Nothing Works Perfectly Forever


f_eileen_icon.gif f_gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Nothing Works Perfectly Forever
Synopsis Eileen and Gabriel reflect on his evening's work, and the conclusion they reach is one that no one else seems to.
Date April 21, 2019

The Gray House

Black is the colour of many things: raven feathers gleaming iridescent in the night, the inky cocoon of Zhang Wu-Long's embrace, some ten years absent, and the vast expanse of starless sky framed by the attic window beside which Eileen stands, her slender fingers gripping the frame with enough force to cause the tendons in her arms to stand out beneath her skin, giving her an even wirier, more catlike appearance than usual. She's all bare limbs, bone white and lean, petite without appearing too delicate — which is important, because for all the weight she's put on and the curves she's developed in the time that's elapsed since her pardon, she's feeling very fragile right now.

It's also the colour of her dress, ruined a little less than two hours ago, as well as the dried paint caked to her hands and face where Gabriel touched her when he was still under his precog's spell. With Abigail and Deckard gone, and her husband sequestered elsewhere in the house, she's free to wallow in the gallery of his making, silent but for the thin rasp of her breath every time she remembers she needs to take in air to breathe.

Which isn't very often at all.

The water stopped running black a long time ago, and yet it takes Gabriel even longer to emerge. While Eileen grips the frame of the window, he spends his time holding onto the edge of the basin and trading uncertain glances with his own reflection.

Eventually, however, she'll hear the bathroom light click, and quiet footsteps, the inevitably creaking floorboards as he makes his way upstairs to the place that's supposed to be his sanctuary. Still is. And so is she, in a sense, but it's with some reluctance that Gabriel shoulders through the partially open door.

They're all stacked together. A closed book on the end of the world. Or maybe just the night sky. "Looks like I ruined dinner," he finally says, in the desperate need to break the silence and be the first one to speak, moving on into the attic and watching her back.

Eileen's strength has always stemmed from her love for other people. Gabriel. Ethan. Other members of the Vanguard, now dead and gone, some by her own hand. Kazimir. Hearing the sound of his voice accompanied by his groaning footsteps rotates her world on its axis and allows her to reestablish her inner balance. She's lost without someone to hold onto.

There is no pushing away from the window, however. No turning to face him. She doesn't yet trust herself to risk that. "It doesn't matter," she assures him instead, voice a low, rattling croak. "We'll have other opportunities." Or maybe they won't. Eileen isn't sure what to make of Gabriel's collection, and this uncertainty is reflected in both her speech and her posture, awkward and stilted, guarded and halting.

She can't remember the last time she was this afraid.

He can hear it in her heartbeat. Breathing. Tone of her voice. Slow foot steps don't falter, the rock of weight distribution from heel to toe making each one draw out. "We will." He's close enough now that the ambient light of the outside world falls on him, too, eyes down and watching what he can see of her, but not touching. There are times when she has that effect - seeming untouchable.

The black smears on her arms are noted, but they don't seem so bad on someone else. Just paint. Finally, Gabriel's only clean, cold hand drifts to her shoulder. He's since rolled his sleeves back down to his wrists, buttoned them in place, but it's gotten everywhere. The paint has. His skin, however, is free of it, hands and face.

Too bad Gabriel doesn't have a shortcut form of telepathy. "It's probably nothing. Nothing works perfectly forever."

Eileen can't think of a single thing that's ever been without at least one hitch. Abilities. Relationships. Most recently her marriage, but she finds comforts in its flaws more often than she bemoans them. No, nothing works perfectly forever because nothing works perfectly. Period. She turns her head, gaze weighed down by the hand on her shoulder, the rims of her gray-green eyes swollen pink and somewhat puffy. Her cheeks are wet, too, slick like the sheen on the pavement several stories below.

"Abigail told me about Helena and the others," is her subdued reply. A few hours ago, it might've held a faint note of accusation. Such is no longer the case. Her misgivings are gone, evaporated, shown gently to the curb along with the Grays' erstwhile houseguests. If what she suspects is true, then it isn't worth wasting the time they have left being angry. "It's probably nothing," she agrees, at length. Seems to. "But I think it's something."

Some things can work perfectly. The gramophone lying in pieces a few feet from where they stand might, one day. Unfortunately not everything can be solved with an expert's eye, not everything is made up of springs, cogs and gears. Like marriage. Like the spacetime continuum. A look of irritation crosses Gabriel's face at the news that Abigail told— of course she told, she tells everyone everything— which is replaced straight after with a look of resignation.

He's not good at reassurance, but after all this time, he knows a flicker of an urge to fix it when he studies the sheen of tears on her face. His hand comes up off her shoulder, fingertips touching a shining track in a featherlight touch.

Curiousity killed the cat. He shouldn't have touched his paints. "I didn't want you to find out. Not like this. I thought maybe we could just be happy for a while."

