Keeping Secrets


avi_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif finn_icon.gif hana_icon.gif iago_icon.gif nick_icon.gif

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Scene Title Keeping Secrets
Synopsis Sometimes you can't always get what you want exactly the way that you want it.
Date June 6, 2018

Staten Island Boat Graveyard

The corroded husks that litter the beach of Staten Island’s boat graveyard have been eaten away over the years by salt and rain and wind. They yawn open in places that their manufacturers did not intend, creating barnacles-encrusted holes that provide for all manners of marine life, from glossy-feathered seabirds to mated pairs of otters and this year’s pups, all fast asleep and secure in the familiar sound of water lapping gently against metal.

Boats discarded higher up on the shore have fared better. There is an old tugboat that sits mostly intact, trapped amidst a tangle of seaweed and smooth driftwood. It slopes sideways but mostly perpendicular to the ground, allowing Nick to wait for Avi and Hana on the deck. His arms rest on the rickety aluminum railing as if relaxed, even though he has little choice in the matter; beneath the sleeve of his coat, a pair of handcuffs latch him to the railing by his left wrist and ensure that he doesn’t disappear before Wolfhound’s arrival.

Not that he’d get very far.

Even though he can’t see anyone else except for Hana and Epstein’s vague, shadowy silhouettes as they cut through the seagrass and crest a nearby dune, he knows he isn’t as alone as he first appears.

It’s a warm night. The breeze ruffles his hair and whispers sweet nothings in his ear.

Of all the places they might meet, why here?

Compromised, Epstein had said, and Hana does not disagree. Which is half the reason she's here, and all of the reason she is not actually approaching beside her second. Dressed in black leather jacket and charcoal shirt and pants, Hana walks three strides ahead and two to the side, enough distance between her and Epstein to preclude an easy, quiet ambush. She has eschewed her cane as the signal of potential weakness that it is, but her hands are empty, no weapons visible — though neither is her posture anything like relaxed. She strains her senses, physical and otherwise, to glean what she can from the surrounding gloom about this situation they've been invited into; inevitably, the night holds its secrets close, at least for a little while longer.

She stops beside the decaying hulk of the tugboat, far enough out that looking up at Nick's waiting silhouette only requires a slight angling of her head. Far enough to one side for separation from Nick and Epstein, again, if any further evidence of Hana's suspicion were needed: she makes no attempt to be subtle, not in her self-placement and not in the intensity of regard given to the man she can see, the shielding contours of the boat, the slice of deck around him that seems otherwise empty. She makes no move to board, not now.

"Ruskin," is a greeting only by dint of being the first word Hana speaks; there is no warmth in it, and no expectation of welcome.

Avi has no such greetings, following behind Hana like an old dog that's well past his prime. Unable to mask his limp he's taken to putting on his more durable hard plastic and metal knee brace, worn over his jeans. In the dark of night, Avi is without his sunglasses and his glass eye gives him an uneven stare when his face is visible in the gloom. The cool sea air makes his brown leather jacket a more practical fashion choice, zipped up as it is. On Avi’s hip is a quick release holster for an equally practical Beretta 9mm pistol. Not his favored sidearm.

There isn't a verbal greeting for Nick, just a slow incline of Avi’s head in his direction and then a slow look around the boat graveyard. Epstein’s lips downturn into a visible frown, then back up to Nick again with brows furrowed. “Come on out,” he calls to the dark of the night. “I'm done fucking around.”

The low, raspy scream of a raven answers him.

Wingbeats like distant thunder fill the air as one giant bird alights on the railing beside Nick. Another adopts a perch atop the tugboat’s cabin, made visible by its pale feathers and the moonlight reflected off its back and monstrous wingspan.

A woman in blacks and greys emerges from the belly of the boat a moment later. Eileen Ruskin is difficult to recognize on account of the dark, but also because it’s been more than six years since either Hana or Epstein has seen her; her slight build with its narrow shoulders and unforgiving angles could belong a number of different people, all who might have good cause to wish them harm.

In this instance, at least, wishes do not translate into action. Her body language remains guarded, defined by a strange sort of deferential stillness.

She’s always respected Gitelman, which might be why, like Epstein, she wears her firearm at her side rather than pointed at them.

