Hand to God


eileen_icon.gif etienne_icon.gif

Scene Title Hand to God
Synopsis On the night of Remi's murder, Etienne pursues answers on the behalf of his employer — and Raytech.
Date May 20, 2018

Ruins of Staten Island

She moves under the cover of darkness like a cat — or a fox, which is just a sneakier type of cat, by Etienne's estimation.

Dressed in black, the woman who once swindled his employer out of large amounts of his fortune leaves the safehouse nestled in the island's interior and begins her trek back toward the coast. She moves swiftly and purposefully but without any fear as she skirts the edge of what passes for civilization, avoiding all manmade lights and sound to mitigate the risk of an encounter with another human being.

She travels on foot with only the clothes on her back, which are either leather or wool, or some lightweight combination of the two that only somewhat shelters her from the wash of summertime rain pouring down from the night sky.

The air is warm but the water is cold, making for an interesting combination of sensations that prickle on Etienne's own skin and makes the fine, dark hairs on the back of his neck and arms stand on end, electric.

The promise of lightning glimmers at the edges of the clouds above but has yet to manifest or touch down. That may change before the night is over.

He catches up with her on the water on the fringes of an abandoned shipping yard that the Staten Island Trade Commission might someday want to take for itself, if Alister Black could ever accumulate enough resources to do so. Chances are he's not even aware of its existence. Like almost everything else, the shipping yard has fallen into disrepair and become overgrown by a tangle of weeds, new ivy and fresh saplings pushing out from the gaps where doors and windows used to be. Most of the metal has corroded, and even at a distance Etienne hears it groan under the Englishwoman's light weight as she scales the access ladder dangling off the side of the largest warehouse.

The ladder disappearing up onto the sky is the most direct route Etienne's been presented with since he began this hunt that day on the freighter. He considers it, moments after the small body of Natalie Gray disappears over the edge of the warehouse, unbothered by the rainwater soaking him to the bone. Considers pursuit, considers retreat, considers falling back to keep his distance, considers whether to drop this information at Alister's feet like something had been thrown with a fetch directive, sell it off to the Raytech women, or to take it back to his own den, gnaw on it by himself.

He's been idle too long.

His hands find the metal rungs of the ladder, testing them. Lifts himself up, boots leaving the gritty, rain-churned mud. Silent, somehow, where the structure had rattled under her much smaller form — but then, she's not the one attempting to be quiet, and he is.

No guns, no cellphone, no back up — just a large knife at his belt and a smaller one in his boot, Etienne climbs the ladder slowly but steadily, practiced in pelting rain, hand over the other, and keeping his hearing sharp.

The rain gives Etienne the advantage.

Birds seek protected corners, tucking themselves away inside the shipping yard's smaller satellite buildings, or inside the warehouse's rafters and not the roof where Eileen is headed. If she's aware of her shadow, nothing about her body language indicates this to Etienne. She crests the top of the ladder and navigates the edge of a gaping hole someone covered in tarp once upon a time. Last fall's leaves form a crater in the crackled material, which ripples and vibrates under the force of the accumulating rain.

She stops to look out across the water, a hand slanted over her brow, and dips the other inside her coat to produce what looks like a flare gun.

Etienne reaches the top, coming to a waiting crouch at the edge of the rooftop. Waits, until her hand makes it out of her coat, the presence of guns being the kind of variable that significantly alters dynamics. There is a reason he chances not carrying one. It's only ever to his benefit should others imagine they have an edge.

When he sees the distinct shape of the flare gun emerge, he moves.

Quietly, quietly, one silent foot after the other, centre of gravity low, and Eileen will hear the sound of metal on leather mere moments before she will feel cold, edge steel touch the corner of her jaw from behind. Etienne holds it at arm's length.

"A twitch in the wrong direction," he says, voice at its usual low, growling pitch, "and you'll bleed 'til you're dead."

Eileen does not twitch. She rotates the flare gun in her hand instead, turning it in the direction that she imagines is least threatening to the man positioned directly behind her.

There is resignation in the slow breath she releases through her nostrils, but tension too; she lacks the power armor she used to subdue Keira Fionn, and the individual the flare is intended for is nowhere in sight.

Which is the point of a flare gun. So.

They're alone.

"Take it," she suggests, offering without raising her hand to do so, lest that count as a twitch.

Etienne is still for a some seconds, silent, before flicking a glance down at the flare gun. His jaw sets hard.

