Sharper Than Knives


eileen_icon.gif sylar_icon.gif wu-long_icon.gif

Scene Title Sharper Than Knives
Synopsis Wu-Long and Sylar seek out Eileen. Being Vanguard, it can never go smoothly, even when no one wants to hurt each other.
Date January 2, 2009

A Parking Complex/Homeless "Shelter"

The abandoned parking structure that has come to be known as the Goodwill Inn to the homeless population of the Bronx can be considered a shelter in only the most basic sense: it has a roof, and the concrete barriers separating the rotted interior from the blustery January weather outside protects its residents from nature's cruelest elements. It isn't a facility run by any recognized organization, and people of all faiths and backgrounds come and go as whimsy permits. War veterans. Troubled youth. Drug addicts. In a sense, Eileen Ruskin can be considered any one or all of the three, depending on which stage of her life is being examined at the time — it is this thought, morbid as it is, that she has been continously turning over in her head for the past few hours, standing around one of the lonelier drums in the garage's underground as she warms her hands by the fire burning in it. While there are other people around, the crowd tonight is thinner than she normally likes. There is safety in numbers, especially when safety constitutes not being found.

By anyone.

Or at least, by most. Most people will ask, naturally, other people where to find someone. The problem being the amount of people, the degrees of anonymity, especially when it comes to those that are trying not to be found, uses different names at will, and has a talent for survival.

But when you ask the birds, when you ask them for the girl that speaks to them… that is a different story.

Two figures move through the ex-parking space, ignored by those that reside here and ignoring them in turn. Sylar, for his part, looks over them rather than at them, dismissing each person he moves by as the one he's not looking for. He could, of course, be wrong. Pigeons and night birds aren't the most reliable of navigators.

Not in ways that human beings could wrap their lobes around, perhaps. Wu-Long's never been able to imagine how human 'headcases' feel with other people leaking into their minds and vice versa, never mind the translation required to communicate with creatures whose brain parts massed less than the tip of a human thumb. Whenever Sylar's glazes over seeking his feathered friends, Wu-Long's sharpen: staring, a little conspicuously, wondering not for the first time, how it is that his fellow monster acquired this gift and they're nevertheless looking for Eileen in one place instead of… several.

Or the morgue. Even with his curls growing out and wear showing on the dense black lines of his trenchcoat, Wu-Long doesn't pass for a homeless man, never mind a politely interested civilian. He warrants a second glance if not quite a double-take, and a step away once the suspicion and white-ringed eyes fail to find a sympathetic mirror or apology in the face that he turns to or away.

He isn't doing very well at behaving human tonight. As the weather wears on, patches are showing through the veneer, peeling paper-mache, paint brushing off chemical and brittle on the organic stink of unwashed bodies. The best he can offer in that particular theater subdepartment is impatience— runoff from the delays of his field trip with Elias, maybe. Also, the last two hobos he spoke to were drunk and he wanted to cut them. His heartbeat is jangling harsher in Sylar's ears, a knife creaking in its wrist sheathe as he dismisses one thought and strikes off, haphazardly, for the furthest edge of the herd.

The sound of footsteps echoing through the lot is as natural as the wind whistling through the level above, sucked down the stairwell that connects the basement to the first and second floors. Distantly, rain pelts against the sides of the structure, though the only water that has managed to find its way inside comes in the form of melted snow tracked across the cement by errant feet — Sylar's and Wu-Long's included.

When Eileen looks up from her fingertips, tired of studying the crescents of dirt and grime beneath her nails, she doesn't expect to see anything out of the ordinary. With only the light of the fires to illuminate the garage, she has a difficult time recognizing the two men as anything more than shadows, as vague as they are dark and threatening. A wary expression finds its way onto her gaunt face and her body language makes the transition to something a little more guarded, but that is all.

In contrast to their shadowed and ominous appearance, Eileen is lit up in something of a reverse spotlight, light from the flames dancing up to where shadows might otherwise have been in the sun and shadowing her better features. Like her eyes. It doesn't take a long time for Sylar's gaze to track his way over towards the girl, and he relaxes his shoulders a little. Trudging through the miserable New York winter for nothing would have been vexing, to say the least.

