Spoonfuls of Salt


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Scene Title Spoonfuls of Salt
Synopsis There might be a grain of truth in them. Gillian encounters Eileen outside the Ichihara Bookstore on Roosevelt Island.
Date August 6, 2009

Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island, formerly known as Welfare Island and before that Blackwell's Island, is a narrow island in the East River of New York City. It lies between the island of Manhattan to its west and the borough of Queens to its east. Running from Manhattan's East 46th to East 85th streets, it is about two miles long, with a maximum width of 800 feet, and a total area of 147 acres.

The island is part of the Borough of Manhattan and New York County. Together with Mill Rock Island, Roosevelt Island once had a population of about 12,000 prior to the bomb. The land is owned by the city, but was leased to the State of New York's Urban Development Corporation for 99 years in 1969. Most of the residential buildings on Roosevelt Island are rental buildings.

Following the bomb, Roosevelt Island suffered a great deal of damage from the throw debris from the explosion of Midtown Manhattan. The tram service connecting Roosevelt Island to Midtown was destroyed on the midtown end, leaving one small bridge connecting to Long Island City in Queens as the only means out of the city. Subsequent fires, looting and food riots on the island left what was once a prosperous neighborhood in ruins in the aftermath of the bomb. Business began to close one by one, residence left for the outskirts of New York City, and now Roosevelt Island is like a shell of its former self, a proverbial ghost-town with a population of only 700 on the island. Streets are untended, cracked and dusty, weeds growing up between the broken pavement. It is not an uncommon sight to see old newspapers blowing across the street and the boarded up windows of shops and apartments.

With such a small population left on the city, and few streets accessable by cars, there's little in the way of traffic or parking on the main streets. Especially with so many shops boarded up and closed, in complete disrepair. There's one shop still open that people occassionally move in and out of, with books in hand, or tarot readings in their heads, but few people loiter outside the building in parked cars. One person who would, in this case, is Gillian. The 91 Dodge Spirit, paint job eaten and rusted away to the point it's difficult to tell if it'd been intended to be white, or gray, is parked a few car lengths away from the main entrance to the bookstore, and has been for a while.

The doors are locked, the windows rolled all the way down to let some wind filter through, while the driver sits in the front with a notepad resting against the steering wheel. Folded over on itself, she's looking over small sketches done from memory, back when her memory had been good enough to capture the images to near perfection, and flipping on. The sketches get less and less detailed the further she goes, with words taking up much more of the pages, and pieces of information rather than the full picture. Eyes instead of a complete face, a door instead of the whole front of a store, a single chess piece.

When she gets to the end, there's a list of cards, tarot cards. Some are scratched through, deleted, with question marks. A couple books sit stacked in the passanger seat.

There's a knock at the passenger side window, knuckles rapping featherlight against the car's rusted shell. A moment later, a face defined by large green eyes and an almost colourless mouth appears in its frame, distorted by shadows and the angle at which short curls of tousled black hair fall around it.

"Gillian?" Even if the young woman were to misidentify the person straddling the curb with one small hand splayed against the side of the Spirit for support, there's no mistaking the sound of her voice or the accent clinging wraithlike to her smoky breath. Eileen Ruskin smells like tobacco, and although there's no cigarette dangling between her fingers, there's one tucked behind her left ear, unlit. A silver chain is worn around her throat as well, a single dog tag dangling from its lowest point and studded with what looks like a rhinestone. It's not really her style, but it doesn't belong to her either — it's Felix Ivanov's, and it reads: Best in Show.

"What are you doing all the way out here?"

Lost in thoughts, there's a mild start from the driver's seat. Gillian had not heard the approach, and nearly drops the notepad into her lap until she catches it. If the car had been in better repair, the horn might have even gone off. This car wouldn't pass any kind of inspection if it had to have one. Brian likely didn't take it through the rounds, though, so she doesn't think too much about it. "I— Eileen?" she says when she settles to look over, one of the corners of the notebook bent in the attempt to keep it from falling completely.

It's set down into her lap, under the wheel, still open to a list of some kind. Tarot cards, with corrections upon closer inspection. "I was thinking," she says, shaking her head a bit. "Heard about this place and figured I'd stop in to buy some books for the kids a couple days ago, was considering giving the store a second look through. Since Brian's letting me borrow one of his cars, I can get away sometimes."

