Struggling in the Dark


eileen2_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Struggling in the Dark
Synopsis Eileen and Gabriel do as they have always done.
Date April 7, 2019

Sunken Factory

It's enough for the people of the Horsemen to know that Eileen Gray and Byron Wolf came back alive. The circumstances of survival are relayed to their munitions chaplain, and he goes his separate way with the quiet understanding that there was more for them to discuss, and so, here he is, stepping through her locked door, his boots still leaving damp prints on the ground. He looks around the empty space, and then crosses to the curtains, drawing it across the line of windows, its river-view, the rain streaming down the other side.

That's when he changes back, in the dark, a soundless and seamless process.

While Kara Prince presses Eileen with questions, Gabriel moves quietly around the room. Beyond adjusting the curtains, he touches nothing — he doesn't set matches to candles or click on the overhead or the smaller, yellower lamplight, occupying her room like a ghost instead. It's not, in fact, the first time he has come here, but it is the first time he has come here with the expectation that she would find him.

His dripping rain coat is hung up and side. Wet boots shucked off his feet. A vague gesture towards making himself comfortable as he waits and tries to keep his mind from running away with itself, thoughts kept deep beneath the surface so that they cannot make ripples. Touches the broad porcelain bowl on the dresser, the oval mirror resting beside it, which he angles enough to catch a glimpse of his own face. Despite his persisting disguises, he hasn't gone completely wild, but there is more dirt speckling his features than he'd imagined sticking.

He looks at his hands, then. Black beneath his nails, in the creases of his fingers. Away of blood dried into the back of his shirt. The rain hadn't done very much at all, save chill him.

When the key fits into the door, it’s at exactly the moment when Gabriel might begin to doubt her return. This is how the universe works, you see.

The ash still stands out against her hair, even in the dark. It clings to the exposed skin of her face and neck, too, which has adopted an almost waxy texture in the absence of guttering candlelight or the sallow glow the lamps might otherwise afford.

Eileen decides to remedy that first. Saying nothing, she closes the door behind her and crosses to the unlit candles by her nightstand. Matches are easier to strike without gloves on, so she loosens them at the fingers as she crosses the room, then discards them on her way past the dresser.

She knows he’s here without having to look for him. Although weakened, her natural ability gently informs her of his presence through the empathic connection they share. It’s somehow both soft and faraway in spite of their physical proximity — like a fetal heartbeat picked on an abnormally fuzzy ultrasound.

The first match she twists out of the book she keeps by the bed ignites. Light spills out into the room but struggles to reach its corners. Now, she looks.

She finds herself being watched, and then Gabriel drops his gaze away. Either the disguise of Byron Wolf was as thin as a cheap Halloween mask, or playacting hasn't quite left his bones. One of these options is more likely than the other.

He's standing, back curled to lean against concrete wall, arms folded. There are places to sit, but he is both filthy and also unsure of exactly where his place is, within her domain. Existing at the edges for as long as he has, maybe it makes sense that he'd find the most far-flung corner, retreat to it, inhabit it. It's a little like having opened the door and let in the big, muddy-pawed entity he features as in dreams.

His head tips, as if trying to find tune his sense of that weak, empathic connection. She senses barely anything but the fact he is there.

The rippling shadows do strange things to Gabriel’s face — or maybe it’s just been so long that she doesn’t remember exactly what he looks like. She lets the flame flicker and pop, burning the matchstick down from its head until the heat becomes too uncomfortable for her to hold.

Eileen sweeps her hand down to one candle, and then another. Two feels like the appropriate number to light: one for each of them. This done, she snuffs out the match and discards the spent stick in a small, crystalline ashtray that catches the candles’ gleam and prismatically reflects it onto the walls.

“Is it still that difficult to look at me?” she asks, peeling out of her own coat. She slings it over the bench at the foot of the bed with a wet sound. Rainwater has saturated her clothes and added several pounds to the weight she carries on her small, slim frame.

It would be nice to shed all of them. But.

