But for the Birds


eileen_icon.gif sylar_icon.gif

Scene Title But for the Birds
Synopsis Sylar tracks Eileen down to finish what he started in Midtown.
Date March 7, 2010

Speakeasy Hotel and Casino: Rented Room

Overcast skies inflict perpetual dawn on New York City. In this faint light, a painter could interpret the bloated clouds hanging over Brooklyn as either deepest purple or bruised charcoal depending on the palette they have available to them, but Eileen is neither an artist by trade nor in any way interested in transforming the paper she has laid out in front of her into an abstract cityscape engulfed in equal parts ashen snow and shadow.

For one thing, she lacks the proper materials. For another, they've already been utilized by someone else for the purpose of recordkeeping. Copies of the old deed to Bannerman's Island Arsenal and the piece of it land it sits on have been available to the public since it was purchased by the government back in the sixties, along with the accompanying documentation detailing its history.

This isn't the first time Eileen has reviewed these records. Lately, however, she's found that poring over minutiae is an excellent way to take her mind off other things more detrimental to her health than squinting at faded font behind the lenses of her tortoiseshell reading glasses. Lit cigarette weeping silver tears of smoke that drift upward instead of down, she sits at the table in her modestly-furnished hotel room in her nightgown and robe, still-damp hair twisted up into a knot at the top of her head.

Droplets of moisture cling to the mirror in the suite's small bathroom, the outline of a raven clearly visible in the bottom lefthand corner where a finger squeaked across it less than fifteen minutes ago. Not yet dissolved, thin eddies of steam continue to swirl close to the ceiling. She should get dressed, bandage her hand again. Maybe think about putting on the coat that hangs on the back of the front door and go outside for a walk to clear her head.

Won't, of course. She's been telling herself that since she woke up at daybreak.

It's a familiar sensation to anyone, really, the flickering of lights, the dubious sway of uncertain electricity. Happens during a storm, but sometimes not. Sometimes, like now, it just happens, a universal human experience if you live in the right corners of the world, but maybe only Eileen gets to experience it as a familiar thing accompanying the tread of footsteps. By now, maybe she's worked out that that's just what happens when you move your incorporeal, intangible self through the wiring in the walls.

For all the hunting, surveillance, and before that, the mourning— it's probably largely unfair, to a degree, that Sylar just steps into the framed doorway of her bathroom, looking just as well as one can expect him to. His skin colour is pallid, greasy, and in comparison to Eileen, a person who got to wake up at daybreak, he doesn't appear to have made that transition.

"Thought we might try this again," he explains, dark eyes skimming around the room. Dressed in black, thick fabrics, hiding the mottled injuries that had been exposed last night. His gaze settles on her, his mouth pulling into a sardonic kind of scowl. "Without the muscle, this time."

"The lion is the king of beasts, his crown a golden mane. He has an air of dignity and yellow-eyed disdain. His paws, which look so velvety, aren't only there for show, so if he asks you 'round for tea, it's wiser not to—"

An old shortwave radio tuned to WQXR-FM, a classical listening station that once operated out of Newark, clicks off in the middle of an introduction to Le Carnaval des Animaux, the speaker's rough English tenor cut short by the abrupt snap of a dial being twisted between Eileen's lacquered fingernails. She taps off a scab of dark ash from the tip of her cigarette into the porcelain tray at her wrist a moment later and finds herself wishing, just for an instant, that her ability allowed her to look through the eyes of other people as easily as it allows her to view the world from the sky. If she did, she might have sensed him coming.

At the foot of the table: boxes. Boxes and boxes, not just crammed with paperwork but one containing what looks like a small selection of children's picture books as well. Growing up in a less-than-ideal environment has instilled in Eileen a keen awareness of the Ferry's littlest refugees and news of the children sequestered away in the Den has apparently filtered down to her at some point since her initial exodus from her apartment.

It isn't important right now. Neither are the papers spread across the wooden surface in front of her. She removes the reading glasses from her face, folds the bows and lays them down beside the radio, resisting the urge to flick her eyes in the direction of her pistol and its leather holster hanging off the back of the chair in the far corner of the room.

No sudden movements. The only thing that betrays her fear is the rickety sound of her breathing. Her turn to ask: "What do you want?"

