Being Human


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Scene Title Being Human
Synopsis On an expedition into Midtown, Gabriel Gray crosses paths with Allen Rickham — who blatantly ignores Dr. Ray's orders and decides to take revenge for an act that hasn't been committed yet.
Date May 28, 2009

Ruins of Midtown

The weather has been as tempestuous as the city has, in recent days. Sharp rises to humid early summer temperatures, followed up by sharp declines back down to early spring lows. The resulting rain and mild thunderstorms that have hung over the city for the last day are the product of this turbulent weather, much as any storm is the result of the unrest that precedes it.

Cold rain comes down in a drizzling haze through the ruins of Midtown. A dusty and gray wasteland of lifeless brick, concrete and pavement all jumbled together in jagged towers of collapsed stone and twisted rebar, decked with flakes of shattered glass. Water settles into deep puddles where upheaved concrete collapses down into closed-off sewers, causing intermittent flooding and erosion, which then leads to sinkholes and entire buildings collapsing in on themselves. Add to this, the inhospitable levels of background radiation, and it becomes obvious why the government set up blockades to keep people out.

Unfortunately, no amount of blockades, curfews and National Guardsmen can deter everyone from visiting the ruins out of curiosity, squatting in the derelict skyscrapers, or simply coming here to lose themselves in the tragedy. High above those rainslicked streets and ruined homes, a row of three cracked gargoyles peer off of the side of what was once a highrise office building. Beside these scowling monuments of architecture, a scowling visage of a different material makes company in this rookery of stone.

Rain patters and pinks off of the metallic form of Allen Rickham, hunched forward where he sits on the ledge of the building's eighth floor, arms draped over his lap, shoulders slouched and head bowed. The brown trenchcoat he wears is soaked through and through with water, same with the gray hooded sweatshirt he wears beneath; all a part of the disguise he wears to try and hide his inhuman appearance.

From up here, in company of gargoyles, the world looks like a haze of brush-stroked grayscale, a black and white impressionist piece received through vibrations in the iron man's metallic body. The sigh he gives, as rain rolls down and through the lacerations in his steel brow sounds hollow and tinny, an reverberating echo that sounds as if a man was exhaling into a large tin can. Vestigial as the breath is, it is the intention, not the deed that makes Allen feel somewhat more human.

And feeling human is something that has been in short supply, for many people in this city.

And of course, alternatively, feeling human is in abundance for those who don't care to. The rain is cold, wet and invasive as Gabriel emerges from a building not so far from where Rickham makes his perch and goes to move through the broken graveyard of Peter's legacy, and twinges of weakness— whether that be the shivers he gives beneath his black coat, or his feet beginning to ache from the journey through the city, or the multitude of smaller hurts on his body in the forms of scrapes and bruises on his hands, his face, his back— all sing together a choir of humanity.

Like he'd snidely told Gillian, when she had missed the simplicity of sensation and emotion when trapped in the form that she was: he'd trade.

And yet, he's not seeking shelter, even if he does move close to buildings rather than meander down the center of abandoned streets. Gabriel has his arms wrapped tight around him, hair unkempt and dripping with the relentless sheets of silver rain. A gaze goes up towards where figures of gargoyles make similar silhouettes against the pendulumous cloudy sky, and if there's time to see if one is different, the rain takes care of that quickly, steering the former serial killer's gaze back down to escape it.

Contrary to popular belief, he does have a destination, disappearing into the crevice of another broken down building before emerging out an alleyway, like a rat through a maze. His course is zigzagged, searching, restless and cagey, as meandering as it is determined, and uncaring of the rain when he makes it back out onto the street.

He's certainly not aware of anyone following him, or even looking his way.

Following, looking, or even leering.

At first one black dot in the ruins of so many gray heaps is hard to sort out. But sounds, textures, feelings all have a certain uniqueness to them with Rickham's senses. It's not the distant face of Gabriel Gray that sparks memories, but the way he moves, the way he walks, the way he carries himself. For all his worth, he might not even be Gabriel, but seeing those motions brings back vivid and tortured memories of rays of light hot enough to melt steel scouring iron flesh, lacerating a metallic throat and slicing through a pitted brow. It brings back memories of the day he was so mutilated, that he could never safely take human form again.

