Comparative Worth


b_eileen_icon.gif young-gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Comparative Worth
Synopsis Eileen assesses Gabriel under the guise of having him assess something else.
Date April, 1998

Gray and Sons

Hail makes a sound like tinkling pebbles glancing off Gray and Sons glass storefront none of the people whose reflections shimmer across the panes as they pass give what's on the other side more than a casual glance on this stormy, overcast morning. Neither do they realize that the name of the shop is a lie; there is one one Gray here, and he has no children of his own to speak of, or any relationship with the promise to produce a male heir to the little patch of Brooklyn he lords over.

Business is slow on days like these. For most people, walking more than a few blocks in this weather is out of the question without an umbrella, and the young woman who gently eases open the front door and steps inside, her arrival heralded by the cheerless jangling of brass bells, has only a scarf to cover her long, dark hair. The strands it leaves exposed are glossy and slick with the rainwater that fell before the hail, plastered to pale cheeks with a blushing sheen that brings out what little colour there is to her mouth in the absence of lipstick. If she was wearing mascara, her face would be covered in more than just the wet.

"Hello?" she asks in a voice that's very small but lacking timidity. One hand gloved in lambskin clutches the front of her coat to hold it shut. The other carries a white cane made of plastic or some other lightweight material, judging by the ease with which she used it to navigate the sidewalk outside and find the front door.

There's a reason for the phrase come rain, hail, or sunshine. The hint being that hail is one of the variables that people would rather not endure, and so, for the owner of a watch restoration store, it's surprising to hear the heralding of a customer. Which is why it might take him a minute to react. "In a minute," isn't as apologetic as it should be, vaguely irritated, from the figure currently seated at a work desk, a low lamp beaming a hot halo onto his work. It sounds more like he's trying to get his mom off his back rather than bidding a customer to wait, but for now, it's all the same to Gabriel Gray as he does.

Whatever it is he does, with brass-toned tools as fine as a fairy's and wielded steadily beneath the lenses layered over his hands. Fortunately, it doesn't take him a full minute to remember himself, twitching a sudden glance over his shoulder and hastily setting his work down. "Sorry— "

A hand goes up to the edge of his thickly framed glasses, as if he were thinking of taking them off, but decides against it — mostly when he notices that bright white stick in the stranger's hand. Hitching his heels against the ground, Gabriel pushes his wheel stool away from work bench to move nearer. His young — too young, possibly, to be spending hours in this little watch shop, even with the weather as it is. Surely there are some D&D groups nearby that wouldn't mind him around, at least.

Sweatervest over cotton T-shirt, with his body still not entirely sure how to grow into doggish jaw and broad shoulders, his hair combed with precision, with everything else about him less severe than the man she knows. "Can I help you?" he asks, vaguely concerned she's in the wrong store.

Being blind, and all. And in his store.

It's the familiar — albeit younger — timbre of his voice that Eileen recognizes, rather than his face. The crow playing sentry under the lip of the roof outside can see little of the shop's interior from where the Englishwoman has instructed it to perch, but she does not need eyes, her own or the bird's, to understand what she's come here to learn.

Pearl-like droplets of hail loosened from her collar roll across the floorboards and come to rest in the cracks between them. He could help her more if he sold cotton towels or woven blankets — she's soaked all the way through, but also too far away for Gabriel to determine whether or not she's shivering. The steady quality of her voice, quiet though it is, suggests that she isn't. "I hope so," is what she says in her breathy European accent, not yet broken by the two years she's lived in the States. It will take much longer than that, if it ever happens at all.

"This is Gray and Sons? Timepiece repairs and restoration?" Because there's no Braille on the sign outside.

Thick eyebrows twitch up in some surprise at the news that yes, she is where she's supposed to be, and there's the creak of Gabriel rocking his weight up and off the stool, moving to stand awkwardly in the interstitial space between the front door and the rest of the store, half-heartedly blocked out with its display cases, a couple of grandfather clocks, both for sale and not. "You're in the right place," he supplies, hands coming to rest on his hips, then hang at his sides, then on his hips again because that didn't feel too awkward come to that. Not like his arms just hanging from his shoulders.

