They Didn't Train Him for This


eileen_icon.gif nick_icon.gif

Scene Title They Didn't Train Him for This
Synopsis In which Nick learns of additional job-related dangers that his employer did not warn him about.
Date August 30, 2010

Staten Island

As the sun sinks into the horizon, the evening is still warm and humid, 80 degrees and balmy on Staten Island, when Nick makes his way to the broken-down building that is now "home." Despite the mugginess of the air, Nick wears a leather jacket over his t-shirt, the better for hiding his gun in the waistband beneath. As he strides through the rookery, his eyes behind sunglasses keep an eye out for any one following him — he's still seen no signs of whomever it is leaving him puzzle pieces — though none have come to the new flat yet. The Brooklyn apartment's been all but abandoned, Interpol paying for a vacant room.

He enters the lobby to the building, scanning it swiftly for anything that might be dangerous, any sign of anything out of the ordinary. The dim lighting requires he shoves his sunglasses off his face as he makes for the creaking steps that lead to his third floor flat. Once more, he glances this way and that, and only when satisfied there is no one in the hall watching does he unlock the door, locking it behind him. The apartment is bare but for a mattress in the corner and a ugly brown couch by a window, currently shut. Nick makes his way to the window to unlatch it and slide it open, then flips on a switch for the ceiling fan, hoping to get some air in the stale room.

He finally sinks into the couch, wincing as he pulls off his jacket, one hand going to rub his injured shoulder.


There aren't a lot of noises that sound like Nick's name. Not the buoys clamouring offshore or the rumble of the engine grinding to life at the front of the building, which is punctuated by a car door slamming shut and voices chattering in a shrill language that the Englishman doesn't understand. Neither are these sounds anything out of the ordinary. The voices belong to his neighbors, an immigrant couple across the street, and their teenage son — the only English-speaker in the family — who has been pressuring them to make the move to the mainland every night since Nick moved in. He knows because he can sometimes hear the arguments carried across to him on the wafting ocean breeze. Recognizes, too, the desperation in the boy's voice.

To want out is a feeling that he has an intimate familiarity with, and in this way the voice is much the same. Hallucinations are not always visual in nature.

His gaze comes up from where it had fallen, staring at a stain on the worn carpet. Now, his blue eyes dart here and there, looking for the source of the word — a single sound is hard to place until it repeats. If it repeats. His hand reaches for that gun tucked in his waistband, and with a wince, he stands. Pain is evident in his posture and the tension that crinkles his eyes, the pulse in his jaw as his teeth clench.

He glances out the window, not seeing anything or anyone that would make the sound of his name. His free hand rakes through his dark hair and he moves toward the bathroom — it's the only part of the small flat that's not visible from anywhere else, and he pushes the door open — the toilet and the bathtub-shower combo are all that are to be found there.

Nick sighs, turning to glance in the mirror at his face, haggard from lack of sleep and too many nights of mixing alcohol and Vicodin. He shakes his head at his reflection, a snort of contempt for what he sees and the fact he thinks he's lost his grip on reality.

Outside the bathroom, a common garden sparrow flutters down onto the living room window. With a flick of its wings, it scissors inside the apartment and perches above the bathroom door, silent and still, drab as a moth pressed flat against the wallpaper.

No, says the voice, then. I wouldn't like what I see, either. Epstein's rather disappointed in you, you know. It sounds older than he remembers, or maybe that's his imagination playing tricks on him, too. He's alone in the apartment, except for his reflection in the mirrow staring back at him, haggard and worn. And Melissa. What's she going to think if she ever steals a look at your records?

He whirls around at the sound of the sparrow in his room, chuckling a little at his nerves. But then there is that voice and his gun seeking a target and finding nothing else to shoot at — not that he'd shoot at the owner of that voice, not for the world. He staggers back, bumping into the sink pedestal and slumping down to the ground, hands raking through his hair.

Who the hell knows Epstein and Melissa and their connection to him? It's obviously a hallucination, obviously a figment of his imagination. Nick's shaking hand holding the gun rests against his temple, the barrel pointing upward at the ceiling, not his own skull. But it's so very close.

"Shut up, shut up, you're not real, shut up," he mutters to himself, trying to will the voice he hears to be silent, sure that it's his own demons coming to haunt him — just like he is sure that face he saw on Staten was not actually his sister's. Maybe the Vicodin he took was cut with something bad — even though he got it from the hospital pharmacy. The gun is tossed onto the bathroom floor, and he grabs his cell phone, staring at it — who is he going to call? Is he going to call Epstein and tell him he's hearing things? The phone is thrown onto the floor next, the battery popping loose and Nick buries his face in his hands, elbows planted on his crane-bent knees.

