Like Him


eileen2_icon.gif emily_icon.gif

Scene Title Like Him
Synopsis The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, whether it wants to or not.
Date July 3, 2019

Standing in the crowds on the Memorial Wall Boardwalk, Emily Epstein looks out over the water with a distant expression. Live music carries over some far-off set of crackling speakers, enthusiastic rock for the patriotic setting. When a couple linked arm-in-arm excuse their way past her, she slides a step back closer to the wall, feeling the thin soles of her shoes mold over the uneven rivers of wax that come from the hundreds of candles left to burn in vigil for the lost.

The fireworks will be starting soon. Emily, under most other circumstances, would be looking forward to it.

But she stands solitary and aloof from the proceedings of the evening, thoughts mired in what's missing.

Of how a certain red-headed teen would have insisted Emily not go alone… were she here to.

Memorial Wall, Ferrymen's Bay

July 3, 2019

8:45 PM

A heady bouquet of crushed roses and fresh tobacco wafts in on the next breeze to tangle Emily’s hair. It’s a fragrant balm that cools her skin, providing respite from the dank summer air, and alerts her to a familiar presence some three and a half feet to her left.

Eileen is smoking a cigarette, because of course she is. Its tip burns a bright, vibrant orange that seems to want to compete with the sun as it dips below the horizon. A tousled blonde wig renders the Englishwoman almost unrecognizable to those who haven’t seen her crowned with it before.

But Emily has. Also: It isn’t Emily that she needs to hide from.

“What do you figure thoughts go for these days?” she asks, absently dusting the ash from the end of her lit cigarette. “Got to be more than a penny when you account for inflation.”

In lieu of an actual reply, Emily breathes a short, humorless laugh. Her brow furrows as she tries to work up some witty reply, but her heart's just not in it. All she can manage is, "I don't know. Maybe we should find a talking head and ask them."

She shifts her weight, the sheer snow-colored fabric of the vest she wears over her darker top swimming away from her side in the breeze. Whatever's on her mind is attempted to be broached, breath hitching as several thoughts vie for dominance and none win out. Emily gives up on it for the moment with a thin sigh, turning Eileen's way. For all her apparent distance, no longer being alone seems to root her better in the moment.

"It's good to see you, anyway," she says quietly, unsmiling.

Sometimes Eileen wishes she’d rolled the dice on a different ability — one that allows her to read the minds of people, not birds. She’s limited to what she can observe in Emily’s expression and her conservative body language, neither of which says very much.

Karma, that.

“Something’s bothering you,” sounds like a casual observation, but it’s an invitation too. Passive, innocuous, entirely at Emily’s discretion. They can talk about it — or not.

Eileen takes another drag from the filter-end of her cigarette where her lipstick has already left its mark, red as the iron rich blood flowing through her dark veins.

Emily can't even force a laugh at the observation, instead lifting one hand and drawing it back through her hair both as a stress-relieving measure and to clear her vision. "There's a few things," she admits, and for a moment it seems like she might get lost in indecision about which one merits being brought up first. What wins is: "Squeaks is missing. We don't know what happened. She was grabbed by traffickers last year, and the same might've happened this time, or worse."

It's clear she wants to make some hopeful comment, that maybe everything will turn out all right there, but she can't. "There's a lot of people looking for her." is the closest she gets.

The rest is harder to broach, some of it from being unfamiliar, and some of it due to being too familiar a topic. "There's some bullshit with Dad — turns out Nathalie and I are related, by the way — and then…" Emily closes her eyes, one hand massaging the side of her face, trying and failing to hold back the flow of thoughts that have been untapped. "Someone I care about died, back in January." There's a reluctant pause as she deliberates her wording around the topic. "Then a few months ago, they just … turned back up. These people had got ahold of him, brought him back, did things to him…"

She shakes her head abruptly, frustration with that situation threatening to show. "He escaped. He came home. He's back, and we get a second chance together, at least until Adam Monroe or one of his people come to fuck things up again, or what they did to him comes undone, or…"

Realising how messy it is, Emily's brow furrows and she looks back to Eileen with apology in her eyes. "—Sorry. There's a lot, clearly. None of it easily resolved." Her lip rolls as she bites on the inside of it, her head starting to shake again. "It's just all getting to be a bit too much. It's hard to carry on with the normal things when everything's…" not.