She's wet and British and dripping hail onto his floorboards. "Looks like you're bringing the weather in with you," he mentions, taking a step to the left so she can come in and do more of that. "I guess you weren't just looking for a place to escape the rain."

"No," Eileen admits, "but if you're offering to let me stay until it lets up, I wouldn't refuse. I can't promise I'll buy anything." Her cane ticks back and forth across the floor in front of her, its movements vaguely reminscent of a pendulum, and confirms that there's nothing blocking her path. It's harder to determine where Gabriel is in the room when he isn't in possession of her ability — lacking that intuitive awareness, she has to rely on her other senses to keep track of him, and while she might be able to successfully pull off the illusion of looking him in the eye where she comes from, the same cannot be said of his younger, unawakened self.

"I was wondering," she says, reaching into her coat's silk interior with her free hand, "if you did appraisals." It comes out again with a small metal object wrapped in a piece of cloth much dryer than her clothes, likely to protect it from the rain. "I have this pocket watch that was given to me a few years ago and know nothing about it."

She won't be able to see the interest that drops down onto the item within the cloth, Gabriel's head tilted quizzically, but she might be able to mark it in his silent curiousity. It's nice, to be good at something. Really good at something. "Sure," he remembers to say, taking a few steps back towards where he'd been sitting. "Um, if you want to— wait." Wait? Something heavy and solid scrapes along the floor, the sound of four legs coming down to rest in identical wooden thunks.

"You can sit down, if you like. And sure, the rain's bound to let up some day." He hovers nervously, unsure if his voice is guidance enough, or if he should help her out. Eventually, Gabriel just moves to plant himself down on the leather covered stool. "Inheritance piece?" he asks. "Or, uh, 'thanks' for long years of service?"

"A gift from someone very dear to me." Eileen chooses her words carefully, not for fear of them coming back to haunt her later — a secret part of her hopes that he'll remember this meeting — but out of her devotion to honesty, or at least as much of it as she can afford. Lover is not the correct term here because he wasn't, not then. "I'm of the belief that you can learn a lot about a person from their private effects, whether it's through a journal, an old war medal they carry around on the inside of their coat — or a pocket watch."

She unwraps it from the cloth and and moves as if to offer it to him, cane tucked under her arm. There's something endearing about his uncertainty that doesn't necessarily embolden her, but encourages gloved hands to seek his and guide the pocket watch safely into his keeping. She does not want it dropped. "You tell me what this tells you about what sort of man would give it away."

Gabriel is careful with it, as one would expect, and almost consciously so when leather-clad fingers exchange with his bare ones. Twitches a smile, and is close to talking money, maybe cautioning her that it might not be everything she hopes, until that question surprises him. "Oh. Yeah." He hesitates, then sets about carfully examining the item in his hands, only paying some cursory detail to the case before he opens up the latch. A moment later, he's forgetting himself a little, and twisting to set the watch down so as better to open it up.

He doesn't leave her alone for very long. "Well— if it was an open faced watch, it'd be nearly railroad standard. Style-wise, anyway. It's an Elgin — they a popular manufactorer. This one is circa 1920s. High serial number. The case might be a later addition. Gold filling, so you probably wouldn't make a lot out of it. Vintage, not antique— oh." His voice had carried a note of mild disinterest for the item itself, but neutrally polite, but the oh acts as surprised punctuation.

"At least 17 jewels. Completely adjustable. Some of the gears are gold, instead of brass. The movement— the pieces inside," is his half-hearted attempt at layman's terms. "The movement is quality. I think whoever wanted you to have this, he wanted it to run forever."

Forever might be an exaggeration, or at least, it might be if Gabriel knew about the abuse the item could have been put through.

Coming from someone who will one day covet immortality so desperately that it will almost get him killed more times than this watch has stopped and been repaired by the same man who holds it now, forever isn't a term Eileen takes lightly, exaggeration or not. A smile ghosts across her mouth. "We build things to outlast the people we build them for," she says, the sadness in her tone at odds with the mirth and gentle affection in her glass eyes. "Maybe it's wishful thinking. I'm not looking to sell.