Gabriel Gray or not, the figure's shape, motions and appearance are as offensive as the real man's would be. The subconscious bile building up, the tension of fiberless muscles of solid metal causing hands to clench and crush concrete beneath, the memories of a humanity robbed in an event so… unexplainable.

It's a pity, Rickham muses to himself, if it was Gray, it would make this more satisfying. "That" being when Allen pushes his tremendous weight forward on the ledge, feet dangling in the air and fingers curled into cracks made in the concrete, before shunting his weight forward entirely, beginning the whistling plummet from eight stories high, the trail of his coat snapping and fluttering above him in a torrent of shed beads of water.

First there's nothing to hear, although not so long ago, the sound of iron grating against concrete up above would have had Gabriel snapping his head to look upwards in the same instant. No, for now, he only walks, and then finally—

He turns to look towards the skies around the same time half a ton of iron comes slamming down to earth. It cracks road in a violent upheaval of cement and tar. Any closer and it might have knocked Gabriel off his feet, but for now, he only feels the vibrations through the soles of his boots and flings a hand up and tracks a darting gaze upwards to see if there's any more broken building about to plummet back down to earth until…

The thing about human shape, human faces, it that it's so ingrained within us that it's the first thing in a world or picture of abstract shapes and environments that draws the eye. And so Gabriel knows in a belated second that it wasn't just a chunk of irradiated iron or concrete falling to the ground.

It was a man, who now falls under Gabriel's disbelieving and frozen stare.

The expression is mirrored in the hunched form of the man of living steel as he rises from a crouch in the shattered crater of earth he depressed into the street. Rain rolls off of a metallic face in smooth sheets, and unblinking hematite eyes manage to convey that look of shock and surprise in painful clarity. The creak of bending metal comes as Allen's head tilts to the side, metal slivers for his receeding hair clatter together and rattle in the falling rain as a flash of lightning and peal of thunder overhead seems to punctuate the gesture.

"You!" He roars out in that deep and resonant voice, one spidery-fingered and cold hand lunging out to grasp at Gabriel's throat, lifting him up off of his feet and propelling him back in a single fluidic motion until his back smashes against the boarded up windows of an old jewelry shop. "Why!?" It's a pained cry, shouted towards Gabriel but the words have a texture not meant for his ears. "Why you?!" His fingers squeeze, pressing down dangerously on the firmness of Gabriel's throat, but they could be squeezing so much harder, there could be nothing but a crushed windpipe and spasming limbs here, instead of something far less fatal.

Rickhem seethes, shoulders rising and falling as he inhales vestigial breaths, brows lowered and mouth opened like some snarling animal. "I should kill you for what you did to me!" His arm shakes, his whole body trembles as rain continues to batter down around them. Should kill, but doesn't. All that anger, and yet—

"You took everything from me." No matter where Gabriel goes — or when he goes — he is always adept at making new, interesting, and homicidal friends.

It is fortunate, then, that Gabriel has fewer friends than he does enemies — if they all treated him with the courteousness and respect that Rickham is showing him now, he might not have any bones left in his body to crush or break. You can trust Eileen Ruskin on this one, because she knows.

Rain splashes against the pavement, masking the sound of her footsteps on the concrete as she crunches through debris, pulverizes pieces of glass beneath her boots and moves with the purposeful determination of a lioness accumulating forward momentum just before the pounce.

An inch over five feet and several pounds shy of seven stone, she stands little chance of contending with the erstwhile president elect in a physical arena, but with her flashing eyes and fluid motions made all the more slick and precise by the rain, she is at the very least a terrible sight to behold.

The gun comes up and two shots are squeezed off, neither of them aimed at Rickham's back. Instead, the bullets punch through wood and blow out the remains of the boarded window behind its planks, showering both Gabriel and his aggressor in a fine spray of broken glass.

If that doesn't get his attention—

The bruises are instant, never mind the wooden planks he's being thrown into, but Rickham's hands are not ones meant to do no injury. Gun in his coat forgotten and ultimately useless even if he remembered it, Gabriel's hands come to cling desperately to the solid arm of the man pinning him in place. Breathing comes in reedy and a pulse beats frantically against unfeeling fingers, like a trapped moth in a fist. Just as easy to crush, too.

