Suture, II


eileen4_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Suture, II
Synopsis Gabriel and Eileen reflect on a bad evening.
Date August 28, 2009

A Cab, followed by Comfort Inn

Everyone has a price. For Musa Haddad, driver for the Medallion Taxicab company, that price is three hundred American dollars paid upfront and in cash in exchange for the use of his backseat. It isn't the first time he's been paid to look the other way while a woman undressed a man behind the glass screen that separates the front seats from the rear, but it is the first time someone has been bleeding all over his upholstery in the process.

Tinted windows provide Eileen and Gabriel with some modicum of privacy as she cuts away his ruined dress shirt with the edge of the knife she holds in her right hand. The left pins him to the seat and holds him in place in lieu of a seatbelt — she isn't wearing one either. Although her movements are swift, practiced and purposeful, her intent is a far cry from what Haddad assumed when she shoved the fistful of cash in his face and told him that she and her "friend" needed to use his cab. Whether or not they pose an immediate threat to life, bullet wounds are the type of injury that need to be treated as soon as it's feasible, and the backseat of a car is as good a place to start as any. Their ultimate destination is their designated fallback point, the Comfort Inn a short distance away from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art where Shoshanna Wolfe and Craig Christman have a reservation for the evening, though it will be at least another ten minutes before they arrive with traffic as heavy as it is.

"When you move your arm," Eileen half-instructs, half-asks, "can you feel it?"

Gabriel has a foot braced against the back of the front passenger seat, head tilted back, and his back teeth making powder of each other in his jaw that doesn't belong to him. Belongs to no one. Dust from exploding brick and plaster is turned to something tackier against his brow, the dark brown-red staining his shirt of the same kind of quality as Eileen's fingers navigate through it. Stealing a shallow breath, he shifts the arm in question—

The guttural grunt from the cavern of his throat is probably indication enough. But still, he let's the word hiss sibilant out through his teeth; "Yes."

Three hundred dollars will likely buy Haddad's silence and patience, but destroying upholstery can be from anywhere between fifty and one hundred bucks too. Gabriel's currently dull-blue gaze fleetingly meets the driver's in the mirror as the man makes a note to glance back now and then, but darts away in the next moment. Gabriel's hand, on the end of an uninjured arm, finds her wrist in an instinct clasp; vice-like pressure.

Eileen slices off a long strip of starched fabric from Gabriel's shirt and uses it as a makeshift tourniquet, wrapping it around his arm above the shoulder to stem the bleeding as much as such a tactic allows. As she works, her wrist strains against his fingers, tendons like thick cords of metal cable beneath her skin. He's tense, and so is she — if for entirely different reasons.

Either she has the respect not to tell him that what's she's about to do next is going to hurt, or she's having a difficult time finding the voice with which to patronize him. Not that it matters. Her pale eyes, outlined in sharp detail even under the dim overhead light of the cab, communicate this fact more clearly than any number of words ever will. Saying nothing, she cuts off another section of cloth with an abrupt flick of her wrist aimed sideways and fills the cab's interior with the sound of shredding fabric. Then, as she crumples it into a ball and presses the offering against his mouth, "Bite."

Conveniently, Gabriel's attention is in some place different. His cellphone is sticking secure against his hip, Sarisa's number burned into its electronic little mind. They have to talk and go over everything that learned tonight, decompress and debrief and they can't do that if he can't talk. Come to that, they can't do that in the back of a cab, fresh blood leaking, the strip of fabric tight and cutting around his arm. His focus is drawn sharply back into the interior of the vehicle, the jostle of its movement, Eileen's thin fingers pressing the fabric into his mouth.

There's a flash of comprehension in his eyes - mostly anger, defense, the spark of argument, but it doesn't ultimately matter. He clamps teeth into the muffling and buffering bundle of cotton that tastes of soap, sweat, and a trace of iron, and braces himself, veins already standing out against skin in his throat.

The channel created by the bullet is narrow, too narrow for Eileen to remove it with her fingers or anything else she has available except for the point of her knife. She once told Gabriel that the balisong went out of fashion as a dueling weapon centuries ago, and perhaps it's just as well — she feels more comfortable using it as a utility tool, and tries not to think about the pain she's causing him when she wedges open the wound with the flat of the blade and starts to dig.

Fresh rivulets of blood stream down the handle and coat Eileen's fingers in viscous crimson. At one point, she reaches up and pushes away a stray curl of dark hair from her face, leaving a vibrant smear in the wake of her hand. Metal clicks against metal and after some careful maneuvering that only lasts a few minutes but feels like an eternity, a soft-point bullet pops out from between two compact folds of muscle and into Eileen's palm, its metal jacket winking cheerlessly.

