f_eileen_icon.gif f_gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Grounding
Synopsis The more things change…
Date April 5, 2019

Unity National Park

Once upon a time, Midtown was a decayed, ruined, broken shell of what had been a thriving neighborhood, gutted by nuclear fire and picked to clean bones by desperate scavengers. The skeleton of the city that was is still present here, visible in the contours of the terrain. An eye-watering glint of light hints at windows still intact, somewhere beneath verdant vines; piles of masonry and warped metal yield artificial hills which now host shrubs and low-growing plants. Trees dwarf the reaching digits of twisted, tangled rebar, and last year's brown, crispy leaves hide stretches of open pavement — and the cars that choke other parts of what once were streets.

Postapocalyptic wasteland has been replaced by a thriving park ecosystem, although this park has yet to be defaced by paved walkways and interpretive signs. It exists, unfenced and undivided, in the center of New York City, melding seamlessly with Central Park to the north. A miracle wrought by Evolved abilities, the visible beneficence of Arthur and Peter Petrelli, Unity National Park is a living memorial to all of those lost in the 2006 Manhattan Explosion and the terrorist acts which followed after it, culminating in the Columbia Bombing of 2011. In the crater at the park's center stands Unity Park's sole new artificial construct — a graceful stair-step sculpture of white marble which hearkens back to the red helix once present in Kirby Plaza. On its vertical faces are inscribed the names of the dead which this memorial honors.

You can tell when Central Park blends into Unity Park. There is a sense of wildness about the place, in the lack of paths, the cluster and tangle of so many different plants, flowering now as spring sets in, riots of leaf and petal. It even smells wilder, beating back the scents of the city, overpowering performs and earth that replaced the once poisonous nature of this landscape.

Gabriel doesn't know what to think of it, considering his history. His own contribution to this place, as minor as it is, a half-truth that the world can never know if he wants to maintain the life he has now. All he knows is that he does like it here. The bird population has increased ever since wild jungle and garden sprang up from broken metal and concrete and radiation, for one thing, and at this hour they are quiet, asleep, lending the two wanderers some intuitive serenity as they move down a beaten path.

"He thinks Gillian can do better," he's saying, of Magnes Varlane and their conversation just this early evening. "I'm not sure if he means in general or himself. I didn't even know they were talking."

His hand is tangled with Eileen's, but only for the moment as he goes to help her over a fallen tree, moss-ridden and home to a whole population of insects only he can hear. Gabriel's out of uniform, the dark blues and badges or the more militant SWAT-style black fatigues, instead wearing a jacket and layers of fabric beneath that, worn jeans, boots sinking slightly into soft and incredibly fertile soil.

The shoes on Eileen's feet, however sensible, were not designed with traversing the wilds of Manhattan in mind. As nimble as she is, she appreciates the assist — Gabriel's presence grounds her and provides her with balance, not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well. She extends one stocking-clad leg, leading with the toe of her foot, and steps off the log to drop down onto the earth beside her him.

Like her companion, she's traded in her work clothes for a more casual outfit consisting of a long, pleated skirt and form-fitted blouse with an oversized woolen cardigan worn beneath her jacket for extra warmth. Subdued colours blend into the nighttime shadows and camouflage her diminutive shape, swathed in darkness.

"Does it matter what he meant?" she wants to know, her tone solemn and mild but not the least bit disapproving. Simply curious. "She's married, either way."

"It matters. Either he's worried about her or he's thinking selfishly for a change." It occurs to him that maybe he keeps tabs on Magnes' mental well-being a little too often, but he can't help it. Partnership lends itself to such natural evaluations, and add that to the fact Gabriel was the one that shook the man out of the less than ideal situation he'd found himself in only a few years ago.

And you know, maybe someone apparently hitting on an ex-girlfriend comes up on the radar, and in hindsight doesn't make for awesome conversation with your spouse. Gabriel's mouth twists in a half-smile and he shrugs once, releasing Eileen's hand once she's steady on the ground, returning his both to the pockets of his woolen lined jacket.

"He threw someone into the sky again, they shot at him." Fallen leaves and taller grass crunches softly, wetly underfoot as they walk. Gabriel's eyebrows lift a little as another tidbit of memory in all the chaos comes to the fore. "He called him 'Deckard'."

"The man he threw into the sky?" Eileen's tone is alarmed. So is her facial expression, but it's also considerably more difficult to read with only the distant glow of the city lights to illuminate her pastel features. Gabriel may sense her body tense, familiar creases of worry appearing on her brow and at the corners of her mouth, lips turned down into a troubled frown.

