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Scene Title Rot
Synopsis rot: to deteriorate, disintegrate, fall, or become weak due to decay. On their way back from a meeting with Helena and Cat at the Garden, Gabriel and Eileen discuss Tyler Case, Dr. Edward Ray and Gabriel's glimpse into an outdated future. He calls her a coward; she throws him into a ditch.
Date May 25, 2009

Staten Island

It's well into the evening, enough so that any boat ride back to the mainland would likely end in an arrest for those who can't avoid such things. It's a long walk away from the Garden, anyway, and two figures trudge through damp ground that's both packed, designated road as well as somewhat organic from disuse. They leave foot prints of wildly different sizes, and move in relative silence.

There's a lot to think about, after all. Gabriel's hands climb across his torso as he does up the buttons of his coat against the nighttime cold. Wind ruffles the trees with gentle fingers, and out here, this far inland and away from the neon scar that is the Rookery, the sound of traffic is a dream rather than a reality, nighttime noises consisting of insects, wind and leaves clapping together at a whisper.

And of course, footsteps. Gabriel tucks his hands into his pockets, and doesn't glance towards her as he makes an observation.

"They were nice."

Nice is not the first word that springs to Eileen's mind when she thinks back on Phoenix's treatment of them. Accommodating, maybe. Cooperative. For the most part.

As she walks alongside Gabriel, she finds keeping pace with him to be more of a physical challenge than she remembers, but it also occurs to her that she might be remembering incorrectly — it's been a long time since they journeyed the same stretch of road together. Her breathing is heavier, too, laboured in spite of the comparative ease with which she appears to move, comfortable in familiar company and darkened surroundings.

"Moab might have something to do with it," she suggests, and like Gabriel she refuses to so much as tilt her head in his direction when she speaks, voice gruff and somewhat hoarse. "You did help them turn their friends loose."

And as they walk, there's the familiar addition of Gabriel neglecting to compensate for Eileen's shorter gait, long legs eating up distance in a casual stroll in the time it takes for her to quicken her pace. They lack this time, however, the general ambience of knowing each other's presence, a subtle feature ever since the night on the bridge. While it wasn't blowing up.

"And they thanked us both. Like I said, they were nice. You'd almost think they wouldn't mind me getting my powers back."

It's nothing Gabriel thinks to remember, anyway. Too much has happened. Any feelings of isolation can be chalked up to the fact she tried to kill him, for instance.

The absence of feeling unsettles Eileen more than it does Gabriel. He exists in her mind as a sort of emotional cipher, difficult to read and impossible to decode — there's no longer any way for her to anticipate what he might be thinking, to pick apart his intricacies or recognize the meaning that lies dormant beneath the surface of his placidly-spoken words.

She hates it.

"You make it sound as though you're disappointed," she observes instead, tone mild, and hopes that he doesn't take her remark the wrong way. Once upon a time, people used to cringe and wither in his presence. Tonight, they smiled at him with their eyes and greeted him by name. Eileen would be lying if she told him she knew which scenario he preferred.

He might only take it the wrong way if she were incorrect. Or if he knew which he preferred, too. Acceptance is nice. Power is addictive. They used to be so scared of him. Gabriel's answer is a breath of half-laughter accompanying a twitch of a smirk that he doesn't share with her, and more silence as they walk with heavy foot falls.

Eventually, he says, "I guess I wanted to see what would happen as much as I wanted to know about Case. They have information." A rock skitters ahead of them as it's kicked by the toe of his boot, steps too seamless for it to be immediately apparent if such a move was on purpose. "But no one knows."

"No," Eileen agrees, "they don't." Rather than disappointment, her attitude is one of quiet resignation. For whatever reason, she lacks either the energy or the drive to pursue this argument with the same predatory determination she showed when she hassled Helena for answers back at the safehouse. Her deteriorating physical condition, likely a side-effect of her newfound talent, points toward the former — she'd told him that Julian Kuhr's ability was a death sentence, and it's beginning to look like she wasn't embellishing the facts.

She watches the rock go bouncing across the path and disappear somewhere in the underbrush off the side of the road. There's a ditch there, she thinks, overgrown and bristling with nettles and ivy. "You never said anything about Edward Ray."

It would be too easy, if they knew. But there's information and all it will take is some great mind to piece it together in some sufficient way. Of course, there's always Pinehearst. And Google.

And Edward Ray. Gabriel's steps slow down and this time he awards her with a glance, uncertainty in dark eyes and the set of his jaw. Strange how former enemies could be so forthcoming with their information and yet there's a wealth of knowledge kept secret between two people, but he supposes that's the world over. His world, anyway. "I met him when I got to go ten years forward," he says. "He's how I got sent back, to— put things in motion."

