Let Alone


eileen4_icon.gif raith_icon.gif

Scene Title Let Alone
Synopsis Eileen and Raith have a disagreement; it isn't their first, and won't be their last.
Date September 6, 2009

An Abandoned Apartment Somewhere in Brooklyn

When there are people after you, or at least people who would most certainly be interested in finding you, it becomes much, much easier to keep from being caught when there isn't a single location they can always count on finding you at. This is a fact Jensen Raith is perhaps New York's best living proof of. He hasn't had an address, bank account, credit card or even telephone to his name for years. Living off the grid isn't glamorous, but it beats the crap out of being dead. Disused warehouses, abandoned houses and empty apartments are his home, and will probably continue to be his home until he finally gets tired of fighting.

Apartments are the best, really. The hardest to find and the hardest to get into, yes, but also the most likely to have electricity and running water. Maybe even a kitchen that works. The trick is to only enter time in the late evening or even night, especially after the property manager or building super's done for the day; no potential renters come by to check them out after the sun goes down. They mean an early start to clear out before someone does come by, but that's a small price to pay for the luxury of working plumbing and hot food. Raith knows this, and intends to capitalize on this fact while dinner cooks on the electric stove; a thin soup loaded with potatoes and mixed with carrots, an onion, some tomato paste and chopped beef brisket out of an old MRE. He may only have a couple blankets to take the edge off the hard carpeting in the empty living area, but it's better than nothing. For a vigilante-terrorist who lives off the grid as much as possible, this may as well be the Hilton, the good life.

Raith isn't the only one taking advantage of the amenities that the apartment has to offer. In the bathroom attached to an adjacent hallway, the sound of water pattering against ceramic tile has been drifting out from under the door for the past fifteen minutes. A squeaky faucet swiveled into the off position eventually stifles the water's flow, and a few moments later the shower curtain rattles on its rings as its occupant sweeps it aside with one arm and steps out onto the floor.

The mirror is too foggy for Eileen to even glimpse her reflection in its surface. Wiping her palm across it doesn't help much, either. Beads of moisture run down the glass, leaving snaillike trails in their wake that glisten faintly under the bathroom's washed out light.

When the bathroom door opens and she enters the hallway, her dark hair is still damp and forms inky ringlets at her temples at the nape of her neck, but she's dressed in a pair of dark gray sweatpants and a black athletic top with a tribal sparrow emblazoned in white on its breast. "Smells good," she tells him. "Anything I can do to help?"

"Not unless you have some garlic and a few pepper corns," is Raith's flat but honest and simple reply, delivered without even rising from the floor. Tonight is a rare instance when he is without his overcoat or other jacket and, more tellingly, not wearing body armor. He is confident in the security, or at least the secrecy of his present residence, even if it will likely be somewhere completely different the next day. Raith doesn't develop attachments to many things. "Or maybe some crusty bread."

Sitting up, he allows a moment to pass before he continues the conversation. "You suppose the Phoenixes are enjoying their dinners? Rare steaks and baked potatoes with creme brulee for dessert? Still think you made the right choice signing on with me instead of Dean?"

Somehow, Eileen doubts that Helena and her people are enjoying steak and baked potatoes, never mind creme brulee. "Cheeseburgers and chicken tenders, more likely," she says, moving out of the hall and into the kitchen to check on the soup. Although her small feet are bare, they're also dry — she tracks no water from the bathroom into the kitchen in spite of the few straggler droplets carving paths along the curve of her neck.

Using the ladle to stir the pot, she turns over the potatoes in the broth and gives one of the larger chunks an experimental nudge with the utensil's edge to test for firmness. They'll take the longest to cook through. "Dean doesn't have it as easy as you think she does."

Eileen does make a valid, and probably very correct point. "No, I don't suppose she does, the way she runs things." Whatever exactly that means, Raith is completely convinced of it. "I admire her commitment, sure, but her leadership leaves something to be desired, if you ask me. Ideology only takes you so far without ideas. You follow?" Of course she does. "How's the soup coming?"

"We don't always see eye-to-eye," says Eileen the skin around her nose crinkling as she wrinkles it in apparent distaste. Whether this is directed at Raith's assessment or the soup isn't clear. "Ideas. Idealogy. Phoenix circumvented the assassination of the president-elect last year and a viral apocalypse after that. Whether or not you agree with their strategy, you have to admit they're doing something right to have gotten this far and survived this long."