Not for the first time, the certainty of death is a jarring notion. After everything he's done to deserve it, for something he hasn't. Yet. Despite key words like should, Rickham's hand at his throat gets his attention a little better. Gabriel is one of those who has to learn the hard way. Sometimes not even then. For example, he's struggling.

The gunshots come from a dream, some reality where he would be able to breathe better to perceive them clearly, but the showering of splinters and glass makes him flinch. More cuts are joined with the thorn pricks of a previous evening, and it's the least of his worries.

Wood splinters, creaks and groans under pressure already high, but when the wood is weakened and the glass behind it is shattered, Rickham's strength simple causes the plywood to snap in half, sending Gabriel forward through the broken window atop two halves of split wood. Rickham stumbles forward, losing his balance and top-heavily teetering forward before catching himself with his free hand on the frame of the window. Gabriel slips entirely out of his rain-slicked grasp, and Allen is forced to watch him fall away and down to the floor inside, out of arm's reach.

The sound Rickham makes in anger or frustration is akin to the rumbling of a two-cylinder engine with has loose bolts in it. A panging and rattling noise that is underlaid by a deep and resonant hum. Iron creaks and groans as it flexes when Rickham turns first with his shoulders and head, then with his whole body towards the source of the gunfire. Dark, hematite eyes widen in surprise, and then narrow in frustration. "Always at his side…" The words come out in a spitting manner between steel teeth, "…like a good dog." Heavy iron moves with a startling alacrity as a metallic hand lashes out to grasp for Eileen's wrist and crush it into a fine pulp, but instead his fingers find purchase on the barrel of her gun instead; just barely allowing slender fingers to slip out of that vice-grip.

More metal crunches and bends as the gun is crushed into a distorted shape between his fingers, as if it were made out of dough. Shards of the gun's barrel are ground out between his fingers, and the rest of the broken piece falls to the concrete as he throws it aside. "Edward can screw his orders, I'm going to enjoy making him watch while I crush your head between my hands."

The crumpled weapon skitters end over end like a tin can, spinning away into the darkness where it eventually comes to rest in the shadow of an overturned roadblock. Not that it matters. Even if Eileen were to somehow get past Rickham and retrieve it, it wouldn't be any more useful to her than her own fists.

Perhaps surprisingly, she does not turn to run. Hunched and bristling, she begins to back up, unwilling to show Rickham her back or take her eyes off his shining metal outline. No sudden movements, no jerky backpedaling or scrambling hand over hand up the nearest pile of debris.

When she swallows, Rickham can see the lump jump against the pale skin of her exposed throat on its way down, glistening with rainwater and perspiration. There's fear in her eyes, but resoluteness too — a complete absence of regret. "Edward. Edward Ray?"

Gabriel is all scrabbling limbs and clawing hands to get away not a few moments after he's hit the ground, using the darkness and the angles of the gutted building to make an escape, to hide, to run. His throat is bruised and he's drawing in air as if it were thinner than it was, but there's no shame in retreating.

That's a lie. There's plenty of shame in retreating. But it also wouldn't be the first time.

Of course, not all of us have that kind of survival instinct, and something in him can't quite bring himself to simply run and abandon Eileen to whatever fate would lie behind. Call it a conscience, or even pride. The first bullet clips Rickham's shoulder, and the second is more square, fired mercilessly towards the skull made dense in iron.

It doesn't do much good, but it's a decent prelude to Gabriel making his way back out of the shadows and into the rain, pistol pointed. If he has to fire at Eileen's feet to get her to— "Run." So help him he will.

"Of course Edward Ray!' Rickham howls, his voice sounding like groaning structural supports of a collapsing bridge. The mental association is a quick one for Eileen and Gabriel both to make, bringing back such vivid memories. "You should be thankful for him, because I would have killed your little boyfriend here when I had the chance, instead of letting John— " The sound of bullets ricocheting off of metal jerks Allen's words to a halt.

