Not Just That Anymore


b_gabriel_icon.gif natalie_icon.gif

Scene Title Not Just That Anymore
Synopsis Some rules are meant to be broken.
Date December, 1978

Snow is not always a pristine white thing. It turns to slush under tires, melts, freezes and solidifies again, taking on strange textures that vary from pieces of broken glass to loose clumps of coarse sand. Outside the cottage, it's taken on a gray hue as the late afternoon turns into evening, and the sky grows dark with clouds, heavy and black, promising rain — or more ice and snow. Precipitation is a guaranteed thing; what form it will blanket the seaside in remains quite literally up in the air.

When Samson told Gabriel that he'd be helping him in the shed, it hadn't been just an idle threat designed to intimidate and instill discomfort. In the days since his arrival, he has spent his afternoons learning his father's trade through observation and one or two hands-on lessons that left Gabriel with bloodied fingers, emptied bowels on his shoes (Samson laughed), and, ultimately, knowledge of how to skin a kill cleanly and efficiently. Gimlets, bone cutters, pinking irons, a hand vise and a various assortment of scalpels and knives are still gleaming under the shed's single incandescent lightbulb when Samson excuses Gabriel to go help Natalie with the laundry inside.

It's too cold this time of year to hang it on the line.

Coastal Maine

December, 1978

She's up to her elbows in hot water on a stool in the kitchen, Gabriel's clothes hung over the living room radiator to dry. This is how they do it at the Dispensary sometimes, too, without machines — thirty years later, and some things haven't changed. Natalie doesn't hear him come in. Her focus is on the television at the edge of the kitchen table, rabbit ears spread apart, and the sounds of Sesame Street drifting through the cottage. It's for Little Gabe's benefit, presumably, curled up in his crib, which Natalie has moved out of the bedroom and into the living room to keep a closer eye on him while she works.

Two different worlds, stepping out from the shed that stinks of blood and ammonia, through the icy path that tracks from it to the house, where it's dry, and well lit, with the smells of coffee and soap in the air and the sounds of Ernie and Burt banter. Kitchen knives over mean, skinnier blades, ones designed to slice through more omnivorous varieties of matter than just the meat eating silver tools Gabriel has left behind. Rarely does Gabriel feel out of place because he has blood on his hands, but he feels particularly dirty right now, even if he'd scrubbed his knuckles and palms down before shouldering his way into the cottage.

Conversation between himself and Samson has eased a fraction, but it remains cautious, stilted, uncertain around Natalie. Every sentence casual and like it might have been something else had he had the courage to say it. He makes a production out of wiping the soles of his boots on the walk-in mat, before entering fully.

This Natalie hears, and she looks up from the pair of jeans she has clutched in her hands, expecting to see either Gabriel or Samson filling the door's frame. She isn't disappointed. "Hey, you," she says, mouth opening around a smile as she reaches up to push a strand of hair away from her face with the back of her hand, leaving a wet smear peppered with soap suds across her cheek. She indicates his clothes draped over the radiator with a roll of her small shoulder. "You can put them on again in a few hours if you want, but they might still be a little damp. I can't imagine Sam's clothes are very comfortable, and you don't strike me as a flannel kind of guy."

Which is, incidentally, what she's wearing over a plain white shirt and denim jeans a similar cut to what she's now hanging over the back of the washboard as she straightens in her seat. She places both her hands on her hips and arches her spine to relieve the muscles in her lower back. "I did what I could about the blood, but it never really comes out. Not all of it."

"No," Gabriel agrees, a wistful glance over towards where the wet clothes are hanging, unmoving from where he's come to a stop a foot from the closed door. A crinkle of tension develops between his brows, some reminiscent notion about climbing over closed washing machines at the laundromat while Virginia flicked her fingers through collectors magazines and catalogues, talking to no one and watching everyone in fleeting glances. Those weren't bad days.

Bad days were when she couldn't step outside, wouldn't, not even after they had no clean clothes left for the week. That fragile, incapable woman was— is— a shy and quivering shadow to Natalie's hands made warm from soapy water, streaking her face, her jeans, and open mouthed smiles.

A small, tentative glimmer of psychic awareness tells of Natalie's burning presence, of the small flicker of life coming from the cot, and the more robust but distanced indication of the man of the house not yet headed inside. Gabriel drifts sideways, comes to lean shy against some steady piece of furniture. "I should probably— " That's not right. Should. "I want to tell you why I'm here."