There's a pause, a narrowing of her eyes, as if she's chastizing herself, before she glances over, "Haven't seen you in a while. Though I guess it took us months to meet at all, so it shouldn't be too surprising."

Eileen cants her head and glances askance at the notebook as she reaches up, removes the cigarette from behind her ear and rolls it between her fingers in idle thought. "That's not quite true," she admits, shifting her arm so that it fills the lower part of the open window, one bony elbow fitted in the corner closest to the side mirror. As if to explain, she purses her lips, positions the cigarette between them and directs her gaze out the windshield to where a rumpled starling with glossy brown feathers is perched on the spigot of a nearby fire hydrant. "I've known you longer than you've known me, anyway."

She reaches into her the back pocket of her jeans and produces a thin matchbook between two fingers. "What've you got there?" This she asks of the notebook, cigarette shifting from one side of her mouth to the other as she selects a match from the book and strikes its head against the strip before raising it her lips. "You some sort of artist?"

"Yeah, I remember. The birds," Gillian admits softly, even if at the time she'd figured most of them had been Gabriel's and not belonging to this woman in particular. Sometimes she feared the birds, when it became clear they could have been sent by the scarred man who kidnapped her off the street outside her work and threatened her life. Interesting how the three people who had birds watching her at one point or another could become something so… confusing.

"I wouldn't say I'm very good at drawing. It's a hobby more than anything," she says, flipping backwards from the lists, with a few partial sketches in the margins of pentacles and cups. The further back she goes, the more detailed they get. Eyes that look like they belong to someone, though losing any detail around to help fully identify. The drawings aren't bad, though, but definitely lack refinement, shading off, perceptions muddled, details left out.

Eyes glance through the dirty windshield and she spots the bird that was glanced at earlier, "You get your old ability back?"

Eileen lights the cigarette, snaps the spent match in half between her fingers and casts it aside to be swept down a storm drain the next time rain floods the streets. Judging from the darkening sky and the vortex of clouds hanging heavy over Roosevelt Island, it might not be long. Distant thunder reverberates through the air, a giant rolling over in its sleep as Jack creeps stealthily away with its magic harp.

"Delphine Kuhr," says Eileen. "Woman's a godsend." She takes a drag from her cigarette, paper peeling into ash and embers that glow gold at its tip. When she breathes out again, smoke unfurls from her nostrils and slightly parted lips. There's some faint bruising along the line of her jaw that wasn't noticeable before, but she otherwise appears to be in good shape for someone who went into Pinehearst and lived to lament about it in the morning. "Do you mind if I take a look?"

"It looks like it's going to rain," Gillian says, hearing the thunder and seeing the clouds. Stating the obvious, really. Leaning over, she hands over the notepad for glancing over should the woman choose to give it most of her attention, likely the closest to an unspoken 'go ahead' that anyone can give. While the woman has a chance to look, she leans across to gather the books in the passanger seat and move them into the back. A box sits in the back seat, actually strapped in to avoid shifting, and that box has many more books, and gains even more. "At least it's getting cooler," she comments, before looking back.

"I met her once, briefly, but I never had to ask her to restore my ability. Tyler Case did that on the roof," she says with a shake of her head.

The notepad has many simple sketches. Some repeated more than others. A cherub statue with a bullet through the heart, a young child's face with something flaking away, like peeling off plaster, a beach, a ghostly shade of a man who only vaguely looks like ghost, a chess game. Faces that can be recognized pop up too, though only by details are they able to be recognized. Richard Cardinal. Gabriel (though looking more like Tavisha). Peter. Teo with Kazimir's cane. Ethan. Eileen herself. Helena. Arthur.

The closest to the front, though, begins to show new sketches. Mushroom clouds. Feathers. Wings of a raven. Shadows shaped into a wolf. Drawings of a perfect recollection of a painting of a dream of the future. Not the same exact one she'd shown to Gabriel, this one has no color, but one sketched in the weeks to follow.

Careful not to spill any ash on the notebook or wrinkle its pages more than is necessary, Eileen uses the pad of her thumb to flip through one drawing at a time. Some are scrutinized closer than others — she even pauses to fondly trace the tip of her nail along Ethan's cheekbone. "The past is the prologue," she murmurs in a low, thick voice not without a hint of mirth. She turns the page again. "Kazimir had a hobby, too." A smile tugs at the corners of her mouth but fails to reach her eyes, suddenly solemn. "Aside from heralding in the apocalypse, I mean. Mythology. With code names like Fenrir and Munin— well. You've probably already guessed that, hm?"