Assuming that Wu-Long spies her in the same moment, or is willing to follow, Sylar makes no hesitation as he moves towards the girl, foot steps grittily echoing. A double-breasted black woolen coat does much to hide whatever else he's wearing, buttoned tightly closed against the cold, damp at the shoulders and back, and his hair is slick from the rain.

He hesitates, and then in a sort of reversal from the prior evening, he projects his bit of advice to her: Don't run. Maybe this way, the evening will be more productive.

To Sylar's left, his companion had started a hard-fingered hand for the arm of some twig-legged girl in a moth-eaten black waistcoat. Wu-Long never manages to make contact — probably for the best. Amid the distortions of firelight and milling shadows, the shift of the other Vanguard out of his peripheral carries the distinction of seeming certainty. Wu-Long stops, cocks his head and follows his line of sight, but he's already stepping forward before his eyes find their mark. Eileen's eyes and brows stand out in bleak, stark relief to the Jack o' lantern hue of skin.

By now, he's adapted to the fact that a reasonable number of the conversations Sylar holds go back and forth on lines that he is not privvy to, and that the same is true for most others. He doesn't call out; instead, his path branches perpendicular to Sylar's before circling and he shifts forms, skin and eyes and the slithering slap of leather imploding into a man-sized mass of desolidified, animate ink, subtle in the dark, though less so for a girl who was taught better. He will take productivity in whatever measure — and by whatever measures he can.

Don't run. Two simple words come together to express an even simpler thought — it should be easy for Eileen to stay put, to root her feet to the ground and wait patiently for Sylar and Wu-Long complete their approach. A month ago, she wouldn't have felt even an inkling of hesitation. Tonight, she finds her resolve torn asunder, willingness ripped to shreds; paralyzed by indecision, she stands stiff and rigid, back straight, shoulders squared and undeniably pole-like. Beneath her pea coat, woolen sweater and low-rise jeans, her slim body tenses, muscles coiling into tightly-wound springs. For an instant, she looks as though she might break.

She holds her ground until Wu-Long's shape becomes something less than human and something more like the mass of darkness kept at bay by the tongues of flame leaping out from the top of the barrel. Sylar can tell Eileen not to run, but he can't tell her not to breathe. The fear is suffocating, and she needs to leave. Now.

She doesn't bolt. Not immediately. She moves around the side of the barrel, toward her knapsack, green eyes fixed on Sylar as she crouches down and closes her hand around one of the leather straps. Eileen hasn't started running yet, but there's no mistaking her intent as she appears to size him up, waiting for an opening to present itself.

In contrast to the way Wu-Long transforms into a vein of darker shadows in those already there, Sylar's stroll over is casual and human, but with the sort of slow unstoppableness of heavy machinery. He watches as Eileen ducks down to pick up her things, to begin her fleeing, and he only tilts his head to the side and raises an eyebrow. An unspoken question that goes something like… why bother, Eileen?

A flick of a glance towards the movement that is Wu-Long's shadow form, noting his progress. It's why he doesn't use telekinesis, or puppetry, or any of the other powers in his arsenal to make sure she doesn't flee, leaving it to his fellow sociopath. Could be other reasons than just faith in Wu-Long's competence. Could be he knows the sound of shallow breathing from Eileen well and hasn't the faintest idea of what to do when it gets to be too much, and Sylar isn't about to be the one to will the girl into a panic attack.

So he walks, moving more towards the barrel of flames than the woman, offering it his palms to warm when he's near enough.

There's a shadow walking around on the concrete, looking over the dismal stretch of the distant city with the same methodical dismissiveness as it does the firelight that seems to die wherever it touches him. He's circling. Not very smoothly, bobbing to and fro as he watches the corners of the adjacent roofs, glances back at the sheep huddling away, shrinking away from either the cold or the well-honed senses of the deeply troubled that this is other business; he's checking for the whites of eyes, approaches, departures; he's watching the girl, examining her health, the bulk of her clothes.