He has her attention. Without looking down at her hands, Natalie wipes them off on the inside of her thighs while studying Gabriel's face beneath a knit brow, abruptly serious. Gone is the humour in her expression, though there's very little he could probably say to harden it; her features are too soft, and her mannerisms too wholly gentle. When someone has something to tell you, you sit down unless you're already seated, which is mother is. Instead, she rises to stand, the top of her dark head coming all the way up to Gabriel's chin as she moves across to the television to snap it off.

"You know what that is?"

"Sure, that's a traffic light! It tells people when to stop and—"

Click!, rather than green means go.

"I'm not like you."

Gabriel sits as he says this, as if to reduce the height difference between himself and his mother, and his stare wanders away in adolescent guilt and shyness. Tension creases lines at his brow, and his hands knit together. It seems really quiet in here, without the background noise of the television or the backdrop of a busy city. "I'm— " A hand opens, splays, and ribbons of shadow shift like ink through his fingers, dissipate as he closes a fist.

The light in the room dims, gathers into a disc of light that hovers UFO-like over his other hand, and that too collapses into dust-like fairy lights. He pushes on that empathic connection, and Natalie will know his nervousness that floats atop a sea of confidence and steely apathy. "I'm more like him," he states, a head tilting towards the general direction of the shed.

Those hands come back together, and a small crackle of blue lightning snaps in the air, circling his wrists and up the backs of his knuckles before fizzling out. "But I didn't come to hurt you."

Natalie’s fingers curl around the edge of the television, and in its screen her face’s reflection undergoes another transformation, fear sinking into its lines and dominating her mouth as lips part around something. Denial. Protest. An argument. That her feet, bare, remain rooted to the floor is testament to her experience with her ability — there’s truth in what he’s saying, if not in his words than in what he transmits through the their link, tenuous as it is.

"No," she agrees, and suddenly her voice is very soft. A breath above a whisper. "You didn’t."

She is, nevertheless, making subtle adjustments to her posture, and when she moves it’s to take half a step to the right, putting herself directly between Gabriel and the infant in the crib. Samson’s mobile, now complete, hangs in the empty space above it, songbirds still spinning slow and rhythmic, powered by energy not yet spent from the last time Natalie tapped it.

That he isn’t here to hurt her does not mean he isn’t here to hurt her little one.

Protest or denial doesn't come as words — just a rueful twisting of a grimace, the hand that had been sparking electricity going out in a placating gesture. No, he's— he's not here to hurt the kid, either. Gabriel doesn't explain that. It's about to become self-evident.

Or he doesn't want to protest the simple act of a mother stepping in front of her child from a possible threat. His hands drop to his lap, shifting a look away from her as he, once more, seeks with his mind for Samson's position within the radius of two hundred feet. "I came here to… meet you. I guess. I don't really get to." It's simple like that — might have sounded better to claim that he knew of Linda and Luke's appearance and knew he had to save Natalie.

Right time, right place. "I have another ability. It lets me move through time. I know it sounds impossible." Dejected silence follows, mistrust in his own ability to tell this truth as easily as he'd told them lies settling like weights on his shoulders.

Unless Samson has superhuman hearing tucked away in his arsenal of abilities as of 1978, Gabriel is probably safe; he has not moved from the shed, and if he cares to steal a glimpse through his father’s eyes, feel through his father’s fingers, he’ll find the man’s attention on the still-bloodied pelt of the fox he helped him to skin, knuckles deep in bristly black fur tipped with silver.

It’s debatable, who Gabriel inherited his wits from — if one’s wits are indeed determined by genetics. To have survived as long as he has, Samson possesses a rawer cunning than Natalie’s modest astuteness, but she’s just as sharp as her husband is, and the next time she lifts her eyes to her son’s face after chancing a glance down at the hands in his lap, they’re dewy.

"You’re my Gabe?"

No, is the truth, in some ways. For all that the opposite is romantic, Gabriel couldn't pinpoint any profound influence she had over him in ways apart from genetics, and even then, he takes after his dear old dad in ways more important than, say, dark eyes and eyebrows. So it's probably weak, something of a lie, and unfair to them both when he mutely nods his head, unable not to glance towards where her actual Gabe resides, still, tiny body filling up the role of 'son' that Gabriel might daydream about and no more.

But back to her, looking faintly displeased with himself but too eager to see what she's doing next in spite of himself. Calling for Samson or doing something else that will force his hand in cutting this show short. Confusion, misunderstanding. Laughing at him. He's pretty much gone through all the possibilities.

Crying was among them, too. He isn't, at the moment, but kind of still and sad instead.

Natalie’s feet carry her forward, closing the short distance between them, and while her movements are that of a deer tiptoeing out from the trees and into a meadow, her steps are also purposeful, deliberate. Confusion is almost guaranteed. This does not, however, stop her from lowering her brows and lifting her chin, a hand reaching for his jaw.

