If This Is It


eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title If This Is It
Synopsis Gabriel takes issue with the dirt under his fingernails. Eileen does the same with his recent behaviour.
Date December 13, 2009


Clear water ripples when surface tension is broken, big hands dipping down with a minor splash. The mosquitos will start a-gathering upon the later hours, but for now, the sun is high in the sky and a few minor insects drift close, ignored by Gabriel as he ducks down enough to splash water up onto his face, smoothing fingers through his hair and letting it run down a back bared to the sun barely making a break through misty cloud cover. His shirt is snagged on a branch somewhere close by, allowed to drip dry of water that had cleansed it of crusted blood, mud and dust.

Bruises mottle his torso, arms, one bright purple marring his shoulder, skin beaten to tenderness, but in the long run, it's all a small show of injury, aching minor, surface-deep. Kneeling on the outcrop of rock beside a bend of river running deep enough to contain colder water, Gabriel does what he can for sweat and dirt caking his body, water creating streaks through it down his spine. He can convince himself it's truly cleaning, and that it eases the soreness of fatigue, confrontation, and toll taken on his solid body from the abuse his wraith form acquires.

Stretches fingers, rolls shoulders, and glances across the river as if fancying he could see something. Nothing worth the interruption, and Gabriel dips his hands back into water, splashes again, drops glancing off shoulders in a spray behind him.

It's around the time the osprey lands one of the rocks that form the shoreline on the other side of the river that Gabriel will realize he's no longer alone. There is a snake clutched in its talons — a thin, ribbony thing that's too small, too delicate to be venomous — and as it twists around like a dancing streamer caught in the breeze that rustles through the trees, a prelude to another rainstorm, the bird rips into it with its beak and peels off a long strip of fleshy skin. Everything has to eat, especially out here. Only in Antananarivo where the pied crows feast on trash heaps and overripe fruit left to spoil in the Malagasy sun will things be different.

It's likely that Eileen had the same idea Gabriel did. The last time she took a shower was the morning of the attack on the base, and although her clothes don't smell worse than anybody else's, she's eager to get out of them and douse herself off in the river while the others are busy setting up camp for the evening. Understandably, she's a little put off to discover that someone has beaten her to it and already claimed the best stretch of riverbank, so it might not come as a surprise when she emerges into Gabriel's field of vision but hesitates in its periphery before her feet can carry her too far.

It's fascinating for anyone to watch a bird of prey alight on rock so close by and feed. Gabriel is susceptible to these same fascinations, pausing in his ritual to watch. And more than watch; blindly reach with a numb kind of telepathy that he's not even sure exists, so that he might get a sense of the bird's satisfaction and constant vigilance. Nothing, as ever nothing. Frustration sparks and he attempts to dampen it in another splash of river water.

By the time its running clean off his face, Eileen's unmistakable silhouette is cutting into being out the corner of his eye, and he pays her no acknowledgment. Dashes water off his arms, scrubs knuckles down his forearms, over inked skin and not. She's too far away to splash, or he might consider it.

Instead, Gabriel only pushes out of his kneeling position. The hems of his pants are rolled right up his calves and shins to bunch at his knees, boots and socks stashed nearby. For now, he hangs his legs over the edge of the rock to sink his feet down into the running water, sitting resolutely, before simply curling his spine as he lies back on rock as if to invite the meager sunlight to warm and dry him where he lies. "Hey," is offered, after a moment, as if to take away from her any excuse of going unnoticed.

"Hello," she returns, voice crisp, and resumes her walk toward the water's edge. The formality isn't a good sign — when Eileen gets upset, she has a tendency to attempt to hide her emotions behind a thin veneer with too many cracks in its surface to effectively contain them. They seep out and colour her body language as she chooses a spot upriver and settles down between two rocks in a squat, canteen in her hands, nimble fingers working the cap. Whatever plans she had to wash the excess oil from her skin and hair have been abandoned in favour of a different, more pressing urge. Thirst.

