Swim, Said The Mama Duck


gabriel_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Swim, Said The Mama Duck
Synopsis A conversation about the sum of parts, when Gabriel thinks to check in.
Date August 9, 2009

Fresh Kills Harbor

Situated at one end of the Arthur Kill, this small harbor has clearly seen days of better and more frequent use. Though it's little more than a network formed by a few creaky docks and causeways, it's still more than suitable to tie up for those who have business on the Island. Invariably, at least one of the ports is taken up by a houseboat covered in seagull shit. A thick, greenish layer of bilge scum floats on top of the water and clings to the hull of every passing vessel. Welcome to Staten Island. If you have baggage or cargo to unload, there are usually a few layabouts at the Angry Pelican, which is just a short walk away. Just be sure to ask for a clean glass and keep one hand on your wallet at all times.

The moon looks like a bitten mint forgotten on the calfskin of the backseat of somebody's sky, overhead. There are stars over Staten Island that there hadn't been only a few years ago, permitted their shine and sporadic waver by the diminishing of mankind's dominion.

As with his attitude toward most things, Teo tries to enjoy them while they're there. Word on the wind has it that it won't last, not between the government and the greedy multiplication of urban progress, and even if it hadn't, he probably would have figured as much based off the fact that he likes stars and shit happens to stuff he likes. Crawling in his skin, these wounds they will not heal. Oh well, oh well, oh well. You can't always win, you can't always lose. Neither affords a young terrorist and monster-pending-redemption the excuse to not put his back into it.

Two AM finds him exploiting the skeletally diminished crowds at the harbor's edge, despite that he's tired. He has a flashlight caught between even, white teeth, a case of tools in his hand, use-scarred workboots laced up his ankles. His feet drum hollowly on the dock and the deck. He has been working on the boat and the dock all night, evinced in the stink of sweat on him, dust smeared below his left eyebrow in a shape you could match to the crook of his forefinger.

About as far as you could throw a stone, the Angry Pelican's broken open self sits huddled against the stretching shadows, with one lonely oil lamp hanging from a different era near what counts as a door. It swings in the wind coming off the river, wobbles the light, but apart from that and the cookie-crumble stars above and the similar scattering of city-light across the stretch of ever movie water… it's a dark midnight.

Gabriel doesn't move in from the downhill dirt track that veins its way from the inland, to the nibbled at island rims of Staten - instead, he'd edged the coast, and by the time his boots are stepping up onto the creaking dock, they're caked with sand. At the end of the stretch of jetty, erect unlike it's sunken counterpart several feet away, he can confirm what he'd heard, back at the Garden. Teo Laudani? Yeah, he's doing some work down at the harbor, why?

No reason.

Wood groans as if tired under each meandering tread over. He has something in each hand, blunt shaped, dark, catches what light there is to catch in a glassy sheen. No presence is announced, not with words.

It takes Teo a long time to notice the erstwhile serial killer coming. Mind you, most people probably wouldn't have noticed at all— ? Maybe? Catching somebody loitering on Staten Island is a little like magically locating an errant plastic toy in a children's sandbox. Not so magical. Whereas mineral grains might be somewhat more ubiquitous, that's nothing particularly brow-raising. Teo catches a glimpse at slightly better than two hundred feet, recognizes the absence of a gun's bulk and bulge after a glimpse through the man's mind a little closer yet.

Doesn't stand up and stop until the light off the nearest lamp— not so very near— has picked out the man's features, limned the severity of Gabriel's brow and honker in yellow light. Another ten feet, twenty, and the fierce little battery-powered beam poking out from Teo's jaws blanches the color out of the other man's face, flattens his nose and bleaches his brow. He doesn't turn the light away, or even pull it out of his mouth. He raises a hand instead, faintly tentative. Sends a wave down, from the rail of the boat.

One eye squinches shut for a moment as the flashlight's beam strikes off his face, makes skin both pale and jaundice and turns obsidian eyes into a burning brown of a different kind of stone. Irritation is fleeting, features smoothing, trying to make out the patchy appearance of Teo's silhouette from this angle in a series of blinks. Gabriel can't see his face when the sun seems to be shining out from his mouth, rendering everything else vaguely black.

