A Promise is a Promise


munin_icon.gif sylar_icon.gif

Scene Title A Promise is a Promise
Synopsis Sylar calls Munin to the roof of Siann Hall to share some of his artwork with her.
Date November 17, 2008

Siann Hall Apartments

It's been just over two weeks. Two weeks since Munin made the offer that if Sylar put something out on his windowsill, she'd come to talk to him. Has it only been that short a time? It feels like so much longer. Regardless, he had hoped to summon her, and so, he'd shifted the lamp that had been in his bedroom to rest near the glass, switched it on, and let the glow catch attention through the overcast day.

Here's to hoping that the birds do the rest, because Sylar is waiting on the rooftop.

He's been waiting a while, too, but not uncomfortably. A plastic set of a picnic table and chairs have been generously set out, but that's about it for the rooftop hang out. It's clear it doesn't get used that much, but Sylar is comfortably occupying it, as he has for a couple of hours now. Reclined in his seat, he's reading a book, dressed in a coat suitable for the climate, a black scarf wrapped warmly about his throat, left to hang behind him and an addition - reading glasses. In front of him are other items - a notepad now bound shut with a pencil or two secured in its binding rings, and what might be familiar - the plastic courier tube he'd taken to the warehouse not so long ago. A long since emptied mug sits in front of him, and an ashtray he hasn't used, filled shallowly with water from rainy evenings past.

After licking the corner of his thumb, Sylar turns the page of the comprehensive Mandarin-to-English book in his hands, and continues to wait.

A promise is a promise. Even though this is a world of firebreathers, human chameleons and men who can take the shape of monsters, no magic binds Munin to her word — instead, it's her strong sense of moral obligation that brings her to Siann Hall's rooftop. Sylar will undoubtedly hear the echo of her footsteps in the stairwell below long before her silhouette appears in the doorway. She's identifiable by her small shape rather than her face or the clothes that she wears; she doesn't come fully into view until she's stepped out onto the roof, into the gloom of the late afternoon, and even then the dappled light hides half her face in shadow.

For once, she's wearing a skirt in place of leggings or jeans, her slim calves and thighs covered by a pair of wool stockings in a shade hovering somewhere between dark gray and black. Her pea coat, buttoned all the way to her chin, glistens with hundreds of silvery rain droplets too light to be absorbed by the fabric, too heavy to fall away without first being brushed off. Her tousled hair is damp as well, weighed down in such a way that several spiraling curls are left plastered to the pale skin of her cheeks and forehead, giving her an even more fae-like appearance than usual.

Despite hearing her arrival, Sylar keeps his eyes trained on his book. Should he ever need to ask someone in Chinese as to wear the nearest restaurant/travel agency/motel is, he'd have it down, if not for the fact that pamnesia can't compensate for likely horrendous pronunciation. Still. It's worth knowing. "I wasn't sure you'd come," he says when she finally makes her appearance. If there was anything more to say, he's interrupted by a pigeon suddenly swooping down, seemingly out of nowhere, and coming to a skittering halt on his table. A flash of very human irritation flickers across Sylar's features, as if this isn't the first time this has happened, and he leans forward to shoo the bird away with his now closed translation book. It takes some urging, but the pigeon hops over to rest on the ledge instead with a ruffle of feathers. Sitting back in his chair, Sylar takes off his glasses, and points with them to the opposite chair, looking back over at Munin.

A slight twinge of amusement is reflected in Munin's pale eyes when Sylar uses his book to wave the pigeon away, but she says nothing as she crosses the roof, flats crunching the gravel under her feet, and takes a seat in the chair he indicates. "To be perfectly honest," she says, voice a little muffled by the cashmere scarf she wears around her neck and tucked down the front the front of her coat, "I wasn't sure I would either." Gloved hands slip into her pockets, and the creak of leather can clearly be heard as she flexes her fingers inside. "You took off in a hurry the other night," she adds, not wanting him to misunderstand the hesitation in her tone. "Figured you might want a few days to yourself, to think things over."

The glasses are folded, pocketed. "I'm still thinking," Sylar admits. "The last day or so has been strange. I haven't talked to Kazimir yet." Lying or truth telling put on the back burner - he's not good at loyalty to begin with, so trying to make a decision based on such is more than a little difficult. But he can get away with a couple of days of disappearance. As for how strange, he doesn't elaborate, and reaches out a hand to touch the courier tube. "I had some things— that I wanted to show you. If you want me to lie to Kazimir about you, then it'd be a good idea for you to keep this a secret too."

