La Mer, Part III


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Scene Title La Mer, Part III
Synopsis While Danko and Huruma are faced with a strange and alien future neither of them can explain, Eileen — and Gabriel — experience something similar aboard a boat on the water.
Date December 15, 2009

New York City

Avian minds pull at the senses, trying to tug Eileen awake. Half-baked dreams— a broken bridge, words she doesn't remember, the pale-eyed scarred young man looking up at her as if he were so much older than he seems to be— ebb away like a tide uncovering jagged rocks, exposing her to dreams of fish, of low sky'd sunny days, winds blowing her feathers and making her pinwheel, buffeted. High sun glances off the backs of curving wings, and off her face as well, the taste of salt water on her lips and cracking dry. Under her, the hard ground is going up and down, continues movement of water undulating against the belly of the boat.

There's a squark of birdcall, a white, grey, brown mottled thing landing on boat railing and briskly grooming its feathers with a snapping beak of grey and orange, eyes beady and blinking, and then stares down at the jungle-gear clad young woman sprawled upon boat deck.

Bird and girl are not alone. He sits atop the pilot house, legs folded and hawkish profile turned to her to regard the view — which is impressive. The tops of a Manhattan twice ruined make for an interesting horizon, jagged shapes jutting out from tranquil water and unrecognisable in many respects. Gabriel doesn't immediately notice her hedging into consciousness, back hunched casually and hands idle. The weathered brown leather of his coat is not standard military fair, water-stained and many times repaired. Any other details of differences can't be immediately caught.

They anchor into recently built docks, heavy chains connecting to stone structure that seems to be whats left of a waterlogged skyscraper, its base of steel and stone submerged, barnacles that can slice flesh clinging to where water reaches up to touch what remains in the open. Windows gape without glass, and whenever the wind whistles through it, it brings with it the scent of dead sea life.

This is not the world Eileen left behind when she laid her head down on the bedroll and closed her eyes. A union of surf, salt and seaweed — these are the smells of the ocean and call to memory Staten Island's craggy shores, long hours spent basking in the shadows of the old boat graveyard. It has a calming quality for inexplicable reasons the young woman curled up in the bottom of the boat cannot even begin to fathom as she drifts in and out of consciousness, lulled back and forth between worlds by the sound of seawater lapping against the side of the vessel.

Her eyes are open and focused on the shape of the man perched upon the pilot house by the time she realizes that something is desperately wrong. Perched up on the pilot house, Gabriel's shape is not entirely unlike a seabird itself — his profile vaguely reminds her the Malagasy petrels and fish eagles she's become accustomed to during their brief time in military service, and it's with this comparison in mind that she breathes in the brackish air and raises one hand to shield her eyes against the sun's warming rays.

Chapped lips, windswept hair, the familiar rocking sensation of the boat under her back. It all feels too real to be a dream, but this isn't Madagascar, and Madagascar is where she and the man she calls Sylar are supposed to be.

"Mmmnhh," is what she eventually says, her mouth moving around what is probably supposed to be his name or some variation thereof.

His attention snaps over, swiftly, and there's only half a second of stillness until he's moving again with all the eagerness of a child having awoken to Christmas. A large hand grips onto the metal rungs of a ladder that Gabriel swings himself around, footsteps loud but light as rusted metal creaks in protest. Boots land on deck upon jumping down to her level, folding into a crouch, hands planted to the deck. Brown eyes blazing amber stare at her, now, his mouth in a thin line among the grizzle of hastily shaven stubble and brows drawn into what is a familiar look, even for her, of consternation.

Woolen binds his hands, gloves with the fingers sliced away, and on his right, the tip of his ring finger, to the last knuckle, has been sheared away in some old injury, scar tissue tough and as callused as his hands. The injury is more obvious with both hands splayed, but more or less hidden when Gabriel settles his weight against crouched legs and feet, and shifts his hands to his belt.

A glass bottle, bound in leather to dangle and sealed with water within, is detached and promptly rolled across the deck towards her. His elbows balance back on his knees, back straighter, and seems to study her with intent focus once the offer is made.

Eileen very suddenly feels like some sort of an exotic animal on display in a public menagerie. She reaches out, hooks fingers around the neck of the bottle and drags it across the deck the rest of the way, glass base clinking against the bottom of the boat. As parched as her mouth may be, she fixates her attention on Gabriel's hands rather than the water sloshing around inside the bottle, even as she pulls out the stopper and braces against the floor to push her body into a more upright position that resembles sitting.

