Fighting Back the Wolves


eileen_icon.gif ethan2_icon.gif

Scene Title Fighting Back the Wolves
Synopsis Someone has taken an interest in Eileen's recent activities.
Date April 28, 2009


Spring is the season associated with all things life-affirming: spontaneous thundershowers and blossoming greenery, trees that still flower after the long frost. Even outside of Central Park, there are telltale signs the city has already begun to renew itself by siphoning energy from the rainclouds overhead and the buckets upon buckets of fresh water that come down in sheets. Come morning, baby leaves will glisten with shimmering beads of dew, opening to greet the dawn of a new day, but tonight the streets appear as dark and dreary as ever, many of the gutters flooded by the unexpected downpour.

It's not the sort of weather someone might expect to find Eileen out and about in, but it's easier, safer to travel under the cover of nightfall when the streets are more reminiscent of a ghost town than one of the most bustling business hubs on the continent. She has the citywide curfew to thank for that, and to a lesser extent the men and women responsible for forcing the authorities to implement it — men and women who she's spent the last few days seeking out, nosing around old Vanguard haunts like a rat-tailed stray cat in desperate search of shelter.

Wisely, no one has taken her in, which is why she's on her way back to the place she currently calls home: a rundown safehouse on the fringe of what was once Midtown, adjacent to Central Park. Trees loom in the distance, wind whistling through their naked branches, the sound shrill and sharp in comparison to the steady patter of rain against the pavement under her feet.

A deep hood protects his head from the downfall of rain, making it a cacophony to his ears, head bowed. Boots are watertight against the rain and don't slide against slick pavement as he goes. It should be too wet to smoke, except he's managed, somehow, the faint glow of burning embers from the stick pinched tight between thick digits.

Beneath the shelter of a building, leaning against brickwork, a shoulder turned to her, he could well be anyone. His coat is too large and vague to distinguish between it and the homeless that don't have better shelter to seek in this weather.

Step, step, step. His hooded head lifts a little as Eileen goes by, now streetlamp nearby to cast light into the shadows of his coat. He brings his hand up, draws in a long breath of cigarette smoke, and pitches the stub into the nearest puddle as he takes his weight off the wall.

"Munin." Beneath the cacophony of rain, his voice is as vague and nondescript as the coat he wears. But then he's stepping forward, hands up, empty. "'ey. Princess." The voice of Ethan Holden comes louder, deep with affection, weighty, head lifting enough for what light there is to slant in, catch his jaw, a familiar shape.

Hesitation causes Eileen's step to falter and her progress to come to a jerking halt some distance away. Like the man in the coat, she's dressed heavily, her own jacket weighed down, soaked through and sopping with runoff — with no umbrella or hood of her own, her hair is wet too, plastered to her cheeks and forehead in thick black curls that reflect the light and makes her outline to shimmer faintly in the glow cast by a nearby streetlamp.

The first thing he'll notice, apart from the fact she appears to be favouring one leg over the other, is that the circles under her eyes are more pronounced than they have been in past months, her complexion paler, shadowy veins visible beneath tissue paper skin.

She's sick. Sick enough that she seems to mistake him for either an apparition or a hallucination at first, shrinking away from him as the expression on her face begins to wither, growing fearful.

His hands come up to push away his hood, as if to banish away the idea that he's not a ghost of any kind, and he certainly is solid. Raindrops streak down his features, down the back of his neck, and he runs his hand over a shaven head as he comes closer when she shrinks away.

"Princess," Ethan repeats, as if she didn't hear it the first time. But he does stop, hands lowering, face drawn into an expression of consternation. "C'mere, don't be that way. Whot's wrong?" Concern and curiousity mixed into one, is the brand of emotion dictating the way his gaze draws over her form. Studying it. "Aren't you 'appy to see me?"

Another step, hesitation, and his voice loses some of its casualness. His mouth draws into a line before he adds, quieter, "I'm 'appy to see you, lovely."

It looks like Ethan. Sounds like Ethan. And so logic dictates that it must be. Eileen wavers, transferring her weight from good leg to bad and then back again, torn between running toward him and running away. In the end, it's his request for her to come that seals the decision for her, a hardwired desire for physical contact winning out over caution as she pitches forward and splashes through the puddles full-tilt, or at least as full-tilt as her injury will allow.

All ninety-odd pounds of her collide with the barrel of his chest, embracing him around the middle with enough force to knock a smaller, less steady man off his feet. Initial misgivings aside, she's happy to see him too.

"Oof." A joke, considering the solidly built man doesn't even bow back an inch when Eileen collides with his chest, and strong arms wrap around her. No hesitation in the embrace, soaking it up as quickly as rain water seeps into their clothing. The rain comes down on them, cleansing, Ethan tilting his head back a little to regard the sky, before his hold of her releases just a little.

