Out to Pasture


eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Out to Pasture
Synopsis Gabriel attempts to find a way around Julian Kuhr's ability so he might save his arm and help Eileen. Spoiler: they argue.
Date June 21, 2009

The Garden

Situated in a copse several miles away from the nearest stretch of asphalt, the Garden is accessible via an old dirt road that winds snakelike through the woods and dead-ends at the property's perimeter, which is surrounded by stone wall plastered with wicked coils of rusty barbed wire to keep would-be intruders from attempting to scale it. Those with a key can gain entry via the front gate.

The safehouse itself is a three-story brickwork cottage over a century old and covered in moss and ivy. It slants to one side, suggesting that the foundation has been steadily sinking into the wet earth; incidentally, this may be one of the reasons why its prior occupants never returned to the island to reclaim their property when government officials lifted evacuation orders and re-opened the Verrazano-Narrows shortly before its eventual destruction.

Inside, the cottage is decorated in mismatched antique furniture including a couch in the living room and an armchair nestled in the corner closest to the fireplace that go well with the safehouse's hardwood floors and the wood-burning stoves in some of the spare bedrooms. A heavy wooden table designed to seat eight separates the dining area from the rest of the kitchen, which is defined by its aged oak cabinetry and the dried wildflowers hanging above them.

The first time he opened his eyes, it had been to the shining faces of doctors, haloed by ungodly light. They weren't looking into his eyes, and there were straps around his wrists, across his chest, one over his forehead to keep him completely still, and a small torch light was flashed into his eye.

It hadn't actually been the first time he'd opened his eyes, only flickered them in restless dreaming.

When he does it in reality, this time, there's none of that brightness. Shadows and dim golden from low lamplight, and slowly, he starts to feel the softness of the bed beneath him rather than the metal slab of the table he'd spent so much time upon in 2007. There's restriction, though, in the presence of bandaging and—

Pain. Pain suddenly enough to make his head jerk off the pillow and then back again, inhaling sharply through his nose. His nasal passage blessedly free of tubes, and the familiar panic of waking up through a haze of drugs is brought back down before it can really begin. But it aches, like a fire under his skin, his left shoulder ablaze with it and beyond it, his elbow, his wrist— those joints are numb. He doesn't move a finger.

Gabriel swallows, mouth feeling a little like sandpaper, or the beginnings of a bad hangover, and finally he opens his eyes completely, the world soft and blurred around the edges. Something jostles— an IV drip shifts as he lifts the arm not in pain, the wire taped to there tugging. He barely feels the sharp intrusion of the needle beneath the ebbing morphine.

A damp wash cloth follows the shape of Gabriel's chin and jaw, cooling his skin beneath the bristly stubble that's been given the opportunity to form during his latest stint of unconsciousness. "Try not to move too much," says a voice he might recognize as Eileen's. "You're not out of the woods yet."

Her face comes into focus a few moments later, gray eyes tinged with green and concentrating on his; although she isn't smiling, the expression she wears is soft and warm, worn by deep lines of worry that appear as creases on her brow and crow's feet at the corners of her eyes. She lowers the wash cloth and dunks it back into the basin of water she'd been using to clean his face, either to free her hands or wring out the excess dirt and sweat — it isn't immediately clear.

"I thought we were going to lose you for a little while there, but Gillian's right. You're a hard one to kill." Gloved hands smooth the hair from his forehead and brush one of the longer, more errant curls behind his ear. "Can you hear me all right, Gabriel?"

There are worse people to greet— have greeted— him on the edge of consciousness. His eyes are dart slits of crowded eyelashes through a squint, relaxing again to shut before blinking back open, taking a deeper breath. The pain's bad, of course, but manageable thanks to the drugs, which are the worst. Like his brain was replaced with cotton wool and his movements navigated through invisible molasses. No protest when her gloved hand touches to his forehead, eyes partway closed.

