Nothing Concrete


eileen3_icon.gif emily_icon.gif squeaks_icon.gif

Scene Title Nothing Concrete
Synopsis Emily returns something old and lost; Squeaks is gifted something new.
Date March 3, 2019

Red Hook Market

Thankfully for Emily Epstein, winter's hold has begun to break, and lingering outdoors is less of a chore than it was even a few days ago. The sun warms the outside yards of the Red Hook Market, making today's mild weather deceptively warm. But the open yard isn't her destination, and she walks around the back of the old brick buildings with purpose, heading for an area cast in shadow thanks to the angle of the afternoon sun. Docks built to support the mill's transition from husk to market are quieter this late on a Sunday afternoon, very few people at all lingering.

And certainly not those who have no cause to be here.

Already feeling out of place the moment she sets sight on the ramp down to the dock, Emily settles in nearby them instead, back coming to the wall of the building. She looks back where she's come from as she lets her shoulders brush the brick, keeping an eye out for anyone that comes this way. In particular, for a mop of red hair she hopes to not see heading this direction.

Emily fishes her phone from her pocket to give her something to focus on while she waits, a simple game called up onto the screen to soothe her nerves.

There's no red hair or familiar face tagging along in the quieter parts of of the old mill's grounds and no sign that someone is following. Somewhere near the yard, before the transition into the less busy dock, Squeaks had slipped away from Emily's side. Just as she said she would. She still followed, though, but not obviously. There's plenty of places to disappear into, things to hide behind, and lots of ways to escape notice as she finds her own way.

Hurrying feet carry her between buildings, her steps a light crunch that's probably lost in the way that background noise is. One corner eventually brings her in sight of the docks and she stares for a long couple of seconds with her face pressed to the wall so only one eye peeks out.She eyeballs Emily walking and the ramp, the piers and those things used for shipping and fishing. Then creeping backward, she finds another route.

It isn't too far or too long before her eyes are peeking again. But this time it's from above. An old access ladder gave her access to the roof of the same building the older girl is leaning against. Squeaks, hood now covering her head, lays on her belly near the edge of the roof, fingers curled over the lip and the upper half of her face visible to the world below.

If there's one thing Eileen has spent most of her time and energy on since her return in January, it's keeping her promises. She told Emily she'd meet her by the water on this particular day at this particular time, and no amount of heightened military presence in the market this afternoon is going to deter her from keeping that appointment.

There are more soldiers out on the street than either Emily or Squeaks have seen since the end of the war, although that might have something to do with the slow spring thaw. Or maybe they simply know something that Emily and Squeaks don't.

None of them seem to be particular on edge, at any rate. They stand in small clusters, sharing cigarettes and the occasional bark of laughter. Their conversations are low and guarded, but without any implicit threat.

A show of force to inspire confidence in the people, perhaps.

Emily catches sight of Eileen breeze past one such gathering, hands tucked into the pockets of the wool coat she's drawn tightly into her body. She keeps her eyes ahead of her, paying the soldiers the same amount of attention affords anyone else.

They do not as much as glance in her general direction. It helps that her dark, tousled hair is hidden under a platinum blonde wig and knit cap.

The figure Eileen cuts has grown to be familiar over time, and it's one that draws her attention as soon as she sees the shorter woman in her peripheral vision. There's a pause where she almost goes back to her phone when she sees the slight difference in semblance — the disguise at work — but she kills the screen and lifts her posture.

She really came. It had been a certainty as much as it became a surprise. Emily had no idea what the market would look like today, or else she'd have reached out to set up a different meeting place. Stowing her nerves, she looks straight for Eileen and smiles. Her phone hand lifts in a wave.

Nothing out of the ordinary here, after all.

From her place on the roof, Squeaks watches the docks and Emily, and sometimes her attention wanders to the market that's not too far away. So even though she sees Eileen approaching at one point, she first dismisses the unfamiliar person. It's when Emily waves that she looks again and even eases herself from the edge just a teeny bit. Her eyes might still show, but hopefully only barely.

Eileen lifts her chin in response to Emily's wave, waiting until she's within earshot of the natural blonde to offer a thin, wan smile, and a softly spoken, "Hello."

She carries a basket in the crook of her arm, filled with a bouquet of the season's first flowers, fastened together by an ordinary rubber band; two squat leeks; and a single persimmon. That the bottom of the basket is lined with cloth suggests there might be more beneath it, much like the wig on her crown.

"Any luck?"