His knees bend so he can level with her, eyes searching hers. "Fuckin' strewth, you're 'ard to fuckin' find when y'want to be, you know that?" It's less a rebuke, it seems - he even follows it up with a vaguely proud, "That's my girl." Ethan's broad hands move up and down her heavily clothed arms, as if to warm her. Useless in this weather. "'eard you're throwin' y'self in the deep end."

Heady cigarette smoke. Damp clothes. Aftershave. None of these smells are as overpowering as Eileen remembers them being the last time she held Ethan in his arms, but they're familiar, and they're what she associates with him. She inhales deeply through her nostrils, breathing him in, and lets out a strangled sigh of content when the combination triggers the lock she has on her memory and allows it all to come flooding back.

What she doesn't remember is how long it's been since they've seen each other. "I thought you were dead," she hisses, each word rasped out with an audible effort. "Nobody'd tell me where you were, and Sylar—" Sylar. "He's looking for you. You should leave town."

"Came fuckin' close a few times. So'd you," Ethan points out, gravely, finally releasing her arms and rocking back a step, around the time she says that name. His chin tilts up a little at this news, expression unreadable before he lets out a snort. "Last I saw o' 'im, 'e was a dancing monkey for the wankers runnin' that fight ring over at Staten Island," he says. "Been out've there for a bit now. Don't y'think if 'e wanted t'find me, 'e would've by now?"

His eyebrows lift in query, and he starts to take a few steps, expecting her to follow. "'sides, I'm not leavin'." A slightly quirked smile is shot in her direction, through the masking rain. "I just got 'ere. 'Ow about we get out of the rain or somethin'." The smile's gone in the next instant. "We should talk, you an' me, Princess."

Irritation pinches at the corners of Eileen's eyes and mouth, but she isn't angry enough for it to find its creeping way into her voice. Her gloved hands take his wrists, her grip firm but gentle, the tips of her fingers pressing into his skin. "He couldn't remember who he was," she points out hoarsely, perhaps in the other man's defense, or perhaps just to bring him up to speed, "and you weren't much better off yourself. He will find you, and unless you give him the answers to the questions he's inevitably going to ask, then he will kill you. He thinks you're responsible for—"

For what Kazimir did to him, is what she wants to say, but for whatever reason she can't quite bring herself to. Instead, she reaches up and touches the inside of her palm to his cheek, stubble grating roughly against the leather material of her glove. "I know a place. It's safe, but you have to promise not to tell anyone. Anyone."

Ethan stops when she touches him, looking down at her with a serious gaze, as if puzzled. The rain beats down harder, and his head tilts a little. "'e's nothin' I couldn't 'andle before, Princess," Ethan assures, quietly, but readily adds, "I'm not plannin' to stay in this shit'ole city for much longer. Not unless there's somethin' for me 'ere to stay for."

She can infer what she wants from that, but one thing's for certain— he's not staying out in this weather for any longer. "Yeah, orrigh', I won' tell anyone," Ethan says, a hand drifting to her's. "Let's get a fuckin' move on before you get anymore dead looking than you already do. You look a fuckin' fright, lovely, no offense."

This time, Eileen's response is a noncommittal murmur, entirely inarticulate and too lose to form words. Hard not to take offense to that. Harder still to resist the urge to explain why she looks like something that clawed its way out of a shallow grave — there's even a fine crescent of packed earth beneath each of her fingernails, and if Ethan looks closely he'll see that her boots and denim jeans are similarly dirty. Whatever she's been up to, 'deep end' or not, it's involved some digging.

"Good," she says, a twinge of hurt twisting her tone into something a little more subdued and rueful as she falls into step beside him and gives his hand a squeeze. "Sylar isn't the only one asking after you. There've been— others. A recovery agent sent by Ivanov's people. I took care of it."

"Wot? Fightin' back the wolves from the flock, little shepherd?" Ethan says, tone wry as they walk, and he holds onto her gloved hand securely. "'s not like we're the sheep in this equation, love, not that I don' appreciate the sen'iment an' all." Still. He casts a look down at her, eyebrows up even as they streak with raindrops. The cold doesn't seem to perturb him, but then again, little does. "'Oo's next on the agenda, then?"

Eileen's answer is immediate and without any of the hesitation she displayed earlier. "Velasquez and Leeds." Two names that Ethan will undoubtedly recognize, both former allies and Vanguard operatives brought into New York City right under his nose. "They're laying low on Staten Island, Leeds at the dockyard — Velasquez, I don't know where. I've heard rumours about some of the others, too, but asking around hasn't turned up anything. Wu-Long's dead. Elias. It's just the three of us now."

The third person in the equation being the man she'd just warned Ethan away from, but she feels that prior allegiances could probably stand to be emphasized. "How'd you find me?"

He'll recognise them. Allies and part of the glorious betrayal that scattered their original sect of Vanguard into fugitives from both their own kind and the law. Ethan gives no reaction to the news that Wu-Long and Elias are dead, not inquiring as to the details of the casualties that took place those few months ago.