Only a few hours ago, she was standing outside the nursery in the maternity ward at St. Luke's with Abigail Baker and discussing the bizarre weave of relationships they've all found themselves tangled up in. When the other woman had mentioned the possibility of Magnes going for Deckard's throat, she'd dismissed it as a playful exaggeration — hearing it from Gabriel snaps things back into perspective, renders her spine rigid and her muscles stiff. "Are you sure?"

He glances at her, that sudden tension unmissable and for a moment he reflects the same in a couple of seconds of thoughtful silence, bringing back up the recent memory in vivid detail and surround sound. Magnes had placed his hand on the man's back, snarled a few words and then clearly cursed Deckard's name and sent the criminal plummeting. "Well I don't think it was in honour of him," Gabriel says. Another glance her way, and adds, "I also don't think he's going to hurt Flint. Magnes is…"

Messed up. Depressed. Angry. Sometimes dangerous. Things Gabriel understands and god knows what he is capable of. But still. It's Magnes. "He's not going to do something like that. Whatever he thinks of Flint, it would hurt Abby."

Eileen clicks her tongue against her teeth in wordless rebuke and blows out a soft sigh through her nose. All right, she concedes. Gabriel knows Magnes better than she does, but at the same time—

"I think you'd be surprised to hear what some people think about, regardless of whether or not they'd ever act on those impulses." She speaks from experience, after all, her words laced with wry hints and a subtle undertone that implies one of those double-meanings Eileen is so fond of. "Especially where matters of the heart are concerned, placing second hurts. And it never really stops."

Even when you get what you want.

It's tempting to grind to a halt, to dig her heels into the dirt beneath their feet, take his hands and elaborate, but Eileen waves off the notion as swiftly as it pops into her head. She's brushed it away a hundred times before, and tonight is no different. "You should tell Flint," she says instead. "He deserves to know."

Gabriel's head tips back a little in that customary gesture of resigned negativity at Eileen's words, letting out a sigh as he takes in the shadowy shapes of tree branches and blooming leaves against a backdrop of an oil-grey New York sky, cloudy and dynamic. He says nothing, though, no argument or question for elaboration, looking forward again and keeping to himself. He doubts neither of them can say they're unhappy right now, and that's the main thing.

And so he's glad for the diversion, her suggestion, and makes a non-committal 'mm' sound, as if unsure if Flint needs to know, or not. Or who he owes it to to keep his mouth shut. "It could have been nothing," he insists. "Magnes is my responsibility, not Flint's. How was work?" Okay, he's not as smooth at the diversionary tactics as his wife is, but he tries, voice pitching up casually.

Now Eileen does stop, adopting a posture that couldn't look any more reprimanding even if she placed her hands on her hips and began tapping the toe of her foot against the ground. It was a nice try, Gabe — really, it was. Moonlight filters down to the forest floor through the leafy canopies above and floods her gray-green eyes with palest gold as she inclines her chin and looks down her nose at her husband despite Gabriel having almost a foot on her, a feat made possible only by the distance that now stretches between them.

"You're right," she says. "Magnes is your responsibility, which is why you need to tell him. I know you don't think he'll try anything, and I agree with you, but who's to say he won't take advantage of an existing opportunity?"

A few feet from her now, Gabriel twists around to look at her with an expression of mild consternation when the point is pushed, before shifting to face her completely. He's not so domesticated as to cave to her whims just because she's giving him that look, one he knows reasonably well by now. His response comes swiftly, argumentative but without real aggression.

In fact, his voice is quiet in the midst of this nighttime urban jungle setting. "It's none of Flint's business," he says, firmly. "Believe me, the more people who are afraid of you, the more willing you become to let them stay there. It becomes comfortable to prove them right. If you don't think he's going to do anything, then just— leave it. He was overreacting after getting shot at. I know what it's like."

His gaze drops from her for a moment, hands going up as he gives a shrugging kind of gesture beneath the bulk of jacket and shirts. "And I know what I'm doing."

Pointed look or no pointed look, Eileen would be sorely disappointed in Gabriel if her caved to her whims — that isn't the man she conspired with to depose Kazimir Volken from the throne at the head of Vanguard, and that certainly isn't the man she served alongside during the campaign against its remnants in the years that followed. Consternation is good. The manner in which he handles himself is better.

