Make Pretend


eileen_icon.gif nick_icon.gif

Scene Title Make Pretend
Synopsis Before leaving Pollepel Island for New York City to resume his employment with the Irishman, Nick is finally confronted by his past many years too late.
Date November 29, 2010

Pollepel Island

The flickering light of Nick's flashlight is all that keeps the man company as he pads quietly down the dark corridor. Despite having his feet in combat boots, his footfalls are nearly silent; he's mindful of the other souls in the castle, most of them hopefully sleeping, though noises here and there tell a different tale. Somewhere nearby a baby can be heard crying; somewhere else, a door thuds softly shut. Still, the room behind the door he finally stops at seems to be quiet and still, and Nick wouldn't have it any other way.

He reaches with his free hand into his pocket, wriggling a folded envelope free. Scrawled in his messy script is the word Eileen. As Nick bends, the beam of the light bounces a little until Nick sets it on the ground, reaching to slip the slim envelope under the door, a soft shck sound of paper on stone floor sounding louder in his ears than it really is.

"I hope your handwriting's improved," says a voice somewhere from behind him. "It would be embarrassing for both of us if I had to ask one of our forgers to decode it." Eileen's sense of humour is not particularly kind these days, but that she has a sense of humour at all might be surprising. The solemn child has grown into a solemn adult, and while there was a brief period when smiling began to come easy, that time has since passed.

She stands a few yards away in her wool coat and lambskin gloves, a sliver of the utilitarian dress in charcoal gray she wears beneath visible at her collar and below her tapered waist. The last time they crossed paths here, she'd been in only a nightgown beneath, which might account for the door she'd been careful to keep between them. This evening, she's fractionally bolder and maintains distance instead.

Nick's shoulders twitch at the sound of her voice, but he manages not to jump completely. The note is already beneath the door so there is no retrieving it, no takebacks of whatever was said. He picks up the flashlight as he straightens, head automatically dropping to study the ground between them.

"Not much," he says quietly, lips quirking in a half smile in appreciation for her attempt at a joke, though his eyes stay somber. "Spare you the read, though. I gotta get back to work. I'm not in danger, and maybe I can … I donno. Do some good out there." He nods his head toward the wall that leads to the outside world.

His free hand comes up to run its nervous course over the back of his head. "Thanks for the hospitality and all. I'll bring supplies, if you want… more meds, food, whatever you need. Or I can let someone else do it — the cowboy or someone." Someone other than him, he means.

"They like you here," is Eileen's attempt at neutrality, willing her voice to remain level, though it isn't quite. For her to see, there must be a bird around, either tucked under her collar or hidden away in the corridor's rafters, but wherever it is— it isn't on display. Neither is the sour pang of fear she feels in her gut whenever she and Nick are alone. Her hands, including the one carrying her lantern, are steady. She seems to look past him, her eyes searching the door at his back, aware of something inside that he is not.

"When you say that you have to get back to work, do you mean your work with Agent Epstein, or your work with the Irishman?" Because, at least to Eileen, this is an important distinction to make even if one happens to be dependent on the other.

He gives a soft huff of a laugh at the thought of anyone liking him but he manages not to toss back any comments like 'they don't know me,' though that's his instinct. His blue eyes dart up toward her face at her question, his brows knitting for a moment. Does she think he works with Walsh because he wants to?

"What I was doing with Walsh was for Epstein. I got a different 'boss' now to speak — and he wants me back with Irish," he says in a low voice, volume dropping even though they seem to be alone. "I don't like it, but it's what-" he swallows and looks down again. "It's what I signed on to do, you know? Once I'm done there, Epstein's got me signed up for somethin' bigger…" There's a but that doesn't get said. He shakes his head.

"You need me, you can find me, right?" Nick says suddenly. "I know you don't got phones here, but you got, you know. Carrier pigeons, so to speak."

"I have couriers." Birds. People. Eileen doesn't specify. "It's important that you don't tell Walsh where you've been," she says. "There's a reason we go through Smedley rather than him when it comes to the Ferry. Tigers, stripes. Leopards, spots. He used to be with Humanist First, and I don't trust him not to go back. The government and its military aren't the only enemies we have."

Like her attempt to keep her voice level, the effort she puts into keeping emotion out of it isn't enough. Nicholas should make no mistake; this is a quiet plea rather than a request or even a command like the one she'd give him to escort Benji Foster to his new room, and there's something shaky in her tone that's reminiscent of other things she's asked him not to do.

