Sink or Swim


aviators_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif

Scene Title Sink or Swim
Synopsis Aviators imparts a warning.
Date March 21, 2010

Brooklyn: Outside Burlesque

Eileen never leaves Burlesque through the front doors. She takes the back instead at appropriated smoke breaks when she knows that at least one of the club's bouncers will be lighting up behind the dumpster in the adjacent alley, and before changing circumstances forced her from her home at Fort Greene, she could easily afford the cab fare back to the cozy, one bedroom apartment that was rented to her as part of her severance package with the government.

The journey from Burlesque back to the Dispensary on Staten Island, however, requires that she cut through Brooklyn's Red Hook district and rendezvous with the captain of the Candle in the Wind, her rusty seiner ride across the water. It will be after midnight by the time she disembarks. It's a little after ten o'clock now, which leaves her less than one hour to make her way to the docks before the city's curfew goes into effect.

Booted feet crunch through several inches of snow at a brisk pace as she begins the first leg of the trip, the soft pink glow of club's neon lights reflected in her hair and skin. It radiates off the heavy wool material of the winter coat she wears, too, bathing her body in rose-coloured illumination that gradually fades and loses more of its radiance with every stride she takes away from Burlesque, eager to hail the next cab that pulls up alongside the curb and vomits slush from the street gutters onto the pavement.

There's hardly anyone out at this hour of night, especially in the bitter and frigid cold that is ravaging the city. With the night-time temperatures as low as they are, the city's homeless are few and far between on the streets, save for those huddled for warmth around burning steel drums in the many alleyways and winding side streets that riddle the neighborhood like worms through an apple and twice as rotten.

It's not unusual to pass groups of these derelict souls, seeking the licking orange tongues of flame that dance and snap from the charred tops of those drums taken from the wharves and piers. Watching the way street lights turn her breath into yellow vapor in the cold, Eileen Ruskin passes by one such group of those wayward homeless souls, but one of them in particular is huddled for warmth and grasping at flames of a different kind. She sees him only in her periphery at first, unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth in profile, head tilted down and shadows cast over half of his face, turned away from the light of the fire.

"Got a light?" When the voice of Avi Epstein grumbles out from that crowd of homeless men, turning towards the glow of the barrel holding that unlit cigarette pinched between two fingers, suddenly Eileen's frozen breath on the air is far less interesting.

There is a time when Eileen would have turned and run, but that was back when she had no choice but to gravitate toward gatherings like these and warm her frozen hands in front of the fire while London rain misted down from a colourless sky. In the years since, she's learned not to show the enemy her back. What she does show Epstein are hands, gloved in leather, and the visible surprise on her face at being caught off-guard by someone whose identity she can't be sure of even after she's gotten a good look at him.

She hasn't taken off her stage make-up, making the shape of her dark red mouth especially prominent when her lips curl into a scowl and the Englishwoman flashes her teeth as one of those hands disappears into her coat's interior and comes back out not with a pistol but a matchbook cupped in its palm. If the man behind the glasses is one of Gabriel's clones and not the one she fought alongside in Madagascar, her chances of surviving this encounter unscathed are dubious no matter what her approach. Nonetheless, her movements remain slow and cautious, nothing sudden, nothing unanticipated.

She tosses Epstein the matchbook underhand.

He— he reaches for it, honestly. Aviators' hand lashes out like a striking viper to snatch the matches from the air, but he completely misses them and they fall in the snow at his feet. "Son've a bitch," he grumbles, tucking his cigarette into his mouth and hunching forward to bend down and pick up the book of matches, brushing dusted snow off of the back. "Don't you know any better than to throw something at a guy with one eye?" There's a furrow of Avi's brows, lips downturned into a scowl as he opens up the matchbook, turns it around and then holds it out towards Eileen. "I was being facetious anyway… I mean honestly."

Careful of judging distance by how hot his fingers get rather than by look, Aviators plucks the cigarette out from his lips and runs it in the lapping tongues of flame coming up from the burning barrel. "You know I'd make a crack about you being all gussied up like a whore right now, but it's not funny when it's not a joke." Bringing that cigarette up to his lips, Aviators sucks in a deep breath, the ember at the end glowing brightly as hot smoke wafts out of his mouth and nostrils slowly.

"Thought I'd see how you were doing…" Says the man with sunglasses on at night stalking girls half his age through the city of Brooklyn; in some countries that's a crime, in others it happens to be a six figure job, "…long time no see, I think, right?"

