Not A Bird


gillian_icon.gif sibyl3_icon.gif tavisha2_icon.gif

Scene Title Not a Bird
Synopsis Sibyl brings Gillian a gift.
Date July 9, 2017

New York Safe Zone, Gillian's Townhome

Not many people know the word for the smell of fresh rain on dry soil. Gillian Childs does, but she’s a writer, so she already had petrichor on her mind when the first rumbles of thunder shook her Elmhurst brownstone a few hours before sunset on a humid summer day in July. The storm has yet to let up; instead, it’s increased in intensity as the night has progressed and now sounds like hail rattling her windows.

The radio in her kitchen fizzes and pops. An earlier forecast promised precipitation, but nothing quite like this.

«— reports of flooding in Brighton Beach and Ferrymen’s Bay. Residents are advised to remain indoors until further notice. For emergencies, please call —»

It gutters out again with the next roar of thunder and accompanying flash of lighting, which abruptly plunges her brownstone into darkness.

Blackouts aren’t uncommon in New York City’s Safezone. The sudden loss of power probably isn’t a cause for concern, and she has a small collection of half-melted wax candles stashed away for situations just like this one.

A few months ago, a brownout at a time like this would have frustrated her. She’d been in the middle of her hour long writing, curled up on the comfy chair near the window ledge. Not one of her books, she would be using her computer for that, but just the journal of her thoughts, feelings, memories. Sometimes she recorded her dreams, her daily attempts feigning normalcy in an abnormal world. But today— it's just been about the sound of the rain, the way the thunder reverberated through the walls, sending tremors up the glass and even through the comfy seat.

Closing the pen inside her journal, she laid it on the nearby table, getting up within the darkness to find the candles. She already knew where she would put them all, playing it out in her head while she walked. Planning had been her mode of coping, it helped her through each of the many steps. And it kept the more metaphorical darkness at bay.

From atop one of the bookshelves, a yellow bundle of fur mrowled in the darkness, stretching and complaining at disturbed sleep. “I hear you, fluff-butt. Don’t worry. I’m sure the power will be back on soon.” And that Jolene is somewhere safe.

Worrying about her daughter would always be in the back of her mind, like that soft glowing knot that held her ability at bay.

The candles sat on the bookshelf, not far from where the cat lay, with a single small lighter laying next to it. The lighter rasped as the flame flickered to life, allowing her to look in the yellow cat’s disgruntled eyes. His tail flicked with annoyance where it hung off the bookshelf.

“You have a perfectly good bed you could be sleeping in,” she reminds him, as she uses the flame to seek out which candle she would light first.

Chandra hears it before Gillian does: shuffling footsteps on the brownstone’s stoop, followed by a beat of hesitation as whoever stands on the other side debates whether or not to let knuckles fly against the door.

Maybe it’s the weather, the late hour, or something else entirely, but circumstances are in favor in knocking. A small hand raps on Gillian’s door in quick succession.

Whoever it is, whatever it is, it’s apparently urgent.

The ginger feline grunts as he jumps down from the bookshelf, sauntering toward his favorite greeting place for when company stops in, a chair near the door, which he can hide under until he decides whether it is an ankle to attack, or one to demand pets from. Though at this hour, it’s a rare individual indeed. Usually just Jolene. That flickering light illuminates Gillian’s face as she turns toward the door, honey blonde locks hanging against her shoulders. There’s a moment when she has to pause, has to take a breath. Tension forms in her shoulders.

It could be a neighbor, needing candles. It could be—

Her hand shakes for a moment, before she stops it, a deep breath. The already hot lighter heats her hand as she quickly lights one of the candles encased in glass, the flame dying out as she stops depressing the button. She sets the lighter down and carries her light to the door. The urgency of the knock and that nagging worry makes her forget to check before she twists all the locks undone and pulls the door open, a flush already arising on her cheeks.

The figure on the other side of the door is not what Gillian expected.

A girl in her early teens stands on the stoop with her booted feet perfectly parallel to one another. Rainwater plasters long ringlets of blondish hair to flushed cheeks and a wide, pale forehead. Her eyes, Gillian thinks, might be blue or gray, but in the darkness it’s impossible to take notice of such a small detail. More noticable is her lack of a jacket and the sodden shoebox she holds clutched to her chest like the salvaged belongings of a shipwreck survivor.

The cotton dress she wears would have been appropriate earlier during the day when the temperature was soaring. Now it clings to the matchstick angles of her small, trembling body, giving her the appearance of a half-drowned cat that somehow managed to dredge itself out of the Hudson River and stumble its way to her doorstep.

“Are you Gillian?” she asks, somehow able to keep the shiver out of her voice, which is thin and breathy with an accent that the older woman cannot place.

