Misstep, Part III


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Scene Title Misstep, Part III
Synopsis It's as confusing for them as it is for you.
Date August 16, 2011

Staten Island

Forest ground is loud, and variously crunches, snaps and splinters beneath feet that sound and are heavier than how they appear.

There's a ludicrous Red Riding Hood scenario going on right now as the girl that some of the soldiers— one is the little girl and one is the wolf, although maybe that's not the part of the story that matters— had caught sight of darts between the trees and off the beaten track. The forests out here are unforgiving, with break-ankle roots, sudden dips and climbs, but she manages all the same. Not without creating a path, however, one that you do not completely need a skilled tracker to detect. Eileen Ruskin breathes as hard as prey, giving a ferocious snarl on delicate features when her loose sweater snags on the thorny brush, but doesn't do too much to stop her. It's when loose leaf is sliding beneath her feet, giving a cry that echoes off the trees themselves and the dome of sky above, and she's set to rolling down and down through cutting bramble, dirt and dry mud.

She lands hard, red already springing bright at her temple and sticking dark hair to it from where her skull had smacked against a jutting rock. You wouldn't fault her for that even if she could see. In fact, she is doing remarkably well for someone who can't.

Except for now, where she isn't moving.

Sparrows thread through the treetops overhead and vanish into the crooked shadows between their trunks, sheltered by spindly forest branches edged with thorns. At some point during the chase rain began to mist down from a sky bruised purple by dark clouds fat with the promise of a building storm — the water beads small on dense green leaves with a sound like voices whispering, which is still louder than the noise the distant thunder makes, easier felt in the marrow of bones than heard by the human ear. The ground tastes wet even though it isn't yet.

The chase seems as though it's going to end much the same way it began with the baying of dogs; the first shapes on the scene of the Englishwoman's fall are lean and dusted with brambles and foxtails clinging as stubbornly to their coats as the ticks fastened on the inside of their pricked ears, and they move with practiced purpose toward the still form on the Greenbelt's floor. One sticks its nose against her neck, testing the body for a response. The other circles wide and trwists a look over its shoulder in anxious anticipation of its handler's arrival.

She's breathing. It's breathing. The piece of meat the dogs have approached is breathing.

It also doesn't respond at the cold touch of the canine's nose and the blast of hot breath across her face. Not a whimper or a twitch, quite deliberately so, except for that settling of tension all through the crumpled body that probably does not speak of lax unconsciousness. She listens and waits keenly, for sounds beyond the panting of the beasts around her, the thud of the paws of the one that paces around, heart pumping the loudest out of everything.

A shrill whistle strikes a higher note and the dogs fall back, more eager to please their master than sink teeth into exposed flesh or pin their quarry beneath their weight — it's approval they seek, and they know the only way to get it is to obey.

There are many reasons the dogs could have been called off but not much opportunity for guessing. Less than a minute has passed when footsteps crackle through the mulch, and a pair of boots appear parallel to the ground. A knee appears next as someone crouches beside her — suddenly there is a rough hand cupping her cheek and a thumb smearing the blood from her jaw, gentle and firm.

"Eileen," says a voice, and it's one that she knows very well.

Because it's Gabriel's. "Eileen."

There's a thin huff of breath that whistles through her nose, startled, at the intimacy of that touch — pale eyes snap open and roll to see who has approached her, fingers digging into the dirt. Otherwise, Eileen doesn't move, as still as caught prey as if on the very verge of thrashing — only here it would be attack or retreat, seeing as there's just a hand on her face designed to be soothing. Then, slowly, as if being cautious of her only tightly coiled muscles in order to keep from setting them off, she moves to rise off the ground, knees beneath her, hands set on the gritty, leafy forest floor.

"Careful," Gabriel says, "you're bleeding." Another hand at the small of Eileen's back supports her but does not encourage her to climb the rest of the way to standing. Fingers brush bloodied hair away from her temple and his head tilts, dark eyes bright with the sharp, predatory intensity of a hawk. "Quiet," he suggests then, even though she isn't making any noise except for the strained sound of her airy breathing and the softly scratching fabric when she moves.

The hand at her cheek moves to her chin and tilts it upward as if inspecting her face for further injury. "You had me scared for a minute, darling," maybe isn't a very Gabriel-like thing to say, but there it is. "Try not to move too much. You're safe now."

