On Foot


eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title On Foot
Synopsis Two weeks after Eileen's abrupt departure from the Dispensary, Gabriel finds cause to intervene.
Date May 31, 2011

Staten Island

The hours between dusk and dawn are humid but cool — night air has a slippery texture with a smooth feel like satin, coating nose and mouth, throat and lungs with moisture. It clings, too, to the leaves and the tall, wisping grass, forming droplets of dew that would gleam if there was any light to illuminate them; the sky is not only dark but also overcast, and the moon has to strain to give things shape, sacrificing detail for a generalized sketch of Staten Island's sprawling woodland and its crumbling, derelict neighborhoods, many of which are in the process of being reclaimed, either by nature, the American military, or both.

The shadow that moves stealthily through the ruins on the border of the island's Outer District might be a large cat or a fox — or at least that's how it appears at a distance, traversing the darkened landscape with the swiftness and dexterity of something less than human, but appearances are as always deceiving (especially at night), and although the soldiers tracking the shadow have no idea what it is they're hunting, the dogs accompanying them do because dogs see with their noses as much as they do with their eyes, and an absence of natural light does not deter them from pursuing the scent they picked up several miles back.

A cat or a fox would not run, and Eileen doesn't either; there are several hundred meters between herself, the soldiers and their dogs, and she's in no immediate danger of being caught, but her pace is nevertheless brisk, ensuring that this distance is maintained while she looks for a way out of the labyrinth of rubble and half-collapsed buildings that she's found herself in the middle of. She ducks under a clothesline strung between two squat, gnarled trees that were once fixtures in someone's backyard. Now, many years later, it's impossible to determine where the property ends and the next begins. Weeds blossom and pale wildflowers from between cracks in the pavement. Thick ropes of ivy snake over brick walls and up veneers, through broken windows and doors left open. A wooden gate leads her out into an adjacent alley and a barn owl winging silent overhead snatches a brief glance at her reflection in a puddle in the instant before she splashes through it. The streets are gleaming.

It's a different reality through which a second pursuer moves.

The dusk is utterly still as Gabriel cancels out the flow of time so as best to make ground at his own speed. He's lost Edgar's swiftness, by now, but has always retained Clara's ability to freeze frame the world as long as no one can monitor its progession, and between the gap of Eileen up ahead and the pack of hounds and soldiers behind, there's a lot of space without eyes with which to see. Except for the birds, of course, under her control, and back in the world where time streams on as per usual, a night seeing avian body catches a glimpse of something moving much closer than Eileen anticipated.

Gone before a second glance can tell her much more than that.

Timestops are lonely places, and deadly quiet save for the sound of his own breathing. Silvered at the edges and otherwise darkly coloured and clad, Gabriel tracks after Eileen's footsteps at a casual pace, and only slows, stops, when he sees her silhouette, frozen ahead.

His jaw sets, an eyebrow raising as he twists a look around to see nothing at all, of course, before he disappears into so much writhing darkness and inky shadow. Time spins back into play just as he's silkily sliding into hiding in silent pursuit.

Eileen's empathic link with Gabriel is something that she's grown so accustomed to having that interpreting what's on the other end of the line rivals breathing in terms of ease and even though, if one keeps to this analogy, she hasn't done the equivalent of taking in air for more than two weeks, she fails to recognize that she is not as alone as she thought she was.

Her focus is elsewhere.

She stops where two streets intersect to debate between veering off to the left or off to the right, and to listen to the echo of the baying dogs at her back. Beneath her coat and cardigan, a flimsy gray thing a few shades darker than her eyes and without any of the green, the rapid rise and fall of her chest betrays her distress. She's not as in control of the situation as she was when the chase started, and while she might not have been running, keeping ahead demands more energy than she has in the long term.

Her owl sees obstructions in her path to the right and a straight shot across a park to the left with a brook woven through it where she can cross the water and throw off the dogs. What it does not see are the things at the Englishwoman's eye-level: the rusted husk of a convertible with its roof up but no wheels, a storefront with windows still intact but so covered in filth and grime that it does not hold the reflection of the long, lean shape coming up alongside her.

The hunterbot does not bark, and it does not snap off commands into a radio — the only sound it makes is the scrape of metal on metal as its tail catches the convertible's flaking exterior, and by then it is too late.

She lets out an instinctive hiss of alarm at the noise.

The link, whether it has her attention or not, goes slack, fraying, then evaporates into nothing as the texture of the air changes, growing greasy and thick.

Her hands find the closest wall, splay fingers, and grope for a doorway that isn't there.