Her brow twists even further as something potentially more relevant comes to mind. "I met Eileen Gray's son, the other day. I didn't even know she had one. He chased me down at work. He's … something else."

Something else is certainly one way to describe Astor. Emily had Eileen’s full attention before, but the word son puts her head on a swivel. She drops all pretense of neutrality, both her brows arching sharply upward at the same time her jaw goes hard and renewed tension transforms her torso into a spindly trunk.

She’s abruptly still. The kind of still someone becomes when they’re afraid that moving might displace something in their world and shatter it into a thousand different pieces. The kind of still that hungry cats aspire to when their ears prick, sensing movement in the tall grass.

Squeaks is forgotten, at least for the moment. So is Nathalie and the revelation that she and Emily share some of the same genetic code with a man who Eileen also considers family, even if she and Avi aren’t related by blood.

“I’m sorry,” she croaks, “say that again?”

The abrupt turn in conversation may have caused more shock than she meant for it to, Emily realizes all too late. She looks uncomfortable, hands coming to fold before, fingers of one hand pinching the body of the other while she looks back to the water. “His name’s Astor. He just… came out of nowhere, yelled my name, asked me ‘if I had a minute for a time traveler’.” She lets out a faint laugh just at the memory of how absurd it was, shaking her head. “I guess he came here with Lene and the rest of that group. He said he knew me when he was growing up. That I looked after him. He knew…”

She tapers off into her thoughts for a long moment, sounding no less comfortable when she comes back to the present. “He knew a lot about me.”

Eileen has so many questions. Questions like: Did you snatch a glance at the inside of his arm? How deep were the circles under his eyes? And do his eyes still look like Ethan’s?

Not that Eileen expects Emily to know what Ethan Holden’s eyes look like, or that she even knows who Ethan Holden is, outside of what little was written about him in Wolves of Valhalla — even if Emily seems to know a lot more than she would have given her credit for not five minutes ago.

She’d wanted to ask Benji, too.

She only becomes aware that she’s burned her cigarette down to the filter when the heat nips at her exposed knuckle, causing her to unceremoniously drop it to the pavement below.

“What else did he tell you, Emily?” she asks instead.

Emily might have had answers for the unspoken questions, but she looks as uncomfortable as usual to talk about herself. One slender shoulder begins to arch in a shrug, but even that is a hesitant thing. “I still don’t know what to make of it,” she apologizes, her gaze shifting back in Eileen’s direction. “He just — he’s this stranger to me, but I wasn’t to him. He knew I’d respond better to bringing you up than him trying to … I don’t know, convince me otherwise. He told me I’d been healed there, too. That I’d died when he was a teenager. That he… he is a precognitive, and I—”

She looks away at the sound of a firework screaming into the air, a single one that explodes with a pop and glimmer to start gathering people’s attention. It’s wrecked her train of thought.

When Emily looks back, the apology in her gaze has returned. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you,” she says, hands still locked in a fidget. “I should have thought— I just should have thought.” She turns away with a shallow exhale, continuing to pinch her fingers to provide her a sense of center she doesn’t actually feel at the moment. After a brief pause, her chin lifts, brow arching just a touch. “He wants me to help him with something. I told him I would, if he would help find Squeaks. I don’t even know if he can, Eileen,” Emily admits, shifting a glance back her way. “But he was right about other things. So maybe… maybe I can really can help him.”

She lifts and holds her shoulders in a shrug, not even sure how else to direct the energy. “I don’t fucking know.”