"Yeah. It is."

And he still doesn't, immediately, chin lifting to regard the opposite wall. Steeling himself, maybe, gathering up all thoughts and feelings and attempting to bring order to them, to make any kind of coherent discourse possible. Off guard. None of this has gone how he imagined, but perhaps that's what he gets for having imagined nothing at all, beyond abstracted notions. Controlled introductions, at the very least. More certainty than he feels right now would feature prominently.

Candlelight, maybe. That can stay. Covered in filth and strange ichor, less so.

Gabriel doesn't move from his spot, but does look to her. His expression tends to be hard, predatory, aloof, or full of smirking confidence — now, uncertainty reflects easy at the surface. Caution, which probably has nothing to do with the abilities that lie just an errant touch away. "Not because…" He trails off, uncertain how to phrase this. (Any of this.) "I hadn't figured this part out."

Eileen leans a hip into her night stand. One hand rests on its edge. The other she folds across her middle, mindful to keep her body language guarded and neutral. She has hazy memories of being handcuffed, stripped of her armour, and forced to stare him down in a similar fashion — except these memories do not belong to her, and she can thank Benji for being able to consciously make such an important distinction at a time like this.

It seems like a good place to start, anyway.

“You came looking for me,” she says. “You and Thatcher. My brother.” Nick. “I don’t think you’d figured that part out either.”

She’s trying to be reassuring, she promises. It’s hard to do from the other side of the room, but something tells her that giving Gabriel space is the best course of (in)action. The similarities between him and the wild animal he sometimes resembles have not gone unnoticed.

Eileen would not crowd a wolf, so she does not crowd Gabriel.

“Would this be easier if I just kept asking you questions? I’ve a lot in my pockets.”

Even before — years before — Gabriel and Eileen kept their personal space between them. Maybe it was just the legacy of violence, the echoes of old injuries both physical and otherwise, but perhaps too, towards the end, it was the way in which they shared something psychic on a near constant basis. Gabriel remembers long periods of time of being well aware of each fine heartbeat even from across the room, the twinges of feeling that ran invisibly between them.

Still. This did not make up for a lack of physical contact so much as ease the transition between separation and togetherness, a transition that Gabriel Gray never felt completely adept at. He'd been alone for a long time, before.

And has been again. So he remains comfortable with his back to the corner, his arms locked around him.

And if there is gratitude for her insight, it only comes as a nod, quick on the back of her question. Yes, that would make things easier.

Eileen’s first question is the one she needs answered before either of them can address anything else. In hindsight, it would have been the first out of her mouth if pride had not prioritized the other.

She studies the black pits of his eyes and the silver threaded through his mane. His mouth has the right stubborn shape. From afar, his hands are harder to analyze, but she imagines their coarseness and sheer width when his fingers are spread apart. Once upon a time, they’d been trained to hold fine tools and navigate microscopic machinery with expert precision.

Then he used them to kill people, and they became something blunter.

She knows his hands better than his face.

“Are you really you?”

The corner of one eyebrow twitches upwards. Some modicum of humour that also translates as: fair enough.

Gabriel lets his attention wander as he speaks, even as it returns to her, in the end. "There's a part of me that I never found out where it went, but I guess it's figured something out or died trying. Then there's another that got a whole new life, which was probably what I was meant to do. The other one died, repeating my own mistakes, probably inevitable. Then there was me." Back to her, as said, as if he's confessing some awful truth.

That yes, he is himself, and this is what he is now, sorry about that. Nothing much to show for it. "You're the only reason I came back at all."

“Back from where?”

Eileen had searched for him, even if she hadn’t known what she was searching for. “Seven years and my birds never saw you, not once, not even a glimpse.” Her tone is hard but without accusation; the steeliness comes from a wounded place inside of her, the part that desperately fears abandonment.

Gregory York was the first man to leave her. Then there’s the matter of Kazimir Volken. Ethan Holden. Avi Epstein. Any number of important people who once held an important position in her life but have since vanished.