By the time he's speaking, her face has become a serene and still mask, almost a little sleepy as a hand goes out to grip the front of his shirt to help herself along. Eyes lack focus, as they are meant to. Despite her prior tension and wide-eyed stillness, she seems happier to calm and melt into assurance. Eyes hood at both the adjustment to the tip of her head and the words coming out above her, but doesn't comment on the make of them themselves. "Gabriel, I'm fine," she insists, her voice kept to a voiceless murmur, more of an exhale than actual words. "I'm…"

Lacy frostiness is slowly creeping across the fabric of his bunched shirt, and by the time he has the opportunity to pick up on the chill coming from her body, too forceful to be anything health-related, a knife of telepathic disconnect slams invisible through his skull, designed to wrench a man's soul from his body for a few crucial seconds.

There is no reason for him to expect this sort of an attack from an avian telepath. Gabriel— who cannot really be Gabriel at all— loses his grip on Eileen's face at the same time he loses control of his body and slumps sideways across Eileen— who cannot really be Eileen, either. From a physical standpoint, the imposter's appearance is almost flawless right down to the denseness of his eyelashes and the curve his mouth makes, but his hair lacks the silver woven through it and there are no scars on the surface on his skin. He could be Sylar if Sylar didn't know better than to call Eileen darling.

His recovery isn't instantaneous. Twitching fingertips are the first sign that the imposter's consciousness has returned to his body and its borrowed shape, followed by a low sound at the back of his throat as his right hand curls into a claw. This would be an ideal time to finish him off except for the fact that the pair is no longer alone; a small, gaunt woman with pale skin flushed all the way white with either fury or fright steps out of the trees. Eileen— the real Eileen— clutches her right shoulder with one hand, blood oozing from between her fingers, and points a pistol at her doppelganger with the other.

"Get away from him, you bitch."

Her doppelganger twists around to stare at her, finding herself eyeing the barrel of a gun instead with a shock of pale eyes widening. Startlement lasts half a tense second. "Get back," she demands, hoarsely, which is not the words nor tone you generally use when wanting someone to lower their weapon, grant them mercy. It sounds more like she fears for the gun wielder's safety more than she does her own. Which is true.

Gabriel is confused, is the thing. No, not the Gabriel currently regaining his faculties, but the one behind the mask of Eileen Ruskin, which he sees fit to shed right about now before she pulls the trigger and attempts to put a bullet in his brain. The illusion melts away like rolling vapour, revealing the larger mass of Gabriel crouching in place, his clothing plain and neutral and covered in the debris of the forest floor as thick as the dog fur of hunting canines, wiry grey streaked through dishevelled hair and head injury entirely absent save for a reddish mark of lesser injury.

Eyes melt from pale green to warm brown, breaking his attention from Eileen and reaching a hand towards his copy. Or whatever this is. Either way, it has about two seconds before a wall of concussive energy is headed his way.

Two more seconds is all the imposter needs. It is one thing to go up against Eileen, but quite another to go up against Eileen and Gabriel together. Whoever it is has lost their advantage, and with it the confidence to apprehend or kill either of them. They do not waste any time reverting back to their true shape as Gabriel does, halfway between crouching and standing, they raise an arm as if such a gesture could deflect what's coming, and maybe it could — Gabriel will never know, because his mirror image disappears into thin air with an audible snap, leaving only swirling leaves in their wake.

Some form of shapeshifting and teleportation. That narrows down the list of suspects considerably.

On the bright side — if there is a bright side — Eileen isn't aiming her pistol at him anymore. She leans her good shoulder into the trunk of the closest tree, gun arm loose at her side, and her cardigan hangs off her frame from her elbows, pooling around her ankles. While she can almost be sure that the man standing in front of her is exactly who he looks like, caution lingers in the expression she wears on her face, now tight and guarded, demanding some sort of explanation.

Teleportation. With nothing left to pursue, tension releases in the slackening of Gabriel's limbs, even along his back, head bowing as his hands grip onto the entirely unhelpful collection of leaves and twigs underfoot. Adrenaline won't be fast to go away.

