Like Any Widower


eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Like Any Widower
Synopsis Gabriel Asks Nicely
Date September 20, 2018

Pine Barrens

The light coming through the old wooden slats feels like the sun peeking through a broken coffin. Cobwebs are thick in the corners, but vacant of spiders — just the dry ashy husks of the less dangerous creatures they'd once consumed. The corpses of mice can be found, withered to their fine bones, here and there on the dirt-tracked floor, where Eileen Gray woke up. The only activity belongs to whorling dust motes, lit up in the long and reaching fingers of late day sunlight.

Nothing lives, here. Just her.

And then him, entering through a smaller side door, for the large ones are sealed with a chain that's become unusable from rust. He wears leather and denim, and his clothing smells of ocean and cigarette smoke and other sundry fragrances that Eileen would not normally associate with her late husband. It doesn't quite penetrate the must and mildew of the old farmhouse they've made her temporary domicile and he keeps his distance, what's more.

Into a corner. Crouched, like a tiger, shoulders rolling beneath aged, salt-stained leather. One eye still glimmers red in the white from where she shot his face, broken capillaries the only evidence that she'd turned deadly fire upon him at all. Sweat gleams off his brow, mingles in dirt on his skin.

"This wasn't how I wanted it to go," he says, and maybe there is a trace of irony in his tone, as familiar as the monotone it gilds.

It’s impossible to say what makes Eileen feel more vulnerable: Gabriel’s presence in the room, or the absence of her armour. They occupy the same amount of space in her thoughts, hazy though they at first. He’ll remember how slow she used to be to acclimate to being awake, all murmured deferrals and cold nose buried under his closest arm, seeking warmth and the familiar sensation of his bare skin.

This iteration is much the same, even without another body to burrow against. Her eyelids seem heavy; it takes effort to even open them, and when she does her dominant hand sluggishly moves to shield her face from the sun’s light. What brings her fully to her senses is the fact she can’t as metal bites the delicate skin of her inside wrist, attached to a rattling chain, pulled taut.


Rather than struggle against this unhappy realization, Eileen lets her hand fall back into her lap and squares her shoulders instead, straightening from her slump against the wall. It’s maybe the only way to recapture some of her lost dignity in the face of apparent defeat.

Beneath her armour, she’s all sharp angles and lean, predatory curves like an underfed stray. A black bodysuit hugs her figure, which Gabriel remembers, too.

“You look just like him,” is what she eventually says. It sounds like an accusation, if a demure one.

"You look like her."

There's a vulnerability in Gabriel's voice, but this isn't so uncharacteristic. When he isn't hiding behind anger or cruelty or violence, there's the same rawness of expose nerves, easily activated, ready to respond. But where Eileen is demure, Gabriel is likewise understated, offering quiet words across the space he's set between them. The air is dead and motionless, transmits words freely, even his, just above that rough whisper.

He lifts his chin. "What happened to him?"

There are a series of questions Eileen has needed to answer so many times that she’s memorized succinct responses in order to save time and minimize confusion.

This one isn’t on the list. She’s asked it so rarely that it still causes her to hesitate as she takes an extra moment or two to navigate the complex maze of emotions it invokes.

“He died.”

The ambiguity is a little unfair, she knows, but it’s also necessary because it allows her voice to remain level and her eyes clear.

“That’s also the solution to the other problem you’ve been trying to puzzle out, by the way.”

He knows it before she says it, but he doesn't yet press for details. Maybe out of kindness. Maybe because it's not too immediately relevant. Hard to say. Gabriel navigates this conversation with a voice that sounds like he doesn't use it much, lately, smokey and quiet.

One eyebrow twitches upwards. The idea that he has only one problem in need of solving.

"Volken," he says, half-query, half-statement. "His power."

He runs his hands together, a negligent fidget, dirt becoming grease as sweat grimes it together. "I'll be honest, that's your problem before it's anyone else's."

You forget what a person sounds like before you forget their face. Eileen may be studying Gabriel’s intently, but his words hold more interest. It’s been years since she’s heard him speak, or feel her body involuntarily respond to its texture or underlying heat.