She is not so blind to her own faults that she doesn’t recognize the correlation between her actions and their disappearances.

There's a silence, a tense pause. The implications causing him to stop and re-evaluate those long years in a different light in a way he had not quite thoroughly done before this moment. Gabriel looks almost on the verge of protest, a shift in the way his shoulders gather tension and relax again. Ultimately, he opts to stick to the question being posed.

"I spent time as other people," he said. "The world knew Sylar was dead now, and I figured I'd just be that. There were parts of me I could shut down that way. Less powers, less thoughts, less remembering. I didn't want anyone finding me. I didn't know you were looking."

Well. His head tips. "I went to Maine. I lived there, in the house my parents used to own. Bran, somehow, he found me there. And he gave me something." Now, he moves, a rustle of wet fabric and creaking leather. A fold of soft leather is extracted from a pocket, and he carefully opens it so that when the heavy pocket watch slips out, it's into his palm, the chain snaking out to dangle between his fingers. "So I came back and I thought I was doing it because I was going to bury it with you."

But he didn't. Because something about all of that stopped him.

That Gabriel should give it to her only sort of occurs to him in the moment. He'd been holding onto it like it was all he had to remember her by. He looks up, then, fingers folding around the watch.

Eileen’s face crumples at the mention of her bird. Her first bird. Gabriel doesn’t have to say that he’s gone; the fact that the old raven isn’t dogging his steps and grumbling at him in constant complaint is confirmation Bran has since reached the end of his long life.

“I’m glad he was with you,” is the only silver lining she’s able to find, and it does nothing to brighten her stormy expression. She interprets Gabriel’s reveal of the watch as an invitation to move closer, edging away from the night stand on booted feet that leave loose soil and rainwater on the room’s well-swept floor.

Without her gloves, she has to be very careful to keep her skin from touching his. It seems better to hold out her hand, palm facing up, than to seek out the watch or its chain, as much as she would enjoy the physical sensation of detangling it from his fingers.

“I didn’t know they buried me.”

There's a slight shift to Gabriel's expression — the moments before she speaks again — that seems to recognise the distant echo of delayed grief. It catches him, surprises him. He doesn't comment on it — maybe, if he were someone else more emotionally intelligent that he, he might apologise — but something about it does have him meet her halfway.

Maybe not halfway. He leaves his corner, but not by much, although there isn't purpose to his distance keeping — just instinct. She reaches out, and he gathers up the will it takes to lose contact with it by placing it in her hand.

There's a fading bodily warmth caught in the metal. Smooth as she remembers it. Does her hand remember it, or just her mind? How far do realities diverge? Gabriel isn't sure.

"Flint Deckard," he says. Credit, where credit is due. "I think. He buried… he buried it by the old lighthouse. What remains of it. Guards it." It — the lighthouse, or the bones? Maybe both.

Eileen’s mind runs along a parallel track. She’s thinking about her bones decaying in the cold, damp earth, and how strange it is that she can feel the ribs she currently has shift with every breath she draws in, then presses back out again once it’s grown stale in her lungs.

What happened to her organs?

Too macabre, even for a dead woman. She lets Gabriel’s warmth bleed out of the metal and into her hand. It’s almost like touching him.

“Flint would,” she murmurs, quiet enough that the syllables come close to being lost beneath the gentle click of the watch snapping open. Eileen wants to admire its face.

“I was still Munin when you gave me this.” She angles the watch toward the candlelight, stealing a glimpse of her own reflection in the paper-thin glass. Ten years later and it’s still an interesting thing: sturdy and delicate at the same time. “And you were Sylar, too.”

"Mm. Still ticking."

Imagine that: a constant. Persisting through not insubstantial shifts of identity and ideology, through death and war, through years' long separation. It could be romantic, but it feels a little more supernatural than that, like a haunting, or a curse — ghosts of women in birds, ill-fated, unable to touch without bringing about destruction. That sort of thing. Fairytale stuff.

