Turn a Profit


logan_icon.gif sylvester_icon.gif

Scene Title Turn a Profit
Synopsis Sylvester gives Logan a performance review at his new job.
Date June 2, 2018

Staten Island, Meat Packing Plant

It’s difficult work, but Logan is exceptionally good at it.

In the basement of the Rookery’s meat packing plant there are cages, the kind that were built for animals but haven’t been used to for their intended purpose for more than a decade. For the last two years, at least, they’ve held people.

Staten Island’s human traffickers do not discriminate, although their victims tend to trend young and female. After awhile, their faces blend together into a melting pot of mixed ethnicities and and skin, eyes, and hair, all dark and simultaneously sallow beneath the basement’s struggling lights.

They have names, and stories, even if Logan hasn’t been given much of an opportunity to ask about them.

He has two jobs, just as his ability has two sides.

The first: Keep them complacent.

The second: Punish those who aren’t.

Every time he’s summoned from his own quarters, which are lavishly furnished in comparison to the cages and storage units where the cattle are kept, he isn’t told what role he’ll be stepping into until he’s in the same room as the asset in question.

Tonight, it’s the meat packing plant’s back office where Sylvester manages what little paper trail he’s willing to create, strictly for organization’s sake. As always, Logan is shown inside with a cursory amount of respect and a meaty hand on his shoulder, just in case, until the door shuts behind him and he’s faced with his duty for the evening.

Sitting opposite Sylvester at the desk is a young woman who looks like she could be Astrid Nyström’s doppelganger. That is to say: She’s on the cusp of her thirties with a good face caked in yesterday’s makeup. Tears streak silty black on her cheeks where her mascara and eyeliner have started to run, which would make her look more tired than she actually is, except that she really is that exhausted.

Her breaths come short and fast, interrupted by shorter, faster sobs that she tries to hide behind the back of her hand.

“John,” says Sylvester, “I’d like you to meet Shelby. Shelby, John.”

Logan stands where he was led, rather than enter the room properly, something of a new habit for someone who tends to try to possess any given space he arrives to. His pale eyes are bright and watchful and guarded in his face, which is maybe just a fraction more gaunt than when he was first kidnapped from the gala however long ago. Dark bristle has grown down his jaw, but kept close rather than permitted to run wild, peppered in silver at the edges.

That sharp stare switches to Shelby, her soft gasps and sobs filling the room. He doesn't need to be familiar with that sound (and he is) to recognise the signs of a panic attack. He can taste it, almost, with the feedback of his ability, the riot of biochemistry sending torrents of signals to the corners of her brain, her heart, her nerves.

And back to Sylvester. A cold, calm lake.

"Charmed, I'm sure."

At his side, his injured hand is wrapped in snowy white bandages, cared for well enough to stave off chance of infection. The bandages are such that one might almost miss that a finger is missing, until you count the exposed digits peeking from them. Fingers on both hands idly twitch at his sides.

“Major life events— they’re rife with stress,” Sylvester says, and it isn’t immediately clear whether this is addressed to Logan or to the young woman simpering on the other side of his desk. “Marriage, death, divorce. Fucks you up. Believe me when I say I know that change hurts, which is why we have a grace period here.”

He leans forward in his seat, metal creaking. Logan can hear him cross his legs beneath the desk, feet hooked together at the heel. He taps the tips of his polished leather loafers together.

“Trouble adjusting? That’s expected.” Sylvester fits his hands together, forming a dense weave with his gloved fingers. “Crying for three days straight? I’ll let that go, I’m not a monster. But when people refuse to eat for three days— now that’s when we have a problem. Not healthy, Shelby. Not good for you.”

"I dunno."

John was not invited to speak, but that's hardly stopped him before now. He makes a more sullen presence than an authoritative one, keeping to his corner of the room when he ranges around it by a few wandering steps. Clothing was eventually gifted to him after he'd worn his fine eveningwear to death, and it fits him less than immaculately as his usual wardrobe would, dark jeans and grey cotton, sleeves rolled to his elbows.