It’s almost a parody of Nick’s former work, both as an undercover officer pretending to be a smuggler and later as a boatman to the Ferry. He’s spent many nights leaning on railings of boats like this one — only they were less landlocked and more seaworthy.

Hana’s appearance draws a twitch of dark brows from the man. He nods, almost imperceptibly, just once, in tacit greeting, before his gaze slides past her, to where Avi follows. There’s an even slighter shake of his head, a subtle shift of that left arm to reveal the gleam of cuff beneath his sleeve. His mouth pulls to the side in an apologetic grimace, even as the raven croaks its warnings behind him. He cringes a little at the feathered thunder of the birds, before giving one a skeptical look when it alights on the railing beside him.

“You’re more dramatic than I remember,” Nick mutters over his shoulder to his sister.

When Eileen steps out onto the deck, she’s followed a moment later by a tall man, likewise holstered, who moves to stand at her left side, towering above her by a good foot. He’s not one of the Horsemen nor one of the Vanguard’s remnants. He seems almost cheerful as he watches the visitors, a sharp contrast to Eileen’s respectful yet guarded stance.

The heavy thunk of metal on ship deck follows the shape of a fourth figure. Of similar bulk and height, Iago Ramirez is instantly recognisable to those who'd been squinting at the unlikely, blurred photograph of him some months ago, and from live and personal encounters from years ago. In clothes more militant, utilitarian, shades of grey and green, he seems like something of a different man than the photographic evidence of his reign in Argentina all those years ago.

For a dead man walking, he seems less grim, less like the mythological figure he'd been in jungles of Cerro de Hierro Negro. More like a man with a job. And an articulated robot leg.

And a rifle, currently resting against one broad shoulder as he comes to stand by Eileen Ruskin.

Hana's gun settles into her hand as the two ravens swoop in, drawn without conscious thought; its muzzle remains pointed at the ground, as neutral as any readied weapon might be. She does not focus her attention on the ravens, noisy though their entrance is, but on the figures whose arrival they herald: one familiar, one unrecognized, one unrecognizable yet to which she can assign identity reasonably enough by context.

The ones they're really here to meet.

"Dramatics have their uses," Hana observes, Nick's mutter carrying poorly in her direction, but that word still distinct enough to recognize. Her gaze settles, unblinking, on the slim figure at the midst of it all. "Elsewhere," is a word loaded with every iota of brusque, curt impatience that she can pack into its two syllables.

Which would be rather a lot.

"Here we are," Hana challenges the woman on the boat. "What do you want?"

Eileen’s ability encircles both birds in a calming embrace. Feathers smooth out. The raven that had been mantling its wings settles, grudgingly, and seems to withdraw into itself under an unseen influence. She might not have as much control over the pair as she initially appears to.

The same can probably be said of Iago, who is the only one whose weapon is already out and gleaming.

Someone’s been keeping secrets,” she says of Avi, even though her eyes have yet to leave Hana. “Maybe not from you.”

She accommodates the other woman’s request by cleaving straight to the point with machete-quickness and precision: “Two things. A preemptive armistice, and the girl. In that order.”

Eileen’s emergence has Avi Epstein momentarily frozen in place, eyes wide and back squared and fingers curled against the palms of his hands. This isn’t what or who he expected to be here — some manner of Evolved psychopath, otherwise Nick would have been able to handle it — but a doppelganger of a dead woman wasn’t, somehow, on his list. But when he sees Iago the shock begins to fade, and Epstein’s body becomes more relaxed.

“What the fuck, exactly, are you supposed to be?” Avi asks up to Eileen, brows furrowed. The question is ultimately rhetorical, though he makes no point of asking anything else. Instead, he delivers a side-long look to Hana with furrowed brows.

“I’m sure we can figure this out without the need for that,” Nick says, a glance to Iago’s rifle, before looking back to Avi, both anger and apology competing for control of his features.

“You said we’d chat and I’d find out what’s going on,” he says over his shoulder to Eileen, before looking back to Epstein. “What’s this girl she’s on about?”

The tall stranger at Eileen’s side peers up at the raven on the cabin’s edge, clicking his tongue at it merrily, before looking back out at the “guests of honor,” watching Avi’s reaction to Eileen’s appearance.

