Old Mistakes


byron_icon.gif eileen2_icon.gif

Scene Title Old Mistakes
Synopsis And then there was another.
Date March 5, 2019

Pine Barrens

It starts snowing when the engine of his truck dies.

And much like the heart dying within the complex anatomy of a human, there are any number of complicated causes that lead to the final deadly outcome, but the outcome itself is the same: a sputter, a silence, and a stillness. Hands tighten around the steering wheel, then shift to twist the key in the ignition in an attempt to start something. Drifting snowflakes hit the windshield which is not yet cold enough to let them survive the impact.

Byron Wolf opens the car door and gets out into the bracing cold. His boots sink into snow slush as he makes his way to the front of the vehicle, steam escaping his mouth as he lets out a stream of air. His jacket looks like it was warmer before the elbows of his sleeves begun to crack and fade, and his neck is exposed above a buttoned shirt collar to the elements, as are his hands. Perhaps he hadn't intended on spending much time outside his car.

Stranded, now, on one of the winding roads that lead to the territory of Providence, a road he's taken a few times in both bringing in the kind of wares he trades in and sending out what the leadership is willing to exchange.

He braces the hood of the car, bends to inspect the contents. He looks a little of winter himself, with skin easily shocked into pale, dirty blonde hair and whiskers of the same growing in frostily around his mouth, blue eyes clear and cool. His expression, even if there was anyone else around to observe it, is impassive, almost bored with this predicament, such as it is.

The day is young, and he's not so far from home, if Providence counts as home. If anywhere does.

The sound of an owl’s wings eludes Byron’s keen hearing, but only by Nature’s design; it does not disguise creature’s shadow swooping across the snow or the crackle of talons sinking into bark when it lands among the threadbare branches overhead.

A pair of black eyes set in a heart-shaped face regard the stranger with more interest than the stranger appears to show his car’s engine. It’s a barn owl: not at all an uncommon occurrence out here in the Pine Barrens. Like Byron, its unique colouring seems well-suited to the season, allowing its otherwise distinctive silhouette to blend in with ice clinging to the tree upon which it’s perched.

Its head rotates clockwise on its shoulders. A puff of its pale, downy chest, and it begins to purr.

He isn’t alone.

The footsteps that reach his ears next are louder than the owl’s approach had been, although not by much. Worn leather boots crunch through snow and last year’s deadfall. Twigs snap. A rabbit crouched under a tangle of old roots panics and goes zig-zagging across the open road in front of Byron before disappearing into the mouth of a nearby drainage pipe that hasn’t seen proper use for more than a decade.

His eyes flick towards that shadow, and track the sound of a branch swaying, turning his head. That neutral expression shifts, just slightly, some flicker of acknowledgment before he lets his brow drop and crinkle. Bryon rolls a shoulder to settle his jacket a little warmer on his back, just as the sounds of footsteps add to the wintry, woodsy ambiance of skittering forest friendlies.

Byron tucks a hand into his jacket in the recognisable motion of someone finding the grip of a hidden weapon within. You know, if owls were wise enough to such things.

Clang. He brings the hood down. Hand still hidden, he turns to greet the sound of approach with mute resignation.

Eileen Ruskin might be easy to miss if her hair wasn’t so dark. Her diminutive frame is slender enough to be mistaken for one of the saplings she’s weaving her way between, and bundled in a long coat fashioned from silver fox fur with a high collar that protects her throat and the lower half of her face from the elements.

At a distance, her cheekbones are her most recognizable trait. Close second: the unnatural gleam in her eyes, which are a shade too blue.

The rifle she carries comes up, barrel leveled with Byron’s center of mass. Maybe it’s a matter of precaution. Maybe it’s an unspoken threat. Maybe these two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.


Casual, for a man standing at the wrong end of a rifle. But then, she might have heard he can pass through walls. Perhaps bullets can pass through him. One way or another.

Regardless, Byron slips his hand out from under his jacket and lets it fall empty at his side, a sleepy blink following his study downwards at the weapon she's handling, then back up at her face. Snowflakes gather in the creases of his jacket, where they take a moment or two to melt, holding their shape on the edges of his collar.

