To the Greater Good


eileen_icon.gif iago_icon.gif

Scene Title To the Greater Good
Synopsis Remi dies. Etienne gets away. Iago and Eileen reflect on a mixed evening.
Date May 20, 2018

Ruins of Staten Island

The lateness of the hour means nothing to the Rookery. Without curfew, without an established power grid, without commercial routine, military patrol, school zones, business hours, church on Sundays, the days bleed into the nights and drain back out into dawn without structure. Sure, after midnight, the bustle of the marketplace has ground to a halt, but music filters out through closed windows of brothels and gambling dens, cheap steaming food sold out of carts and holes in the wall, and figures wander the street without any more fear than they might under the harsh light of day.

Eileen and Iago are two such figures, the former quick and sure, the latter larger, following her lead, and new in town. He rakes his gaze around with neutral curiousity, recognising this place for what it is — a great gutter, and a long established one at that. Beneath the smells of frying noodles and recent rainfall is that of slow decay and wasted buried beneath travel packed earth.

Armor, bike, excessive weaponry have all been hidden in whatever den he could kick clear for himself upon arrival, and so he is an ordinary presence in denims and leather, black hair plastered to his skull from the rain. Ordinary, of course, save for where his leg terminates and advanced robotics begin, but it doesn't look like much at a glance. He moves, too, with the swaying limp of someone well accustomed to walking like so, and a little like he is in pain and striding through it.

And well accustomed to that, too.

Two white ravens stand out against the night sky, the Rookery’s ambient glow reflected off their luminous, opalescent feathers. This pair above is flashier than the pair down below, drawing more attention to their search for Etienne Saint James than the Englishwoman prefers, but there are certain things about her current situation that she hasn’t been able to negotiate.

The colour of her two closest corvids is one of them.

“No sign,” she tells Iago in a murmur. “It’s like he’s disappeared completely.”

In other words: He’s good.

Both ravens adopt posts outside a two-story structure with wooden steps and a door painted in scarlet red. Part pub, part brothel, the otherwise unmarked establishment known as Maiden’s Head seems like the sort of place Eileen imagines Etienne might frequent. More importantly: She wants to get out of the rain.

Inside, candlelight flickers in the opaque, milky mirrors behind the tavern’s bar, drawing attention to its selection of liquor and away from the peeling wallpaper and water stains gathering black mold on the ceiling, which was once sculpted from some sort of ornate plaster. Although they can still hear the rain hammering against the roof on the second floor, it’s quieter here than on the street, and smells faintly of some other woman’s perfume to cover the less pleasant scents moldering in the adjacent alley out back.

She glances at the bar, glad to discover that neither of them can see their reflections in it. “Will you drink?”


Hard travel and rough living means that Iago looks a little wilder than Eileen is all the way accustomed to seeing. The hair along his jaw, growing up his cheeks and down his throat, is coarser and thicker than the grain he normally keeps it to, and his clothing smells of not only his journeying around New York City, but also his journey across the United States.

He is both vain enough to notice this about himself without the aid of a mirror, and weary enough not to care. He will drink. This ugly city stinks anyway.

"He will reappear," he adds, presently, in case she was very concerned — and what will occur when the pirate does that is left unsaid, assumed and inevitable knowledge. Iago sits at the bar, digging his hand into a jacket pocket to extract a cigar case, the soft rattle within telling of depleting supplies.

But he took a mother away from her children today. The occasion deserves marking.

Eileen decides that she’d rather stand than sit at the bar. She can still feel the anxiety and adrenaline in her extremities, and it does not bother her that Iago on a stool towers over her almost twice as high as Iago on his feet. Small hands encased in their leather gloves smooth over the bar’s chipped marble surface in an attempt to expend some of that extra nervous energy.

It seems to work, for the most part. “We should watch the papers tomorrow,” she says, voice sullen like a child who understands the importance of being spoon-fed medicine but will complain about it anyway, for lack of a better, more productive way to express her unhappiness. There’s some remorse, too. Quiet and creeping.

They’re not talking about Etienne anymore.

“Thank you.” For doing what needed to be done.

There’s nothing alarming about their conversation from the bartender’s perspective. He’s heard and willfully ignored worse, and doesn’t even glance back over his shoulder as he fishes down two glasses from a middle shelf. When he does look in their direction, it’s only at Iago, and only to ask him for his order with pointedly raised brows.

Iago orders by indicating a bottle of dark rum with only a cursory glance given to the range of faded, peeling labels adhered to grimy glass. Unparticular, tonight, soaked to the bone and rattled from being thrown off his bike onto hard asphalt. He snares his cigar between his teeth as he then roots about for a lighter in his jacket. There, he makes eye contact, as if somehow suspicious of this thanks.

More likely, unsure of what to do with it. Smiles, then, crooked and teeth baring around cigar, before touching flame to end. By the time the bartender has set down their drinks, he's cultivated its embers, the steady lift of fine smoke.

"It was simple," he says. He's not bragging, either, or deflecting her gratitude. Stating fact. Giving warning, even, as he says, "Now it won't be."