The ink-black shadow that was slow crawling its way to remain out of sight spurs into action at the sound of something newly wrong. In leaping bounds and groping tendrils, it climbs up to travel the rooftops in fluid agility, skimming haphazard along walls and reforming into solidity atop slanting tiles.

The soldiers and the dogs and maybe anyone within the near vicinity will hear it when the blast cracks through the air, ripples it, sends roof tiles splintering and raining down around Eileen as the concussive blast shies by her and hits the hunterbot with a brunt enough force that its thrown off its agile feet with a blam of metal hitting the overground ground, sparks flying as superheated steel goes scraping on the concrete. It doesn't feel pain, and it's programmed to rectify disorientation, and so its head only lifts, eyes glowing red, and tail lashes as it begins to shift its feet back underneath it, tendrils of yellow vapour wisping out its sides.

Her ears will still be ringing, but beneath it, she'll hear the sound of someone scrabbling down the side of the building, the groan of pipe and the scrabble of boots on the stone.

The dogs are much closer now than they were before — they have the advantage of being able to move much faster than their handlers and can squeeze through small spaces and scale obstacles with startling strength that would terrify Eileen if she could see it, though not as much as being unable to see at all. Her heart is knocking against her ribs in her chest, which feels like it's getting smaller, other organs crowding in around her lungs and making it difficult to breathe.

Or maybe that's the gas. She covers her nose and mouth with a raised arm despite that the damage to her ability is already done; the most she can hope for now is staving off an asthma attack and finding a safe place to hide until the effects of the drug pass. In the meantime, her brain makes the connection between the sound generated by the blast and the ringing in her ears, and without access to her specialized form of telepathy, she can't know for certain whether or not this is a good thing.

Gabriel isn't the only person with such an ability. Gabriel isn't even the only person who looks like him with such an ability. As the hunterbot is rising, her fingers locate the edge of the wall and she pulls herself around the corner. The hunterbot moves as if to follow, then hesitates, swinging back toward the building in what could be indecision if the machine had a real mind of its own. Instead, it gives the impression of a large jungle cat pacing behind the bars of its cage.

It has two targets it can pursue now. Not just one.

The indecision is valuable.

Because Gabriel isn't sure what to do.

There is the instinct of former abilities to grip onto, not the least of which being long lost telekinesis, and a shadow of that would be the superbright lasers he was once capable of doing without destroying the vessels in his eyeballs, and also the flung lightning that would have to do something against the robot unless it was capable of absorbing it. The steam lifting off superheated flanks puts him off from attempting to slide frost through its workings or grapple it with his hands and superstrength, and the pressure of doing another concussive blast is already beginning to manifest as a low headache, and the angles are wrong besides — he'd probably hit Eileen. Kinetic projection would be as good as taking a wooden baseball bat to its spiny frame, and a quick scope over with his original ability abuzz with the complex mechanisms of the thing tells him that humidity control would be a laughable match—

He's running out of time and the powers on his Rolodex. He moves.

Long strides carry him straight for the thing, a hand out in front of him as the air immediately around him thickens in watery vapour, whorling in psychic push to dissuade the loosely drifting tufts of negation vapour. As the robot swings its focus around towards the beacon of Evo energy headed straight towards it, Gabriel passes through it as easily as a hot knife in butter, except that the robot doesn't divide. Simply looks in the other direction.

Solid again once through the machine, he heads for Eileen, and a warm hand clenches around her wrist and drags her, blind, along in his wake. A few more moments and he can revert them into dark high energy, but he just needs— a few more seconds—

Eileen's arm and wrist are made of thick cords of tension that snap taut when Gabriel's hand closes around it. It does not take her more than a few seconds to decide that it isn't a soldier because a soldier would have her up against the wall with the muzzle of a rifle wedged between her vertebrae or on her knees in the wet with arms wrenched behind her back and cuffs snapped around her wrists.

Being dragged is preferable to being executed on the spot or arrested regardless of who's doing the dragging. She puts up minimal resistance — a sharp tug pulling back in what might be an attempt to wrest her arm free of him and feet that scrape and slide over the pavement in the same motion — but yields within only a few strides. Gabriel or Sylar — he can at least see where they're going.

He needs a few more seconds. This is the time it takes the hunterbot to process what's just happened, and when it does it turns sharp, hurtling after them. It will take a few more for it to reach its top speed of thirty miles an hour, which is — not incidentally — miles more than the average human being can run.

Every last moment counts.

Each step the robot takes behind them seems to pound the earth, seven hundred pounds of weight scraping, thudding against packed earth and concrete, tail like a metal whip. It never growls, but jets of steam sporadically hiss from beneath its metal plates in furious releases of trapped heat, which is ominous in its own way. Head always up, just enough, so that it doesn't snap the wicked needle from beneath its silver teeth against the ground or the objects it leaps over or pulverises.