His head snaps to one side, catching a bullet square in the cheek, leaving only a tiny pockmark — one of dozens there now — before it bounces away with a shower of sparks. That metallic growl comes back, with a screeching scrape of steel as Rickham begins to turn his focus away from Eileen, hands balling into metallic fists as that scrape and groan against one another. "She watches then," he spits out, heavy, plodding footfalls drawing him towards the window and Gabriel.

Run. He makes it sound so easy. Eileen meets Gabriel's eyes from where she stands, no longer an obstruction in Rickham's path to be steamrolled over, crushed under. She's never met the man in her life, and yet he talks as though they know one another. Ultimately, it's the mention of John that allows her to fit things together, clicking the final piece of the puzzle into place with a soft but audible—

— "Oh." That explains quite a few things, doesn't it?

As Rickham bears down on Gabriel, she sidles parallel to him, stumbling over chunks of broken concrete and the occasional twist of rebar. She's running, all right, but she isn't running away. If there's one advantage Eileen has over Rickham, it's fleetness of foot and a lighter weight that allows her to almost float over obstacles in comparison to his leaden tromping.

She has to reach him first.

Working off the assumption that Gabriel is staying put, which he— is not. White teeth show in a sneer, both at Rickham as well as Eileen's stubborn refusal to listen to him, but no more bullets for now are fired. He almost discards the pistol but thinks better of it, keeping it in a firm fist before he's running, too, further into the confines of the building, boots crunching and sliding on broken wood and glass.

The gun is thanks to Deckard. This tactic is, too.

There's the crack of Gabriel's weapon firing for a third time, bullet rocketing to god knows where, a reminder, a taunt, or perhaps a wild shot of someone panicked, it's hard to tell, but it misses both of them. Let it be said that this tactic is not a brave one. It's that of rats and cockroaches.

A rush of tangled black hair slick with rain blows past Rickham's side, fingers grasping out to grab at that damp mane just a moment too late. Speed — with a lack of momentum, specifically — is something that is one of Rickham's greatest drawbacks in this form. When Eileen goes trodding past and then bounding up through the broken out frame of the window and down into the store, Allen lets out a frustrated growl, plodding forward with increasingly faster footfalls.

"This time you aren't going to trick me like that. Where's the birds? I'd ask where the lasers are," Rickham leaps up as well, feet slamming down as he falls into a hunched position, standing on the window sill as the brickwork beneath cracks and the molding crunches underfoot. Backlit by the hazy, gray skies outside, Rickham's silhouette is riddled with thin spots of light, holes in his body where lasers have perforated his form, hilights on the edges of his face showing deep and hair thin scars, "but I know what happened to those."

He drops down inside of the window just as a bullet impacts the wall beside him with a powdering of old brick. The wood floor creaks and groans under the too great weight of the man of iron. "Go. Run. I want to listen to you beg for mercy. I want you to feel what it's like to be hunted like an animal!" His voice reverberates off of the walls, deep and pained, like a wounded dog's mournful howl as he begins to build up the momentum of move again, heavy and plodding steps starting to hasten in the darkened building.

Once inside, Eileen plunges into the black after Gabriel. She doesn't need to dart any haphazard glances over her shoulder to know he's following them — if she did, she'd risk ending up worse than Lot's wife, and a pillar of salt is preferable to a messy smear on the floor.

Night vision. Superhuman speed. Invisibility. She'd trade any one of them for her own ability right now. Not just because they'd make her retreat easier, but also because she's beginning to experience its effects in her panic; adrenaline courses through her veins and makes her heart sing, pumping blood at an increased rate that causes it to seep from the wounds she keeps staunched beneath the heavy fabric of her clothes.

She doesn't have to be chased to know how it feels to be hunted like an animal. A man named Abdul-Aziz Nwabueze already taught her what that's like.

Gabriel could stand to be educated, on the other hand. Metallic voice that screeches like the twisting of steel reverberates off the walls and chases him faster than the accompanying, slamming footfalls. They move faster, but with less of the robotic determination of the man they're running from. Flesh can be stopped easier than unfeeling iron.

For instance, as Gabriel hand reaches out into the darkness and snags onto Eileen's sleeve, she's drawn into a forcible halt, swung against the wall as if Gabriel were the one attacking in a bone-shuddering jolt that lifts dust off the plaster wall.

