It Hurts to Become


charity_icon.gif eileen2_icon.gif iago_icon.gif

Scene Title It Hurts to Become
Synopsis Sometimes it's best just to face one's fears head on.
Date March 10, 2019

Sunken Factory

A simple knock on a door sometimes does a lot to inform the person on the other side. For example: It’s an open palm that rouses Iago Ramirez from his dreams and not a clenched fist. It raps instead of pounds, its touch brisk and persistent. This is the sort of sound that signals emergencies of the non-physical kind, which might be reassuring if it weren’t for the fact that existential threats are more difficult to deal with than external ones.

He knows it isn’t Charity because Charity doesn’t knock. She throws open doors and dominates rooms like she owns them without caring about how loud her voice is or how far it carries. Her only saving grace is that she thinks it further demeans him when she rails at him in his native tongue. The truth is it preserves his privacy rather than strip it down.

Not everyone speaks Spanish.

Other sounds gradually come into focus. There’s the same droning rain on the factory’s roof he fell asleep to. Pipes chatter and groan in the walls.

His circadian rhythm is quick to let him know the world outside is still dark without him needing to consult the window.

It’s not yet dawn.

Awake, and not yet entirely sober, but Iago soaks alcohol in such a way that it doesn't alter his mood or inhibitions very much, even by the time he is slurring. He opens his eyes, which feel like wasteland dust has gathered in their corners, and contemplates sinking back into dreamless unconsciousness.

Duty. The bed creaks beneath him as he rolls to its side. Un momento.

The room is spartan, but on the bedside table are two features that have made themselves at home — a bottle of rum, and a coil of a rosary. There is also a lamp, and a gun in the drawer. The first thing, he turns on. The second thing, he is confident enough in his domain to leave behind.

The memory of open handed slaps intended to knock a response out of him are only that — memory. Charity Thornton has other means of leaving marks, but they aren't the visible kind that need covering. Not like Iago's. He pulls a shirt over his head and thinks very hard about not bothering to put pants on, but he does, rolled fabric covering the ugly union of flesh and machine.

"Enter," he says, still sitting on the bed, still adjusting the cuff of his pant leg, without looking up.

There’s a moment’s worth of hesitation, just enough to indicate that Iago’s visitor isn’t as confident about this decision as the intensity of her tapping might have initially suggested. But he says enter, so Eileen does.

The handle turns, and she appears in the narrow gap between door and frame. It’s been a long time since he’s gotten a proper look at her outside mutual glances snatched by happenstance in the factory’s common areas. The daily ride she takes on her horse has sent her further and further afield in recent weeks, leaving less time for her to make her presence known in the railyard or the labyrinthine corridors that connect all the factory’s different rooms and the individuals who reside in them.

Still, she’s much the same as he remembers her: compact and diminutive with a tousled mane of brown-black hair worn up instead of down. She carries herself with the light, easy confidence of a small cat straddling the line between feral and domesticated as she steps into the room and smoothly closes the door behind her.

Details that don’t fit into his established view of her: Bare feet and an ill-advised choice of clothes for both the weather and their present circumstances. She at least thought to pull a heavier wool cardigan over her slip at some point between her encounter with “Byron Wolf” and her arrival at Iago’s doorstep.

She opts to wait for him to look up before she attempts addressing him.

She doesn't have to wait long, Iago rising to a slouch of elbow to knee. Sleep deepens the lines in his face, casting more age on him than is correct. It was his time in prison that had started dusting grey into the hair that grows in coarse on the lower half of his face.

He looks at her, and asks, "What's wrong?"

Despite his choice in words, the sleep putting gravel in his voice, the drinking dampening its definition, Iago sounds professional, like there is something wrong that has to do with security, or finances, or the toilet in her bathroom. If he's noticed the change in their dynamic, the fact that it is a change of distance and intimacy smooths over any other shift he might detect. Or so it would seem, for the time being.

Where to begin?

Eileen knows his question isn’t one she can answer truthfully, but that he’s put the offer out the proverbial table is something she can take some small comfort in. Her counterpart’s implicit trust in the people she’s surrounded herself with transcends her death, such as it is.