Adjusting his grip on his knife, he moves forward. She can hear it, in the scuff of his boots, no longer in need of stealthiness, and almost feel it, the way humans can feel other humans when nearby but unseen — in the dark, from behind. It might be her imagination, but she could almost detect his breath, warm, at the crown of her skull as he nears. Then, his fingers curl around the blocky shape of the flare gun, tugging it from her grasp.

It clatters somewhere out of sight, carelessly thrown.

"Turn around."

Eileen spreads her hands, demonstrating to Etienne that she isn't holding anything else, and faces him on his command. Her dark hair clings to her cheeks like wild tangles of sea kelp, but he can be sure that he has the right person: her long nose curves up at the end, just so, and is the same distance between her hard little mouth as her mouth is to the point of her chin.

Her eyebrows are a fraction too thick to be fashionable. What they are is expressive, arching into a shape that's equal parts inquisitive and concerned. He sees genuine surprise in the pale blue of her eyes.

She's cooperative, and it isn't because she's just playing along. "May I twitch now?" she asks.

He sinks backwards as she turns, still holding his knife with its point aimed for the jugular, and unlike her expressiveness, Etienne's own expression is as inscrutable as it always is, eyes squinted against the onslaught of rain. Water drags the tips of his own wild hair into dripping points. He huffs once in reply to her question.

"Natalie Gray commissioned the taking of a freighter," he says, accent of stranger shores than her own sharp English. His tone remains even, calm, relentless. "Eileen Ruskin bankrupted a man who fancies himself an emperor. Natalie Gray," and the blunt edge of the knife tucks under her chin to angle her face up a little more, "is killing telepaths. Eileen Ruskin's dead in the ground."

He shows his teeth a little as he asks, "So who the fuck are you?"

Eileen's chin lifts. He can see her pulse at her throat, as steady as his tone is, although her heart is beating much faster than the words are rolling around his mouth. She tries to place Etienne's accent. Can't.

"Is it the eyes?" she wonders, something unkind creeping into her voice. "Don't tell me Maxwell's been waxing poetic about them to you. He hasn't even noticed what colour they are."

She takes a step forward, inviting Etienne's blade closer to her skin and the artery that flutters temptingly beneath it. It would be easy for him to finish this — one snap of his wrist would make his initial threat a reality, but something tells her that he won't.

"Otherwise we look so alike."

He doesn't step back as she steps forward, but his posture straightens, and the grip on his knife hilt tightens. Angles. Does not carve a slice into her white neck like he threatened, in part because she's still talking, even if she's declining to answer his question. Irritation twitches around the stern line of his mouth, dissatisfied, a lion presiding over meat that's spoiled or full of sharp spines and made stranger for it.

And like any large predator animal, Etienne responds to indecision with frustration, and to frustration with action.

His hand catches the front of her jacket, a grip that pulls seams in and drags her weight up to stand on her toes. The knife is a pending threat, but the more present one feels almost like the notion that he might heft and throw her off the warehouse, coiled strength snared up from wrist to meaty shoulder. "You can fuck with them," he says, "but not with me."

Etienne’s anger makes him vulnerable in a multiple ways Eileen can exploit. There’s little time to weigh her options, however, and so she goes with the one that’s closest by virtue of physical proximity. As he drags her upwards, heels raised off the ground, her right leg rides his momentum and plants a booted foot in his gut. Hard.

The adrenaline coursing through her small body increases and concentrates its strength, enough force behind the blow to send Etienne staggering backwards — and Eileen with him. He’s still holding both his weapon and a fistful of her jacket when they hit the tarp, which implodes beneath them like a failed parachute.

Etienne’s world spins and plunges into short, abrupt darkness. The sensation of falling reminds Eileen of flying in the instant she experiences it, but as there had been no time to weigh her options, there’s also no time to reflect on how giddy and wonderful that makes her feel. Their bodies connect with a steel catwalk below, sending a bang through the warehouse’s rafters that startles the birds roosting there and sounds like a small explosion.

To anyone lurking outside within earshot, it might be mistaken for the first crack of thunder.

Eileen heaves as she gathers her bearings, straddling Etienne’s chest where she’s landed atop him, and sinks claws in his knife-wielding wrist, wrenching it above his head. “Another thing that makes us different,” she grits out, words straining to make it past the barrier of her teeth. “I know how to choose people— people who won’t betray and abandon me. People who fight before they run.”

Eileen has the advantage of less surprise than what's reeling through Etienne's mind, arm bending up beneath the insistent clasp of both her hands while he struggles to get his breath back. It's darker down here, rain streaming off hanging, torn tarp, and her voice develops an echo. It's a wonder that neither of them landed on the blade he's still gripping, with jabs at the dark as he locks up his arm, fist white. He doesn't reply with words, but an animal growl of rage and warning both.