But no, he merely shoves her there once they've rounded a corner, the sound of Rickham not so far behind, but far enough to allow time for the gravel murmer of, "You have to hide."

The footsteps shift, move, growing fainter— no, muffled for a moment, then begin thundering louder and quicker together. Plaster shatters and crumbles away around a pair of iron hands that smash through on either side of Eileen. The arms wrap around the dark haired woman and then pull back, ripping an enormous section of the wall out of place with a crumbling of brick and shattering of drywall in white plumes. Rickham rolls his shoulders, arms opening as he hurls Eileen and a portion of the wall bodily to the floor with a loud crash, bricks bouncing off of the hardwood floor under his feet, one hand swinging wide to swat away an empty shelf in the abandoned hardware store.

"I'd say this isn't as satisfying as I imagined…" Rickham grumbles out, taking a few more heavily creaking and groaning steps towards Eileen, "But I'd be— " the floor lets loose with a pained howl of its own, just seconds before a huge section of the floor cracks and buckles, sending Rickham's unbalanced form tumbling to one side. The wood splinters, snaps, and finally gives way as the ground floor buckles and crashes down into the basement, taking Rickham and Eileen with it.

The pair come tumbling down in a pile of dust and debris, with Rickham half buried beneath a sloughed off pile of bricks that was once a fireplace and chimney in the basement. A few loose bricks come tumbling down to land atop the pile, a clank of a broken board settling ad chalky dust from the drywall comes billowing up through the hole.

Everything is silent.

Well, almost.

Stone tinkles against stone and in the roof over Gabriel's head a nest of pigeons buffets its wings against the rafters, creating a hollowed echo that mimics the roll of the thunder outside. Below, movement, though it could just as easily be a rat navigating the remains of the floor, picking through protruding pieces of wood and insulation as it could be a hand poking out from the rubble.

Eileen had a response ready, half-hissed out through teeth entrenched in a stiff jaw. "You didn't let me fall," she'd started, "I'm not going to leave you to—" Rot, presumably, but Gabriel may never know for sure — she never got any further than that.

The crash and tear of wood and metal screeches fill his ears as dust fills his lungs, drawing out a hacking cough from Gabriel as he staggers back, a hand going out as if to try and catch onto the two falling back, but the paradoxical need to avoid falling with them has him staggering back.

Not a moment later, his form appears at the edge of the ruined floor at a crouch, a gun still clenched in his left hand and eyes wide as if to compensate for the inability to see in the dark.

He doesn't call out her name just yet, just tracks his gaze over towards where Rickham is half-buried in the rubble. Gabriel used to have a couple of abilities that would make getting down there far more graceful and pain-free, but as it happens— it's gone the same place the lasers have gone. So it's an uncertain leap into darkness towards the closest surface, a metallic clang as he lands upon the surface of a table which shudders, almost collapses, foot slipping but ultimately—

This may have been more altruistic than intelligent. "Eileen."

Rocks explode upwards as portions of Rickham's tattered and torn clothing peel away in thin strips, hooked on nails and pinned beneath debris. His jacket is entirely missing, perhaps somehow lost in the collapse of the floor, and only thin shreds of his sweatshirt remain loosely draped over his thin but heavy frame. The torn clothing reveals massive scarring in deep, molten welds across his chest, gouges and slashes that look like someone tried to laser him in half.

The unintelligible scream of metallic rage shakes the room as one hand reaches up to palm Gabriel by the face, carrying him in the upwards and forward momentum of Rickham's sudden ascent from the ground. Bricks and planks and pieces of broken drywall and pink insulation fiber fly away as he drives forward with Gabriel, slamming him bodily into the brick wall adjacent to him in the basement. The bricks crack and crumble in the first impact, and it's the first press of Rickham's weight that causes the brick wall to totally break apart as he plows Gabriel through the opening.

"You did this to me! You took away my humanity!" The pair land on a table, mixing with shattering glass and splintering wood now also comes screams and yelps of fright as several men with paper breathing masks and goggles on come running away from the stink of spilled chemicals and noxious fumes. Scattering like cockroaches to a flicked on light, they begin to bolt for the stairwell in a cacophony of profanity and shrieking.