Asking him what happened to his finger is probably less useful than asking him where they are, but she doesn't voice any questions yet — instead, she raises the bottle's lip to her mouth and drinks from it, a thin rivulet of fresh water snaking from the corner of her mouth down along the shape of her chin and bared throat all the way to her collarbone where it catches in the dog tags she wears around her neck and sets them sparkling. The trail is broken, wiped away by the back of her right hand — the one in the splint — as soon as she's had her fill, bottle lowered, corked and finally offered back.

And he watches her drink, even, the shift of skin at her throat, the spill of water making its thin river over damp skin, and then, when he accepts back the bottle, it goes under his scrutiny. Tipped to and fro, he watches the depleted fresh water go back and forth, bubbling with the movement before standing stagnant when he sets it down. Whatever such a study confirms, it spreads a tired, uncertain smile across Gabriel's face, before steely stoicism sets back in. It's a struggle, to meet her gaze once he's looked away, but he does.

"We found you in the nets. Catch of the day, you and the other me. The other two— " Two fingers extend out absently, hand not bothering to lift to convey the number. "— are with the prophet. I brought you here and they made me take him too. Are you staying?"

The other me?

Eileen reaches up with her good hand and tangles fingers in her hair, still wet, then lets it drop again, grazing knuckles against her cheekbone on the way back down. Gabriel hasn't said much of anything — he rarely does — but quantity is not the same thing as quality. However few, his words contain a wealth of information that her brain has difficulty processing at first, and not just because she was apparently just fished out of the ocean in a net.

Narrow shoulders rise, fall, and the ocean breeze blows wisps of curly brown hair across a knit brow, green-tinted eyes muddied by confusion. She can taste the salt on her lips and feel it crusted on her skin, but it's hard for her to imagine that the same fluid stretching out in every direction around them might have been filling her lungs while she was dreaming dreams of ruined bridges and dark-haired men with eyes belonging to the dead.

"I don't understand."

"Yeah." Gabriel glances to the deck, disappointment almost tangible before he brings up hands to smooth through salt-dry hair, set of nine fingernails scratching as if it might help him think. Loose-knit grey is beneath his coat, jeans ordinary and old, as patched and sealed as his coat, but all things looked after. He's not dirty, by any means, not in the way the Gabriel she knows has been going around with as much mud and sweat as the rest of Team Bravo, but there is something lacking, about his appearance. "I know. Do you remember, when I went to the underground, after the virus?"

Of course she doesn't, wires crossing as he stares across at her, then remembers himself, breath catching in his throat. "No. No, you— remember even less than that. I'm sorry, it's been a long time and I'm having trouble keeping track." There's an edge of defense in his voice, physically leaning away from her as he blinks down at the deck, shoulders huddled beneath brown leather. "It's good to see you," he adds, voice strained.

There was a time when pity might have taken over Eileen's features and softened them, but if there's one thing she's learned about Gabriel it's that pity isn't something he enjoys receiving, especially not from her. Making him recoil isn't what she aims to achieve when she holds out her hands, palms facing the sky, and curls her fingertips slightly inward. None of this makes any sense, not Gabriel's behaviour, his missing finger or the flooded New York cityscape rising up out of the water behind them — the only thing that's even remotely familiar is his face, his eyes, and the size of his hands in comparison to hers as she reaches for them.

In spite of her association with the Vanguard and everything that her body has suffered since she cut ties with it, the skin of her palms and fingers is still pale and smooth, free of the coarseness and calluses that most of Kazimir's tools have in common. She's still young and had the advantage of serving a kinder, gentler purpose than the company he insisted she keep. "Can I see?"

The hesitation that follows is more one of struggling to comprehend, as opposed to wariness, shyness, uncertainty. When Gabriel does understand, his hands go out easily for her to take, rougher than she ever remembers them being. He moves close enough to be able to do so, and that's when age seems to factor in, with deeper lines in his face, though his hair has retained its jetblack. "It got broken, caught in a line. Infected, too deep into the bone for me to bleed it away. Two years ago. I cut it off myself just over there."

He just his chin to indicate some indeterminable space behind her towards the large deck. "I feel like I need to tell you everything. It would— be a short cut for me if you just stayed. The idea of everything turning back— creaking into place like an oversprung clock— I don't know. Time, space, it's just going to come apart some day." He's speaking to the ground between them, as opposed to her, chin tucked in.

Eileen traces the lines that crease Gabriel's palms with her thumbs and cradles the backs of his hands in her fingers. Her touch is firm and confident rather than light or tentative — the act of physical exploration requires a kind of boldness, pressure applied without hesitation or fear. This isn't to say that she's not careful, mindful of the injury no matter how old, healed over or numbed to the press of her own hands.