Eileen twists her wrist around in Gabriel's grip and clumsily forces the bullet between his fingers. It's his. He's earned it.

It's small relief. Rather than a knot of pressure and sharper pain from within, gone now with its source trapped in a fisted hand, it's not mostly ruined flesh. Closed around the bullet without even really thinking about it. He had made noise - growls and more piercing cries of pain at each twist of the balisong, muted through the cotton until it peters down into whines and seething, saw-edge breaths.

It's over in a few minutes that do feel like eternity, not only to her, to him, but possibly the cab driver. Gabriel turns his head and spits out the cotton, eyes sliding shut enough so only slivers of whites and pale iris can be seen through the thick comb of eyelashes.

Breathe in, breathe out. The fire in his shoulder is dying. "I'm fine," he tells her, before she could ask.

"You're not," says Eileen. "We still need to disinfect and stitch." Cauterization is a possibility too, but not one she's prepared to broach just yet. Her hand finds his cheek instead, small palm cupping his jaw in a fleeting touch that's meant to reassure her as much as it is him. "Kit's upstairs in the room. I brought some clean clothes and something to take the edge off in case we ran into trouble, but I've got to be honest with you. I never anticipated any of this."

The cab turns the corner and rolls into the parking lot outside the Comfort Inn, its sign illuminated by a neon blue glow that bathes the pavement in alien light. Haddad is being very patient; the police are going to have all sorts of questions when he calls them at the end of his shift and, minus a few important details, reports what happened. Eileen and Gabriel know his name and his place of work courtesy of the license prominently displayed in the cab's front window. Although he owes no loyalty to them, he owes it to himself not to say anything that might give them cause to track him down again in the future, and that includes the location where he dropped them off.

"We'll go in through the side entrance," Eileen tells Gabriel as she cracks open the door just enough to peer outside and ensure that the coast is clear. "Do you still have your jacket?"

"Mm." The next minute, as Haddad scrolls down his window and lights a cigarette out it, blowing white smoke into the quickly cooling summer evening air, there's an awkward shuffle going on in the back. Pulling on his black tuxedo jacket without trying to jostle his shoulder is hard work, and eventually, Gabriel has to grit his teeth and bear it as he pulls the sliding black fabric up over injury and bright red shirt as Eileen's fingers work to seal the torn white and red closed. The bowtie has fallen somewhere forgotten on the cab floor, left behind along with the incriminating stain of red of Craig Christman's blood.

When the car door falls open, without another word to the cabby, Gabriel's steps demonstrate a degree of blood loss, or, to the wandering, judgmental eye of a bystander, inebriation. He waits for Eileen to climb out. Uses her as support as they make their way out of the parking lot, a brisk wind slapping at their faces, pulling at hair and clothing. "I don't even know who attacked. But I don't think they were after us," is Gabriel gruff mutter to her as they move. "I just got in the way."

"No," Eileen agrees. "The government has more enemies than you or I. We'll hear something on the radio in the morning." Gabriel lost his tie in the car. She lost her shoes back at the museum. With any luck, they can get through the rest of the evening without misplacing anything else. These clothes are expensive, never mind the fact that the bloodstains will probably prevent them from ever wearing them again — it's the principle of the thing.

Her bare feet make whispering sounds against the cement as she leads Gabriel toward the side entrance which is advertised by an EXIT sign and a door that's been propped open to allow for a draft. As the cab pulls away behind them, she unfastens her purse and fishes out her keycard, the room number to which it belongs printed in bold black text along the bottom. It's on the first floor, which means they won't have to tackle any stairs or brave the elevator. Small blessings.

"Did you talk to Autumn?"

She only gets a hollow sounding reluctant chuckle from the back of his throat, and that's about it, focusing on his journey towards the room. A hand, thankfully unbloodied if the palm slick with sweat, leans against the wall as he watches Eileen set about unlocking the door, his other clutching his jacket closed. "Briefly. We were interrupted. Someone knew who I was." It's a short enough answer, hopefully to sate her curiousity and mull over the questions that it will likely form during the time it takes to get inside.

And when it is, and the door goes snikt closed in the background, Gabriel is changing back into himself, shedding the skin of Craig Christman in favour of his own. He becomes leaner, darker eyed and haired, his jaw angling into something more dogged, his features becoming severe. Light brown curls straighten, length into glossier darkness, and when he speaks, his voice is much more gravel.

