Go Marching One By One


eileen_icon.gif julian_icon.gif

Scene Title Go Marching One By One
Synopsis On the last leg of the journey to safety, Julian and Eileen have a conversation. The former is something of a liar.
Date April 14, 2009

Long Island City

Before the bomb, the freight yard at the southernmost tip of Long Island City was a bustling hub of activity. Today, it sits in a state of abject disrepair and is visited so rarely that it's considered to be at the very bottom of the local logistics chain — it's also the end of the road for a small group of disenfranchised travelers, all but one of them dressed in the telltale orange jumpsuits belonging to Moab Federal Penitentiary.

With the freight yard less than a few blocks from the lot on which Eagle Electric once stood, Eileen has chosen to operate under the cover of darkness. She knows the area like the back of her hand — every side street, every alley, every abandoned warehouse, construction site and makeshift bunker in between. She also knows that the nearest Ferrymen safehouse is more than two hours travel by foot, which means they have to move now and they have to move fast, stealing away before the sun appears as a golden sliver on the horizon and paints the sky in illuminating daylight colours.

Rifle slung across her back, one hand staunching the flow of blood from her chest wound, the other grasping at the side of the boxcar for support, she leads with her right foot and places it on the freight yard's gravel floor, followed by the left.

Nothing happens.

"All clear."

There is a certain joylessness to this group of people. Hope exists at least for many of them, but it's been a tiring, confusing, painful journey back to New York, and it's a place Julian was prepared to never see again before he found himself headed straight back there once more. Oh, well. Better luck this time. Miraculously unhurt, all things considered, save for a few scratches and scrapes that would heal slower than they should, Julian is quick to move when they're given the quiet-voiced signal from the petite, injured little bird leading them all to safety.

His steps falter, back curving as he gives a few racking coughs, interrupted by a short, desolate laugh. If there's one thing to say about Moab, it's that it at least gave him some reprieve from the constant sickness, so quick to settle in his chest and throat not days later. He's newly freckled from the Utah sun, but the paleness is setting back in, the weakness.

The break from his ability did nothing for scars, though. Pale hands that he's now keeping to himself don't match, one still bearing the mark of being run through with a knife. It's not nearly as bad as his face, the ripple of a half-smile hooking up from the corner of his mouth, up and up and almost all the way to his ear. He wonders how long he can avoid Claire, while he's here. If maybe he should disappear forever for reasons bigger than simply not wanting her to see the scarring.

Later. For now, that scar smiles down at Eileen when he comes to step beside her, but his mouth itself is a serious line when not pulled by injury. "'ey," he says, roughly. Quietly. It's a greeting, but it sounds more like a call for attention than anything else. Belying this, the Irishman says nothing more for now, winding his arms around himself.

There are seven them altogether, not counting the two lifeless ragdolls that bled out sometime during their journey back to New York, and they've little choice but to leave the dead behind for the workers to find when they unload the boxcar's cargo come dawn. The discovery won't make the news — or if it does, it will be clothed in whatever lies are the easiest and most convenient for Homeland Security to spin. Under normal circumstances, this might be to Eileen's advantage. Unfortunately, however, current circumstances are far from normal, and the last thing any of them need is a trail for the government's bloodhounds to follow.

The other members of the Moab entourage aren't far behind Julian, eager to stretch their legs in solemn, stony silence while they still have the luxury to unwind after a week spent in such cramped quarters. The Irishman's greeting catches Eileen's attention with the swiftness and acuity of a gunshot despite its softness, and she turns to glance at him sidelong, both her dark brows arched to form a mildly inquisitive expression. "Hey," she returns, removing the rifle from her shoulder by its leather strap. "You know how to shoot this?"

In hindsight, maybe it would have been better to ask before they all moved out into the open. Then again, judging by the tightness at the corners of her mouth and her body's rigid posture, Eileen might not have known she needed to until she set foot outside. Injuries feel so much less severe when you're still sitting down.