She taps the ladle against the side of the pot, not wanting to waste one drop of the broth, and then sets it aside by the sink. "A few more minutes," she says of the soup. "Ten, maybe fifteen."

"They're a bunch of kids with abilities. Them still being alive has been a combination of luck and outside forces. Let's suppose, for instance, that you, Holden and the others didn't turn against Volken at the eleventh hour. Would Phoenix still have saved the world? I've seen them in action." Raith doesn't specify exactly where he's seen them in action, leaving this purposefully vague. "Like I said, ideology without ideas. They're making a statement, without a doubt. I just have trouble guessing if that statement is, 'Let my people go,' or, 'Come and get us.' Making yourself known in a crowd, that's been agitated by people who'd prefer you were dead, to be whisked away to safety only because some of your pals happened to have the same idea you did is not a sustainable strategy.

"Unless you're aiming to secure a corner lot in Boot Hill, I mean."

Eileen turns around, leaning her hip against the sink, and curls her fingers around the edge of the counter, elbows cocked back. "I don't think it's like that at all. Let them stumble, let them trip, let them fall, scrape their knees and pick themselves back up again. They'll never learn if you don't, and as long as they aren't compromising the Ferry or endangering our operation, it isn't any of our bleedin' business, now is it?" There's no heat to her voice, breathy and low though it is. The hands clasping at the counter loosen their grip. "Let alone, Jensen."

Raith offers a half-shrug and half-nod in reply; that's a fair enough deal. What isn't turning out to be fair, however, is the carpet he's sitting on. It's gotten rather uncomfortable, and it's probably no surprise that no one's been desperate enough to rent this unit just yet. With a measured amount of care, he stands up and stretches out his back before turning towards and walking to the kitchen. Picking up the ladle, he spoons up a small amount of broth and gives it a careful taste. "Needs pepper," he says, before turning his attention to the remains of the MRE a short distance away on the counter and fishing out a small spice packet. Out of that comes and even smaller packet of pepper, which is emptied into the pot once it's torn opened. Hardly enough gets added to really make a difference in the flavor, but that's all there is. Even the Hilton isn't perfect.

"Messed up world we find ourselves in," he remarks, "Governments can't get along with citizens, Armageddon always seems like its lurking just around the corner, and there's never enough pepper." Tapping the ladle off over the pot, it once against finds itself put aside. "I'm just complaining now. What about you?" Raith asks, focusing his attention away from the soup and on Eileen. "Think there's hope for a better world?"

Eileen raises her hands from the counter and shows Raith their palms, naked and empty but for the rings glinting silver on her bone white fingers. "What do I look like to you? A sibyl?" She's teasing him now, both her dark brows arched into an expression that's more inquisitive than it is mocking. She purses her lips to keep from smiling. "No," she says, and though her eyes are bright with mirth her tone is sober. "I don't think there is. This is as good as it's going to get."

"Sad day for us, then," Raith replies, turning his head to look towards the front door of the occupied apartment. It's not an attitude that exactly matches his apparent beliefs. If he was convinced that this was really as good as it was going to get, he never would've gotten the remnants of Vanguard together with the goal of trying to make the world better. Unless his view of making the world better was to hand out vigilante justice and keep it from getting worse. But if what he has in front of him; this apartment that isn't his, this pot of thin soup without enough pepper, this world is the best one that he's going to get … .

Raith doesn't put much more energy behind that thought. Pulling his attention away from the door and back to what is closer at hand, he defenestrates caution and, grabbing a handful of the front of Eileen's shirt, roughly presses his mouth against hers.

Eileen has learned to always be on guard around Raith. This is, after all, the man who pinned her to a tree and bruised her ribs just to teach her a lesson about exploring the woods outside the Garden alone. As his fist seizes the front of her top, black fabric clenched between his fingers, she slams the heels of her hands into his chest and shoves hard, simultaneously lurching against the counter in an attempt to twist away.

She's not quite fast enough to avoid the kiss — if it can even be called that — but as his mouth moves against hers, she lets out a low groan of protest and forms her lips around the word, "Stop."

Eileen's mouth might be saying 'stop,' but her body is saying, well, basically the same thing. Raith does stop, but only so much as is necessary to free his own mouth to ask her, plainly, "Or what?"