And into the room he comes, apparently subscribing to the same philosophy of no sudden movements. You don't want to scatter the herd by doing so. The scent of old blood is instant, thick, almost comically detectable when Sylar's casual footsteps draw him in closer. Beneath that, the sharper aromas of chemical and cleansing, mingling together to remind someone of the goriest of emergency rooms. There was an element of grooming and cleanliness from the man she'd known before, and it lacks, here, in subtle detail that's only brought about by keener daylight and eyes not distracted by visible wounds.

Wilder, almost, although his movements are that of a man. "You wouldn't have asked me that before," he says, chin tucking in as he watches the carpet scroll beneath his feet. "Or I could be wrong. Maybe I never really made you feel loved enough. Maybe you didn't always know that when I walk into a room, all I want is you."

Steering a look back up at her, he raises an eyebrow in some mockery of coyness. "Today, there's no question. Undeniably, you're exactly what I want."

Seven weeks may not be a long time in comparison to the year and a half that they've known each other, especially when more than five of them were spent mourning his loss, but it's been enough to have given Eileen a chance to fortify her defenses. She reminds herself that they've gone through similar routines — it shouldn't matter if she thought she was speaking with Avi Epstein.

That said: resistance does not guarantee immunity. It is impossible for her to ignore the emotions his presence in the room brings bubbling up to the surface, disturbing conscious thought. As he draws closer, she plants a hand on the table, fingers splayed, and uses it to push herself to her feet. The other goes to the knife wound in her back, its heel pressing down against the sutures through the material of her robe. Francois' work has held up thus far — it's an instinctive act rather than a pragmatic one, a response to pain and not logic.

She's not going to make this easy for him, whatever this is. "Like you want Claire Bennet."

"It's not your fault. Kind of unfair, really. The scorpion that stings the frog, and all of those lame excuses." Rounding around to the other side of the table, Sylar keeps her in his focus, pupils dilated in thin rings of amber. "Hunger. Addiction. These attempts at explaining why I do what I do. If you want to know a secret, the scorpion stings the frog because it's fun. Because it can. And it dies doing it."

His eyes tick along the angle of her arm, then back to her eyes. In that same instant, the ache of her wounds vanish, but perhaps more disturbingly, the entire world mutes to the touch of her skin. The sit of her robe is non-existent, the subtle chill in the air, the floor beneath her feet. Feeling vanishes, prickling numbness until it's only that — numb. "Comfortable?" he asks, a hand coming up, hovering there. Dirt, or blood, cakes beneath his fingernails. "Want see if we can do this quietly?

"It's the birds," he explains, as if getting back on track with what he was saying, sharp clarity back in his eyes. "The birds, that I need to handle. I might have left you alone, but for the birds."

Eileen's hand lifts off the table, trailing fingertips through the air. When she pinches them together, nothing happens that she can feel. She has to guess when the balls of her feet roll across the carpet as she steps back, awkward and ungainly, determined to maintain the distance between them in spite of her newfound disability. Anesthesia shouldn't be a scary thing but in this instance there are few things more terrifying than being unable to navigate her surroundings without the use of touch.

They're a flick of his wrist away from this being over. As soon as he hooks his puppet strings into her body, there will be nothing she can do except abandon it, and while the prospect of living out the rest of her life as the nearest bird isn't the worst outcome Eileen can imagine, the thought of placing the barrel of her pistol in her mouth and squeezing the trigger is a great deal more appealing.

Spite can be a powerful motivator.

Her shoulders come into contact with the nearest wall and she does not immediately notice. Can't. Only when she realizes she isn't moving anymore does she alter her course, using the flat surface behind her to support most of her weight as she edges within lunging distance of the chair. Vaguely, she feels like she should be formulating some last words but as usual nothing poignant comes to mind when she needs it the most. Instead, she decides that the best use of the time she has left involves flinging herself at the chair in an attempt to snag the holstered pistol dangling enticingly from its upholstered back.

There's a cacophonous clatter, a resonant thump and Eileen is on the floor, the chair legs are in the air and the holster is hooked around her arm, bent at the elbow.

So much for silence, especially when there's another thump that would send vibrations through the floor if she could only feel them — the table tips sideways when Sylar shoves it aside, feet navigating the floor swiftly. If he's been living under the anesthetic that Eileen feels now, to protect against the cold, his wounds, maybe anything that makes him feel human, is it any wonder he's a little— well. Like this? Probably. This is all wrong.

"Stop," is a barked command, and Eileen— does. Has no choice to. Has no choice but to see, rather than feel, her legs get organised beneath her, or the way the holster slithers down her arm to land with a thunk against the floor, how her back knocks, again, into the wall. Maybe doing this in Teo's arms wouldn't have been so bad.