His mouth is pulled into a sneer when he says that. No one likes to be a pawn, or to find out they were one. "He saved the world then. Now he wants to— I don't even know. You were there." It's a sly thing to add, and he might have even mentioned at least that much already, but it's almost a taunt, to how she had so venomously chased down Helena's answers.

Eileen, tired though she is, doesn't miss the crafty little jibe tacked on at the end of Gabriel's explanation. It's very clever of him, waving information around in front of her snout like a matador flicking his cape — if he's trying to goad a reaction from her, then he succeeds, though it might not be the one he's expecting.

She stops.

Moonlight paints her ashen skin and pale eyes in shades of silver, the outline of her slender body appearing to almost glow around the edges where it reflects off the material of her clothes. She squints. "Did I make you promise not to tell me anything?"

"No. You're not that arrogant." It irks him, that some future incarnation of himself believes that the Gabriel of today somehow couldn't handle what information might be passed down from on high. He had not done it before? He of all people should know. And yet, Gabriel is not doggedly pursuing for an answer - he's reasonably sure he could pry it from Eileen if he wanted to, and yet he hasn't said a word.

Maybe because he's only reasonably sure, rather than completely certain. She's stopped and so does Gabriel, turning towards her after a few paces and near-black eyes glittering with analysis. "It's never going to come to be. The idea was to change that future, not preserve it."

The natural question being, what do you care? and it's on the tip of his tongue. But if it's never going to happen— what's the harm? "I was Kazimir Volken. Peter, and you, and Ray— you were part of the few, the last survivors in the world." It's like he's setting the stage for some make believe story, a play, and handing out the appropriate masks to the appropriate cast. But it's not the apocalypse he's referring to when he adds, "It was how I knew, before I ever took memories from you."

Gabriel is treading in very dangerous waters. He always will be wherever Eileen's memories and his less-than-consensual acquisition of them are concerned. "It's interesting how you take Helena's word for what she and the others saw," she says, and there's nothing even remotely sardonic about it. "Consider the possibility that maybe their future isn't worth preserving, that Phoenix might be acting in its own interests at the expense of yours. How would you know?"

It's a rhetorical question, one that she doesn't allow him much of an opportunity to think on before sinking her claws into the real meat of what she's been given. "I'm sure you had a very good reason for keeping this from me for as long as you have," she adds, the words trickling past her chapped lips like treacle but without any of its saccharine sweetness. "What do you think you knew?"

No, no time to rebut. He doesn't really have any argument other than the flimsy excuse that Eileen would be fighting harder to tell him if it was a future worth preventing, and her words cast doubt, as they're designed to. But it doesn't matter, anyway. The future. The present matters, and what Ray did to him matters. The fate of the world can rest squarely on the shoulders of others until he has the luxury of looking beyond himself.

Which isn't the heart of the conversation anymore. Gabriel raises an eyebrow at her but stands his ground, his hands still in his pockets and feet a casual width apart. "How you felt," he says, relinquishing the burden of a secret even as he's unsure if it's worth sharing. "It was stupid. I was hurt, she— you— wanted me to be more than I turned out to be in that world."

Dirt and gravel grit underfoot as he shifts his weight back on his heels. "Or more than a missed opportunity."

Just as Eileen warned Gabriel that Helena might not be telling them the truth, she has to take into consideration that this too might be a ploy — or would, if it didn't involve an issue so close to her heart. Her earlier resolve is back in full force, tension drawing stark lines of utter fury across her face and pinching its austere features into something livid and ugly.

She isn't pretty when she cries. She isn't pretty when she's angry, either.

"What did you do?" Each word is its own syllable and is bitten off with increasing terseness. Unlike the last time, she resists the tug in her belly, reigning in her emotions just as she advised young Niles Wight to do only a few hours ago. She's already allowed Kuhr's ability to get the better of her once before — Eileen would sooner let it consume her that see it wrest control away from her again.

And they had been getting along so well. There's faint hesitation in Gabriel's posture - she had looked like this before all his wounds had broken open and he'd been reduced to something pleading and pathetic on ground not unlike on which he stands now. Tension makes his back rigid, but perhaps it'd prove a point, if she unleashed what she could do on him again.

He's not sure what that point would be. Just that it would be. "Ask yourself what you would do if you had the courage and you might grasp the basic idea." His words fall just as ugly and sardonic as hers come rasping and hateful. His boots scrape against the ground, shifting to turn his back to her, to continue on down the road.

In Gabriel's long and sordid history of bad ideas — highlights of which include confronting Peter Petrelli at Kirby Plaza and, similarly, Kazimir Volken some two years later in the bowels of Eagle Electric — turning his back on Eileen Ruskin in her current mental state isn't exactly the pinnacle of poor decision making, but it's pretty far up there.