"Sounds like as good a solution as any," and his eyes glint a little brighter, silver-green, trained on Sylvester. By nature, it indicates use of his power, but the woman's quiet gasping sobs don't slow or quicken. In fact, it's Sylvester's blood that stirs, a twist of anxiety beginning to wind low in his gut.

Sylvester forces a smile. It’s fake and unpleasant, but his smiles are always fake and unpleasant, whether or not he’s being manipulated against his will.

Very rarely do his smiles show teeth, however. This one does.

He straightens in his seat.

They undergo training for situations like this at SESA. That doesn’t make it any easier, only more familiar; another man might start to panic, go down that spiral that Logan’s ability has opened up for him, but not Sylvester.

Sylvester digs in his heels and pushes back against the low-grade nausea that accompanies the eel-like knot of anxiety slithering about in his belly.

“Some grace periods are longer than others,” he tells Logan, “but they all end.”

A warning.

The real question is whether he could push this to any amount of personal satisfaction before time runs out, and Logan probably knew the answer to that before it began. He smiles back, fake and unpleasant, and slowly withdraws that influence like a cat sheathing its claws.

One day.

He looks again to Shelby, experiencing a strange twinge of something that he drives into irritation. Unsure, as yet, as to whether he's here to be the carrot or the stick, he moves in closer to place his injured hand on the back of her chair.

"He'll find a way to turn a profit," he tells her, bleakly, not so quietly that Sylvester can't hear, but explicitly addressing her alone, "one way or another."

“John speaks from experience,” says Sylvester. “You might even say he was one of the original authors of the Staten Island Playbook, so to speak.”

Shelby twists around in her seat, craning her neck to get a better look at Logan like she might recognize his face. But of course she doesn’t.

He’s not that kind of celebrity.

“We can do this two ways,” Sylvester continues, visibly relaxing now that the hooks of Logan’s ability are no longer set under his own skin. “There’s the easy way.” The carrot. “Or the hard way.” The stick.

He reaches behind him, smoothing the heel of his hand over the back of his neck where there are dark hairs still standing on end. “John’s going to show you what both feel like, so you can make an informed decision.

“Let’s start with the hard way.”

Logan places his hand on her shoulder. The one with all its fingers.

For Shelby, the world seems to grow dark at the edges. Every noise seems to grate her hearing, especially internal ones — the sound of her own breathing, the heightened thumping of her heart, which immediately begins to ache. Her thoughts seem to ooze through her synapses as thick as syrup, her tongue thicker in her mouth. Nausea grips her bowels.

Panic, plain and animal. If she hadn't half-starved herself, it would be a more difficult thing for Logan to keep her in her chair with one hand, fingers tense like talons.

Logan doesn't set his brightly glowing eyes on anyone. His gaze is set on the window, the slice of sky he can see.

She’s not sure what’s happening, at first. Shelby curls fingers on her chest, and Logan’s efforts are rewarded with an abrupt intake of breath. She makes a low, moaning sound at the back of her throat — the bad kind — and looks like she might try to stand up, except Logan’s hand is on her shoulder, fastening her to her seat.

Sylvester does nothing. Or, depending on your point of view, he actively lets it happen.

No smile. No casual lean, forward or backward, to emphasize his point. Not even a subtle shift in his body language that might indicate what he might be thinking.

His face is a mask. His dark eyes, flat.

Stop.” This, from Shelby. She’s not sure who she should be asking, so she raises her voice in an attempt to fill the whole room with it. “Please— I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I—”

Sylvester clicks his fingers together. Snap. Like commanding a show dog to perform its next trick: The carrot.

A rapid blink from Logan. The heightened gleam of green eyes doesn't waver, otherwise.

Like turning a dial of something delicate, he eases the roil of her chemistry to a whole other temperature. Switching over like this is not a comfortable experience, organs and brain and emotional distress still carrying out that initial swamp of adrenaline even as the subtle workings of biochemistry start pushing different buttons. Endorphins fill her senses like swarming bees, regardless, overriding pleasure over sense.

White fills the centre of her vision. Her spirit leaves her body, or that's what it feels like — hunger pangs and bruises and the chafing of overworn clothes all vanish into irrelevance. What was discomfort is either unimportant or made comfortable. Even pleasurable.

It's easier to breathe.

