Talking Poetry with the Birds


eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Talking Poetry with the Birds
Synopsis Gabriel encounters something peculiar after dark.
Date January 24, 2011

Staten Island: River House

It's cold.

Not the kind of pervasive pressure that gets under the skin and demand he curl into a fetal position, but the creeping, gradual kind of cold that prickles Gabriel awake because the body cradled against him beneath the covers isn't there anymore to keep him warm. There's a depression in the cot where Eileen should be, the cheap cotton sheets rumpled, and while there's no sign of a struggle in the bedroom — why should there be? — the heavy winter coat she took with her from the Dispensary is folded with his at the cot's foot along with tomorrow's change of clothes and a pair of boots that Ethan and Raith were kind enough to retrieve earlier in the evening.

It's the kind of thing you take with you under these living conditions if you're going to urinate, which would otherwise explain her absence and the fact that she did not wake him to tell him where she was going.

Ice and snow traps the moonlight on the other side of the warped glass pane that is the bedroom's window, and the lantern left on the bedroom floor has long since burned out, reducing Gabriel's world to shadows that gain more definition the longer his eyes remain open, and they don't want to because it's still dark outside and his bones know in their marrow when it's morning. It isn't, yet.

It's too cold to sleep naked, but the expansive tattoo along his back is dark enough to show through the thin cotton of his T-shirt, and they seem to slither along with the movement of muscle and bone beneath flesh. He's simply tucking his arms beneath his chest and stomach, curling ever deeper into the warm spot his body heat has created. No reason to move. She'll be back soon. Unless she isn't. Then there'll be reason to move, Gabriel supposes.

He breathes out, loudly, into pillow, an unattractive snuffle that wakes him up even more than the cold. He feels like his eyelashes are tangling together when he peers around the room, lifting his head. Not too tired not to make a lazy sweep of the place, sensing someone wound, but no one he doesn't expect to be.

She's not in the house is the conclusion Gabriel can draw based on his cursory exploration, but he can also feel her presence in his periphery like something whispered against his throat or the sensation of her heart fluttering at his back on the nights she sleeps behind him with an arm draped over his waist and a small hand curled into his abdomen. He gets a distant impression that she might be upset; her distress flickers candle-like in the dark rather than lighting up their empathic connection like a beacon might, and maybe that's not surprising.

Daiyu came for them at their home, and she hardly slept that first night at the river house, her small hands cold and stiff, clutching at the fabric of the shirt he's wearing now as if afraid someone or something might come for her like a leopard through the open window of clay hut.

A glimmer of psychic insight shows him snow.

Air rushes chilly up his nose as he takes a deep breath in, once turtle-flipped onto his back, the knuckles of his hand grinding into generous brow, before he gets out of his bed with the grace of sleepy willpower. Gabriel pads for the window, sweatpants draw-strung around his waist and T-shirt thin, but when frost dances over the glass when he goes to open it, there's a degree of protection in place for him against the bitter cold. The window is pushed open only an inch, but that's all that's needed for him to ink his way out in silent transformation.

The black creature he becomes slides and climbs its way down the face of the house, leaping to land soundlessly on the snow, before slithering off in tolerant pursuit of where he is almost sure Eileen wants to be alone, but fuck it.

Eileen's pale skin is hard to distinguish from the snow on the ground, and if she was wearing only her nightgown then Gabriel would have to rely on the shock of her dark hair to pick her out from the frozen landscape, but it's a chilly night, and the sweater she wears over it — one of his — makes her stand out against the ice she's standing on at the edge of the river. Unlike the Hudson, it's both narrow and shallow, with no danger of falling through where there are cracks in its surface yet no burble of water to be heard beneath it.

She isn't. Alone. He knows because he has the same ability she does, and as he draws closer he will not mistake the shadows in the trees for leaves too stubborn to fall like Ethan or Raith might. Wind makes a crackling sound when it rustles through feathers, and hundreds of eyes like twinkling black stars watch Gabriel from the branches in unnatural silence. It's not unusual for starlings to form flocks this large, but it is for Eileen to commune with them unless she's commanding them to attack.

Her back is already presented to him without her needing to turn it. Breath fogs out of her nose and mouth, open, her lips moving around words without a voice.