I could be. Real. You've listened to the news, read the papers. Every morning, you look outside and can see the gaping hole where the heart of a city used to be. It's much more likely than waking up to discover you've grown a conscience. Who's to say that shoulder angels don't exist in this world we live in?

Because everything else does. Fire-breathers. Magicians. Weather witches. Immortals. Makes you wonder, sometimes, doesn't it? Whether or not you were right about the selkies and the finfolk?

Above the door, the sparrow does not move except to flex its clawed toes and reaffirm its grip on its perch. It can't see Nick, not anymore, but it can imagine. What are you doing in New York?

He stands, leaving his gun and his phone on the tiled floor of the bathroom and lurching to his feet, leaning against the frame. Sweat glazes his furrowed brow, lined with pain and worry, and he stares into the main room. The bird? He shakes his head, his hand scuffing over his brow.

"I didn't know you were here. Are you here? Or are you just here in my head?" he asks, hand moving to the back of his neck, his right arm hanging a little limply since pointing his gun at nothing strained his shoulder a bit.

"I'm here for work. You know Epstein? He can tell you — I'm … look, I can't tell you why I'm here. If you're Lee, if you're really her, you can't know, it ain't safe. If you're not her, and you're … I donno, that crazy priest wanker, then 'ell if I'm tellin' you what the 'ell I'm doing here, either." Not the most logical response, as it suggests he's doing something that needs to be secretive. "Ask Epstein… or, shit, don't. I don't fuckin' know how to… they didn't train me for this!"

Nick is not cut out to be a spy.

He goes to the kitchenette to rile through the cabinet, finding his pill bottle and shaking out two of the Vicodins, throwing them in his mouth and swallowing hard.

Your sister died.

The voice's whispery soprano does not sound particularly apologetic or even remorseful, and although it has a vaguely musical quality, its texture is more reminiscent of smoke or fog than the clarity of a flute or a ringing bell. Closer to viola than cello, closer to violin than viola. July of last year. Wrote a poem on a wall for someone she loved to find. All that's left is what I am.

As he moves through the apartment, the sparrow tracks his steps with a slow turn of its head, black eye unblinking. The markings on its face identify it as a little male, and the fact that Eileen's voice doesn't sound any further away than it did when he was still in the bathroom suggests that the bird isn't its source. You can't endanger someone who's already dead, she observes quietly. What priest?

The bottle drops from his hands with a clatter and a rattle of pills spilling out onto the peeling linoleum. He grips the counter, knuckles turning white and he leans his head against the cupboard. "I never looked for her — I never tried to find her because I knew it'd be better that way, if she never saw me again," he mutters, his voice a low growl of pain and anger. The use of the third-person pronoun suggests he doesn't want to believe the voice is actually Eileen's, or perhaps to protect himself, to distance himself, or perhaps her, from a direct conversation, I to you.

Tears stream down Nick's face, and he tilts his head upward so they roll down his neck. Staring at the ceiling, he shakes his head. "Italian. Epstein knows him. Melissa too." He doesn't want to think how the voice knows of Melissa. He turns, sliding once more to the ground, his back against the cabinets. Blue eyes close, and he leans his head into his hands. "If the smuggling rings are tricking me with a fuckin' ghost, I guess more power to them," he jokes to himself. "'m working for Interpol. Trying to take down the traffickers."

If surprise can be measured in silences, then Nick's answer isn't the one Eileen was expecting. For almost a full minute, the ceiling fan's motor, the whir of the blades and the rattling chain fill the stillness of the apartment. Outside, as the sun continues to set, street lamps blink on, businesses prop open their doors with blocks of cement and the Rookery's populace continues leaking out into the streets like rats crawling from their holes. If he had any intention of squeezing in a few hours of sleep, he may have been better off staying another night at Melissa's. It was quieter there.

Somewhere, someone smashes a bottle against the pavement. An engine backfires. The man who owns the bar across the street is laughing at something. None of these are related to one another. They just are.

Does Epstein give you access to his files?

Part of him thinks this is a trap, that it will likely end with his body in an alley, killed by the smugglers he's trying to stop. Part of him doesn't care. If it's really Lee, even the smallest essence of her spirit, Nick is not going to lie.

