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Scene Title Sought
Synopsis Gabriel arrives at the end of a long journey.
Date April 11, 2011

In Dreams

Winter in the Adirondack Mountains is unforgiving; ice coats balsam firs and paper birches and strips ash trees of their leaves, reducing their branches to long, skeletal arms with brittle fingers upon which slate gray finches perch and hook their delicate little feet. There haven't been wolves here for longer than most New York natives can remember; it's the loons who dominate the winter landscape with their high, thin voices that echo across the lake in the early morning and late evening when mist rolls across the water and shelters the cabin on the eastern shore from view.

White-tailed deer pass like ghosts through the dense forest but are rarely seen — the only evidence of their existence are the tracks they leave in the snow. If the cabin is lived-in, then its occupant is similarly elusive; a heavy blanket of white covers an old, sagging roof that looks in danger of collapsing in, the wooden shutters are bolted closed, and although there's a mile-long dirt road that winds through the trees and skirts along the edge of the lake, it has not been driven since the last snowfall and there is no vehicle parked out front or behind to indicate that someone might be at home.

There is a chimney, however, and sometimes watery smoke can be seen rising from it on days like today when it's possible to differentiate between what's billowing, the fog, and the pale sky behind it — if only just.

This is what the end of a long journey looks like, though the man who followed the road after being told he could find what it is he's been searching for at the turn-off can't be certain that it's still here. It can take days or even weeks for the people he associates with to communicate and relay messages from one place to another, especially when messages have to travel this far from their point of origin.

Gabriel Gray is hundreds of miles from home, but he also hasn't been home for months.

Of course, Gabriel Gray travels disguised. The world will never forget 2006. The world will never forgive.

Four paws eat up terrain in the rolling canine gait of the only wild wolf these mountains have seen in, as mentioned, a long time. He is a large, black male, with silver in bristling fur and white patterning smattered on his chest. Steam unfurls out from a maw that hangs open, tongue pink and teeth glistening white as polished ivory. It comes to a lurching halt down the dirt road, ears angled towards the rundown cabin as if trying to pick out signs of life, before taking off in its direction in a jaunty leap and stride.

Sinking boot-prints of a being with too few legs for the large, robust canine track in the snow behind it.

Movements sinuous and close to silent, the large wolf is fearless in roving right up towards the cottage, coming to slink beneath the closest window and pass an amber gaze through the fogged glass, a swift, black blur of movement.

He sees wood paneling. The dark, matte shape of an old cast-iron stove with a fire burning it, illuminating the edges of its heavy door in a shade somewhere between red-gold and orange. A cot large enough for two people covered in multiple layers of blankets and quilts in contrasting fabrics and patterns, pillows stuffed with feathers and beaten down over the course of too many sleepless nights spent tossing and turning.

There are other more important details, like the box of ammunition on the desk next to a shortwave radio and headphones hanging off a brass hook attached to the wall. What he does not see is the wire under the snow, or the rusted cowbell dangling from one of the lower branches of a nearby tree.

The clamour it creates isn't very loud in comparison to the kind of alarms that are commonplace back in the city, but it doesn't have to be — the air had been still.

It would certainly be loud for a wolf, and the large canine reacts as such a being might expect — its body whips around with muscular athleticism, four paws dancing up and kicking snow as it starts and jumps away from the wire a paw got tangled with, ears twitching at the jangling bell. Well then. A growl revs in its wide throat as it paces a circle that prints that human boot tracks, tail bristled and hackles up, as if waiting for part two of the trap in the form of a shotgun on a wire or a falling net from the sky.

Whatever this is, a man in wolf's clothing, he does not display himself yet, but the loon that whips by canine shoulder to alight on the branch with the bell is one of his.

A door opens, hinges making a sound more offensive than the cowbell, and booted feet descend wooden steps, though not at a thunder or crash. The woman who comes into view in the next moment has her rifle up before she's around the corner, finger already riding the trigger — one hand grasps the stock, the other clutches it further down the barrel with butt wedged firm against her shoulder.

Dark hair falls a few inches past her shoulder, glossy and sleek and wild, too much for a twist at the nape of her neck to handle. A heavy wool coat with fox-fur trim is not so heavy that it hides the fact Eileen has put on a little weight since the last time Gabriel saw her, though her eyes are as bright and fierce as ever. She has curves in all the places he remembers, but also in some he doesn't, and that isn't to say she's fat.