"I remember a virus," she says, lowering her eyes to inspect his fingers and palms as she works. The breeze continues to ruffle through her hair, teasing at her cheeks, temples and even the nape of her neck. It would be a lie to say that she doesn't feel ill at ease here on the boat, but there are worse places she could be than on the water with someone she knows. Thinks she knows. "We stopped Kazimir from turning it loose. Shanti. The Narrows fell and everything changed. What year is it?"

He nods along with her words, some relief defining the angles and planes of his expression, a flicker of a smile at an old memory. Gabriel keeps his eyes trained on her hands, and answers easily. "Almost two-thousand-and-twenty. In a couple of weeks it will be. I remember— the virus was called the flood. We didn't stop the real one. I couldn't figure out what went wrong— just that we were too late, in Madagascar. The other countries. Wagner— "

There's a lengthy pause, Gabriel's brown eyes going vacant as if seeing something distant, before he retracts his hands from her's as if guilty, tucking them into his coat and huddling almost. "He's awake. The other me. Did you want to go to him?"

Eileen allows him his personal space and does not clamp down when he moves to pull his own away. Twenty-nineteen makes her almost thirty-one, Gabriel forty, forty-two? It occurs to her that she's never asked, doesn't know. How many years he's her senior has never been important before, and if she's being honest with herself it still isn't. The age difference between them isn't what's troubling — it's her absence, his evasiveness, strange choice of words.

"Not yet." It stands to reason, at least from Eileen's perspective, that if Gabriel's other self wanted to see her, then he'd have been the one watching over her while she slept. The last conversation they had doesn't inspire much optimism, either. "If you're here, then where am I?"

Gabriel nods in rueful understanding. That she doesn't want to see him. That he is hiding in the cabins. He rocks out of his crouch, comes to sit, knees up and planting his arms upon them and itching his stubbled chin against folded arms as he looks deep into the space next to her. "I don't know. There was no finding your body. After our team was evacuated from Madagascar— I was arrested. For what I did to the girl. You and the others went to Marion island, south of Madagascar, and when the tidal wave hit, everyone died. The people with me too. I survived."

As he does, forever, even if the scars on his body and the age in his skin shows no sign of regeneration. There's no explanation as to how, a hand up to rub the side of his face thoughtfully. "I stole a boat. Make my way back to New York. I guess all roads lead to. As you can see— "

He lifts his head, wind skimming over them to rustle hair and dry faces, his gaze wandering to what they can see of stretch of ocean and flood. "I came back to this. No more New York City, no more Vanguard either. Things could be worse than they are. I'm fine, out here, no one tries to take the boat anymore."

Eileen's eyes flick toward the cabin, where her Gabriel — Sylar — is presumably holed up. Her gaze does not linger, neither does it drag itself back to the man seated in front of her. Instead, she looks out across the water at the skyscrapers jutting out of the sea like a half-sunk Atlantis, the sun's light reflected in what windows remain, glass sparkling like the surface of the ocean except for where the waves break, froth white and crash against the buildings in the distance.

The Statue of Liberty is somewhere out there. The Catskill Mountains, too. "He resents me," she says, perhaps to explain because she feels an explanation is necessary. Or maybe because she doesn't know what else to do when faced with this new information, though being presumed dead strangely doesn't bother her as much as she thought it might. "I think because I'm not the person he wants me to be. Were you relieved?"

Gabriel doesn't say anything to that, just breaks his attention from the horizon to settle on her face. His brow is still firmed with that continual tension, and his stare is hawkish and avid despite the wandering paths it takes when he isn't looking at. No response, but confusion is evident in his prompting silence. There is too much to be relieved about.

She can feel his eyes on her even though she's not watching him anymore. That, too, is familiar. Eileen lowers her voice so as not to be overheard, not by the Gabriel in the cabin, not by the seabird perched on the railing of the boat, the edge of its beak combing primly through its snow-white peppered feathers. "Were you relieved when I died?"

Prompting confusion turns into flat incomprehension, as subtle as a shift in the wind and just as notable. Gabriel seems to try and make himself smaller, elbows tucking inwards, shoulders curled, and mind going somewhere distant as he mutely shakes his head. No, he was not relieved. "It's not the same. What you are now. You haven't been through what we went through together. But it doesn't mean it's not still in there." A limb uncurls from his huddle, hand extending out again, fingers splayed as much as one makes an early finish. "Flesh remembers. Your body will catch up to you and I wanted to be there when it did. For better or for worse."