It doesn't feel very long to Eileen. She looks down at the matchbook in Epstein's hand, then flicks her eyes back up to his face and her reflection in the lenses of his glasses. "Whores have sex for money," she says, and she does not venture close enough to retrieve her matchbook. "All I do is take my clothes off and wrap my body around a pole. Keep it."

The faded denim jeans riding low on her hips provide better protection against the cold than silk stockings and yet her arms are wrapped around her upper body, gloved hands clasping at her elbows as though she might contain the heat it generates by hugging herself. The cast of her cheeks is either a result of too much rouge or her complexion struggling to adapt to the frigid weather. "You've really no idea about what's gone on while you've been away, have you?"

"I'm willing t'make a few educated guesses." Aviators admits, tucking the matchbook into the pocket of his ratty brown jacket. Not only is he hanging around homeless people, he looks the part too in his fingerless knit gloves and Salvation Army quality jacket, a knit cap a faded shade of sky blue over his head. The sunglasses make him look preposterous. "You ever hear the old story about how coal miners used to carry a canary into a mine, so if they hit a pocket of methane and it got real bad, the little canary'd suffocate and die and the miners would know to get outta' dodge?" One thick brow comes up at the rhetoric. "Your buddy Gabe'd been acting like a canary in a coal mine for a while now, all tweets and chirps about danger."

Using his tongue to switch sides of his mouth with the cigarette, Aviators lifts one brow up slowly. "I know what's going on with him, all of him. I guess you can say me and him are batting for the same team right now, I'm playing bench warmer while he's the ace batter. Gets to sleep in my bed, do all my work, stalk all my people I gotta stalk, and I collect the paycheck." He's grossly oversimplyifying things evasively.

"Good question is, what do you think's been going on while I've been gone?" Aviators shifts his weight to one side, lips pursed up in a half smile. "'Cause since I'm batting for team crazy now, it means we're on the same team again. All eyeguts and glory." Shoulders slouching, Aviators draws in another long drag off of his cigarette, exhaling the smoke as twin jets out his nostrils.

"I saw your favorite Chinese ex-spook about a day and a half ago," Aviators admits with one brow raised, "how's that for having an idea on things? I may not be filing my reports, but I read bulletins. Your buddies, they're getting shot up by that Kozlow fella', right? What's say you and I square ourselves a deal. you owe me a free lap dance," Avi shrugs one shoulder, "I tell you where I saw Daiyu."

"He hasn't been sleeping in your bed," Eileen feels compelled to point out, and although there's a cigarette tucked behind her ear, her guard hasn't lowered enough for her to feel comfortable joining Epstein for a smoke. She moves closer to the fire instead, seeking its warmth and is rewarded with the sensation of heat rippling off the flames in waves that roll over her face and diffuse through the curls of her brown-black hair, long and loose. The carnation she wears on the breast of her coat has wilted since she stuck it there this morning, and as she speaks she removes the pin holding it in place.

"He moved into the Empire State Building and dug a den out of the eighty-sixth floor until Laudani, Raith and I thought we might try smoking him out." She turns the flower between her fingers, examining it from all angles, then drops it into the drum so she can watch it the petals wither and curl back on themselves. "Spot on impersonation of you the rest of the time, though. Tacit rape threats and everything. Had me fooled."

Eileen slips her hands into her pockets and slants another look at Epstein from beneath lashes weighed down by mascara, giving her an almost indolent feline appearance as she continues to scrutinize him from what she feels is a safe distance. "Lap dance depends on whether or not Daiyu's still there if I go looking."

"There's nothing tacit about my rape," Avi intones with a croak of a laugh, smoke billowing out of his mouth in a few buffs that mix with cold breath. "I probably gave him a few pointers, he learned everything he knows from me." There's a teasing — despite the context of the conversation — tone to Avi's voice. "You won't find Daiyu where I tell you, but that doesn't mean his trail went cold." There's a raise of both brows, and Aviators tips his glasses down the bridge of his nose to regard Eileen with a cyclopean stare, one eye covered by a piece of gauze padding and tape.

"I saw him stalking 'round Eagle Electric about a day ago, headed down into the basement, I don't know if he has a rat hole down there, but it'd be unlike him to stay in one place for any prolonged period of time. Also, I guess you could call this a parting gift for our contestants here…" Aviators reaches up and plucks his cigarette from his lips, waggling it up and down between two fingers idly.

"Tell Jensen that the government's getting the band back together, with new musicians." There's a lift of Avi's brows. "Jensen's been replaced. I'm sure that'll get his undies in a pinch."