"Hear you," he confirms, shortly, busy recollecting, sorting though a pitifully vague memory. Trying to separate dream from reality. It's harder when the reality is easily surreal as any fever-nightmare. He remembers the grinning skulls of ashen corpses in the mud stained red, the appendages of degenerative darkness soaking everything they had—

Did nothing. Drained into the vortex that never goes away. So stupid. He squeezes his eyes shut in a muted show of frustration. "How bad?" he asks, in a voice as rough and dry as broken desert rocks.

"Bad. Filatov stopped by earlier to take a look, said you might lose it." Abigail's out of the question; Eileen is still entertaining the idea of what might happen if she implored Flint Deckard for his help. "Gillian was here, too." She's not sure why she's telling him this, only that she should. Careful not to jostle him, she checks the needle in Gabriel's arm to ensure he didn't shake it loose when he first awoke. "You were able to find away around Kazimir's limitations," she continues. "It's only a matter of time until you manage the same with mine. Have you tried?"

It seems like a stupid question to ask, but with her track record as piss poor as it is, Eileen finds that she doesn't particularly care. Gabriel can think whatever he wants about her — he always has, always will.

He gives a jerky nod, a singular movement. Tried. It's something he would have mastered, had he split open her brain, taken it and understood it and used it with that control he's famous for. This way is— harder. Takes practice. But eventually…

Well presumably he'll work it out. He didn't split open Kazimir's head either. It's too bad he's never met Julian Kuhr. Incidentally, Gabriel is still caught on that first sentence, silent, and glancing downwards where his arm is bound and trapped. His fingers twitch, curling inwards, a grimace pulling at his mouth and brow tensing, a sheen of sweat returning. Breathing seems to stop and start rather than smoothly flow inwards. The air catches in his chest, aches, sighs out reedily between gritted teeth.

"I can't lose my arm," he tells her, voice coming out from somewhere low in his chest, sickly, his words dead things and toneless, and wavering at the edges from morphine and fear. Crippled, he can't even comprehend it.

Neither can Eileen, which might be why she's weaning him off the morphine ahead of Filatov's recommended schedule. She douses the wash cloth in the water again and squeezes out the excess with a clenched fist, glistening rivulets escaping through her fingers and snaking down the length of her bare arm, sweater sleeves rolled all the way up to her elbows. "We can try again," she offers, "a little bit at a time until you get it right. I won't let you hurt me."

She uses the cloth to dab lightly at his neck and throat, then moves downward to focus on the exposed skin surrounding the bandages that conceal his injury and downplay its severity. There's the possibility that Eileen is making a promise she can't keep, but like the loss of his arm it's a scenario she isn't really prepared to consider. Their options are so few.

"If you want to talk about alternatives, we can always wait, give it another day or two to see if your body wants to heal on its own." She doesn't tell him what's likely to happen if his body decides to be stubborn instead. Gabriel isn't so drugged up that he can't arrive at that conclusion by himself.

Gabriel manages to stay still under her ministrations, the damp touch of the cloth, but there's a part of him that wants to shove her and her assistance away. Familiar rejection of helping hands, equal parts self-preservation and self-destruction. It's a dichotomy people generally manage to balance, and Gabriel only does because he's sedated and the cool water feels good against heated skin, so he lies still against the bed and allows it, chest rising and falling with hitched breathing.

"This power— body won't want to heal," Gabriel denies, as if listing an obstacle rather than a possibility. And preaching to the choir, perhaps, but thinking out loud too. "The regeneration from Kazimir's ability. It went nowhere. Just fed from it."

He wants to sit up, the muscles in his back feeling as if they were filled with lead. For the first time, he acknowledges his legs beneath bedsheets, bends his knees, a wince crossing his face as his body shifts with the movement. "Outside," he mutters, voice creaking and rasping. "Need to go outside. Nothing— no life in here." The prospect of standing up feels impossible, thanks to the drugs alone, but he makes his request anyway.