Neither does Eileen, apparently. For the first time since Emily has known her, she’s without words. The smoke from her last drag is still leaking from her nose, although she makes no sound except for shallow rasp of her breathing. And that’s a thin, reedy hiss.

“Who else knows?” is what she asks next, but it sounds like she’s groping at the words, unsure how they’re supposed to fit together into the question — or what else she wants them to imply.

So she tries harder. “His ability, it’s— dangerous. To Astor and to other people. He’s sick. Hurt. Please.”

That draws her attention immediately, Emily’s shoulders turning the rest of the way toward the Englishwoman. He’s sick? The surprise on her face starts to morph into something else, concern and worry playing out in quiet, subdued strains. She was counting on his ability to help her and to help others. Now, she’s uncertain about letting go of that hope.

She trusts Eileen. But she also needs Astor.

“No one else knows,” she promises, earnest. She even shakes her head to emphasise it. “I didn’t exactly plan to go telling — anyone, really, about this.” Emily’s admission comes with a weary edge of laughter to it. “What am I going to tell them? A reality-traversing time-traveler—” the word junkie is carefully omitted there, different from her off-the-cuff mental description of him, “flagged me down?” She shifts her weight, feet turning toward Eileen now, too. “No, I didn’t even bring this up to Teo. I think he knows something’s up, but there’s a half-dozen other things it could be. He’s got his pick to assume from.”

It’s meant to be reassuring rather than another confusing comment. Though for all she knows, maybe Eileen doesn’t spy on her anymore enough to know who her new roommate is.

Regardless, Emily smiles. It’s brief, but full. “How have you been, anyway?”

Eileen wants to ask: Which Teo? That her stance on the subject would remain unchanged regardless of Emily’s answer is the only thing that stops her.

“I’ve been—”

Fine is a lie. Not well is an understatement. Her mouth works, but she’s unable to formulate the right word. Every one she can think of is either inaccurate, dishonest, or some combination of the two—and there’s no part of her that feels comfortable lying to Emily on this account. Not with everything that’s already happened between them.

“I don’t know,” she decides, blunt and uncharacteristically to-the-point. There’s nothing opaque about her expression, not anymore. “I miss your father. He made difficult things easy by being a bigger problem than whatever else was bothering me.”

For all the ways that Emily has ever hung off of Eileen’s words, her previous mention of a Teodoro is something the teen had never reflected back on, never connected the dots on. She would be surprised but not surprised to realize that one Teo and an Eileen have known each other, because fate appeared to be funny that way in criss-crossing everyone’s lives together— but it would take her aback to ever learn she knew multiple.

She knows they exist, but she’s not had that experience herself.

So for that reason, she’s able to focus on Eileen’s tells in the lamplight that keeps the pier lit despite the disappearance of the sun. The lack of a lie makes her brow tick up as she waits for the right words to make themselves apparent to Eileen, her expression earnest.

The admission, when made, somehow catches her off-guard. Nothing happens for a long moment save for the murmur of the crowd shifting around them both, eagerly angling to get a better eye on where the earlier firework had shot off to herald the soon-coming show. As a substitute for ending the silence, Emily finally nods. She lets out a small laugh under her breath for a lack of comforting things to say.

She can’t understand the feeling exactly, but she can make a comparison. It’s enough for her.

"Not being able to hide from how you feel is a bitch," Emily agrees softly. "It's almost as bad as not being able to hide how you feel from others." Much like she hadn't been able to more carefully guard her own state, for example. There's no cringing at admitting how uncomfortable a situation that was, or is, partly because they're in the same boat— and partly because Emily doesn't have the energy to feel embarrassed about it.