He draws even with the trash can and Eileen without closing more distance between them than Sylar had. The next tendril that falls to the concrete masses into a boot-clad foot, and the rest of him recorporealizes in the loop of a stride in an almost audible shuffle of sick energy and molecules, apparently satisfied. "You would think they would have given you a weapon for your assignments after what happened last time. Zhen daomei: terrible."

He's smiling with his eyes and his mouth. As charades go, this pretended ignorance probably isn't very convincing, but Eileen will have to excuse him. Volken has always briefed Wu-Long on a need-to-know basis. Wu-Long never seems to need to know of the particulars of missing women.

Eileen gathers the knapsack to her chest, clutching it the same way a soldier might clutch a shield. Why bother. That's a good question — she isn't sure she knows the answer to it herself. Maybe it has something to do with a need for control, futile as it is, the desire to make her own fate as she once told him. As Wu-Long becomes corporeal once again, she rises to her feet and takes a single step back away from the two men, the heel of her boot sharp and staccato against the cement underfoot. She's well aware of the fact that this gesture isn't going to do a damn thing if they mean her harm, but — at least to Eileen — it's the meaning behind it that's important: she isn't prepared to lay down and die, should that be what they're expecting.

With the way things are shaping up, it doesn't appear to be the case. Just to be sure, she asks the one question she believes neither of them have any reason to deceitful or secretive about. In all her time with the Vanguard, she's never witnessed an execution that wasn't straightforward with brutally honest reasoning behind it. "Are you here to kill me?"

A visible shiver can be detected under Sylar's coat as the warm of the fire against his hands only draws physical attention to the cold, long fingers spread to soak up the heat. Almost too close, enough to sting and redden just a little. Eileen's question draws a rough chuckle from him, low and quiet, as he withdraws his hands to observe his palms - healing grazes still mark them, and in this light, the evidence of slightly split lip can be seen, a pale smattering of bruising up the side of his face, from jaw to temple. But it's not as if it's unusual for Sylar to be wandering around with bruises and marks, considering the amount of run ins he has on a regular basis. He glances up towards Wu-Long before settling a look at Eileen. "No," he says, almost heavily, arms coming to fold around his torso. "Should we be?" His eyebrows raise a little. "Here to kill you?"

"That is a weird idea," Wu-Long agrees. He ducks his head slightly to hook his fingers around the nape of his neck, scratching himself there like a dog digs blunt claws behind his ear, snarling his hair in his hand, and finally takes a step toward the fire. By default, Eileen also. He drops his gaze into the flames, searching out the wilting silhouette of one piece of fuel before its collapses ashen into another. Doesn't put his hands anywhere near it, of course. Tianjin's winters were as bad, and he wouldn't be one to defer to winter unless it insisted.

This winter hasn't. It's actually gone conspicuously quiet despite the continued nip of the passing wind. Probably less meteorology's doing than Wu-Long's. In place of its toneless drone, the mercenary soldier reports news, nothing especially incriminating, no real omissions. "I may have killed the one with the red hair.

"Odessa has strange new assignments. There's a girl here with our master's last name. She's as pale as you are, and your age. It's too bad you have been working. I think you would like her." Normally, it takes him more effort than this to keep smiling, but Eileen's reaction invites unequivocal approval. He glances at Sylar the next moment, a blandly invite. If he has anything to add—

"Odessa and I kidnapped a geneticist," Sylar puts in, gaze now dropping to the flames. The corner of his mouth turns up in a half-smile. "He's a friend of mine." There, that's his addition to the bland exchange of news. He glances, now, at Eileen, as unreadable as ever.

Eileen notes that look, and for once doesn't wither under it. The expression on her face grows steely while the rest of her body relaxes, content with either one or both of the answers given. "I don't know what I should expect anymore." Ethan implied that Kazimir might try to remove her from the equation — it makes sense he'd send his two most efficient and ruthless soldiers to do the job. The last time she and Sylar spoke, their conversation didn't exactly inspire confidence in their friendship, either.

She listens to Wu-Long speak, mentally filing away these new pieces of information away in case they might become important later. That Kazimir has either a daughter or a granddaughter bewilders her, though she somehow manages to will the surprise off of her face. Her gaze shifts from one man to the other, silent for a time — when she speaks again, it's several moments after she's sure they don't have anything more to say. "Is this a social visit? Or is there something you need?"