This family is not unfamiliar with its members going off and doing weird things. Painting, or staring at the stars, or whatever the fuck Raith does in the basement, maybe not dissimilar to whatever the fuck Gabriel does in the attic. But something piques Gabriel's interest beyond wondering what's worth catching a death of cold, coming to a halt in a three dimensional puddle of rippling black ink that is a stark, stark difference against fluffy white snow and filthier grey melting. Bare feet then sink into the snow, giving off glimmers of preternatural blue light.

He's a new predator in the equation, casting off the same vibes of unease that an owl might upon landing within easy view. But specific danger, Gabriel resists, watching the back of Eileen's head curiously and unable not to wonder if she is sleeping. He relies on avian telepathy, tentatively trying to tune his awareness to the network of puny starling brains scattered around the more complex one of the woman in his sweater.

The starlings do not understand the terms awake or asleep or perceive them the same way Gabriel does. His presence pulls taut a thread of tension through the flock, and if he listens to the vibrations carefully, he'll hear something that should provide him with an answer but doesn't, because what it's telling him doesn't make any sense.

For the first time, he can hear Eileen's voice in his head without needing to remove himself from it, or she from hers. Sleep, little pigeon, it says, matching the swift, articulate movements of her silent mouth, and fold your wings. Little blue pigeon with velvet eyes, sleep to the singing of mother-bird swinging, swinging the nest where the little one lies.

One of the starlings in the trees lets out a shrill, musical whistle much sharper than its usual trembling call — a melodic series of notes that sounds like it's attempting to mimic a whispering violin and not a sequence it could have picked up in the wild from other bird species. It's a tune he does not recognize.


It's the normal thing to do. It's what the oblivious spouse does in the horror movies, just like this — her name projected gently so as not unsettle the birds; a no nonsense edge to his tone that grounds them in reality and demands implicitly that she snap out of it; spoken out loud, too, so as not to tamper with nor indulge whatever psychic, sleepwalking conversation she happens to be involved in. Gabriel knows you're not supposed to wake the sleepwalkers, but presented with zero reason as to why

His bare feet slip a little in ice-packed rural ground as he moves towards her, psychically trying to elbow aside the clustered avian minds — not actually a possible thing, seeing as they intuit each other through the animals, but he can still cast his shadow.

Eileen's dark head turns, chin to shoulder, exposing the curve of her jaw and pointed chin, one corner of her mouth and the silver crescent that is her left eye eclipsed by heavy black lashes. There is not enough light for the moon to bring out the green in it, or the subtle rose of her cheeks and small, tight mouth, now closed. She can't see him, not really, but nevertheless her gaze tracks his movements with more precision than should be possible given her condition.

It would be predatory if her brows weren't arched and knit into an expression of genuine confusion, subdued though it is. She looks a little lost. Hard not to, when you don't have any shoes on your feet and your legs from mid-thigh all the way through to the ankle are completely bare. The sleeves of the sweater end at the knuckles of her hands, fingers slowly curling in on themselves in response to either her name or the sound of Gabriel's voice. Both.


Vapour silvers out on a breath of frustration. The gentle approach isn't working. And so crunching ice and forest ground beneath bare feet, Gabriel moves for her — moves through her, suddenly, a strange kind of sensation that seems to cast off smoke where atoms working on some different wavelength to one another merge and come apart again. She can't see him, save for through the eyes of the birds in their vicinity, so it's not like it matters too much.

If Gabriel was giving that consideration at all. Shocking her would probably be better, anyway, which is why his hands quite suddenly clamp on either of her arms, and a shake jolts through her, muscles responding as readily to physicality as they would electrical impulse.

Gabriel's hands come down on her arms, and Eileen's grab fistfuls of his shirt. She's easily shaken — as brittle as her body looks, her bones are a great deal stronger than glass. His manhandling deals more damage to the sound of protest she makes than to the woman herself, a groan cut short before it can become a hoarsely spoken—

Stop. Gray eyes lift and focus on Gabriel's brown-gold ones as she leaks out a sharp, hissing breath through her nose and opens her mouth again as if to speak, but instead the hands that had seized his shirt reach up and take his face, the tips of her fingers pressing into the skin of his cheekbones and jaw. This is the part where something terrible should happen, where Kazimir Volken's ability should peel the flesh off his bone like flaking ash, or blood should erupt from his mouth, all his old injuries split open at once under the influence of something Julian Kuhr once gave her. Maybe she has a pair of scissors hidden somewhere.