Perhaps all the scars and surly demeanor and status as a prisoner might lend Julian some credibility in matters of being able to use a rifle. Perhaps he's just convenient, or perhaps was slightly more of a leader than the rest of the similarly orange clad herd they're hustling through Long Island City acted like. He was meant to be a leader within his own little terrorist group, but that's as historic to him as his time spent in Moab.

He considers being truthful, but he also knows how hurt she is. Not from his own medical expertise, but he can see it, the points of weakness and damage. He was a teenage boy, once. He can figure out a rifle. "Yeah," he lies, easily, holding out pale hands for the weapon, taking it from her and hook the strap over a shoulder in much the same way she did. He speaks quietly in his mutt accent of Brooklyn and Belfast. "What're y'doing after you drop us off at this safehouse o' yours? Somehow don't picture y' droppin' y'self off at the nearest hospital. Not that y'don' need it."

Eileen's gaze turns skyward, though what she sees there is as much a mystery as what lies beyond the freight yard's chain-link fence. Distant lights pollute the air, reflect off the cloud cover's mottled belly and wash out the stars, rendering everything above their heads an inky shade of black except for a singular slice of moon the same colour as the woman's eggshell skin. "Don't know," she admits, blowing out a short sigh through her nostrils. "You saw what it looked like back there. I'd be surprised if anybody else made it out."

This isn't to say such a surprise wouldn't be welcomed. In her heart of hearts, Eileen desperately hopes the survivors number more than seven people. What a waste that would be. What a complete and utter waste. "Check in. Regroup. Figure out where the fuck things went wrong. Maybe even point some fingers."

"Good to know that fuck up back there weren't exactly the plan," Julian says with a breathy bit of cynical laughter, taking a deep breath of city air. So much more familiar to him than what he breathed in at Utah, that mix of storm and desert dirt. The weapon feels heavy in his hands, and he feels exposed in the orange jumpsuit, and— "I need a fuckin' cigarette," he says, more conversational than the fervent whispers of a fugitive. "Goin' cold turkey was just that much more fuckin' cruelty, I'll tell you. You wouldn't happen to have one on you? You'd be more've an angel than y'already are if y'did."

"I quit." Which is true. Eileen did quit, kicked the smoking habit along with most of her other vices at Amato Salucci's adamant assistance while under the watchful eye of one Kazimir Volken. The last time she even held a cigarette pursed between her lips was on the beach with Teo, and then it wasn't lit. "Thinking about starting back up again, though. Nobody can say I don't deserve it."

But speaking of angels? "There's a place we can go after we clean ourselves up," she says. "Not a safehouse, exactly. Better. Bet they've got a vending machine in one of the bathrooms, too."

His nose wrinkles a little at the news of no cigarette. Figures. No verbal complaints from Julian, adjusting his grip on the rifle as they move like very conspicuous shadows. He keeps the barrel pointed to the ground as he walks. Like they do in the movies. The ground crunches beneath his feet even when he tries to step lightly, glancing Eileen's way when she speaks of places to go.

"Yeah, well, God knows I'm not headin' anywhere I used t'go," he mutters. Only when Julian gets quiet, does it become clear that the scar in his face has put a twist on his speaking, a subtle impediment. "They got me right out front of what was supposed to be a secret fuckin' place, y'know? If y'don' mind, I could stand t'stick with you for a bit. Least until I get some money and can get the fuck out of this city."

The remaining five bring up the rear, each set of footsteps unique from each other, though no one set is less cautious on its own than as a group. Julian and Eileen aren't the only pair conversing, either, but everyone appears to understand the importance of discretion for their voices are all quiet enough to blend in with the sound of gravel being chewed beneath their heels. "Truth be told," she intones in a whisper, "I'd be happy for the company. Lone wolf's a stupid game to play, and I'm not exactly on friendly terms with most of the people I used to run with."

