Damnum Absque Injuria


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Scene Title Damnum Absque Injuria
Synopsis Epilogue.
Date November, 1900

Serise Volken's screaming has stopped, or if it hasn't, then the sound of the rain in the trees and malcontent rumble of thunder in the distant drowns out the mourning wails that Eileen had been listening to until her own laboured breathing and the rush of water eventually overtook them. On her knees at the edge of the stream, its distorted surface rippling with movement, her hunched silhouette appears more animal than it does human: gray eyes are transformed into silver discs, and her mouth shows its teeth as it curls around a silent snarl of pain obscured by the wet hair plastered to her narrow face, nose like a long, silky snout. It's November and the French countryside is dusted in frost destined to melt when the sun rises in the morning and burns off the mist that has begun to pool in the lowest points of the valley — like this one, bathed in the sallow light of a sickly white moon.

She's glad for the fog. It affords her some privacy by making her difficult to find except by those who have the right tools, and there are very few. Vapour like steam leaks from her nose and mouth with every struggling breath, her body trembling with such violence and force that its natural defense against the cold resembles a seizure. Old wives' tales about catching death by pneumonia have already occurred to her and summarily been dismissed; she holds her arm under the water because she wants the withered limb to be numb when she summons the strength to ask Gabriel to separate it from the rest of her body or, if he refuses, when some way to do it herself without dying eventually comes to her like a vision brought on by hypothermia.

An arm is ultimately a small price to pay for securing her existence, but this doesn't make her heart less hard or warm the ice in her veins. She can't remember the last time she was this angry, though she's certain that it either had to do with her eyes or what happened in Antarctica (or maybe even the alley behind the French equivalent of the Happy Dagger), because the crippling sensation of loss — if nothing else — is familiar.

Gabriel could take away the pain. Surgically remove it entirely and then, with something sharp, and strength taken from what would have to be her own growing fear, slice through skin, muscle, bone, where he would saw into a deep kind of pain that maybe even his sense-stealing power couldn't cover. Use his power over blood to stem the tide of crimson that would come flooding out from too-short stump, bleed out the infection, have Raith tend to it or Francois finish what is already done.
This assuming he would agree. This assuming she will ask.

d'Argent Estate

Somewhere Outside Versailles

November 1, 1900

It would be ideal, to give her some time alone, but there are villains who might think the same way too. By now, she will have felt him nearby, if her concentration isn't solely contained in the twisted limb she has dunked in ice water. Maybe seen in flitting peeks through the nesting birds the lanky figure of Gabriel, still dressed as he had been during attack. Boots, wool socks, trousers lended to him by Volken of brown wool, buttons attaching the braces that loop over his shoulders. White shirt that is now more grey and brown, where sweat and moisture both has caked in dirt, dust, mud, a V of opening at his throat and sleeves rolled past his elbows.
Then the grey that runs silver wires through dark hair. It could be enough to motivate him to cut it, now, veining from his temples, widows peak hairline, peppered throughout otherwise. Recovered, some, from the wrenching loss of power, and it is probable he hasn't noticed, as sure as he hasn't noticed the smear of ash that makes a crescent-moon shape along a bruised cheekbone.
Her emotions have hit a fever pitch since he last knew them, or maybe bloodlust subsiding makes Gabriel more interested. He stops some several feet behind her, his hands linked in front of him, head at a tilt.
Eileen attempts to move her fingers and does not know whether or not she succeeds; creeping numbness anesthetizes the muscles and joints in her hand and arm and causes her to experience sensations distinctly different from what she remembers Gabriel's ability creating. This penetrates her bones, intensifying her pain rather than stealing it away, but she's been in temperatures colder than this before. The winter storms that smothered New York City under so much snow that its infrastructure collapsed have taught her that these things get worse before they get better. She only has to wait.

A barn owl with a face as pale or paler than Eileen's watches Gabriel from its perch in an oak tree with branches that shelter the Englishwoman from the worst of the rain coming down, studying him with soulful eyes like perfectly round droplets of ink, still glittering and wet. The bird notes the gray streaks in his hair, and so does she, a shimmer of concern making waves somewhere beneath the pitch black surface of her emotional makeup. He's hurt, but this isn't a surprise; the only one to come away from this virtually unscathed is Raith, and maybe — she thinks — that's fitting. Of the three of them, he had the least to lose.

Her body makes a shape like a small, sleek predator lording over a kill, and the raspy sound at the back of her throat conveys a warning similar to the ones she used to give him when she was still in possession on Julian Kuhr's ability, only this time she lacks the teeth and claws to back up her threat. A combination of vanity and wounded pride has her maintaining her distance; the extent of her disfigurement, even blind, has not eluded her notice.