If they were on anything but the first floor, Eileen's silence in response to the request would stretch into something resembling eternity. Fortunately for Gabriel, his room is situation off the hallway that leads out the cottage's back door and into the copse. "Okay," she murmurs, sliding one hand under the man's head in an attempt to help ease him into an upright position. Before he can even think about swinging his legs over the side of the bed and testing the strength of his knees, he needs to sit up and remain that way without emptying the contents of his stomach all over his comforter. "Easy, then. Easy."

A glance out the window confirms that there's no one else in the dappled shade of what passes for the cottage's backyard. Only the century-old oaks whose boughs creak and groan in the late evening breeze occupy the tangled field of green, peppered with bright splashes of colour where wildflowers have begun to poke through the tall grass and blossom like paintbrushes soaked in acrylics. If it's life he's after, then there's plenty of it out there.

He was lying, about there being no life in this room. As much as Julian's ability tries to slowly sap it out from Eileen, she's still brimming with it, and there's a part of him that can sense it. At least when she's this close. The change from horizontal to vertical sets the room spinning, eyes squeezing shut for the seconds it takes to pass, which are long and many. Nausea is there, a hot, coiling sensation low in his stomach, but it never rises. It would be easy. She's right there, with the medical scents of cleanliness and chemical clinging to her, and she could turn to so much ash too. His head swims for a moment with the compulsive urge to drain every last trace of it, no matter if it goes nowhere, it might go somewhere.

Doesn't. The phantom of Kazimir stays out of Gabriel's mind's eye, blessedly. His head is quiet. "Easy," Gabriel agrees, a little mindless, before he's getting his legs out from under covers slightly damp from sweat. His hand reaches out, grips onto her for balance so as to list towards his uninjured side as he sets down bare feet on the floor.

"Where's the boy?" he thinks to ask, in that urgent sort of tone of voice that asks for any kind of conversation. There are more questions than that, actually, more springing up in his mind now that he thinks to ask that one. Like, how is Eileen even alive, how is he alive, how did he get here. The notion of losing a limb had somehow outweighed these details, and now they plague him as he works to get to his feet.

"He's fine," Eileen assures Gabriel on the subject of Bai-Chan. "Sleeping, probably. It was a long night for everyone." Now maybe isn't the best time to discuss his parentage or what it might mean for them; they can do that when he has the energy to summon the righteous indignation he deserves to feel for her having kept it a secret from him for so long. She owes him that, at least.

As if in anticipation of the other questions floating around in Gabriel's cranium, Eileen does her level best to explain the situation as she helps him to his feet. "I don't know what happened to the man on the phone, or if he was even the one who took the shot at you. I still have it." The phone, that is. Even if it's not with her — and it isn't. After she discovered Teodoro could track her movements with the cell he lent her, she's been leery about carrying any electric equipment on her person that doesn't come from a source she can trust.

"He's with the Vanguard. Or was. He said some things that I'm still trying to puzzle out."

His useless arm hangs heavy in its splints and slings, and who knew gravity could be painful? Most of Eileen's words break through his concentration, but not all of them. Gabriel lets out a huff of breath and keeps an arm around her clothed shoulders for a moment, before gaining balance back on his own, other hand coming to drift to grip onto his injured arm just above the elbow. "Why would he leave us alive?" he asks, voice tight.

Seems logical, that they could have been gunned down. Gabriel makes his way from the bed, woozy but slow. One thing can be said - he hasn't suffered from bloodloss. While he looks a far cry from healthy, his skin is flush with the liquid. A hand goes out towards where a shirt, button down, one that at least looks like it's for him if not is his, is draped nearby. Could at least get one arm in, button over the rest. He's done it before, when the same shoulder had been blown apart before.

"Unless he expects us to rally and kill a few birds with one stone. Help me with this."

Eileen assists Gabriel in maneuvering his good arm into the shirt's sleeve, eyes level with the center of his chest as she works. His view of the top of her dark-haired head hides the pensive look settling over her features, but she makes no attempt to conceal the anxiety she's feeling when she speaks. It bleeds through into her voice, similarly fraught with quiet tension. "Doesn't matter," she says as she begins to button the shirt, starting from the bottom up. Gloved fingers work with surprising purposefulness and dexterity, though the speed at which she moves might leave something to be desired. Accuracy, apparently, is more important than haste — she's lost track of the number of times she's done the same for Ethan only to discover she missed a buttonhole somewhere along the way.