Vaguely, it reminds Gabriel of being chased by Rickham.

But this time, he can do this.

The sensation of vanishing into amorphous black ink feels a bit like suddenly tripping, somersaulting forward without hitting the ground, ever spinning as if gravity set itself somewhere on the horizon. Even like this, it cannot outrun the robot, but it can out manouvre, veering left, right, up, down, and then to whip through the gaps in wire fencing, headed for the grill in the ground just beyond. As Eileen and Gabriel both, as a single entity, sink beneath the ground, they can hear the sound of tearing, screeching metal.

Eileen's foray into blinding sightfulness vanishes into the murk of unused sewer, glimmering wetness, the sludgy trail of inky water beneath.

They emerge some minutes away, spilling out into more or less dried up riverbank, sliding out vertical grill of the pipe that suddenly ends. The blackness splits up, with Eileen gently tumbled onto damp grass and weeds, and the muddier, wetter sounds of Gabriel's feet sinking into mud as he staggers out of the energy form, letting loose a gasp of air.

Eileen's fingers squelch and dig into the earth, squeezing fistfuls of soil gouged out from the ground. She isn't sick in the grass but makes a wretching sound just the same, saliva coming out of her mouth in oily strings — and that's the fault of the negation gas, too, which she can still taste and feel as a filmy residue on the inside of her throat when she makes an attempt to swallow the noise back down and right herself.

She gets as far as her hands and knees and decides that it would be unwise to go any further until she recovers. Standing up doesn't necessarily require confidence that she can do it without falling back down — it's her pride that needs it.

Her arms cross over her lower stomach and mud-streaked fingers clutch at her sides, dimpling the material of her coat: wool, but a much lighter, airier fabric than what she bundles herself in during the winter months. Shoulders hunch. Her mouth shows sharp teeth. There are much more tactful, elegant ways to ask what she eventually does, and maybe she would approach the question more diplomatically if she felt there was any room for diplomacy at all.

She doesn't. "Are you Gabriel?" she hisses on the next reedy breath she sucks in. "Or are you Sylar?" shudders out on the exhale.

Hauling himself out of mud-sludge riverbed, Gabriel lets himself sit on the nearest patch of not completely mud drenched grass, his limbs feeling heavy and head feeling light. He turns a look to her at this question, which is not completely ridiculous, but—

"Do I want to know why you think Sylar would rescue you?"

His voice is flat like it can customarily be, but briskly spoken . She can't see him, negated as she is, but she can probably detect that if he had them, his hackles would be up. Like maybe from the way he said the key word in that, he expected a thanks for saving me from the deadly robot. They aren't in the clear, is the worst part, and though a technopath-conscious runs the limbs of the machine, it's not quite human enough for Gabriel's Teoish radar to pick up on it. But at least the soldiers and their snapping hounds aren't close anymore. "Are you hurt?" It comes off accusatory.

Accusations beget accusations; Eileen lets out a hoarse bark of laughter that sounds pained even if she isn't. "You can't very well take off somebody's head if it's already been separated from their shoulders, can you?" She tightens her grip on her sides then abruptly loosens it so her hands can roam abdomen and thighs, chest, upper arms, neck and face — this would be easier not only if she could see him, but also what she's doing. Lacking the ability to check for blood on her fingers makes answering Gabriel's question difficult when she knows that it sometimes takes minutes or even hours for her body to fully acknowledge the damage inflicted on it.

She feels sore. Her hands and knees are wet. There is something slick coating one side of her face, and when she wipes it off it doesn't have the same tactile properties as gore. "I don't think so.

"Are you?"

He could kick her. That and a few billion other pain-causing things that compulsively occur to him as he wrestles his impatience into something manageable, going so far as to shut his own eyes in his own more voluntary kind of blindness. Gabriel takes his time in answering, and when he does, it's a sullen; "No."

No, he isn't hurt. Just tired. She can hear the crunch and squelch of forest ground as he rolls over on his side, up onto hands and knees, and finally gets to his feet. His voice comes from a place far higher than just prior. "I've been following you." It's a neutral statement, relatively speaking, and comes freely rather than waiting for her to accuse him of it. He brushes off mud, grit and grass as best he can from his jeans, palms quick to become greasy with it, and though there isn't any uneasy eye contact to avoid, Gabriel studies his grooming rather than the woman a few feet from him.

