Your Cue


rue3_icon.gif sylvester_icon.gif

Scene Title Your Cue
Synopsis Two kinds of trouble find Rue as she leaves her meeting with Gillian.
Date January 17, 2018


Well, Gillian Childs had been a bust. Rue shoves one hand in her coat pocket as she heads down the street. Half a mile away, and a few streets over, the car she’s borrowed is parked and waiting for her. Tucked under one arm, there’s a box of old records she’s set to bring back to Rochester for Avi.

The sun shines overhead and Rue scowls in the face of its cheeriness. She’s been awake for fifteen hours already, killed time during the night by visiting her contacts in the Safe Zone and asking them to give her a heads up if they have any news about that SESA agent that got knifed recently. She just wants to be done with today. But it’s still more than five hours back to Rochester.

Checking first left, then right, she steps off the curb and crosses the deserted street, heading for the alleyway on the other side, where she’ll cut across and save herself a couple minutes walk time.

Rue becomes aware of her tail halfway across the street. She lacks the superhuman ability to sense that she’s being watched, and even with her years of experience studying under other, more seasoned operatives, it comes down to a matter of luck.

The windows on the opposite side of the street belong to a jeweler who decided that tinted glass would be offer better protection from thieves; she sees the man twenty yards behind her in the reflection, ball cap slanted just a fraction too low, shoulders hunched like a vulture and hands stuffed into the pockets of the well-insulated leather coat he’s wearing.

Epstein warned her this might happen.

When she catches sight of what follows her reflection, Rue picks up her pace just enough to jog the last few steps across the street, like she doesn’t want to linger there any longer than she has to. A habit from days of heavier traffic. Her heart is pounding in her ears. Maybe she should have parked on the street. Then maybe he’d have just been waiting in her backseat. Did she lead him here? Did he already know?

Long strides carry her forward. She just needs to get herself enough distance to duck into the alley ahead of him. Because when she does, she rounds the corner and sets the box down as quietly as she can, pressing her back up against the wall as she waits for him to appear in the mouth of the alley before lashing out with her fists. The fingers of her left hand are encircled by a carabiner.

The carabiner wrapped around Rue’s knuckles connects with her tail’s mouth. Skin pops and a hot flash of blood erupts, covering his scrubby beard and the gaps between Rue’s fingers. He doesn’t feel the pain immediately, which is bad news for the Wolfhound operative; adrenaline makes him numb to the extent of the damage, and as his flight-or-fight response kicks in, his hand snaps up and snags her by the wrist.

He swings his arm in wide loop that spins Rue around and lands her with her back facing his chest, a meaty arm hooked around her his torso. A swift tug pulls her into him. Now he’s bleeding all over her hair and the nape of her neck.

Ffff—” he starts. Realizes halfway through the curse that he’s better off not finishing it. One of his teeth feels loose in his mouth.

His grip tightens. Rue’s ribcage compresses.

She’s about to go for another swing when her wrist is snatched and she’s spun around. It would be easy to start screaming now and play a victim. See who comes running. But Gillian might come running, and Rue is certain she wants Miss Childs safe and sound in her home.

Her foot lifts up off the ground and comes down hard on top of his. Then, her head tips forward and snaps back against his face. That’s going to hurt her, too, but not more than it hurts him.

Something cracks. It might be one of Rue’s ribs, or it might be her tail’s nose. He makes a strangled sound in the back of his throat, choking on blood, and shoves her away from him with enough force to send her careening into the alley’s wall. Her shoulder bounces off the dumpster with a resounding bang that’s bound to draw some attention, but perhaps not as much attention as—

SESA, motherfucker! Freeze!” The voice comes from the opposite end of the alley and echoes in its narrow corridor, making the man who owns it sound much thicker than his silhouette suggests. He steps into the light with both hands outstretched, fingers knit tight around the grip of his government-issued pistol. His dark hair, slicked back, gleams like a raven’s wing in the late morning sun. The suit he wears is styled just as sharply and matches his black dress shirt and smart-looking silk tie.   

On the bright side, he’s pointing the weapon at Rue’s assailant.

There’s a cry that’s some mingling of pain and frustration as Rue feels her rib give, goes blind for a moment from the pain. She stumbles forward and feels a bit like a human pinball as she’s jostled between wall and dumpster. She’s breathing hard as she scrabbles to sit upright, one hand braced on the ground and the other wrapped around her midsection.