The corner of his mouth hooks up. Subtle. "You know anything about cars?"

Eileen looks down the barrel of the weapon at Byron, then past him to the rapidly cooling vehicle. She’s less trustful of large clunky things made of metal these days. Every time an engine backfires, she startles. Chainsaws fed by diesel make a sound that causes her heart to seize up in her chest.

They aren’t killing machines sent here from another world — but in the instant before she always recognizes this and comes to her senses, they might as well be.

She lowers the rifle on her next exhale. “I can drive one,” she says, certain that he’s smirking at her. Her trajectory carries her along the rabbit’s path, up onto the road and in front of the car to which Byron refers. The Englishwoman is not so spooked that she winks away into hiding with a flick of a little cotton tail, however; instead, she does what she imagines her other self would do, and enters Byron’s space with the quiet confidence of a marginally larger predator.

Less a rabbit, more like a fox whose skin she’s wearing across her narrow shoulders.

“You shouldn’t be out here alone.”

She steps into his space, and the air is not much warmer for it, but she can pick up other signs of life. Unwashed breath that's tinged with smoke, a staler version of the same woven into his clothing, human dampness gathered within the wool lining and escaping past the unzippered opening of his jacket. Byron Wolf does not look comfortable in her presence, in spite of his little joke just now about her mechanical proficiency. But from what little she's observed, he doesn't look comfortable in the presence of many.

Which is maybe what makes his answer unsurprising when he says, "I don't mind it," and then, a clumsy pass, "You are. I guess."

Eyes everywhere, he seems to cede, with a glance towards where he saw the owl last.

But without the usual shadows that seem to dog her footsteps, is what he means.

He might not intend it as an accusation, but judging by the guarded expression on Eileen’s face, she somehow interprets it as one.

Byron is right, of course. She’s three horsemen short of a full stable.

Rather than answer him, she pauses to listen to the snow gathering on their clothes, made audible by the forest’s unique acoustics and the simple fact that there is literally no other sound for either of them to hear except for the other’s breath and maybe the drub of their own pulses.

It’s quiet. Peaceful.

“Yes,” she eventually admits, “I am.” Like the special construct of the owl’s wings, that’s also by design. “Did you bring something for me this time?”

There's a twitch of his eyebrows — darker than his hair and prone to conveying expression — at her phrasing, and he drags himself back a step, fresh snow gathering behind the heel of his boot with a scrape of ice, rubber, concrete. The invitation for her to come and see is in the tip of his head, and he moves back around the vehicle to approach the back. A beat up station wagon, ten or fifteen years young and therefore ugly, and innocuous in dark blue-grey.

Its generous proportions at the back have not been fully realised with just two duffel bags stuffed inside with an old blanket thrown over the top. There's nothing sophisticated in Byron Wolf's delivery system — pizza boys probably take better care.

"Sixty pistol rounds," he says, indicating the right bag with his hand. "Some old IOTVs."

For the ones without the super high-tech full body armor suits with the spider eyes — or maybe just the ones who can't phase.

He indicates the left bag. "Seven Glocks and a Remington."

Stepping back, to let her inspect his haul if she chooses to — everything bundled within, hidden, in more sundry items, like clothes and cartons of cigarettes — as he takes out a pack of his own. Three left, rattling around, and he shakes one free. "For when the war comes," is wry, pinched around a filter end.

“Funny,” Eileen says in a voice devoid of humour, “I thought we just had one.”

She unzips the bag on the left in a singular swift, decisive motion, and isolates the Remington from the rest. Seven Glocks and a Remington, he’d told her. This is some Snow White shit.

With a shrug of her shoulder, she shifts the weight of the weapon she’s already carrying and lets it hang heavy but slack against her body, supported a leather strap. Both her hands are now free to inspect Byron’s wares as invited.

It’s a formality more than anything else. Eileen pops open the Remington’s action on autopilot and peers down the bore like Ethan Holden taught her half a lifetime ago.