The pieces click into place, positioned in such a way that allows Eileen to put the rest of the puzzle together under her own mental power. Of course. "It's easy to make promises when you think you'll be spared the obligation of fulfilling them," she says. "I understand." Travel. Children. His sudden change of heart explained. Why he'd asked her what she wanted to do.

"You went forward once. Before Vanguard fell apart and Volken took you." She reaches up and curls her fingers around Gabriel's hand, not to squeeze but just to engage in physical contact for the sake of physical contact. Establishing an anchor to the here and now as conversation shifts to the when and then. "What do you think happened to them? After Peter sent you back to us?"

There's no bristling of guilt or defense or even remorse as she puts the pieces together, although he doesn't meet her eyes all the same. Focuses, watches her smaller hand curl around his, angling it to accept the touch. "I think they were saved," Gabriel says, dragging his gaze back to hers, his dark while her's is still bright with prior tears. "Because one of them is standing in front of me now. The present is everything. Their present will be everything, eventually."

His shoulders lift a little as he draws in a breath, sighs it out again and steps back a little, keeping their hands linked. "Or maybe we'll float free of them and independent. Scattered times and places everywhere. Infinite universes that collide, loop over, disconnect again. Islands of instances." He spares a glance towards where the stack of canvases creates it's little guilty tower off to the side. "I doubt it."

The baleful expression on Eileen's face echoes the conclusion Gabriel draws. She doubts it, too. "No," she says, "she wasn't. Saved. Because she isn't standing in front of you." As Gabriel moves away, she begins to go through slow, deliberate motions as if to follow, but ultimately decides to linger by the window. "I'm not that person, and I'm not who I was where they come from either. If we send them back, I won't ever be. This won't ever be."

And neither will he. "Just one thing. That's all it takes, all they have to change." She releases her hold on his hand and her arm falls away, down, pendulums back to her side with the swift and fatal purpose of a guillotine. "You don't know what they'll set in motion. Nobody does."


And he has nothing to follow that with, mouth drawing into a line before he moves enough to lower himself into his usual chair by the desk, not so far from the window. Comfort, perhaps, that holding hands can't quite provide, and he lets the chair shift on its axis subtly. "What's to say we won't blink and find ourselves waking up ten years ago? You don't know how this works— "

Yet the smell of paint is strong, indicating, confirming, and Gabriel is abruptly unsure as to why he's bothering to argue. His hand drifts up to rub his brow, eyes going a little shark-like in vacant disturbance. "I don't know what will happen," he admits. Then, smiles, the glint of his teeth catching the light only faintly. A shudder of breathy laughter. "Like I told Elisabeth, when she told me, at least we won't even know what hit us. It won't— hurt."

"It doesn't have to hurt," Eileen shoots back, bordering on a hoarse whisper as if afraid of being overheard in spite of the fact there are no other ears in the house with which to listen. "I could shoot you in the back of the head and you wouldn't feel a fucking thing, but you'd stop me if you could, wouldn't you?" Imagining what she might lose simply by fluttering her lashes isn't that wonderful an alternative. Ten years. Twenty-odd pounds. Any and all memory of the experiences that define the very essence of who and what she is. Gone in the bat of an eyelid.

Either way, she ceases to be.

Eileen catches the flash of his teeth, the deadness in his eyes, difficult to miss even in the attic's darkened interior. It's perturbing. Twists a heavy knot in her belly. He's had more time to think about this than any of them, and yet here he is, one of the least worried about his own self-preservation.

A different approach seems to be called for. "How long have you loved me?" she asks.

It's different from death. The argument is on the tip of Gabriel's tongue, slanting a glance to her beneath a serious brow, but then comes the counter argument: it's worse than death. His fingers pull over his mouth instead, letting silence settle until she asks that.

A guarded glance, sensing a trap of some kind. There's no easy answer, because there's no one answer. Come together only to break apart. When she held him during a brief reprieve from Kazimir's mind, but even that is tainted with fear and selfishness. It's always that, tainted. When they survived Argentina. When they survived, period, each time.

He takes a leaf out of the Deckard book of love and life skills. He says nothing, just raises one speculative eyebrow.

If it's a trap, the answer isn't sufficient enough to spring it. "The last time I saw you before they partnered us was on Staten Island, that day you read me and took it all. We didn't speak for two years. What happens when they go back and tell everyone what they've seen?" Eileen's questions are becoming very pointed, and so has her tone. Two hours alone in the attic, surrounded by indefiniteness, has given her ample opportunity to dwell on things that until now have only existed as what-ifs.

"You'd know to leave New York City," she says, "take Gillian with you. That bargain you struck with the government will never come to pass. You'll never see Argentina. Russia. Never be vindicated in the eyes of everyone who still holds you responsible for what happened to all those people. You can forget your pardon. Bai-Chan." Me. "Please say that you understand what I'm trying to tell you."

Never get married, never become an officer. She's right, he would take Gillian and leave. Head west, finally, as they had planned, and into some hazy future that doesn't exist yet. Run from the light of a bright future just like cockroaches scatter beneath a lightbulb, and never seen any of them again.