Watching Eileen out the corner of his eye, he allows for a silent, psychic sweep of detecting any relevant life within two hundred feet of them as he gets up, brushing himself down of debris. He doesn't have to look at how she's arranged her face to know what she's silently asking, empathic sensing picking up of bristling expectation. "I was just— " It should be self-evident, Gabriel thinks! Maybe not. His hands splay in defensive shrug, crunching a step towards her. "That would have worked." If she hadn't of actually like been here. Though he takes heed of his surroundings in the best ways he knows how, he takes the next moment to assess the immediate, looking her up and down.

"I'm fine," Eileen says, suddenly self-conscious. Her grip on her shoulder tightens — it is one of those injuries that looks worse than it is, the kind where the amount of blood soaking her clothes is not proportionate to the severity of the wound. She might need stitches, and a round of antibiotics would probably be wise if they can ration it.

She pulls her cardigan back up and feels her breath hitch in her throat. Although what's happened to her shoulder might not be serious, it still hurts and has her trying to flick out the pain through her fingers with a quick shake of her hand. "He was going to kiss you," isn't exactly important but is apparently something she's compelled to point out. "So you know."

Proud creatures can be good at disguising pain as something minor than not, which is why Gabriel's attention remains hooked into her for a little longer before releasing. He's still breathing hard as the cadence of it gets away with him, but he can slow his heart with a thought — stands to reason that other less uncontrollable phsyical instincts will fall in line too. "I make a convincing you," is practically a pick up line, but, he isn't dismissing the point she's making either, apart from the sheer weirdness.

His hand finds her arm, urging her to walk with him, his strides long and determined. Soon, he'll be able to power them both out of there, but unless he wants to make mistakes or wind up with a pounding headache, there needs to be breathing room. In which he uses it to create more distance.

"He wanted to get close," he says, reframing it.

What rankles Eileen more than jealousy is the knowledge that such feelings are irrational and she can think of no reason why she should be experiencing them. She can think of no reason why she should be getting drunk in the Rookery, either, and coming home to the Dispensary with a metallic taste in her mouth and the urge to wake Gabriel up so she can share it while putting her hands all over him.

Whether or not she recognizes that her behaviour has become increasingly aggressive and erratic during the past few weeks is still up in the air; he's able to sense that she's frustrated, but there are no outward clues to its underlying cause, which is probably as much a mystery to her as anyone.

"Who do you think it was?" she asks as she moves alongside him. She does not want to say the S-word, but the question is there, unspoken.

Gabriel can certainly hear it, anyway, and so he's shaking his head in response to what she doesn't quite ask. "I don't know," reinforces this, his hand finding her's rather than continuing to grip her arm as if he were her elder (as in— like in a not romantic— omg shut up) escorting her through the forest. Companiable and freer, his fingers tangle with her's, but his long, swift stride is unforgiving. "I don't think it was anything I did. Short list, though, lookin' forward to working through it.

"River house?"

A definite no would have made Eileen feel better.

It also would have been dishonest, and she appreciates the truth — she herself would be lying if she told Gabriel that she hasn't been more concerned since their last trip to D.C. With "Epstein's" cover destroyed, she no longer knows where their target is, or if he's still content to let them exist.

Sending him a message through Audrey was a mistake. So was getting a little too close to Eltingville today.

She squeezes Gabriel's hand. That's a yes.

River House

What this house used to be used for can be anyone's guess. Obviously a residential home, but so deep in the thick of Staten Island's forestier portions that one would imagine if they wanted that much seclusion, they wouldn't live in New York. But then again, Staten Island used to be a lot more populated. A lot safer.

Tattered curtains don't even quiver when black, smokey nothingness comes pouring through the partially opened kitchen windows. It pools in the disused sink, overflows, floods out onto the tiles stained simply with neglect and marked here and there by rodent droppings. The whole room seems to dim a little more as the dark presence rises, expands, but then finally contracts to gather into solidity. Eileen finds her feet set against the ground, not far from Gabriel, his arm looped about her shoulders.

"How bad?"

Eileen responds with a lower, throatier noise that's meant to dismiss it as being bad at all but comes out sounding more strained than she intended. "Not as bad as Abigail," she says. "It's my fault — I told them to get too close." There are no birds inside; a deep breath through flaring nostrils fills her lungs with the smell of mildew and confirms that they are where Gabriel implied they'd be, and maybe it's a good thing she can't see. The rat shit on the floor might make her want to change her mind about staying here tonight, and here is the only safe place there is for miles.