There will be a nagging sense, at the back of her mind, even as Sylar takes out the knife she'd seen briefly just the night before. Senses tingling perhaps even more vivid from the way she can't feel her skin but can know her power. Avian life, a mass of it, darting into the peripheral of her range in a flood as if a tree had been shaken loose, but Sylar doesn't seem to notice it. If the temptation of jumping into one of those bodies is on the horizon, before he can draw a knife through skin and bone—

— then it might be forgotten when the window just towards the left suddenly explodes inwards as if it had been shot, although no bullet goes soaring through. Sylar flinches to the right, the connective thread of puppetry breaking.

She tried to kill him once. In Madagascar, she would have denied it, but the memory of being able to sense Gabriel's life hemorrhaging out of him as he lay dying at her feet in the ruins of Eagle Electric makes up in abundance for what Eileen lacks in feeling now. Glass scatters across the carpet under their feet, glitters like a blanket of diamond stars in a black velvet sky, and yet any illusions of beauty are shattered within moments of the window doing the same — it crunches under her feet, embedded in the soft skin of her naked soles and the vulnerable pink folds between her toes, and maybe if he hadn't taken touch from her then she'd be able to feel it.

Her building scream isn't one of pain. It's a feline screech, claws out and fangs bared, a terrible howl of pent up rage and frustration that increases in volume and intensity until it reaches a shrill crescendo around the same time she's taking him to the floor and driving the heels of her hands into the center of his chest.

This isn't a ditch.

In a noisy and tangled, graceless heap, the diminutive woman and the much larger man in front of her both go down under the force of impact that seems to have more to do with her willpower than it does her weight and muscle. His skull smacks into the floor beneath, but arms raise up in defense, exposed knuckles swinging around and catching her in the side of the head in a sharp, brawling motion that seems almost impolite in its brutality. Sylar snarls right back at her, an arm coming back to fling her up and off, her body sent rolling across the glass-scattered room as he gets to his knees.

The room goes dark, for a moment. The struggling hazy afternoon light shining through dims as something blocks the window, a wash of shadow suddenly filling its frame for a split second before it washes inwards like a waterfall of darkness, the inky motion familiar to Eileen.

Danko, Allegre, Gray, Cardinal — they've all come back from the dead. Why not Wu-Long?

Sylar is already moving, getting on his feet and backing up, almost tumbling over the spilled table with his knife back in his hand, even as the swatch of darkness billows up like a rising waves, finds shape, solidifies into a mirror reflection. For simplicity's sake, one could call this one Gabriel, although both men, however physically identical if dressed in subtle differences, looking similar in wolfish demeanor of predators squaring off.

A raised hand from the newcomer, and Sylar jerks to the left as if his shoulder were struck by the force of a baseball bat, stumbling through the fallen table in the literal sense of through, phased limbs unaffected by everything except an invisible kind of projected imagery. Breathing hard, Gabriel's hand goes claw like, and Sylar's back straightens under puppetry's spell, a snarl and a wince both writing across his features.

This all takes approximately four seconds, of noise. Silence, abruptly, and Gabriel swings a look to Eileen without really—

Knowing what to say.

Eileen is similarly at a loss for words. One hand braced against the floor to support the weight of her upper body as she heaves herself upright, legs trapped beneath her, she gropes through twinkling shards of glass with the other in blind search of her firearm, so far out of reach. Her movements gradually slow before coming to a complete stop but for the involuntary quaking of her body and the jerky rise and fall of its shoulders with every cycle of breath her aching lungs complete.

It takes her a few additional moments to realize that what she's seeing isn't just a result of being viciously struck in the head twice in a period of less than twenty-four hours. Green eyes that are both bright and wet move between Gabriel and Sylar, Sylar and Gabriel before finally settling on the man who's looking at her rather than the one whose back resembles a steel rod.

"Who the fuck is that?"

"His better half," is what Sylar answers for in his stead, when Gabriel's muteness carries on over into the time allotted for answering her. His voice is as strained as his posture, arms liked half-opened wings and chin tipped upwards. His mouth abruptly closes, in much the same manner that Teo's had last night under the thrall of puppetry, nostrils flaring along with hard breathing.