"Or trade." She turns her head toward the window and the crow's silhouette, distorted by snaking rivulets of rainwater and the pattering hail. "I only wanted to know, and there was no one else I could ask, so thank you." Rather than immediately reach for her watch again, bundle it back up in her cloth and excuse herself, however, she opts to remain where she is and shift her entire focus back onto the man on the stool. "Of what you have for sale, what would you give a man who wants to run forever?"

It's good that she's not taking it back — Gabriel isn't immediately handing it over, and not just because he's fixing the dial back into place with tweezers and tools. It's restored back into one unit with preternatural grace and speed, his eyes distracted as he cups the watch to his ear as if listening for the ocean in a seashell. Instead, he's admiring the accurate tick of time keeping, a bracket of expression dimpling at the corner of his mouth.
Focus is restored on her in a blink, that hand dropping down, before he twists on his stool to regard the store's wares. "I don't have a lot of vintage pieces lying around," he admits, but even as he says this, the wheels of his stool squeak as he steers himself towards a case nearby, moving then to unlocked it and take out a box that is old to look at as well as to feel. The wrist watch within it is almost large, by watch standards, rectangular and robust, of brassy colours and glimmers of silver.
"Shock proof movement, but adjustable three ways. Everything is the way it was when it was first sold — even the case. 1953. But if you wanted to— " Have a look around, is what he stops himself from saying. "I have some contemporary models too, but, I like to think that time is a good test for a time piece."

Eileen's head turns, following Gabriel's footsteps toward the display case, though she does not move after him until she can hear the lock turning. She removes the lambskin glove from her left hand, folds it in half and tucks it into the same pocket she produced the railroad watch from. Her fingers will be her eyes in this instance, and she shows him her small palm turned up in silent entreaty, but in case her body language fails to communicate her intent, she pairs it with a tenderly spoken, "May I?"

Her right hand remains sheathed in its glove for reasons that would be unfathomable to Gabriel now, but not to the man who he will eventually become. Those fingers flex, and she masks the accompanying twinge of pain with a curved mouth and dark brows that lift into a mild but genuinely inquisitive expression.

The item that gets placed in her hand feels heavy, for a wrist watch. Not given enough time to warm against Gabriel's hand, the brassy feel of its case is still cool to touch, and her fingertips can navigate along the lightly curved, rectangular shape of it. The seams are thin and tight, almost difficult to make out, and the glassy face of the watch subtly bent to accommodate the curve designed to match the sit of a man's wrist. The leather that straps it feels soft and malleable but still sturdy. If she were to attempt to wear the timepiece, it'd probably hang ridiculously, easy to slip off like a loose handcuff.

Gabriel isn't saying anything, having run out of words and not really comfortable with informing her of a pricetag, as if unwilling to ground the conversation in pure transaction. He raps fingertips lightly against the glass display case and contents himself to peering at the window at pouring rain, light glancing pure white off his glasses.

Gabriel's wrists are much larger than Eileen's, and she likes to think that she's touched them enough to be able to know, with complete certainty, whether or not the watch will fit as-is. The temptation is there, however, to ask his younger self to try it on just to be sure — the question even begins to curve her mouth as she explores the familiar feel of brass and leather with her fingers, turning the timepiece between them so she can approach it from every angle and better form a mental picture in her mind of what it looks like.

As it happens, leather and brass are two textures she already associates with him, along with the rough fabric of the long black coat he's partial to, and the bristle of his jaw when he goes without shaving. Her thumbnail follows the seam. As much as he might want to avoid the subject, the number on the pricetag is an obstacle that Eileen has no choice but to address. She's stolen things before — from stealthily lifted gardenias for her hair when she hasn't been able to afford to pay the florist to entire shipments of H5N10 vaccine to protect the Ferrymen network and those in its care — but taking something from someone with the intention of giving it back to them more than a decade later sort of defeats the point of the gesture she's attempting to make.

Which is why she asks, "How much for you to part with it?"

Gabriel dips a hand in to steal away the little clip of paper that refers to the price, smoothing it over with his thumb as he reads the numbers. He imagines vaguely it would be easy to swindle her, claim the dial is made of silver, that the gold filling is worth this much and that its movement is actually older than it is. Even people with eyes can be tricked. However, the dial is made of silver, gleaming like steel in what light struggles into the repair store, but that's nothing he believes that Eileen can pick up on.