Living in the mountains has kept her lean. Breath fogs out of her nose and would from her mouth too if it wasn't pressed into a hard, unforgiving line. The Englishwoman is terrified of dogs. What she must think of wolves.

That she does not immediately fire on him — not even a warning shot — is a good indication of how much ammunition she has left inside.

The canine whips its large head around to eye her, then, and while the standard practice of intimidation comes with the snarly baring of teeth, in this case, it's the clamp shut of long, long maw that seems almost more dangerous as intelligent eyes assess the small woman on the threshhold. Fat paws sink into the snow but leave nothing behind as it backs up from her, but from its focus, one might deduce it's merely getting space for a running, charging leap of attack.

But it doesn't. Attack.

Or leap. It blurs out of focus like an image printed on glass and side smeared away with water, a surreal thing to see in action that almost puts pressure on Eileen's eyes. Streaks of black and grey and white build back into a silhouette, and Gabriel is abruptly standing in place where the wolf had been, watching her with the same focus, his boots partially sunk until the snow, his body bundled into a winter coat, hands in leather gloves.

Tension doesn't change. She could still fire on him.

In many ways, this is worse than dog or wolf. A tremor in Eileen's breath betrays her surprise, and it's the tightness of her grip on the weapon that keeps her hands from doing the same. Unlike Gabriel, she isn't wearing any gloves to protect her hands, but also unlike Gabriel she'd been inside until less than a minute ago, probably warming herself by the stove or curled up in the cabin's only armchair with a blanket pulled around her shoulders — either way the difference in temperature between the cabin and the air outside is enough that shutting the door behind her was not an immediate concern, or at least not as immediate as scaring off something that's potentially as desperate as she is.

It takes all her effort and concentration to hold her ground. She adjusts her grip on her rifle as she raises it, no longer aiming at the top of the wolf's head but at the center of Gabriel's chest instead.

Still, she does not fire, and maybe that has less to do with conserving ammunition and more to do with the fact she hasn't taken off her wedding band. She drags her teeth over her lower lip to make sure her mouth still works first, though it's her voice she's most uncertain about. "Why are you here?"

His eyes hood a little, and no visible tension builds in his posture at the accurate aim of a gun for his head — less because he doesn't think she will pull the trigger, more because flirting with death is nothing new for Gabriel Gray. He's been at the edge of her knife before. Looking him over, there are things that mark him as hers — silver threaded through dark hair and the peppery scruff on his throat and jaw where he hasn't had opportunity to shave very frequently in his hunting. He's too bundled against the cold for her to identify him in scars and tattoos.

"I was looking for you," is a dumb thing to say, but spoken as simple truth all the same, wound in steamy exhale that disperses as swift as sound does.

It is probably also what she was hoping he would; her jaw goes hard, and behind the collar of her coat her throat contracts. She possesses the resolve but not the clarity of emotion to keep her face from reflecting what it is she's feeling for more than a few seconds, however, and her mouth twists into something ugly on the next breath she hisses shakily out.

It's embarrassing for him to see her this way. It's embarrassing to acknowledge that the defenses she's spent months building up around her heart can be torn down to almost nothing by only a few quick syllables.

"I don't see why you would."

The bird upon the branch takes off from its perch with a soft chime of the bell, zipping by Gabriel close enough that its wingtip brushes close by his jaw though it doesn't inspire a blink from the man. Dipping down and arcing back up, it lands upon the rifle barrel with gripping black feet, plain feathers of brown and speckled black and white fluffing in a twitch of wings. Beady eyes peer at Eileen, and then tip its head to regard Gabriel instead. In turn, Gabriel cannot make the woman peer through the eyes of the bird.

But he can place it, taking a step closer, snow crunching under foot. "Really?" Really, Eileen?

Arrogant, maybe, but he tends to be. It's one of his flaws. Another step carries him closer, the wind kicking at his heels, shifting heavy woolen coat and silvered hair. There's a wander to his gaze by the time he's this close, the kind of canine guilt that sometimes takes him, instinctual and responsive and basic as he figures out how to say; "Because I do."