He doesn't know what she's saying, or doesn't seem to care. He is more concerned with closing his free hand around her arm and wrenching her sideways and off of him, throwing his weight after her with the intent muscle his way on top.

Beneath them, the platform whines, and shudders into a warning slant as rusted metal and time-worn joinings bear weight like they haven't in a long time.

The bump and tremor of the catwalk jostles what has quickly become a snarled tangle of limbs. Etienne’s weight bears down on Eileen from above, their positions reversed, but then something finally gives and the metal beneath them pitches. Too much corrosion over too many years causes the weakest part of the structure to snap.

She goes first, dropped unceremoniously into the belly of the warehouse and the dark, open space yawning open there. Etienne would go too, except his blade catches in the grating as the catwalk swings in a wide, spinning arc, and slams him shoulder-first into the brick wall. It tangles there, connected to the structure’s greater network of metal webbing by what looks like a twisted mess of old cables.

He doesn’t hear her body hit the concrete floor of the warehouse. The other half of the catwalk tumbling down, down, down is much too loud for that. Metal crashes against metal, producing a spray of sparks that illuminates the warehouse’s interior in the absence of true lightning. Shadows of birds scissor and dive in the air, their shrill voices shrieking in high-pitched protest at the commotion — and the abrupt sensation of pain that ripples through the flock, opening like a flower from somewhere deep below.

Many voices become several, then few, then none.

It’s quiet.

Gripping onto blade wedged in twist metal, hand clawed into it, half-pinned to brick, it's all Etienne can do just to hold on and duck his head while the maelstrom of birds comes… and goes. In the silence, he hears a tinnitus whine in his ears, his own heart hammering in his chest, and nothing else. With a grunt, he wrenches the blade free with a squeal of metal, manages to resist checking how ruined it is, and tries to get his bearings as he looks around.


He lands feet first on the platform some eight, nine feet below, the entire structure shaking beneath his sudden weight, rumbling through the shadows. Manages to catch himself in a half roll aside, knife held at an angle so he doesn't accidentally stab himself in the thigh or otherwise. That would be just what he needs.

Etienne gets to his feet slowly, and listens.

She’s alive. Her can hear her haggard breathing some fifty feet further down and the scuff of her footsteps as she paces the length of the warehouse floor. The only way out is through the doors on the ground level, and although Etienne can’t see her, he imagines that’s where she’s positioned herself.

She could run. With the lead she has on him, there’s no way he’d be able to catch up with her once she reaches the tree line, and yet Eileen is the one blocking his exit.

“Whatever he’s paying you,” her voice careens off the walls, “it isn’t worth it.”

"Vrouw in wit."

Etienne spits, saliva pink tinged. He moves, a prowling and cautious gait towards where he can see a ladder hooked around the corner. From below, she has more of an advantage of his movement, metal shivering under his boots, the struggling nighttime illumination flashing off the rain only just defining his shape against the shadows. But he's not truly trying to hide, as he says; "Only ghosts and devils know the worth of souls. Have you already measured mine?"

He stops before he gets to the ladder, still breathing deep, open mouthed. "I didn't come to kill you."

It’s Eileen’s turn to deny Etienne a verbal response. Her own knife, slipped from her sleeve or a hidden compartment in her boot, gives off a sheen like a fish’s scales. Moonlight gathers on the flat of the blade and in intent, scrutinizing eyes.

The Englishwoman’s body language prickles with wounded pride, the kind that’s going to ache for a long time after this encounter is over, regardless of how it ends.

Etienne is perhaps the first person to have gotten the jump on her in recent memory. That stings worse than the bruised ribs she’s presumably hiding under the gloved hand not gripping the knife. Her palm rests flat between breast and belly and applies hard, steady pressure.

It would be a mistake to assume this injury makes her less of a threat, just as he’d be wrong to assume that her silence means he doesn’t have her rapt attention.

If he didn’t come here to kill her, then what did he come here for?

He descends down, down, the rattle and creak of his climb, the short leaps, echoing within the warehouse. It would be a mistake for him to assume she isn't dangerous, that she isn't paying attention, just as it would be for her to imagine that just because Etienne did not come with the sole purpose of murdering her, doesn't mean he can't improvise. He keeps a hold of his knife, shining like a big silver fang in the gloom.

Another clang, a leap from one platform and downwards to the next, dust rising, metal shrieking in complaint.

"I asked you a question. I want an answer."