The last time Munin saw Sylar, he'd been very evasive about the contents of that tube. Clearly, a lot of things have changed between then and now, though she tries not to dwell on what those things might be when he presents it again with a simple touch of his fingers. Unsure whether this is an indication of trust or something else, she keeps the expression on her face as neutral as she can. "I'm not going to tell Kazimir anything you don't want me to," she says, and she means it. Sylar should know — it's hard to fake that kind of sincerity around someone when they've spent time in your head.

Shaken faith, would be one change. Perceptions shattered over and over again. Not just Munin, Kazimir as well, Odessa too - all saying different things, tugging him this way and that. It was so much easier when it was just him and his hunger. In retrospect, however, it was just as futile as the watchmaker's son who went on to be a watchmaker. And yet…

He digs his fingernails into the crevice of the lid, pulling it open and then drawing out the rolled up painting from inside - there's another one in there, but it's this one that Kazimir had told him to destroy. Some small part of him had prevented that from happening, though he'd kept it hidden. Now, Sylar takes out the paper and smoothes it out on the table, using his book and notepad as paperweights. The dark, desolate image of an abandoned Manhattan, worse than the current one - no people to be seen, and a biohazard symbol painted in yellow and black. "This is the future Kazimir's leading us towards," he murmurs, angling it so she can see.

Munin shouldn't be surprised. She's bore witness to many terrible things since Amato took her under his proverbial wing — there are even times when, at the very depths of her despair, she convinces herself the Vanguard won't let anyone, or anything, stand in the way of Kazimir's vision.

She never expected she'd be right… if only because there won't be anyone or anything left.

Munin stares at the painting in silence, her lips devoid of any real colour as she draws them into a thin line, her face tight with worry. You'd need to have lived under a rock your whole life not to understand the implications of that symbol — or, at the very least, recognize such a jarring design doesn't represent sunshine and butterflies. "When did you paint it?"

He's looked at the image countless times since he created it - now, Sylar watches Munin's reaction, hands clasped together, chin resting on them. "The eleventh of November," he answers easily. "But I knew what he wanted before then. He told me everything - as far as this - the day he brought me into the Vanguard. Thirtieth of October." Of course he'd remember these details. His gaze slides back down to the painting without really seeing it and on the rooftop ledge, two more pigeons join the first one, although they go ignored. "Only the bigger picture. None of the details."

"I don't—" Munin starts, but she doesn't get much further than that. She leans back and takes a deep breath, pausing to reorganize her thoughts so they don't come spilling out jumbled or all at once. "Kazimir told you that you'd be his successor," she murmurs slowly, thickly, trying very hard not to catch herself up, "but there's not much there for you to be a successor to." Her hands come out of her pockets and she tugs at her gloves in a series of short, sharp movements, pulling them off by the fingers before laying them down in her lap. She doesn't envy his perfect memory at a time like this. Staring down at the painting for even a few minutes is haunting enough. What must it be like to hold it in your mind's eye forever?

"I assume he likens it to the great flood," Sylar muses. "I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be Noah in this scenario or the ark." The latter, actually, more so than he could ever guess right now - but such knowledge is shielded from them both. Or else there'd be no question as to where Sylar would stand. "He says that if I can survive New York's ground zero at its hottest, I can survive this. I probably can." Specifically how, he's not sure - but there's a power for everything. His gaze, now, fixes on the girl across from him - a look that's as trapping as it usually is, but not predatory. Studious. "You suspected something like this?"

"No," Munin says, shaking her head, "not like this, never like this. Kazimir talks in allegories, but I never thought…" She trails off and rakes her teeth over her lower lip, heedless of any pain when she nicks the broken skin there. She can, however, feel Sylar's attention on her, and it causes the young woman to look up, abandoning the painting for his eyes in her search for answers. Bold and brazen aren't the most accurate words to describe her stare, but there's definitely something fearless, something eager about the way she steadily meets and then holds his gaze. "Is it something you want to survive? Is this the future you've been killing for?"

Sylar shakes his head, just a little, but in defiance of that, he says, "If it's the future at all, I want to survive it. If Kazimir wanted my help in carrying it out, I'd know more - but all he asks is that I gain power." And it's all too easy to comply. His hands reach out, picking up the notepad and book enough for the painting to roll back in on itself, containing the grim future within a cylinder of innocent white. "I can't change something I don't begin to understand," he says, slipping the painting back into the plastic tube with a rustle of paper as he negotiates it and the one already inside.

"Then maybe you should start trying," Munin suggests. She's relaxing a little now that there isn't an apocalypse spread across the table in front of her — putting it back in the tube where she can't see it makes the future feel less real, less dangerous, and more like a nebulous uncertainty it should be. "There has to be a reason he isn't telling you everything, Sylar. Either he doesn't think it's safe yet, or he just doesn't want you to know. Which do you think is more likely?"