Fingertips still warm from the hot water brush his cheek and bring with them the smell of soap, damp clothes, and something paradoxical: a scent that’s indescribable yet immediately recognizable, a memory from childhood he’s always had but never been able to identify. Coffee and honeycomb, her hand cream, a whiff of sage and cinnamon, pine cones, evergreen perfume. His mother.

"Do you kill for it, too?"

His hands close around her wrist, but there is nothing in the gesture that implies she need retract. It's subtle encouragement, taking what he can from familiar affection within the context of being a son to her. Natalie won't be able to quite see his eyes through a dense tangle of eyelashes, but she will when he sends a sharp glance upwards at her question. The notion of lying to her feels ridiculous. "Yes," he responds, with level quiet. "But I don't have to."

Abstractly, he knows that doesn't make it better, or even more reassuring. "It isn't easy," he adds, when maybe he should be asking does it matter?

As long as Gabriel is sitting and Natalie remains standing, she hovers several inches above him. Tucking in her chin and pressing a kiss to the top of his forehead should not be a difficult thing. It is, but not due to any discrepancies in their height; the rhythm of her breathing is unsteady, and a tremble passes through the fingers at his cheek. If she’s disappointed in him, he can’t read it in her body language or by dissecting what she communicates with empathy.

She’s grieving instead. No mother would wish a father’s curse on their son. "I’m sorry," she whispers into his hair, and folds him up in her arms. Her heart is a fist tapping knuckles against a drumhead with a membrane made of skin. A sharp intake of breath causes her voice to flutter. "Tell me?" About your life?

And there are a lot of things to tell, some of it— a lot of it— awful. Or pathetic, variously. He blinks, his chin finding a place to rest against her collar bone, inhaling that memory-scent and lacking desire to reflect on everything that comes after, but. Gabriel doesn't exactly hold her back, his hands finding her upper arms — again, encouragement over resistance. "I worked with clocks," he mutters. "Until I found out what I could do.

"I killed. Traveled a lot. I'm powerful." He isn't thinking about Samson in the shed, or the strange displacement of time and space around him that he kind of feels like a continual pressure, a coming current that would sweep him back to where he belongs if he had a chance. "Fair warning: I don't think you'd be proud of me."

It's sort of a joke, without it being one at all. A wry confession, graveled out above a whisper. "But I'm not just that. Anymore." A monster, he means. He thinks, anyway.

"Your grandfather worked with clocks," says Natalie. "Your father would have, too, if he hadn’t been more interested in opening animals than watches." She hasn’t yet drawn back. If she thought he was a monster, she likely would not be stroking her fingers through the hair at his nape, smoothing it.

She doesn’t tell him that he’s proud of him, but neither does she know him beyond the hands on her arms, or what little she’s been able to observe of the man she and Samson have opened her home to. He is her child. He deserves her honesty, even if it comes in the form of further silence.

There is no movement in the snow between the cottage and the shed. In the cottage, Natalie is now also still. "If not a monster, then what are you?"

If she'd reassured him that she was proud after all, Gabriel could have heard the lie, for all that he has very good skills at believing what's kinder to believe. He leans back in his chair some, putting distance between them though not enough to draw away from the hand at the nape of his neck. They look like each other, and he imagines maybe that's what helped his credibility.

"I dunno. I've— " Ridiculous arrogance doesn't seem to have a place here. If there's anything more humbling than your mother, Gabriel wouldn't be able to identify it. "I helped save the world, once. And people. Maybe that makes me a hero."

"Maybe," Natalie agrees. "Hero or monster, you’re my son, and I love you." That is not a lie; spoken with greater resolve than she’d first touched him with, she emphasizes her point by slipping two fingers under his chin and lifting it. "Goddamn, don’t you look just like your mama and your daddy. I’m always telling him you’re gonna make such a handsome man."

She tucks a stray curl of hair behind his ear. There are questions straining against her teeth. Are you married? Have you met a girl? (Of course you’ve met a girl, just look at you.) Do you have any children of your own? Am I grandmother yet? And yet she asks none of these. Her eyes, still wet, are suddenly very dark.

I came here to meet you, he’d said. I don’t really get to.

"He wants me to give you up. To your Uncle Martin and your Aunt Virginia in New York City. He doesn’t think it’s safe with us."