Anyone else might think they were saved when they hear that announcement. SESA. Rue thinks of what Epstein told her and wonders if this is worse news. Caught between a rock and a hard place, proverbially. Her knees are peaks rising above the asphalt, straightening as she levers herself up with a hiss. Ready to run. She just isn’t certain in which direction yet.

Rue’s tail throws up his hand, gathering a ball of energy in his palm that pops, sparks, and causes the fine hairs on the back of her neck and arms to stand up. She knows this feeling well; electricity sings in the air, but before he can release the charge in a wide arc aimed for the SESA agent’s heart, the other man pops off three quick gunshots.

Two hit his center-of-mass. The third bullet strikes him in the face, snapping his head sideways as one knee buckles, and then the other. Rue’s tail hits the floor of the alley, lets out one final exhalation, and goes still. Sputtering sparks jump between his fingers, then fizzle out.

There’s still some residual energy hanging in the air as the SESA agent closes the distance between them, chin at an incline as his eyes search the adjacent street for a second assailant. Only when he’s positive that the coast is clear does he lower his weapon and steer his focus toward Rue.

“Hi,” he says.

Rue long ago stopped flinching at the sound of gunfire, but she does duck her head instinctively. If it weren’t for the immediate twinge of pain in her midsection, she might have ducked behind the dumpster for additional safety. Turns out they make sure those SESA agents are well trained before they hand them a gun and send them out on the streets. Or this one is, anyway.

The body hits the ground, and Rue watches the sparks dance a few seconds longer than life clings. The sound of approaching footsteps brings her back, fixing her attention on the agent. It doesn’t take much to display a face of shock. She is in shock, but she normally would try to hide it. Better that he thinks she’s vulnerable. But if he watched any of that scuffle, he knows she’s not defenseless.

“Hi,” she breathes out.

The SESA agent nudges the corpse with the toe of his immaculately-polished shoe, which looks like it might be fashioned from Italian leather. He reaches up and touches two fingertips to his earpiece. “This is Sandoval,” he says into a microphone that Rue can’t see. “I found Houston. He, uh.” Another nudge. “Yeah. Copy that.”

His hand falls back to his side and he flexes long, shaky fingers. Adrenaline has him buzzing. He lets out a long, slow breath to steady the tremor. Smooths his palm across his lapel. “Want to tell me why you’ve got Pure Earthers breathing down your neck?” he asks her, his tone familiar like they’ve already met.

It hurts to breathe too deeply, so she’s slow to respond while she waits for her pulse to slow to a reasonable rate. For her thoughts to settle. Rue shakes her head quickly. “I have no idea who that man is - was. Or what he wanted with me. He came out of nowhere.” Her mind races. What the hell has she gotten herself into? “Houston, you said?” She grimaces. “Doesn’t ring any bells.”

Then she’s got her eyes back on the dark-haired man. There are so many questions raised by what’s happened here, but this isn’t the person she’s going to get answers from. Not the person she wants answers from. Before that display, she thought she might get away from her attacker, but she doesn’t have much defense against electricity. “Thank you, by the way.”

“You’re welcome,” Sandoval answers. “Ronnie Houston. Class-B Kinetic. You wouldn’t think someone like Ronnie here would turn on his own kind, but you’d be wrong.” He holsters the pistol and crouches down beside the corpse, rolling the body over. “We’ve had our eyes on him for awhile,” he adds, and tips the baseball cap up to get a better look at Houston’s face. “Operates out of Staten Island, working for the Arrowood brothers.”

A frown tugs at the corners of his mouth. Houston’s eyes are growing glassy, so Sandoval sweeps his hand across his face to close them. “Our guys at the border pinged me when he crossed it a few hours ago,” he explains. “I wanted to see what he was after here in the Safe Zone. Turns out it was you, Lancaster.”

Well, none of this is unsettling at all. Sandoval’s explanation is listened to, absorbed, notes made in her head about what she’ll be asking Epstein later. What she’ll ask her contacts later. But then, he calls her by name. It’s not like she isn’t registered, or that her employment is a secret, but still.