Eileen lowers her hand from her chest and flexes her fingers, having grown tired of clutching at the front of her jacket where the blood is the darkest and has seeped through the thickest. Joints that cramp up are just another reason Julian's the one with the rifle and she isn't. "The ferry can probably smuggle you out of the States if that's what you want. Canada, maybe. Mexico. One of the border countries. Where you go from there is on your own shoulders, but it'd be a start."

He'd thought about it, what he'd do if he somehow got back. Run back to Shedda, Claire and Rupe and Izzy and the rest, pick up where he left off— careful, this time, less cocksure about how untouchable he could be. Turns out the only definition of that that stands is the literal one. As Eileen talks of getting him out of the country via some clandestine little resistance group, Julian's mind can't help but wander back to these thoughts, memories and ideas of Shedda Dinu. Occurs to him, not for the first time, how out of focus they were.

"Best fuckin' plan I've 'eard in a long time." How misguided the whole effort was. At least now he can hit the ground running. "Mexico sounds nice this time've year. 'ey." Julian doesn't do anything so foolish as to stop her and their journey, or worse still, touch her, but he does look her way. "Selfishly I can say I'm glad you an' your lot came to our rescue, even if it all went to hell. Even if y'were only lookin' for your friends. Government's not gonna be any nicer'n they have been or anythin', but at least they know now they can't just put us in cages and hope we go away like some kinda bad dream."

There was a time not so long ago when the government was the least of everyone's worries, when cages were just a fanciful notion dreamed up by those with less extreme views. Vanguard would have put a swifter, messier end to Julian than the men and women in charge of Moab, and while its leader may be dead and gone, Eileen is certain that his influence lives on in the hearts and minds of his subordinates. Wherever they are.

"Some of us deserve to be locked away," she says with a rolling shrug of her good shoulder. "Some of us probably don't even deserve to live. I've seen people kill for fun, kill for sport. Telekinetics. Puppeteers. Bloke I used to work for liked turning his enemies into dust."

"Yeah? The fuck does that have to do with anythin'?" Julian asks, easily, and gives her a skewed smile made all the worse from the old injury. "There've always been bad people, darlin', before this whole Evolved shitstorm began. People in Moab weren't that, necessarily, and don' go thinkin' there aren't non-Evolved evil motherfuckers either. Hitler, an'— " And that's about where Julian's history of evil motherfuckers ends. "An', yeah. Jus' this time, some've 'em happen to have bigger guns now, and they can be locked away like anyone else, powers or not. Y'know, in an ideal fuckin' world."

"Stalin?" Eileen offers wryly. "Attila the Hun? Caligula?" Learning about the worst from the worst is, evidently, an effective method of schooling. No one can ever accuse Zhang Wu-Long or the others of failing to at least try to patch up the gaps in her educational background. She offers no real argument, no inkling of dissent — mostly because she feels Julian is right, but also because she lacks the will to debate. "I don't know what it has to do with anything," she adds as they come up on the chain-link fence. "Just that it bears saying."

Seizing two handfuls of mesh in her fingers, Eileen sucks down a deep breath, hauls herself up like a cat too heavy to spring and begins scaling the wiry obstacle. She isn't feeling very athletic, admittedly, but she moves with surprising strength and grace for someone whose muscles are growing stiffer by the minute and whose clothes are soaked through with her own blood.

The fence creaks and groans under Eileen's weight, filling Julian's ears with the protesting clamor of woven metal rattling against its supports. "You know, I don't think I ever asked you what you can do."

"Yeah, those guys." Julian stops, watching Eileen scale up the chain link fence, standing still and wary for a moment as if waiting for her to ask for a help up, glancing back to the trailing group, but she's well on her way. He shifts the rifle until it rests against his back from the strap, and he starts up the fence too. There's some skill in it, as much as it might hurt his more twisted of two hands.