Grazed hands now find their way back into the pockets of his heavy woolen coat, and broad shoulders shrug once. "Ethan isn't in the country," Sylar says. "Kazimir is moving his people around and keeping himself busy." When was the last time either he or Wu-Long had been given an order? He pauses briefly, mind turning this over as he glances towards the Chinese man standing not so far away, before continuing. "Something will happen, soon." He doesn't know, exactly, what, and right now, he's talking in duality: his words will mean something different, he suspects, to Wu-Long than to Eileen. That's fine by him. Phoenix and anyone else he's wronged attribute a whole manner of devil-like aspects and traits to his name, why not a forked tongue? "It's not a mild winter, either." His head tilts. "What's so wrong with checking in on you?"

Kazimir's recent stint of activity is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if his attention is elsewhere, he's less likely to realize Ethan has sent her away without cause. On the other, it also means that time is running out. Sylar's right — something will happen soon, whether or not they're prepared for it. Eileen looks him over as if noticing his newest injuries for the first time, and a frown appears at the corners of her mouth as delicate creases where her lips meet. "There's nothing wrong with it," she murmurs, lowering her knapsack back to the ground and placing it between her feet. "It just looks like you should be checking in with a doctor instead."

A disdainful huff of air at her comment, mouth twitching in a smirk which only serves to pull at the split. Sylar doesn't dignify the response with one in return, only regarding her for a moment. Wu-Long's quiet presence nearby only adds weight to the temporary silence, before Sylar lifts his chin, turning his head to regard her fully. The other side of his face is clean of bruises and scrapes. Looks like a hard landing. "And are we the only ones checking in on you?" And he doesn't mean any more of the Vanguard, if that careful emphasis can be judged to mean anything.

"Chesterfield," Eileen offers as soon as she pulls her thoughts together enough to recollect the name. "Catherine, the lawyer you traded for me. She wanted to talk." That's all there is to the story, apparently, because the young woman rolls her shoulders into a small, dismissive shrug. "I didn't tell her anything. Walked away." While she's thinking about it— "Did you get my message?" she asks, a little more softly now. "About the kid who might have connections with Phoenix? That girl you tried to kill. Abigail. He knows her, so be careful."

Another eyebrow raise at the news of a pizzaboy looking for him. Compared to the threats he has to contemplate every day, the white hat terrorist organisations, once a psychopathic version of Peter Petrelli, the Company and Homeland Security and in the end, Kazimir too… the warning Eileen gives him is a bit like someone attempting to throw a paper plane at a brick wall. It makes absolutely no effect whatsoever.

Of course, he's also unaware of this do-gooder's ability to make men fall into the sky.

"I see. I'll be careful," Sylar says, sardonic, hands coming out again to bask in the warm glow of fire. "So you're not working with Phoenix." It's a guessing statement.

Never one to judge, Wu-Long remains in blissful ignorance that there are secret messages skittering along underneath his cohorts' desks. Former cohort that one might be. There's no particular point in the ruse, just as there would be no specific improvement in the truth. It suits him to pretend he's yet to infer the causal relationship between Eileen's kidnapping, Phoenix's astonishing appearance at Rickham's assassination, and her subsequent flight into the bowels of Manhattan.

No one tells him anything. He hears enough. Strange assignments, a new phase — he's coming to the end of his niche purpose. Left alone with his thoughts, he steeps in quiescent silence. Unbothered by whatever injuries he may bear beneath the leather, seeming as unaware of the strangeness of his lull as he is of that of the enterprising pizza boy. Then, only a little irrelevantly, he adds to the guess: "Do you have a gun?"

Eileen's neutral facade cracks, beginning to splinter at the edges. Her voice takes on an almost wounded tone. "Of course not," she says, and the way the inflection thins out suggests another thought is supposed to follow… but it never becomes verbalized. How could he think that?

At Wu-Long's question, so much less offensive than the one preceding it, Eileen's focus shifts back to him, and she offers the man what might be able to pass for a smile, tired and worn. "I have a knife." That's a no. "Ethan's warned against carrying things that can be turned around on me," she adds. "I'm not a very good shot."