"I used to be able to hide in stories, in video games," she goes on to admit. "But I hit a wall there. Hiding won't help anything, when…”

Whatever eventuality that happens to be goes unsaid, Emily pursing her lips together with a shake of her head. She runs her tongue over her teeth before she makes a gesture with her hand, like that’ll somehow clear the air enough for her thoughts to re-right themselves. As it is, everything that comes from her is unplanned. “So I’ve been trying to get ready for that. Teo is teaching me self-defense, how to look after myself physically and otherwise. I’ve been working with Kaylee to… to practice against what she does, too, so…”

Her mouth hardens into a line, hand held palm up as she shrugs at the universe expectantly. What else could she do to prepare for a mysterious inevitability? “Nothing much else to do but wait for it all to go to shit, right?” she asks to that effect. More than it currently has, she means. Things are by no means okay at this point in time.

It’s hard for Eileen to imagine a world that’s worse than some of the other timelines they’ve glimpsed, or even this one as it was a few years ago, but she would be lying if she told Emily she didn’t fear it. “No amount of preparation is going to make you ready for what’s waiting for you around the corner,” she says. “Disembodied gods and the potential end of all things aside, people you love are going to die before you. Avi. Your mother. Friends, even if you have no way of knowing which ones.”

She does not say the name Squeaks. The wound is still too fresh; Eileen can see that everything about this particular situation has made Emily raw.

“Live long enough and you’ll meet a more powerful telepath than Thatcher. One you can’t keep out of your head. You’ll fight someone stronger than Laudani, too. It will hurt like you heart hurts right now—but all over.”

Eileen studies Emily’s face intently. “When was the last time you tasted blood in your mouth?”

The warning is abrupt and direct, and brings Emily to unconsciously fold her arms before her in defense against it while she tries to figure out how to handle the fortune that Eileen delivers. There’s no chance to distance herself or provide a measured reaction, she just tenses, searching Eileen for signs that anything she’s stated could be interpreted as hyperbole. (It’s only a moment later that she separates the threat of disembodied gods apart from the passage of time, and the light in her eyes shifts from guarded to solemn.) Her weight shifts uncomfortably from one foot to the other, and in so doing, edges her back from the Englishwoman just a fraction, attempting to create a metaphorical arm’s length while she processes.

“I can’t even keep her out of my head, Eileen,” she says even while she’s still trying to figure out what to do with that message. Her frustration is just as wounded and exposed as the other emotions she’s had on display. “All— All I’m trying to do is just be better off than I was before. To be able to put up a fight instead of being helpless.”

Emily almost doesn’t want to answer the question put to her, her brow angling up while she considers it. “I… I don’t know,” slips from her anyway. “Teo hit me with his ability once so hard I got knocked senseless by it. I’m not sure how long I was down for. My body seized up, spasmed.”

Her mouth tasted odd then, is what she means to imply, but she doesn’t go as far as saying so, too hesitant about why Eileen is asking.

“The best advice someone ever gave me was to be a rat,” Eileen says. “There’s no shame in hiding. Camouflage is an evolutionary advantage.”

She looks down at the residue on the tips of her fingers, which have a yellow-brown sheen from all the cigarettes she’s been smoking. Out of habit, she tastes them by dragging her thumb across the front of her teeth.

“Find a nice, dark hole and hide it in for awhile,” she suggests. “Most of the people who survived the war were rats. There’s a reason people called it the underground.”

Emily shifts again, her discomfort in the topic — and for the first time in a while, the advice she’s been given by Eileen — becoming more plain as she brings her arms into a fold against it, guarding herself from taking it to heart. Stubbornly, even. “This isn’t the fucking war anymore, Eileen.” she feels the need to inform the other woman, her brow furrowed. There’s a punch to it, a bluntness that maybe borders on unsettling.

Given Eileen’s familiarity with the ability that flares, unstable, at the core of Emily’s conviction, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

“Whatever the fuck this is, it’s not like before. There’s no underground to go to, though I guess if I wanted to— I could just keep walking west?” the teen scoffs. “But who would that help? That wouldn’t help Squeaks, it wouldn’t help fucking Devon, it wouldn’t help the people Astor thinks I can save, and it definitely wouldn’t help me.” Emily is resolute in this, frustration in herself showing. “I can’t just— I don’t want to be a liability my whole goddamned life. I have to be more than that. I want to be able to help people, not just sit around and end up being the cause of them hurting. Like… just…”

She turns her head away, chin tucking toward her shoulder as they both cave and she tries to work through bottling herself back up after the snap. A tense noise comes paired with the explosive sigh that flows from her as she attempts to settle. “Just…” Emily shakes her head as she starts to look back up. Maybe it’d just be better if … “Nevermind.