"Arthur promised me a future! He promised me I was making a sacrifice for my country!" Gabriel is picked up by the collar and thrown across the table to fall over the other side, even as Rickham's feet crush beakers and bottles beneath each heavy step. "You did this to me, because he made me hurt those people! I was a martyr and you wouldn't listen!" Both metal hands fly to the side as Rickham works himself up into a wild tirade. "You got your freedom, but what did I get? Imprisonment!"

Gabriel is so much dead weight as he's thrown for that last time, rolling across a concrete floor and slamming into the opposite wall. His gun has skittered elsewhere, loosened from his hand from the first time Rickham's iron grip had come slamming, sending him through brick and onto the table that had screeched its legs against the ground in protest and then—

Stillness. For however long it takes for Rickham to get to him again. Heart hammering within a battered chest and breaths coming in panicked and shallow, the fumes of chemical barely registering as his head rings.

Humanity. Yeah, it's wonderful.

Augmentation, for what good it would do anyone, is a lazy field around Gabriel, unable to be bound back with his concentration in pieces as he struggles to his feet. "Being human is dying," he rasps out, backing up into the corner. "It's pain. Not my fault if you're too scared of what would happen if you changed back." It's almost a dare, one of suicide, and it comes snarling from a trapped animal gone from predator and right down the food chain.

His teeth are bloodied and there's a sway in his step, and his arm is being gripped to his side— but his eyes are sharp, and he ducks out of the way when Rickham's hands next reach for him, the slide of chemicals and glass underfoot lending unneeded, unwanted friction. Playing cat and mouse only lasts so long, however. They both know that well enough.

There are a lot of things commonly found in a lab designed to accommodate the production of methamphetamines. Bags of fertilizer. Trichloroethane. Battery acid. As luck would have it, Eileen isn't picky when she chooses the next weapon to wield against Rickham — she probably doesn't spare the glass decanter much more than a cursory glance when she picks it up and, with a feral snarl, throws its liquid contents onto his back.

The label reads: H2SO4.

Concentrated rivulets of sulfuric acid spill down Rickham's exposed shoulders and chest, attacking irony sinews of false muscle in the corrosive way that some chemicals are wont to do.

He probably wouldn't like it if he changed back, but if it's any consolation the wild-eyed young woman isn't looking much better. Bleeding profusely from multiple wounds, some of them new, many of them old, she stands with her feet spread apart and crimson blossoming from the front of her coat, which hangs in tatters off her small frame. Drywall covers her exposed skin and hair the form of a fine white powder, making her appear even more ashen and gray than she did when she first exploded out of the rain.

The scream that comes from Rickham is a horrible thing, not one of pain, bu tone of shock and horror at the new and terrible wounds being inflicted on his back as corrosive solvents begin devouring the living metal in bibbling rivulets, dissolving what little remained of his sweatshirt. He lashes out, swinging a heavy iron hand in a wild swing that connects with Eileen's shoulder like a baseball bat, swatting her off of her feet and through the air, actually clearing the one remaining table left before she impacts with a briken piece of drywall on top of a set of stairs. Thankfully, the drywall breaks her fall more than the stairs.

"I'll kill you both!" He roars, clawing at his back only to spread the corrosive fluid onto his fingertips which begin bubbling and sizzling as well, coupled with another scream as Rickham charges around like a mad bull, plowing through another table, upending it as chemicals in glass decanters and tinfoil trays smash together underfoot.

The sudden and blinding explosion fo heat and flames in the basement nearly sucks all of the oxygen out of the basement as a pillar of fire rises up to lick at the ceiling, igniting it almost immediately as the toppled chemicals combust into an uncontrolable inferno. Glass pops and shatters as more beakers break from the heat, and amidst the blaze, Rickham turns around, fire rolling off of the reflective surface of his metal form, gleaming in those dark pools of his hematite gaze.

One heavy footfall comes on the concrete floor, then another, slow and plodding steps as noxious, choking fumes do nothing to deter the iron juggernaut's relentless approach, though the heat seems to make him sluggish as iron begins to blacken on the edges and glow as clothing is charred and blackened and rises off of him in glowing embers that are lifted on thermal wind out of the hole in the ceiling.