Volken’s ability aside, her instinct is to reach for him. So she quashes it.

Eileen draws her legs up, knees bent and bare feet flat on the floor. Dust gathers between her toes and in the microscopic grooves of her soles.

“Really?” she asks. “I thought I was doing a good job making other people’s lives fairly difficult.”

A joke.


He'll grant her that. If she doesn't know what he means, yet, she will eventually.

Gabriel's shoulders come up, as if uneasy in his own skin, and he looks at the ground between them. "You were dying," he says, like he's feeling out the thoughts as he says them. "Or maybe you were dead already. It would only have left him if it had somewhere else to go. Here, I saved Peter Petrelli, but I didn't mean to let it go like that. Long time ago," he adds, to qualify, "so I don't remember if I lost control or if I was powerless to stop it, but. I didn't do it on purpose.

"Probably he meant it, with you," he says, returning to the present, subtle shifts of expression, his gaze returning to her form. "Do you think this is what he had in mind?"

Gabriel has successfully located the crack in Eileen’s defenses. Later, she’ll realize she might have had something to do with it by drawing his attention there; right now her focus is on the sudden tightness in his chest and throat, like an allergic reaction that hinders her ability to speak, to breathe.

Without the empathic connection that he and his Eileen shared, Gabriel only sees the anger manifest in her shifting body language and fraught look behind those unnaturally pale blue eyes.

Slowly, slowly, she wraps the handcuff’s chain around her knuckles.

“No,” she roughs out. “He was shit at foresight. So are you.”

Gabriel slowly rises from his crouch, hand braced on weathered old wood to steady his balance as he does so. Not remorseful, exactly, for inflicting pain, but not comfortable for it either. He huffs something like a laugh at her response.


Fair enough.

"It doesn't seem like you ran away from what happened there," he says, "whatever it was. You dragged it kicking and screaming into somewhere new. Spread it around. I wanna know why."

It isn’t long before there’s no length of chain left. Eileen grips it so tight the blood wanes from her knuckles. “There are forces beyond even your understanding,” she tells him, “and they are hard at work. We were only ever meant to move forward. Not backwards, not sideways.”

This is the closest Gabriel’s likely to get to an apology for invading his universe and turning his life as Etienne Saint James upside-down, even though she never says the words: I’m sorry.

Because she isn’t. Not really.

“Whatever it is,” she clarifies, “it needs to be destroyed from the source, and that’s here. They call it Looking Glass.”

The ground beneath them is packed earth on concrete and so there is barely any sound as Gabriel approaches, coming to stand a few feet away before he once again sinks down to her level, if not after listening to her, looming and patient. Down here, he allows himself some study, as if trying to divine the differences between Eileens, or between memory and the real thing. His heart has been hurting since he arrived on the shores of New York, so there's no fresh pain to experience from proximity, or the sound of her voice.

So he assures himself, anyway.

There is a levelled intensity to his manner — not mean-spirited, or particularly aloof, but in the same vein of a predator sizing up another, one just as dangerous in spite of its size, and alien. "You didn't," he says, teeth just visible between syllables. Move forward, he means.

Eileen would do well to remember that food chains aren’t tidy. Larger predators frequently prey on smaller ones, and right now she’s the one handcuffed to a post. For the first time since coming into possession of Volken’s conduit, she’s at a disadvantage, and she doesn’t doubt that if anyone can figure out how to safely kill her — it’s the man crouched within striking distance.

It turns out this particular line of thinking isn’t as unappealing as she thought it would be, not now that she’s looking at it in the eye.

“No,” she admits. “I didn’t. There was a vacancy, so I took it.”

Her gaze travels from Gabriel’s face, down along the square of his jaw and the junction of meat and bone where his shoulder meets his neck. She lets his roam across his chest and follows the length of one long arm all the way to the tips of his fingers and the dirt beneath their nails. Unsure of exactly what it is she’s looking for. Some physical flaw. A point of differentiation.