"Ss-sixty," is hesitation, as if tempted to say seventy, somewhere closer to the mark, but that's the number he settles on, satisfied, folding the slip of paper in his palm.

Sixty sounds to Eileen like a fair number, or low enough that she isn't overcome by instincts to negotiate. That she still has the money they took from Kazimir's flat in Munich may have something to do with it. Jewelry she can pawn. Other resources yet untapped by the Vanguard Remnant, though if the upcoming winter promises to be as harsh and last as long as the one that came before it, she might want to consider being a little more frugal with what she has.

Of course, the nice thing about considering is that you don't have to do whatever it is you've chosen to debate with yourself. In her coat, along with her pocket watch and a holstered pistol concealed from Gabriel's view, she keeps a clip of worn American dollars. Each bill has one of its four corners folded down to correspond with the amount it's worth, and it's in this way that she's able to count out his asking price.






"Sixty." And this she offers to him in exchange.

He takes the money, shifting across the counter so as to better ring it up. The till chimes merrily, as vintage as some of the pieces he has — a natural inclination towards the mechanical over computerised systems, which would probably be too expensive for a little, struggling time piece restoration store in Brooklyn anyway. Everyone will get cellphones soon, and almost everyone has digital watches by now anyway. Gabriel is potentially smart enough to occupy himself with more marketable skills. He has his reasons for remaining where he is. "Thank you," he says, once paper money is slipped into its correct pigeon holes, shutting the till with a clank of metal and a chiming bell. "I hope he likes it.

"I would." Well that works out nicely. The squeak of wheels indicates him pushing himself closer once more, offering out a hand to take the watch back and replace in its case, fingertips brushing to her's so that she knows what he's doing.

Eileen relinquishes the wristwatch without protest or complaint, and when his fingers brush hers she curls her knuckles as if encouraging his touch to linger even though hers does not. "He will if he remembers," probably isn't the response that Gabriel is expecting, but it's sincere — whatever it means. What 'he' is supposed to remember does not get elaborated upon, unless he wants to count the breathy noise she makes like laughter as elaboration. He shouldn't, because it tells him nothing. The most forthcoming thing about her is her appearance: smooth skin and an austere face with eyes older than its other features, her white cane, the wedding band around her ring finger and the hand she keeps hidden beneath the soft lambskin material of her remaining glove, held at a strange angle.

She is a blind woman younger than thirty who values commitment and may or may be injured. Also: she appreciates thoughtful gifts more than expensive ones. "Does anyone ever tell you that you're very good at your trade?"

The young man gives a soft, shy snort, head ducking briefly a hand coming up to adjust the sit of his bulky frames. "Not a lot of people know much about my trade," Gabriel points out, gently, the implicit suggestion being that she probably doesn't either. He sends a glance to his still lit up work table, before he's picking up the pocket watch he'd set down, taking the opportunity to give it another go over, thumb running around its heavy lid, nudging the catch to study its dial. "But I guess everyone has to be very good at something, right? My name's Gabriel, by the way."

He clicks closed the pocket watch and goes to direct her empty hand towards it so she might take it back, larger hand cupping along the back of her smaller one in a very light, very tentative gesture. He's not very accustomed to touching people, and seems uncomfortable even now. Or awkward, rather.

"Eileen," she returns. His hand receives a squeeze before she's withdrawing to pocket both timepieces and fasten the topmost buttons of her coat between pinched fingers. She replaces the glove she slipped off earlier, flexing her joints to ensure the tightest fit, and then takes up her cane again. Apparently, what she's very good at is being withholding. So good, in fact, that this incarnation of Gabriel won't recognize the subtle signs pointing to her restraint: a tight jaw and raised chin, breathing soft but perfectly measured like the silence between the ticks of a clock. What she wants is to take his face in her hands, cover his mouth with hers and show him slowly how these things are done.

What she does is pivot on the ball of her left foot, angling her body toward the front door. The hail hasn't relented any, if her ears and the crow she has sitting vigil outside in the sopping weather can be believed, but she doesn't have very far to go. A mere half block to where a small man with a round face and a sword is waiting for her at the nearest bus stop.

"I'll see you again," is a promise, and one that she knows a nineteen-year-old version of herself will keep.

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