"If he comes anywhere near us again, I'll kill him." Not me. Not you. Not the boy. Us. "He's not like Raith. He's not even like Ethan. The only reason he left us alive is because he thinks he can use me to lure the others back out into the open." She stops several buttons below the collar to account for Gabriel's sling, careful to ensure he still has room to move inside the shirt. "I don't think he knows who you are. If he did, he probably would have been aiming for your head."

"Maybe he's not a sharp shooter." His eyes go up from where he'd been watching her work, gloved fingers slightly clumsier than bare ones, but it's a necessity. Hopefully it won't be, eventually, eyes falling shut as his injuries, his nausea, beneath the tide of painkiller all twinge merrily together at the barest thought of Julian's ability. Or just unconscious thought, a kind of poke to check they're all still there.

His hand grips his elbow once more beneath the cotton of the shirt, glancing out towards the window, back at her. "And if he didn't know before, he might have a vague notion now. How many?" Gabriel's face remains mostly unreadable, eyes otherwise intent, focused through the haze of morphine still simmering belatedly in his system. It's Staten Island so perhaps the ashes of unknowns will just blow away and get soaked up in mud and rainwater, but…

Eileen's gaze tilts upward. She studies Gabriel's expression, unreadable though it may be, focusing on the unique slant of his brows and the curve of his mouth — neither of which is very telling on its own. Whatever she sees draws a hitching sigh from her lungs and compels her to place both her hands on his face. If she's experiencing any pity, then it isn't meant for him; for once, she touches just for the sake of touching, and maybe in the hope that physical contact might pull him back to the present. Half-buried in mud and bleeding out into the wet earth as human screams blare like klaxons in his ears isn't where he needs to be.

That's done with. Over.

"Two," she states softly. Then, after a measured breath, "It was quick." This doesn't make the knowledge much easier to stomach, she knows. Even Eileen looks a little uneasy when she delivers the news. "Are you ready?"

He doesn't have a right to get caught over the concept of killing two people, not with his track record, and he's not. Not in the sense most people might. Trapped in the past, however, is a good description, and warm hands draw his attention back within the cozy bedroom. And the next several steps. "I'm ready," Gabriel confirms, a shimmer of irritation through his voice, obviously directed inwards at his distraction, rather than at her, gaze breaking away.

Arms folded like they are, he doesn't bother with shoes as he heads for the door, checking the hallway with a glance before moving into it. Preferably, the world is asleep, and while there's no one in this house that Gabriel has to especially worry about finding him in this state— at least, none that he knows of— it pays to be paranoid.

It would have paid to be paranoid. They should have ran. They were out there so open, a child with them, and weaponless. Weak. He manages not to express his frustration out loud, only grits his teeth and tries to ignore the left side of his torso.

The hallway is empty, and it's short walk from the bedroom to the back door leading outside. Dappled light melts through the woodland canopy, though very little of it reaches the ground this late in the evening. Long shadows constrict the trees like inky pythons and cast the copse in shades of dark green and gray. Somewhere not too far off, the oo-waoh, oo-waoh of male mourning dove courts the darkness and joins the ambient crickets in their tribute to a fading sun.

Eileen leads the way down the steps and into the clearing in her bare feet, paying little heed to the nettles and poison ivy mixed in with the tall grass. Springloaded insects bounce away. Spiders crowd into the far corners of their webs. Only the swarming mayflies remain oblivious to the young woman's presence, continuing to drone and mingle even as she ducks through their cloud and waves at the air in front of her face.

There's probably a pond of stagnant water nearby. Mosquitoes.

The earth is wet and cold under bare feet, and it's not something familiar enough to him to bring him comfort. He's not entirely sure what would, these days. Fidgeting with clocks seems like a silly idea, now. Gabriel follows, keeping his arms wrapped tight around him - or at least one wrapped tight and the other held so, a shimmer of tension making torn muscles shriek silently under skin, making his jaw ache in a clenched effort not to acknowledge it.