“Damn, girl, I didn’t think you looked half bad. Your before shots must be crazy hot if he finds you this scary now,” Finn quips, before making a face like he just remembered he’s not supposed to be adding any color commentary.

“I know, I know, callate, pendejo,” he says quickly.

Iago doesn't move, or put his gun away — but in truth, his stance is borderline lazy, a sideways slouch that favours his halved leg. Something about the former Vanguard leader that one could maybe detect in Avi, a strange kind of weary ruin, except that his manner is that of a placid lake, concealing much. He holds his rifle like one would a closed umbrella, and doesn't see fit to hang it off is strap or point it for the ground.

He gives Nick a flat look that seems to suggest his input here is not required, and says, "That's not up to you."

Or them. The next moves will be determined by the Wolfhounds on the other side of this negotiation table.

"Everyone keeps secrets," Hana states without inflection, meeting and holding the blue gaze of the woman on the boat. She herself has more than her share — and expects Eileen can say the same.

As to what is, or isn't, a secret between Hana and Epstein… well, that isn't anyone else's business.

One dark brow arches at the demand given. There's a breath of stillness into which Avi speaks, and another where she feels the pressure of his gaze but declines to return it in kind. After, her expression remaining unwaveringly neutral, Hana tilts her gun nose-down, palm open and fingers splayed around its weight; then she slides the weapon home in its holster.

"We can talk," she grants.

“I don’t believe that a genetic marker or the absence of one makes a certain type of person superior to another,” Eileen says. “We’ve all seen how both sides of that argument end.”

Her hand grips the same railing that Nick’s wrist is affixed to, and she uses it as leverage to swing herself up and over with the lightness of a fox whose diminutive paws keep it from sinking into the snow. She descends the side of the tugboat in a series of deliberate and decisive stages that favour precision over speed, eventually coming to land with her leather boots in the sand.

Shallow surf washes up over her toes and fills the indentations left behind by her small feet as she narrows the distance between herself and the pair of hounds.

Lording over Hana and Avi from on high is not conducive to negotiations, nor is it kind.

“The Iago Ramirez and Emile Danko you knew are dead,” she tells Hana, “and the men with me have no interest in picking up where they left off. I’d like us to be able to work together if we need to, rather than against one another. Let any blood spilled belong to someone else.”

“Oh is that all?” Avi asks with a tilt of his head to the side, pointedly ignoring Nick’s question. “Was this before or after you started a little bloody fiefdom in Washington and killed a bunch of Yamagato employees?” He squints, unevenly. Up close Eileen can see one of his eyes is fake, a facsimile of glass. One of his legs is supported by a metal and leather brace, he favors his left arm, there's an enormous scar on his left forearm. His nose is broken differently than she remembers.

“Because for somebody who wants to be left the fuck alone, you sure have an amazing way of not fucking doing that.” Avi’s tone is sharper than Hana is used to him maintaining, his exasperation and ire is up, but worse so are his emotions. Seeing someone with Eileen’s face is obviously affecting him.

Eileen Ruskin wasn't a completely shit leader.” Avi finally asserts. “So who the fuck are you, and why do you think for a moment you deserve to wear her face?”

When Eileen climbs over the railing, Finn moves forward, one booted foot coming to rest on a lower rail, one hand on the sidearm in its holster. “Watch your mouth, motherfucker,” he says to Epstein, eyes narrowing on the other man.

The other Ruskin shakes his head in irritation, free hand coming up to rake through his hair, then coming down to grip the railing. “She’s still Eileen, Epstein. Somehow. Just not the same. Like this asshole,” Nick says, with a jerk of his head in Iago’s direction, “and the other two assholes.”

Nick looks down to where Eileen’s dropped onto the beach below. “You ask for armistice, but you could have just asked them to meet. He would have. He obviously respects you.” A beat. “Respected you.” That boat seems to have sailed.

Iago switches his grip on his rifle in one clean motion, leading into the next: jarring the butt of it into Nick's back in an efficient clip of force, low beside his spine. There is no follow through, save for a readied second strike if Nick tries anything beyond the intended effect of shutting the fuck up, almost lazy in affect, as naturally a part of Iago's vocabulary as the Spanish language.

A casual shove pushes the younger man back against the railing, and Iago turns his attention down to where Eileen puts herself close to Epstein and Hana, watchful and ready.