Gabriel draws a step back, as if tempted to disappear in the same manner by which he came, but doesn't, ultimately. "Later," he finally tells Eileen, tightly. On the windowsill, pigeons gather, even with the sugar-crystal broken glass in its frame, and something familiar happens — Gabriel's anxiety, anger, the cold presence that is very much him, echoes dully through the birds, an empathic echo that he can obviously detect when he glances at her, confused for a moment, before comprehension filters in. In the same moment, feeling — in all its faults, twinges of pain and fatigue — floods back into her.

Eileen lets out a shuddering gasp and encircles her torso in arms, folding at the middle with fingers cinching at her sides. Nausea makes a swift return, and it's through sheer willpower alone that she twists off her gag reflex and keeps the contents of her stomach where they belong when her body is yearning to empty them out all over the floor.

It occurs to her that she doesn't know if there will be a later. She reflects her own emotions back at him: quiet anguish, her fear, hope and dread intertwined in a tight knot too gnarled to manually untangle. Later isn't good enough, not for her, and is it any wonder?

The thought of being left alone again with his self-proclaimed 'better half' sends a spike of revulsion and contempt lancing violently through her, and he feels that too. "No."

Empathy is not something Gabriel is accustomed to — on any level, really, and the feelings of birds are flighty at best. Even through their feather-buffered brains, however, the sharp jab of emotion coming from the huddled over woman in the room is enough to make him flinch. It might not be enough to break free someone who doesn't know how to resist his puppetry. Unfortunately

There's probably a degree of justice as Sylar swings his hand around and lets loose the blast of concussive kinetic energy, sending the pigeons flapping away and furniture shaking, plaster denting as Gabriel is sent flying back into the wall. He lands harder than he falls, which is in a graceless and hissing heap, and if there's any opportunity to finish the job, Sylar isn't taking it.

That the police haven't broken down the front door already is probably a testament to the ice slick roads.

Regardless, Sylar turns, and runs for the opposite wall, ready to vanish through it just as he'd slipped through the floor of the eighty-sixth level, running at a stilted lope from damage he can't feel but is there all the same.

Eileen lets him go. Sylar isn't the one who matters. Gabriel hits the floor and the Englishwoman is immediately extending her right leg, using her mangled foot to drive her forward rather than the strength of her knees, too weak from exhaustion to hold her aloft for more than a few seconds. She buckles, recovers, buckles again and shakes off glass.

Not for the first time, she doesn't feel comfortable in her own body, her limbs refusing to work the way they should as she pulls herself the short distance to Gabriel's side on her elbows and reaches a blood-soaked hand for his arm.

In the movies, they spring right back up, and maybe Gabriel does too, sometimes. Not this time. Willing away the worst of his new pounding headache, Gabriel lays his forehead against the crook of his elbow, the dampness of new blood already making his hair shining where his head had smacked into the wall. Eileen's touch brings forth some animation and awareness, looking up with a flaring of brown eyes, before casting off towards the rest of the room.

Gone. Doesn't matter. Been this long. "We have to get out of here," he utters, gravel voice, dragging his slightly unfocused gaze towards her, pragmatism having the remarkable effect of a short term memory. Or long term. It's been a while.

Eileen's arm curls around Gabriel's waist and snags fingers in the weave of his clothes to secure her grip, which is somehow simultaneously both weaker and more determined than it's been in a long time. Weak because her body is. Determined because the flesh under her hands and the heat radiating from him doesn't belong to Epstein, and it doesn't belong to his ophidian doppelganger.

The photocopied deeds to Pollepel, her pocket watch, Francois' journal, matte handgun a lonely island amidst a sea of broken glass — there is nothing in the room more valuable than Gabriel, not even the clothes in the backpack at the foot of her bed, though she intends on grabbing them on the way out along with her coat and whatever else she can carry while supporting Gabriel's weight at the same time. "Up," she encourages, and maybe they can help each other do it. "Where do you want to go?"

What she really means is: Where is it safe?

He clings, white-knuckled, getting to his feet, dragging her along with him while simultaneously taking what support she gives. Where is it safe is a hard question. Gabriel would like to think he knows, but muteness reoccurs as he tries to think, still holding onto her— and then looking up sharply when rapid knocks on the door suddenly ring mundane through the room.

Instinctive, Gabriel's form dissolves like perhaps Eileen imagined it would a split second before touching him, although it's into darkness instead of into nothing, and Eileen is brought with him until they're the same matrix of energy, writhing, shifting, and eventually, climbing out the window and it's left to Gabriel to steer them somewhere safe.

And he does.

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