Clean? Shiny? Clear of obstructions? She can still hear his uncultured accent in her head: Then you’re good t’go, Princess.

She looks back over her shoulder at Byron. “What do you want for them?”

He's watching her while she inspects the guns, flicking a lighter to life and touching its finger of flame to the end of a waiting cigarette. When she looks to him, she'll find his eyes already on her, breaking only a moment later as if to avoid scrutiny. Byron traps the cigarette between his teeth as he repockets pack and lighter, and the shift of a holster underneath is more visible at this angle, matte black in shadow.

"Shelter. Protection. New car. What do you want 'em for?"

That sounds like a fair deal to Eileen. Mostly. Byron’s request for a new car is met with raised brows and a half breath of laughter. “The first two I can do,” she says. Satisfied, she places the Remington back in the trunk. “And I can ask Shepherd and Prince to help you scavenge your next ride. He’s got a knack for finding the good ones.”

He’s seen them around before. Both tall. Both blonde. One leaner than the other, and with harder edges, but similar enough in looks that the two could pass as siblings. The one called Shepherd is a rogue helicopter pilot, if the rumours around Providence are to be believed. Prince seems more straightforward: ex-military, with a stubbornly loyal steak.

Eileen reaches up and touches two fingers to an earpiece nestled somewhere in the inky curls of her hair. “Johannes,” she says into her radio, “would you bring the truck ‘round? We have a visitor.”

There’s a faint crackle in response. Whatever the answer, only Eileen can hear it.

Her hand drops back to her side, full focus returning to rest on this man in front of her who is barely more than a stranger. Something feels off. Worse, she can’t figure out what that something is.

Blue eyes flick to Byron’s lit cigarette. “May I?”

He listens with a certain dull but accepting affect, no protest given or displayed as she accepts his terms and makes arrangements through her radio. It's when she redirects her attention again that has him blink, and Byron seems to think on it for a half-second before he hands the cigarette over.

And once it's relinquished; "Everything belong to you, up there?"

He feels the warmth of her hand through the leather of her gloves. The touch is fleeting; before he has the opportunity to react, she’s already withdrawing with her prize.

“No,” she says around the cigarette’s filter, at the front end of her first drag. Filling her lungs with smoke gives her the excuse she needs to really think about the rest of her answer. Eileen’s next exhale exits her nostrils like a silvery film. “We’re all squatters in this thing called life.”

Rather than share his cigarette, Byron goes through the motions of securing himself a second cigarette, without rush. Despite the cold air nipping at the bare skin on his hands, they remain unmottled and dextrous as he flips one cigarette to wedge it between his knuckles. The breath he lets out in reply to her statement is full of steam.

"Is a jaybird squatting when it makes its own nest?" Once again, mild firelight, warm against his knuckles and then his face as he brings the smoke up to breathe through. "Even though it builds it itself, high up and sturdy."

“I suppose that depends whether or not you ask the tree.”

Eileen can’t remember the last time she made two jokes so closely together, but there it is — however grim. His question earns a rare smile (which is not actually all that rare for those who know her well). “I’ve seen you around a few times before,” she says, then. “You know my name. I don’t know yours, or if I did — I’ve forgotten it.”

Her memory is a tricky thing these days.

“Was Brian?” she tries. “Bradon?”

"Byron," he corrects, on a scant delay, as if seeing first if she'd land there herself. "Wolf."

A cough scrapes its tines along the insides of his ribs, shallow but persisting as both steam and smoke escape his mouth, hand up to curl knuckles against it. Good health doesn't come cheap, these days, and he doesn't look like he's someone with an overly healthy disposition, or a lot of money.

"You didn't answer my question," he adds, voice roughened from the exertion.

She looks like she’s about to tease him, or at least call attention to the strange coincidence that is his last name, but his insistence that she answer his question catches her off-guard. Eileen’s smile is gone, replaced by something cagier in spite of her best efforts to present a more neutral facade.

There’s a momentary flash of fear behind those too-blue eyes.

Is a jaybird squatting when it makes its own nest? he’d asked.