Empathy of the ordinary human variety tempers Eileen's frustration and the hot flare of anger warming her belly at Gabriel's admission. If their positions were reversed, she can't say that she wouldn't have done the same — that she hasn't done the same, though it's been a long time since she needed to. Sylar, now that she's thinking about it, back before she knew he was something separate from her rescuer, when he still reeked of infection and living decay. Then when he had only Gillian's ability. Before that: Tavisha.

She runs her tongue over her front teeth behind the curl of her lip. "My insides feel heavier than my outside," she says, "like they're turning into lead, and all I want to do is strip out of my skin so I can take myself apart and bury the pieces that weigh the most. Then the rest of me can fly away, and I won't be sick anymore when I think about it, because in the future I do something to make you hate me. It's my fault. Like Astor is my fault.

"I'm sorry."

"What future?"

Slowly, Gabriel moves to approach her, leaves and twigs crunching wetly beneath his feet. His hand is then warm on her arm, helping her up, a matter-of-fact kind of gesture that is neither affectionate nor aggressive — nurse staff move people like this, with care and practicality. "You and I survive every day with the things we've done," he says, voice low, at a baritone growl. "To each other and everyone else. Maybe we shouldn't stack what some nutjob from the future represents what we're gonna do on top of that. Don't be sorry about that. Be sorry about this."

His touch leaves her, turning his back to scout out the immediate terrain, geographically disoriented after the mad sprint through the pipes, and tension in his gut and his shoulders.

"Don't call him that." If she could see, Eileen would be less insistent about seeking out Gabriel's hands again after they've already left her; she reaches out to take his wrist, affirm something, but does not realize that he's turned until she finds his shoulder instead and can feel the ridges of his spine through the material of his clothes.

Her mouth and throat work hard to form words. There is nothing deliberately cruel about his treatment of her — his touch is gentle and his words are, for the most part, kind, though this is the sort of kindness that hurts in perspective. "You had the same dream I did, and I know what I felt. Saw what you did. His parents loved him."

Gabriel remembers his own dreamed exhaustion at attaining the doses of negation drug as a sort of consolation prize for any kind of true cure, and the father wolf protection with which he'd stayed awake on the boy's bed, his senses thrumming from his own pedantic need to solve the problem. He remembers tracking Eileen to the edges of civil living, the sharp cold and his illusionary wolf mirage as if to protect himself from the elements both in the weather and human unfocus— and remembers it with an edge of resentment that they are here at all— and doesn't argue with her as he feels her hands land on his back.

"Why did you leave?" He doesn't ask: were you going to come back? Mostly because he doesn't want to insult her with it.

"I don't know," is too absurd of an answer to be an invention. It's honest, uncensored, and the rawness of it scratches her voice. "I needed to. My brain was numb and my body wanted physical purpose so I moved, and the further away I got the less it felt. It was good not to feel." Eileen lifts her hands off Gabriel's back, maybe in demonstration, or maybe because the touch has become too embarrassing to maintain without reciprocation — either way, she isn't moving away from him again, and her body language is defined by an obvious desire to put them back.

"I was scared," she says. "I am scared. Not just because of the boy."

"I know."

This is a roughly quiet admission, given freer now that Gabriel knows she wasn't. Divorcing him. Or biding her time to make it passed city limits and begin life anew in Ohio or similar. He knows what might have chased her away, and not just because of the boy. (Nutjob.) "Knowing death eliminates it from the running," he says, his voice coming clearer — it means he's turned back to her. "We've both avoided fate before." They have friends who've avoided fate before. He pauses for the time it takes to blink — uncomfortable in the way that social interaction and giving comfort tends to make him feel, before he works out that he just has to speak honestly and if it harms rather than helps, so be it.

"It's why I wanted to put down— Jenny. Tavisha. They feel wrong, and not just because they're versions of me — they're what could happen. Maybe I die and wind up like you, like the birds, or maybe I just go crazy and try to be something I'm not, again. But you won't let that happen to me. What makes you imagine I'd let it happen to you?"

Eileen is quiet. She cannot scrutinize the expression on Gabriel's face or search for the truth in his eyes. Their empathic link is, for the moment, non-existent; all she can fold herself around are his words and the tone he uses when he speaks them. Her imagination is left to do the rest, and what she thinks she hears in his voice she guards behind lips pressed so tightly together they've gone almost white and eyes she battles not to blink in case there are tears forming in them.

There aren't. Shadows carve out dark circles under them instead. A smear of mud cuts across her cheekbone and sticks hair to her jaw like a thick, tacky glue. Her eyes themselves are both sunken and puffy, symptomatic of a lack of sleep and inability to find any peace of mind.