Sylar's gaze lingers on Eileen even as she turns away to offer a smile to the other man. Not always the best reader of people, it's still faintly obvious that that was the wrong question to ask. He says nothing as the subject diverts and he readily lets it go, his show of paranoia still lingering in the way elephants in the room often do, but not elaborated on.

The glance that the younger man angles at Wu-Long is reciprocated with a smile of his own, almost perfectly duplicate. He spares them all the trouble of asking the girl whether or not she's working for the IRS or the United States Postal Service, either. He turns his head to face her again, studying the wear and fatigue — and the fleeting betrayal — that characterizes her expression. Incapable of worry, short on empathy, he'd have to be stupid not to understand to some extent. "You seem to have time to practice," he points out, lightly.

Time is the one thing Eileen does have. Unfortunately, it isn't worth foregoing all the other things that are important to her. A warm, dry place to sleep. Knowing when her next meal will be. Not having to worry about darting glaces over her shoulder every few minutes to make sure she isn't being followed. Companionship. It suddenly occurs to Eileen the feelings of resentment she's experiencing right now stem from jealousy rather than self-pity. She never thought she'd envy Sylar and Wu-Long for being able to spend time in each other's company without fear of reprisal from a higher power, but there it is. "I'm not one of Kazimir's killing tools," she rebuffs gently. "I don't think he'd be happy if he found out you were ruining me by honing my skills for the wrong purpose."

Not that Eileen was the softest touch before, but it seems at least to Sylar that her current existence is making her… sharper, perhaps. The perhaps unintentional jab about Kazimir's killing tools makes his back stiffen a little. The behaviour of her's smarts a little of the woman he had the privilege of meeting ten years forward, a comparison mostly brought to light at the idea that she doesn't use guns - her future self regularly pointed automatic rifles at him like it was second nature, whether or not she ever intended to pull the trigger. The irony actually makes him smile for a moment, as bitter as it might be, and he tilts his head back a little. "Surviving's a purpose," he points out, mildly. "Especially when no one is here to protect you." They are, after all, merely visiting, right?

Just visiting. Besides, she can defend herself from a couple of sauced up homeless people, Wu-Long thinks; she has a knife. He glances at the sauced up homeless people momentarily, then back. No pizza boys; not many boys at all, as far as he can tell, or hard living has worn age into their faces. So she will be all right for a little while here, but later — oh, Sylar has a point. The Chinese man's features lapse into humor briefly, eyebrows up, a quizzical gesture of them in the clockmaker's direction. Surviving works for the vast majority of people, but he isn't about to get in the way if she's bought into some wild new fad that prevails among the disenfranchised youth of Manhattan.

"Birds have wings, but men who keep them clip their feathers so they can't fly away. They place them in a cage to protect them, to make them dependent on their masters — I don't doubt Kazimir views me the same way." Eileen isn't supposed to be able to protect herself. If she was, Kazimir never would have put her under Ethan's care, or asked Sylar to look after her the night she came stumbling into Eagle Electric covered in bruises and scrapes, mumbling Peter Petrelli's name over and over again like a terrible mantra. Her time away from the Vanguard has given her plenty of opportunity to rethink the role their leader dictated she play, and while she hasn't arrived at any conclusions yet, she's found herself facing off against questions she never would have otherwise asked. The purpose she serves — served — is one of many. "Something's going to happen, you said. What do you suppose he's going to do with me when it's over? When I saw you, I thought— "

And Sylar's eyes narrow a little, now, to dark slits underneath a serious brow. Conclusions to her unfinished sentence jumped to, although judging from her prior reaction of flight… For a moment, he knows the offense she took to his non-question about Phoenix, and it shows for a moment even if he doesn't say anything in a tone that could be considered wounded. More angered, perhaps, if only for the moment it takes to grit his back teeth together and say nothing at all. A moment ticks by. He steps back, shadows on him deepening a little.

"You thought Kazimir's killing tools had come to tie up a loose end," he finishes for her, disdainful, teeth showing between words in a sneer. Wu-Long might not know of Sylar's recent feelings of betrayal in regards to the elderly Vanguard leader - but Eileen does. "Maybe the murderers and rapists of desperate New York City will do quicker work the day I don't come to find you." And he turns his shoulder to walk away.