With an exhale of relief, Gillian looks down at the young girl with some confusion. At first she tries to figure out if she’s one of her brother’s new charges, cause she hasn’t met most of them. The young girl standing in the downpour, soaked dress and hair clinging to skin. At the question of her name, she nods in the candle light, looking past the girl as if to see if she really is alone. The streets are as dark as the interior of the brownstone, but a flicker of lightning verifies a relatively empty street. No one who seems to be with her. Not even a car stopped and waiting—

“Come inside— you’re drenched,” she offers, pulling open the door and cat eyes staring out from under the chair into the darkness. He flicks his tail. It’s not a leg he wants to assault yet— too wet.

“I’m Gillian— what are you doing out here all by yourself in the rain?” At this hour?

The girl crosses the threshold into Gillian’s home, head bowed. If this was her own house, she might be stooping down to tug at her laces and take off her boots; instead, she seems to be stuck in some sort of manners-related purgatory, unsure whether she’s in a safe enough place to remove her footwear but also looking vaguely guilty for tracking floodwater and mud onto the floorboards.

She squeezes the shoebox just a little tighter. “My name is S-Sibyl,” she says. “Sibyl Kazakova. My father was Hans Kazakova.” Only after the door has clicked shut behind her does she go fishing in the leather satchel she wears across her shoulder. “I read this book.” Swallowing, she pulls out a dog-eared copy of Wolves of Valhalla: The Rise and Fall of Kazimir’s Vanguard and holds it up so Gillian can read the title.

“It says you knew him.”

Hans… Kazakova?

Even if she doesn't know the name at first, she keeps motioning the poor girl in. Floors can be dried faster than people, so it doesn't matter, much. Chandra makes a sound under the chair and moves away, in case those puddles start to get closer to him. No, he has no intention of getting wet tonight. Tail held up high, he flicks it around, glancing back before making his way to the fall wall, where he just… falls over.

Gillian makes sure the door is locked, before she gestures, "Stay here a second," a glance at the book, she replays the name in her head again as she hurries toward the downstairs bathroom. When she returns, she has a couple bath towels, lilac and white, which she wraps around the girl's shoulders. "I don't really remember your father, but— Vanguard? I did meet some of them."

She looks curiously at the book— no, she'd not read that one. Vanguard had brought back too many bad memories. Even if not all of them had been bad. Maybe he'd been in Argentina? She doesn't remember— Or was he one of the ones who tried to kidnap her?

"Let's get you dry," she settles on, rubbing those towels against the girl's shoulders.

Sibyl hasn’t budged from the spot Gillian last saw her when she returns with the bath towels. She murmurs a demure thank you as the towels are draped around her slim shoulders, tensing under Gillian’s hands; it takes a focused effort not to flinch away at the touch of a stranger, but perhaps she really just does not want to offend.

“Please don’t call the police,” she adds, like it’s an afterthought and not the loudest one rattling around in her head. “I can’t go back to where I used to be. It’s gone.

He’s gone.”


That Gillian understands. She remembers when she found out what happened to the parents that raised her, even if they'd known the whole time that she had not been their child and had never told her. She remembers when she realized that Peter really wasn't coming back. She remembered— losing so many over the years. Even those who never were born, never saw the light of day. Whose hands she never felt.

Perhaps she spots the subtle flinch in the girl's face, even if she tries to contain it, because she pulls her hands back, allowing towels to just stay there for the moment. "I won't call the police." Not on a scared child. No matter who her father had been.

And she remembered how certain people had tried to erase the actions of those who had turned on Vanguard, those who had helped. Her publisher had tried, tried very hard, to get her to change her dedication. To leave out the remnants assistance in the great Blizzard. Even when one had been the one to save her from the dogs. Some part of her doesn't want to trust it— but she's a child. Just like those children who had come to the doors of the Lighthouse, all those years ago.

Those children she had failed, one by one.

"Come into the study, make yourself comfortable. I will light somemore candles while you dry off. You're safe here."

On tentative feet, Sibyl transitions into Gillian’s study. It’s dark, but not so dark that she’s unable to make out the looming shapes of furniture in her path. She navigates the room in silence, eventually coming to settle on the end of a sofa. Bent at the middle, she leans down and pulls at the laces of her boots until they’re loose enough to slide off her feet. Sodden cotton socks, too, which she neatly folds and tucks inside, out of sight.

This done, she rests the shoebox in her lap and lifts the lid. Inside is a goshawk, its hooked feet tucked under its belly like an antique museum specimen missing the tag with its genus and species. In other words, the bird looks dead. Still, Sibyl strokes fingers along the barred feathers of its chest, her touch light and cautious — there may be life in it yet.