“Why?” Confusion knits Rue’s brows together. “I don’t mess with Arrowood’s shit.” Not directly anyway. “I’m afraid you’ve got more information than I do right now, Agent Sandoval.” She badly wants to crouch down and start searching the body for information, some clue of what he was after. Nobody knew she was coming. Unless it wasn’t her they were after, but whoever came around Gillian’s place.

“Sylvester’s fine.”

He braces his hand against his knee and pushes himself back to his feet. “No offense or anything, but after what your people pulled last year with Lowell and Liberty Island, this looks really fucking bad if I tell anybody you were here. Tensions are high enough between our people as-is without this shitshow added to the mix.”

One button at a time, he re-fastens his suit jacket. “We’re cagey is all. Some of the higher-ups are worried about Wolfhound turning into another Vanguard. You’ve got that same blatant disregard for authority and can-do spirit. Powers, too. I guess that’s the big one.”

Sylvester moves on to adjusting his collar. “I’ll tell them he jumped me. Pure Earth’s got no love for your pack after the way you chewed up what was left of Humanis First. Chances are he just saw an opportunity and took it.”

“None taken.” That shit was fucked up, but maybe a little less than she originally figured on. Rue squirms uncomfortably, silently angry with herself for doing so, as she tries to shift into a position that doesn’t cause her quite as much pain. What she needs is about a handful of aspirin. And a nap. She won’t get either until she gets back to Rochester.

“No powers here,” she says with a faint smirk. She’s a bit more like Red Riding Hood among the Wolves sometimes. This encounter sort of hammered that home today. “Okay, Sylvester. I’ll play ball. Why would you do this for me? What do you want in return?”

So she’s distrusting. Her currency is favors, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that she expects the same from him.

Sylvester cants his head, listening for the sound of military police sirens. Nothing yet, but he knows they’re running out of time. “I’ve been following Houston for awhile,” he says, circling around the corpse in question. “You crossed paths outside a tenement building in Elmhurst. That’s where he picked up your trail. I also happen to know that your colleague Avi Epstein rented a unit there from early ‘15 through July of ‘17, right up until he and Lowell went at it.”

He glances at the box of old vinyl spilled out all over the pavement. “I’m guessing he sent you here for those. You tell me if that’s all and I’ll consider us even.”

Fuck. How did she not notice someone else tailing her? How did she not notice two people? She’s slipping, or needs more training. She’s not half bad at tailing someone herself, but being the tail and shaking one are different skill sets.

“Yeah.” Rue lets out a quiet chuckle that immediately has her wincing and clutching her side. “That and to see if I could get his deposit back. Fuckin’ idiot.” She shrugs her shoulders, looking concerned. “I was coming into town to see some old friends anyway. I thought a favor for him was the least I could do.”

Blue eyes look down the street as though that would sharpen her hearing. She doesn’t hear sirens yet either, but knows they can’t be far. “We good, then?”

Sylvester studies Rue’s face as she speaks, his gaze hawkish in its intensity, watching her eyes to see whether or not she holds his gaze or shies away from it. The only way for him to know whether or not she’s lying is to look for a tell, but he finds none.

“We good,” he says. “Sorry about the ribs. I’d have sprung into action a little sooner, but I didn’t want to risk tagging you, too.” He purses his lips, about to say something else. It’s interrupted by the approaching wail they’ve both been expecting, so he gives her a little wave instead.

“That’s your cue.” He flashes her an easy smile. “Ciao, bella.”

His gaze is slightly unsettling, but easy enough to hold. She’s faced down worse fears than a harsh glare. And she’s very good at what she does. She can’t be certain if she’s passed the test, but he’s not shoving her against the alley wall and slapping cuffs on her or anything, so this will have to be enough for now.

Ginger head tilts to one side, considering the trade off. “I appreciate that. I’d rather have a cracked rib than a bullet in the neck.” That’s a little bit of dark humor he can’t appreciate, but she does and that’s all that matters.

Then there’s those sirens. Her brows hike up and she flashes a sliver of a grin. Rue reaches out to rest her free hand on one side of his face, giving it a little pat. She presses a kiss to the other cheek. “See ya later, Sly. Maybe drinks next time, huh?”

Then she winks, gathers up the box of records, and walks quickly down the alley the way she intended.

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