"Yes." Emily nods after saying as much, looking every part then of someone who just remembered something. She pulls from her shoulderbag a journal, worn but familiar to the woman it's offered to. "She wanted to make sure this got to you. She'd already had a feeling it might need to make its way back." A subtle lift of her shoulders glosses over her exasperation with the process it took to negotiate that the writing make its way into her hand currently.

"I also ran into a friend of yours who was worried about you." is a harder thing to segue to, apparent in a tightening in her voice. "Kaylee? She made it sound like she'd be there whenever you're ready to talk, but she understands your business is your business." Emily's eyes convey a silent apology despite the casual tone she tries to speak with. She'd been trusted with a secret, after all, and it's one she didn't feel she'd kept as well as she should have. To be fair, though, she'd never expected to cross paths with a telepath.

Squeaks' eyes flick away when the women below start talking, maybe taking in the scenery. Or drawn for a second by some noise from the marketplace. She stares that way without lifting her head, then lets out a soft breath and angles her eyes down again. Just in time to see the journal exchange hands. She shifts slightly, small movements adjusting her body on the rooftop, and settles in watch Eileen and Emily.

Eileen accepts the journal, pausing to skim the tips of her fingers over its soft leather cover and thin, worn spine. There’s no need for her to flip it open; she’s already intimately familiar with every groove and recognizes it by touch alone.

“Strange to think that something so light and easily lost can determine a person’s reputation,” she says as she tucks it into the basket, unable to disguise the bitterness in her voice as well as her physical appearance. She has an entire lifetime ahead of her to review the journal’s contents.

No rush.

“I’m afraid I don’t have anything for Kaylee,” she adds on the subject of Thatcher— or Sumter now, she supposes. “However—”

She produces a flat, rectangular parcel from the bottom of the basket, wrapped in brown paper and a handsome length of braided twine. “This is for the girl.”

Squeaks, she means.

Emily's brow lifts in surprise as she's offered something in return, taking ahold of the package and casting a glance in the direction she'd last seen Squeaks before looking down at the parcel instead. "Oh?" It's safe to say she's not aware where the tiny spy has currently taken up perch.

"I'll get it to her, then." she promises. It's definitely the easiest task Eileen has handed her.

Speaking of which… "Do you need me to reach out to Magnes again any time soon?" Emily inquires, meeting Eileen's gaze. The next question is slightly less conversational, a serious edge to it. "Or anything else?"

There's no regret as she asks it, though the look in her eye changes, knowing it could be something simple to… something decidedly not.

Curiosity might one day get the better of her, but today is not that day. Squeaks stays just at the edge, right where she can still look down and see Emily and Eileen below her. But her head lifts a little, as if that might allow her a better look at what’s being traded. Or maybe so she can better hear what they’re saying — even though it’s quiet enough she can make out most of the words. After a second, her head sinks down again, so she hopefully stays hidden.

“I don’t want to see you hurt.”

That’s a no, at least as far as Magnes Varlane is concerned.

“We’re in a holding pattern for now,” Eileen elaborates, “I have her memories, her experiences, but I’m still getting to know her people for what feels like the first time. I don’t know how Joshua will react.”

Something about her tone suggests that she thinks she does. It sounds heavy. Tired.

“Soon,” she promises, “and we’ll go see him together. If one of us is going to be flung into stratosphere, it ought to be me.”

Emily blinks. Her shoulders settle. It's a broad reaction that serves well for most of what Eileen's just said. The concern for her takes off-guard, as well as the suggestion they go face him together. She does scoff at the idea of anyone being flung into the atmosphere, though.

There's concern in her expression she tries to rein in, knowing there's very little she can do to help. It's not very well done, culminating with her shaking her head. "You know, if you think it's going to go that poorly, maybe just …" is as far as she gets in that suggestion. Her brow knits. Everything sounds like a bad idea. So, instead she segues, "Have you started thinking about a backup to fall to if things … go poorly? With this, or if they just find out in general?"

In an attempt at levity, Emily adds drily, "At least for the Magnes meeting maybe we'll be fine if we just bring some rope, but I don't know about the rest of it."

“She’s smart,” Squeaks breathes the words so they won’t travel very far. That same advice, to not go doing probably dangerous things alone, and it’s a relief that Emily seems to be listening to it now. Her arms fold in careful movements, shifting together so she can set her chin on them.

“When I was a little girl,” Eileen says, “my mother used to tell me stories about circuses in the East. Dancing bears and Siberian tigers that leaped through rings of white fire, but not the sort of stories you’d think. Their moral was always something about teeth.”