"Do you know who Sarisa Kershner is?" He remains standing, clutching his arm, instinctively waiting to be told where to sit, stand, undress, redress. It's a familiar dance for them both, the roles of medic and patient.

"Never heard of her." Eileen's purse and keycard are discarded on the nightstand beside the bed. She gestures for Gabriel to take a seat at its foot as she crouches down and pulls out a suitcase small enough to be brought aboard an airliner as a carry-on from beneath the cotton skirt. Appearances are everything. When she checked into the Inn before the gala, she made sure to bring along the necessary props, including "Shoshanna's" luggage.

A series of three numbers entered in the correct sequence frees the combination lock from the suitcase's zipper, giving Eileen access to the first aid kit stored inside. There are clean clothes, too, and these weren't packed for the sake of the charade. If they're going to sleep at some point tonight — and they will — then they need something softer, something more comfortable to do it in.

"You can keep your pants," she tells him as she flicks the kit's plastic latches into the open position. "Everything else needs to go."

The jacket, the shirt, and the undershirt beneath that already sliced to shreds by Eileen's knife are all tossed into the small kitchen sink, the tourniquet still looped tight around his arm and stained a wine sort of red. Everything is. Getting shot is messy work. "She was with Autumn, who took off before I could start working," Gabriel reports, voice distracted, removed from earthly things like pain and the hard beat of his heart in his chest. "We shook hands, and she knew who I was."

He casts a look back at Eileen over his unruined shoulder, turning back towards her, injured arm still supported by the other hand at his elbow. "She gave me her number." There's only a slice of slyness in there - he's not entirely in the mood for taunting, facetiousness, sarcasm.

"She gave Craig Christman her number." Eileen isn't in the mood for it either. If it weren't for all the blood, the strips missing from Gabriel's shirt and bottle of disinfectant she's holding in her hand, the situation could easily be misconstrued. Her tone belongs to a jealous girlfriend who just caught her beau eyeing the backside of a prettier woman, but the problem with this is that Eileen is neither jealous nor Gabriel's girlfriend — just irritated, her voice edged with caustic bitterness and the frayed beginnings of exhaustion. Tonight did not go at all as planned.

The bottle is uncapped and its contents used to douse a cotton swab. Eileen takes a seat on the edge of the bed beside him and begins to sterilize the wound, working from its edges toward the center. "Amato does something similar," she says, "but it's more than just a handshake. A lock of hair. An eyelash. If Autumn is keeping this Kershner woman as close as Kazimir kept him, we'd do well to give them both a wide berth until we have a better handle on whatever it is we're dealing with."

"Maybe you should stop strategising before I can tell you what happened." The words are growled out, inevitably edged thanks to the disinfecting pain around sensitive, torn skin that jumps and twitches beneath her touch. Some of it similar to her own caustic impatience. With the exception of these factors, Gabriel means it, casting her a sharp glance before dismissing in turn, setting his sights on the opposite wall.

He doesn't immediate say anything more, sluggishly turning over the events before the chaos in his head, trying to recall the precise wording and how to rework this into a debrief. It was so much easier with a super memory.

Gabriel's glance is at first met with something equally pointed, but it doesn't last. There is a time for arguing and this isn't it. Eileen lowers her eyes, apologetic, and trades her present swab for a clean one. They can go over it again in the morning and flush the channel out with a homemade saline solution. For now, however, what the kit has made available will have to do until she can place a call with either Raith or Ethan and ask one of them to bring her better equipment.

"Listening is usually one of my stronger points," she says when she eventually grows tired of the silence spanning between them. Then, softer, "I'm sorry. I think I'm still a bit shaken up." Which probably isn't what Gabriel wants to hear from the person who's tending to his wound and will soon be taking a needle to it. Her hands, at least, are steady.

Unfortunately, her efforts to combat the silence completely only offers a temporary reprieve, Gabriel quiet and turning to look at her work on his shoulder, his gaze sleepy and slack. Only when a subtle wince writes across his face when her work reaches broken skin, does he look towards the wall and continue to speak. "She gave Sylar her phone number," he states, firmly. Not Craig Christman, as suggested. "Christman was a no name Evo cop who disappeared months ago, and she doesn't seem the type to spend her time making small recruitments. She made implications— about me and my people. About working with FRONTLINE. I don't know what she really wants, but I want to find out."

