A Step in the Right Direction


eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title A Step in the Right Direction
Synopsis The morning after, Gabriel and Eileen confront one another about uncomfortable truths without their conversation degenerating into an argument.
Date October 4, 2009

Remnant Safehouse

It's been a while since sunlight's had the chance to rouse Eileen out of her sleep. The moment has been and gone, however, and light pools stagnant over her sleeping form and the rest of the bed. There's a rough indentation of where someone else has curled up and since vacated, with only the woman's lank hand resting upon cool fabric. Foot steps, too, have since been quiet, as with the slide of fabric against skin, previously discarded clothing pulled on.

But eventually, noise erodes at sleep. At the edge of murky consciousness, there's the sound of something opening and closing, water-stiff drawers jerked out from their fixtures, rattling the small bedside table. Gabriel crouches in front of it, casually pawing through contents both old and new. The spent syringe on the wooden surface rattles, rocks subtly with the small, shuddering movements, until the serial killer pays a glance to it and picks it up between his fingertips.

And speaking of fingertips, Eileen's are curling. It's only a faint twitch of movement, so slight that it might even be missed if it weren't for the rustling sound her lacquered nails produce when the skim across the fabric and feel for a dark head of hair beside hers as she makes the transition between dreamtime and wakefulness.

In a better world — or a brighter future, if you asked Ghost about it — she'd have the luxury of being able to take her time, burrow deeper into the blankets and wait for her body to gradually acclimate to her surroundings before climbing out of bed. Unfortunately, when you live the nomadic lifestyle that the Remnant does, time is as important as the air you breathe, and as Eileen's inhales deeply through her nostrils and cracks one bleary green eye open, she's already thinking about what she needs to do today.

Or would be, if she could remember what day it was. She lets out a low groan with her next exhale, sinks her nails into the pillowcase's clumped stuffing and turns her face into the crook of her arm. Fuck whatever it was she had planned. It can wait.

There's a slight tik-tik of consideration, needle flicking between his fingers contemplatively with its silver minnow tip hitting the wood the top of the table. At the ease of breath and shifting from the bed, he pauses though doesn't move, amber-brown gaze sweeping over her partially obscured form. The air is still pricklingly cool from the previous fall night, the raw chill of an unheated house settled lazy in the air.

Gabriel waits one, two seconds, and at no sign of movement or life, resumes his search, the plastic body of the syringe hidden in his palm as the furniture's openings are pried at, searched through.

Memory comes trickling back at the speed of molasses seeping from a paper spout on a cold day. Inch by inch, it fills the space between her ears with a syrupy sensation that delays Eileen's waking further as she wades through the muck and tries to dredge up the most important details of the previous night. When the sludge has solidified and her perceptions locked into place, she lifts her very heavy head a fraction of an inch off the pillow and peers over her elbow.

It's Gabriel. That makes sense, all things considered. She watches him in silence as he takes the room apart one piece at a time in search of— whatever it is he's searching for. If she felt less like some sort of golem, she might make the connection between the syringe in his hand and the motions he's going through, but right now she lacks the cognitive power to effectively process what it is she's seeing with her eyes.

"I drive you away?"

It's not the kick over frantic search it could be. Thorough, slow, casual. He has all the time in the world, even as Eileen's eyes finally open and she notices his slow progress through the room. A glance over one black clad shoulder, before Gabriel presses his palm upon the open drawer and eases it close with a stop-start shudder of old, swollen furniture. It knocks against the wall, slightly too loud to those with a hangover.

"I'm still here, aren't I? And it's," he turns a wrist, where a watch glimmers its glass face in the light of morning, "ten past eleven. How does it feel, in the morning?"

There's nothing to find, that much is becoming increasingly clear. Neither good nor bad. Gabriel straightens his legs from his crouch, his feet bare and peaking out from denim hems, moving back towards the bed at a lazy pace.

Tired. Hungry. Sore. There are a lot of words Eileen could describe how she feels, some more colourful than others, but the one she eventually settles does a good job of encompassing them all at once. "Rubbish," she says, using the curve of her thumbnail to scrape the crust from her eyes. These sensations are nothing new, and it's with a slow sort of resoluteness that she rolls all the way over onto her back, cot springs creaking shrill in response to the shifting weight.

It feels much earlier than it actually is. Outside, beams of sunlight sliver through the grayish cloud cover and illuminate droplets of precipitation on the window's cracked pane — a subtle reminder that summer has gone and winter steadily encroaches on the fall. Already, the leaves are beginning to grow brittle, wither and crack. Eileen wouldn't mind doing that herself, really.

She busies her fingers by playing with a stray strand of cotton thread hanging off the seam of her blanket, which has started to unravel from excessive use. "I didn't think you would."

"Shows how well you know me."

