False Expectations


eileen2_icon.gif nick_icon.gif

Scene Title False Expectations
Synopsis Nick's really gotta start checking the back seat of his car.
Date February 9, 2019

New York Safe Zone, Outside Delia's Apartment

The gray, overcast sky of the winter day makes it difficult to tell the time. It's still morning, though perhaps not quite as early as Nick usually starts out on mornings like these. His routine when he's in town is fairly predictable, but without actual work to do, it's easy to deviate from. It seems he's spent longer indulging in the early morning orisons of showering and shaving, coffee and newspaper, breakfast and whatever else he does in Delia's little house before he leaves her to do her work in the garden.

The bee-boop that unlocks the door of the F150 sounds first before he makes his way from the door to the truck, opening the door to pull an ice scraper from the door shelf, making quick work of the frost on the windshield, before sliding in and slamming the door. The key is turned, Nine Inch Nails suddenly filling the space with angry voices and angry chords, and the air begins to blow, shoved to the highest heat setting for winter.

Nick brisky rubs his hands together to warm them, blowing on them as he waits for the truck to warm up after its cold night of rest.

"A Ford?" asks a voice in the back seat. "Really, Nick? You couldn't have gone with an import? It's a little on the nose for a spy, but maybe a good old-fashioned Bentley…"

The joke might play better if Eileen didn't have to raise her voice to be heard over the music, which she undoubtedly also have opinions about. A quick glance darted into the vehicle's rear view mirror yields his sister's distinctive silhouette; on the bright side, she isn't holding a knife to his throat or pointing a gun at his temple this time.

She is, however, smoking a lit cigarette and stinking up his upholstery.

Nick immediately stiffens at the voice — one day maybe he'll learn to check his back seat. But who hides in the backseat of a pick-up truck? His sister, and more than once now. The joke doesn't relax him much — if anything, it bewilders him, as he stares at the mirror to make out what he can in the gray light.

"It's useful here in town. I can't afford a Bentley. Uncle Sam doesn't pay that well, you know." He reaches to turn off the volume of the radio. He's quiet for a long moment, before turning to reach for his own cigarettes, stowed in the glove compartment. The truck doesn't smell like smoke, which means he only smokes outside of it — but since she's already smoking, he may as well too. "Does this mean you forgive me?" he asks, as he lights up. "I'm gonna drive and we can talk. You wanna stay back there or come up here? Anywhere you wanna go?"

Eileen studies Nick's reflection in the mirror from behind her veil of smog. An American truck. Industrial rock bands. His measured reaction.

He's just full of surprises this morning.

"I'm not sure there's much left to forgive," she admits with a sniff, and seems to relax, sinking back into the seat. Her focus shifts from the mirror to the window directly to her right. People bundled in wool and newer synthetic fabrics bustle up and down the adjacent sidewalk. Some carry groceries. Others wield thin, compact leather briefcases like shields, steeling themselves for their regular nine-to-five.

"It's strange," Eileen says. "You look out a window and if you keep your attention on exactly what's in that little frame, it's like almost nothing has changed. Like maybe the last seven years never happened."

He studies her now and then as he drives, eventually pulling over to a park — really, just a large empty space that would be green if it weren't winter, a few trees here and there and benches for people to sit. He keeps the car running, to keep the heat on, but puts it into park and turns to look at her.

"Any given picture can lie," he says quietly, studying her face. "Everything's changed, but humanity's the same, I guess. Some people get better. Some get worse. On the whole…" he shrugs, reaching to press the button that drops the window a half inch, giving the smoke from their cigarettes somewhere to escape. "For some people, life hasn't. For others of us…" he trails off again.

A non sequitur: "Sophia's probably in the US. Be careful. She's with Sharrow. You know anything about that? I didn't know she was ever part of that shit."

Of all the things on Eileen's mind, their mother was not among them.

Nick can pinpoint the moment her heart drops down to the level of her stomach. "Well, that's fucking great," she roughs out, and doesn't even bother to attempt to smooth over her voice. It cracks regardless of any contrary effort.

She reaches up and smears at the tears gathering on her cheeks with gloved fingers, then wipes them off on the lapel of her coat. There's no snow or ice still clinging to her hair or clothes. She'd been laying in wait for him for at least a few hours, possibly the entire night.

Sleeping in the back of Nick's truck is easier than sleeping in her doppelganger's bed back in Providence. "Long story," she tells him. "Fairly terrible. You know: the usual."

The tears are his undoing. Nick looks lost as he stares at her. He begins to speak, shakes his head, takes a drag from his cigarette, blows it out. His free hand rakes through his hair, that old, familiar tic of his. It feels like it's seven years ago, again. For some reason he can't put a finger on, except he feels lost.

"I'm sorry," he says quietly, and it's sincere. Part condolence, part apology. He's quiet again, not sure what he should add to her stress, or if he should just let it sit, her grief, her worry. Whatever it is that's made her seem so fragile now, not the strong and terrifying woman he's failed to help or get through to in the past few months.