This subject is one of many she’d like to be able to discuss with him even though she recognizes how unsafe it would be to do so.

She tries anyway.

“I’m having doubts,” she says, “and I’d like to sit down.”

Doubts. Sounds religious, to a Catholic. Iago's chin lifts and that readied posturing firmness goes a little slacker. It's very early in the morning, and Eileen Gray wishes to speak to him about the doubts she has. He is a difficult man to read on account of the fact his face doesn't move very much, but there is a flicker of— something. Backwards reflection at his actions, his accomplishments, his behaviours, the things that he cared about only for the sake of Volken, and prior to him, his wife.

He nods towards where a chair is shoved up against a small desk that looks like it hasn't been touched since they recovered the factory.

Eileen crosses to the desk slower than is necessary. Her leisurely pace gives her an extra few seconds to consider how to frame this in a way that isn’t too opaque. One of her small hands comes to rest on the chair’s back, turning it outward so that her body faces Iago’s when she sinks down into it.

This done, she knits both her hands together and places them in her lap. Although she’s confident they won’t tremble against her will, there are times like this one when she does not trust her own emotions as much as she trusts Iago — or even, god forbid, Emile Danko.

“The world we come from is like this one,” she continues, “but it isn’t really. If there are two Iago Ramirezes and two Eileen Ruskins, how many souls do you suppose they share between them?”

Cool well Iago is going to drink.

He reaches back and uncaps the bottle with a twist of rough fingers, tolerant of this line of thought in the way of someone who has spared some energy towards it himself. He doesn't drink immediately, anyway, just holds the bottle as fresh fumes filter into the air. "A soul and the flesh form the unity that is man," he roughs out. "Their flesh is no more. Their souls face judgment. In the end of all things, they will be reunited under god in heaven, or in the house of the devil."

Factually speaking. He offers her the bottle of rum. "This answers your question?"

Eileen takes the bottle by the neck, mindful of where her hand is in relation to his for multiple reasons but without being obvious about any of them. Amber liquid sloshes against glass as she rolls it around in a lazy circle, and she imagines this is what the moon feels like in relation to the ocean and the tides.

She does not drink. Yet.

“I used to think we were all different people,” she tells him, neither a yes nor a no, “but lately I’ve started to wonder if that’s not true. If maybe there’s only one Iago Ramirez and one Eileen Ruskin, but our souls are splintered into an infinite number of pieces scattered across the universe like the stars in the sky. Everything is made of light.”


It is not dismissive — Iago listens to her in a way he rarely listens to many, as if anticipating wisdom beyond merely respect. Much like Volken, he doesn't merely accept each word, but turns it over in his head like he is searching for imperfections in a gem, giving it due consideration. "But then we will face judgment for the deeds of an infinite being, unknown, unaccounted, unable to confess to with meaning. God's forgiveness is multitude, but sin cannot be infinite."

Eileen briefly entertains the idea of what might happen if she ever introduced Iago to Joseph Sumter — if they’d get along, or if left alone in a room together one would kill the other. As much as she hopes never to find out, the thought provides some much needed levity and a wan, lopsided smile that she hides behind her first swig of rum.

The mouthful burns all the way down. Not in the way Sasha’s vodka does, or even the gin she’s so particularly fond of — this is warm and sweet like honey distilled by fire. It spreads through her limbs all the way to the tips of her extremities, crowding out the cold.

She hefts the bottle and lets it hang in the space between them. His turn.

“And when was your last confession?”

Good question.

Iago has to think about it, straightening — finally — out of his gorilla slouch and resting his hands on his knees, drawing in a tired breath that fills the barrel of his chest. "There were chaplains who visited the American prison, that I refused to see. Before, there was a reverend in El Palenque."

Her memories — such as they are — of El Palenque do not include a standing church. One of the last bastions of civilisation, once, on the borders of Iago's claimed territory. After NATO landed in in the Andes, pitchforks in hand, she might recall instead the bodies hanged by the neck, the fires, the bullet casings on the asphalt.

"Many years ago," he says. "Have you tried it?"

Bodies hanged by the neck. Skulls with their crowns popped off. Skeletal remains stripped of all skin and flesh by great black birds. When Eileen thinks about all the sins she’s committed, and the sins committed by the men she’s chosen — both in this world and in others — she very much doubts confession will save any of them from Iago’s house of the devil.