Folding the notebook closed and smoothing its cover with the palm of her hand, she offers it back to Gillian. "Sometimes a dream is just a dream," she tells her. "Sometimes a painting is just a painting. I know Catherine's as eager as a seed under snow to get to the bottom of things, but between you and me… Kazimir's dead, and none of his followers in all the world will ever find a way to bring him back. I would if I could, you know."

"And sometimes it's not just a dream," Gillian says, though she doesn't really put over emphasis on the words, even as she leans back into the chair now that the notepad is returned, and the passanger seat is open. Eyes look up through the dirty window, with water stains, dust, rust, cracks and bird shit all. It could really use the rain, at least to wash away some of that. "Doesn't make it literal. I was right there when Abby killed him, and it doesn't have to mean he's coming back. The dreams I had using the ability to see the future weren't word for word, picture for fucking picture. Else you would've been carrying around a chess piece and setting it on a board, and I would've offered up a Queen to get taken down."

People did fall, people she'd come with, but there's many intrepretations of what that could have meant. More than she cares to think about. It could have been Peter falling off the roof, for all she knows, or Helena nearly dying, or herself… "But I dreamed about Cardinal before I ever met the man, drew his face before I saw him walking through a building lobby." There's a long pause.

"The same person who dreamed of that— the bird, the wolf, and the clouds— that someone dreamed of Peter with blue eyes, connecting him to Kazimir, over a week before we raided Pinehearst. While I doubt anything is literal, and I doubt there'll be any fucking understanding it until it's completed, the dreams do mean something. I told Cat what she needs to do is focus on what's already happened and stop speculating, but fuck if anyone listens to me."

"They speculate because it gives them something to do and makes them feel like they aren't just sitting on their hands." Though this isn't to say that Eileen doesn't agree with Gillian's assessment. She lets out a breathy croak of laughter and taps ash off her cigarette without sprinkling any in the car. "The government's putting together a task force to eliminate what's left of the Vanguard, not just here in the States but other countries as well. Unfortunately, that also includes me and mine." There's a pause as Eileen lowers her dark brows in thought, forehead crinkling with consternation. "Gabriel, too."

She draws herself up, pushing away from the car as she rises to her full height, squares her shoulders and takes a step back. Either she's tired of bending over or she wants to chance a look at the sky. Her reward is a single drop of rain spattered against her cheek. "Can I ask you a personal question?"

Gabriel, too. At those words, Gillian closes her eyes for a long moment, until the patter of rain and the request for a personal question makes her eyes open again. The windows rolled down means there's little protection affoarded the inside of the car if it starts pouring down, so she turns around and drops the notepad into the backseat first, then begins to move as if to get out of the car.

The door opens with a loud creak, enough room made with her pulling herself up to her small stature to do so. It's not that she's trying to make things more comfortable, but she has to go and unlock the doors and roll them up manually.

The movement also delays her answering. Starting with the door behind the driver's seat, she opens it up and rolls the window up with a creak of the handle. Only once she slams the door closed again does she look over and stop, leaning against the car. "Go ahead."

Eileen pops open the passenger side door and pulls it back it until she feels it bump against the inside of her thigh. Reaching around, she feels for the handle and begins rolling it up in a slow cranking motion to save the other woman some time. Like Phoenix, it seems as though she prefers not to simply stand idle if it can be avoided.

This done, she nudges the door shut again with her knee and removes the cigarette from her mouth to press a thin stream of smoke past her pursed lips. More droplets of rain plink against the hood of the car and roll off onto the bumper in skinny rivulets that glisten silver in the fading light. "Why Peter Petrelli?"

The fact that the woman is helping doesn't go unnoticed. It gives Gillian a moment to pause when a question is dumped into her lap. A question that could be taken many ways, really, but her mind automatically goes one direction, skipping over the other vague possibilities. "Fuck," she grumbles under her breath, wondering just how many people even know if someone she's only really spoken to a few times does. It certainly hadn't been anything her birds could have told her before— because it didn't exist before.

Or did it?

When it began is still at a loss to her, but she has an idea when she began to notice it, and when it became impossible to ignore. And when she gave up.