"Permission to board." Not much of a question, especially seeing as he's boarding anyway. There's a glass clink as one object is transferred into the other hand to join its twin, freed palm and fingers wrapping about the metal rail as he levers himself up, a fluid motion that finds his feet landing firmly on the deck. His jeans might as well be black in this lighting, navy as they are, and a T-shirt of wide grey and black stripes is mostly obscured by the leather of his jacket that, apart from the slight pinch at his shoulders, fits him fine.

Also healthy. Standard injury inventory prose is not required, in this part of the story, and a bottle is offered out, chilly condensation clinging to the brown glass. "Looks like thirsty work."

It is. Alcohol dries you out, you know. Dehydration is conducive to hangovers, and he will have to be doing the work tomorrow, too. Teo takes the bottle, of course, with gratitude, pulls the flashlight out of his teeth with his other hand, shines the light down to study the label cinched around the beer's pertly cylindrical waist. Nice draft.

He doesn't bother answering the man's request, having tacitly accepted it while his mouth was otherwise occupied. He puts the nozzle cap in his teeth. Ridged metal grinds against his molars, a horrible scratching, scraping, torquing noise of enamel suffering careless use, a dentist's nightmare. He cracks the beer open. Spits the twisted top off, overboard, into the sea. That is like a two hundred dollar fine on Manhattan, if the cops catch you. There are never enough cops, until there are too many.

"I owe you a couple rounds," Teo says, lifting the beer: toast. He doesn't say to what, exactly.

The toast is more observed rather than shared in, Gabriel situating himself to sit. For someone hedging past 6', he perches ably on the railing, with a foot hooked against the metal; a knife is taken out from his pocket, red plastic disguising the short, not particularly threatening tool which is used to lever open the bottle, cap peeled back and discarded over the side. It will collect alongside beer cans, descomposed organic matter too gross to think about too hard, used condoms. All the classiness of the Fresh Kills Harbor. "Probably."

Beer swills within the glass as he takes a long pull from it, his sleeve used to wipe his mouth, and his gaze drops down to observe the drink in hand, still cold from wherever the Angry Pelican manages to hide the few decent drinks it keeps in stock.

Tips it to and fro a little as he asks, "What have you been telling people?" Not the truth, to be assumed, or Gabriel's question might be more direct.

Leaning himself on the rail beside the erstwhile— the other erstwhile serial-killer would seem too… companionable, somehow. Like they were friends. Or, if not friends, then friendlier than they are, and failing somewhat to pay the situation, in all its extraordinary oddness, the proper recognition.

Teo winds up staying on his feet, though within the grasp of polite conversational proximity, or any given superpower Gabriel Gray has at his availability. Dirty T-shirt, dirty face, perspiring beer in dirty hand, looking more the part of miscreant youth than happening young hero attempting to save good, salt-of-the-Earth, God-fearing Evolved (ironic phrasing?) from their mysterious attackers.

On the other hand, arguably, only the most maladjusted of clockmakers and Catholic boys end up in situations like these, anyway, and the truth of the matter is: Teo is looking at his hero, not the other way around. "And here I thought there was some off-chance you wouldn'tve…" Noticed? Red desert merging with flood, the summary collision of one mind into another, definition and division giving way to the trauma of Sylar's passage. Hard to miss, you'd think. It's kind of funny that so many people have.

"I tell them Ghost is gone."

There's little that can be told about Teo's mental state— or at least, to the degree that Gabriel might care about— just based off appearance. He looks like Teo, as simple and as complex as that might be, and it's also useless information. He looked like Teo, too, from the inside, with the added benefit of being able to see what makes up every quirk, every hook of memory, every division between him-then and him-now, in an atmosphere impossible to describe now that Gabriel is made up of solid matter and stuck on the outside. Like trying to talk about colour to someone who's blind. Or to a dog.

His jaw ticks in irritation, little to do with the words being spoken. So, Gabriel nods, and gives wry confirmation; "I noticed," before taking another swig of beer. "I wasn't sure what the end result would be, but I knew there would be one. Do you still have his power?"

Scientific curiousity, in a sense. Gabriel's never turned someone into yeast before.

Is this something somebody who is half someone Gabriel Gray didn't like would want to be confessing out loud? Teo's expression scrunches into a brief grimace, briefly chancing the idiot childishness that his younger analogue had often favored, though the very fact that he tries it on around the former serial killer and would-have-been tyrant of the post-apocalyptic wooorld is evidence in and of itself that there's a different creature's equilibrium of cold confidence present, as well. The reaction, however minute and quick, is unthinking.