“A few times,” she admits, which is itself a sort of confession. “Amato was worried for my soul, and I hated seeing him upset.”

That was also many years ago, as Iago so delicately put it. Eileen studies his large hands idle upon his knees, then the coarse silver hairs shining in his scruff. Eventually, her focus lands on his eyes and settles there.

“Now I’m the one who’s frightened.”

It won't be the first time that Iago imagines touching her. He is not a young man and he has never been an undisciplined man — depending on your perspective, anyway — and neither of these things change, now. He is as content to sit here, three feet away, as he would be to take her face in his hands or lay her on the ill-kept bed he's sitting on now, disregarding that he would die for it.

Nothing about his posture or expression communicates this, but maybe a protracted silence does, the steadiness of met gazes.

"Because the anger has left you," he suggests. "Because it is easier to destroy a thing than it is to build something and defend it." He moves, now, but only to reach out a hand and take the bottle of rum back from her.

Eileen relinquishes the bottle without protest. She is young and sometimes undisciplined, but like Iago she keeps her impulses in check despite her desire to do otherwise.

For the first time, she’s thankful for Kazimir’s ability. This is the part, she thinks, where her other self would have tested her mastery of it. This would have been the time to close the distance between them and seek out his mouth with hers, to push boundaries as far as they will go — even if it’s only for sixty seconds or less.

She misses being touched. She misses being desired.

Even though she hasn’t physically changed, her sharpest angles seem somehow softened. Iago’s observation is correct: The anger has left her, her need for vengeance on Gabriel’s behalf replaced by a need for human connection instead.

And for reassurance.

“Are you here because his power chose me?” she asks. “Or because of who I am, even without it?”

Eileen is rewarded with a subtle shift in Iago's manner. Rum bottle on its way to his mouth, paused, now, as a guardedness stills his features, before it continues its journey. A swift swig, mostly for the taste of it, before he sets it down where they can both reach for it, at a stretch.

"Would I be here, if not for his power?"

The question twisted, turned against her — perhaps not with as much forthrightness as a searing hot brand, but there is a slight edge of impatience for the question.

If his aim was to hurt her, then Eileen’s expression makes it clear to Iago that he’s succeeded. It wasn’t hard. Her defenses are already down, and her earlier interaction with Byron on the skybridge has left her raw and exposed. The look she gives him is the look a cat gives when it shows someone its belly only to receive a toe to the ribs in return.

To her credit, at least she doesn’t flinch.

“If not for his power,” she echoes, but her voice sounds feathery and quiet, “I might argue that you wouldn’t have needed me to break you out of an American prison in the first place.”

"Bold words, for the girl that put me there."

Girl is perhaps a cheap shot, but Iago doesn't acknowledge its landing as he looks a little past her, and aside. There is plenty prison-like about this facility, with its naked concrete walls, the barred windows, the gentle hum of the lighting rigged up all through. There's enough about it that isn't prison-like, too.

He doesn't engage in fights, often. He has certain ways of ending them, ways he would never dream of doing with Eileen Gray and her blue eyes. He says, in his customary low growl, "And then kept me alive. Without purpose, or honour, but alive. When you came back for me, you promised me those things. Volken's promises.

"He chose you. And he chose not to burn you away."

This is Eileen’s fault. She knows it. If the Iago Ramirez of this world had lived long enough for her to see him again, she suspects she’d be on the receiving end of a similar treatment. The only reality in which this isn’t true is the one where she never had a reason to turn on Volken in the first place. Not coincidentally, that Eileen’s name was neither Ruskin nor Gray.

And she would intuitively understand exactly how to handle this situation.

“You still resent me for what I did,” she says. It isn’t a question. “That’s all right. So do I.”

She takes up the bottle again, resisting the impulse to smash it as effectively as she resisted the impulse to kiss him, satisfying though the crash would be. She’d find gratification in all the pieces of broken glass and the elegant way they go skittering in every direction except the one she threw it in.

But what a waste of good liquor.

The chair creaks under her slight weight as she — the girl — rises to her feet at the same time helps herself to another generous swig.