Logan is no longer gripping her shoulder so tightly, or at all. His fingers close idly around a loose lock of her hair as he concentrates, gently feeling it.

Still watching the window.

Shelby’s head tilts back, inadvertently turning her cheek against Logan’s fingers. He feels the warmth of her breath spill over his knuckles on the next exhalation: a sigh that sounds like something else.

He has Sylvester’s interest. Something flickers behind his eyes, and Logan can be quite certain it isn’t empathy. He’s watching the interaction like a housecat watches a colorful little bird that’s flittered a little too close to the kitchen window, although it isn’t clear whether the bird in this scenario is Shelby, or the man threading her hair between his knuckles.

He doesn’t let that doubt hang there for very long.

“Ask someone who isn’t Expressive what they wish they could do with an ability, and you’ll get a lot of the same answers,” he says. “Flight— that’s a popular one. The raw, brute strength of a telekinetic can crush another man with just a thought. Telepathy, if they’re a closet masochist. No one really wants to know what their loved ones are thinking.”

He isn’t talking to Shelby any more. Sylvester and Logan might as well be the only ones in the room.

“Your ability is among the most powerful I’ve had the pleasure of being able to observe up close,” he continues. “All its applications are absolutely fascinating.”

Oblivion. It's what Logan slowly drags Shelby to. Not the fatal kind, of course, just the kind where the physical plane seems only to matter inasmuch as the way it come filtered through her euphoric haze, like gauzy sunlight in stained glass. His hand twitches a little when her mouth brushes closer to his knuckles, but doesn't retract.

He's listening to Sylvester, even if he's not looking at him, but does make eye contact eventually. Guarded, simmered dislike, compliments going down as welcome as bitter medicine.

"I guess that all depends on what you want dominion over," he says, tone flat, sharp at the edges. "People's your poison."

“Yours too.”

In case Logan forgot.

“I heard a rumour that wasn’t always the case,” Sylvester says, without taking his eyes off the miracle of science and nature unfolding directly in front of him. It’s not the first time he’s watched Logan work what his men call the magic, but it is the first time he’s tried to engage the other man in a conversation about it.

“I heard,” Sylvester repeats, “that there was a very brief period of time in which you traded your gift for someone else’s.” And something about his tone suggests that the rumours to which he refers might even name who that someone is, even if Sylvester won’t speak her name out loud.

To do so might invoke the devil.

No argument from Logan.

His hand retracts from Shelby's space, and he inches a step backwards as if to articulate with body language alone that he's done here, even as his eyes remaining supernaturally bright, and euphoria continues to simmer away in the woman's system. It gives his expression a passively wolfish affect as Sylvester picks at that topic, more transparent than he'd care to be about the hackle or two raised as conversation hedges near something he'd rather it didn't.

Logan smiles with teeth. "And then you dismissed it as nonsense rumour," he suggests, "out of common sense."

And maybe self-preservation. This part silent, simmered into the subtext.

“I like to keep an open mind.” At last, Sylvester rises from his chair on the other side of the desk, unfolding with less grace than some of the other people Logan as known. His legs are a little too long, his build a little too lanky, his angles a little too sharp.

He cradles Shelby’s chin in his hand and tips up her face, examining the expression there: glassy eyes, loose mouth, slack brows. A thumb follows the shape of her mouth as if testing to see how much pressure he can apply before she stirs from her stupor.

She doesn’t.

“In my line of work,” SESA, “you hear all sorts of nonsense rumours, all sorts of nonsense stories. You’d be surprised which ones turn out to be true. Do you want to know about the most unlikely one of all?”

Logan reverses more, a wander paced backwards as Sylvester bends over Shelby.

His eyes dim back down to that watery-pale green, but it will take more than his passive withdraw from her system to restore her to lucidity. He could do that too, he knows, but curls his working hand into a loose fist at his side instead. The only response Shelby gives is to tip her head backwards, exposing the long column of her throat as her mind drifts by.

He wrenches his attention back off her, to the agent. "Thrill me."