The response that follows is not. "Yeah. 'M not— as good at using it, though. Not by pretty fucking far. Haven't checked what my DNA reads like, but I think blood says I'm still Evolved.

"And Teodoro Laudani." The phrasing is indicative, the choice of words: that's what blood says, as if the more ethereal stuff that might comprise a man has been telling him different. He doesn't elaborate, or leave a beat's pause to be prompted to do so. Instead, he says, abruptly, and apropos of not much at all: "Thank you. If you hadn't come for him or saved them both, I'd— either be fucking dead or… not…" His gratitude doesn't stagger, but words fall short of their mark, even the temptation to use Sicilian ones that would ease the brutish, halting ugliness of the local tongue in favor of something that carries the illusion of fluency with inherent music.

He was going to say, Born.

There's a swallow; a bob of an Adam's apple beneath unshaven throat skin, and to say that Gabriel's would salivate over the thought of Evolved ability not being used the way it should be is a gross exaggeration, but equal in what it truly means. Just as sinister. Contrary to popular theory bounced around FBI offices, he doesn't actually eat brains. And he's also learned a thing or two about controlling his appetite.

Or. Or we hope, anyway. Whatever this dubious tight-rope equilibrium happens to be. Two men on a boat drinkin' beer. "I don't know about dead," Gabriel dismisses, gaze down towards where beer bottle sits neglected between his knees, cupped in two hands. "But I suspect that after a while, dead would be wishful thinking." Outside influences aside, it's not nice to have a head like a war.

People were happy when the Berlin wall was struck down too. "I'd ask which one of you you're more like but I don't think it will matter. Environmental factors. You'll fill the shape people make around you, or change everything." He speaks from experience, in many ways. "Are you— " Uncertainty hitches his words, brow furrowing about what he was gonna say. Strange. He asks it anyway.

"Are you happy?"

Vaguely, he remembers his mother asking him this question, when he eventually told her he was gay. Ish. Sort of what she'd said to him-ish, also gay-ish. It is disorienting to think he's having this conversation with one Gabriel Gray before Amadora Laudani. Disorienting also to produce a response that is adequately honest, despite the complications and easy sarcasm endemic to such deceptively simple questions. He obstructs the initial and most obvious reply— 'Uuh'— by taking a pull of beer. And then the 'ummm' that would have punctuated it by scoring Teo's mouth with his sleeve.

He probably doesn't like that— the dissection of nurture and nature, their inevitable interplay in the evolution of the inchoate personality forming between his ears, but that isn't supposed to be the kind of thing you like. Somehow, it's more reassuring than the insistence of anything inherent that would shine through the clumsy struggle of his engineering. His frown changes slightly between the points before and after drinking. More pensive, afterward. "Right now I'm kind of flattered, I think," he says. "'S kind of like being happy, isn't it?

"'S fucking weird, you and Deckard are the ones who think of shit like this." Shit like what, he couldn't even articulate properly if asked. There aren't a lot of obvious similarities between Gabriel's polite mechanical queries and offers of beer, or Deckard's death threats and vicissitudes of silence.

'Happy' is a good litmus test in judging whether or not Gabriel fucked up in his efforts to be a hero, really. 'Happy' is better than 'at war'. 'Happy' is better than 'not happy, what the fuck did you do to me'. But 'flattered' is better than all those things too, so a halved, smirking smile tugs at the corner of his lips, and he gives a subtle headtilt, before partaking in a sip of beer.

"Is it weird that we think of these things, or that no one else does? Because, to be fair, I had a head start, and you're a liar."

Thud-thud. Gabriel's feet land on the deck, although not necessarily to leave, a hand resting against the rail in a casual lean. The gentle rock of the boat is very familiar to him, having spent such time on the Casino Royale or other such vessels, the Dirty Deeds, a smaller thing, and the cargo ship, whose name escapes him. It reminds him of when he didn't have memory but somehow became a strange mesh of two people too.

Well. Not memory in the traditional sense. Scraps of it, run off from the minds of other people, congealed into voices. It's hard not to think about this stuff, after a while. "Don't know about Deckard," he adds. "But I know a thing or two about being insane."

Beer rocks back in the bottle, leveling its meniscus inside the glass transparency. Teo exhales after the drag, bares his teeth against the residual chill of the fluid, partly, and partly to give emphasis when he points out: "I'm not 'insane.'" The way Teo says institutes tall quote-marks around the adjective with corkscrewed barbed wire circling the top, defenses raised against a siege that he's well-aware Gabriel never intended, wouldn't bother with. He raises his bottle. "I'm totally fucking down with consensual reality. Look at this.