She peels out of her cardigan first, then the top she wears beneath it, the fabric tacky and wet where it pulls off her skin. A graze. "It should have been me."

He has his gaze honed on where the injury obviously is, the smell of fresh blood and thicker and richer presence than the decay of the house and summer-shallow river outside, but— despite her blindness— flicks a sharp look to her eyes as if in irritation, stating, clippedly, "Irrelevant." He takes her top from her, bundling it up with the cardigan carelessly and probably redistributing blood on parts where they were none before, and letting it drop on the unused table just to his left. "Self-pity doesn't tell me what you need, or what happened.

"I caught some of it on the radio. You're welcome, by the way."

There's the temptation to say thank you now, and Eileen conquers it by trapping her tongue behind her front teeth. What she says instead is, "Hot water. A needle and thread. You don't have either." She rubs the tips of her fingers together, old blood caking under her nails. The fresher stuff has a texture like glue that hasn't quite dried, and she wipes it off on the inside of her thigh, leaving a dark streak on denim jeans.

Without a shirt on, the pain that she's in is more evident and made visible by the tightening of the muscles in her stomach, the rhythm of her breathing like an irregular drum. She doesn't have as much control of her body as she pretends to. "You know I appreciate what you did. What you do."

"Yes," Gabriel admits, distractedly, eyes raking over the wound. It feels like a dull pressure, but not necessarily painful, when glittering blood in the gash shimmers and crystalises, halting the bleeding beneath delicate scabbing. "I can keep this clean from infection while we're here, and make a run for supplies later." A beat, and he adds, not because he has medical experience as a healer, but medical experience as someone who has had a mess of lacerations in his life, "It's probably going to scar."

"Look at me." Look at me, she means, because he already is but not in the way her voice is inviting him to. If her complexion was darker, it would be easier for him to see what she means; the difference in texture between her skin and its creases of scar tissue is more apparent than the difference in colour and tone, and although it's still difficult to miss, a casual glance downplays the extent of the punishment her body has been put through.

Eileen has a lot of scars already. One more isn't going to make a difference.

Yeah but Gabriel is just saying.

But so is Eileen, and he does as she asks, looking down where there are scars that vary from lacier patterns to twisted seams, and it's no better than his own torso either. Much better than what he should, by rights, look like. He brushes his thumb, rough, along the line of one old laceration, following its white path before, almost too gentle to detect until Eileen's feet are adjusting for the change in weight, he pushes her enough for the table to nudge up behind her. "Looking," he states, his voice somewhere above her head.

Eileen places her hand over Gabriel's, guiding his thumb across her stomach and the dimpled white line where a hunting knife once opened her up, then up between the ridge formed by two ribs — the mark there is smaller, more precise, but made by a similar weapon. Madagascar feels like a very long time ago, and Abdul-Aziz Nwabueze an age before that even though Gabriel was there for both.

"They're like constellations," she says. "Stars I don't have to see. I can still map your body and always know where I am."

His hands are warm and pliant, happy to move where she guides as his head bows enough for the end of his nose to brush against the crown of her head. By the time she's finished talking, the wound has healed up in that blood seals it and doesn't leak, only the dry flakes left to cling to her skin with the wet gone and forgotten. No need for bandages, at least in the short term, and also the most he can do without Abigail's former gift, Kazimir's former gift.

Swallowing, Gabriel tips his head back up and glances a paranoid look for the window, but he senses no one, sees nothing.

"They're near misses," is grumbled out, finally. He isn't as eloquent, except for sometimes. And he doesn't mean to argue — it's an additional kind of statement. Scars will always show what's been, and signify the kind of life they lead and what it pulls them through.

One day, she's going to lose him. Or he's going to lose her. It doesn't matter which, not to Eileen; either way she's destroyed, and even talking about it makes her more anxious than standing in front of and addressing what's left of the Ferrymen network ever has.

She doesn't want to be anxious. She doesn't want Gabriel to be anxious, either. Her hands find his face and she smooths palms over stubble, fingers spread out across his jaw. "We're safe," she says, and the reassurance is meant as much for her as it is for him. Hearing it aloud makes her more confident in the belief that no one has ever found the river house before, and there's no reason they should find it now.

"No more near misses today."

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