Oh, says the slight cant of Eileen’s head, that.

She waits until his boots hit the pavement and send ripples through the stagnant water gathered there before she’s on the move again, prowling toward and around him in a long, wide circle.

The first appearance of true lightning cuts through the clouds visible in the windows and the open space where the tarp used to lie, silent like lightning sometimes is. In the instant it flickers there, the warehouse’s interior is as bright as if it had been lit by a camera’s flash — or the flare Eileen missed the opportunity to fire off.

If she’s a fake, she’s a very convincing one. Even the hollows under her eyes and the gauntness of her cheekbones are exactly as depicted in the few photographs of her that exist, most of which are in black-and-white, which could explain the discrepancy she herself drew his attention to earlier—

Except there are things about a person that can’t be replicated using only a photograph. The lithe way she carves up the distance between them is probably exactly what men like Alister Black remember if asked to recall the way her body moves. Her accent, like Etienne’s, sounds like it belongs on another shore.

“I wasn’t very creative when I chose that alias,” she confides in the smuggler, “and I didn’t think it would matter. The only person the name Natalie Gray means anything to is dead.” The knife twirls in her hand, once. A distraction, drawing his focus if she can attract it. “I am who I say I am. Hand to God.”

She begins to circle and Etienne instinctively matches her steps, focus intent on her. The distance he maintains indicates a great deal more wariness than he would normally pay towards a woman that is half his size, and certainly renewed and presence since his boldness on the rooftop. In the intermittent flashes of lightning that sends vibrant white light down through the ruined ceiling, Eileen would not be so far off the mark to imagine she sees fear in his caution.

Maybe he was right, about his superstitions of dead women.

Beneath the rolls of fresh thunder, another noise peels through the walls of the warehouse. A growl of engine, choked into silence mere moments after it encroached on the edge of their hearing, and Etienne takes this as his cue.

He makes for the door.

She leaps to intercept him. Etienne’s longer legs and more muscular build carry him further, faster, however, and Eileen’s knife catches nothing but air in the space Alister’s right-hand man had occupied just a moment ago.

He explodes out into the night, the door’s rotted wood and brittle hinges no match for his momentum and the volume of his shoulder. That will bruise, later.

Adrenaline numbs him to the pain and the impact of the rain on his face as his boots skid on the wet concrete. Eileen is right behind him, clearing the broken remains of the door without the any of the difficulty or pained trepidation someone with bruised ribs should show when faced with such an obstacle.

The injury, like everything else, was an act.

RAMIREZ!” Her voice erupts as a hoarse scream, a rallying cry.

They can’t let him get away.

Etienne does not look back at his pursuer, his loping run wild with conviction. He also does not look to where she is yelling, where a tall figure launches forwards on command like a loyal hound, a brief blur in his periphery of sleek black. Gravel and mud kick up behind him as he moves for the dark snare of overgrown treeline sealed off with sagging fence, running like a thief having gotten away with something — perhaps his life.

The pop and echo of gunfire is an inevitable follow up, muzzle flare in the silver rain, and Etienne flinches, ducks, doesn't stop — impossible to tell if he was hit and is running off pure adrenaline, or merely clipped, or missed entirely. Hits the wire fence with the same heavy-boned momentum that he'd shattered rotting wood with, the whole collapsed structure bowing even more under his weight as he vaults over it, metal shrieking and slinging back up as he crashes through into trees and underbrush, disappearing into overgrown forest.


Iago Ramirez slows his pursuit, firing off a couple more shots where he last saw this unknown quality. The robotic extension of his leg sinks further into mud than his flat boot.

Eileen’s birds are more of a threat in the open than they are in the claustrophobic woodland. She can send them after Etienne, but it’s dark, and there are too many gnarled branches in the way for anything but the fastest, most agile flyers to navigate.

She comes up alongside Iago, able to only listen to the sounds of Etienne’s retreating shape galumphing through the undergrowth, her mouth twisted into a toothy sneer. “Fuck,” she says. “Fuck.

Her nostrils flare around the short, hard breaths she takes in through her nose. While she might have managed to survive the fall relatively unscathed, she’s still human, still mortal, and not immune to the side-effects of pushing herself all the way up against her own physical limitations.

She doubles over, hands clutching her knees, and spits.

Only after she’s positive that Etienne has completely eluded them does Eileen drag her teeth over her lower lip and rise, smearing away excess saliva and rainwater with the back of her hand. She looks to Iago, then, her eyes shining and bright.

“Missed you,” she huffs out. “Aquila.

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