He places his hand on the glass the bartender set down for her, and pushes it closer.

“Let them come.” Eileen’s gloved hand brushes against Iago’s as she swoops up the glass, testing the weight of it, then the smell of its contents by wafting it under her nose. She’s not often a rum drink by choice, but she also doesn’t voice any complaints.

The toast she proposes is tired. Not coincidentally, so is she. She tips her portion of rum in Iago’s direction with a gentle clink of glass-on-glass that’s as fleeting as her touch had been. “To the greater good,” she suggests, not without some irony, some creeping sense of self-awareness that makes her smile and snort back a breathy laugh in spite of herself. “Prost, as the old man used to say.”


And she drinks, enveloped in the thickening cloud of Iago’s cigar smoke, hungrier for the effects of the spirit than its taste or the dense, buttery texture of the rum in her mouth.


Iago drinks with her, as she does, with heavy liquor slid back behind his teeth and an empty glass returned to the bar top. He shifts the glass then, angling for a top up, which the bartender provides with all the grace as a gas station attendant. To the greater good is something he only reflects on once he's drunk to it, and he wonders if it's just the edge of her sharp tongue that makes that sound a little ironic.

He indicates that the bartender ought to refill the lady's, too, which he does. She is not the run-away gamine fathered in all but blood by the old man any longer, but something else — and tonight, she is something that drinks.

"To sacrifice," he proposes.

Iago drank to Eileen’s toast. It seems only fair that she should drink to his, even if the world in which they live is not. So: “To sacrifice,” she echoes.

Another tilt and tink of tumblers.

Another mouthful of rum that burns all the way down.

This is the way alcohol is consumed back at Sedro-Woolley: quickly and without much thought. Eileen’s body has adapted but remains the same diminutive size with its limited capacity and a lazy liver. She should stop here, in other words.

Whether she will remains to be seen.

“I looked on you and the others like you were gods,” she says as she sets down her glass. “Not because he gave you their names.” Thor, Fenrir, Baldr, Skoll. “You were all impossibly large. Bigger, I think, than the physical space you occupied. Planets, each with your own gravitational field.”

She strips the gloves from her hands and slaps them onto the bar. Bare fingers slip inside her coat, feeling for the package of cigarettes she carries there. “I always enjoyed being in your orbit, Iago.” Even when you didn’t notice me.

As she speaks, it's like Iago is ignoring her all over again — his eye wanders past figures, more inclined towards womanly silhouettes in silken things than the roving clientele who are likewise avoiding eye contact. It's been sometime since he's been in a whorehouse, long enough that it almost takes him this long to register it as something specific, as if he is used to the prospect of existing in spaces where there is liquor for him to drink and women for him to have.

Or something like that. But also: he is not ignoring Eileen, because he speaks without allowing the natural dip in conversation to lapse into extended silence.

"That is what we were," he says, without particular regret for no longer being that, exactly. "He envisioned the cosmos, and placed us there within it. The universe spun in a different way. And then the sun went dark."

Chaos. Planets spun off into the far reaches of the universe.

He looks back to her, reaching to tap ash into the crystal tray set between them on the bar. He looks at her bare hands on the bar, starts to bring up the cigar to his mouth, pauses, and says, instead, "La estrella fugaz. I should have known even then, eh?"

She smiles.

He knows it’s real because it’s small.

Not a sneer showing a sliver of tooth, or the tight-lipped nicety he’s seen her offer other people in situations where everyone only obeys social norms for the benefit of a very specific outcome. It’s subdued, just as she is, in her more private moments — like this one.

Eileen withdraws a cigarette from the package and pinches it in the corner of her mouth. She has her own lighter, summoned from the same interior pocket, which snaps to life in the cradle of her hands. Smoking indoors is a luxury Yamagato doesn’t allow her to indulge in, but she will now.

This done, she discards both lighter and pack on the bartop beside her gloves. “You don’t have to make a wish,” she says of shooting stars, teasing him, “that’s just a foolish superstition.”

Smoke leaks from lips parted in a sliver and her narrow nostrils on the next exhale. She makes an abrupt decision, no indication of how long it’s been on her mind. Lit cigarette dangling benign off two knuckles, Eileen turns over both her hands and holds them out in the space between herself and Iago, palms facing up.

“I want to show you something.”

Iago casts a glance downwards at upturned palms, and for all that he can be accused of being inexpressive, stoic, aloof, he is in fact somewhere who communicates his thoughts plainly, and doubt creases down the centre of his brow. His instinct is not to reach between them and takes her hands, either, unmoving in his lean, the hover of his cigar between thumb and the side of his finger.

He's hard to humour. Hector would know.

"I'm looking," he says.

“You can look,” Eileen answers, “but you won’t see.”

She thinks of humour, of Hector, of the others who should be with them now but aren’t. Her fingers flex, outstretched.

“The only way is to feel.” Her words contain an implicit request to trust, even as she has to force herself to remember that Iago isn’t as fluent in insinuations as he is in English.

Because he isn’t Gabriel. Sometimes she has to force herself to remember that, too.

“I won’t hurt you,” she adds, then. “I can hold it.”