She dunks the canteen under the water, careful not to stir up any of the muck at the bottom of the river, and listens to the sound of it flooding into the vessel while simultaneously pushing out air with a steady chug-chug-chug. "Satisfied with yourself?" she asks, perhaps to make conversation, or maybe just for the sake of hearing her own voice again after almost twenty-four hours of stony silence on the trail. "You look it."

"I'm tired." Gabriel's eyes are shut by the time it's his turn to contribute to the conversation, hands coming to rest above his stomach. There's a still healing scar in his left side, a puncture wound that's been stitched closed, closed to heal, then picked free of wire again. It creates an interruption, a pull of skin, one of the few scars he bears from the knocks he's been through. There are probably others, but this one looks like it still hurts.

More or less covered by an arm, now, fingers lacing together. "Angry at something?" He doesn't crack an eye open for her. He can imagine it, the tension in ropey female musculature, the brittle firmness in the swoop of her jaw and knuckles standing out. "You sound it."

Eileen doesn't need to stall for time — she's had days to think about what she wants to say to him and how to word it. When she pauses, it's to drink from the now overflowing canteen, greedy and uncaring, only vaguely aware of what little liquid escapes her mouth and ruins fluid down her chin and the shape of her bared throat made sinewy by contracting muscles. With no shirt except for the sleeveless top she wears paired with her pants and boots, she reaches up to wipe her mouth with the back of her arm rather than her wrist, which is still held stiff in its splint.

That's probably something they should ask Tau about. If not, it will be weeks before the fracture is healed and she can return to using her right hand again without fear of making the injury worse. "You have no self control," is what she eventually says without looking at him, and not just because he can't see it. Her eyes do not stray from the river in front of her.


Gabriel swallows, his posture still lazy in its recline, and building tension gathers at a point between his brows, knitting them together as he silently judges how deep a cut went along with that judgment. It's always worse when it's spoken from someone you love, and more so when it's someone who loves you back. Usually. His back curls, stomach muscles working to get himself to sit despite the twinge of old injury that goes with it, hands gripping his knees.

"I think that's an exaggeration," he states, eventually, the facetiousness he had been aiming to force into his tone merely a flicker to combat the sheer flatness of his voice. It states one thing very clearly. Mind your own business.

It might even work if that one thing didn't correlate to another important detail: Gabriel is her business. "It isn't," she says as she screws the cap back onto the canteen, chin held aloft, attention fixated on what she can see of her reflection distorted by the river's surface as the water continues its sinuous flow past. "The only reason you're not still rotting underground with a bucket to piss in and a meal of rice and beans twice a day at sunrise and sunset is because Rasoul moved before we could. If you don't think Sanderson didn't report back to her superiors about the Bennet situation, you're even stupider and more arrogant than I remember you being."

Left hand braced against the inside of her thigh for support, she pushes back to her feet and drapes the canteen's leather strap over her neck. It joins the dog tags winking there, their silver chain jangling and set swinging by the movement. "You can't just take what you want, Sylar. Every action has a consequence."

Can so. The stubborn jut of Gabriel's jaw is almost that childish, as much as he doesn't say it, steering his gaze towards where his feet dangle in clear water, loose leaf and dirt tickling around bared ankles and ripples making patterns on his skin. "Consequences," he mutters, restlessly swiping up a river pebble and pitching it out into the water. "I could have walked out of the cell any time. I was in there because I chose to be. If Dajan and his men had opted to put a bullet into the back of my skull, I would have stopped them too."

The only other pebbles around are too much of a reach to be casual, and Gabriel's hands fold, now fixing her with a look. "Do you think I cared at the time? Do you think there's room to even consider Sanderson and what she would do? That if there was, I would have kept going? You act like you don't know what it's like."

"I know what it's like," Eileen mutters under a haggard breath expelled from her lungs. The fingers of her splint hand flex, straining, and curl back in on themselves until she can feel her nails pinching soft skin on the inside of her palm, though she doesn't press hard enough to draw blood — only leave a series of angry red crescents that rapidly fade as the colour in her cheeks does.

