His Face


f_eileen_icon.gif f_gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title His Face
Synopsis NATO flies Gabriel to the Andes — more than a year later, someone is still woefully inadequate when it comes to expressing their feelings.
Date January 16, 2011

Somewhere in Argentina

Defined by its snow-capped precipices and treacherous crags, the Andes are the world's longest mountain range, stretching over seven thousand kilometers along the western coast of South America. It's a great place to get lost, and an even better one to hide if you're a former member of what was once one of the most powerful and influential terrorist factions on the planet. Kazimir Volken may be gone, but his legacy lives on, dormant in the hearts and minds of his surviving disciples, their number scattered throughout this continuous chain of highland and more remote locations in Eastern Russia.

Unfortunately for Kazimir's disciples, no amount of sedentary rock will keep them secreted away forever. The Vanguard has made many enemies over the years, enemies with powerful and far-reaching resources — one of which is sitting in the back of a cargo plane on its way from the United States to Argentina. The foothills at the base of the mountains are green and lush, fed by a thriving network of verdant rivers, lakes and steams, but the man secured to the plane's dimly-lit interior by a set of handcuffs will see none of the landscape unfolding in every direction around him. There are no windows, leaving him with only the roar of the engines and the uniform-clad soldiers flanking him on either side for company.

It's a superficial measure, really. The handcuffs. Everyone sharing the same space as their prisoner is already keenly aware of what he's capable of doing if he were so inclined. A few flimsy pieces of metal connected by a length of chain won't change anything.

This should be more boring than it is. As it stands, it isn't. There's a monotony to it he's gotten used to, a patience he knows better now. No one is talking, at least not to him, and Gabriel isn't inclined to talk to them in turn. Being incarcerated learns you some protocol in regards to authority. You don't interact more than necessary and even now, as the plane sails over verdant landscape, a completely different set of circumstances than a maximum security prison, Gabriel says nothing. Save for one trip to the bathroom, he's been a quiet passenger the whole flight, eyes typically shut and head tipped back. Nothing to see, nothing to do but reflect and ignore the twisting corkscrew of anxiety that comes with potential freedom.

And listen to the pilots in the cockpit. They'd be landing, soon. Argentina. Never been there.

It's the blast of hot air and glaring sunlight that gives Gabriel his first impression of the place, once they're done and landed. Cliche aromas of distant jungle struggle beneath the more overwhelming smells of fuel, heated concrete, fumes from vehicles and planes alike. He moves down the rolling out stairs with his arms held in front of him, locked at the wrist but relatively flimsy steel chainlinks, out of his prison clothes at the very least and in something less conspicuous, less suffocating and, well, less orange.

Waiting for Gabriel at the bottom of the stairs is an older man whose beard is flecked with silver and gray, his eyes hidden behind a pair of polarized Aviator-style sunglasses, the kind that never seem to go out of style no matter where you are or who's wearing them. He does, however, pause to lower the accessory a fraction, peering over the very top of his frames as if this might give him a better view of the former fugitive disembarking from the aircraft.

It doesn't. If the way he's squinting is any indication, and it probably is, his vision isn't what it used to be — he'd be better off trading in those shades for a pair of prescription lenses. Although he isn't wearing a uniform like the soldiers in the plane, it's clear that he too is either a member of the military, or at the very least in high enough standing that NATO trusts him with a firearm. An AK-47 slung across one shoulder, its metal barrel gleaming cheerfully in the sunlight, sets him apart as someone in a position of authority. "Damned if you aren't taller than I thought you'd be," he says, tone gruff but not entirely inhospitable. "Sylar, right?"

Once on solid ground, Gabriel manages to tear his eyes from the landscape, fascinated by what he didn't have the opportunity to see on the flight over. It's almost a shock, going from so much routine to standing in a remote airport, hills and mountains looming off in the distance and entirely green, as if man hadn't thought to touch them. It's all— huge. Open. This had to be the right choice.