Hana watches as Eileen descends, keeping the people on the boat in the periphery of her view, and the birds, too. The woman is regarded coolly as she takes up the third point of their triangle. As she speaks, though, that neutral reserve acquires shades of skepticism and reproach, shades that only deepen as the men chime in.

"They're not wrong," Hana points out. She doesn't move from her position, her poised alertness a steady constant despite the back and forth around them, despite the proximity of someone who set herself up as antagonist for all the peacemaking words she speaks now. She does cast a look towards Epstein, letting the weight of that regard speak louder than words.

Dark eyes glitter as they return to Eileen, intent as any cat might stare at a bird come to earth. "I will give you the same regard you give me and mine," she states, closer to challenge than anything like reassurance, "right up until you cross a line." She seems to take it as given that the woman recognizes what those lines are. Implicitly, they haven't been crossed yet.

"You're the one who opened with coercion, Ruskin," Hana continues — still a challenge, but also overt acceptance of the woman's identity, or at least a willingness to go along with it. "How do you choose to continue?"

Something ripples under the Englishwoman’s skin, unnoticeable, unless you’ve been trained to look for it, which Iago and Finn have.

There are two ways this can continue.

She chooses what she imagines is the better one. “Eileen Ruskin,” she repeats, now addressing Avi rather than Hana, “who you tried to coerce into fucking you when you dangled a pardon over her head in Madagascar.” His emotions feed into the ones she’s struggling to contain beneath the surface, creating tension in her voice where there wasn’t previously. She’s unable to keep from showing her teeth. “Eileen Ruskin, who you discovered cheated death on Pollepel Island but whose existence you decided to keep a secret from everyone else. Eileen Ruskin, who you locked away in an attic for years.

“Eileen Ruskin, who is standing approximately one hundred yards away from us on the other side of the treeline.”

The veins in her neck momentarily blacken before returning to their regular purple-blue, fed by oxygen and a carefully measured breath. Her eyes dart back to Hana. “I need him to call her. She won’t come to me. Neither would he, if I’d told him what I wanted. She’s carrying ten thousand dollars in unmarked cash that I’d like to turn over to Wolfhound as a gesture of goodwill.”

That last bit is the only thing that draws a look of emotion from Avi, and it comes with a rankle of his nose. “Eileen Ruskin is dead,” Avi fires back, refusing to acknowledge the girl in the equation. “She died on Pollepel Island, and no amount of fucking ghosts or memories can bring her back. Because you’re obviously some fucking shambling sack of zombie shit, just like Dustpan up there,” he motions with a nod of his head to Iago.

“Kazimir Volken killed that asshole, the government killed Eileen, and I don’t know who the fuck you are buddy,” he levels to Finn, “but if you aren’t already trying to pull a dollar store Lazarus job, you might wanna look for better employers. Because these assholes?” Avi raises one brow and looks around, “don’t have a good track record staying on this side of the grave.”

And then his attention swivels back to Eileen. “Now, you can kindly give us back our Chimney Sweep,” that’s Nick, “and turn the fuck around to crawl back under whatever laboratory accident, psychic worm parasite, Gabriel clone, fucking— alternate timeline hot bullshit you crawled out of, or you can wind up going where every single one of you motherfuckers have wound up before.” Avi’s brow tenses. “In the fucking ground.”

There’s a hiss of sucked in breath at the rifle butt in his back, and Nick’s grasp on the railing tightens, knuckles blanching, even as his knees seem to want to buckle at the pain. The exhale is a low grunt, and it takes a moment for the man to regain his breath. His eyes narrow as he
glances over his shoulder to glare at Iago. “I’m chained to the fucking rail, asshole,” he mutters, but it’s mostly under his breath, before he glances back to the negotiations below.

“The fuck are you talking about, Lee?” he says, despite the physical warnings from Iago’s rifle.

At that nearly imperceptible shift in Eileen, Finn too narrows his eyes, but in a more concentrated sort of focus, poised to move into action. There’s an eager puppy quality to it, like she’s just picked up a ball she’s about to throw out into the surf for him to run after.

It’s nothing as innocuous of that, of course.

“Ooh-hoo-hoo,” he crows at Avi’s words, “this ‘un can talk shit, can’t he?”

