eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Interchangeable
Synopsis Eileen and Gabriel encounter one another for the first time after Pinehearst. Things are perhaps more difficult than they ought to be, all things considered, but they work out in the end. Mostly.
Date July 25, 2009

The Garden

Eileen's hair hasn't been so short since she was eleven years old, and as much as she prefers her old look to the cropped one that she wears now, she didn't have much of a choice except to cut most of its length away when she woke up and discovered how badly her tangle with Rickham damaged it. If she were a vainer individual, she might still be sulking in front of the bathroom mirror by the time dusk rolls around and drapes the safehouse in shadow — instead, she's lingering in the hallway outside Ethan's room as she takes a few extra seconds to close the door behind her in such a way that it whispers on its hinges and clicks into place with barely a sound.

Damp curls that will brush against her jawline when dry lay plastered to her cheeks and the nape of her neck like an inky black mane and might give her an androgynous air if it weren't for the shape of her figure the dark gray sweatpants and fitted cotton top she's presently clothed in. She has hips. A waist, too, even if it's a little one.

As usual, she's also wearing plenty of gauze, though this is mostly a precautionary measure and has more to do with the time she spent suffering Kuhr's ability than what happened at Pinehearst. If she wasn't well enough to be up on her feet, she certainly wouldn't be moving around the cottage like some sort of cautious mouser checking in on its people between hunts, unrecognizable from the back.

There had been no one peering around at the hour Gabriel had all but broken into the cottage in the wee hours of the morning, with Peter Petrelli, of all people, in tow. He'd found his quarters and Gabriel had staked his own claim, and slept for the rest of the day. Awkward shuffles down an empty hallway to pee at one stage, but ultimately, playing the recluse. Someone had checked in on him several hours ago, if only, perhaps, to see if the room was empty, and he'd continued to be still and asleep rumpled bedsheets, breathing deep and tirelessly. He's been getting reacquainted with having a body.

By the time the door creaks open now, he's at least seated. Dusky light comes filtering in through the window, thick with condensation and showing only hazy impression of the plantlife and sky beyond it, windchimes hanging dead from thin strings. He's in found himself a t-shirt and pair of jeans, the former of which looks slept in and the latter of which looks ill-fitting, but protects his modesty adequate. The shuffle of fabric greets Eileen's ears as Gabriel is carefully negotiating a sweater over the top of the t-shirt, left hand buried in the faded fabric and being eased through the sleeve with too much caution.

But his attention shifts as she pokes her head in, weary interest in dark brown eyes, then recognition, then closer inspection, all within nearly the same moment. "You changed your hair," he notes, first thing. He's thinner than they'd remember, cheekbones cutting harsher angles in his face, more wolfish for it, even, in the underfed way wolves tend to seem.

From her position in the open doorway, Eileen studies Gabriel in relative silence, saying nothing at first. She closes her hand around its wooden frame instead and focuses on his face — the familiar shape of his eyes and mouth, the subtle creases that divide the span of his forehead. Elsewhere in the house, someone is moving a floor above them. One of the children, maybe. Amato. Lucrezia. There's no way of knowing for sure, just as it's impossible to make sense of the strange noises that she once attempted to explain to Bai-Chan as pipes clunking in the walls. "Yes," she says, eventually.

She edges out of the hallway and into the bedroom proper without asking for an invitation, her bare feet nigh silent in comparison to the cricket symphony in the middle of its first movement outside. Either out of respect or some misplaced sense of shame, she maintains most of the distance between them and does not venture any further than is necessary to secure a flimsy veneer of privacy. "I don't like it."

Gabriel uses his right hand to fix the bulky sweater around, other resting on a knee, the sleeve long around his hand. Fingers spiderleg out from the edge of the fabric, rest still against his thigh, although perhaps the brittleness and paleness about them should be likened more to the limbs of a crustacean. They retract a moment late, claw curling inwards as if it hide in its shell, displaying white, bony knuckles instead.

As she moves further into the room, Eileen is put under inspection beyond just the cut of her hair, which he doesn't even think to rush to reassure her it looks fine. The thread of conversation, as new as it was, lies slack between them and neglected by the man on the edge of the bed as he makes sure she is, in fact, up and walking around, and not in defiance to grievous injury. The gauze isn't encouraging, but he felt how much of Colette was put into her, and knows better.

Silence, and only awkward in that it's unintentional, and only awkward for one of them if that. Gabriel's gaze shifts back to the window, watching water collect in clinging droplets. It's been a long time since he'd had to carry a conversation any harder than it takes to think, taken now to observation and silence, long hours of solitude. The blurry nature of the window is a lot like the vision he had to work with - it's hard to align what you want to see when someone else is controlling the eyes.

