A Hard Time


avi_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif

Scene Title A Hard Time
Synopsis Eileen interrupts Agent Epstein's date with a terrakinetic intern from Marcus Donovan's New York office.
Date February 15, 2011

Ruins of Midtown

Avi Epstein— in a suit, reflective sunglasses even at sundown, hair slick— would by rights be watching where her tights close in a dark seam striping up the back of her calves to disappear into the hem of her coat that hangs lower than the hem of her dress. Cinched tight enough around her waist to emphasise the curves of her ass, which would be the second better place on which his eyes would settle. Dora Duncan, intern in Donovan's New York office, was always a little on the heavy side, but it's more the fact that she isn't getting any younger than she agreed to drinks with the ex-CIA agent. Remarkably, she's had an alright time tonight, drank a little much, allowed him to walk her home in the waning darkness.

He's watching the back of her head.

"I'm not sure about this shortcut. We got a memo a month ago— " She hiccups, let's out a fumey giggle. "Excuse me. Warning all of the Evo employees to keep the— the hell out of Midtown, and we're cutting it kinda close."

"We're also cutting it close to curfew. Would you rather the American military get on our cases or whatever's meant t'be in Midtown?"

"Like they'd give yyyou a hard time."

Lady has a point.

He's slowed to a stroll as they move through the edge-lands of Midtown, where robots are set to roam if given enough motivation. They sweep deaths under the rug well enough out here, and Kershner can get her hands dirty in explaining away a crushed skull, although Sylar can make it look good, given enough motivation. They won't even ask him questions, like where did you go after your date at Cafe Scopa? They can't.

Ruined cities do not rebuild themselves — Midtown exists in much the same state as it did in the long months after the explosion that claimed the lives of thousands, and millions if not billions of dollars worth of prime real estate in the heart of one of the biggest, most populated metropolitan centers in the world, but snow has a way of dampening the destruction the same way it dampens sound, absorbing the murmur of voices and the soft crunch of shoes on brittle ice. It piles high on the sagging roofs furthest away from the blast, and coats skeletal steel beams in silver and white.

They could be the only people in the world out here if it wasn't for the traffic that sounds more distant than it really is, or the glow of the city's lights reflecting off the gnarled winter landscape, and although it's not enough to transform night into day, it provides enough illumination to see by without the assistance of the street lamps hanging over their heads — old, twisted, burnt-out.

It's on one of these lamps that a shadow lands, too light to dislodge any snow, and too stealthy to produce more than a susurrus of pale feathers because owls are like that and this one has a woman whispering instructions in its ear.

Not that Epstein has any way of knowing. Sometimes a bird is just a bird.

And sometimes a date is just a date.

Unlike now.

On both counts.

Dora doubles back, light on her feet despite almost matching his height, to coil an arm with Avi's and tapping her fingertip at the edge of his glasses. Her words and her laughter bounce off the black and grey walls of the abandoned buildings, off the snow cast silver in the night time, and it's possible that if this were Epstein, he wouldn't be listening anyway. He glances back, over his shoulder, and tastes her nervousness in the air that she tries to mask beneath her good cheer.

His foot closes on hers, his hand at her back, and she spills hard, steam puffing out of her mouth and letting out a squeak when her forehead smacks sharp on the curb.

They scissor out of darkened windows in swift little groups of two and three like bats, wings sharp and eyes bright. Groups of two and three come together to form groups of four and six, eight and twelve, sixteen and twenty-four — all rough estimates, they sliver too quick through the twilight to get an accurate count, and it would truly be remarkable if they knew they could only form even numbers divisible by two.

They don't. Most of them aren't intelligent enough to understand numbers at all beyond simple concepts like few and many. Strings of pigeons and starlings thread out across the sky and weave into a larger formation with the odd gull and crow brushing wings and lending their voices to the flock. Horde.

A hundred or more birds blot out the light and flood toward the street with a singular purpose like spilled ink bleeding black across the page, swelling, expanding, moving all at once, and although they could descend upon Epstein with beak and claw, they part around him instead and form a swirling, cyclonic barrier that separates him from the drunken woman sprawled across the pavement.

They are a deafening roar in his ears. They are a powerful wind that blows through his hair and clothes and kicks up the snow around his feet, bringing it into the cloud with them. They are not blinding pain, a suffocating crush, death — any number of other things he knows they could be if he was anything less than what he is.

It would be stupid of Eileen to try. That way.

He doesn't know who it could be. His first guess is incorrect.

Barely hearing the woman's shrieks at the sudden flock, Sylar bares his teeth, eyes obscured behind reflective glass that mirrors the rush of avian life and beating wings, distorts them. On the plus side, Dora Duncan now thinks he was trying to save her. On the negative side—

The crackboom of concussive energy shakes the snow in the air, peppers dust to the ground where it clips the side of a building — a vortex of repulsion the bursts birds into fine sprays of red where they're caught in the centre of the cone, breaks them towards the outer, sends them pinwheeling in its periphery. He spins, woolen coat flagging in momentum of artificial wind draft both.

Boom goes the second blast, Dora clutching her ears and pressing herself harder against the ground.

Unseen, the pebbles shake around her.

Eileen showed him a trick once— the other him— in which a sea of black birds swallowed her whole and spirited her out the open doors of a warehouse. That had been an illusion, and while this isn't quite the same thing, the Englishwoman knows that misdirection is an important part of any magician's repertoire. She imagines Sylar must know it too, or he wouldn't be wearing Epstein's face.

Dead birds, their necks and wings broken, some with limbs wrenched from their bodies by the force of the blasts, drop as bloodied carcasses to the snow. Others bounce off a crumpled chain-link fence and fill the air with rattling vibrations. The owl on the post does not move — it is Eileen's anchor, her reference point, its lambent yellow eyes locked on her target.

While Sylar is preoccupied blowing gaping holes in her flock that only contract and close again, the birds flying closer and closer together in tight formation to make up for the numbers they've lost, she rounds the corner in her wool and leathers already at a lope.

She must move quickly, not only because she has only one chance— one syringe of Adynomine wrapped between her gloved fingers, but because her heart is hopping rabbit-fast in her chest and it's the adrenaline powering through her veins that keeps her limbs from seizing up with fright. As she closes the distance between them, he'll feel it— that familiar surge of strength on top of what Dora is already feeding him with.

He won't see its source until it's too late and Eileen is on top of him, the syringe punched through his coat and into his back to the left of his spine.

She slams down on the plunger.

Not unlike a house cat on the back of a feral dog, its claws small and mean, finding nerves to pinch and arteries to tear instead of the crunching damage in canine jaws in the same way he splits tears in the flock. He even howls, anger, spittal flying passed ivory teeth at the thud of her weight on his back and the deep bite of the needle.

A fist finds wool and leathers as he turns, both of them spinning together in violence and thrown limbs, the needle wrenching from her hand and tumbling out of his back, leaving her to wonder if she acted fast enough. It certainly feels like maybe not, when a fist impacts her face hard enough for her to see stars and drop her to the ground as if she were thrown. A tooth cracks, an eye aches in its socket, and he's reaching for her, all thick hands, his glasses fallen away.

The world opens up beneath them. Its maw is toothless, but deep like a sword swallower's throat—

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