Eileen resists the urge to touch, to slide her nails under the tape and peel back gauze to see how his injury is healing and whether or not his eye is still stitched shut. If there's one good thing that has come of this Sylar situation, it's that Epstein isn't quite the monster she thought he was and she no longer has to regret protecting him in Madagascar. She stares at him for a few moments in uncomfortable silence, fighting the pull, then heaves a sigh that pours vapour from her nostrils and steps forward to reach up, tangle her fingers in the bows of his glasses and remove them from his face so she can get a better look at the dressing.

There's nothing particularly affectionate about the way she dangles the glasses from her knuckles or smooths her thumb over the edge of the gauze pad to ensure that the tape isn't peeling and the skin there isn't more sensitive than it should be. Her movements are instead very prim, almost impatient and fussing. "This is going to sound sentimental," Eileen says, slipping the tips of her fingers under Epstein's chin to tilt it upward and view the dressing from another angle, "and you may not believe it, but I don't think I've ever seen him as angry as he was with Gabriel over you. You should see him, tell him yourself."

"No thanks," Aviators offers in a hushed tone of voice, statue still as Eileen tracks a thumb over the gauze. It's fresh, new, certainly a doctor's handiwork. "Much as I like the idea of eating a gun some days, I don't particularly want to give Jensen the pleasure. He'n I aren't on the same team, and we haven't been for a whole hell of a long time." Brows creased together, Aviators' chin tilts up and one brow raises as he offers a cyclopean stare to Eileen, nose wrinkling.

"Gabe's not letting us help…" Us, "…says he's got this whole evil goatee twin thing under control." There's a silent disquiet in Aviators' tone of voice, one eye focused on Eileen's hand that he can't quite see, then down to his sunglasses before settling back up on her. "You believe him?" It's a pointed question, as much as one can be in this case, though Aviators is still — as usual — playing his cards close to his chest, with just enough admissions to keep things interesting.

"He's stronger than the copy is," Eileen says, apparently satisfied with the job that doctor's done because she uses her sleeve to wipe a smudge from the lenses of his glasses before flicking them out again and placing them back on the bridge of his nose, "but the only way I can tell them apart is using my ability, and you haven't got that."

Her hands fall away from his face, flex fingers gloved in soft leather and finally remove the cigarette from behind her ear. "You and Kershner are best off staying away from him altogether until it's been sorted." Which it will be, her tone seems to imply. If not on Gabriel's behalf then on the Remnant's.

There's a look from Aviators that goes mostly shielded by his glasses, something staying unsaid, but a reaction that tells in the furrow of his brows that there's something he knows that he expected Eileen to, but didn't find in her words. Cagey, as always, he reaches up to adjust his glasses even if she did a fine job of putting them back on. "Did anyone ever tell you who put the hit on him?" There's a quirk of one dark brow up, and Aviators hunches his shoulders forward, straining against the cold as he turns to glance back at the steel drum crackling with fire.

"Gabriel, I mean." Of course that's who he means. "It came down right from the top, orders over Kershner's head from the President himself. Got handed to me to see it through in an administrative capacity, and Emile Danko was put in to pull the trigger. He had a team, and orders." Eyeing the cigarette Eileen's taken from behind her ear, Aviators' lips downturn into a frown. "Stop me if you've heard this one before."

"There was a submarine rendezvous. You were supposed to shoot him at the mission's conclusion, but Danko got the upper-hand, broke your arm and knocked out your teeth." Eileen's heard this one before and it's probably not too much of a stretch for Epstein to extrapolate who from. She dances the tip of her cigarette over the tip of the flames until a bright orange ring is burning and smoke floats from the end in a thin, wisping plume. "I visited him when he was staying at Holliswood and he corroborated the story."

She rotates the smoldering cigarette once between her fingers and takes a brisk drag from it, some of her lipstick transferred from her dark mouth to the cheap paper filter in the form of a fine red sheen. "Thought about killing you for awhile. Still do, sometimes. When I'm angry."

"People think about killing all sorts of people when they're angry," Aviators notes with a crook of one brow up in the air. "Funny, isn't it?" Eyes are drawn to the glow of a cigarette between her lips, then his head just turns away and brows crease, words falling away to leave the noise of the homeless people standing around that drum behind.

"When Danko fucked off in Madagascar, I knew where he was." Aviators offers up that nugget instead, slanting a look over the frames of his glasses to Eileen with his one good eye. "We had a secondary mission out there, Kershner knew this one. Secure the Pinehearst research material out there… She picked up records about shipments going to Madagascar from the place that blew up in Fort Lee. Guess the President of Madagascar before Rasoul was in Arthur Petrelli's back pocket. Rasoul just appropriated everything after the coup. The government wanted the nerve gas recipe, his research, everything…"

Rolling his tongue over the inside of his cheek, Aviators' brows furrow slightly. "I dunno where it was all headed, over my pay grade I guess. But the idea I got was that they plan on mass producing the stuff— the gas— that shit Rasoul used to allow a fucking poorly trained guerilla army to take over a goddamned insurgency of Evolved."