They're further from the cottage by the time he comes to a halt. Hopefully no one will miss the radius of garden surrounding him, as he releases his injured hand, goes to press it against a tree. "Gillian's ability is similar," Gabriel explains, beneath the clicking sounds of summer evening buglife and the breeze rustling the damp cover of branches overhead. "It doesn't switch off on its own, not at first. You have to… reel it in, or it snags itself on people, draining into them."

His fingernails press into the damp bark a little. "I didn't even recognise the feeling at first, but once it was found…" A sliver of light manages to strike his skin pale when he glances to Eileen. "It's a matter of finding it." There's a shudder, quite abruptly, when a branch sounds like it's splintering. Even in this lighting, it's clear that the verdant green of the leaves have gone ashy grey, curling at the edges as if burned. The bugs beneath the bark are all quiet.

The silence is not lost on Eileen. She distances herself from Gabriel and crouches down in the grass to pluck off the head of a nearby dandelion. It comes away with a wet snap, bleeding white from the stem. Her attention is on the man siphoning life from the sapling, withering leaves and fossilizing branches with a mere touch of his hand. "I've looked," she says, a slight smile pulling at her lips in spite of the ghoulish transformation taking place in front of her.

Her eyes move from the shriveling tree to the shape of Gabriel's injured arm beneath his shirt. If there are any changes transpiring inside of him, then it's nothing she can see — instead, it's something she's likely to feel when she reaches out with her mind, seeking sinews of damaged muscle and fraying tendons. Not to pull his shoulder the rest of the way apart, but to simply assess. "Is it working?"

And at this level of supernatural analysis, she doesn't sense the injury repair itself. In fact, it does the opposite - as slow as the real healing process, but in reverse, as soon as the life from the tree begins to head inwards. Gabriel, apparently, can sense it to, the sting of regeneration eaten away, as if feeding the other ability and making its dormant self all the more.

His mind can't help but wander towards what would happen if such powers were combined outwardly. A new toy to play with when he's not losing his arm.

"Not yet," he says, in an impatient and defensive kind of tone, as if he were a harassed husband being nagged at about the faulty pipes. As far as he's aware, though, there's no one out there that can help broken abilities. He removes his hand, tries to ignore the renewed sting in his broken limb, drawing in an impatient breath as he glances up at the now dying tree. The smell of rotting vegetation is a sickly odor now joining the other scents of the clearing.

After a moment, he replaces his hand back where it was, though nothing happens just yet. "I can feel it more when I'm trying to regenerate," he explains, voice distracted. A pause, and then, "What does it feel like to you? When you unleash it on someone?" Someone. Not something Gabriel has tried, actually, just skirting around Julian's ability as much as possible.

Eileen rolls the severed dandelion between her fingers a few times before idly tucking it behind her ear along with several strands of slick black hair. It's not something Gabriel has tried, and it's not something she likes to think about — once she starts, she finds that she has a difficult time willing herself to stop. Richard Cardinal's face, contorted in pain, has been burned into her retinas by many sleepless nights wide awake, eyes transfixed on an unforgiving ceiling.

"Like I'm a cat with my claws in a mouse." Her hand drops back down to join the other between her legs, fingers lacing together as she dangles her arms off her knees. She gives a feline twitch of her nose, minus the whiskers. "It's slow, makes you want to play with your food before you eat it. The people I killed weren't men. They were toys to pick apart and disassemble. I was so angry."

Anger, cruelty, the maliciousness in predatory stalking that isn't completely about necessity. It certainly is a slow death. Gabriel focuses on these things, a wince drawing across his face when he once again tries to sap the life out of the tree, focuses on the pain of the sinkhole. Focuses inwards in that same assessment, sensing all the hurts and aches of his body, the weak spots, his shoulder a glaring beacon.

And, in turn, analyses that like he's been naturally able to do for a long time.