She removes the lilac towel from her shoulders and uses it to swaddle the goshawk the same way she might do to a newborn child, taking great care not to manhandle its delicate wings or neck. There’s nothing about her movements that suggests she’s ever done this before — she seems almost fearful of the size of the animal and the proximity of its beak and claws to the softer, exposed flesh of her bare arms and face — but she manages without too much difficulty or doubt about what she’s doing.

“You’re all right now,” she tells the goshawk, drawing the bundle into her chest to keep it warm. “She’s going to help you too.”

The girl and her goshawk are not left alone long. Well, besides the cat eyes staring across the room, watching. This fat cat could never be considered a hunter, but he still is going to watch the creature like a hungry cat. He can’t even help the soft chattery click sound as he gnashes his teeth together looking at it.

But Gillian isn’t gone long, either. Carrying two candles in each hand, she stops to place one on a table near the door, then another— and she’s putting down the third candle when she sees what the girl holds. She’d seen the box, but had been so focused on the girl that she hadn’t thought yet about what might be inside it.

“Is that a— is that a hawk?” she doesn’t know birds well, but she darts a glance toward Chandra to confirm he’s not getting into a pouncing position. The cat’s too lazy for that, thankfully. He’ll just imagine eating it. She’ll kick him away into a room if she has to.

“No,” says Sibyl. “He isn’t.” She has no fear of the cat on the floor or the claws it keeps sheathed in its fat little feet. Her hawk is safe inside the towel, which she adjusts so Gillian can get a better look at its face.

It looks like a hawk, anyway. Sibyl draws her feet up onto the sofa and tucks them beneath her. At some point, while Gillian was away, rummaging for candles, the girl stopped shivering. She’ll stop dripping, too, once the air is finished sapping the excess moisture from her hair.

The injured bird — or not-bird — is a welcome distraction from whatever brought her to Gillian’s doorstep in the first place. Now that the older woman has an opportunity to take a closer look, she sees the puffiness around Sibyl’s eyes, rimmed in raw, angry pink. She isn’t just wet; she’s been crying.

“I know things,” she adds, “sometimes. I look, and I can see.”

The goshawk's signs of life do not come quickly. Slightly skewed tufts of feather at its throat shift with the subtle motion of breathing, and its gaping grey beak seems to open wider with a twitch. It should probably be dead, all things considered, but within its body, something is struggling, beating against the limits of its own mind like a moth trapped in a lit lantern, resisting the pull of warm, comforting death.

Its little eyes open, showing fierce gold. With its wings gently swaddled to its sides, its claws only hook and squeeze on the towel fabric.

Some something, a little psychic something, brushes against the minds of both Sibyl and Gillian, gentle as a falling feather.

That’s not a hawk.

Not just is she wrong about the designation, as soon as their eyes connect, as she feels the softest brush against her mind, Gillian knows it’s not just a hawk. The more she focuses on it, the more she can sense that little knot of energy that makes up all those with abilities— She’d never felt it in a bird before. It also felt— different. Nebulous.

“There’s someone inside the bird, isn’t there?” she asks, kneeling down in front of the chair so she’s closer, looking up at the girl, the one who knows things.

For a moment the librarian turned author has a hint of hope. That it might be Eileen, some remnant of the woman whose hand she held for too long while she died— But no, the girl had said he. “It’s going to be okay,” she adds, as she looks down at the bird.

Sibyl reaches out and uncurls her fingers, brushing the edges of her knuckles along Gillian’s jaw in what is a deliberate and gentle but also a fearful gesture. She doesn’t feel anything at the girl’s touch except for the chill of her skin — which, as Gillian knows all too well, doesn’t mean that nothing is happening behind her pale eyes.

There are people in the Safe Zone who wear gloves and refuse to have skin-to-skin contact with anyone they don’t personally know.

It isn’t an unreasonable choice.

Sibyl’s hand falls away again a moment later. She turns her attention back on the hawk and the hint of a sad, lonely smile touches her lips as she lowers her eyes, although it does not last longer than the brief time it takes her to process what she’s gleaned. “There was an island,” she says. “The air smelled like salt and smoke and sweat. Men killed each other; people paid to watch.”

She offers Gillian the bundle. “You should hold him.”

Closer, details start to show, such as where whole patches of skin show pink where feathers have been plucked thin, disrupting the otherwise handsome spread of white and black patterns across its breast. There is a leanness and bedraggled quality to the goshawk that seems as though it wasn't in the best of shape before it was struck from the sky and into this girl's arms.

As Gillian comes closer, and speaks, the texture of her voice — its distinct, subtle rasp, what the application of uncertainty and kindness does to it — rouses him. Except he doesn't feel roused. He's dreamed this way before, but before, he only ever whispered things to the pigeons around him, instead of into Gillian's mind;


In many ways being handed a bundle of injured bird might be much like being handled a newborn baby. At least from the way Gillian hesitates, then holds the towel wrapped form as if she might break him. For all she knows she might. She’s not a vet, or any kind of bird expert, but she can see the bird has been through a lot, the slightest movement may be the end of him. The girl who knows things seems to trust her, though, enough that she looks down and…

Her breath catches, eyes widening at the voice that whispers in the back of her mind. While she has not heard that voice in a long time, his is one of the few voices she will probably never forget. That, or the emotions it brings to the surface.