The dark glimmer in his eyes, telling wavering beads of moisture, such a sign she's only seen of him when in some grievous kind of pain. If that's the case now, there's no such indication otherwise. "I was relieved when some people died. Not you."

Eileen looks to the hand, the spread of his fingers save for the missing portion of his ring finger. The angle of the wind blows her hair across her face, and she has to push it away with her splint, the dressings too rigid for her to tuck those strands away behind her ear without encountering more difficulties than the action is probably worth. Some of it gets in her mouth, too, plastered to her lips by the residual water still clinging to them.

She isn't relieved either. His answer leaves her experiencing a tumult of mixed emotions that does not make the transition from her gut to the expression she wears on her face. There is a slight tightening in her jaw and that is all. "What were you?"

The hand falls away, and in the next moment, Gabriel is uncorking the glass water bottle in a brisk twist of movement, casting the line of his gaze away and occupying himself with taking a brisk swig. Then, levering himself up to stand, as if sudden restlessness were driving him to move. As if they weren't having a conversation at all, from the short and sharp way his feet carry him from her — although upon the deck, there isn't much room to move. "Alone," is the answer he tosses over his shoulder, recapping the bottle and flipping it once around in his unmauled hand. "And I still am. Everyone is dead. You, Ethan, Kazimir. Teo. Gillian. The puppet man, Doyle, he's around, and the woman who predicted this— "

His hand bats at the air in a gesture to indicate the expansive lake of flood water, sniffing once. "Others, too. But no one who knew me before. I guess it is kind of like starting over — I just didn't bother."

Eileen rests her back and shoulders against the side of the boat rather than rise to her feet. Hands rest on the inside of her thighs, knees angled outward, boots flat on the bottom of the boat. She's spent a lot of time on the water, but on ships bigger than this one — she grew up in a city on the Thames, spent the last fifteen months overlooking the Atlantic and several years before that traveling between continents by way of chartered cargo freighters, fishing vessels and hopper barges, and although she's no sailor herself and survived her fall from the Narrows by the virtue of charitable currents, the floor of the boat is to her like a mother's arms are to her baby. She'll be fine as long as she doesn't try to stand up.

"I asked you what was more important," she says, tilting her head back, eyes half-lidded against the sun and shadowed by their lashes. After slogging through all the rain and mud back in Madagascar, the warmth on her face is a welcome change of pace even without sunscreen to protect the sensitive skin of her nose and ears. "Bennet's ability or being with me. Do you remember that?"

A hand hooks around a railing, before he's levering himself over the side. Catches himself to swing into a perch, reminiscent of days when there were only rivers mingling around Manhattan and he sailed them for a time. Ankles and thighs hook him effortlessly, balance easy and arms coming to wind casually around himself. "No," Gabriel admits. Or lies. Either way, the word is dealt carelessly, chin up and head at a cant as he regards what he can see of her. "But I can guess what I chose. What did you choose?"

The quick question, the interest bristling behind it, is either facetious, or belies the response he'd given of its honesty — something of a riddle he'd never managed to solve.

The bird perched on the railing tips its head to peer over at Gabriel from under its bent wing. The skin and feathers around its left eye are caked with crusty discharge, a sure sign of infection. Not that it seems to be bothering it very much, if at all. Animals are more resilient than people. Out here, especially — they have to be.

Eileen, meanwhile, is silent. She turns over her injured hand, flexes her fingers and studies the way they move, strain, curl back in on themselves without conscious effort. Like the fluid seeping from the bird's eye, the pain is something she tries to ignore. Gabriel isn't.

"I'd never willingly have let them take you," she says, rotating her wrist, "but I'm glad that they did. If you'd been with the rest of us, you'd be gone too. Attacking Bennet for her gift — it saved your life."

Shoulders go up, go down, in a jerkier motion than the rocking sway of the boat beneath them, but not dissimilar. "Or I could have saved myself. I pass through walls, have a form I can stand in for however long I need that doesn't require breathing, lots of things. I could have taken you with me. Doesn't matter, though. Everything's going to change. Except for trying to kill the Bennet. The cheerleader. That's going to stay there, and you'll know I chose her. Unless you stay here, but I don't think you will.

"I don't think you can."

His brown eyes roam towards the seabird, staring for a moment, before he offers his sound hand out towards the woman. "Come here."

Aching muscles and sore joints delay Eileen's rise from the boat's bottom. Her wrist isn't the only thing that's hurting, and it's a struggle not to let this show as she reaches up to grasp the railing with one hand and takes Gabriel's with the other. Her fingers close around his, narrowly avoid fastening dirty nails into thick, weathered skin like aged leather, and uses both rail, proffered hand and her body's natural momentum to haul herself up the rest of the way.