Still, he manages to look at the man addressing him now, or rather, his own squinting, distorted reflection in aviator glasses. At the question, he only nods once, mutely, and at the side of his neck, just beneath his jaw, there's a penny-sized circular injection mark, still a raw sort of red that he hasn't gotten around to healing away just yet. "Is this it? You land me here, unleash me, hope I return with the right terrorist?"

Or at all. That's always a risk. But if there's one thing he doesn't want to be, it's a fugitive. Raising his arms up a fraction, he offers handcuffed wrists with an expectant look.

Aviators offers Gabriel a wolfish grin full of uneven teeth, yellowed by age and interspersed with gold fillings. "Terrorists," he corrects him. "Plural. There's a whole nest of them just a few clicks from here, all Vanguard. My superiors tell me you've got plenty of experience with their particular breed, so you seemed like the right man for the job."

He gestures to one of the soldiers who accompanied Gabriel on the flight over, and a moment later the cuffs click open, falling away from his wrists with a muted clatter. "We sent two dozen of our people up into the foothills last week to feel out the area, see if our field consultant couldn't pinpoint where they were hiding. Four came back, two of them critical. Guerilla shit. I don't like it."

Breed. An eyebrow quirks up at this choice of phrasing and what he has experience with, but he says nothing, just watches as the handcuffs fall from his wrists. No unnecessary show of rubbing them, save for one mild shake, as if to loosen the tension from his arms, before they hang simply at his sides again. "You have them cornered, and they don't exactly have a history for being merciful."

Then again, neither does Gabriel, but that's likely why he's standing there, with heat waves rising up from the airstrip and the roar of a nearby engine filling up his senses, ones that feel rawer for the fact he's no longer under negation. "What now?"

"Now…" Aviators turns away from Gabriel, looking out past the makeshift airfield, beyond the treeline where the canvas foundations of an encampment can be seen through the forest's leafy branches. Nearby, an empty Humvee riddled with bullet holes sits idle, blocking what appears to be the entrance to the transitory settlement. "I'll show you around. Come on, there's someone I want you to meet."

Without waiting for a response from Gabriel, be it a yea or a nay, he starts across the blistering concrete, heat coming off the tarmac in waves. Either he lacks an acute grasp on Sylar's reputation, or he simply doesn't have any qualms about turning his back on one of the most infamous American serial killers in recent history. "You'll get your own tent," he says, "access to fresh water, rations. Hell, you're royalty far as I'm concerned. Doesn't mean I won't be watching you like a fucking hawk, though."

There's a moment where Gabriel doesn't immediately follow, simply watching the man who still lacks a name to him turn his back and walk off towards where the ground makes a gradual shift from flat ground to rockier, grittier dirt track. Another glance around, towards where the guards have come to a stand still - this is the end to their journey, and they wait with a certain unease for Sylar to walk away completely from the world of regulation and barred doors.

Eventually, he's not far behind Mister Aviator Glasses, a hand smoothing down the shirt he was given, a slightly boxy garment with sleeves short enough for the weather, not tucked into the equally new looking pair of jeans. Real clothes, not uniform. "A tight leash, is what they told me," Gabriel agrees, voice taking on a note of casual, arrogant amusement, watching the back of the man's head as he's lead from the airstrip. Meeting someone, that's what he'd said. "I work better alone."

"And if I could trust you any further'n I can spit, you would. Work alone." Gravel crunches under Aviators' boots as he steps off the airstrip and onto the stone-strewed path, kicking up dirt and pebbles under his feet. "Too bad for both of us, really. Higher-ups'll have my hide if we lose you."

A few weeks ago, the encampment might've been a bustling center of activity, but if his story about losing close to two dozen soldiers in the forest is true, then it explains the feeling of emptiness and abandonment that the grounds presently invoke. A stray dog, its tongue lolling out of its mouth, weaves it through and around open tents on long legs and breaks into a sprint when it catches sight of the approaching men, retreating with its tail between its legs. Canvas flaps in the breeze. A rapport of gunfire echoes in the distance — somewhere, someone is engaged in a friendly game of target practice.

Aviators slows as he approaches one of the smaller tents toward the center of the encampment, distinguished by its close proximity to a rusty old pump that's most likely the source of the 'fresh water' he referred to earlier. "There are worse people I could pair you with. Believe me."