Something’s wrong.

Eileen feels it in her gut, in her bones, in the space behind her eyes. Her stomach churns in remembering and she takes an abrupt, instinctive step back.

Pay attention, the conduit demands in the way only the conduit can— without words, without voice. It warns her of the danger by raising the fine hairs on the back of her neck and arms. Her next breath wooshes out of her without warning, like she’s been struck.

And in a way, she has. She hasn’t felt this since—

What the fuck, Emily,” sounds like an accusation because it is, only there’s no anger behind it. Not yet. Her brain is still trying to process what her body has already figured out.

Emily doesn't understand the why behind it. Her fingers curl tighter around the fold of her arms as she looks back up, sharpness in her gaze as she wills herself to stand her ground. Because that's what this was about, right? Her optimism? Her naivete? That's what it had to be about.

Somehow she can hear her father's judgment somewhere in there, too, wondering what the fuck she was doing. No kindness, just panic manifesting as anger in his voice.

"Fine," she concedes, temblor in the edge she tries to add to her voice. Like she's confident where she stands, feigning pride in the stance that she's hesitant, even afraid to take despite the depth of her feelings. "Go ahead, tear it apart. What's so fucking wrong with not wanting to be selfish?"

There it is again.

A wave of guilt rolls over Eileen in spite of everything else that’s happening to her. What is wrong with not wanting to be selfish?

She’s suddenly struggling to find a good answer. It’s as though all the words have been washed out of her head.

“Fuck,” she says again. “Fuck.

There’s a gun under her coat. It fits neatly in the holster hidden there. She should probably be reaching for it, she thinks, except the thought suddenly feels very far away. Eileen’s hand twitches, but that’s all.

“You’re like him,” is the most she’s able to muster.

Even without context, the way Eileen says it brings Emily to slide a step back herself, like it will help physically brace her for whatever explanation might be forthcoming. She wonders, trying hard to reach for any kind of understanding about what’s happening…

It happens. Eyes widen, pupils narrow.

“Fuck.” It’s Emily’s turn now. Her hand comes to clasp over her mouth after the words leave, like she can take it, and whatever else she’s done back somehow. Her stomach twists, guilt for what’s happened, and fear for all the other fucking times she might’ve done something like this without knowing.

“Eileen,” she stammers. It’s an apology— an attempt to explain, but mostly an apology. Because it sounds like Eileen might know more about her ability than even she does. Worry lines crease her forehead, confusion and understanding battling for dominance in a suddenly dissonant state. Back and forth she goes with having any idea of what’s happening right now.

Because Eileen didn’t know about her ability before, even if she does now, meaning… whatever the fuck that means.

“I’m not,” she insists, very desperate to not be whatever, whoever it is that’s causing this fear. “I’m not.”

The spell is broken. There’s a sudden explosion of light and color and sound. Fireworks blossom open in the night sky high above their heads and rain down on the water like embers.

Eileen snaps out of it. The thunderous applause that follows would be enough to cover the sound of two carefully aimed gunshots at Emily’s center of mass, and later she might regret failing to take advantage of the opportunity when it was presented to her.

Instead, she uses the crowd to conceal her swift escape. With feral cat quickness, Eileen pivots and finds the closest gap between bodies that she can retreat through. This is the woman Emily has read about in books — the one brought up by a cult centered around a man who believed the Evolved were too dangerous to be allowed to live.

Dogmas don’t disappear. They change. And although Eileen has warmed toward others like her in the intervening years, there’s one ability at the top of her list that inspires the same fear Kazimir spent so much time and energy instilling in her.

It’s Emily’s.

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