is taken aback by the implication as much as she is by the dissonance it causes.

Without breaking eye contact, she gathers her slip between her fingers and hoists it up on one side, past thigh and hip, exposing the pale valley of her stomach and several ribs that rise up out of it like a series of perfectly spaced ridges. Amato Salucci might accuse her of being indecent, but she holds the fabric in such a way that there is little else to see except for the ugly V-shaped scar nestled between those peaks.

“Do you know what it stands for?” she asks.

He should probably react to the sudden reveal of more pale skin than is normally shared and seen between two strangers, especially as some fuckboy from the mainland — but Byron only looks at the scarring, and his head tips. A neutral expression can't disguise what is, at first, another moment of confusion that shows through his eyes, gone again when he meets her gaze.

There's a too long pause, hands idling from their journey to procure his lighter and a cigarette. He says, "No."

“Then ask Ramirez,” Eileen suggests. She releases her grip on the slip and it tumbles back to its full length in the time it takes for her to open her hand. “I couldn’t tell you what else he enjoys, but he certainly got a thrill from that.”

It’s a misstep. She knows it as soon as she’s breathed life into the words and allowed them to leave her mouth. Whatever quiet resentment Eileen Gray still harboured in spite of her affection for the Argentinian, she would never under any circumstances have given it a voice.

She changes the subject: “I’m sorry I hit you.”

That’s a misstep, too.

Whatever has transpired in the last few seconds, Byron's desire for a cigarette has died, negligently holding onto the pack as he studies her face and tries to find truth in her apology, or if it's just a thing she's saying to him to fill the silence, to dismiss the awkwardness. The sneer is gone too, and the malice with it, leaving behind something empty and peculiar.

"Maybe I was asking for it," he says. Concedes, maybe.

Eileen’s expression is at war with the rest of her body. It’s becoming apparent, at least to her, that she should never have left her room in her current state. The intensity of her emotions physically hurts — and now she’s transferred some of that pain onto someone else who maybe deserves it.

Jury’s still out.

“These people are my family,” she confides in Byron, choosing to embrace her vulnerability rather than continue to hide it behind a hard mouth and a set jaw that looks like it could be chiseled from polished marble. It’s not what Eileen Gray would do, but it’s what feels right to Eileen Ruskin. “Dysfunctions and trauma and all. I was barely more than a child when what happened happened, but I should have done more to protect them from what came next. They don’t need a firm hand. They need compassion and understanding.”

Maybe anyone else would find a way to gently close out the conversation, usher her back to her room, or offer an environment more suitable for nightgowns and bare feet. But Byron looks back at her, absorbs the intensity that comes through as run off from her own hidden, roiling emotions, and listens while rain batters at the glass behind his shoulders.

And his gaze lowers, thinking too deeply.

Not saying anything, when he knows he should.

On the cusp of a silence extended too long, "I get it," is rough out, an awkward, somewhat adolescent shrug jarring up his shoulders. It doesn't sound like he does, particularly, not completely, but also like he isn't lying.

“Thank you,” says Eileen, for lack of a better response. Later, she’ll have accumulated a list as long as her arm of other things should should have said but didn’t.

Such is the nature of conversations like these. She understands this well; her life has been one continuous parade of such exchanges with only brief moments of normalcy filling the gaps between.

There will always be something else she should have said.

While his eyes are still downcast, she takes advantage of the reprieve it offers to look past Byron — in the direction of the gloom on the other side of the skybridge. Hector Steele’s retrofitting casts the adjacent hallway in a strange, otherworldly glow, allowing her to make out the shape of the low-hanging pipes attached to the corridor’s ceiling.

She should probably see Ramirez while she still has the motivation to do so.


“Good night,” she tells Byron, and this time gives him a slightly wider berth as she slithers past.

She even shows him her back.

He looks up again by the time she's angled off and walking, a sharper look hidden in slouch and sullen face angles. He could just call out to her, with his own voice, and he knows that if he does, there's a high chance every fear and doubt would be scattered to the wind like so many birds taking flight.

Fear is important. Doubt, more so.

So Byron says nothing, putting the crumpled cigarette pack back into a pocket as he watches her leave, and disappear into darkness. When there's nothing more to see, he flicks a glance around him, presses his lips together, and then pushes backwards, vanishing through concrete and glass.

Feeling the rain, feeling gravity, for just a second, before his body collapses into a cloud of inky darkness, streaming down the side of the concrete walls, disappearing into shadow.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License