"Maybe he thinks I don't need to know everything," Sylar says, closing the cylinder. "I know you might think that's naive, Eileen, but I told him once that Vanguard works like clockwork. Independent pieces moving together. They each control only a small part of a bigger scheme, spinning on their own without needing to know to effect what the other pieces are doing to make it work the way it should. It's not so bad." He flicks a glance to her. "But I'll talk to him. It's not the same anymore." He picks up his notepad, flicking through the pages. It's an artist's notebook, with thick lineless pages, a little bigger to accommodate drawings, paintings. "I had something else I wanted you to see."

Talk to Kazimir? "You've looked inside of me," Munin says, her voice much softer than it was a few moments ago, almost a whisper. There's a rough quality to it too, one that suggests this isn't easy for her. "You know what it's like to be used. The way it leaves you raw and hot and sick— not just physically, but—" Unable to properly articulate what she wants to say, she hisses out a frustrated breath through her teeth, more upset with herself than she is with Sylar, though she is clearly both. "If you have to talk to Kazimir, try to remember how it feels, hooked on empty promises." And she leaves it at that. "What else did you want to show me?"

His browsing through the pages halts as she speaks, not looking at her but down at the prophetic sketches and paintings, without really seeing them. A perfect memory readily summons up the recollections she refers to, and his jaw clenches. "I don't need to try to remember," he says, voice also quiet, but there's a growl edging his words too, meeting her eyes though he doesn't lift his head. "I've seen the depths of your memories, your soul, and even then it's probably just the tip of the iceberg - I could have explored all night. And I'll never forget it. I'll remember it with more clarity than you ever will."

But it's nothing like truly being there. Nothing so horrific.

Sylar flips the notepad open and tosses it onto the table. The first image is a pencil drawing of a man whose identity Munin will be familiar with. Peter Petrelli, a scar down his face, although the drawing makes it hard to distinguish which one it is, even if Munin knew there were two. "Keep looking through those," Sylar says, the harder edge out of his voice, sounding more tired than anything.

Munin picks up the notepad, taking a moment to inspect the first picture not only with her eyes but the tip of her index finger as well, lightly tracing the curve of her nail along the heavier lines, careful not to smudge them. Her mouth, though no sound comes out, forms Peter's name. Even if Sylar was a terrible artist, there's no mistaking him for anyone else — not with that scar. Wordlessly, she turns the page with a soft, almost inaudible crinkling of the paper.

The next one is another pencil sketch - characters so vague, blurry stick figures almost, that it's unclear what's going on - but there are four people. Two of them remain close, the others distant to everyone else. The next ones are all paintings, far more detailed, different brush strokes, sophisticated colour. Someone's been using their time off well. The first painting is that of the Peter that Munin's acquainted with, the background a vague blurry grey but the man himself is posed in a defensive position, flames roaring down his arms, spilling out in a horizontal pillar towards…

…presumably the next page, where two characters, their identities unseen through smoke and shadows, cower from the flames, but hints of blue indicate a shield of sorts protecting them. The style overall is loose, abstract, but it's clear that the artist is trying hard to convey definite meaning.

The next is almost artful, a man and a woman holding hands - if one were to guess, the man is Sylar, and the woman beside him is dark-haired, pale skinned. On either side of the image in the foreground are the silhouettes of two men, and no one looks particularly happy.

"I haven't been able to paint the outcome," Sylar speaks up once Munin gets to this image. "I've been trying but I guess there's too many variables to predict who wins. I guess that would be too easy."

"Are they related?" Munin asks, flipping back and forth between pages. The first two definitely are, of that she has no doubt, but the third picture is a little less clear — and while Sylar and Peter are easy enough to pick out, everyone else may as well have a big black question mark hovering over their heads. "This is one you," she says, pointing to the man in the third picture without actually touching it, "but who's the woman you're with? Is she one of the people from the first picture? What about the shadows?" They could be anyone, though recent events haven't exactly been very encouraging. If she has a guess, and she does, she isn't comfortable sharing it with him.

"The woman is Gillian," Sylar says, with confidence. No other person it could be. "She's the…" Awkward pause. "She has an ability that I need, but I can't just take it - so I keep her close." Simple enough, honest enough. "I think they're all related, yes - pictures of the same fight. I don't know if the shadows are anything but shadows, but it's Peter and an ally of his, along with me and Gillian." The lie comes smoothly, out of a necessity to keep things simple. Right now, he knows how Munin feels towards Peter, and he'd prefer to kindle that flame, not snuff it out with conflict over a man ripped in two. "All I need from you is to keep a bird out for me," he says, looking across at her. Not help, just the potential of help.