His hands return to their positions within folded arm defense. "We're still a little those things."

Eileen holds the watch to her ear, listening.

He’s right, of course. Still ticking.

Her smile, although wan, is still a smile. “I don’t think we can escape it,” she says in muted agreement, “at least not any more than trees can move beyond their roots.”

She sinks down onto the chaise at the foot of her bed and shifts both her hands (and the watch they now cradle) to her lap where she can better consider them as part of a whole. “You can stay,” she offers, “if you want. If no— I’ll not hold it against you the way I used to.”

Gabriel considers what he'd hold against her. For example: being okay with him leaving. It'd be a pretty bad faith read, given the circumstance, but the worst, gnarled parts of him still can't help but catch on this permission, and find temptation in its unravelling. He moves all the further from his corner, made larger in the room now that she's sitting.

He looks at the watch in her hands. In a way, he's completed what he set out to do.

He eases himself down to sit next to her, a scant inch between them, his hands tangled up and resting then between his knees. "I don't have anywhere to be," he says, at once his normal dry irreverence, as well as laden with honesty. He is being very serious, and very literal. "Not that this is a last resort or anything, because I want to stay. But if you didn't want me to stay."

There's no end to that sentence. It's just an option she can take. Gabriel will open the door and observe that all that lies beyond it is void, and step into it. Disappear, as he has become so adept at doing.

“That’s not what I fucking said.”

Eileen’s voice would contain heat if she had the energy. Her words would blister, sear, crackle. It’s been a long time since he’s been burned by her, but not so long that he’s unable to recognize sparks when he sees them. Or hears them.

Fortunately, she isn’t blind or deaf to the first signs of fire either; Gabriel sees her body language abruptly shift, drawing inward. This close, it’s impossible to miss her sharp intake of breath, or the way tension makes a marble bust of her neck.

“I don’t—” she starts, voice growing thin and constricted before she can force the second half of that sentiment out of her lungs. Her throat contracts. “I don’t want you to leave.

“I don’t want you to leave this bed, or this room, or this forest, or this world — if it is a world. I’m not sure of anything, except that we’re trapped here now. And if I’m going to be trapped, I’d rather it be with you.”

It seems like a lifetime ago when Eileen could say anything that would compel Gabriel away from her, short of explicit instruction, and it's really only for explicit instruction that he has braced himself. There is something oddly familiar with the way her words needle small punctures into his flesh and hold there, just as visceral and memorable as the prickle of necrotic energy from Kazimir's ability.

But, unlike that, welcome.

Gabriel closes his eyes, and concentrates. The world around Eileen brightens, but not by much — dim, hazy sunlight coming through curtained windows. The single room expands — again, not by much — into a couple of rooms, a cottage interior. A living room, where they are seated. A small, humble kitchen beyond where Eileen knew her far wall to be, with installations that don't look any more recent than the 1980s. Clean, with signs of clutter. Masculine clothing hung to dry indoors near the radiator. Boots and a coat by the door.

There's the harsh flapping of big, clumsy wings, and a shadow swoops by — big and black and familiar, as the old raven lands heavily against some kind of construction designed to be perched on, hopped into for shelter, water and seed holding, wood and tough strips of carpet and wire. The elderly raven steadies his grey feet on the sturdy perch and carefully sets about grooming his feathers.

The memory plays out around them as strangely sensory and realistic, but its falseness is not completely hidden — everything feels a little slow, and a little like it's been painted in watercolour and light.

"I've been alone a lot," he says. "But I didn't want that. I don't want that. I know…" Gabriel is looking at the tangle his hands make, rather than at her, but it's not avoidant. It's like enjoying the sun without being able to look at it directly, or it might hurt, or overwhelm. "I know you've been alone too."

She’d forgotten he could do that.

Eileen’s expression is vaguely wistful and a little awestruck. It belongs to someone coming across an aged photograph at the bottom of a shoebox for the first time in a decade. (Because it almost has been.)