She is not well. Sick, though not in the same way that the dead buried on Pollepel Island had been — depression does not kill as quickly as other epidemics. Accusations beget accusations. Questions beget questions. "Would you leave the country with me if I asked?"

His question wasn't that rhetorical, Eileen. Irritation tightens his breathing and firms up the set of his jaw, closing up like one of her avian brethren settling its feathers, tucking in its beak. "Not on foot," is grumbled out. But Gabriel is willing to go home on foot, and now that he is reasonably reoriented and convinced they won't be leaving any trails that anyone will be securing any time soon, he goes to put a hand on Eileen's arm. Starts to walk, stops.

No time passes. Apparently.

But the air is suddenly dry, and Eileen is, for an inch, falling, until her feet find sturdy ground— wooden floorboards— beneath her before she can quite realise she was being held aloft at all, the pressure of Gabriel's arms around her— even if she has no recollection of the embrace initiating at all— loosening, removing themselves. Gabriel is baking heat from the tramp back to the Dispensary, and when he speaks, he's out of breath; "You have friends here." He's had some time to think about her question, and still, he hasn't summoned a no, so there's that.

Eileen's hands form fists and thump hard against Gabriel's chest in an expression of frustration that she accompanies with a low, guttural sound that comes from the very bottom of her. Her fingers tangle in the fabric of his clothes for lack of anything else to anchor herself to. The ground is hard under her feet and creaks when she rolls her weight onto the front of her boots — she does not know where she is except for that it's somewhere indoors with a roof over their heads. Sound takes on a different quality when there are walls and a ceiling involved.

She has a guess or two about which ability of his is responsible for this new kind of disorientation that has her groping at him like a baby squirrel. "People aren't trees. We don't have to just take root and spend eternity with our feet in the same soil. My friends were all born with legs. One of the first things a baby learns is how to walk."

The amount of time that has passed for Eileen is not the same amount of time that has passed for Gabriel. There is no effort involved in taking two mental steps backwards in an attempt to communicate where this is coming from.

And maybe to treat his question a little less rhetorically. "Your blood was in my mouth and your brains were in my hair. You died for me and I watched, like I watched at Amundsen-Scott. You don't always get to choose what you let happen. What could you do if they killed me, Gabriel? What could you do if I become that no matter what?"

"What is wrong with you?"

Broad question, Gabriel knows, but he doesn't mean it that way — the edged exasperation is genuine, in his voice, almost painfully domestic. It's a sign of his temper snapping, but it doesn't come with a lashing of supernatural ability, but instead, a barriage of words. "You're sorry for running off, but mad at me because I don't get it? Because you're freaked out about what comes next? I don't know what I would do, except that I'm probably the only person alive who could possibly fix it, but whatever the hell is messing with your mind right now is not my fault, so get off my back. I've already proven tonight that I'd follow you, even without explanation, even if I have to find you first. But I think you're asking the wrong question. It isn't about who would follow you if you left.

"It's about if you'd leave anyway no matter what the hell the answer is." His hands grip her arms, tug her grip off his shirt as if plucking kitten's paws lodged in the fabric, pushing them aside so that he might step back. "We're home now. If you want to leave again, then the door's at 3 o'clock. I'm gonna go shower."

The effect is the same as if she'd been struck. Gabriel steps back and Eileen does too. There is no furniture in the Dispensary's entry for her to bump her hip into — the first thing she collides with is the wall, and judging by the way her hands go flat against the surface at her back as if confirming its presence there, this seems to be intentional on her part. It gives her something to lean her weight against, and although the lingering effects of the negation drug in her system spare her the need to close her eyes or turn her face away from him if she doesn't want to look, the idea that she's being looked at or even might be looked at has her turning her whole body regardless so when the muscles in her face contort into something painful her forehead is already resting on the brick.

She places her hands between her chest and the barrier, the tips of her fingers curled in on themselves and her eyes pinched shut. Teeth take her lower lip in them and clamp down on impulse.

She wants to defend herself — it isn't what she meant at all — but she wants more not to make things worse between them.

Now she isn't talking.

Again, there's that inhale/exhale of obvious, somewhat passive aggressive exasperation from the man standing in front of her, who doesn't immediately move despite his threat — Gabriel is mudsoaked and raindrenched but is taking his time as he regards her, her body language. Then, eventually, withdraws, his foot steps damp and crunching grit, making for where she might memory-locate the staircase to be. There's the fabricy sound of Gabriel taking off his damp coat, dripping sewer water where it's slung over his shoulder. Maybe he'll feel better when the activities of the evening are cleansed away, or at least that feeling of prickling defense tightening his skin is soothed and relaxed over tense muscles.

Hell, maybe she'll join him.

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