There is the minor indication of bristling in Gabriel's tone, but buffered with weariness, and the aversion to an argument this early. The bed dips as he comes to sit down on it, still rotating needle between his fingers with that single, last drop of luminous blue chemical having lost its brightness in the hazy morning.

He sets it down, in a delicate, deliberate motion, before bringing his leg properly onto the mattress, folding, ankle gripped in a casual kind of slouching position. "You didn't drive me away. We probably have a lot to talk about besides."

You don't like talking is on the tip of Eileen's tongue, but if she doesn't know him well enough to predict whether or not he'll stay or go, then it stands to reason she could be wrong about this too. She decides to explain instead, voice taking on a diluted quality not unlike the light filtering in through the bedroom window. "Do you remember what you told me about understanding each other?" she asks. "About how we can only make it happen when you have pieces missing?"

If Gabriel has pieces missing now, she can't tell. He looks and sounds whole, and though she isn't close enough to breathe in the scent of his hair or skin, she imagines he smells the same as he usually does. There's no dark stickiness bleeding through either of their clothes to indicate either of them is injured beyond the residual scars that every human being acquires over their lifetime. Psychological trauma, invisible to the naked eye.

"Breaking apart. It happens to me, too. You're not the only one who hurts."

Gabriel's gaze drops to the span of bedsheet between them, raising an eyebrow as he does so. It's the only indication of offense taken as he measures his words for the moment, because like pieces missing on the inside, such reactions can, too, be invisible to the naked eye. He takes a breath, irritation in the rise and fall of his shoulders before he's stating; "You say that like I have no concept of the suffering of other people. For a while, that's all I knew. I know something is wrong."

Educate the sociopath. He keeps his hands to himself and remains balanced on the edge of the bed. The look she gets after that is a little chillier, but he also doesn't make to move away. "I've seen you break apart before. I've helped you before. I've brought you back from the dead."

Eileen tenses under the sheets, the muscles in her legs and abdomen going stiff. Her stomach clenches, turns. The piece of thread, poised between two fingers, is given an abrupt yank and separated from the blanket. "Maybe you weren't supposed to," she suggests with the softness of wind whispering through saltgrass. "That first morning when I was cutting off my hair with Ethan's razor in front of the mirror, my felt like they belonged to another person. I couldn't remember anything about what happened at Pinehearst because there wasn't anything to remember. No pain, no white light, no nothing."

She rolls the severed thread between the pads of her fingers, fraying it further, then flicks it away in frustration when she fails to articulate what she wants to. "I don't feel like Eileen anymore, Gabriel. I don't even feel like Munin. The Refrain was supposed to help."

Attention, undivided, is Eileen's to bask in as Gabriel narrows his eyes at her and sits silent. If incomprehension and familiarity can show within the same expression, he manages to achieve it. When she finishes, he looks down at his hands, stretches fingers. Whole and uninjured, they certainly don't look like hands of someone who's been through half of what he has, and Eileen probably couldn't find her experience in her own palms either.

"You weren't meant to die down there. You weren't meant to die protecting me. Things change. People change. I'm not Sylar and by rights, I shouldn't even be Gabriel. It's just names. Maybe you should just find a new one."

He moves, then, though not away. He comes to rest his shoulder against the headboard in a curve backed slouch, movements slow and sinuous. "Whatever Refrain gives you— memories, happiness— isn't real. This room, what happens next, I am real."

Feng Daiyu is real, too, and so is the black eye Raith gave her when she fought his advances, but these are thoughts with no voice of their own or a means to speak. Eileen glances over at Gabriel's hands, her eyes catching on the lines that a palm reader might be fascinated to explore with probing fingers and an overly earnest gaze. To her credit, she resists the base urge to reach out, touch, follow the natural curve between his index finger and thumb in much the same way, either lacking the courage or the desire to initiate physical contact.

"Nothing is meant to happen," she says finally. "It just does." Small hands smooth the hem of her blanket between her hands as if trying to iron out the wrinkles from the rumpled material. "What real things make you happy?"

He's close enough, now, that he could touch. Gabriel's hand even settles between them, suggesting that he might like to. At her words, his head tilts, sunlight glancing off one high cheekbone. It's a simple question, by and large, but it's her words before that that catch his attention, narrows his gaze. He doesn't pursue contact after all, mouth curling into a small half smile that doesn't reach or match his eyes.

Voice coming quiet, he shrugs the shoulder not leaning against the bed. "This isn't about me and my happiness. If nothing is meant to happen, who are you to say that I wasn't meant to save you?" Gabriel shakes his head, brow tense in his consternation. "You can't have it both ways. If you do, it's nothing about fate or my mistakes, and everything to do with you not being able to cope."