"CIA knows. Came to me with it. Have me working with some asshole from SESA whose partner Epstein killed. It's complicated. Fairly terrible. The usual." He smiles wryly as he repeats her words. "I have Delia looking for them, by dream you know. They wanted to know about York, too."

He sighs. "Lee," he begins, setting aside the 'business.' "Let me help you. Whatever you need. I can get you to another country… I don't know. Whatever you need."

"Lowell," Eileen interrupts. "His name was Michael Lowell." She waves her hand at him, vague, dismissive, as though such an understated gesture alone could actually dismiss Nick's concerns — or the offer he ends on.

"I need time," she says, taking another drag from her cigarette, "that's all." She holds her breath deep in her lungs and closes her eyes, hoping to stymie the flow of tears.

It works. Sort of. When she opens her eyes again, it's at the same time she exhales and billows twin streams of smoke from her flared nostrils. "I'll make contact with Sharrow. See if he won't tell me what his cell's doing here in the States, or what he wants with— her. You and Epstein can follow up on your end. It'll be just like the old days."

This isn't the solution Nick wants to hear. "Shit, no, Lee. That's not-" he begins sharply, before he takes a breath to steady himself.

His blue eyes bear down on hers. "The theory is they'll try to get to me to get to you. That Sharrow knows what you… that you…" he waves his hand, never good with the words that involve the conduit and Kazimir. "Not revealing that you know about them is probably our best weapon." He tosses his spent cigarette out the window. There's no ashtray in his newer model truck, after all. "My plan was to trick them — make them think I'm meeting with you somewhere, have it be a decoy, and then a team would sweep them up. It's possible we can do that without it being a decoy but I'd rather not risk you."

It's clear he hasn't been briefed on what's happened out at Sunspot.

"I shouldn't have told you, but she might reach out, play the redemption card, I don't know. But you gotta know she's with Sharrow. His kids are probably alive too, part of that cell, whoever they are. Just…" His hand rakes through his dark hair again, leaving it unkempt, too long as it always seems to be.

"Just be careful. Do you need somewhere to crash? I have places."

That Sharrow would use Sophia to hurt Nick flushes Eileen's face with anger. Something in the stale, smoke-thick air of the truck's cabin shifts; the hairs on Nick's arms stand on end, and he's suddenly aware of the network of veins and arteries beneath his skin in a way that he wasn't before.

It doesn't hurt, not exactly.

Eileen must feel it too, because she's groping for the door handle in the next moment, and shouldering her way out of the truck after that. "I'm fine," she lies. "Ramirez and the others— Vanguard. The changed ones. New ones. I'm fine."

She slams the door behind her like a gunshot. The kind that doesn't make anyone blink any more. New York has become so accustomed to loud sounds.

She comes around the side of the truck to bid her brother farewell through the narrow gap in his window. "Believe it or not," she says, "I am the safest I have ever been."

A silent gasp opens his jaw at the strange sensation; he perceives it as a threat, a warning to him, and he puts both hands up in a surrender gesture, his jaw clenching shut again as he stares at her, watching her as she exits and knowing better than to give chase.

When she stands at his window, he looks at her, bewildered again, brows drawn together in that lost boy look of his — a look that Sophia brought about too often. A look that he wore when she lay dying on the cobblestones of Pollepel.

"I hope that's true," he manages to say. "I'm here. You always know how to find me, so I'll be here. Just… let me help." Whatever that looks like.

Eileen presses her palm against the glass. It would be nice to touch him even through the thin leather of her gloves, but emotions run high where her brother is concerned. She doesn't trust herself enough to make physical contact the same way she'd trusted her heart to be in sync with her head when she'd squeezed Geneva's leg or briefly cupped Emily's face in her hand.

"You are helping," she says, the corners of her mouth growing tight like she's either trying to smile — or stop herself from crying again.

Those two goals might not necessarily be exclusive.

"Thank you."

Nick's jaw clenches, but not hard enough to keep the tears from springing to his own blue eyes as he holds up his own hand, ungloved, to the glass. It's an odd gesture from her, not something he expects, but there is very little to be expected with his sister anymore. Just when he thinks he's figured her out, something changes.

The glass is cold between their hands. He holds the gesture for as long as she seems to need it — taking with him as well this symbol of love from her, for as long as she's willing to give it. It won't be long enough.

He isn't wrong.

Eileen peels her hand off the window as she turns away, stepping up onto the curb. It takes her a moment to orient herself, neck craned and chin tipped back as she uses rooftop pigeons to pinpoint the nearest landmark she recognizes. Or thinks she recognizes.

Sibyl Black's short, unfortunate life feels like a vivid dream that she can't quite shake.

With a flourish of her long coat, she disappears into the mouth of a nearby alley. If it wasn't for the smell of cigarettes now clinging to Nick's skin and clothes, there would be no lasting indication that she was ever there at all.

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