“Gabriel?” she asks out loud, ignoring the stretching of the ginger cat against the wall.

Sibyl relinquishes the hawk to Gillian. It feels like the right thing to do for reasons she’s both unable and unwilling to articulate. Epstein told her not to tell Gillian anything, and she worries she’s already said too much. Anxiety tugs at the nerves in the pit of her stomach; to soothe it, she leans back on the sofa, draws her legs into her chest, and encircles her knees in her arms, making herself smaller, less obtrusive.

“I found him in the water.” The explanation is soft, discarded in a quiet, offhanded sort of way like it doesn’t really matter.

He almost doesn't hear the other voice, unknown to him in the way that Gillian's is. Her question, which isn't a question the way his was a question, circles in his mind and refuses to settle. He wants to say yes. Instead, he says, Not exactly.

The barest hint of humour, dry, self-deprecating.

Through blurred hawkish vision, he can see her face above him. He's used to this, this scale, but perhaps not this angle, this feeling of being held, this intimacy. The faces he recognises are usually ones he sees from the sky, and its been a very long time since even then. His wings twitch in his resistance to the grasp of the towel, feet kick at a twitch, and a tremor of pain shivers through the psychic connection he flung out like a life-line.

The telepathic answer to her question hits some old memories. Not exactly? In the past, she’d been the target of an identity crisis, one by the man whose name she called. Gillian figured it wouldn’t be that one— though she never did learn what had happened to Jenny, or the man who had shared her body. She’d been taken by the Institute not long after the last time she’d seen her. Their voices were different.

But there was another.

“Tavisha?” she asks, all her attention now on the bundle of feathers and power in wrapped in a towel. Her own ability starts to reach out towards that little spark, her eyes starting to take on a purple tinge as she feeds a little bit of energy into that spark. Not a lot, just a small trinkle, to see if it makes that life-line stronger, helps keep that bundle talking. “What happened to you?”

How is he like this?

I don't know.

Maybe he's answering the wrong question. What happened to him today, what happened to him years ago, what matters what happened to him at all. Delirium threatens the edges of his mind, but then there's that— something. Clarity sharpens in his mind, even if the body of the goshawk gives no impression of renewed vitality. Flying. I was looking for her. For him. But not for him. For me.

This would be a lot easier to follow if he remembered that Gillian can't pick up impression and image, only words, but he manages to cobble together the pertinent syllables, Colette. Need to warn her.

For her, for him. For himself. None of it really makes a lot of sense, but Gillian can imagine that this poor thing has been through a lot. More than she could possibly imagine, most likely. Instead of all the questions she wants to ask she latches onto that name. “Colette Demsky?” she clarifies out loud, though she knows the once girl turned young woman, they had never particularly been close. The time they’d spent the most together had been when the girl trained her in how to use her ability, leading up to the raid on Pinehearst. They had never been close. But they had reconnected a little in the past few years— acquaintances, more than friends. But with common allegiances.

So long ago. But she had written about that time, extensively. Even if she doubts it will ever get published. She doesn’t even ask what the bird might need to warn her about, just nods and gently hands the bundle back over to Sibyl. “Hold onto him for a little while. Try to keep him conscious.”

She needs to go find her cellphone, see if she has a current number. See if she has service to send a text message. Without waiting, she goes to the wall and picks up the big bundle of fur. He might be behaving now, but she doesn’t want him to get the idea that a wounded bird of prey is a play thing.

Carrying him out of the room, to be locked up no doubt, she goes to find her phone, scrolling through the list of numbers as soon as she makes her way back. If she couldn’t find Colette’s number, she knows she has Tasha’s somewhere. She helped the cooperative with legal matters.

Sibyl is not privy to Tavisha’s side of the conversation. The name Colette Demsky forms a crease in her brow between her eyes, her face knitting into a strange, displaced expression.

Wolfhound, she thinks, and Tavisha does not hear it. The rain on Gillian’s glass windows is too loud, and competes with the sound of his little hawk heart drumming in his little hawk chest. Sibyl resumes stroking her fingers along his neck and breast, hoping that the sensation of another person’s touch will be enough to anchor him to the here and now.

It isn’t.

Tavisha’s world shifts focus. Somewhere a clock is ticking. There are voices, wound tight and hushed in their urgency. A shadow crosses his vision — a cloud eclipsing the moon outside, or a silhouette blocking out the glow of Gillian’s steadily flickering candles.

Then there’s—

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