This time, she doesn't argue his point. On the other hand, she doesn't budge from where she's positioned, either, and continues to regard him in what appears to be stony silence, winding tension like a piece of microscopic string around the tip of her ring finger which, incidentally, is bare.

In the end, she raises one small hand and places it on her chest overtop the wedding band she wears around her neck on a chain beneath her sweater and blouse. It's an understated gesture, more for her own benefit than his — a means of reminding herself not to push it. "Felix Ivanov told Abigail that Flint shot him," she says, finally. "Ten years ago. I don't think either of them is taking it very well."

An eyebrow raises in some surprise at this news. Not so much for the subject matter, but for the fact its being mentioned at all, and should be giving Flint and Abby trouble. The idea of Flint having hurt people in the past surely cannot come as a surprise to the Southern woman, could it?

Of course, Gabriel is missing some vital details, pun unintended, and verbally charges on with a slight smirk and a few rapid blinks. "I'm pretty sure all of us have hurt Ivanov at one point or another," he reminds her somewhat wryly, rocking back a step as if to invite her to continue walking with him. "Abby knows Flint. They'll be fine, it's not a hard shock to recover from."

As Gabriel rocks back, Eileen steps forward and comes up alongside him, moving her hand from her chest to his arm closest to her. His smirk is met with a dubious glance, her expression shaded by dark lashes, lips pressed flat into a line. How do you tell someone that by shot you really meant murdered in cold blood? It would be easier, she reasons, if Felix hadn't bounced back from it like he does everything else.

"I don't know." Eileen's fingers curl, not around Gabriel's arm but at the fabric of his sleeve. "She told me that he almost left," she adds, "and when I asked her if everything was all right she said they were going to take a week for themselves. Suggested we do the same, actually."

They walk again, moving down the path not worn down by construction, just feet. Their own included, it's a familiar path, taking them through thicker forest without having to clamber over too many obstacles. They pass by an old and broken streetlamp, gleaming black and silver and otherwise obscured by creeping vines. Not so far away, there's a shell of a car, with a tree sprouting up and through where the engine once was, the metal hood bent back as if the tree had rather suddenly sprung up through the cement below and burst its way through.

Maybe it had. Gabriel wasn't there, the day the Midtown gardens grew.

"A whole week?" he says, a wry joke, and his arm linked with hers tightens a fraction. "That would be great, we just need to quit work for a while, I guess. We make time when we can, don't we?" What he wouldn't have given, during the darker times over the past decade, for this to be his biggest concern.

"We do," Eileen agrees, "and I'm content with what we have, but I promised her I'd pass the message along. She wants to go camping. In the Adirondacks, with Flint and the children." Her tone is reproving, but it contains a hint of wistfulness as well — it would be nice to wrap themselves in green and bathe in the dappled shade without having to worry about anything except the turning weather. For all the time they spent in the Andes, Eileen can remember very little that she actually enjoyed about it, and while the Adirondack Mountains are a far cry from South America's windswept crags, she wishes a trip away from the city might spark—


"Have you ever thought about it? Quitting work?"

Camping. Gabriel sort of just snorts softly in reply, trying to imagine what Flint would think of that, what Bai-Chan would think of that. Likely he would mourn the lack of wireless and pace around restlessly, and minus the wireless, Gabriel imagines he would be much the same as his son. Mourning the lack of terrorists instead, perhaps, as is his most recent standing memory of anything vaguely resembling camping.

He supposes there are other things to hunt too. Eileen's question gets a glance, a slightly bewildered blink at the notion, then a shrug. "No," he answers, honestly. "It's satisfying." In the same way fixing and restoring clocks and other items is satisfying. One pastime takes care of the hunt, the other takes care of the process. We all have our addictions. Not that there isn't something still missing from that equation but we take what we can get. "Why?"

Why. He has to ask why. Eileen directs her focus ahead of them, mindful of the path unwinding despite having walked it many times before, both at night and during the day, alone and in Gabriel's company. She isn't worried about tripping over a fallen branch that wasn't there before, but if she gives the illusion of wanting to be cautious then she doesn't have to meet his eyes when he glances at her.

"I've been thinking about Ethan and Delphine a lot," she admits, voice suddenly becoming very quiet, "and I wonder if I made the right choice, coming back. The places I've been, the people I've met. My life's been defined by travel. The longer I stay here in New York, the more I want to leave."