Iago's back of throat growl is not as cowing to her now as it used to be, long ago. These days, she can read it as a sort of affirmation, usually of the ill-gotten kind. But he is moved, ultimately, by curiousity, and puts his cigar back between his teeth with a bite, fang and ivory. It gives off a gentle ribbon of idle smoke, embers winking in grey ash. His eyes are darker, the kind that swallows light, rather than emits it.

He's an unflinching kind of person. And yet, he hesitates.

But it's hesitation only. He brings his hands up between them, and then closes them around hers with the same grim caution as someone who has been assured that touching the end of a white-hot iron will be fine.

Eileen’s hands are just that: hands.

They are small and smooth, both warm and cool in the same way that a late spring morning exists simultaneously in two contrasting states. Her skin is polished, soft. The year they’ve spent eking out a meager existence in the Dead Zone seems not to have had any effect on her slender fingers or the cradle of her palms.

Nothing happens.

Not at first.

She closes her eyes. Concentration draws the dark swoop of her brows together. The next breath she draws in through her nose sounds constricted, pained, but whatever she’s feeling isn’t something that’s immediately reflected in her expression.

Where the sleeves of her jacket are rolled up around her elbows, he sees her veins blacken and pulse beneath her skin, something roiling through her body’s circulatory system like a venomous snake trapped under glass.

I can hold it, she’d said.

Iago watches the way her skin changes, the way veins are gorged in poison, and he watches this without fear in spite of his earlier doubt and trepidation. He sees her struggle, too, with a flat look tipped to her face, the little knots of tension pulling the angles of her expression taut and pinched.

He's both seen and felt the effects of Volken's ability. There are records of his demise that mention his old master's name.

Iago doesn't move his hands from hers, as patient as granite.

Similarly, Eileen’s lips do not move as she counts.

Maintaining prolonged physical contact with Iago Ramirez is a war she has to fight on multiple fronts. There’s the susurrus of voices in her head, minus one, all whispers and silken promises. It wants to consume, to strip the flesh from his bones and reduce what’s left behind to ash.

But Eileen wants things, too. Even when she is not aware of them.

Especially when she is not aware of them.

The second front of her invisible war exists somewhere in the cavity of her chest because her heart is beating very fast.

Her fingers curl into themselves inside the shelter created by Iago’s hands. When she finally draws away from him, it’s out of necessity but maybe not desire.

She opens her eyes.

Iago draws his hands backwards. His thumb brushes over his fingertips as if chasing some ghost-like sensation, but it's imagined only.

"Very impressive," he says, in that slow, unemphatic way that usually makes him sound some degree of sarcastic, or condescending, if it weren't for context. For a time, it seems like maybe he'll let the silence that comes next be, full of smoke and the busy noise of the establishment winding around them, but he says, next, "I remember Lord Volken standing in all his fine things. Fine shoes, fine suit. Fine gloves. I thought, who would make deals with a man wearing gloves in the jungle."

He taps away some cigar ash and ember. "The kind that would shake the hand with the devil," he supposes.

“I’m not.” The devil. Eileen flexes her fingers and tucks in her chin, gaze lowered as she watches the colour ebb from the network of veins in her wrists and bare arms.

She sets aside the impulse to roll back down the sleeves of her jacket. Her fingers slip inside it instead and feel out the clip of cash she carries in her inside pocket, doubled over and fastened together by an ordinary metal pin. There is no fancy cocktail menu here, no chalk board boasting the daily specials. To pay for their drinks, she has to estimate the cost and leave enough change not only for a tip — but also to ensure that anyone who comes here asking questions later doesn’t receive any answers.

“I’ll see someone about a room,” she says in the carefully neutral tone of someone who wants to change the subject without seeming like she needs to. “We can stay here tonight and make contact with Emile in the morning.”

The shift in conversation leaves Iago in a lurch of thoughtful silence, watching her in that intent way that she's had to have grown used to since their reunion. His gaze drops then to the little parcel of money being manipulated with her fingers, and nods once to her directive.

A directive that feels enough like dismissal that it compels Iago to get to his feet, and leave her there.

Tempting to seek one of the warm-fleshed women wandering the shadowed corners of this establishment, and he certainly lets his attention linger over the shapes of their bodies, but ultimately, he moves outside. To get a sense of their territory before he settles in for the evening, to retrieve real food for both of them, to finish his cigar out in the cold air. But mainly as a tactical retreat.

He goes.

She stays.

This is an easier win for Eileen than touching him had been, only because she doesn’t have to do anything at all except to remain very still and avoid his eyes as he rises from the bar to excuse himself from her company.

No words needed. She likes that.

When he’s gone and she can no longer sense his presence crowding the room, she abruptly remembers the cigarette burning between her fingers and extinguishes it in the ashtray.

The climb up the stairs to the establishment’s second floor leaves her exhausted before she even arrives at the top. It doesn’t matter that the room is small and shares a bathroom with the one beside it, or that she can feel the mattress springs digging into her back and ribs the moment she spreads out on it.

That particular region of her body has known worse pain.

And it has not forgotten.

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