Lips downturned into a frown, Aviators adds. "Imagine what that shit'll do here? On home soil?" He actually sounds incensed about it.

Just like that: confirmation of everything Eileen has feared since her return from Apollo. She draws in a swift breath spiced with smoke to combat the nausea she already feels roiling in the pit of her stomach. When her face changes, it's subtle, but Epstein spent enough time around her in Madagascar to decipher the signals given off by her flat mouth and the sudden emergence of tension in her neck and jaw. Behind her lips, she runs her tongue over her front teeth, perhaps to ensure that there isn't any gloss sticking pink to the enamel the next time she speaks.

Epstein only thinks that he and Jensen aren't on the same side. "Once upon a time, you said you were a big fan of my work," she says. "Does that still hold true?"

"I just wanted to get in your pants," Avi admits with a roll of his shoulders, though it's hard to say if he's just deflecting or honestly a pompous asshole. "Unless you meant your more recent work," which prompts a very purposeful up and down tilt of Aviators head to clearly imply he's sizing Eileen up, "in which case I'll just say I haven't seen your stage show yet, but I bet it's a bit thin." There's a touch of his tongue against the inside of his cheek, then a slow shake of his head.

"Look," Aviators finally notes with a moderately serious tone of voice, "I think you might be misunderstanding me here, thinking I'm coming to you with this 'cause it's going to help you— because I'm going to help you; It's not and I'm not. I spent enough years overseas to realize that internal rebellions within police states don't accomplish anything except an excessive body count. The only way you make progress is if another, bigger and meaner nation flexes its military muscle and helps out. Then you have Bosnia, or Afghanistan, or Iraq or take your fucking pick. This situation here, in my back yard? Ain't nobody going to come and rescue us from this pit, darling."

Aviators breathes out a sigh and tucks his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "You just better learn to swim, and hope it all works out from there."

"So get me a copy of what was recovered from Muspelheim so I know which sharks to watch out for." Eileen exhales twin streams of smoke from her nostrils. "I'm not asking you to find out where it went or who's responsible or even what happened to Dmitri Gregor. All I want is a list of what Rasoul was working on." She studies the reflection of the flames flickering in Epstein's lenses rather than the face behind them. It's difficult for her not to associate it with the man who terrorized her in her apartment and pressured her into putting two bullets in him.

"I know better than to try to stop what's coming," she says. "I just want to be prepared for when it gets here." One arm folds across her midsection. The other drops to tap ash onto the pavement and grind it into the snow with the toe of her boot. "Help me keep my head above water, Avi. You owe me that much."

There's a tension in his brows when Eileen asks that of him, when she speaks of being owed. It's like whatever it is she said, somehow clicked inside Aviators' head, and with a shake of his head that implies how much he really doesn't want to do it, the CIA agent reaches up and scratches at the back of his neck. "I'll see what I can do," he concedes, which is more than seems even plausible, more than he would likely do under any other circumstance. It makes the next question obvious; what makes this time different?

"You won't like what I find, no matter what it is. I'm not saying that 'cause you won't be satisfied either, I just know you're not going to like whatever it is I dig up. Just remember…" Aviators starts to turn away from her, as if he's had enough offered and enough pried from him this meeting. "I told you I'm on team crazy now… you might want to figure out if you're on the same side as ol' Gabe these days."

There's a crease of dark brows, and Aviators' lips pull back into something between a smile and a sneer. "None of us came back from Antarctica the way we went in. Just… keep that in mind." The agent's head tilts down, bobs twice in a nod, and he offers her his back, moving to cross the empty and snowy street, possibly just to get away from her.

Eileen turns to watch Epstein go but does not pursue him. What she would not give to have had Kaylee standing next to her then. Her free hand dips into her coat's silk-lined interior, closes around her pocket watch on the chain and snaps it open with a sharp flick of her wrist. 10:23. Thirty-seven minutes until curfew. Fifteen behind schedule.

One last drag of her cigarette and that too tumbles into the drum to join the ashen remains of her wilted carnation along with the burning pages of yesterday's newspaper at the bottom of the barrel. When she disappears, it's with a shimmer of silver and winking light as she slips the pocket watch back into her overcoat and rounds the corner at a brisk trot, black cashmere scarf pulled over her head to hide the shine of her hair.

Agent Epstein isn't the only predator out tonight.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License