He closes his eyes for the time it takes for her to tuck that raven-brunette strand away, and when he opens them again, Gabriel isn't quite looking at her anymore. Unfocused and reflecting her own wet-darkness, more tension in his face than the softness in her's. "He's right," he tells her, words dragged out reluctantly. There is an echo of something she might be able to pick up on. What she feels is that when he says 'he's right', what he means is—

He's wrong.

But there is a concrete necessity in what he says, mouth going into a line. Then, he concedes, "Just not yet. I remember you." He slides his gaze back up at her. "A little." Enough.

Crying: it’s one of those things that you can stop yourself from doing only until you see someone else about to start. Tears streak down Natalie’s face and make her skin appear glassy, damp. They gather in the dimple at her chin and form spots on the fabric of her shirt and a knot tightens in her throat, making it impossible to speak for the time it takes her to wipe her cheeks with flannel and then do the same for Gabriel even if he hasn’t shed any wet heat yet.

"Will you come and visit me sometimes?" she asks, her voice suddenly very thin, faintly pleading. "I want to see you. It can be our little secret."

A line creases between Gabriel's eyebrows, again wandering a look away and seeming aggravated, silently. "I won't have this power forever," he admits, then, with a certain heavy quality to his voice — like his mom would care about how well he can handle his own ability, or rather, Liette's spiderweb of power that catches others only for them to tear free again, eventually. "But if I can get it back, I will.

"And I'll see you again." He doesn't feel bad about the fact he could be lying right now, and for the next five or six years, she'll wonder. She'll wait. He doesn't even think about it, and so it's with warm conviction— and a certain need for approval— that he pledges this claim.

"But in case you don’t—" Five monosyllabic words cause Natalie enough physical pain that she has to cut short what comes next, tears flowing freely now as she looks down at her hands. Droplets roll off her knuckles, curve down her wrist and she gives an aggravated huff of laughter at herself when doesn’t find what she’s looking for where she thought she left it.

All this excitement and she forgot she took it off when she filled the basin for washing. She dips a hand into the pocket of her flannel over-shirt and snags two rings between her fingers: wedding and engagement. Both are simple things, one a band of gold, the other a band of gold with a solitary diamond embedded in it, so small as to be almost insignificant. She turns them between her nails as if debating which to part with, and after several stilted moments of uncomfortable deliberation she selects the ring with the diamond and slips the wedding band back onto the appropriate finger.

She loves her husband. She probably wants to keep the one that matches his and is as symbolic of whatever it is that they share as the infant beginning to stir in the crib behind her. “Here,” she chokes out finally, pressing the ring into his palm. Her thumb digs in. "So you have something of mine with you.

"For when I want to be, too."

He could fit it over the first knuckle of a finger, maybe a little more on little finger. Broader, bigger hands, like his father's, and it's the item's smallness that he admires, unique to her. His hand closes around both it and her knuckles, a squeeze of physical acceptance for the token, maybe gratitude. Gabriel swallows, another canine shift of his stare away from her. There are days where he will feel power like it's too much to handle, like it would all tear him apart at the seams in the same way a heroin addict knows exactly the damage their drug of choice does to them.

Right now, he feels only like weary flesh and bone, frazzled nerves, tension. It's not a bad thing. Not right now, anyway. He gets to his feet, then, and folds her in turn into an embrace. The temptation to take her with him is choking.

"I should go," he says instead. Flatly. "He'll know and I don't want him to."

Natalie’s hands curl into fists at Gabriel’s back and her eyes pinch shut. Gabriel doesn’t want Samson to know. She doesn’t want Gabriel to leave. Isn’t cruel enough to ask him to stay, as much as her shaky breathing and the wetness seeping through her shirt begs for exactly this.

"I won’t breathe a word about it," she gasps into his shoulder, and like her I love you, Gabriel knows it to be true. His mother will take this conversation into her grave.

Wherever it is. "All I want for you is to be your own man."

That sounds simple, at least. A lot simpler than it could be. The diamond is making good work of nearly slicing into his palm before he remembers not to break the thing, tries to relax. A blink in place of a nod, standing awkward and silent and reluctant to leave. He will, anyway, simply fall back into the tugging time stream and decide what to do next.

"I love you, mom." He's not really sure if he does, if he can, but he's disappearing in a rush of displaced space before she can really really reach out with her own ability and check.

Natalie’s arm’s close in on themselves. Her hands clutch at her shirt, twisting the fabric between her fingers until she can feel knuckles and nails squeezing and biting the skin beneath. The noise of quiet anguish she makes is soft enough that Samson does not hear it in the shed and it will take several hours for him to realize something is amiss when he asks her where Sylar is, only to receive uncharacteristically stony silence in response.

It will take almost thirty-two years for him to understand what that something is.

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