"Beer," he points at the beer, somewhat unnecessarily. "You, Gabriel Gray, me, Teodoro Laudani. This, an ambush in the making. Why, for the various and sundry moralized rationales I've ever come up with for killing people, none of which I'm any under illusion are universally or even locally acceptable. I'm not a liar." He didn't fit a proper segue between those two sentences, either because the real subject of his concern had just shoved itself to the surface in some brutishly violent seismic, or because he's being irrelevant, or because his train of thought operates thusly, with small collisions instead of brakes or switches, each topic alike in shape and mechanic but dreadfully discontinuous. He said he was sane. Hadn't thought he'd been lying. "The oth— Ghostis gone."

"Lying by omission," Gabriel says, voice raising up above the usual quiet monotony of his voice; sharp edged like the way ceramic can be. Splintery, ragged, "is still lying. Ghost is gone but that's the simple reader's digest interpretation, and I should know. But it doesn't matter."

A quicker swig of beer, a flash of teeth in the darkness as he gets it down. Plunk. The bottle is dropped over the side, water folded up over it with a wet clap, and Gabriel leans back against the railing, a hand on each, his back facing the stretch of beach he had come down. "It's none of their business. But because it's none of their business, I wouldn't call it weird— " back to the original point that this erstwhile serial killer was attempting to make— "—that they haven't made it so." Apart from he and Deckard, that is.

"I'd call it a blessing. And no. You're not insane. I didn't call you insane." Gabriel's hands link together, an eyebrow goes up. "But feel free to protest a little more."

Childish petulance writes a triangle of lines around the point of Teo's nose, makes a joke out of this— if it wasn't already. He takes his time with the beer, this pull, and with answering as well. Occupies himself primarily with staring at the water and consulting the fuzzed reflection of stars cast down on it. Star-light, star-bright. Given a map, a compass, he could probably chart his way home from here. Home being Sicily. "You're not insane. I don't know why you brought that up. You shouldn't have to be insane to check up on how your erstwhile comrade and occasional drinking buddy is doing.

"I'm being oversensitive, yeah, yeah," he says, shortly. "Ghost's sense of entitlement and Teo's popularity interfaced oddly. It's one of those funny things." Dismantled parts combining to produce something that bears resemblence to neither of the objects of the original salvage. "Whatever. How's Eileen?" This last inquiry comes with a noisy sniff through Teo's nose, without the emphasis that would relate it back to his experiment in self-pity some five seconds earlier. He lifts the bottle up near his face and studies the glistening horizon of dregs against Staten's scudded crap rendition of an urban skyline.

Point taken, which is not something that is verbalised. Only a subtle tilt of his head, a slow blink of dark eyelashes over even darker eyes, and Gabriel's gaze swivels away from him to observe the broken coastside that rambles on from this vantage point. Everyone observes the scenery, even after Teo diverts the conversation. The wind skims over rock, brushes fingers along the surface of the water to make it rustle, break against ground.

It's nice out here. "That wasn't what I meant," Gabriel states, skipping over the question for the moment. "I was trying to tell you I sympathised. Identity, nature and nurture, past sins out of your control defining who you are now. 'Insane' was a bad word. And it's not an excuse for finding you.

"Eileen is fine," he tells the general vicinity, eventually, looking back at Teo. For a moment, an expression that passes for human crosses Gabriel's features, a furrow in his brow of consternation and consideration. Then— "Things have changed, not for the worst. We're staying close." And as lightly as he'd brushed against the topic, he moves on with; "She's been staying at the Garden, if you wanted to see how she was for yourself."


Sympathy. See, that's the weird part: coming from you. Only it isn't, shouldn't be, wouldn't be by the reckoning of people who separate monsters from the category that they comfortably place themselves into. Some experiences aren't so comfortably defined as human. Probably not for anyone involved.

At some point between acquiring the drinkies and acquiring the verbal caption attached to Gabriel Gray's sympathy, Teo moved from the toolbox further in the deck to the railing. He's leaning on it now. One more swing, and Teo lets the beer bottle drop out of his hand. Plunk. There's a brief roostertail squit of foam, and then the bottle winks out of sight, water cramming in through the hollow of its vertical axis, drowning it down, down, past the belly of the boat. "I'm glad." A beat.