No, that reaction doesn't make much sense to the Wu-Long's eye view of the scene. Not much. The runaway and the clockmaker had always been somewhat closer than he'd been to them, however, and not the most ostensibly obsessed with the ethos behind the Work, so he could guess at, extrapolate toward the root of their trouble if he were the sort to value a conclusion over the truth. Black-on-black eyes shift toward Sylar's turning profile first, return to Eileen second. So many words.

"He is supposed to kill me," he says, after a quaver-beat spent remembering. His tone of voice is factual, reading off the terms of an unwritten contract most recently terminated in unilateral fashion. Shit happens. "I don't think you are supposed to go first." Sound begins to wobble, warp, wane as Sylar recedes further from the fire, the crackling of flames and words exchanged between girl and mercenary, but it takes the latter but a thought to widen the null barrier long enough to give the former a moment to entreat, should she choose so.

Knives cut deep. Words cut deeper. There are few other things Sylar could have said to hurt her; with his body angled away, he probably won't see the way her shoulders sag, rigid exterior crumpling inward on itself. Wu-Long almost certainly will. "If you thought it might acheive something, you would," she says with a hitch in her breath. "If you thought it might buy some time, you would." She lacks the strength to lend her voice some of her anger's heat, but an accusation is an accusation no matter what the emotion fueling it. I don't know what I should expect anymore, she'd said. Perhaps this is why.

She looks up at Wu-Long, rueful and pale, green eyes suddenly looking very wet, though no tears appear in them. "None of us should have to go at all," she hisses, and this time there is ire there. "This isn't just wrong. It's insane."

He keeps walking, shoulders curled inwards a little as one might huddle from the cold. Sylar can hear them perfectly and will for a while yet - troubling things that he's glad he's walked several paces away from by now and no longer obligated to respond. His coat moves with his stride and cuts his shadowy silhouette against deeper shadows, occasionally lit up with nearby burning trash cans he passes as he winds his way through the scattered homeless seeking shelter. Not another word is given to either of them even as he makes his way back in the direction of Wu-Long's apartment. If he regrets his venomous response, rational or not, it's impossible to tell save for how quickly he walks.

Eileen's choice in adjectives ricochets off Wu-Long like so much name-calling. Wrong. Insane. Not the first time he's had those words — or similar, perhaps in another language — hurled at him, salt in search of a wound. Never there. The distance that Sylar strides to put between himself and the girl suddenly yawns up, vast and existential between her and older monster, despite that he's still here, standing, nursing his cracked ribs and the arrogance of pathological boredom.

"This is a bad place to hide if you are going to live forever," he remarks, presently. The air relaxes, allowing the groan of a far wind and the rumble of trucks changing gears the overpass one block over. "It's the kind of place you were trained to go." Or otherwise learned to — he isn't sure. "Xiaoxin, baobei. Small heart." 'Be careful,' he means, but somehow only the literal translation is the one that fails to escape his grasp in this moment, distracted by the awareness that Sylar's huffing off and the liquor store is going to close soon.

He'd tell her to get out of town, but the lines that circumscribe the city are arbitrary, the routes out few and narrow, and it remains improbable she could escape to the moon with her current means anyway. Eileen's voted with her feet, and the only democracy he can see here is winter, may she embrace them all. He turns away too, with a wave of one scarred hand.

Eileen does not pursue. Her place is not at Wu-Long's side, or Sylar's — or anywhere near them, for that matter. Gradually, her anger is replaced by a sense of longing, but that too will diminish before the night is over. It will take her some time before she comes to peace with the fact she's well and truly alone with neither Vanguardian nor Phoenix to turn to — and even longer to accept that this situation is one entirely of her own making.

When the men are gone and the atmosphere relaxes, she takes stock of the garage one last time before gathering her things and finding a different way out than Sylar and Wu-Long came in. He's right, of course. She needs to find a different place to stay, one where old friends and new enemies won't think to look… or one where they won't want to.

She hasn't decided yet.

January 2nd: Helena in Hang-Over Land
January 2nd: This Kid Needs Help
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