Asking Nicely


avi_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif

Scene Title Asking Nicely
Synopsis It doesn't always work. Eileen makes a critical error in her dealings with Epstein.
Date July 22, 1010

The Subway

Subway platforms are among either the loneliest places or the most crowded in New York City, depending on the time of day. After dark, when the lights have dimmed and the hour hand on the station's clock inches toward curfew, this stop becomes a yawning cavern filled with the sound of distant wind roaring down the tunnel and far-off wheels shrieking somewhere along the tracks.

According to the schedule posted outside the station, there is only one train left to catch before the subway shuts down for the night and the power utility company cuts off electricity to this part of the grid in a feeble attempt to conserve power and shave a small percentage off the city's annual bill.

The solitary man on the platform won't be along for much longer. Eight minutes before the final train of the evening, a pair of sharp footsteps descending the station's stone stairs echoes hollow in its high rafters.

He's in a zen-like state, the kind people who are used to waiting for public transport can only achieve, tiny Tibetan mountain monks be damned. Epstein is his broad-shouldered self, if minus Sarisa's presence, which is a blessing, to most. Maybe even a blessing to him. The glaring lights that struggle on to illuminate the railroad station— just for him!— bounce and bend in his mirrored glasses, which do a good job of hiding his eyes from public viewing.

A light jacket could potentially hide firearms from sight, but to anyone looking for it, it appears that Avi is likely unarmed. But not empty handled — he has a cellphone in his hands, and either he's furiously texting, or he's lazily playing himself a game of Tetris. The sound of someone joining him on the empty platform gets little more than a twitch of his brow.

The footsteps carry a shadow across the length of the platform, past a rusted water fountain and a pair of silver pigeons drinking from its stagnant drain. A moment later, the lower half of a young woman comes into view, all slim, pale legs and smart black flats paired with a dark gray skirt made from lightweight wool. What she looks like above the waist remains a mystery thanks to the glass box on metal stilts that stands between them and is supposed to house a colour-coded map of the city and the many different lines that run through it but has instead been plastered over with a collage of missing people and numbers to call if seen.

Many of them haven't been since November of 2006.

The slender column of a white cane rests idly against the woman's thigh. "I know you don't want to speak with me," she says from her side of the glass. "I won't hold it against you."

Even though he got a long block, finally, Avi's roaming thumbs pause their gameplay at that voice, lifting his chin as much as he can't see through the divide. A lean away, as stiff as a tree only contemplating being felled, to catch a better angle of hanging wool and pale shins, the bright white of the blind girl's cane as its own kind of advertisement. Rights himself again and lifts one hand to adjust the sit of his glasses, the other pocketing his cellphone.

Of a different make to the one she has a number for. "That's the British for you," he notes. He sounds tired. Though if she is getting a look at him through the scattered eyes of birds, his spine is still rigid, alertness defining every part of his posture. "Polite. What do you want now?"

Eileen wants a lot of things. Not to be here, for instance. On any other night, she'd be settling back into the Dispensary by now, secure in the knowledge that there is no place safer than with Gabriel and Raith. And although she also wants this conversation to be over as swiftly as possible, the even tone of her voice remains true and does not betray her discomfort.

"I feel that I owe you an apology," she says, "for involving you in what happened. It won't again."

There is only a beat of a hesitation, before he decides on a response: "I think it will." His feet shuffle against the concrete, a step or two closer to the divide, enough that he can lean his shoulder against it. Gaze tracking the bright red line of some railroad that draws like a major artery through Manhattan, the illustrated dash-line marks where they were shut down from the ruin of the blast. As if to prevent himself tracking it with a finger, Aviators folds his hands together, lets them hang at his front in a loose clasp.

One of the pigeons perched on the edge of the water fountain swivels its head and points its eyes at the coat pocket Epstein's phone disappeared into. Its companion ruffles its feathers and makes a low cooing sound at the back of its throat that sounds more reassuring than it's probably meant to.