His hands dangle, propped by his knees, and he stares at the space between his boots, as if that foot of linoleum has the answers. He shakes his head. "I'm gathering intel for Interpol. Trying to fit in with a guy named Walsh, helpin' move guns and tryin' to get in well enough he'll talk about the other shit." He doesn't want to say what, not to Lee. Something worse, something more criminal than weaponry. He closes his eyes, the Vicodin starting to kick in — two pills is twice the correct dosage.

"Human trafficking," Nick finally says, his voice low, as if he's ashamed to have anything to do with it — even if he's trying to stop it. "Taken out a couple rings now. South Africa before 'ere. I didn't think anyone'd know me 'ere. Figured it was safe."

He runs his hands through his hair again. "I'm sorry. I'll … I'll go. Go back, wherever, I'll leave. If you want."

I want—

For the first time, the voice falters, and Nick is rewarded with another stretch of silence that's much longer than the last. She could end the conversation here, snap back into flight and wing out the same window she came in, but the reason that brought Eileen inside is also what's keeping here there. The sparrow gives an irritated crackle of its wings, the rapid rise and fall of its chest like the palpitations of a beating heart.

I came here to warn you, she says finally. Epstein isn't always the man you think he is. If you trust him, it's going to get you killed.

A sudden explosion of movement from above the bathroom door has the sparrow sailing low across the apartment floor, mindful to avoid the ceiling fan, but at the last moment a sharp flare of its wings sends it soaring straight up onto the window sill where it first perched.

He's very dangerous. Do you understand?

Bleary eyes track the bird as it moves from one perch to another, and he gives a shake of his head. Nothing makes sense. He scrubs at his eyes with the back of his hand, a gesture reminiscent of the child she knew, something he'd do when he was tired or confused. "I don't. I don't understand. How … how do you know him, Lee? He's my contact. How am I s'posed t'do my job and not trust him? He's the one who tells me who to get in contact with, he's the one I tell what I find out to. Of course he's dangerous. Everyone in the business is, but I gotta trust him to an extent or I can't do this job, what I've been sent here to do."

Nick realizes he's talking to the bird now, addressing it, and calling it Lee and he closes his eyes again, hands steepling together and pressing against his forehead.

"I don't understand," he says with a weary sigh.

Epstein is two separate people. The man who saved your life at the docks, and a man who sometimes puts on his skin. You have to be very, very careful, Nicholas, about what you tell him, because you have no way of knowing which one he is, or how he's going to react. This other man— He kills people for their abilities so he can have them for yourself. If you're Evolved— if you know someone who is Evolved, under no circumstances is he to find out about it.

The sparrow hooks a glance back at Nicholas. There are other ways she could have done this, hidden herself away in the apartment and waited until after dark before addressing him before slipping out again the next time he opens the window, but coming here was risk enough. Allowing him to associate her with a garden bird is an acceptable concession. Do your job, and if the priest ever gives you any trouble, tell him that Ethan Holden wants his other hand.

Nick's forehead furrows and he nods. That she is warning him — he swallows hard and his blue eyes flood with tears, a mix of self loathing and gratefulness washing over in a confusing mix. "I'll be careful," he mutters. "I'm not, but … I'll be careful for those who are."

He'd known it was dangerous to go to Melissa's, and that it was selfish of him to risk it. "There any way to tell the difference? A … codeword, I donno. And does Epstein know this bloke is wanderin' round with his face?"

Yes, is Eileen's succinct response. He does. Why Epstein never thought to inform Nick of this himself is a mystery that the Englishman will be left to ponder. She does not give him the opportunity to ask another question — the sparrow drops off the edge of the sill and is gone.

When the bird flies away and silence reigns once more — or, as silent as it can get given the arguing neighbors and the drunks across the way in the bar or the thumping of a headboard somewhere above him as a girl plies her trade — Nick is left wrestling with the questions that Eileen raised, as well as a guilty conscience for all of the sins of the past along with the new ones: possibly putting Melissa in danger, not the least of them.

Above all of that, though, is a raw pain of grief. Eileen, dead — he may not have seen her for years, but knowing she was out there in the world made the world worth staying in, even if he had sworn to himself he'd never darken her life with his presence again. Knowing she was out there somewhere gave him a reason to try to make the world a little bit better, even if he'd been coerced into doing the dirty work he does.

Knowing she's gone but for that small voice speaking through a bird in some inexplicable way makes Nick wonder why he bothers. And now the one person who he's supposed to trust, he can't. The only consolation is probably the only thing keeping him from grabbing those scattered pills and shoving them all down his throat at once:

Lee, or whatever is left of her, doesn't want him dead. And so he will continue to live — hell as it is.

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