Eileen has certainly appropriated someone else’s. It occurs to her only in the time she’s stalling with stony silence that there was another question she left unanswered, and so she addresses it instead. Hoping. “Yes,” she says. “We’ll take them. Your guns. Thank you— Byron.”

"To what end?"

A verbal prod, eyebrows raising. "These farmers. Priests. Little kids and their little mothers. You want to protect them?" It's almost an offer, an answer that someone like Byron might be looking for, but comes with a small cynical snare tangled up in it.

He nods at her, before she can answer, adding, "I've heard about you."

One of Eileen’s many flaws is her difficulty separating fear and anger. Also: her inability to keep the latter under control in situations like this one. The emotions she’d been repressing surface with the speed and veracity of a breached crocodile, and snap at the closest thing within reach.


“And what, exactly, have you heard?”

Her words are terse. Clipped. Each suggests its own separate threat.

Byron’s skin begins to prickle. It isn’t painful — yet. Eileen is so zeroed in on her demand and her internal struggle to get her heart rate back under control that she doesn’t notice Volken’s ability starting to slither free.

Not many people understand what that strange discomfort means, sweeping over skin, finding places of entry. Byron's expression doesn't give the impression that he does, his attention fixed, but there is a subtle lean back, one boot heel inched through the snow away from her, that implies an instinctual aversion.

He breathes smoke out through his nostrils. "That you've done this before," he says, "long time ago." His gaze shifts away, down the white-painted road, dismissive of himself. "What everyone knows."

The reminder of what happened on Pollepel Island doesn’t help. Eileen’s mind turns towards birds and the sound of shattering glass, the sensations she associates with bleeding out in a snow-choked courtyard surrounded by her friends and family — except for the person who mattered most.

She’s been trying not to think about Gabriel. The only problem is that she can’t stop.

Under normal circumstances, this is a bad thing. His absence is a distraction at best and a threat to this masquerade at worst, but these are not normal circumstances.

Calm down.

She remembers the ease with which he seemed to maintain his disguises. She imagines him there, summons the low, velvet gravel of his voice, and trades her memories of dying in the cold for the feeling of his hands on her shoulders. They were firm and direct.

Calm down.

The conduit shrinks back, dwindling.

“I made mistakes,” she admits. “I won’t again. At least not the same ones.”

That prickling sensation passes by like a bad dream, but doesn't necessarily relax him. Byron's attention on her is fixed and cunning, interested in each twinge and subtlety her expression gives away, a pressure as invisible yet tangible as her own superpower until it likewise eases back with just a slight softening of focus.

He sniffs in cold air, breaks his gaze from her to reach into the back of his car with both hands and haul out a duffel bag, slinging it over a shoulder. The second one comes with relative ease, the weight of it straining the straps. There's effort in the motions he makes, but not as much as one would expect, given his countenance, a solid strength in his hands, wrists, arms, and then his shoulders, where each strap settles.

Byron closes the door of the trunk. "Me too," he says. "Making sure this isn't one of them."

There’s a finality to the gesture and the bang that cracks the crisp winter air like a gunshot.

Just in time, a pair of headlights swing around the corner, illuminating both their shapes as an unmarked truck approaches Eileen’s position.

That’s their ride. He can tell because she doesn’t as much as glance in its direction, even after it’s come to a stop to idle some twenty feet away from where she and Byron are standing.

Her eyes study his face instead. She’s looking for something, too.

Gray,” says a voice from the truck — low, urging — so the spell is broken. “Come on. It’s fucking cold out here.”

Eileen’s boots crunch over gravel and ice. Deliberate, measured paces carry her around to where the truck waits — but without showing Byron her back. As she climbs into the front passenger’s seat, the truck’s driver switches out to relieve their guest of his cargo.

Still, her gaze is on him: hawkish and intent. It does not waver the entire ride back to the compound, although it does shift to his reflection in the rear view mirror when the driver shows Byron to his seat.

Only the darkness of the long tunnel that separates the Remnant’s base of operations from the outside world offers him a reprieve from it.

And even then he can feel her watching.

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