A glance down to her, a minor hesitation, as if debating how to tell her. "Been followin' you," he admits. "Scoutin' out where you go. I needed to see you before makin' a next move. I couldn' jus' leave the city, not withou' sayin' goodbye, Princess."

So he is leaving. In spite of her prior urgings, Eileen isn't sure how she's supposed to feel about that. Adding to her confusion is the absence of any attempt to convince her to accompany him which, while decidedly un-Ethanlike, makes sense when she reconsiders everything that's transpired between them. She'd betrayed them all to Teodoro Laudani's Phoenix, hadn't she?

Guilt enters her gray-green eyes, gaze tilting away before she averts it completely, focusing on the sidewalk stretching out ahead of them. "I wish I could go with you," she says, just the same, "but I'm needed here. People I should be looking out for."

"You don't," Ethan says, that last 't' in the word cropping up rather sharply, in contrast to his lazy way of speaking. Perhaps out of emphasis. His hand squeezes her's. "You're not the only one tryin' to put some things to rest, lovely. There are places I'm not gonna be draggin' you along to, I got my fair share of unfinished business too."

He stops her, hands going to her shoulders. "I'll come back for you," is his promise, as rain continues to soak them through. "You 'ear that?" A beat, and then a nod to her. "For now, you got Sylar, righ'?"

The pressure on her shoulders should be reassuring. So should his promise. Neither is, and it isn't because his words somehow fall flat to her ears. The question he poses forces an awkward, bubbling laugh from the very bottom of her throat and past her lips, dry and cracked. She's not sure if she should tell him, or if she should spare him the worry — would he still go if he knew she was alone?

"Sylar's got his priorities square, just as they should be." Which is to say, "They don't include me anymore." There's a pause in which she lifts her chin, eyes flicking back to Ethan's face, searching. "I did some things I ought not to've," she explains, "and he knows things he shouldn't."

"Tha' so," Ethan says, his tone neutral, gaze studious, as if maybe there were more to be seen in her eyes than pupils, irises, white and veins. But nothing, it seems, and his hands fall from her shoulders, taking another step back. "Then you'll just 'ave to keep takin' care o' yourself 'til I can make it up to you," he says, perhaps after too much silence, like perhaps he wasn't sure what to say.

Eileen moves her hands to where his were a few moments ago, digging her fingers into the sodden fabric of her coat and grasping it tight. As much as she might like to, she isn't crying, through the rainwater running down her cheeks in silvery rivulets makes it impossible to tell. "Will you stay with me?" she asks. "Just for tonight?" It might be the last time she sees him, or he her, if the way she's shivering in the midnight chill is any indication. "I need to be with somebody, that's all."

There's something statue like in the way Ethan looks at her now, his broad shoulders bowed by the rain and expression almost impossible to read under the sheen of water flowing down it. Says nothing, just regarding her for an uncomfortably long moment before he looks away, down the street in the opposite direction they were walking.

His promises had tumbled loose during their conversation. He has another guarantee to stick to. He's going to walk away, if not in fact making a step to do so, but his body language screams it.

"Take care of yourself, Princess."

It isn't the first time Ethan has refused her, though the overwhelming sense that it could be the last registers a myriad of emotions on Eileen's face. Disappointment, remorse, longing and dread each take their turn, though none except acceptance is able to find a permanent foothold there.

Her lips thin out, pressed flat, and the brightness in her eyes becomes dim, lackluster. It's okay, says the silent and no longer beseeching curve of her mouth, I understand. A sudden tightness in her throat renders her momentarily speechless, prevents her from lending the reassurance a voice.

"You too," comes her whispered farewell, low and harsh as she turns away from him and resumes the trek along the flooded street, footsteps leaving ripples in her departure’s wake.

Soon, they're just two silhouettes drifting apart, and Ethan moves his hands up to draw his hood back over his head, stoic expression set forward as he walks away with grave determination, jaw set with it. Beneath the shadows of his hood, skin begins to shift, distort. By the time he's angling a glance back up at the sky, where an owl far out of its habitat flies invisibly against the night sky, his face had changed completely. Eyes, mouth, jaw, nose, brow. Hair grows beneath the protection of the hood, eyebrows thicken and darken, eyes make subtle changes of colour.

Transformed back into himself, Gabriel escapes around a corner, resting his back against the slick brick wall as he takes out the newly bought cigarette pack and cheap lighter from his pocket, pitching it down to grimy city floor and simply resting there for a moment, eyes shut against the rain.

Smack. The back of his head connects harshly with the brick wall once, twice. That's enough. The owl flies low, and through its night eyes, he watches the tiny figure of the woman make her trek home, and senses nothing from her. Nothing at all. What happened to you?

Such questions can be pondered later. For now, Gabriel disappears as city colour floods his skin in light-bending camouflage, and he too makes puddles ripple beneath his feet as he walks away.

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