“After Midtown, but before the war,” says Sylvester, “when I was still gainfully employed by the FBI,” and he draws out each letter and syllable as though it’s its own word. Eff. Bee. Eye. “I received an assignment to investigate reports of human trafficking here on Staten Island. Back then, I was young, I was hungry — for work, for respect, for meaning, and purpose, and all those elusive, intangible things men want in their twenties.”

His thumb coaxes open Shelby’s mouth. Still, no response.

“The suspect they assigned me to made it look like he’d already figured all that out. He spoke and walked with swagger and confidence. The kind of guy you look at and you think, men probably want to be him, women probably want to be with him. Except that they didn’t. It turned out that my suspect wasn’t well-liked. He kept women, but he kept them in basements, sometimes after cutting out their tongues because he was tired of hearing them talk.”

Logan's power is the kind that seems as though it can manipulate people into doing a lot of things, and through careful application, it can. But the demonstrations of carrot and stick are far more an exercise in demonstrating how they can rob people of the things they can do, from insensate panic to passive bliss.

He imagines what a spike of adrenaline might do, but she'd be more likely to piss herself than, say, bite down on Sylvester's thumb.

The idle thought comes and goes.

His eyes close, too tense to be read as anything like acceptance or shame — more like some hasty grab at control going on internally, that loose fist now forming a tenser knot. Restraint, from being a smart arse, from showing reaction, something. But as long as they're being coy

"And then he lived happily ever after," he proposes. Cheap sass, ringing hollow.

“He survived.” The correction is a rebuke, but it’s mild. There might even be a little grudging admiration hidden behind it. “Against all the odds, regardless of the bridges he burned, the enemies he made. He survived.”

Sylvester drops Shelby’s face. Prey that doesn’t fight back only holds his interest for so long.

He ambles toward Logan next. “Anyone else? Any ability other than the one you’re demonstrating for Shelby’s benefit here? You’d be a dead man. Bones in a shallow grave, left to bleach in the summer sun the first time an animal got close enough to smell you rotting there.”

His feet carry him within striking range, then around and past it again. His hand finds the door handle. “You’re nothing without it, John. And no one.”

The handle turns. Sylvester glances back at Shelby’s slouching form in the chair. “You can have her, if you like,” he offers. “For old time’s sake.”

Open dislike is sharp and direct as Sylvester comes closer, like a cat whose tail has finally started to lash to and fro. But the agent escapes without injury, no scratches or teeth marks or bruises, mostly because Logan isn't certain he can trust himself to move with grace and speed, with Sylvester's words filling his bones with lead.

That, and he's not an idiot.

He swallows around the complete absence of words he was able to summon, saliva thick beneath his tongue, along the roof of his mouth. The sound he makes is a no without having completely developed into a word.

No. No thank you.

He's about to say, are we done here? and instead says, "They hanged pricks like you by the neck until they died." He looks over towards Sylvester. "And that's on the mainland. Imagine what I'll get away with next."

The muscles in Sylvester’s neck and upper back stiffen. So does his grip on the door’s handle. It’s impossible for Logan to know if he’s made a mistake in the instant it happens, because something else does too.

Someone knocks on the other side.

“Boss,” says a voice, as Sylvester swings the door open and shifts his predatory intent off Logan, onto the other man filling its frame. “Trouble up top. Travers is dead.”

He’s aware of Logan’s presence in the room, even though all he can see of him is a sliver of his profile and one dimly-lit green eye. The next two word is quieter, like he’s afraid of their guest overhearing it, but also without a choice whether or not to speak.


In full expectation of a mistake made, like a housecat looking their master dead in the eye while shoving a prized vase off the mantelpiece, Logan's tension doesn't quite unwind all the way when Sylvester is distracted. The news of a dead man doesn't move him, watching the agent's profile rather than the henchman appearing in the door.

Except when he says that. Logan's expression shifts, just subtly, like he's making an effort to be neutral.

And is otherwise still, and silent, like maybe he won't be noticed and can listen in even more.

“Fuck,” says Sylvester.

And that’s all. The look he steers at Logan on his way out the door holds an unspoken threat of what he’ll do to whoever it is, if he can catch them, regardless of whether or not their abilities might prove fruitful.

Sometimes saying nothing is the more powerful choice.

He leaves John Logan alone with his imagination.

And the product of his good work.

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