There is an almost mechanical logic to the way Iago responds to the 'negotiating' occurring on the beach — Avi hisses and spits and demands the Ruskin that Iago has captive, so Iago takes a step back and slams a robotic metal heel into the back of Nick's leg hard enough that it buckles before the other man has a thought in his head to resist or avoid it. Another blunt force strike from the rifle sees him properly on his knees, almost like Iago has done this before, and then he lines up rifle barrel with Nick's handsome skull, looming directly behind him.

There is an efficiency to it that only furthers the impression that Iago will likely feel not a thing if pulling the trigger is required of him.

"You should muzzle that one, señorita," he says, loud enough for Hana's ears, "after he does as asked."

She would have muzzled him. Indeed, Hana had already begun the shift of weight that would have had her striding across the beach to Epstein, would have redirected him from the things that don't actually matter to the one that does.

She would have. But evidently Eileen's people are determined to continue as they began.

Iago's action freezes her in place. It's his words that make not-so-very-metaphorical hackles rise. The attempt to extort specific action from her has only one permissible response. Two, if one includes going on the offensive. Refocusing her attention on Eileen, Hana smiles, a sharp-edged expression that is all tooth and no good humor; her eyes glitter too brightly.

"We're done," she states, flat and cold and emphatic.

Hana steps back without looking away from the crew associated with the boat, without turning her back on any of them. A rushing sound picks up out of the background susurrus, growing rapidly louder, resolving into the engine noise of a plane visible only as a black silhouette rapidly blotting out ever more of the stars. It comes to hover behind Hana and Avi, nose — and the gun mounted on it — oriented towards the tugboat.

"Retrieve your girl, Epstein, or don't. We're leaving."

Ducted turbines whine; the black silhouette sends beach sand swirling through the air and water blowing from the shore. Epstein squints against the downdraft of the Tlanuwa making its appearance, and as the vehicle — with no pilot in its cockpit — lowers down toward the ground, the rear hatch begins to open and floodlights on the nose-cone spotlight the tugboat.

Snarling, Avi looks to the treeline, then back to Eileen. He isn’t sure whether her call was a bluff or not, but if she could have done anything to take Sibyl it would have already happened. “He owes me fifty bucks!” Avi shouts to Eileen, then motions up toward Nick. The front gun of the Tlanuwa makes its point by mere silent presence. The ship pivots in mid air, rotors adjusting to downdraft as he backs toward the lowered hatch.

“Send Red Rover on over, or this isn’t just going to be a boat graveyard.” Avi indicates with a furrow of his brows. “Unless any of you chucklefucks want to try coming back from the dead a second time?” He isn’t calling for Sibyl, motioning for her, indicating that he’s regarding her at all. He knows her, knows how he trained her.

If she needs to come, she will. If she doesn’t, he trusts her to survive.

She’s better at it than he is, after all.

Shadows undulate and swell along the treeline. The shapes of birds are indistinguishable in the dark, and they do not attack. They roil there instead, inky and uncertain.

I told you that you couldn’t trust him, Eileen thinks at herself, focusing not on Sibyl but the desperate swirl of emotions that pass through the flock, that he wouldn’t want you back, even if we gave him the opportunity.

Her exterior doesn’t change. All she says to Epstein is: “He’s my brother. You should go.”

The waves continue to lap and ebb, undeterred or intimidated by the threat hovering above the sand. Eileen’s heart is beating very fast, but she mirrors Iago, the wreckage that surrounds them, the approximate positions of the stars and the moon in the sky. In other words: She is still.

The handcuff attached to Nick’s wrist and the rail jangles as the man is dropped to his knees, a hiss of pain followed this time by a cry that’s cut off as he bites down and clenches his teeth. His forehead presses against the wall of the boat. All that’s visible to those below is his cuffed hand, curling into a fist.

“Jesus Fucking Christ, Eileen,” is growled, lost in the sound of the water, let alone a plane, quiet as it may be. Only Iago is likely to hear the words, tinged with anger and resignation.

Finn isn’t quite as still as Eileen, nodding his head in time with some music only he can hear, like he’s psyching himself up for a go at bat in a baseball game. “You heard her. Buh-bye,” he calls, one hand lifting to wave amiably.