"For you two," in the tone of clarification. "Ghost would be gloating or some shit." He wipes stained sweat off his cheek and on the sleeve on his shoulder, pauses there, with his head torqued around an awkward angle, staring at the older man from across the length of the boat's siding. Teeter, teeter, with the tide. "Maybe I should," he concedes, finally.

Now's probably a bad time to pick apart the difference between sympathy and empathy, and the latter's retarded, well meaning cousin, compassion. The stand-alone oh gets the barest nudge of a shrug, and otherwise— the conversation could have well been dropped down into the murky water along with the twin beer bottles. It could be worse. It's easier to throw people into walls than explain yourself.

Also there aren't any walls. "Maybe," Gabriel agrees. Then, with a casual, careless swiftness, he levers himself over the side, long legs ably if awkwardly negotiated, swung, until he can push himself in such a way that he lands on the jetty, and not the fluctuating gap of space between boat side and dock. "I would have thought Teo would be gloating as well.

"Is he gone too?" It's the question he'd been debating asking, and finally it's stated; almost as important as happiness.

There's an uncouth wrist running under Teo's nose by then. Snnghkgk. Hnnmh. No he isn't like— eight years old and trying to gross out Mr. Coasters on All the Coffee Tables or anything— he's just been out here awhile, in the lunatic fluctuation of temperature between evening and day, and a dose of cold beer besides.

"Hope so." It isn't a particularly nice answer, which probably supports the probability that he's gotten his wish. Teo looks over the railing, across and down a little at where Gabriel is standing. Technically, the boat has walls. Little ones. Wouldn't be the same, of course; it'd rock, every ounce of pressure applied to the choking victim seconded, proportionally, by the uneasy gurgle and tip of the boat. Teo died like that once. He'd have to be a complete idiot to think that that was absolutely nowhere on Gabriel's mind. Such were the circumstances under which he was forged. Anything less is going to qualify as weird, here out.

Teo uncurls one hand, but doesn't quite wave with it. He starts to say something, to ask something about Eileen, this half-plotted field trip to the Garden, but he stops halfway through the first syllable, his jaw stretching out into an anglerfish's stubborn underbite for a brief moment, flexing, thinking. The duckling amends his query. "Have you ever owed anybody the fucking truth?"

There's a shark's judgment in the way Gabriel watches him now, once that casual answer is delivered. It's not a matter of conscience, because the important things— the world according to Sylar— rarely are. Profit and risk. This isn't quite as simple as economics, and economics aren't even particularly simple. But anyway. If it looks like Laudani, talks like Laudani— and it truly does— then reason says he may as well be Laudani.

Which is good enough for right now, while there aren't any proper walls. Gabriel's mouth twists in a half-smile at that question, which breaks the shark quality, somewhat. Sharks don't smile, they grin. "No," he states, simply. They could discuss the answer until the moon goes down and the campfire has dwindled to burning ashes and the moonshine has dried up, but—

No will suffice, though he does think to add, "Except for myself." A shrug of leather-clad shoulders, before Gabriel steps back, turns on a heel to head back towards solid ground.

It's nobody's business, then. Because it's a waste of time. Says the mommy duck, who's wont to lead her ducklings across the grille, before the sewer sucks them away in a dervish of fluffy yellow squee, weeee, eeeeee. There's a figment of concern, somewhere in the back of Teo's muddled mind, that he's going to have to do some work to recover some of the— respect, or whatever, lost since he's been reduced to psychic infancy.

Not to assume that he'd ever had it, or that he'll ever need it. The delinquent draped recalictrant over the boat's edge stares blankly as the other man stalks off with a puma's orderly sinosoidal in the alignment of spine and legs. "Well, it's what got them in trouble, I guess," Teo calls out, over the grumble and click of planed wood and water. "Having to get to the bottom of things. Merda. I thought that's what gets you in trouble, too."

"You don't hear me complaining!" Gabriel fires back, over a shoulder, rather than pause and allow himself to get looped back into conversation. He could. He could well stay out here until dawn and talk and go back and forth and maybe one day that will happen. It's not as though they don't have all the time in the world. Then again, perhaps there's something worth going back to.

Or perhaps things have changed. Things have changed. You don't lay out every detail of what's on your mind to someone like the man left on the boat, or so Gabriel had resolved at some stage during the watery space-time deficient stay in Teo's brain.

Something lost, something gained. Either way, Gabriel's departure stays its course.

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