"You don't think it's possible that you brought me back wrong?" It isn't an accusation and it isn't snidely-spoken or piggybacking on the same breath as a sneer. Eileen is being earnest, genuine in her sincerity. She is, after all, speaking to the expert on abilities; if anyone can give her a reliable answer to her question, it's Gabriel. "I look at my reflection in the glass and it's like facing a stranger. The things that used to make me laugh can't even make me smile. I haven't been happy, not for a long time."

She reaches into the front pocket of the sweatshirt she wears on her slim torso and takes out a small square of folded paper which she turns between her fingertips in quiet contemplation. "I should be able to cope," she says. "I've seen what I can do with my life. I've seen that it doesn't have to be this way."

"I don't know." Perhaps not the answer desired of an expert, but it's the honesty Gabriel can afford. He glances down to the scrap of paper in her hands, but doesn't ask, refusing to leave his response there. "Maybe it was just a reality check. You nearly lost your life and gaining it back was nothing special. We're terrorists and serial killers, and we can't trust our own friends and allies not to die or screw us over. We live in broken down shelters. We live like parasites, not people. And we know it could be better than it is. Happiness doesn't come easily."

He shifts to lie with his back against the headboard, head tilted up to observe the ceiling. "But, you know. A friend and an enemy told me that you don't ask permission to be happy. You just take it. Maybe I did bring you back wrong - I screwed Teo over too. In the same night, even."

There's a saying about things coming in threes, though the exact words elude Eileen at present. "You did what you could for Teo," she reminds him gently. "Peter. Me. I don't think any of us hold that against you." As she speaks, she peels the square apart at the corner, unfolding it one section at a time. The creases are tight, worn; it's been in her pocket for a long time and conformed to the shape her fingers last pinched it in, so she has to be careful not to tear it in the process.

"I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to think that it was a waste." Eileen isn't looking at him anymore. Her eyes focus on the dexterous movements of her fingers and hands and the piece of paper appearing to grow larger, thinner and more transparent with every practiced motion. "I don't want you to look at me and see a mistake."

Following her cue, Gabriel's gaze shifts towards where her fingers are opening up the fine piece of paper with infuriating patience. He has a folded arm tucked beneath his head, eyes hooded heavy, and he notes, "I know what my mistakes look like." The implication being, and you don't look like one, but it's nothing he feels the need to voice out loud, free hand resting on his stomach.

It doesn't take him long to take the bait. Just a blink of time passing after his response before; "What's that?"

"A poem," Eileen says. "I took it out of a book." Literally: out of a book. Upon closer inspection, one of the edges is torn where it was separated from its bindings in one swift motion. When you live as they do — like parasites, as Gabriel so eloquently put it — there aren't many places to put things. You scale back, par down, excise the extraneous. She didn't need the whole text, just this one page.

"It's meant for you and Teo, but I've been holding onto it for me too. So I don't forget." She smoothes the paper between the heel of her hand and the bedspread, perhaps to make it more legible, perhaps just to feel its rumpled silkiness against the cool skin of her palm. "I want you to have it."

He'd given her a pocketwatch once. Small tokens of connectivity, like touch. It's the fact that he doesn't have the memory he used to that has him saying, "I'm not good at keeping track of possessions," as a fair warning, but it doesn't stop him from reaching out to take it when her hand lets up. As delicate as tweezers, Gabriel picks it up with the pinch of two fingers before using both hands to keep it open from its natural fold, like peeling back the petals of a resistant flower. As a rule, he needs glasses, but it doesn't stop him from reading.

The death of birds
is conducted without weeping.
They are not mourned for,
nor do they mourn for themselves.
They know
that each thing has its season
and that their
is short
and, of necessity, is done.

The poem, an excerpt from a longer piece called The Death of Birds by Hugh Cook, is printed in a bold, dark font that Gabriel doesn't recognize, though the words are easy to read in spite of the paper's degraded condition and a few smudges of black ink that mar the page where a pen once wept ink. In one corner, a blackbird with a length of ribbon clasped in its clawed feet wings through an empty sky. Eileen isn't a very good artist, but there are few other people who might be responsible for the drawing. She watches him read, saying nothing, eyes dark and shadowed by the thick lashes that define their vivid, catlike shape.

It's not long, not incomprehensible, so Gabriel takes his time and scans it twice once it's read through, before feeling his fingertips along the creases to let it fold as it may. "Teo would value words more than I do." But the poem isn't passed back. Instead, it's set down on his side of the bed, upon the table that bears the emptied needle, edging it beneath the broken shade lamp still resting heavy and unlooted. Not trusting his pockets while lying down. "It was you who told me birds make poor substitutes for friends."