Eileen reaches up and curls fingers with porcelain nails around the edge of the box, rings winking in the platform's diluted half-light. If she left the Dispensary with her lambskin gloves this morning, they've been tucked away along with her own cellphone set to vibrate. "It won't," she reiterates gently.

"Sure it will. You can't get enough." It's a joke, clearly, from the bitter edge of his voice, that self-deprecating wryness, and Avi shifts to lean his back against the map, a cursory glance, now, around the space to see who might be here. But there's no one. No one here but us chickens pigeons, of course, and his mouth pulls into a slight kind of smirk. "What the hell do you want, Spurling?"

They will see it and she will hear it, the way his feet navigate him around the barrier to cross over to the other side, coming up behind her. "You seriously came all the way out here— alone— to apologise to me about what, taking up my time?"

Eileen doesn't need to turn around. The pigeons are watching Epstein for her and the way she tucks her chin against her shoulder to show him her profile like she would if she was keeping him in her periphery is ultimately just for show. Assumptions made about her cane aside, she can count the number of people on one hand who know that it isn't just a prop.

Epstein is not among them, and chances are she'd like to keep it that way. His choice of words gives her a moment's pause. "You don't know that I'm alone," she's compelled to remind him. "He hit you."

"You didn't answer my question." That's from behind her, now, Avi lifting an arm so as best to lean an elbow against the steel-framed barricade, or what was a barricade. From behind his glasses, the girl gets a look up and down, from head to toe, or what he can see of her from this angle. White teeth show a little in a characteristic kind of sneer, before he says, with edged irritation, "Hey. Look at me when I'm talking to you."

Now Eileen does turn, hand dropping away from box's frame as she rotates hers to face Epstein. Her eyes lift to his face — or where she estimates his face to be based on the source of his voice — and holds what she imagines is his gaze. Whether or not she succeeds, there's still something distinctly off about her glassy green stare.

The pigeons at the fountain do not take flight or seek new perches to accommodate for the shift lest Eileen give herself away. She will settle for a broad view of his back for now.

"I am." Looking at him. "And I did." There's also the matter of Catherine Chesterfield and what he should and shouldn't be telling her, but Eileen is suddenly reconsidering the wisdom of this plan. There's more wrong with this scenario than just her eyes.

It only confirms what the cane made him imagine, Avi's head tilting to the side before he winds up slinking a little closer, enough that she can catch the scent of aftershave, clothes that could have stood to be laundered by now. His mouth is a little crooked when he ducks down enough that he could be almost level with her, and a hand comes up to drag down his glasses as if inspecting her over the top of them. There are two eyes that she can't directly see, and they study the way she looks at nothing.

"He hit me," he repeats, deliberate, as if tasting the words. "Well how about that. Thank you, for your apology."

The aroma that Epstein carries with him is one that Eileen associates with her Brooklyn apartment and several prolonged weeks of anxiety potent enough to leave her sleepless on more than one occasion. It's unpleasant. He is unpleasant. And yet here she is, desperately wishing that the man she thinks she's talking to is the man she's talking to, because if he isn't—

If he isn't, there's possibly a way for her to find out. "I also wanted to ask you why you think he did."

In steps too swift to be practical— drama, certainly, an element of it that one couldn't really picture Avi Epstein indulging in— he moves around her, a hand resting very lightly on an arm as she can feel more than hear and certainly more than see the way he steps up behind her. It's above her ear, that he gravels out, "I have no idea what you're talking about," and it's probably the accent more than any change of vocal chords, the cadence of speech and Sylar's tricks of emphasis, that give him away.

Quite deliberately. Facades are fun when they're not 24/7, and she knows better. His hand abruptly grips tighter, as if imagining she might run. "But I'm pretty sure you're alone."

Eileen's arm stiffens under his touch and confirms suspicions. If he didn't already have a hold on her, she'd be flying up the same steps she came down, pigeons trailing behind her, but he does — and while she should have known better than to let complacency get the best of her, she's at least self-aware enough not to force him into escalation.

"Is that a risk you're willing to take?" she asks, hefting her cane. She doesn't hit him with it, but the threat is there. "You can't survive without Gabriel. The opposite — it's not true."