This is where Gabriel lived his life. It’s not entirely unlike the orphanage or the attic sanctuary that Epstein created for her: homey but sparse, well lived-in despite a prevailing sense that something is missing. Or someone.

“I’d have liked to have shared it,” she says of the cottage, of the memory. She floods her lungs with a deep breath of air and imagines she can smell the dust burning off the radiator. Heat is not something she has in her room at the factory, so that has to be imagined too — unless she counts the warmth of his body beside her.

And she does, if only because she’s also intimately aware of it and his leg’s proximity to hers.

“How old are we now, Gabriel? I haven’t actually done the math.”

"You turned thirty," Gabriel says, in the easy way of someone who had this knowledge ready. He tips forward a little, elbows to knees, curling his shoulders inwards to ease out some stiffness. "I'm thirty-eight."

That narrow span of time in which they get to live within the same decade, like two aligning planets. The humour of that brings up the corner of his mouth but he doesn't say it out loud, too deeply accustomed to keeping his own thoughts, his own company. That isn't to say he isn't constantly and distinctly aware of her. "But you're probably something different, inside. Maybe younger, or older. Me too. Temporal disturbances. I haven't kept track."

Now he turns his head, a little, leaned forwards enough that it is almost over his shoulder.

He asks, without any bite, "What are you doing here? Really?" And because it seems like a very necessary thing to expand on, Gabriel adds, "The Pine Barrens. The… this Remnant."

There’s not much of a pause here either, for the same reasons that Gabriel didn’t need to hesitate before disclosing the numbers. Out here, Eileen has been afforded ample time to think.

“Ferrymen is a dead word,” she says. “Archaic, even. My council dissolved, and the people we were responsible for have moved on with their lives now that they’ve been given them back.” Her voice betrays neither joy nor resentment, only uncertainty about the new world order and her place in it.

If she even has a place. Eileen isn’t convinced she does. “Brian and Gillian’s children are grown. Epstein has his own pack to run with. I don’t know what happened to my father.” Ethan is still difficult a name for her to speak aloud. “Teodoro is— strange. And his demons are his own.”

She reaches up to strokes fingers through Gabriel’s dark hair, her touch fleeting, absent, gone again before his scalp begins to prickle. Her hand moves to his back, somewhere in the broad flat between his shoulder blades, and settles there. Fabric protects skin, so the conduit does not yet stir.

“This at least feels familiar,” she concludes, without ceremony. Just the shadow of a sigh. “Maybe I owe it to Ramirez and Lang, too.”

There's no flinch from the touch to his scalp, or even a muscle twitch, a moment where stillness becomes frostier than before. When her hand finds a place to lay on is back, Gabriel becomes conscious of his own breathing in a way that is difficult to explain. Like if he's not careful, that touch could fade and disappear, or betray itself as an illusion. He's lived with illusions long enough to know how elusive they can be.

They are still absolutely filthy, too, and he finds himself studying the way spattered dirt and drying ash is grey along her cheek, the way rain water has driven tracks through it, the way it looks like rivers on a map and not like tears.

He raises an eyebrow at this last part. If she says so.

Maybe she owes them a clean death, an elimination from this world, and maybe their souls will find the right circle of hell accordingly too, but Gabriel has enough Vanguard in him that he can find a grudging understanding. At least inasmuch as the ways Eileen can feel responsible about unlikely things, and unlikely people.

"There was a silver lining, you know, to you being dead forever," he says, in that flat tone that sounds a little like his old sense of humour. "Which was that you didn't have to see me like this."

The illusion drops. They are back in the factory. The ease of his expression has become a little more severe, but not really at her. "I saw Volken," he says, like this memory has only just returned to him. "Out there. I heard him. I hear him speak to you." He draws his attention back up to her blue eyes. "It's like he knew I was me before you did."

He says this like being physically whole and healthy is a bad thing. She’d rebuke him, maybe, if he wasn’t already turning the conversation in a different direction. As she’s trying to figure out the best way to tell him that she thinks he looks good, and very much how she remembers all the way down to the intricate patterns on his fingertips and the lines of his palms, he uses the V-word.