"A bird doesn't have arms to hold, hands to caress, fingers to touch." Eileen studies her nails — the polish flaking off them, the dirt, sweat and grime wedged under their crescent tips. One is cracked where she struck it against the pavement cutting Ivanov down, and it's this that captures her attention. As if seeing the bruise for the first time, she lowers her brows and knits them into a rueful expression and rubs her thumb along its mottled edge. "Their brains are too small to understand complex ideas, too, but that doesn't mean they don't feel. They know what a companion is. A mate. Losing someone hurts, maybe not for as long, and maybe not with the same intensity of emotion as a human being, but pain is pain. Grief is grief. You and Teo have been better friends to me than anyone — if you felt what I felt, you'd know why I picked it."

"Then you should know why I saved you." This conclusion he settles on, and is not without an intangible flare of jealousy of sharing the space of Eileen's regard with one other person, if the glance down the length of the bed to nowhere in particular is to indicate anything at all. Gabriel lifts a hand, to rub at his face. "I miss them. The powers I've lost. Yours more than other's. It was the first one I had to learn. First one that made me feel less alone." It's a sentiment stated as fact, removed from emotion or emphasis, whether deliberately or not.

Eileen's hand finds Gabriel's leg, nails skimming across denim as she closes her fingers around his knee and squeezes just enough for the pressure to register. That he misses the powers he's lost is not news; what hers meant to him is, and there's a moment where the tension in her hand spreads up arm and through the set of her shoulders. "Do you feel alone now?"

The hand gets a look, which trails up her arm like tension. Eyes slightly veiled, a weighty pause which might more or less indicate he is being truthful when Gabriel states; "No." The hand resting at his midsection moves, then, to settle light over her's. Longer fingers, broader palm, almost entirely eclipse her pale hand save for where spindly fingers peek between his own. "Do you?" His voice is already guarded in preparation for a suspected answer, studying their hands rather than her eyes.

"I could be standing in a room full of people and feel completely alone," Eileen says. "I do it every day on the ferry, on the subway. New York City's one of the biggest places I've ever been, and I've never felt more isolated than I do here. Maybe it's America. Maybe it's me." Her fingers are cold to the touch under his hand, an unfortunate result of genetics, poor circulation. The lack of a working radiator doesn't help either, and is almost certainly another contributing factor.

If truthfulness can be measured in pauses, then the silence that spans between them next is as honest as they come. "Being with people I care about makes it better. Being with you makes it better. It isn't a solution, but it helps."

"It shouldn't be a solution." The agreement is simple and borderline selfless. It would be easy to take offense. Gabriel's hand stays, despite himself, palm warm and dry. "Even if I did bring you back wrong, I don't think I can be the one to fix it. Just you. I don't think Refrain is the answer either." It was inevitable, that their conversation would circle on back to this idea, spoken simply and almost flatly. "I know you know that."

His hand moves from hers, his leg from under, though not completely away. The mattress groans beneath shifting weight, settling where he can look at her properly. "You know the disappointment of the crash and the emptiness in between. I learned your power when you showed me the worthlessness of habit." There isn't confusion - it's not the starting again that Gabriel doesn't understand.

"I can't afford to keep taking it," Eileen says. "Thirty, forty dollars a dose, a couple times a week — it adds up, and someone other'n you is going to notice. I told Raith it was going toward information. That's only half true." Her hand withdraws, retreats, folds back the blankets as she pulls her legs into her chest and sits up.

"Memories aren't perfect. They have flaws, details that transform and distort over time, but with the Refrain it's clearer." Her legs extend again, and this time her the soles of her feet find the dusty floorboards. With visible effort, she rises from the bed, her back to Gabriel, stretching her arms out in front of her until she feels the joints in her elbows begin to protest under the strain.

"I remember things I didn't think I knew. Bits of conversation Kazimir had with other people in different languages. I could write it down, find someone to translate it. Maybe it's worth something."

The mattress squeaks as Gabriel rises from it too, feet finding the other side of the bed. "Worth something, maybe. But not worth last night." He says this like it's final, stealing up the spent needle and then, with slightly more care, the poem. It's slipped flat into a pocket, and he rolls his shoulders beneath the loose fabric of his shirt. He picks up a jacket draped on the end of the bed, bundling it up in his hands. "I'm going to clean up. I'll see you downstairs." The aged floorboards creak underfoot as he makes his strolling steps towards the door, only a fleeting glance sent her way.

The glance is not returned, and neither is the implicit goodbye. They're both temporary things, transitory in nature. She waits until she hears his footsteps on the stairs before she peels off her sweatshirt over her head and discarded on the seat of the chair beside the bed in favour of something that smells cleaner and feels softer against her skin.

Tired, sore and hungry are words she might have used to describe her current state, and while there's nothing she can do about the first two except take some painkillers and climb back into bed, she's in a position to address the third. Like good company, food in her stomach isn't a permanent fix. It is, however, a step in the right direction.

OOC Note: "The Death of Birds" is a poem by Hugh Cook and the intellectual property of its author. You can visit his website and read some of his other work here.

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