He can see it, in a way, like continually cocked gun, one pointed at himself, pointed at the whole world at the same time. He can sense his own boundaries, sense his targets, sense that familiar urge like she says— and quite calmly, he turns on the metaphorical safety. That blanket of nausea lifts, and whatever is left of the tree slowly draining into him focuses in on his shoulder. A small sound, breathless and relieved, comes from the back of his throat.

The sound warms Eileen through to her very core — that cold, dark place where Kuhr's ability originates, lying dormant. Although his pain isn't her pain, she can feel the tissue repairing itself, reconstructing his flesh one thread at a time as Kazimir's ability knits Gabriel's shoulder and arm back together again. When he makes noises like that, her first instinct is to be jealous, but she forcibly pushes it aside in the hope that the release he's experiencing now is something similar to what she'll experience soon.

He was right. It can be fixed.

Eileen rises from her crouch in the grass, flakes of dirt and long stalks of brittle grass falling away from the leggings she wears under her sweater dress. This time, she doesn't ask if it's working — just waits and continues to maintain the distance between them.

The crickets have stopped.

He doesn't let up his hand until an ominous, wooden creak sounds through the quieter setting of the clearing, backing up a step. There's a loud snap as something breaks, then the whine of slowly breaking wood as the tree begins to buckle beneath itself. A rustle of branches as it tips back against the canopy of other trees, away from them, and doesn't snap entirely - where Gabriel's hand was, however, is a gaping, rotted away laceration, jagged pieces of eroded wood and a cloud of ash rising once the tree settles back in its lazy tilt.

The next sound is the smoother tone of Gabriel's laughter, chuckling and relieved and not at all the rasping, dryer tones of self-deprecation and incredulity that usually accompanies this gesture. His shoulder still aches, there's still enough damage there to warrant bandages and a splint - but it's not about to fall off, now, blood running easily through the veins of his arms, almost painful in the numbness that's lifted.

"There's a feeling a lot of people are meant to have when they stand on the edge of a building," he says, gaze wandering from the broken tree corpse, towards Eileen. "Or a bridge. Some basic part of you the wants to just throw yourself over the edge. Preventing it's easy. You step back."

He steps back, a hand coming to clutch his injured arm once more, eyes mostly shut. "Imagine it that way, only a thousand times worse. The tension you get when you're about to the pull the trigger, or destroy something. Just hold back until it's gone. It's not permanent. It's not even— it'll come back on its own. But you can suppress it, when you have to. It might not be so easy, or even the same - I don't know. But it's doable."

Eileen knows that it's doable because she just watched him do it. Then again, she's seen Gabriel do a lot of things — from dancing lasers across his fingertips to splitting open a woman's skull with the ease of someone cleaving into cantaloupe with a fire axe. Whether or not she possesses the capacity to replicate his success is subject that's open for debate, though this isn't to say she's not willing to give it a try.

The only problem is that testing Gabriel's theory isn't as simple as removing her gloves and placing her hands on the nearest tree. She needs another person. "I can think of someone who'll be very happy you can touch them again," she says as she adopts a more guarded posture with her arms wrapped around her torso. A glance directed over her shoulder meanders its way back toward the cottage and the distant outline of the back door. Slowly, her body language begins to close. "Mage shouldn't mind you staying another night. If you want to head out in the morning, wait until we've put some breakfast in you — the boy will probably want to say hello, too."

Perhaps he would have just nodded and headed indoors a few days ago. His feet are stinging a little from the cold ground, and he desires to paw through the kitchen for food now that the nausea is all but gone. Maybe attempt a proper shower or something like it as much as he can manage. Instead, Gabriel narrows his eyes across at her. There's a cue, there, that he's vaguely beginning to recognise.

Damned if he knows why, however, the mention of 'someone' only gaining a confused glance back towards the house. "You'd rather die than have the power you have," he says, voice as heavy as concrete, and then switching to dismissive. "You should try shutting it down."

A pause, before he points out, "I'm effectively immortal."