The loon adds extra weight to the rifle, its barrel bobbing downward as Eileen attempts to compensate for the change by readjusting her grip on the weapon. She could bear down on the trigger now, and maybe she'd hit him, but she's equally likely to blow a branch off the tree or put a dent in the cowbell.

"You left." It would be an accusation if there was any fire crackling underneath her words, which there isn't, but neither is it a strict statement of fact; there's hurt in her voice and in the way she holds herself, the rifle a weapon as much as it is purely something physical she can put between her body and Gabriel's. Some remorse, too, creeping and quiet — she is not blameless.

He may have left, but people who do generally have a reason. It has occurred to her more than once — more than more than once — that it's her.

The wolf would raise its hackles, and the bird might part its beak, fluff its feathers to appear larger. The man has less to work with when it comes to displays of anger or aggressive reaction, but Eileen doesn't necessarily require such crude animalistic clues to pick up on Gabriel's moods. Even after these months. It's restrained, anyway — she's right. Even Gabriel has reasons, for leaving, and he stills his tongue against barking them out now. She's the one still enclosed in the framing warmth of the house with a rifle in her hands, and he's in the snow, and tired despite himself.

He flicks a look over the cottage, and the woman guarding its doorway. "You hid. It happens."

And then measures a step back, as if testing the give and pull of a rope rather than something less tangible like an argument or dynamic. He could leave now, too, for all that he hasn't just come all this way — but every other way, a wide search radius that might have taken him as long to look as long as he didn't. Look.

The loon's wings snap into motion. It does not have far to fly — only to the lip of the roof, the overhang above the door where Eileen is standing, disturbing the collection of snow but not the icicles hanging beneath it. White dusts down, catching in her hair, the weave of her coat and its dark, wind-ruffled fur.

She lowers the rifle, shifting a hand from the weapon's stock to the well-worn leather strap she could use to sling it over her shoulder, but she does not do this either. Lets it hang from the crook of her arm instead because she has no intention of bringing it to bear again. When she moves, it's to the side instead of back, making room for him in the cabin's narrow door frame.

If that isn't an invitation to come inside by the stove, then nothing is.

Gabriel only spends enough time doing nothing for a single shiver to trickle through his nerves. Then he moves. Slowly paced strides carry him for the doorway, stiffer and less mobile than the wolf he'd pretended to be, as if maybe illusions aren't just trickery for the people on the outside, but for the people within as well. Maybe it's a sense of pack that drove him the rest of the way here.

Except that his journey wasn't undertaken so he could get to her stove, no matter how warm it might be. Crossing the threshold has Gabriel's halting before she can close the door and save some of the warmth she's managed to accumulate, and a cold hand covers her smaller one, the one gripping the gun's strap, and he trusts more his height and her smallness to push her back against the doorframe than actual physical force. And anger, too, a primeval vibe that she can pick up on beyond the firm clasp of his hand over hers, and the sense of restrained frustration.

"Come back with me." Is what he will settle on.

"Or stay." Eileen's hand tenses under Gabriel's fingers — how long has it been since she allowed herself to be touched? — and as she feels her back bump against the door frame, her fingers stiffen at the same time her spine and shoulders do. She is still, but the accumulated tension beneath her surface has a scalding quality to it.

Anger begets anger. Pressing as close to him as she used to is a physical impossibility for reasons that are clearer now with her backed up against the door frame than they were before, but her free hand nevertheless tangles fingers around his clutching wrist and squeezes hard. "Until the snow melts, then we'll go back with you."


His mouth twitches when he doesn't immediately win the argument, but he also didn't expect to. And it would be difficult for him to remain walking on this earth if he didn't know anything about compromise. By necessity, there is distance, and Gabriel keeps his hand around her's, the other finding a place to brace by the doorframe, before he glances down and over towards where snow creeps its fingers for the doorway. As if it were water with a pebble dropped to ripple, the damp, icy substance all abruptly skids back from the stoop by three feet with a hiss of movement before settling again, a risen circle around the sodden dirt and stone laid bare.

Eileen won't see or really appreciate the glance to her eyes, but she can feel affirmation in the way he steps aside and enters inwards, hand dragging her's until inevitable release. Gabriel fills and takes ownership of the space with footsteps, the shift of his coat, even his smell when she's nearer, vaguely wolfish in its own way.

She shuts the door behind him.

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