There's no need for her to insist on this point; by saying she acts like she doesn't know, Gabriel at least acknowledges that she does, and while she could underline her statement with a glare snapped in his direction or a slow, pointed swivel of her neck and head, she opts to adjust the canteen's strap instead and shrugs his eyes from her back with a rolling motion of her shoulders. Or tries to. It doesn't really work like that.

"Flesh remembers. Blood remembers. Are you really here because of me, or were you not caring back on the boat, too?"

She's not looking at him, so she can only hear him stand up, that restless wolf thing coming back into play. Gabriel flattens his hands on rock, retracts his feet from water and sets these on slick stone too as the rolled up fabric of his pants are smoothed back down to his ankles before standing tall. And no, it doesn't really work like that - Gabriel's hawkish attention is squared on her slim frame, dark under his serious, prominent brow.

"What are you talking about?"

"How am I supposed to trust anything you do or say when you aren't strong enough to resist it?" Eileen asks. "Did what might happen to me ever cross your mind when you had Bennet pinned in the mud?" Her lip curls over her teeth for an instant, tongue raked across her gums in what amounts to a tic of frustration, a momentary lapse in the composed facade that she's struggling to maintain. The cracks in that veneer of hers are widening, pried apart by internal pressure and the gradual build of anger inside of her. "I can't even stay mad. Whatever you were offered, nothing's worth more to you than what Bennet's got. Power. Immortality. All the promises Kazimir made but couldn't keep."

It's a relatively nice day, even the threat of rain that's probably on its way down already like a swarm of arrows. It doesn't help them in the least, and Gabriel has a predator's recognition for injury, and between fight and flight, he has a preference for one response. A hand drifts, unconscious, to the scarring in his side, nudging puckered flesh and filling his chest with a drawn in breath.

"I found you under a bed, once."

His feet inch towards the dip of rock, toes curling over the edge as he stands precarious on the brink, made less impressive by the fact it's about a foot and a half of water below. "You'd taken a designer drug you got hooked on for a while, called Refrain. It brings up memories, and hear-tell says it's as bad as heroin. You were on a bad trip - terrified of what you were seeing. I don't know if you did it again after that - I assume so.

"Because whatever it was before— it was better than your health. Better than your worth as a human being. You know it's not personal. I'm here because they took you, and if seeing this through is the way to keep you, then that's what I'm doing. But when it was just Claire and me— you're right. There's nothing in the world. I hate it. I hate what it holds over me."

When Eileen finally turns to look at him, it's the result of a very small, very precise movement that involves only a slight physical adjustment, head angled just right. The osprey on the other side of the river has departed the shore at some point during their terse conversation, leaving only a greasy smear of blood and snake excrement where it had been perched.

It's starting to rain. Sporadic droplets splash against fronds and leaves and ripple on the river's surface, inaudible and barely noticeable — if it weren't for the occasional burst of coldness prickling at exposed skin where they land, they might as well not be falling at all. There are a few glistening in Eileen's hair like pearls the size of pinheads and along the slope of her slender jaw, which is tense around a mouth gone soft with uncertainty.

The question that comes next is part of a logical procession, but it isn't spoken easily. It's difficult to defend your actions when you don't remember taking them, and it takes Eileen several moments of stilted silence to mentally piece together what his statement is begging her to ask. "If you had to choose between one or the other, which would it be? Bennet or me?" Then, "You know it's not personal. All I want is honesty."

Logical progression it may be, but it's still disarming. His gaze is tossed downwards, flung to watch the glance of dull light off the river's surface, arms coming to fold over a bare chest where rain makes translucent needle-fine tracks over his skin. Sniffs, once, as sullen as a teenager becoming told off and as regretful as a man a little beyond his age.

"Bennet." The answer is short, as if the quickness with which Gabriel states it will make it easier. He glances to her, before he's turning his back, padding off towards where his shirt hangs like the world's most dull flag.

He doesn't leave it there, though, as he drags the fabric down. "It doesn't go away. I can only ignore it. The painting— being sick all the time— it set me off."