Chances are he won't even know what hit him until he's lost his footing and finds himself flat on his back, half-buried in a thorny tangle of vegetation at the bottom of the ditch on the side of the road with the weight of another body bearing down on his chest. Between their clothes and the leather gloves separating his skin from hers, Eileen does not have to worry about hurting Gabriel any more than she already has by tackling him into the underbrush.

It's a good thing, too, because her face is dangerously close to his.

It's a series of sensations, the sudden slam of the young women barreling into him, feet slipping and finding no ground beneath him as he's tipped over, one arm splaying out to catch himself— on nothing, falling through the reaching limbs of brittle branches, snagging at clothing, hair, skin and landing hard on ground with the breath thoroughly knocked out of him.

Oof, in all sense of the word, a pained grunt squeezed from the erstwhile serial killer whose indestructibility is mythological at worst.

He'd been standing and walking a moment ago, what just happened. Gabriel gives a bodily and instinctive jerk away from her without actually making progress, recoiling with hands going up in ways completely unhelpful to him but in defense nonetheless.

"Am I grasping it yet?" asks Eileen in a thin, breathless hiss. This was as much of a mistake for her as showing her his back was for Gabriel — blood dribbles down her arm and drips from the sleeve of her coat, landing hot and sticky between the knuckles of his closest hand.

If she notices the pain, she ignores it in favour of keeping her gaze locked with his as she firmly cradles his chin in her palm, forcing him to look at her when she speaks. "I held you in my arms and waited for Volken to take you from me again when I could have ran." Her breath is warm against his face, but that's as pleasant as it gets — the heady smell of tobacco clings to her mouth, stale cigarette smoke wafting off her hair and clothes. "Don't you dare call me a coward."

The grip to his chin has him almost twitching away, the barrier of leather glove present or no, but otherwise, he's still as she hisses down at him, matching her gaze glare for glare, the weight of her pinning him against broken up rock, dirt, grass, crushed vegetation. The reminder of that one moment on the floor of the hotel room spikes indignity through Gabriel, which is saying something, and makes his eyes flare a little with renewed anger and injured pride.

She's not wrong. But it doesn't stop his hands latching to her arms in a bruising grip and all but throwing her off him, rolling with it with a crackle of dry leaves and twigs, stabbing new thorns into both of them as careless as she had thrown herself at him. He's a far heavier weight on her small frame, the pain of knees digging against her legs and his hands crushing above her elbows.

"That was a long time ago," he says, voice all gravel, quiet, with none of the heated conviction with which her's had carried but still firm, each word clearly stated and slow. But whatever strength had been behind the sentiment is dragged out of him with those words, intent glare unfocusing and with a wolf's reluctance of abandoning prey, he's drawing away.

The pressure exerted by Gabriel's body as he reverses their positions presses a rough groan from Eileen's lungs, and yet she does not fight when he rolls on top of her or jabs his knees into her legs while squeezing her arms between his fingers. It may be that she trusts him not to hurt her, but it's just as likely there's a part of her that wants to be hurt. For as painful as this physical contact is, it's the closest she's come to another human being in a long time. On some level, it might even feel good.

"You're right," she concedes as he pulls away from her, letting up on her chest enough for her to breathe freely again, "it was. Maybe if I'd known then what I know about you now, I'd have just left you to rot."

It's a pretty big maybe.

He's only started to try and navigate his way out of the ditch— or at least, onto his knees— when that is handed to him, big maybe or not. Eileen gets an openly incredulous look across the skewed shadows of their environment in which they find themselves. Touche, he supposes. But when you draw blood for blood is there anything else you get but—

Bloody. Gabriel smears some of this liquid crimson across his face as he runs the back of his hand across an itching scratch, and says nothing to that. Has nothing to say to that, simply reaching out his hands to get to his feet, to try and work his way back up the reasonably steep, broken-dirt hillside of the ditch.

At least a path has been made already.

Eileen's breast rises and falls with every shuddering intake of breath, her eyes trained on Gabriel's progress as he climbs out of the ditch and back onto the road. It isn't that she can't get up without a helping hand — she just isn't ready to. Instead, she slumps back and lets her head thump against the soft earth with a rustle of dead leaves and crackling twigs.

Even if his face wasn't shrouded in darkness, making it difficult for her to really see, she derives no pleasure from his disbelieving stare or his refusal to respond to such a malicious implication. It probably stung as much to say as it did to hear.

Gabriel disappears back over the side with a final push of long legs, leaving Eileen behind to stare up at dark sky veined with the darker outline of tree branches. Cuts make smaller stains of red here and there, and he'll have fresh bruises now to speak of, his ribs ache from the impact, but overall. Overall it's not nearly the beating he's taken over stupid decisions in the past.

Outwardly. Not that it matters, any more than the future matters to the present. She'll be able to hear him simply walk away once on the road, discarded for the evening, or rather, the battlefield being given up in her favour as he makes his strategic retreat.

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