"I could ask you the same thing, with a different set of names inserted in there," she finally says, rolling up the driver's side window before looking over the hood at the smaller woman. There's sprinkles, but the books in the car should be protected from them. More than the two standing outside the car are. "What do you know about this anyway?"

"Not as much as I'd like." Eileen flicks her cigarette to the ground and smothers it between the concrete and the heel of her boot. Moisture glistens in her hair, iridescent beads that fuse with the natural oils of her scalp like the nacre coating the inside of a mollusk's shell. "He tried to hurt us both just so he could get at Gabriel. If it weren't for Peter, there'd still be a Midtown — the government never would've gone public about people like us. Kazimir wouldn't have been given the opening he needed to initiate the End Times."

She rubs her hand along her jaw, then lets it drop back to her side, fingers curling in on themselves as they form a loose fist. Her shoulders roll and release tension from the muscles that support her head and neck. "I don't mean to criticize," she adds with a genuine note of apology, however subdued. "I want to understand. He did something for me the other night and I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about it."

"First time I really met him… he saved my life from someone I was augmenting, one of those things Pinehearst was making I guess," Gillian explains softly, jaw tightening as she moves around to the passanger side of the car to make sure the final window is up all the way. As the rain keeps falling, she stays on that side of the car, so she can better face the woman. No longer immune to rain, it at least feels good right now. It helps cover up moisture in her eyes, pulls hair into her face to mask her better.

"It was also when he split into two people. I'm not sure if it was my fault or if it just fucking happened then, but— I tried to kill the second one. And when he fought back, the original one, the Agent, protected me, even teleported me away before HomeSec showed up." There's a thoughtful sound to her voice, then she shakes her head. "I guess I was confused about how to feel even then. Enemy, savior, monster or hero… Or none of that… Maybe he was just a man."

Like someone else, who could have been all four of those, had just been one thing, a man. When did she forget about that? When did him being a man fail to be enough of a definition? Why can everything blur together so easily?

That's the distant past. It doesn't answer the question.

"I guess… he understood what I needed when I really needed it. And he said it when I needed to hear it." Looking away instead of directly at the younger woman, she shakes her head, "I don't know why beyond that, cause he never stops running off being an idiot long enough for me to figure it out. Or long enough to figure out if he even meant any of it, or if he was just…"

Her voice trails off, raspy and tense, before she tosses out, "What happened the other night? I haven't seen him for… a while."

Eileen moves around the front of the car as if to take a seat on the hood but ends up leaning her hip against it instead. She folds her arms across her chest, wishing she'd brought along her cashmere jumper now that gooseflesh is beginning to prickle at her exposed skin and spread from her shoulder all the way down to her elbow. "I'd like to think he meant it," she says, her words traveling on a onerous sigh. "Gabriel needs to be alone, too — it's part of who he is. Doesn't make the things he told you any less true. Doesn't make the separation any easier, either, but the time you do have together— it's somehow more significant, isn't it?"

She lifts one foot off the ground and rests her heel on the bumper's lip, too light to cause the car to even creak under her weight. "I was almost killed by a man named Feng Daiyu. Former Vanguard working the Central Intelligence Agency to bring down Holden. He'd probably have executed me on the street if Petrelli hadn't been there. Not that it matters, really. I've been wondering whether or not he would've intervened if he'd known it was me. Thought you might have an answer."

"He might have intervened because he knew it was you," Gillian speculates softly, after having stood there silently for a few long moments. There's pain on her face, for one reason or another. What the men in her life need, what she needs… It doesn't really match up. "No one blames him for what has happened more than he does," she adds on, moving around the car to get to the driver's side, putting it between them. She makes no move to open the door, but she does look over the hood.

"I had his ability for almost three months and I learned how easy it was to fuck things up. I'm lucky the worst things I did were minor in comparison to how bad they could've been… Then again my ability fucks everything up all on it's own— I didn't need to have his power to understand that." There's a pause. "Or it could have been something else. I think I understand him a bit, but even that's hard to know when I can't…" Hands rest on the hood, while water collects in her hair, on the shoulders of her shirt. On the back of her hands. The rust and paint threatens to flake off as she drags her hands along, then down the window, smearing the newly wetted dirt.

"It's hard to appreciate the time I have with— with him when it seems I'm the only one who wants it." Ambigious, but it wouldn't be the first time.