She finds none because they aren’t readily visible.

“Now you know how she felt,” she says, “every time she saw your doppelganger. The one with presidential aspirations.”

Something darkens behind his expression, coiled dangerously.

"The one that was destroyed," Gabriel says, voice taking on a characteristic sinister slither, implicit threat and pending violence flashing. But it's a warning, only, application of pressure released in the way his eyes dull and his weight settles back on his haunches. There are differences she can see. Relative age and grief both playing out their natural effects on the human body, in the smattering of grey and the weight on his shoulders.

He looks away from her, towards the dimming light piercing loose wooden slats. "There's a part of her that still exists. I know that if some part of him existed, you'd do everything in your power to protect it. To keep it close."

“Not a part,” Eileen says. “The whole. Fragmented, disarranged. Gillian’s ability allowed her to jump, but it also scattered her in a thousand different directions, into a thousand different birds.”

This confession is neither a kindness, nor an act of cruelty; it can be interpreted either way, and Eileen’s attention does not leave Gabriel’s face the same way his has left hers. As she’d studied his form, she studies his face for a clue as to which side of that line he falls on.

It’s strategic. She also isn’t being sneaky about it.

“It took her months to piece herself back together again, and only out of sequence. She couldn’t make sense of her memories, so she repressed them. The real Sibyl Black was long gone before she ever got there — she’s only ever been yours.”

Her words earn back his attention. For all that they do not share that unspoken empathic connection, this Eileen still ranks as most qualified to read him like a book. Hawkish intensity softens — not into denial or gladness or anything abstract. Water refracts his focus in spite of his best efforts, steering his stare back downwards, shoulders curled inwards, the picture of compression even as he thinks at a million miles an hour.

Breathing unsteady. They don't have all day, but he spares a few seconds to get it going even again before he says anything.

Gabriel swallows back words and impulse both. "You wanna know something?" he says. Voice still scuffed at the edges, but there's no waver within his words.

There’s that instinct to reach for him again.

Eileen continues to tighten her grip on the chain until it feels like it’s cutting into her joints. No blood, only a dull pain that isn’t enough to distract her from the war her heart is waging against her head.

Among other things, she wants to say his name out loud and remember what it feels like in her mouth when she does. Tension makes marble of her jaw. She imagines her expression as chiseled and stony in an attempt to keep it frozen, but like Gabriel her lungs and throat won’t cooperate the way she needs them to. Her nostrils flare around a haggard exhale forced out by the faint half-whimper behind it.


"I talked to her, sometimes."

Gabriel's eyes grow sleepier, more hooded, barely watching the world around him as he thinks, and then speaks, slow and deliberate and vaguely confessional in the only way Gabriel Gray can be at people he has chained against their will in his presence. "Not all the time, and not even— towards any purpose, or intent. I imagined she would comment on the colour of the sky, if it was a bad time to take the boat out. Reminded me to put on a coat if I was going into town, so I wouldn't look strange to others when it was snowing. I named birds in her voice.

"But I didn't want to know what she'd really say. Or I couldn't— imagine it. Condemnation. Forgiveness. Regret." Coarsely, Gabriel palms away the dampness gathered up next to his nose. "All of that at once. That I failed to save her, and failed to avenge her. Hard to know where I ended and she began.

"If what you're saying— " Back to the present, he looks across at Eileen. This Eileen. "If what you're saying is true." There should be another part to that sentence, but there isn't.

Like maybe it's worse this way, somehow. Hope and grief are oil and water.

“We were married in the rain,” this Eileen says. “Hair, dress, flowers— it ruined everything. There was just this sound, this distant roar of thunder and the sky opened up, washed away all the morning’s work. But it was wonderful.”

Gabriel’s vulnerability is rewarded with soft words, a momentary lapse in Eileen’s guarded demeanor. She loosens her grip on the chain, letting the metal spill noisily from between her fingers. “All his abilities and he could do nothing about the weather. I remember laughing so hard that my stomach hurt. I remember peeling him out of those wet clothes and how they clung to his skin. How dye runs. How rainwater tastes. How everything is perfect when you’re in love, even when it isn’t really.”