“I look at it, you know. Every day in the mirror when I’m putting on my clothes. Or taking them off.” The distance between them narrows fractionally. Eileen’s path takes her past the edge of Iago’s bed, close enough for her hip to graze his shoulder. And she keeps going, all the way to the window above the river churning in the dark outside. “A V for Vanguard. Like I might fucking forget.”

The mattress creaks as weight shifts it, leaves it. His bare foot on the concrete floor doesn't make much sound, but the one formed of metal does, a click and a scrape as Iago's shadow comes to engulf Eileen's, and stand at her back.

"I am at peace with the war you made on me," he says, quietly, somewhere above her head, behind. He allows, amends, "I wish to be."

Because perhaps there is an edge still there, in need of smoothing, but nothing like the rancor in her own voice, which is peculiar. Or perhaps it isn't. He supposes that people might harbour strong feelings about being held down and branded like an animal. "You resent my loyalty to Volken. But you were chosen by him, long before you took his spirit inside of you. You were marked, long before my brand touched your skin.

"I know that when you speak, you are not speaking his words like Christ spoke the will of God — you are Eileen. But I know you are more."

There's a loose lock of hair that tendrils down from the nape of her neck, caught on the weave of her cardigan. Iago raises a hand, and shifts it aside.

It could be that the light is playing tricks, or maybe the window’s glass is old and warped. Eileen’s reflection looks like she’s crying. The rest of her body remains remarkably still, no involuntary shudders characteristic of someone consumed by their grief, no gradual inward curl of her shoulders. At this, she is an expert.

It’s her breathing that gives her away: both slow and irregular, hard through her nose. Ethan Holden is her father by blood, but there is no denying that it was Volken who conceived the idea of her and then made the arrangements to bring her into this world.

Into every world. Without Volken, Eileen simply does not exist.

Not trusting the strength of her voice, she reaches up and back with her dominant hand instead. Her fingers tangle in Iago’s without withering the flesh on their bones. It’s as she’d said in that smoky bar on Staten Island, the last time she touched him: I can hold it.

Her tears carve clean but unpredictable paths down the sides of her face and neck. Some pool in her collarbone. Others are absorbed by the silk of her slip.

He remembers, and there is no flinch as fingers tangle together, his own flexing beneath her manipulations to accommodate the touch on offer. Iago is not surprised to see the glimmers of tear stains in the reflection she makes against the glass, and doesn't necessarily regret them, either. Perhaps he imagines a different change happening within her than the one that really is, but perhaps that doesn't matter.

And Iago doesn't draw his hand away, trusting her to do that for him even when the first beginnings of pain begin to tease at his bones. He suggests, "It hurts to become."

She can’t live like this. Physical contact is Eileen’s first language. She needs it the same way she needs oxygen; being deprived of touch means suffocating.

This body was not worth the cost. Her voice may be her own voice. Her hands may be her own hands, but what use does she have for them if they can’t do what her heart wills?

When she releases him, it’s with reluctant resolve. She has many desires where Iago is concerned. None of them involve inflicting pain.

“I can’t become what I’ve always been,” she answers in a voice that’s even hoarser than she’d feared. “I hope his presence here brings you more joy than it does me.”

Her hand drifts back to her side. “I should go.”

"You are welcome to stay."

What staying would entail would apparently be up to Eileen. To drink, to talk, to risk the sharing of a bed even if they do nothing but fall asleep to the sounds of each others breathing, to greet the sunrise. Iago does not think Eileen will take him up on this offer, anyway — he'd been offered a chance to be of comfort, and now she is in tears.

Which doesn't surprise him. He turns away from her to head back towards his bed without yet getting into it, or sitting. If she leaves, perhaps he will too — coax Charity into a more good natured mood while she is unguarded, or take a car out into the fog-edged roads of the territory and check the patrols. Sleep seems out of the question, for now.

“I know.”

Eileen smears the tears from her cheeks and dewy lashes with her cardigan’s sleeve. She moves after Iago — but only to deposit the forgotten bottle of rum within his reach. “I like my idea about the stars,” she says. “Somewhere out there, I’m happy. Somewhere out there, I stay.”