The sharp sound of flesh hitting flesh is Gabriel's first response, as he slaps a bug off his own arm with a mild look of irritation, inspecting his palm and wiping the squished insect off on the side of his jeans. This is going to take some getting used to, and he can already feel sweat prickling invisible, itchy tracks down the back of his neck. It'll be nice to get under the shade. "I'm surprised anyone volunteered for the job," he adds, moving towards the tent. Babysitting the notorious mass murderer and ex-member of exactly the people they're trying to nab, or so Gabriel assumes.

"Volunteered?" Aviators gives a low chuckle. "Boy, you're in for a big surprise. She don't even know yet." With a broad sweep of his arm, he brushes the flap aside and sets foot in the tent's shadowy interior, utterly heedless of whoever might be secluded there.

As it turns out, he could have stood to knock or announce his presence before entering, because he's met with a lean, bare back the colour of sun-bleached bone that visibly stiffens, drawn upright. The woman it belongs to doesn't turn around, and with good reason — she isn't wearing a shirt.

"That's the second time this week you've walked in on me while I'm washing up," she murmurs thickly, ringing out the sopping cloth she holds in her small hands. Sitting at her feet is a bucket of water, its metal rim glistening with moisture. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were doing it on purpose. What do you want?"

Probably a good way to do it, all things considered. The not telling her thing. Her, apparently, not him. Okay. Gabriel says nothing, just ducks into the tent after Aviators, drawing himself back up. The low and curving ceiling of the tent might graze the top of his head if he was only a fraction taller, but it filters out the oppressive sun and— that's about it for cooling and ventilation, really.

He's looking at a woman's back, beaded with droplets of water that could either be from the bucket at her feet or more biological, and if he didn't recognise the curve of her spine— and if he did he might well write it off as hallucinating, having spent a year in the presence of strictly male criminals— he does recognise her voice. And casts a slightly wide-eyed, accusatory look at Aviators that would be more comical if there wasn't the slight threat of death there. Then again, the man did freely turn his back to Gabriel. Maybe it does simply look comical.

"Go," he mutters simply to the AK-47 wielding government official, initial shock and anger simmering down into a resigned kind of annoyance. Not for her, but for this. No one was supposed to know.

The other man gives Gabriel a mildly perplexed look that's more sly than it is inquisitive, but he doesn't protest. Not with words. Instead, he raises both his eyebrows at him and takes a step back, hands held up in a gesture of mock surrender. All right, all right. I'm going.

While Gabriel might have recognized Eileen's voice, she can't have recognized his with only a mutter to go off of. She leans over, picks up the tanktop dangling haphazardly off the edge of her cot, and pulls it over her head. Like most of her clothes, both old and new, it doesn't fit her tiny frame as well as it should — it's difficult enough to find things in her size back in the States, never mind the terrorist-infested wilds of the Andes. "The hell do you mean, go?"

There's a shuffle of thick tent fabric as Aviators backs up and out the makeshift door, as if perhaps Eileen's snappish words had driven away the presence invading her territory, but not exactly. With her eyes still adverted, Gabriel has the opportunity to disappear, having several means at his disposal to do so, now, but he stays where he is, back rigid and hands held in loose, curling fists at his sides.

His heart shouldn't be jack hammering like this. He feels unprepared, shoved onto a stage without a script, and more nervous than a man of his— stature? Reputation? Something— has any right to be. He hopes his voice doesn't come out as a complete croak when he says, "Eileen." A step forward. He has questions. He's hoping they answer themselves before he has to ask them.

Now Eileen does turn, though it isn't with her usual catlike smoothness. She rounds on Gabriel so swiftly, so suddenly that she kicks over the bucket of dirty water with her foot in the process and swings her elbow into the hurricane lantern she keeps on the crate beside her cot with enough momentum to knock it onto the floor. Glass shatters. Thankfully, it wasn't lit.

Bony fingers curl around the edge of the crate, knuckles standing out like knots on the bark of a tree. The arm connecting her hand to the rest of her body is rigid but trembling — she apparently needs the support. Equal parts disbelief and indignation pinch the familiar features of her face, more pale than Gabriel remembers.