She forces a halting, wan smile. “I’ll let you in a little secret, Gabriel. The only thing that makes our kind of grief bearable is holding onto the good memories and forgetting the last ones.”

"Then I guess I screwed up."

Her ghost, her abbreviated final words, her remains. Gabriel desperately wants to say more. He wants to talk about the ring his Eileen wore, how they pretended to be married in disguise. How they never had a wedding but they did kiss in the rain, the first time, boots sinking into mud and water coursing down the backs of their coats. Her hands as white as bone, curled around the bars of the gate. He wants to talk about her like any widower might — obsessively, seeking comfort, seeking punishment.

But he doesn't. It's not why he's here, and he's well out of practice besides. "I remember it. Her scattering. She held on long enough to reach out to me." Reminiscing slowly sharpening its focus, he addresses her, now, "Eileen. I need her back. I need you to give her to me."

Eileen tries to decide what her Gabriel want if put in the same position.

More depressing than the answer she eventually lands on is the fact that she can’t commit to it with one hundred percent certainty. No one knows another person’s mind that well, no matter how much their heart might want to believe it.

She has to guess. So guess she does.

“I sent her to a man named Sharrow,” she says. “Vanguard, but they call it Sentinel now. There’s a boat scheduled to depart in the morning out of Atlantic City. You can’t miss it — it’s the only one there.”

Something in Gabriel's eyes go flat at mention of the Vanguard, in any incarnation. It's as much uncertainty as it is accusation — the Vanguard broke into all kinds of interesting shapes when it shattered, but never resembling the original thing. Still, as she looks across at him with blue eyes catching meagre light, unease coils itself within his ribcage.

"Where are they going?" he asks.

“I don’t know,” Eileen answers. “I didn’t want to. If I did, you could have pulled it out of my head.”

Her defense rings a little hollow, if only because he didn’t need to. She’s told him everything and it took far less than that.

Eileen must hear it, too, because resolve creeps back into her voice and grows steely there when she adds: “You should hurry. Just because I’ve given you this doesn’t mean I’m going to stop. It’s a chance. That’s all.”

Gabriel is still, thoughtful, watching her watching him.

What little imaginings he'd had in the past had occasionally manifested into sight, sound, touch. He's long since had the ability to fool himself with ghosts of the past and at night it was all too easy to imagine her palms on the sides of his face as he slipped into uneasy sleep, or her shadow falling across the kitchen tiles, or a cardigan left on the end of their bed. His bed.

But it always came from somewhere, from himself, filling the psychic channels he'd opened once before when she was alive that allowed her feelings and the shades of her thoughts to find him. Here, and now, with the flutter of sparrows in the rafters and predator birds even higher in the sky, and reaching out—


He fills his lungs, and slides to his feet. "You should take your own advice," he says, roughly, as if tossing her something like what she's granted him. "About grieving."

He is left to wonder whether or not she’s trying to do the same. If she’s reaching out, searching the incorporeal distance between them for even the slightest echo of the man she loved.


It doesn’t show on her face. She’s already retreated behind her eyes: Kazimir’s chilly blues.

“One thing she and I have in common,” she tells him. “We’re both hypocrites.”

What Gabriel does feel is the dark energy in her veins and the familiar sensation the conduit produces in the air when its host prepares to wield it. The fine, dark hairs on the back of his arms and neck stand on end. It’s suddenly very cold.


It's a familiar feeling, even after all these years, and as much as he'd like to sneer at what amounts to posturing, it has its intended effect — like his heart pumped a dose of ice water out into his arteries, and spreading. Teeth flash between lips pulled back in reflex, matching her regard for a moment before she


and he's gone. His boot prints on the packed earth floor of dust and rat shit, turning away, disappearing, just like him. Life no longer present, save for the birds taking shelter from the evening in the rafters, who have begun to flutter with unknown distress.

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