That might be a sight ingrained into his memory, mundane or no, the unstoppable iron man trudging through the flames, burning and blackened. The heat of the inferno is more than enough to take your breath away, choking and oppressive, and Gabriel had dived through the wall where Eileen had been thrown before the rolling, roaring flames could consume him too, only looking back enough to see that particularly terrible sight.

His thoughts together enough to wind up his ability, slow the leak of power, he reaches out for Eileen, hand finding fabric, to get her to her feet. If Gabriel knows anything about exploding meth labs— and he does, come to that— it is to always anticipate a bigger…

A bigger boom.

There's no need to tell her to get to her feet, to move, to run. Either she will or she won't, and Gabriel's breathing is drawn in as if his throat and lungs were rust and iron. every inch of him wanted to collapse and every inch of him knowing how much of a bad idea that is. He keeps a clasp on the sleeve of Eileen's coat, and navigates his feet up the stairs, scrabbling.

Eileen is up and moving, but her body's actions are lethargic, sluggish — even in perfect health, no one of her size or build is built for this type of punishment and abuse. The hand at her arm and the ingrained survival instinct propelling her legs forward are the only things keeping her going, and they aren't likely to do the job for much longer than the time it takes to mount the top of the stairs.

Only when the rain is coming down on their heads, wetting chapped lips and filling gasping mouths does she let go and allow gravity to claim her as she pitches forward onto the sodden curb, pulling Gabriel down on top of her in the same manner she slammed him into a ditch several nights prior. That is to say: hard and fast.

Ethan has left the television on often enough while CSI was playing for her to know exactly what's going to happen next. It's better if neither of them are standing when it does.

What happens next is the destructive force of an explosion powerful enough to make Elias rise up from his grave and give Gabriel a shining thumbs up. By the time the pair are up and onto the street, Rickham has made his way halfway up the stairs, a gleaming fire-reflected piece of smooth iron pockmarked with scars and divets and dents, until everything visual turns to nothing but white as the ground shakes and an eruption of flame blows the windows of not only the closed hardware store but the apartment building next to it out onto the street in a fiery shower of glass.

The noise is simply too loud though, too bright and too flashy for just an explosion from a meth lab. While the flames rise up high from the roof, the ground thunders as if the storm overhead suddenly was transposed underfoot. It would only become apparent later, when the media covered how this all happened, that the trapped pockets of methane gas sealed in closed off portions of the sewers that the bomb had locked away caught the heat from the basement explosion, how it tore through the abandoned subway system and sewers.

To Gabriel and Eileen, it is explained to them in the symphony of manhole covers exploding one by one down the street, blowing off as a pillar of flame rises up from the sewer access, and those spots where the street is open and exposed to the air release lashing waves of flame that leap up to other buildings. The only saving grace is the drizzling rain now falling to keep the embers down, But the one building the flames began in has quickly spread the inferno to the neighboring tenements that had been moved into by squatters.

This close to the edge of the ruins, where the burn wasn't nearly as bad, an enormous conflagration has begun, and all around Midtown, the light of the intense fire can be seen, with plumes of smoke rising up high into the cloudy skies.

Nothing emerges from the basement of the meth lab. Nothing comes out into the cold rain falling down overhead, or into the smoke and ash choked streets.

Nothing but the roar of flames that now consume the ruins again.

It's not quite enough for a flashback, but the roaring sounds of fire, the cleansing rain the tastes a little of ash and the acrid smell of smoke— it's a tribute to what had first rendered these buildings black and gutted. Gabriel is a warm, oppressive, and bleeding weight on top of Eileen until the last of the debris has fallen, as much as he can tell, before slowly, he eases off of her.

Not to stand. Just to roll onto his back and clench his eyes shut against the falling rain from clouds beginning to cover with choking smoke as buildings burn, burn, burn.

Several dangerous feet away, a manhole cover cracks pavement as it lands with a clang, barely gaining a twitch from the former serial killer as it bounces and rolls away from them, glowing with heat as much as Rickham's edges had been.


About what she had said before. Nearby, a building impacts in on itself from inferno with the gradual sound of snapping wood and imploding concrete. Now he can never say again that this is purely Peter's legacy.

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