As if in mimic, Gabriel ducks down into a comfortable crouch where he was standing, glancing over his shoulder before settling his attention on the hunched over figure that Eileen makes, bent over the water. He doesn't see her hand, but he does see the ridges of her spine pressing up against damp fabric, the scraggles of dark hair at the nape of her neck. A brief flickering of psychic knowledge conveys to him the twisted damage of her hand, and a sensation he guesses to be coldness. It's different to looking, more analytical.

Blinks his eyes to clear them, and scuffs a paw through his dark hair. Feverishly sending out that blanketing psychic awareness two-hundred feet in all directions, a paranoid kind of instinct that he can't totally switch off.

He loops arms around his knees, rocks his weight a little between his heels and toes. Makes the fog around them thicken, then clear away from their immediate setting to ring around them in a dense ring of chilly humidity, throwing their periphery into vague, cloudy whiteness, the air otherwise dry around them. "Maybe he knows it will heal on its own," he offers, unsure why he's excusing Vladimir Volken. Or reinterpretting history. What else is it for, anyway?

Eileen lifts her arm from the stream and turns her hand over, assessing the damage: chalk white skin and a network of blue-black veins with very little muscle definition to speak of, more bone than tissue. It exaggerates the natural curve of her fingers and makes them curl in on themselves, porcelain nails like long glass claws, brittle and hooked. The idea that it could ever heal draws a thin, hitching wisp of laughter from Eileen, but no real argument. Not at first.

She folds her arm across her midsection, her dark head still bowed, and wraps it in the sodden fabric of her skirt, exposing her muddied ankles and calves. She'd gone without boots in the farmouse and is barefoot now, half-sunk in the mossy riverbank. What little blood is visible has gone pink and watery; apart from her arm, she has no serious injuries to speak of, and she probably has Vladimir to thank for that, too.

"Do you remember what he did to my face?" she asks, her voice crackling and hoarse like the sound of twigs breaking.

"Yes." Single syllable scissors clipped from Gabriel, tucking chin atop folded arms and taking the time to breathe and relax, minutely. His eyes go half-shut, like the way one might imagine a dragon prefers to sleep — with seeing through narrow crescents beneath heavy lids, watching the blur of the world with lazy guard. Eileen's emotions are tiring to feel, even second-hand — he imagines they are probably!! worse for her. She can probably feel it, an inoffensive kind of withdrawal, decreasing as much input as output.

"Do you remember what I did to Teo's arm?"

Gabriel's question is met with more silence and then stony consideration. Her arm, perhaps, is not the only thing that has her mouth contorting around a pained expression. She's grateful she can no longer hear Serise's screams, and guiltier for it. Rainwater gathers on her lashes, in the corners of her mouth and at the points of her nose and chin. Some of it she blinks away and some she swallows, her throat contracting around her next attempt at words.

"Yes," she says finally, "but you were always better at it, weren't you." Her good hand braces against a nearby sapling, and she rises from her crouch at the edge of the stream. The rocks there are slippery — there's a moment where her foot twists inward, her leg bends at a strange angle and she almost buckles, but she catches herself again before she can go all the way down.

"If this doesn't heal," she starts. "If this is forever— I don't want it anymore."

His head lifts as she stands, eyeing warily. If Eileen wasn't the type to raise her offenses along with her defenses, Gabriel might follow suit. Instead, he hesitates, then finally creaks himself to his feet, hands against his knees. Feeling old, even if he doesn't look it barring smattering of silver through his hair. "You were in a coma for nine days. He let you stay in a coma. For nine days. We knew healers, back then. He had options. That was his choice, because he thought it was safest.

"I disagreed. Trust me, if it could have been permanent, it would have been permanent. And we have no idea about how talented Vladimir is at this power — he isn't Kazimir, and he isn't living in the body of a dead man. And he has a family." That speaks something of control, in Gabriel's book.

The owl in the oak tree lets out a low, whistling hoot, and tightens its grip on the branch, splintering the damp bark. Eileen lifts her chin as if to regard it, then turns her head to focus on Gabriel with eyes he knows cannot see, and although still glassy there's also a certain sharpness to them. She's alert.

Which is strange, because the question she asks him is one that, without context, sounds like it should be coming from someone lost and delirious, not staunch and upright, small jaw set. "Are you my Gabriel?" she wants to know, quiet but demanding, her tone simultaneously gentle and firm. It's the silver wires in his hair. That he's dressed the same allays some of her suspicion, but not all of it. "Or do you come from somewhere else?"

That gets his attention, at least, Gabriel zeroing a quizzical stare towards her unseeing eyes. Through the vision of the owl, she'll see that openly confused expression contort his features, the way it angles strong brows and makes his mouth go into a small line. Rapid blinks, a silent and invisible perusal of psychic awareness once more running through her body as if to pick up on other symptoms that speak to delirium over staunch. Tentatively, he nudges a vibration of his own confusion down their empathic link, enforcing it, making the owl's feathers twitch.