Eileen studies Gabriel's back and the formation of his muscles around his spine's curve and the shape of his shoulder blades as though she might find something there that communicates a message contrary to his words. All she sees, though, is vertebrae and scar tissue, skin moving smoothly over the firm flesh beneath like the pelt on an emaciated circus animal that's built up sinewy muscle by pacing back and forth in its cage.

It's not the answer she wanted to hear, but any disappointment she might experience is tempered by pragmatism and her prior expectations. You can't fault someone for wanting to live forever. People have been writing stories about that for thousands of years.

As he retrieves his shirt from the low-hanging branch she wipes one of the bigger, fatter droplets of rain from her cheek with the back of her index finger. "Thank you," is what she eventually says, tone settling back into something smooth, impartial. "I needed that."

The scene could end there. Readers would assume Gabriel, satisfied with this now out in the air, puts his shirt back on in defiance of ratings requirements and moves on back to camp. He does put his shirt back on, regardless, smoothing partially damp fabric free of wrinkles. But he doesn't let the conversation end there. Not with cool English pragmatism and confirmations he has no control over. "What did you need it for?" Gabriel's body is swiveled enough that he can trade a look over his shoulder. Licks his lips, turns back to her.

"If this is it, tell me. It was it for Gillian and she let us rot on the vine for as long as neither of us were smart enough to cut it loose, and it's not going to happen again. What do you need it for?"

The only recollection Eileen has of the last year are shadows and sensory echoes, memories of events that took place in the dark and presumably did not involve the man standing across from her. She would probably be more hurt by this revelation if she could remember the moments of intimacy she's shared with Gabriel rather than having to invent them using imagination alone. What she believes his hands feel like on her body is not how they do. Neither can she accurately envision what they might look like together, or how his voice sounds murmured against her ear and neck. These are things a different woman has experienced, and right now it's uncertain whether or not she's ever coming back.

She regards Gabriel with the same coolness, though — that feline poise she usually reserves for the presence of strangers. Never when they're alone, except for right now, and there are already so many things wrong with this moment that her frigidity hardly matters.

"Live forever or die with the ones you love," she says, dropping her hand from her face. "If given the choice, I think most people would pick what you did. We only pretend to be noble." The mask is back up, its cracks mended, sealed over with spackle, though faint outlines are still visible if he looks closely enough. "I don't like pretending, and I'm not stupid or self-righteous enough to make believe that caring more about one thing means you don't value the other."

It's a struggle to think of her as a stranger, no matter what Gabriel knows to be the truth, by her own words, posture, claims. What Sarisa and Autumn have already said. What he can see when he studies her closely. For all of that, the burden of the past year crushes out that intelligence, and it will only occur to him later to know that what he's said should hurt her more, and what she's saying is probably less weighted than how he hears it.

She was smarter at this when the tables were turned. He swallows. "Okay." Okay. Gabriel bends at the waist, snatches up his boots with hooked fingers, uncertain about whether wants he remain long enough to put them on. She would be stupid and self-righteous about it, if it were Eileen.

He goes to leave, one uncertain glance up and down, the same sort of stranger's look he had given her back on the boat.

As he's leaving, Eileen's Batangas knife cracks into existence between her fingers, blade out and flashing like the scales on the dorsal side of a tropical fish when it passes under a sliver-thin shaft of sunlight bleeding out from behind the cloud cover. The rain is falling heavier now, tickling leaves and spreading ripples across the stiller sections of the water's surface.

She's not watching him anymore. With a storm blowing in from the coast, miles and miles away, she's losing time to do what she came here to; whether or not he goes has dropped several rungs on the ladder representative of her concerns. So has modesty, as she peels her shirt over her head, drapes it over a boulder and uses the knife to cut the splint off her arm.

It's a quick motion. Calculated so as not to damage the materials any more than is necessary to liberate her wrist from it. They haven't yet reached the point where she's considered reusing syringes, but almost everything else is fair game.

"Okay," she echoes, her voice tainted by a faint something that would be easier for Gabriel to decipher if he was in possession of Huruma's ability or even Eileen's own.

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