"It hurts," Eileen agrees with a slight nod, "but try to remember that there are a thousand other places he could be, a thousand other things he could be doing. There's a reason he chooses to be with you instead, and if you aren't sure what that reason is — ask." Another peal of thunder, closer than the last, rolls through and is accompanied by a luminous crackle of white lightning that limns the clouds overhead.

The rain is starting to come down harder now, filling the air with the smell of wet concrete and old diesel fumes wafting up from the pavement — Eileen breathes in it through her nose and mouth, face tilted toward the sky. At this point, there's no use trying to blink the water from her lashes or wipe it off her cheeks. A few more minutes and there won't be a dry spot left on the street. "I could probably stand to follow some of my own advice," she says, "so take that with a spoonful or two of salt."

There's a laugh, not bitter and not sweet, but somewhere in between. "Spoonful of salt it is. Fuck knows I won't call you a hypocrite for giving advice you should be giving yourself," Gillian lowers her hand to the handle of the car door, but doesn't pop it open just yet, hesitating. There's so much advice she'd given others that she didn't follow herself, but perhaps… "Next time I get the chance, I'll ask. But Peter's not exactly making himself available." And the other one she could ask… "Sometimes you need someone to tell you something, so you don't wait around second guessing it to death…"

It's just like the advice Teo'd given her, though that had an opposite effect at times. To stop hiding, or she wouldn't get anyone. Not that coming out of hiding helped too much.

"Do you need a ride somewhere, or do you have a car?" she asks, nodding toward the passanger side. She had cleaned out the seat for a reason, after all, even if it happened so long ago, now.

"I like the rain. It's cleansing." And not in the way Kazimir Volken might have wished it was. Eileen's hand closes around the dog tag at her throat as she tucks it down the front of her top to keep it from getting too wet, silver chain jangling. It's comforting to know that she isn't the only person suffering the same doubts and enduring uncertainty — that she and Gillian Childs have something in common outside a similar taste in men comes as a surprise, however, but it isn't an unwelcome one.

"If I see Peter," she promises, "I'll curl my lip at him just for you. Sometimes you need someone to tell you something, and sometimes you have to wring it out of them with your bare hands. Stay safe, yeah?"

"It's just a long walk back to the Staten Island Ferry. I don't think wings for yourself comes with being able to talk to birds," Gillian says in the same raspy tones. What they have in common is more than she might know, but there's at least not animosity and occassional sniping, even if… "I'll be a little jealous if you happen to see him before me," she admits, honestly. "But I don't think I'll find him until he wants to be found." That doesn't mean she won't still try.

Trying would be about the only thing she has anymore.

"Good luck with the CIA-person. Got no love for Ethan. But I'd rather punch him in the face a couple times than see him killed." A moment's pause, and she taps on the roof of the car. "Maybe the drawing— the dream that was seen. Could be the exact opposite of what people think. Maybe Vanguard, or what's left of it, isn't what's going to make things worse. Maybe it's what's trying to hunt what's left of you down. At least it's about as likely sounding as Kazimir standing up and going 'boo.'"

Which is pretty unlikely.

Eileen's mouth adopts a wrier curve at that. "You've got your imaginary creatures mixed up," she teases Gillian as she moves away from the car and steps back up onto the curb. Her discarded matchstick is gone — so is the crumpled cigarette butt, lost to the steady trickle of water snaking down the street on its slithery way to nearest storm drain. "Ghosts say boo. Moroi stick their tongues down your throat and suck out your soul through your mouth. Better sleep with one eye open, Childs."

Childs. A last name she's not even sure is hers anymore. It's chalked up there with all the things she doesn't even know about herself. "If that's your way of saying 'be careful', I will," Gillian says in response. "It's a shame you didn't have your ability when I could've absorbed it. Might've been nice to talk to birds. Makes me wonder what they'd've said," she adds on, loud enough to be heard, before she opens the door and gets herself inside, closing the door quick against the rain. No more reason to linger outside a store that she's not sure she had any intention to enter anyway.

There's no response from Eileen, but no sooner has the door slammed shut than the starling that was perched on the fire hydrant leaps from its spigot perch and darts across the hood of Gillian's car, its wingtips mere inches from the windshield as it zips by, zig-zagging wildly through the rain. If warning her about the sort of monsters that might be hiding in Phoenix's closet is the other woman's way of telling her to be careful, then this is how she says good bye.

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