Not so immortal that Eileen didn't think he was dead when he hit the ground a split second after Feng squeezed the trigger. "Do you know what it feels like to have your heart ripped out of your chest?" she asks, and though there's nothing malicious about her tone, it's rife with dark energy and full of strange promise like the shadowy woodland around them. The crickets haven't started back up again, but the island's fireflies have begun to emerge from their hiding places in the time they've been conspicuously silent, appearing as pinpricks of light that blink in and out of existence in perfect rhythm with the forest's pulse.

"The things I've been through in the past twenty-four hours. I don't think you have any idea." Eileen's eyes narrow at Gabriel right back. "They came to get me, I'd been trying to scrub your blood out from under my nails for so long. I haven't showered. Bathed. Had to remind Gillian you love her because you were too doped up on morphine to do it yourself.

"Seeing you there, in that bed, laid out like you belonged in a coffin. I never want to again."

Well if there is anything that can talk Gabriel off the ledge of discovery—

It's perhaps reminding him of the past 24 hours, as much as he remembers nothing of it. His unconscious body being cared for, watched over, tended to— and Gillian there, seeing him like that. His expression is mask-like around eyes that stare out of it, across at Eileen with some unreadable, evasive reaction that's a lot like resentment but isn't. There are many things he could say, and such things he keeps locked away and guarded.

If he has sympathy for what Eileen had been through, it doesn't show, covered up by a sense of shame. He's a legend to everyone who doesn't actually know him; so much for immortality. His hand grips his broken arm a little harder, as if in unconscious punishment.

"Gillian's here?" he stiltedly asks. Argument goes to Eileen.

Of all the things she said, it figures he'd cling to that. The smile that curves its way across Eileen's lips is a small one, sardonic and sad. "She's inside," she tells him. "Blue room, I think. Sleeping, or reading — we didn't talk for very long." Her feet rustle in the grass as she steps around the rotted tree, brushing a tangle of ashen leaves and brittle branches away from her path with a broad sweep of her arm.

"Don't look so sullen," is her murmured reprimand. "You should be grateful that you have people who care about you as much as they do. Not all of us are so lucky, anymore." Rather than move back toward the house, she's straying further away from it, drawn deeper into the trees by the fireflies and their glowing beacons. "See her. I'll speak with Raith about Daiyu Feng before the week's out. This isn't your fight — I'm sorry to have gotten you involved in it."

As she tells him where Gillian is, exactly, and his gaze wanders back to the cottage, his expression isn't one of longing - it's mostly wariness and calculation. As if wondering how quiet he has to be in order to sneak back into his room, judging if he has time to peruse the kitchen. There are some conversations that he doesn't want to have, not yet. Inevitably soon, but he's tired.

Conversations liiike. Like this one. His gaze swings sharply back to Eileen as she continues to talk, and she'll know that look of vague affront. Such as when he'd been standing by firelight, with Wu-Long a few feet away, and he hadn't even thought to held back on his reply. Her words had been unassuming then, too.

"If you keep putting me out to pasture or pushing me in a different direction," he says, voice coming out clipped, lacking the harshness of words he otherwise might have chosen, "one day I'm not going to come back." A pause, as if attempting to release some of the tension that does nothing for his shoulder, nor his patience. "It wasn't your place to tell Gillian I loved her and it wasn't your place when I was Tavisha to tell me I loved her." He takes a step forward, dry and dead grass crunching underfoot. "You don't know anything about it. And Feng nearly shot my arm off - you don't get to decide my fights either."

In other words: stop telling me what to do!! Hopefully it sounds less petulant when not condensed so, and perhaps less jealous at the prospect of her solving this problem with Raith than his edged words might imply.

Eileen's eyes shine like a feral cat's from where she stands, slim shape half-obscured by gnarled foliage. It's considerably darker now than it was when they first stepped outside; a few more minutes and the sun will have completely disappeared behind the horizon, plunging the island into total night. She says nothing at first, gaze affixed to his face and the emotions working their way across it, but when does speak, it's in that same reticent tone. "Maybe you can explain to me how sending you back inside is different than the time you stashed me away in the tenement, or how handling Feng is worse than when you left me standing out in the snow while you went off to face Kazimir alone."