Eileen is, after all, staring down a ghost. She's allowed to be white as a sheet.

Whatever ordeal jail was, it doesn't lay its marks on Gabriel. He's mostly cleanshaven, his hair somewhat wind swept from the continual humid buffeting breeze out on the airway that doesn't seem to quite reach this gap in the jungle. His clothing is neat, almost too clean. The tattoo on his arm is one he got long before his arrested, no jail marks in sight. Perhaps the only true difference is that he looks healthy, of all things.

If tired. Very tired. So the paleness is unique to Eileen, Gabriel watching her with searching, amber-brown eyes, mouth set in a line. They truly didn't tell her. Didn't tell him, either. His hand goes out as if to calm her, like one might gesture towards a wild animal, but falls a moment later.

"What are you doing out here?"

Eileen's eyes search Gabriel's face, peeled for even the slightest imperfection that might out him as an imposter, but it's been too long for her to be certain of what she sees. She doesn't have his memory, that endless capacity for remembrance, and for all the time she's spent dwelling on him, she fails to summon up a mental picture she can compare the real thing against.

Her gaze darts to his hand, her body tensing, muscles coiling as she prepares to defend herself against an attack, then relaxes when it doesn't come. "Working," she says after a quaver-beat, voice sounding even weaker than her legs feel. And that's an accomplishment. "You're not— Who are you, and why are you wearing his face?"

In the time it takes for her to summon words, Gabriel manages to break his gaze from her, take in his surroundings, as bare as it is. The cramped confines can't hold much, so there isn't much to see. Just the evidence that she's spent some time here. Long enough.

"No," he says, dragging that wandering gaze back to her. A certain amount of guardedness there. "It's me."

The step he took forward is taken back again, finding more comfort near the exit of the tent, although he has no intent to leave. Not yet. The potential will do. "They've offered me freedom in exchange for work," he says, repeating the answer she chose to give him with a mildly sardonic twist in his voice. "Apparently I'm worth less than the rest of the Vanguard. What did they offer you?"

"The same." Eileen eases herself down onto the edge of the cot but does not yet remove her hand from the crate. Her doubts vanquished for the time being, she makes a point to avoid his eyes now that she's confident the man she's talking to is the man his body proclaims him to be.

She's seen a lot of things in her short life — illusionists, metamorphs, shapeshifters. Not one of them would be able to fake the way his presence fills the room, awakening emotions she hasn't experienced in what feels like an age.

Eileen swallows, forcing back the swollen lump in her throat. She isn't happy to see him. That much is obvious. "I'm sorry," she says finally. "I wasn't told."

"Neither was I."

It's tempting to leave. Let them both collect themselves, return again to try and forget everything previous, function as necessary for their pardon before parting ways again, and he's pretty sure that's exactly how it could go. Besides, Gabriel has a whole jungle to explore, or at least a little part of it, bigger than the cage he had been in, and walking around freely isn't to be taken for granted, ever. There are also sleeping arrangements to figure out. He could do with something to eat, too.

He stays, instead, and moves further inward, keeping up that halting, slow motion rhythm back and forward, betraying more uncertainty than he'd like. "I guess it's less humiliating when the other is in the same boat," he says, a mild sneer for both of their predicaments, but he's long since resigned to his fate.

Resignation is something Eileen understands. Relates to. She wouldn't be here if she hadn't submitted to it herself. "You guess," she echoes, lips growing numb as she speaks the words, deadpan. "You guess." The hand on the crate falls to her side then creeps into her lap, slowly working the tension from tendons and ligaments with short little squeezes, balling her fingers into a fist before stretching them back out again as far as they'll go.

This is difficult, and as much as she might wish she'd been given a heads up, she doubts she'd be doing much better if she'd had forewarning. "It doesn't have to be humiliating at all. Unless that's the way you want it?"