And some shadowy, bitter twist of himself, buried deep, asks the question: would it be so bad…?

Internal debate can be countered. Would it be as good? He doesn't know. Rather suddenly, Gabriel's foot, still clad in polished shoes, jerks out and kicks the leg of his desk, which shudders violently. Something metal rolls off, clatters to the ground, but the jars of paint and water still not cleaned away merely rattle and stay upright. Anger at Abby for telling Eileen what she did, anger at himself for only concreting the reality of the situation thanks to his own insatiable need to know everything. They could have lived out whatever existence they had left in ignorant happiness.

His back is bowed forward by the time the tremor of the table has ceased, hands rubbing his face. Silence descends after the brief, petulant display of frustration, as if erasing it so it never happened. His voice is calm, if tense. "I understand. I want to believe I'd make the right decisions, if I knew what was to come, but I don't think that's either of our strong points." Spoken wryly, there, but his voice soon switches to earnest.

"I believe she exists. The Eileen I saw when I went forward. I want to believe I helped make a better world for her." By her, he means you, if his searching look he fixes on Eileen is of any indication. It flickers, slants away. "I don't know what kind of world they'll make when they go back."

Eileen is a telepath, but not of the variety that might be able to read his mind. And it's just as well. If she knew about that shadowy, bitter twist of himself, she wouldn't be able to meet his gaze, then seek it out when he angles it away from her again. The violent outburst goes ignored, uncommented upon as she is wont to do. Some things are wise to let slide — Gabriel's occasional lack of composure is one of them.

The solution seems simple, at least to her. She narrows the distance between them, slowly and cautiously at first, feeling him out should he be inclined to vocalize his frustration further, but when she's sure that it's safe and she isn't making an unjust approach on his personal space, she closes the gap that remains, reaches up to brush her knuckles against his jaw and smoothes the hair away from his brow with her other hand.

"So maybe we shouldn't let them."

Mathematical simplicity. Unless you're too weak, and you complicate things. Emotions, they do that. Pity. Self-preservation. Gabriel isn't shocked by her suggestion, looking up at her from his perch on the edge of his familiar seat, much like when she had come to approach him to tell him about what she had planned for the future.

Take two. He's not angry this take. It's also nighttime. His head tilts into the hand at his jaw, eyes hooding a little beneath the comfort of simple touches. "They're probably going to have Peter send them home," he says, voice contemplative, dancing around the far more obvious solution that burns bright in the center of the problem. "Who knows, maybe we could convince him not to lift a finger."

Because Peter is the patron saint of not taking matters into his own hands? Not exactly, and a glance upwards communicates this. "Alternatively. You can't kill a ghost." And be arrested for it, at least. Helena's grave oversees wilting flowers, somewhere, as they speak.

They might be able to do it between the two of them. Gabriel's vast wealth of powers, when combined with Eileen's special ability to utilize her own, aided them in the systematic elimination of Kazimir's remaining followers — a small handful of men and women, many of them young and inexperienced, should be a breeze in comparison.

That's the theory, anyway. And theories are often wrong. "We'll speak to Peter, Teodoro," she resolves, not quite as quick to resort to bloodshed as she is in the time from which the travelers have come. "If they refuse, then we can take matters into our own hands. Seek help. Flint. Magnes. Brian. They won't let anything happen to Abigail, and we can't be the only ones who see the situation for what it really is."

Eileen touches her lips to the top of Gabriel's head and blows out a long sigh, her breath ruffling through his hair and spilling as warmth across his scalp. She kisses the tip of his ear, the side of his neck. "We don't have to do this for us. Everyone has a stake, something to lose. It's about what's best for the greater good."

Gabriel's eyes close, inevitably, when she presses a kiss to his scalp, and stay shut when she murmurs reassurances, drops more kisses against his skin, ones he allows for, tilts his head for. His hands snake their way to her arms, and all at once they circle in a grip bordering on harsh. Caution. "Don't," is the near whispered warning, all gravel. He keeps her close, forehead resting against the slender line of her shoulder. "Don't talk like that."

He doesn't clarify what he means, exactly, doesn't point out what about her words is rubbing him wrong. His grip loosens on her arms, still streaked with black. He kisses her throat. "I want to keep my promises," he murmurs. "I want the obligation of fulfilling them."

The increasing pressure doesn't alarm Eileen any more than the roughness in Gabriel's voice or the way he chooses to voice his reprimand — whether or not she's used to it, it does its job with precision, effectively silencing her until she feels his mouth jump against her throat. What he meant is irrelevant, and if it ceases to be so later then she can always ask. After.

"We can still have everything." After that, there is little left to say except, "okay, okay," each intonation more coarse and forceful than the last, though the volume of her voice lowers with every repetition, neither submissive nor meek, aiming not to yield but to placate.

Or encourage. Sometimes it's hard to tell.

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