The muscles in Eileen's jaw tighten. Tension stiffens her neck and straightens her spine, giving her a more attentive appearance that doesn't look entirely comfortable. "I don't trust the government to work with us any more than I trust them to open their arms for Dean and her people," she says. "There's nothing in this world worth that risk. Not after the things Kazimir had us do, not after the things we did willingly— "

Eileen pauses to retrieve a spool of surgical thread from the kit and loops it through the eye of a long, wicked-looking needle that glitters as she works it between her fingers. "They poison wolves in Siberia. Bad meat laced with insecticide. Temik. Maybe she wants you to bite."

"Maybe she does," Gabriel agrees, his gaze now inevitably drawn towards the needle and thread, a scowl pulling at his mouth. Usually there's alcohol around now, but he's not about to ask for it, never mind how practical and pragmatic it is. "If you underestimate me this much…" He slants a glance back up to her eyes, and raises an eyebrow at her. "Perhaps I shouldn't have come tonight at all. I've been burned enough not to repeat the same mistakes."

"Perhaps you shouldn't have," Eileen agrees contritely, tying a knot. "Perhaps I should have gone alone and spoken with the general myself." The needle pierces Gabriel's skin, cool and smooth to the touch, and glides beneath its surface, visible only as a bulging sliver until she pulls it out again the other side, thread trailing behind. "Perhaps I should have asked him to arrest and summarily execute me so Daiyu doesn't have to work quite as hard." That's sarcasm, dry, sardonic, suctioning out the mirth from her tight voice.

"If I didn't hold you in such high esteem," she says, "then I wouldn't have trusted you alone with Autumn, and I certainly wouldn't be pissing away the rest of my evening here with you. You're so fucking arrogant you can't even recognize concern when you hear it. Everything's a personal attack on the size of your dick."

Currently, Eileen is threading a sharp piece of metal through the ruined skin of his shoulder, which is otherwise attached to a thread trapped in her hand. It's the only reason that has Gabriel sitting still as a statue on the edge of the bed, his back rigid and gaze straight ahead with posture that would make a Marine proud. There's some silence before he decides he had to summon up something in response, and that is—


He tilts his head back on his neck, letting a sigh stream out his nostrils as he tries to measure off his impatience against the pain his shoulder. "I'm not going to lead myself, or you, or the Remnant into a trap," Gabriel finally manages, his voice like steel and as tense as a coil. "But it's a lead— " Air hisses through his teeth at a pull from the thread. "It's a lead worth pursuing. I'm capable of doing it not on Kershner's terms. Does that make sense or are we going to have to find a tape measure?"

"No tape measure required." Eileen cinches the wound shut and pulls the thread until taut before she knots it again, this time in preparation for the final step, which involves severing the excess suture with a snip of teeth and a cobra-quick snap of her head. "I can remember perfectly well, thank you."

It's a compromise, or at least the closest she's going to come to one as long as she's entrenched in her current frame of mind. "You've never given me any reason to think you might lead us astray, but truth be told— " The needle and spool of surgical thread disappear, and for a moment Eileen looks like she might leave it at that. There isn't much else she can do for him until morning except take the edge off. This requires not a bottle of aspirin or vicodin but a slim syringe the size of a pencil and an unmarked bottle filled with clear liquid that fits in the palm of her hand, produced and readied during her pause. "If we walk into a trap, I'd rather we all go at once. It's kinder."

"Stupider." The correction is brisk but not particularly filled with argument. The plan isn't to get caught, anyway. Gabriel eyes the needle but makes no protest - at this point, any relief from the pain and then a few hours sleep is fine, as long as it's on the immediate menu. "I don't know what exactly we walked into tonight, but I don't think anyone thought us rude or notable for leaving early. Did you find anything?"

Eileen sticks the syringe through the bottle's cap and coaxes the plunger between two fingers, pulling it back, filling the instrument's plastic body with the appropriate amount of medication. There aren't a lot of things it could be — sources considered, morphine is probably the safest bet. "Nothing that can't wait 'til morning," she says as she sets the bottle aside on the nightstand with a gentle click. "You need to rest. Sleep through the worst of the pain. We can talk about what it might mean when we aren't rounding on each other like wounded animals."

The hand not holding the syringe seeks out Gabriel's arm, feeling along the inside of his elbow. "I'll wake you if something more happens, all right?"

Gabriel's arm resists for a moment, a glance back towards the door, the same kind of irrational paranoia wild animals have when they hear a twig snap, but ultimately— his affirmation is voiced only in him offering her his arm, gaze dull and expression stoic as she sticks him with the morphine, which steals away pain as effortlessly as it can be dealt. He probably wouldn't be here if he didn't trust her too.

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