Eileen's gaze sinks down to Gabriel's hand, though the ridge of his knuckles and the attached lengths of finger fail to receive the same type of scrutiny that his face did. Curiosity brightens her eyes and knits her brow, softening her expression for a moment before concern surmounts it. It hasn't been that long since they parted ways, not when measured against the days or weeks they've gone without seeing one another in the past — she doesn't remember him appearing so gaunt or, dare she suggest it, frail the last time their paths crossed in the bowels of Pinehearst's reactor level.

"You look good," she tries, and it isn't a lie. Not exactly. The fact that he's sitting on the bed across from her is a testament to his health, however fragile. "Ethan's going to be okay," in case Gabriel was wondering, "the Nichols girl, too. How do you feel?"

That would have been a good question. To ask how everyone was. A rapid couple of blinks and then a fleeting look of irritation cross Gabriel's features around when his gaze dips. Wake up. He'd been so incredibly awake during the last moments of Pinehearst, even alert enough to carry conversation during the stiller moments of journeying with Peter Petrelli although even that had been a zombie-like shuffle in the much healthier, younger man's wake. His good hand rises up to rub at his face, nods once. Ethan is okay. Colette is okay. There were other people too, like—

His fingers split apart in the same time Gabriel swivels a look back to her, hand dropping down again. "Like I've had better days," he responds, honestly. "What about you?" The darkness of the underground tunnels comes with it memories of Colette clasping her arms around Eileen's tilting form, neither of them fit to be walking, but moving as one, like the last of their strength could be shared to get them that far. Rolling Deckard like a scuzzy, broken doll log into the waiting van, taking a step back and seeing Eileen's pale face upturn when her head rested heavy against the car seat.

"You're lucky to be walking around," Gabriel adds, his tone sawed off at the edges in irritation, slow recollection. A whisper of a chuckle, as rough as rusted edges, along with, "What the hell did you think you were doing? You killed yourself."

There's plenty that Gabriel could've reminded Eileen of. Some of it she might have even forgotten. Dying, however, isn't something that easily escapes one's memory — not even when the incident itself was so violent that she might be forgiven for such a mental lapse. At first, it looks as though she's about to say something, pale lips pursing to form words, but in the end no sound comes out except for a breathy hiss. Her lungs exhale. Body deflates.

It isn't a sigh of resignation. She's too tired for even that, and every excuse she turns over in her head seems somehow weaker than the last. What she eventually settles on is a distilled version of the truth, concentrated to the point of oversimplification. If he takes offense, she decides, then it's his own fucking fault; without a shared ability between them that they can use to discern meaning, forthrightness will just have to do.

"I don't know. It felt right."

At least that brings out some sharpness and life in Gabriel, though it's more disbelief than anger. A pointed look cast her way, complete disagreement so immense that he doesn't bother trying to argue. There was nothing right about it. The utter wrongness could be likened to up becoming down and left becoming right. Nothing he puts to words— of course— but instead states, "You should thank Nichols. If she hadn't— "

When did this happen? This value in human life? He's changed. At least for right now. He lets silence clap down on his words, shoulders losing tension as a breath eases out between gritted teeth. Conversation, at least, as stilted from his side of things as it is, acts as metal and flint, sparking restlessness enough to draw Gabriel to his feet. His arms come to fold, both supporting and hiding away his left hand as he paces towards the window, without real destination.

"Teo," he says, abrupt in change of conversation, but genuine in that it only now occurs to him that it's important to ask. Where, and why he'd been gone for as long as he has. He focuses on Eileen, expectant. "Where— ?"

Eileen doesn't know where Teo is, but she can tell Gabriel where he isn't. "I haven't seen him since we went in," she confesses, watching his retreating back as he stalks long legs in a march on the window. When he sets his eyes on her again, she refuses to meet them and skirts along the edge of his line of sight. The discomfort she's experiencing has a lot to do with her physical condition, but his behaviour likely plays a major role in it too.

Of course she should thank Nichols. Did he really think that she wouldn't? Adopting a more defensive posture, her mouth gnarled into a frown, she folds her arms and clutches fingers at her bony elbows. "If he's with anyone, it'll be his beau. Try Chesterfield. Woman's a bloody White Pages."

Gabriel's eyes narrow across at Eileen, before they think to slide over towards the clock on the wall, and any accusation dies before it can even move. He nods, mutely, pace dragging him towards the wall opposite the window, past the bed as it becomes an obstacle between them, before moving back to the window draws it away again, open space stretching in the form of a few feet of carpet.

A beat of silence is allowed to turn over before Gabriel finally feels moved to offer, "I tried to fix him. On the way out." Perhaps it's assumed he failed, or had no intention to do such to begin with. It's bizarre, what few questions people have when you don't have a body— Teo might relate.

Regardless, this report is given, equal parts explanation as to why he asked.