Walking seems to become a thing for him to do while he takes all this in, barely seeing where they're going, hardly appreciating the shadowy sights around them, or the quiet, or the other reasons they come here simply to be. No, Eileen's words take priority, making Gabriel blink more than necessary, the arm winding with her's becoming somewhat stiff.

He says nothing. Normally he'd say something. He chooses not to, just this second, either waiting for her to elaborate or communicating some kind of injured silence, even as he keeps his arm linked with hers, even as he carefully negotiates their way over a sudden tilt of broken concrete and soil.

If it's elaboration Gabriel is after, then he's in luck because Eileen takes his silence as a cue to continue, though she remains somewhat restrained as she attempts to explain herself. "South America and Asia are such large continents, and we were kept on such a short leash. Don't you ever wish you could have seen more of them on your own terms? We could go to Tianjin, show Bai-Chan where Wu-Long and Mu-Qian were born. Help with relief efforts in the Sudan. See Cambodia. Azerbaijan."

She can't help but stress the we, and if there was ever any doubt about where she was going with this she wants to dissipate it before she goes too far. "I look back on the time we spent together and I know the circumstances were less than ideal but in a way— in a way I think I was happiest then. Every day was something new and different, and neither of us knew what to expect except for each other."

What she can make out is a somewhat neutral expression, if a mildly puzzled one. It puts these walks through the wilder portions of the Unity Gardens into some perspective, actually. Kind of the garden version of the Amazon, what it lacks in excitement it makes up for in atmosphere, especially during the day with the twittering of birds you don't hear in the urban areas, harking back to the South American, the Indian, the Asian jungles.

"But this is what we worked for." Gabriel's voice is quiet, unobtrusive, though he finds himself withdrawing from their linked arms to take a step away, to pause their walking and look at her. "We can have a job, a family. I want to go traveling too, believe me, and as soon as we have time and— we can afford it, we should do it. But— "

It's a hard question, and his mouth shuts as he debates even asking it.

Him moving away from her isn't what Eileen had been anticipating, but it isn't anger that flares up in response — it's hurt. When he stops, so does she, and the hand that was on his arm falls to her side, knuckles bent into a loose half-fist that twitches with nervous energy. "We worked for freedom, Gabriel. The right to live our lives however we wanted without having to look over our shoulders." As much as she might want to pursue him, she remains rooted to the spot, her slim shape lit up in patches, the nighttime shadows casting strange patterns across her face and the front of her coat.

"You can't tell me you envisioned this for yourself when you decided to strike a bargain with the government," Eileen says, growing desperate. "Your position with SCOUT. Our marriage. The house. We went for years without having anything worth putting to paper, and now here we are, bound by it."

Gabriel fairly stares down at Eileen as she speaks, the vaguely shifting shadows making patterns on his face that belie the statue-still expression of him trying to interpret and failing to do so, shoulders tense beneath his jacket. "No, I never envisioned it," he agrees, in a tone that doesn't suggest he's actually agreeing with her, which becomes clear as he continues with, "I never thought it could even be possible. Part of me was happier traveling, sure, it was better than nothing. Sometimes it was fun. But now that we're here, no, I don't feel bound." He fairly spits this offending word out, and—

— stomp stomp stomp. We were walking, weren't we? He's not quite storming away from her, just continuing their trek with determined, long strides.

Stop and go, stop and go — if this isn't an accurate representation of their turbulent relationship, Eileen doesn't know what is. Even in marriage, they're all over the place, wildly veering off in one direction before swerving around and putting the whole thing in reverse. She comes very close to turning back and retracing her steps in the direction she and Gabriel came, but that's the sort of thing she would have done ten years ago. The coward's way out. What had Teo called her then? Suicidally spineless?

In the time they've been together, in the decade she's grown and matured, Eileen has learned the important distinction between things that shouldn't be said and those that need to, and this is one of those latter instances. "Don't you dare show your back to me. I love you, goddammit."

It does its job. If not that initial anger, her demand, it's the combination of that and love that has Gabriel's step just previous to that be his temporary last. There's a moment of debate, much like she had, as to whether keeping walking is a good idea or not, but inevitably he turns towards her, chin up and arms folding. Posture utterly defensive and completely unconscious.

It's maybe the fact that they've learned how to not walk away, for once, that's made their marriage possible. Took them several years. "You don't like it, the ordinariness?" he says, voice reproachful. Christ, why is it never good enough? At least policeman is a step up from watchmaker.