That's what Munin was afraid of. "Gillian—" There isn't even a trace of jealousy in her body language or her tone when she speaks, but there's a definite undercurrent of nervous energy there. "If you haven't already, don't tell Ethan or the others about her." Her gaze flicks back to the shadows, eyes growing dark. "Especially not… Wu-Long." Maybe the menacing shadows are Peter and his 'ally', maybe they're not. She doesn't want to assume the best, much as her heart might want to. "I can ask Bran to keep an eye out," she says finally. "He won't be able to follow you all the time, but he's the best bird I've got."

Sylar frowns, following her gaze back down to the image. "Well," he says, looking back up at her, "Ethan, Amato and Wu-Long have already met Gillian. They pretended to be a part of PARIAH, or something like that. It's how they even knew I existed. But Ethan and I, we made a deal, that they wouldn't touch her, they're not allowed to." And he seems to trust that, or wants very much to trust that. As if irritated by yet another variable to factor in, Sylar takes back the notepad, closing it once more. "I'm trying to see when this is, and if I find out, I'll tell you."

Pulling her gloves back on, Munin rises from her chair. "I'll do the same, if I hear anything else from Petrelli. He used my birds to track me down at the tenement, but it's a double-edged sword — everything he can do, I can do too. If he reaches out, looking for you and Gillian, it should eventually make its way back around to me." That's the theory, anyway. Munin hasn't put it to the test yet, and she isn't foolish enough to try. "Hopefully before something bad happens."

The birds. Suddenly, those pigeons that just keep flying around him seem more threatening than a nuisance, although he doesn't visibly react when this thought occurs to him. Sylar just nods once to her, not getting up when she does, hand disappearing into his pocket. "Before you go," he says, hand emerging again, offering towards her. In the center of his palm, heavy with age, is a circular, metal item, and even though it's not open, it's clearly a pocket watch. "It's an Elgin railroad pocket watch," he says. The chain that hangs off it is recent, but the watch itself is a relative antique, even though he says, "Made in the 20s, it's not as impressive as the ones from centuries ago. Will you have it?" Odd way to give a present, but it's been a while.

As Munin makes sure that her gloves fit snugly on her hands, she looks down at the pocket watch sitting in Sylar's palm, her dark-haired head cocked at a strange, bird-like angle. You don't hang around pigeons and crows as much as she does without unconsciously picking up a few of their more obvious mannerisms. "Of course I'll have it." Awkward question, only slightly less awkward answer. She reaches out and, careful not to drop it, accepts the gift and holds it up to what little light there is, a faint smile warming the edges of her mouth when she catches the sun glinting off it. "Does it work?"

"It does now," Sylar confirms, sitting up a little and inclining his head to it. "The catch is just there, next to your thumb." It's a simple thing, really, coloured a rich bronzey gold, and, when opened, the clock face itself has obviously been updated - but it's not the part that Sylar deems valuable. It's the insides that make it worth something, so old and still ticking, a simple sound from an impossibly complex mechanism. "If it stops, just let me know. I can fix it."

Munin gently pops the watch open and, cupping it between her palms, brings it to her ear, listening. It takes another few moments before Sylar's words really sink in, allowing her to understand what he means by, "It does now." When she does, the pocket watch clicks shut again, and Munin holds it against her chest, one small hand resting on top of the other as tilts her chin, looking down at Sylar. It feels strange, alien, and not only because she's so accustomed to looking up all the time when she's around him. "Thank you." What else is there to say?

Luckily, it's not any more normal for Sylar, either, so maybe it cancels each other out. But he has an exceedingly limited vocabulary for expressing gratitude, or friendship, or empathy, because the sheer amount of understanding he has for at least a part of her won't go away. Probably won't ever go away. So, a gift. One he'd understand if it was given to him. It's all he has to work with right now. "You're welcome," he says, gaze falling away from hers.

Munin tucks the pocket watch into the inside of her coat where she's sure it will be safe from the elements, should the cloudy skies open up on her way back to wherever it is she's been hiding herself away from the rest of the world. Her right hand brushes his arm when she passes him on her way back across the roof, toward the doorway and the damp stairwell beyond, its touch lingering just long enough to let Sylar know the physical contact wasn't unintentional.

November 17th: It's Stupid

Previously in this storyline…
Which Peter Was It?

Next in this storyline…
I Think I'm Paranoid

November 17th: Doomed to It, Chained to It
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