The first step forward he'd taken is carried by another, and another, rounding towards the foot of her cot and taking a seat at the edge, there, his shoulder and back turned to her. It's still a distance, and maybe less awkward than him hovering near the door way, but she'll feel the slight dip of the mattress as he rests his weight there, maybe be able to hear him breathe.

"There's nothing about being here that gives me a sense of pride," he mutters, almost spitting that last word out. "It just means they won. I couldn't do it, not another year. Not another day. And you couldn't, either. No more running."

"No more running," Eileen agrees. "I've seen the way it turns out for everybody else, and I don't want any part of it." She's more comfortable studying his back when he isn't watching her, though he might be able to sense her eyes roving up and down his body, tracing the musculature beneath his clothes. With the distance between them reduced, it would be a small thing to reach out and place a hand on his shoulder or the back of his neck. Her first instinct is to touch, to comfort.

It's also wrong.

"Maybe it's a good thing you don't have anything left to be prideful about," she suggests, exhaling shakily through her nose with such a laborious effort she almost forgets to breathe in again after all the air has been pushed from her lungs. Her voice is thin. "Puts what you get at the end of it back in perspective."

Her sentiment is met with sullen silence but ultimately agreement, Gabriel's back curves just slightly, hands braced against the edges of the cot. What you get at the end. He's not even sure what that is, only that it isn't prison. A second chance, maybe. He's had a few of those before, in the past. Maybe this time he won't take it for granted, for once.

"Did you know?" Now he glances over his shoulder at her, a slice of profile, a fleeting look to meet her roving gaze. "What happened to me?"

There hadn't been a trial. Hadn't been a moment to blink. It was Swinburne Island all over again but this time they had been ready, and Gabriel had not. They'd hurt him, that time. Kept him under a coma so dark and so black that revival had been a bonus, much less an option. Next thing he knew he was in prison clothes, feeling deafened with negation drugs, and his memory doing— strange things. Making blurry gaps where he was used to clarity. And no mention or word of anyone he knew. What happened on the outside is anyone's guess.

"You left," Eileen says. "Not just New York. Gillian." The instant his eyes meet hers, she turns her head away, fixing her stare on the flap and the sunlight streaming in through the gap. Despite it being several degrees coolers inside, she'd rather be anywhere but the shade as long as she has to share it with him. "You'd never have done that willingly, so yes. In a way I knew. Guessed."

She plants both her feet on the floor of her tent and rises from the cot, legs unfolding. "I'd have done something if I thought I could. Trite, but there it is. Ethan disappeared around the same time so there was no other choice, not really."

The name 'Gillian' gets no external reaction, although it does seem to make the air vaguely thinner. Did she know? Did she guess? Or assume he had died, or left on his own? It seems— awkward to ask these things of Eileen. Sensitive. Wrongly fitting. Gabriel has gotten good at not reflecting on questions that might cause him some kind of pain and easily shelves it again as soon as he knows a flicker of it. Back to blank resignation.

His eyes follow her when she gets to her feet, but he makes no effort to do the same. It's been too long to want to be alone, unlike Eileen's eagerness to create some space between them. "No. I don't blame you," he tells her.

"I blame me." Normally, the words would be out of Eileen's mouth before she could even think about biting her tongue or the inside of her cheek in an attempt to quell them, but when she speaks she does so in measured tones. Careful. Aware. It's the closest thing Gabriel is likely to get to an apology that isn't related to the one she offered him a few minutes ago when she first came to realize who she was talking to. This done, she moves away from the cot, increasing that distance one step at a time. "I need a few minutes, if you don't mind?"

Whether he does or not, she's already on her way out of the tent. Without waiting for him to verbalize a response. Without her boots. The flap rustles, falls back into place in her harried wake.

He had a response, and he opens his mouth to give it, but she's gone in the time it takes to pull back the tent flap and duck away. Mouth closes again, a look of irritation crosses his face before it's gone again, visible emotion coming and going as brief as shooting stars take to flash their presence. Gabriel's head tips back to regard the woven tent ceiling as if maybe that had the answers, and sits in silence until Eileen's soft footed footsteps fade enough out of his hearing.

Gabriel isn't sure a few minutes is going to be long enough. A whole year wasn't, after all.

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