Maybe. Perhaps not in the eyes of someone who's only glimpsed the world she's saved so many times. "We can't just take off, not— like we used to. Maybe one day, after Bai-Chan's gone to college, or…" He trails off back into the injured silence.

"I don't think the ordinariness suits us," Eileen corrects him, "any more than spots suit a tiger or stripes suit a leopard. For God's sake, you're not a police officer and I'm not a nurse — we're only doing this to help others because helping others makes us feel better about ourselves, about all the terrible things we've done. You want to catch bad guys? Then let's go catch bad guys. New York City doesn't have to be the center of our world, not when the whole of it is still out there."

Her first instinct is to close the distance between them on decisive feet, heedless of snapping twigs or crunching leaves, and take his hands in hers. She doesn't. Rather, Eileen holds her palms out in offering and implores him to return to her with her eyes. "Come back to me. Please. Come back to me."

He can't argue, not when there's a part of him that treats his uniforms like costumes, just like back when he would pretend to be other people, through shapeshifting or performance. Hitting on truths that are better unspoken, and the back of his teeth clench together as he regards her with eyes that look black in this lighting. Then, the actual center of his world holds out her hands, and he gravitates on over after only the most minor of stubborn hesitations. Gabriel's hands slide into hers.

Grounding. It works both ways.

"We have friends here. A life here, and a future. We also have all the time in the world."

Eileen brings Gabriel's hands up to her face and brushes a kiss across the back of his knuckles. "No," she whispers, and her voice cracks when she says it, beginning to unravel into something much thinner and hoarser, "we don't. You aren't getting older, you aren't ever going to go gray, feel your memories begin slipping through your fingers. You know it, I know it, and it's about time one of us said it. Kazimir gave you something special, and you'll have put me in the ground before you age even a day."

There's another truth for you. Eileen's cheeks are suddenly feeling very hot and very damp. "I'm only thirty," she hisses through her teeth, "and I have a lot of time left, but it isn't infinite."

Come together, break apart. Gabriel's hands become tight in Eileen's as she talks, gaze unbreaking and almost resentful that she's bringing this up, that she's hurting, that he is too, inevitably, because married couples do things together, and— they will all die. He'll outlive all of them. Eileen, Gillian. Magnes. Abby and Deckard. Bai-Chan. It's a harsh reality that's occurred to him before, the day he realised he wasn't aging, which wasn't just one day at all, but a few years of slow realisation.

"Eileen…" His hands loosen from hers but not to move away, just to place them on her shoulders as he bends his knees, his back, to shift down to her level. "I love you too, and I don't want to waste time chasing something that isn't real. The last time I tried, it was to become a serial killer trying to— find a destiny. Be less ordinary. The world out there is… We can see it. In our time, which we have. I can fly you anywhere. Everywhere."

His hands shift, up her throat, to curl around her jaw, feeling warm tears there and half-heartedly brushing them away mostly because it feels like the right thing to do. "Home is here." Where the heart is, as it were, but he doesn't coin this phrase out loud. "As ordinary and small as it is, the rest of the world's ordinary and small too."

There's little use arguing with him, and now that immortality is out on the table Eileen isn't sure she has the resolve to keep chipping away at his. Her throat is so tight she can hardly speak. Seeing straight requires her lashes to be at constant work. The only thing she hates more than crying is what compels her to do it — that terrible pressure building in the cavity of her chest, smothering her heart against her ribs.

He's won. At least for now.

Eileen swallows, hard, as if working the muscles in her throat might relieve some of the strain. In reality, it only makes the situation worse and renders her utterly incapable of closing the discussing while salvaging her dignity at the same time. It's one or the other. She can't have both. "If you can fly me anywhere," she whispers, "then fly me back—" Home is what she wants to say, but she can't quite force the word past her lips.

He's won in that he has the final word, but he knows it takes more than that. It's never easy, with Eileen. Gabriel kisses her forehead, a lingering touch before she's pulled into an embrace, one devoted to security over comfort. For a moment nothing happens, save for that closeness, as if maybe Gabriel could make her want to stay exactly here forever just through the embrace.

That maybe flying back home isn't so hard to say. Then, his grip shifts, one she will be somewhat accustomed to, one that will mean she doesn't slip and plummet. Then, a sudden jerk of vertigo and gravity, the two of them breaking up through the darkened canopy, into the hazy sky, and from there, it's a silent, cold journey home.

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