No, not Vanguard.

The other V-word.

Wordlessly, she spreads her hand open, fingers splayed across Gabriel’s back like a fleshy pink starfish. She drums them against him, slowly, slowly.

“Of course he did,” is what she eventually decides to tell him, “he was a part of you for a time. Now you’re a part of him. It, I suppose. The conduit steals a little bit of everyone it touches, some more than others. Sometimes I think it must have swallowed Kazimir whole, his voice is so loud.”

"Hearing him again," Gabriel says, just thoughtfully, just gently, and he lets the thought disappear to a vanishing point of grammatical fragmentation. It's been a long time since he's been haunted by that particular ghost. A little bit, he leans against her, a reliable weight that avoids skin contact, and welcomes the familiarity of the touch to his back. It's been, also, a long time since he's wanted someone. Even the subtle longings he's felt since he began hunting her feel like they're struggling from some unknown place in the dark.

But it's there. "I remember hearing him when I had it," he says, slowly. "I kind of thought it was just— me. You know." An insane person, who hears voices, and sees visions of people, usually being insulting, sometimes kind. "It's not really him, it's— this thing. It's both. He used to protect me, too.

"I can help you," he says, finally, like this is the point he's been struggling towards. "I can try."

Gabriel had been able to touch people when he wielded it. Eileen knows, because she remembers. In this life and in another life that ran parallel to it until it abruptly ended.

That makes her pause.

She isn’t sure she would survive losing him again.

Her next inhale fills her nose and lungs with his familiar smell: damp hair and skin, the sweat lingering beneath. She should have recognized it in the cabin of Etienne’s boat, or when she’d been snug against him, adjusting the collar of Byron’s jacket.

Maybe on some unconscious level she had.

“Thank you.” She hesitates again. There’s more she feels like she wants to say. Does say, actually, because it’s Gabriel — and if she can’t tell Gabriel, who else can she possibly confide in? Maybe Yi-Min. Maybe Kazimir, if she thought his counsel wouldn’t make the problem worse, because the problem is: “It frightens me.”

"You're stronger than it."

This conviction is simply delivered, quick on the back of her confession, really only realising after that it is confession. Gabriel rises out of his slouch to look at her properly, in that kind of shifting way he does. "You survived this long, without anyone's help, without a proper tether. And you know Kazimir better than anyone alive." He raises a hand to touch her wet hair, contact fleeting and careful, shifting still-damp strands back up off of her brow.

Resting the edge of his palm against the curve of her skull, for just a moment. "You turned what was left of the Vanguard into something good. You're doing it again." And it's true he has his reservations, his old cynicisms, but it can be set aside for the truth of transformation. "You can do it with this. We've seen what it can be."

This, Eileen realizes, is what she’d wanted from Iago when she sought him out the same night she encountered Byron — no, Gabriel on the skybridge. Affection. Reassurance. Physical touch, no matter how fleeting.

Her breath brushes across the backs of his knuckles. She offers no verbal response, only shifts her body so her cheek rests by her hand and the shape of her body conforms to his. They can sit like this in comfortable silence until the chill of the nighttime air demands wet clothes be stripped off skin.

There’s a basin for washing, within reach. She can show him the scar that half-belongs to her again and become reacquainted with the ones inflicted upon him by mutual enemies a lifetime ago. They can combine the power of their memories and categorize them by weapon or by date, fondly reminisce over whose fault they were, and where they were acquired. They can argue, deflect blame, then laugh at the utter ridiculousness of it — and the utter ridiculousness of almost every other argument they’ve ever had. They can rank them from the least to most petty, and disagree about that too.

They can fall asleep, comforted by the sound of the other’s breathing and the knowledge that they’ve been given the rest of their lives — however that ends up being — to make up for the years they’ve lost.

Eileen will be happy just to break even.

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