There’s a wry twist at the corner of her painted mouth. “It’s not really the same thing,” she adds, dismissive of her own analogy before she’s even finished making it. “I don’t use chains or cages. My people are free to come and go as they please. Still: There are risks. If it does go poorly as you say, the only person I have to blame is myself. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

"So you'll just…" Emily can't finish the statement at first, too frustrated by the insinuation she perceives. "You'll just let them turn on you?" Her voice lacks any punch as she delivers the query deadpan. Her tone shifts to something more skeptical next. "It's one thing if you expect them to — I don't know — outcast you. But you make it sound like whatever reaction they'll have would be…"

Well, worse?

She shakes her head, trying to keep her worrying to herself. "There's probably plenty I don't know. I just hope your plan isn't 'try your best and wait for the shoe to drop'." Emily's brow arches pointedly while she shifts the package in her arm to better one-hand it while tucking her phone away. "You've been through too much to make it this far to waste it all by not thinking ahead."

The pair of eyes peeking over the edge of the rooftop go a little squinty at the shift in conversation. There’s more to worry about than just Magnes? Squeaks shifts a little bit, shrugging at her own question. There’s plenty more starting to form, itchy-prickly little things like pine needles, but they’ll have to wait. She promised she’d stay out of sight no matter what.

“I see the same things she saw in them,” Eileen says in a subdued attempt to alleviate Emily’s concerns. “My hope is that when the shoe drops, it won’t matter. She had faith in men like Emile Danko and Iago Ramirez. I should, too.”

She glances up in Squeaks’ general direction, alerted to her presence by a particularly keen-eyed barn owl perched on the opposite roof. “There’s only so much I can do to plan ahead, Emily. Too many people. Too many variables. But if you have any ideas about what I should do that doesn’t involve telling the truth or turning my back on them, I’m all ears.”

Her words sound like they might be defensive, but the obvious affection in her tone for the younger women makes it clear that they’re not.

This time, anyway.

"I say it because I lived that plan and it didn't end well for me." Emily informs, trying hard in return to keep her words from flattening. "It happened at her hand, and if she's anything like the people she came with, they'll react the same." Her voice pops up a shade in tone. "Probably worse, because unlike then, what reason would they have to want to keep you alive? But you're the one with her memories and experiences, not me. You'll know best." The concession there doesn't sound very sincere. Just worried.

She neither has a plan. Nothing concrete.

"If you need for me to look for a place for you here in the Safe Zone, just in case," she offers with an upward tip of her shoulders. "I can make sure there's someplace to go to, at least. Or outside the Safe Zone, even." Her brow starts to furrow. That's a tall order, but the least she can do is offer.

She sees the shift in Eileen's glance, her own expression blanking as she searches the woman's gaze to see if anything's amiss.

When eyes turn her way, Squeaks goes very still. The glance makes her heart jump, but she resists the urge to run that comes with it. Sudden movements would probably draw even more attention to her, and she’s not even sure how she got noticed in the first place. Was there some sound she made? Her movements stayed small, she’s pretty sure.

Whatever Eileen sees — or thinks she sees — she must not categorize as a threat, because her posture remains guarded but relaxed. Her attention swings back toward Emily.

“I spent so much time establishing safehouses with your father,” she says on the tail end of a breathy laugh. “I wouldn’t mind seeing what it’s like to be on the other side.”

Neither yes nor no; it’s the closest she’s going to come to accepting Emily’s offer for help.

It's good enough. She'll take it.

Emily of course has no idea what she's doing and no idea where she'll find the time for this, but she'll figure out what to do about that on her own.

"I'll see what I can do," comes out more slowly than she means for it to, given the unexpected relief that comes with it. The only thing that seems assured at this point is that everything is going to go wrong, and trying to be prepared for that gives her some solace.

Emily Epstein is not doing a very good job of doing what she told Geneva she would be. It's a thought she won't have until she's already back at home.

From Squeaks’ high perspective, Eileen and Emily bid their farewells in quieter voices. The Englishwoman takes her leave without flair or fanfare, basket held close to her body as she disappears into the colourful weekend crowds.

The owl is aware of more than just the waif in hiding. It knows which streets and alleys its keeper should avoid, and which route is safest for her to take on her way back to the gap in the fence she utilizes on days like today when the military is on high alert and no amount of confidence in her forged papers can justify risking a traffic stop at the border.

Later, when Squeaks tears open the parcel bundled in plain brown paper, she’ll find inside a journal similar in size and make to the one she just returned. Its cover is smooth and made of some kind of soft leather, but the brittle parchment pages inside are blank — except for the first.

It reads:

You will have many enemies in your life: Fear. Doubt. Remorse. But the greatest enemy of all is yourself. I hope this helps you conquer them.

— Eileen

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