It’s the closest she comes to broaching her vision of an endless ocean and a New York steeped in an entire ice cap’s worth of meltwater. There is little use detailing it to him unless he’s seen it too, and she lacks the will or energy to ask.

“Good night, Aquila.”

She gathers herself on her way to the door, which turns out to be a good thing, because when she opens it Charity Thornton is standing there — and she is not as surprised to see Eileen as Eileen is to see her.

Charity smiles. It is not a nice smile.

Iago has no intention of reeling her back in, and if some half-formed suspicion is stirred, too instinctual and inexplicable to come attached with thought or motive, it washes out with the tide at use of affectionate, private names. He is reaching for the rum bottle when the door opens, and it's really only the lack of footsteps as well as a kind of hair-raising sixth sense that has him look up.

His mouth twinges, before he barks something in quick Spanish, directed at the shape of Charity Thornton he can see past Eileen's slighter frame.

Get your ass in here.

Iago doesn’t know it, but he’s earned Eileen a temporary reprieve — and not the kind he probably intends. As one woman exits, the other enters: interchangeable insofar as warm bodies and their curves are concerned. Charity he can at least touch.

She shuts the door behind her, so Eileen doesn’t hear her when she immediately laments, “It smells like a wet dog in this place.”

Which is funny, because all Iago smells is the residual rum on his own breath and the old, filmy sort of mustiness that’s inescapable when living in tumbledown buildings like this one, regardless of the amount of work Hector puts in.

“And the ticking. The ticking keeps me awake.”

Iago is already on the move, headed to Charity. His hands follow paths he'd imagined for them before — one finding her hip, insisting her against him, and the other at the side of her face, a rough thumb beneath her chin to tilt her eyes up to look at him. Complaints of what no one else can see, hear, smell are all expected, coming from her, and he's failed too many times to work out what they might mean to put much effort into it now, even if his brain didn't feel soggy with liquor and sleep, or lack thereof.

She looks warm, pliable, not unlikely to resist him. There is no necrotic prickle teasing at his flesh as he touches her and reels her in close.

"Princess," he accuses. "All things keep you awake."

His pet name disarms her. Charity agrees with a low sound at the back of her throat. It’s the closest thing to an apology that Iago is going to receive.

She welcomes his embrace, allowing the tension to bleed from her tall, willowy frame. Her shoulders grow lax. “But I am being serious this time,” she says, head tipped to fit in the cradle of his palm. “Like a rougarou. Wolves in the skin of men.”

Her lips graze across his knuckles in a kiss and she reaches up to take his meaty hand in her much thinner ones. “There has been a change, Iago. I feel it. I see it, when I look at her. I think you must see it too.”

His baser instincts would prefer to just herd her into bed — maybe just to sleep, even, in a tangle — but Iago can't help but key into the things she is saying, and listen. Her instincts, after all, have a way of being right.

The ripple of unease he feels is entirely interior, and all even Charity can glean from him is his attention. The silence after, though, might ring of uncertainty. There was something wrong about tonight, even if he does not begrudge Eileen Gray her moments of reflection.


He suggests, "You don't like her."

“I do not dislike her,” Charity counters, and her tone implies she’s being generous. But also: The issue she’s flagged exists separate from her personal feelings. “The sky,” she tries to explain, “it does different things at different times of the day. There is the very late, and the very early: the dawn and the dusk. Both are dark, more shadow than light, but they are not the same.”

She abruptly shrugs as if shedding the weight carried by this observation. It’s rare for her to hold onto one mood for very long, and tonight is no exception regardless of her claims.

“I do not think she wishes to hurt you,” she concludes. “Only maybe to fuck you.”

Iago lets out a breath through his nose, horseish, not quite dismissive. "That would kill me," is wry, a rare glimmer of humour — dark as it is — that only a handful in this world get to experience without it becoming a sign of danger.

He thinks of the difference between dawn and dusk. The fine distinctions in appearance, in shades of blue, in the feeling of the air as it courses through your lungs. In the assurance of coming night, in the uncertainty of breaking day. He thinks of this as he kisses Charity, a slow roll of a demanding kiss, followed by, come to bed in Spanish.

At this rate, he's not going to be sleeping through the sunrise.

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