"It's a chance I'm willing to take." There's his voice, the way she recalls it, easily.

Illusions take no effort, and he certainly doesn't need a visual one in front of her, and his frame seems to flicker and distort in the eyes of the birds. It takes longer than reality, for them to comprehend this new shape, but by the time they do, Sylar is back into being, adorned in the same clothes as he was before including the reflective glasses his free hand plucks off his face, fidgets with them.

His hand squeezes, in something like mock affection. "While you people were here, playing in the snow, I was long gone. I got out, saw some sights, got myself a few new toys. What's been happening with you?" sounds friendly.

Cognitive dissonance is the expression that describes what Eileen is experiencing right now. It's Gabriel's voice, Gabriel's shape, and both at the Empire State Building and the Speakeasy Hotel she'd been fooled. This is the first time she's crossed paths with his self-proclaimed better half while armed with the knowledge of what he is and, based on her interactions with Tavisha, some vague ideas about what he represents.

She presses out a breath, then slowly pulls another in to replace it, steadying herself. "Nothing at all remarkable." Except the obvious: she's blind. "Whatever you're thinking, please don't."

"Since you asked so nicely…" And with sharp, jarring force, she's driven back against the map, other hand snapping around to grip the wrist that wields the length of white plastic cane. "But I don't think you're considering the theatrical possibilities," Sylar says, a little breathless, abruptly, voice climbing up in energy — no where close to hysterical, but there's excitement sparking through his syllables. "Blind girl with her head cut open, kind of a— I'm back message to send, don't you think? Takes out a little complication, too. It's the female romantic interest in the movies that derails the hero from his task."

His arm is up against her throat, tilting face up for the ceiling of the subway. "And the villain, for that matter. I'd be doing everyone a favour. And I really miss your power, you know that?" A pause, and then he notes: "Not a lot of sky, down here."

Is it eight minutes, yet?

Sheets of newspaper flutter in the breeze blown down the tunnel. There's a pocket watch in the cardigan Eileen is wearing that could tell her how much longer she has to wait for the train, but right now minutes feel like hours and her hand not clutching the cane has fingers hooked around Sylar's forearm in an attempt to pry it away from her neck so she isn't hissing when she breathes.

There's not a lot of sky down here. There is, however, a lot of sky up there and an opening that isn't so narrow a flock couldn't surge down it. She reaches out with her ability, pushing down her fear in an attempt to achieve some sort of balance and prevent scaring away the birds she's simultaneously calling to her aid.

"The things I could tell you," she rasps out. "You can take my ability, but you can only be so many places at once. Think about— what I could do—"

"Think about what I could do." And he doesn't have to do much to make his point. Puppetry stiffens through her muscles, her tendons, makes her into a statue frozen where she stands, hand curled around his arm and feet braced hard against tiled floor. His breath ruffles the finer hairs at her temples, and then, rattling in her ears, the more cavernous sound of heavy machinery rumbling its echoes through an underground tunnel, making iron tremble and groan beneath its burden.

There's a soft sound of amusement from the back of Sylar's throat, and he presses her harder where he has her pinned. "But I got a train to catch." The pressure alleviates in the same moment he steps back, pacing away as his ride home comes pulling up with a roar and whine of mechanics, and what few people are within the lit up carriages, probably pay no mind for the catatonic young woman slumped back against the barricade.

Epstein is putting on his glasses by the time those puppet strings are cut. That he's not taking her with him is either a mercy, or he has something else to do.

Eileen is in no position to ask, and does not want to know which. Her breaths come short and shallow, but she still possesses enough dignity not to slump to the platform's pavement floor. Her hand goes out instead, catches the side of the case and uses its metal frame to shakily guide her. The starlings and sparrows in the trees above ground are trembling all over.

Not incidentally, so is she. As the train is pulling away, she's resting against the glass, fishing her cellphone from her cardigan pocket and relying on memory to enter the ten digit number assigned to somebody else's. She does what she should have that night in the Rookery.

Calls Gabriel.

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