"Me?" The fence rattles and shakes as he crawls on up, hooks a leg carefully over the top, careful does it to avoid any very painful accidents on the way. He does pause to shoot her a twisted smirk, however. "I'm unconditionally charmin'." Hyup. Second leg goes over, and he starts working his way down. "I jus' 'ave to click my fingers and ladies are hikin' up their skirts to get a piece. Hey presto."

"I think they're calling that Persuasion now." Julian's smirk goes unseen, though Eileen can undoubtedly hear the humour in his voice, however dry it may be. "Or Rape. Your pick." She's slower than her conversational partner when it comes to cresting the top of the fence, a fact that almost certainly has to do with the way she opts to remain perched there until all five of their flock have made it over and touched down on the other side. Only then does she ease herself back to the pavement, breath hitching slightly as she moves. "Does it work on men, too?"

Certainly not moving to help anyone down, Julian swings the rifle back into place to grip it like an excuse, and gives Eileen a crooked smile at her last question. "Oh fuck yeah. Beat 'em off with sticks, you've no idea. T'tell you the truth, I was gettin' a little used to it. Not havin' my power, back in Moab." As cheerful as his tone had been during his wrong explanation, it becomes a little more serious around the end, there.

He waits for them to start moving once more, falling into step with her, running a hand through and ruffling his own dark hair. "What about you, then? I'm guessin' y'got some of special talent. People like us don't get dragged into this shit if it ain't in our genes.

Hey presto. Wouldn't it be nice if it was really that easy? The hard lines of Eileen's face ease into a more introspective expression that she isn't immediately able to shake off when Julian asks her the same question she asked of him. Instead, her mouth quirks into the slightest smile, its upper lip curling just enough to give him a brief glimpse of tooth. "You ever seen Doctor Dolittle?" she asks, glancing over her shoulder as if to ensure the street behind them remains clear. Her eyes in the sky, luminous disks of yellow peering out from beneath an owl's imperious brow, are fixated on what's ahead of them rather than what's at their backs.

Trudge, trudge, trudge. The marching is going to get old. A bed, a beer. A cigarette. These things he can promise himself, after they've walked as much walking as can be. Julian raises an eyebrow at the answer he gets. "The flick about the guy?" he asks, then actually gets specific with, "With the animal talking and whatever? What a shitty power, what've animals got t'talk about?" Not an animal person, apparently.

"Animals don't talk. They feel things. Project images." Eileen isn't surprised by Julian's reaction — she might have even been anticipating it. Her front teeth click together in a display good-natured derisiveness. "Anyway, it's just birds. Pigeons. Crows. Jays. What I wouldn't give to be able to hey presto just for one day." The hand that was previously clutching the front of her jacket falls to her side, arm swinging in perfect time with every stride. She has to keep a brisk pace in order to keep up with Julian on account of her much shorter legs. "I wouldn't even ask for a stick."

"So you were the one makin' it a Hitchcock film out there." A studying glance, a broader smile at her assessment. "Trust me," Julian says, hidden amusement in a twist of a smaller smile, keeping his dark eyes looking forward as the orange-clad soldiers march on and on, "it gets real old." What he wouldn't give for such a power, god knows he didn't spend the few weeks he had in Moab taking advantage of his new found negation making up for lost time. There was a fence, and all, and he wasn't desperate enough to play same side of it. Back to square one.

Back to square one. Eileen growls out a low, rasping chuckle that comes dangerously close to degenerating into a hacking cough. She doesn't press her point, doesn't attempt to articulate whatever response she has balancing on the tip of her tongue. Whether she trusts him or not, the time for talking has passed, replaced by a long stretch of silence in which they can better appreciate the stillness and absence of other sound.

There is no distant rumble of traffic, no muted voices or music blowing in with the breeze. Not since the city-wide curfew was put in place following the destruction of the Narrows, and in a way Eileen prefers things this way.

She likes the quiet.

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