Iago tips a look up towards that dark shape, understanding and intrigue both written only subtle into his otherwise impassive, granite features. He keeps the rifle pointed in place as he reconsiders this shift in dynamic, of escalation and balance, of the shift in priorities as the stalemate settles in. He huffs something that is like a laugh, audible only to Finn and Nick.

Watchful though he is of Eileen, he's not afraid for her.

He looks to Epstein, then, all mute challenge to do anything other than where the current is currently taking him.

As the Tlanuwa settles, Hana moves up the ramp, pausing just past the hinge. She waits there while Epstein follows, still no weapon in her hand — unless one counts the entirety of the jet, and takes a figurative interpretation of the phrase. She gazes steadily out towards the lit-up boat and the people on it, apparently indifferent as to whether another slim form might emerge from the surrounding dark.

She would like this girl she's never met, never more than heard of, to appear. But as moments stretch on, the odds of that become ever-smaller, and in this Hana's resolve is unyielding. She'll give Epstein time enough to get himself settled… and then the plane will depart.

Epstein won't be flying.

Lingering on the beach, Avi looks back to the Tlanuwa’s extended ramp and the searchlight on the boat. Nick’s bound form elicits no small amount of frustration, and it isn’t until Avi turns to look at the forest behind himself that his hesitation takes on a different color. Jaw squared, fingers curled into fists, he considers the dark between the trees and the things they could hide there. The birds, there’s nothing they represent to him other than death, and likely eventually his own.

Glancing up to Hana, Avi rankles his nose into a snort and steps forward to grab one of the rungs beside the ramp door, hauling himself up onto it and landing in a crouch. He keeps his gaze focused on the treeline, brows knit together and only briefly looking back to Nick and his perilous position. That single-eyed gaze flicks back to the treeline one last time as he feels the ramp door starting to close.

All he can hear is the sound of his own breathing and feel the tightness of anticipation in his chest. Not the roar of the engines, not the call of birds, not the death rattle of Michael Lowell. Just his own breathing.

”Crying isn’t going to help you. Stop. Close your eyes. Breathe, ok? Breathe in, breathe out. Focus on the sound. When you’re scared, focus on the sound. Nothing else.”

It was one of the few pieces of advice Avi was ever given as a child that didn’t come from Roy Raith. It’s that distant voice of Linda Epstein, one of the few things he still remembers of her, the way she taught him to hide from his father. To steady his breathing in the dark, and push past the fear.

He’d taught that to the girl in the woods, too.

Eileen waits until the distant shape of the jet is a speck and the finest grains of sand on the beach have settled before she turns back toward the tugboat.

That didn’t go exactly as planned, but things rarely do, even in the best of circumstances.

She looks to Nick first, blue eyes cinched around a squint as she assesses what little damage Iago has inflicted on her brother. Her gaze flicks to the handcuffs next, still in place.

“I said I’d introduce you,” she reminds him, because she couldn’t Epstein to confess. They’ll just have to produce the evidence themselves.

“Ramirez,” she says. “Shepherd.” First names are for when they’re alone and among their own people. “Retrieve her. She’s too tired to get very far.”

Nick’s eyes are closed, his breathing strained. He doesn’t look up when Eileen comes to speak to him. She can see his jaw clench, unclench.

“I don’t understand what’s going on. What you said about yourself makes no bloody sense, Lee,” he says, before gripping the railing to pull himself up to his feet. Slowly.

Finn, having been ready, eager to move, looks less earnest now — chasing down mere girls isn’t something he’s happy about. But he nods, uncharacteristically solemn for a moment as he heads to the railing to hop over and drop onto the sand.

“Bet you can’t catch her,” he says to Iago with a twinkle in his eyes before he takes off running.

It’s a little anticlimactic — cowboy boots and sand aren’t suited for a footrace.

And neither are robot feet, metal sinking heavy into sand as Iago levers himself over the edge of the railing, landing on soft beach. As Finn goes racing off ahead as much as he's able, Iago tips a look towards Eileen, grimly inscrutable. He isn't really a man for whom apologies come easily, but the knowledge that this isn't what she'd hoped this evening would look like is a weighted, silence acknowledgment between them.

Then, he's moving. Not fast. One way or another, one step at a time, the distance will close between himself and his quarry, and with equal awful patience, bring it back again.

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