The ones that he did anyway.

His eyes flit away and he nods. "I won't," he murmurs. "And you're right not to trust 'em. I don't have anything official, you know, but 'used to be' might be a bit of a stretch in the wording. He's smart enough not to trust me completely, and my disappearing on him now three times ain't gonna go far as far as earning me any trust points with him."

The first, shot on the docks on Staten; the second, getting flung for far too long into the far too deep past; the third, having been spirited away by Shannon on November 8. He shakes his head a bit ruefully. "To be honest, I donno what I'm gonna tell 'em, where I've been, what I've been doin' that he's gonna believe, but I guarantee you, it won't be about this place."

Nick glances at her again, then drops his eyes once more. "I know where to find the cowboy; if I can get more med supplies, maybe some more weapons, I'll get them to him."

He takes a step away, the reminiscent quality of that plea not lost on him. "I'll do what I can to help when I can, Lee." From a distance.

"Eileen," she corrects him, her voice suddenly scratchy, rough. "They call me Eileen here. I'm not your little sister anymore. I haven't been, not since you did what you did." His step away opens the door to her, or would, if she was willing to go anywhere near him, which she is not. Her fingers curl tighter around the lantern, nails biting into her palm in spite of the leather material that separates them.

She blinks, and her lashes refuse to gracefully come part again. Her eyes are wet and tears have a sticky quality to them that makes it difficult to flutter them away. At a distance, Nick won't be able to see it, but he'll hear the slight hitch in her breathing as she wages a swift war with her emotions to get them back under her control. "Does— Does Sophia know? Where you are?"

His eyes dart to the side again, his head ducking down, brows furrowing and jaw twitching as he clenches his teeth together, trying to push down the swell of guilt that rises in his throat. He swallows hard and shakes his head at her query.

"Haven't seen her in years. They put me in a home after you ran. I ain't seen 'er since." They've dropped the pretenses; he's dropped the generic American accent. "Went to Liverpool at 18. Worked on the docks, got into some trouble, and that's how I got thrown into this job. Been a few places. Not back to London."

The last is a lie— technically — and it shows in the leftward flick of his eyes; he needs to work on his tells, Epstein would say. Nick has been back to London, has seen Sophia, and recently, but the London of his past; the Sophia of his childhood.

There's neither relief nor an increase in tension in Eileen's expression. There's release, but it comes in the form of an escaped breath that hisses past her teeth, mouth pinched shut but not tightly enough. Confessions about how she's both looked for their mother and looked for him remain trapped behind them, too broken and in too many pieces for her to articulate with any degree of clarity. "I like to think she drank herself to death," she says instead. "And that when they put her body in the ground, they shoveled in the first pile of dirt before anyone could say something nice about her.

"For a long time, I wanted the same for you. Part of me still does."

Nick stares at the stone flooring between them, long lashes veiling his eyes and the glimmer of tears that might be seen otherwise. The muscles in his jaw twitch and he finally nods, taking another step back. His brows furrow and he nods again once.

"Then we have something in common," he murmurs, voice low, apologetic and self loathing. "On both counts."

His head comes up again, eyes wet as he gives a shake of his head, the bitter words too hard and too mean to throw at her like that, even if they're directed at their common enemy (on both counts, again).

"You don't have to want anything better for me. I don't. And you don't gotta feel guilty about it if you hate me. I deserve it. And I deserve a death like that, except even that must be too good for me, because I don't think I can die." His voice is as raw as ripped flesh. "It's like someone won't let me," is offered in a whisper and he turns away.

His shoulders hitch. "I'm sorry. For everything I did. For what I didn't do. For failing to change it when I had the chance," Nick mutters as he begins to move away.

She almost lets him go, but the thing about the word almost is that it ultimately translates to doesn't in this context. Physically, Eileen does not move to stop him for the same reason she's refused to come forward and approach her door. Her back stiffens, her narrow shoulders go square and her chin lifts in a show of alarm much more subtle than the irregularity of her breathing or her heart's skipped beat.

Her demand is sharp, quick as a snapped whip. "What do you mean by that?" It comes out terse, angry. Presumably, if she has a right to hate, she has a right to that, too. "When have you ever had the chance to change anything?"