Eileen never gave up trying to understand why Gabriel might choose to remain in Teodoro's body rather than attempting to secure another with which to take back his own by force. In a way, he's just given her the answer — she might even be able to glean some personal satisfaction from it if she can get past the tension crackling like a thundercloud in the stale air between them. Not for the first time, she feels vindicated. And yet—

"You've got some brass balls, scolding me." She remains rooted to the spot, bare feet melded with the hardwood floor them. It looks like she's standing her ground, but for once it has nothing to do with the stubbornness innate to both of them. Invading his personal space takes energy she probably doesn't have. "I wouldn't have needed to do it if you hadn't buggered off to confront him all by your lonesome. Never again, you said. And then you disappear."

That has his pacing come to a halt, a corner of the bed between them and his body turning to face hers. It's predictable, as is his reaction - it's likely Eileen could recite it. First, his eyebrows come together in a furrow of irritation, and then a scowl pulls at his mouth and a glare fixes hawk-like. And then he's simply waiting his turn, shoulders tense and jaw line tight. When he does speak, it isn't quite the electrical anger that they're both familiar with - hazy at the edges, tired. "You don't get to snarl at me for doing things on my own," he informs her, head canted a little. "You told me Feng wasn't my fight, so I went to find one."

Time stretches behind them, to a petty fight several lengths of feet from the same building they currently stand in. It probably feels more recent to him, as well as more far away - time is subjective when you live in a mind. "I could have killed him," Gabriel finally states, words like concrete. He's referring to Rickham, this time, and it's now that his voice finds volume, finally. "It wasn't worth it. It wasn't worth dying for."

Somewhere in the mire of Gabriel's words there's an implication, however subtle, that does not go unmissed by Eileen. Her head jerks back a fraction at the mention of Feng, and for a moment she seems poised to interrupt him. Instead, she lets out an aggravated breath and makes a strangled sort of sound that hitches clumsily in her throat.

Incredulity washes away what colour remains in her face, her complexion growing paler still, bone-white skin and grayish eyes glacially chill. Although not quite as expressive as his, she arches her eyebrows so high that they disappear beneath the fringe of her bangs.

There are so many things to be angry about. Somehow, she manages to choose just one. "Assigning worth to my decisions isn't your place either!"

He could gesticulate wildly, but Gabriel chooses to keep his arms folded tight where they are, hands hidden underneath the folds of fabrics of the sweatshirt, giving him more of a defensive posture than one of attack. Instead, he manages to pace - but only short steps, a couple to the left and then back to the right, cagey and more restless than he's been in the past twelve hours. "It is," he denies, voice at a quiet growl, with a pull of a scowl that shows a slice of tooth. "You died. A few more seconds and maybe I wouldn't have been able to do anything about it. That makes it my place. That makes it my fault."

Emphasis comes with him standing his ground again, and also the snapping of his voice in two, and it's enough for Gabriel to shut his mouth and glare down at her balefully in the face of her icier way of glaring.

Just as she concluded that it wasn't Gabriel's place to assign worth, Eileen summarily decides that he has no business assigning blame. To her credit, she does not shout. She does not bark insults. She does not so much as curl her lip in response to the sliver of incisor revealed by his scowl. "I got hurt," she agrees in a tight, hoarse voice that quavers in spite of her best efforts, almost brittle in comparison to the steadfast body language the rest of her has adopted. "I got hurt because of something I did. Because of a choice I made that had as much to do with everyone else as it did with you. It's nobody's fault."

As the anger seeps out of her tone, the expression on her face undergoes a gradual transformation from righteous indignation to something a little discernable and self-reserving. Remorse shapes the curve of her mouth and bullies her back into stony silence, but only for half a beat. "I'm not your responsibility."

It's been quite a journey, that his destination should be accusations of taking responsibility that is not his. Gabriel's mouth twists into something that's a cross between smile and scowl, and his shoulder turns to her, as if quite suddenly the window were more interesting. Light bending through streaks of condensation make patterns on the dimming dusk that makes mild angles on him, face turned to it now and eyes a clear kind of pale brown. "Fine," he states, quietly and with finality, lets a whisper of a sneer follow it. Fine.

"It wasn't your fault that Feng shot me. It's not my fault you died trying to find me. I could get used to this," he says, sliding a glance to her. "Absolution. Not caring." He doesn't sound convinced, and he's not really trying.

The window might well be more interesting. On the other side of the pane, the birds in the surrounding trees settle in for the evening and burrow into one another as much for safety as warmth, their feathery shapes obscured by that same condensation. Heads tuck under wings and nictitating membranes slide buglike across eyes as Eileen's reflection moves through the glass in tandem with its physical counterpart.