Something with wings flutters uneasily in the canopy above them as if sensing the tension gathering in the air between the tall man and the small woman, two figures who are steadily becoming more and more difficult for its eyes to distinguish from one another in the dying light. "Am I wrong about Gillian?" she asks. "Do you really regret what I told you when you couldn't remember who you were, or are you just getting indignant because you don't like the idea of someone like me trying to protect someone like you?"

He doesn't come any closer than that conversation distance, but he doesn't back away, either, or turn on his heel and storm in some direction that may not even wind up being the house somewhere towards his left. His focus narrows on the half-moon slice of dying light he can see of Eileen's face, his own eyes shrouded in shadow, expression only readable in the less than subtle indications of his angled brows and the pull of his mouth.

"You think this is about pride?" Gabriel asks, flatly. Seems to consider it, and his head angles to the side. "You're right. It is. I don't think you know who you're trying to protect, but it only works until you start doing it purely to protect yourself."

A pause, a breath exhaled almost like a hiss through teeth, before, more quietly, he states, "You're being presumptuous. On whether she'd be glad to touch me now that it wouldn't kill her. We haven't touched for— " A shake of his head. The exact amount of days isn't consequential and he hasn't been counting, either. It's not even a delicate euphemism, judging by the finality in his tone. "I don't know, Eileen, maybe I should regret it. If not for my sake, then for Gillian's. The lie had to break down eventually."

Everything breaks down eventually. Lies. Compost. People. Unless you're Gabriel, of course — Mr. Effectively Immortal. If it wasn't her place to say the things to Gillian that she did last night, then it probably isn't her place to be having this conversation either; the words feel bloated and alien in her mouth as she speaks them, and they leave an even stranger, more acrid taste behind. "If not for your sake," she repeats, "then for Gillian's, and I'm the presumptuous one?"

The crickets have returned and are creaking tentatively amongst themselves, rallying their numbers, returning their musical composition to its former strength. Eileen, in stark contrast, is beginning to sound a little resigned to her defeat. Where Gabriel is concerned, almost everything is about pride, egotism — self-importance. That they're discussing flaws at all is a true testament to his patience with her. "Are we a lie, too?"

He doesn't have to think too hard on the answer, even if it's dragged out of him reluctantly, a soft snort followed by a loose head shake. "No," Gabriel states, with weary certainty, and a smile breaks across in the darkness, ironic and caustic in humour. "We're a lot of things— " You know, dysfunctional. "— but we're not a lie. A lie would be kinder."

A shudder of a shrug, mostly just the one arm. "Go talk to Raith. Forget I was ever Vanguard, if it makes it easier." Could always try the lying thing, his flippant tone seems to suggest, and he takes a step back, shadows of the greenery moving with him as if to draw him away as well.

The temptation to rise to the bait and snap at it is strong — the only way Eileen could ever forget that Gabriel was part of the Vanguard is if those memories were taken from her by force, much the same way the proprietors of the Pancratium once took his. She thinks he knows it, too. That's what hurts the most. "Go on, then," she says instead, not to call his bluff, but to bid him farewell in the softest, mildest way she knows how. No hint of rebuke. No resentful undercurrent.

Later, she might come to regret this decision when she thinks back on his threat to someday leave and never return. For now, she stands solemn and stony faced, awaiting his imminent departure.

If she wasn't meant to accept— if she was meant to cave and ask him to join her, admit she was wrong, maybe, who knows, thank him for working out Julian's ability— well for one thing, it'd probably be a stupid expectation on Gabriel's part. For another, he's certainly not about to let it show. This is the bit where he walks away, regardless, giving her a nod and having his foot steps be careful, wary of his bared feet against the ground and the jostle of his injury. He lets the distant illumination guide him away until he leaves the radius of degenerated plantlife and cautious, encroaching insects.

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