As if daring and even determined to find out, he once again pulls Eileen into him, grabbing her shoulder with his other hand to ensure he can overpower her pushing away from him. What happens now, Eileen? What can you do to make Jensen Raith, as you demanded, 'stop'?

One of the hands that had been pressing against Raith's chest cracks across his cheek with enough force to snap his head sideways and split his skin where her rings come into abrupt contact with his jaw. Eileen pulls away gasping, gray eyes flashing, upper lip curled like a cornered animal baring its teeth in a wet snarl. "I said stop," she says again, and this time the command is edged with a growl.

Ultimately, this may be the problem associating with men like Jensen Raith; they are dangerous, and in bad situations, they can react somewhat like high tension springs that suddenly have the force keeping them coiled taken away. After he's hit, he's stunned only for a moment before he strikes back not by shooting his foot up and into the inside of her leg. Not at her knee, but a markedly less crippling strike to the femoral nerve. Less crippling in that the damage isn't permanent. Rest assured, it's still extremely painful.

Raith isn't finished, however, following up immediately with a straight jab to Eileen's face. Not enough to break anything, but enough to hurt and maybe cause some bruising. Following this, he backs off from her, dropping his shoulders. Ultimately, this may be the problem faced by men like Jensen Raith; the switch stuck in the 'Combat' position so many times and for so long that it becomes more and more difficult to shut off. Even though the rational part of his mind knows he did wrong, the instinctual part isn't interested in hearing why.

The blow to Eileen's thigh buckles her leg, and it's only by the grace of the counter that she's able to remain standing after Raith's fist comes away from her face with bloody knuckles. One hand clutches at the sink to keep her upright while the other holds her mouth, red stain seeping out from between her fingers as heat floods across her tongue and trickles salty down the back of her throat.

It takes her several additional seconds to process what just happened. When she does, she's pulling herself straight again and scraping her dignity up off the floor without looking at him, not even a glance, eyes averted. It's difficult to say what surprises Eileen more: that Raith struck her, or that she somehow expected him not to when she was the one who drew first blood. She seems reasonably sure he isn't about to come at her again, because she's showing him her back and leaning over the sink to drool some of the excess saliva into its basin, then spit.

Just as slowly as Eileen pieces together what just happened, Raith's body starts catching up to his brain, easing out of 'battle mode' as smoothly and gradually as a jet pilot eases up on the throttle of their plane. Even though Eileen may not have been expecting him to strike at her, surely she knows well enough not to expect him to apologize. He doesn't. Or if he's planning to, he's still picking his moment. Instead, he focuses on checking the now tender areas where metal connected with his flesh. Sore, yes, but hardly any blood. They probably don't even look that bad, just bright red marks on his face. Still, there remains in his mind the question of, 'What happened?' He doesn't have an immediate answer. He's willing to bet Eileen doesn't, either. As far as he's concerned, the score's easy: 2-1, her move.

Eileen's top has no sleeve with which she can use to wipe her mouth, so she settles for the back of her wrist instead and watches Raith's shadow in her peripheral rather than turning her gaze on him directly. It doesn't matter what the score is; as long as it's weighted in his favour and it's her turn to move, she's going to be doing it in a different direction, maneuvering her much slimmer, lither body around the merc's stocky one on her way toward the door. "You're a bastard," she hisses under her ragged breath as she passes him, voice uncharacteristically high and tight.

Maybe she's trying not to cry. More likely, she's trying not to scream.

Raith doesn't say anything in response to Eileen's accusation. Neither does he try to stop her from going towards the door, or out the door, or to wherever it is that she's going to go. He just waits, calmly and patiently and watches her make her exit before he relocates himself to the bathroom, examining the damage in the mirror. Not terrible damage by any means. Just some small cuts that are easily treatable and will heal quickly. But dammit if, as he's looking at those cuts on his face, he doesn't feel a great swell of pride in his chest.

As far as he's concerned, he's the one that turned Eileen from a skinny little kid into an unrefined but determined fighter with one helluva right hook. Did he push things too far in a direction they weren't going to go? Most likely. But in his eyes, Eileen just grew up today and is officially no longer a kid, but an adult and a full-fledged soldier in his ragtag rebel army. All the same, he's going to wait to break the good news to her until after she's had time to cool off. He's proud of her right hook.

That doesn't mean he'd like another one.

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