Startled by the sudden movement, the bird launches from its perch, but rather than wing away over the water, it flaps up onto the roof of the pilot house where Gabriel had been seated earlier and slivers its beak halfway open in a silent display of irritation that for once does not reflect the state of the woman who holds dominion over its kind.

"You should bother," Eileen is saying. "Start over. You don't have to be alone here if you don't want to."

Gabriel seems intent to tangle their fingers together, a secure, warm clasp, rough and clammy but not altogether unpleasant. Undoubtedly male, all blocky angles and some hesitancy as to how to negotiate around thinner female fingers, but his palm rests against her's, and settles as it hasn't done in a long time. For either of them. His head tips to the side along with a list of his body, silent concession that she is probably correct. No verbal response, though, just lifts his eyes to meet her's.

What happens next is underwhelming, but for at least one of them, more intimate than a kiss could have ever been. His other hand, missing finger and all, settles on her arm, smooths up to her shoulder as he studies her from eye to eye, and she can almost sense it. It's efficient, mastered with much more ease than any incarnation of Sylar has before. A prickling of her senses, a twinge of something removed, except nothing is particularly missing.

And then her senses come alive. The empathic connection is something Eileen would have remembered less, had her memory not been toyed with. As it happens, it seems only yesterday that Gabriel could talk to birds, as much as the one from her time no longer can. Rather than the clarity of the bird's restlessness, animal hunger, feeling each other is access through a foggier window.

Depth of pain and mourning, crushing self-pity, unflattering myriads of anger and fear for the future, and hope beating like a pulse beneath it all make him up.

She's missed this.

Eileen hears the sound in her throat before she realizes she's the one making it — that strangled moan, steadily rising in pitch and intensity until it breaks past her lips in the form of a faltering gasp. Pain and mourning, self-pity and anger, fear. These are all things she's felt before in both of them, and for an instant she's on her knees in Lucrezia Bennati's suite again, arms looped around Gabriel's neck and shoulders, one hand at the back of his head, the other clutching him to her as her mouth moves against his hair and whispers fierce, fervent promises.

There are flickers of other things, too. Sense memories that go beyond sight and sound. The floor of the watch shop is hard, but there's a blanket between her back and the fresh-swept ground and hands cradling her hips. Both the fibers of the blanket and his palms are rough, but it's the kind of roughness that provides an equal measure of comfort as well. A wool sweater worn over bare skin on a day too cold to go outside in anything less. The warm sensation that saturates nerve endings in the moments after a wound has been doused with iodine.

Pain is a kind of catharsis. Sex is a kind of catharsis. But it isn't this realization that has heat filling Eileen's cheeks or tears gathering in her mouth and at the point of her tapered chin.

It's his sense of hope.

She reaches up, cupping the side of his face in her hand, splint rigid against his jaw, and strokes her thumb against the corner of his mouth. "Gabriel—"

Those snatches of half memory, more feeling than thought, echo back at him as readily as his sense filter through to her's. Magnifies his own until he feels like he could fall forward and mingle everything else he has to offer. Doesn't, however, his perch too secure and his senses still his own, and Gabriel lifts gently against her hand in the way canine's do for contact. "Eileen," is said for symmetry's sake before he pulls her closer, abandoning her hand in favour of sliding fingers through damp curls of hair, angling her face towards his to press his mouth to her's, kiss unpracticed, more hesitation than clumsiness.

Somewhere, in the boat's interior, someone rolls their eyes like they don't care, and rolls over in bed.

Longing is like a solitary wolf's howl, echoing around the edges of the hazy senses she can read from him, pushing off the railing as much as he pulls her closer, hands grabbing at both her mane of hair and her jungle-rough clothing.

Desperation fuels Eileen's movements, the earnest press of her hips against his, fingernails abrading the side of his face — she wants to remember more than she wants him, but the desire for both is so strong, so potent as to smother all the breath from her as she simultaneously bears down and opens up to him. Not for the first time, her kisses hurt, teeth dragging over his lips and mouth, though none succeed in breaking skin, drawing blood or doing anything except leave him tasting red and raw.

On an intellectual level, she understands that this is something she could have with her Gabriel too — as much as he belongs to her, which he does not. Neither does this one, or any one for that matter. A lot of things factor into the physical attraction Eileen experiences toward him. His independence, however, is a constant reminder that these trysts are only fleeting and transient, and has almost as much influence over her as the way her body fits against his, or the masculine smell that infuses his hair, skin, clothing.

There's an old adage about people coveting most what they cannot have. This is completely and utterly true.

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