Nick stops, his back still turned, one hand coming up to run over the back of his head, fingers curling around the cap. He shakes his head. "It doesn't matter. It didn't work," he says, though he slowly turns, backing up another step until his back is to a wall where the hallway turns at an L-intersection.

"I tried. Some bloke came and asked me if I could change sommat, would I, and I went. And I tried. I tried. I took us from Mum, I told her she were unfit to take care of a fuckin' dog, and I took you and put you with the police, and I tried to get him as far away as possible."

Frustration and anger swell, that wave of hysteria that's been with him since Poland beginning to rise in his chest. "To fuckin' Ipswich, anyway."

Nick closes his eyes and shakes his head angrily. "Never mind. It doesn't matter," he mutters. "I failed. I'm sorry. I wanted to give you a better life. I would if I could. I'd try again, if I could."

"A better life," Eileen repeats, her anger burning off whatever other emotions are swimming in the same pot with it, transforming what's left into something thick and smotheringly potent. "As what, Nicky? Some sad, sick little thing in a one bedroom flat giving violin lessons to neighborhood children so she can get by? Or maybe I'd get a job at a shop like the one under our place and surround myself with old things that used to belong to dead people because I was too timid to be with the living? I lived like a rat even before I fled into the streets, and don't tell me you're to blame, or she is, because it's not just that. It's what I am.

"I've someone who loves me here. And family better than some awful woman and that man who had the nerve to call himself our daddy one day and leave without a fucking word the next! Did it ever occur to you that I might've been happy with the way things've turned out?"

He opens his eyes, the blue magnified by tears and he shakes his head. "No," he says softly and sadly. "You don't seem happy. But I'm glad you found those things." Love. Family.

He rocks his head once against the wall, the thud loud enough for her to be certain it hurt, before he pushes away from it, reshouldering his duffel bag. "I wasn't… I wasn't trying to ruin your life by changing the past. I didn't think, and I'm sorry," he murmurs, the words Logan spoke on the train returning to him again. "You know, I tried to shoot him. The … kid." Himself. "So he… so he wouldn't grow into me," he mutters. "I didn't think about what'd change. But trust me when I say I'm not touching time travel ever again."

He snorts and glances down the hall. "For the record, your pal Raith's grandfather's an asshole." He doesn't offer more on that subject, but glances once more her way. "'M sorry. You want me to leave this country, I will. Whatever'd make you happier."

This is not the young man Eileen remembers, and in a way this is as scary as her proximity to him. Indignation makes her upper lip curl and shows a flash of feline teeth. "I didn't save your life that night when Raith and Epstein dragged you out of the water just for you to throw it away, for you to tear yourself apart, throw yourself on spikes because of guilt you don't deserve to feel. You want to do something for me, brother of mine?

"Stop pretending. You don't get to be sorry. You don't get to apologize to me. You don't get to make amends by acting like a dog that somebody kicked! You can't tell me that you didn't enjoy making me. Why else would you have done it?"


Nick pretends to be a lot of things — guilty isn’t one of them.

His eyes flash with anger — not at her, but at being in this place at all; at himself; at their parents.

That abuse is rarely about pleasure and enjoyment but instead about power and control is something Nick knows but does not vocalize. There were group therapy sessions at the home he’d lived in after leaving Sophia’s place; every youth in the place had been abused in some way. He’d been told that his mother had inflicted pain on him not because she hated him, but because it was a way for her to empower herself in a world spinning out of her control.

Nick never told the psychologists he’d done the same thing, for the same reasons.

It’s not a question he’s going to answer. "Don’t act like a martyr for saving my life. No one’s gonna canonize you for that," he says gruffly. "Good luck, L- Eileen."

He manages to bite down on the desire to apologize again as he turns to walk away.

It’s easier. When he’s mean.

This time, Eileen does not attempt to stop him with words or gestures or even a look, as ineffective as the last would be. That stung, and it should for all the wrong reasons and some of the right ones.

Nick turns. So does the door handle before he cuts around the corner, his departure for the corridor and hers punctuated by the echo of his footsteps and then the click of a latch clapping into place, door swung shut behind her with too much force but not so much that it produces the bang that she would have liked.

She reserves that for the closest breakable object within reach, the sound muffled by several inches of wood and a stone wall so thick that it absorbs everything when she abruptly steers the heel of her foot into it.

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