Her footsteps murmur against the wooden floorboards and cause them to creak, shudder where the cottage's structure is the least sound, warped by age and other natural stressors. "Is there really anything to get used to?" she asks, perhaps a little snidely though there's no real heat to her words. "You know what they say about old habits."

Gabriel makes an agreeable sound at the back of his throat, an exhaling 'yeah' that doesn't have much heat behind it either. His left hand attempts to squeeze beneath the folds of his sweater, as if judging as to whether or not he could live with it, and the tick in his jaw communicates to no one in particular that the answer is no. "Flint Deckard has Abigail's gift," he says, mostly to confirm it, or to receive denial. He skims over waiting for a response, cutting straight to, "I'll find somewhere to be after I see how generous he's feeling today."

There's a pause, a squeak of wood beneath the bare heel of his foot as weight distribution rocks back in a fidgeting kind of movement, but he doesn't move to talk. Just stands where he is, tracking her reflection with his eyes rather than her solid form. "I don't miss this."

Gabriel receives neither confirmation nor denial, only a subtle inclination of Eileen's chin that he might not catch in the glass. In response, she flexes the fingers of her right hand and twists her wrist as far as the joint will allow it to pivot without rewarding her efforts with a twinge of pain. At the same time, she rakes her front teeth over her upper lip, no longer split down the middle — although the injury has since healed over, there's a raw quality to her mouth that makes her flinch at the memory of how she received it.

I don't miss this, he says, and she has a wan sort of feeling that she knows what he means without having to ask for clarification. "I wanted to see you. Did Teo tell you that?"

"Yes." The answer comes quickly, somewhat flatly, directed towards the window rather than her. Then, a chuckle, beyond even the little sighs and snorts - a true one, though it rasps through a dry throat, crackles lowly and peters away again in the time it takes to breathe. "No matter what we do, he always seemed ready to light a candle for us," Gabriel says, snideness entering his own voice this time. "God knows why."

Finally, he turns enough to look at her, up and down again as if there were something new to see; reservation defines his body language, expression, voice. "And then," he starts, voice coming casual, "something about butterflies in Africa. You've talked to him— you know what it's like." He even affords her a measure of a smile, halved though it is, far from his eyes though it also is. "Try two of them. For a month."

If there's anything new to see, Eileen hides it well behind a thin coating of neutrality. In the time he's kept his back to her, she worked the tension from her face and banished the most visible emotions to the dark place behind her eyes. Teodoro has enough whimsy in his pinky finger to populate Alfheim; she can't even begin to fathom what it must have been like sharing a skull with him for as long as he did. Butterflies in Africa. The reciprocal relationship between men and women. Yeah, she knows what it's like.

"You seem to have come out the other side of it no worse for wear," she observes, noting that reservation. His voice is casual. The way he holds himself isn't necessarily. "Where will you go after you see Deckard?"

"I don't know." Gabriel is fighting the urge to pace, again, but finally he unwraps his arms from around himself, and lays the left hand in the stronger right one, fingers still curled inwards. The damage might not be immediately detectable, the bulky sleeve covering high over his wrist, but he observes his palm before looking back up at her again, an eyebrow raising. "Where do you want me?" Only in this universe, the one made up of these four walls and these two people and everything between them, could this not be an innuendo.

On your back. In a ditch. Sprawled across the burnt out husk of a 1987 Honda Civic. Eileen considers the possibilities for what, at least to her, seems a very long time. It isn't innuendo — isn't even close — but that doesn't stop her mind from entertaining the sort of thoughts she's been keeping to herself for over half a year now. Something twitches at the corner of her mouth and crinkles the crow's feet around her eyes.

It's mirth.

"Stupid question," she says, assessing him from under her lashes in a manner that's infinitely more feline than the cursory examination she gave him when she first stepped into the bedroom. "Be where you need to. I'm never very far away."

Being oblivious to the innerworkings of Eileen's mind is not new, and there's no difference now. Gabriel moves to take his place again at the edge of the bed, mattress creaking beneath his weight, hand laid palm up on his knee. "You say that now," Gabriel mutters, as if more to himself than in any attempt to start up argument. There's a pause, and an inaudible creak as he stretches those fingers. Then, in words that seem to come out as if cobbled in stone and rickety wooden frameworks, hack attempts at construction, he states, "You saved my life. Thank you."

A look, then, sidelong and fleeting, as if to add; don't do it again. More accurate would be, don't make me have to say that again, but in all ways, the two notions are interchangeable.

The only thing that stops Eileen from returning the gesture is the fear that Gabriel might misconstrue it as fulfilling an obligation rather than a true display of gratitude. She can thank him later, when she isn't struggling with simultaneous desires to envelop and throttle. She doesn't tell him that he's welcome, either. Best to move on from the subject now, without looking back, than to linger and continue toying with ideas that are best left as a part of her imagination.

"You did the same for me."

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