"I came from the farmhouse a few minutes ago," he says. "And no where special before that. I'm me." He might have gone into defensive accusation if it wasn't for— having clones than run around, future selves coming back to the past to protect and to die. Uncertainty, Gabriel supposes, might be a given. "I'm just speaking from what I know about his power."

"She did something to you," then, is the only explanation for what the owl is seeing, for what Eileen is seeing. She flickers the image at him — blink and it's gone — responding to his apparent bewilderment with mute reassurance as if to say: I believe you. Because she does. "Your hair," she says, in case he misses it. "It's gray."

Her feet leaves prints in the soggy dirt, mud bubbling up between her toes as she closes some of the distance between them. Unconsciously, the gnarled fingers of her shrunken hand flex; she can still use them, if only just. Not for the first time, she'll be relying on lambskin gloves, at least until the injury heals.

If it heals at all. She'd like to be able to believe him about that as well. "Don't worry: your face still looks the same."

e blinks in conjunction with the image sent to him, eyes open again to the superimposed fading of it in his retinas, or so it feels like. Strictly telepathic, so who knows. Gabriel's bewilderement hardens into annoyance, a steely mask to hide any traces of vanity or flusteredness at the sight of himself with the wiry shoots of grey. Nostrils flare as he breathes in, a hand twitching to suppress bringing it up to touch his own skull. There is silence, before he says, "I feel kind of tired.

"She took a power from me. One of the assassins. She's like Arthur." Only different, clearly. More damaging. It occurs to Gabriel that maybe he would have died, if he'd had less ability, or just one ability, but the thought is simply a puzzle piece clicking into place rather than serving the emotional impact of a near miss.

He glances to her hands as she steps nearer, the assymetrical balance of the emaciated limb, the glassy nails that seem too big for brittle fingers. He doesn't say much, just looks, cagey uncomfortableness finally forcing him to dart a glance away. A lot of things could have gone better.

Eileen presses out a breath through her nostrils that wreathes in front of her, and she twists her skirts so that not only the length of her arm is concealed but her hand as well. Self-consciousness has her cinching the fabric and shielding the entire limb from view. She has other reasons for wanting to cut it off.

Not having to look at it, for instance. Or have others look. "They'll only try something else," she says, a change of subject that isn't entirely welcome. "We're not the only ones Nakamura sent back, and there are other ways to adjust our course than through the Volkens.

"What power did she take?"

"Oh, you didn't see." This realisation roughs a chuckle from his throat, chin tucking in as he rocks a step back, his hands sliding into the pockets of brown wool trousers. Mud and dampness has tracked up almost as high as his knees, cling to calves, boots dust covered and dirty, and other complaints. He didn't bruise, from the muzzle of the gun pushed up into his jaw, but the memory twinges a little, has him itching jaw against a raised shoulder in a casual kind of gesture. "Puppetry."

A step down from telekinesis, a decent power, a good power. His head tilts his apathy, or supposed apathy. He has more powers. "If they try something else, no doubt Nakamura will know where to find us," he says, with a pull for a grimace, white tooth showing briefly and words coming mumbled.

The reminder that Hiro does know where to find them causes Eileen's gut to tighten to the point of cramping, fresh pain electric in her sides the next time she breathes in, then hisses out again through her teeth. He left a crane between the pages of Kazimir's journal. He could do worse, if it ever became necessary. If he ever thought it was necessary, and not for the first time the Englishwoman is drawing comparisons between this and a battered package of cigarettes she has in the bottom of a brown paper bag hidden in the wall of her room at the Dispensary, along with various other items lifted from Odessa Knutson's clinic shortly after their raid on the Institute facility on Staten Island.

They're never as safe as they think they are. "I need to speak with you about Carmichael," she says. "Not now, but soon. After we've had time to rest."

"Okay." Bringing up Carmichael here and now, one more thing to talk about, should probably inspire more surprise or curiousity. Not now, but soon, maybe. For now, Gabriel runs his hands over his face, back down again, slide to the nape of his neck and shifts back a further step. A few minutes ago, he'd had a gun angled to blow off the top of his skull in a spray of grey and red. It would be nice to sleep, somewhere a century from now where the world feels a little more fundamentally stable.

A little dryer, maybe. "Let's go home."

Gabriel begins to move off, and Eileen follows a few paces behind. She won't say no to stability, or to warmth. Her clothes are soaked all the way through, and her dripping skirts don't make a very effective dressing. Gauze will. There are antibiotics, too, for Gabriel's injured shoulder — if he desires to take them — and an unhappy raven with a ruined wing who may or may not make the connection between his disability and Eileen's.

The temptation to look one last time over her shoulder at the smoke rising into the sky where the smouldering ruins of the farmhouse stand in shambles is strong, though she does not succumb to it.

The owl's eyes pierce the darkness instead.

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