And to her credit— and maybe his— he expects nothing, when her hands fly to grip his head. Gabriel's eyes seek out her expression to find something changed, recognition, wakefulness. He knows better than to check her own eyes. Hands gentle on her arms, but he continues that hold on her all the same. Intuitive aptitude is better on mechanics he can see, raw physicality; avian telepathy presents an empathic window; astral projection shows the tethers of mind to body, and all of these tools combined really only serve to show him that—

Something is. Vaguely wrong. Frustration has his hands clutch tighter, but no more jostling. His skin is cold beneath her touch, like touching snow, or the dead flesh it preserves. Flakes of ice come away with the brush of her fingers, making her skin prickle, and he reins that power in a little, exposing himself to the elements for the sake of not aggravating her own ridiculous chilliness.

He is better at equations. The motions behind science, even if he doesn't know all the words. That he presses a kiss to her mouth isn't very scientific at all, but experimental all the same.

She takes his lower lip in her teeth, drawing him into her, and presses her abdomen against his hips. Eileen — if it is Eileen, and this is becoming increasingly less likely — responds to the kiss with a hard groan and a willing mouth that yields willingly to him. Her back arches, breasts crushed to chest as her hands resume exploration, taking in cheekbones and jaw, the thick column of his throat and clavicle tucked beneath it, down waist and hips to tangle the loose strings of his sweatpants in her fingers, then wind them tight around her knuckles.

His experiment would be a success if this was his ultimate goal. She's either oblivious to his true intentions or does not care, the same way she seems not to care that the air is freezing and her lips have begun to turn blue.

More. Her voice is in his head again. Pert. Demanding. Whatever this is, it's at the very least a good imitation of the real thing.

Fingers scrabbling eager though not warm against his stomach induce hesitation, tensing muscles. Gabriel's arms steer around her, letting the chill of his skin finally sap away until sharp, he feels the ice against his bare soles, prickling numbness setting in. But not for long, one way or another. He kisses back, matching graze for graze, with a hand gripping gently in slick, chilled hair, the other skating down the slope of her back, gripping the back of her thigh.

More is met with neutral acknowledgement, and he's careful to get his mouth away from her's, to kiss her forehead with his arm coming to hold— support— around her shoulders. Just before a mental shove knifes through her head, driving her consciousness out of her body to hang on a metaphysical tether.

The world goes black for her, her body slack, but he holds her close.

Something unexpected happens. The tether snaps.

All at once, the trees lose their make believe leaves, birds shed with the next billowing gust of wind that blows them from the branches and fills the air with thunder. It happens fast like a gunshot, and the starlings clear out around the same time the echo does, the last of their shadowy shapes scissoring away into the dark with quick flicks of their wings, whisper-soft alone but a dull roar all together as one.

They're alone again. Eileen is still breathing; he can feel the rise and fall of her chest against his, and the tickle of her pulse at her neck. Her dark head rests on his shoulder while the hands that had been clutching feverish at his pants are loose against his lower stomach.

It's too late, but he tries anyway. It's not a command for them to stay, and maybe if it was, it'd work — but a simple telepathic reaching out to the avian swarm, spurred by confusion, brief panic. Fading.

His head ducks and listens to the whisper of her breath in and out, even though he can feel the dull thump of her heart. The shudder of shivers are beginning to wrack through him by the time he's shifting to push his arm behind her knees and twist her up to settle princess in the bracket of his arms, tipping her head against his shoulder as he listens to the last of the birds' departure, leaving tiny three-spoked footprints and loose feathers in the ice.

Gabriel moves back for the house, in long, slow steps, his shoulders tense — and not only because they support her weight.

He's halfway there when Eileen's mouth parts around a sharp breath and her eyes sliver open, showing pale crescents of gray that make a futile effort to focus on his face. Her chin lifts and she makes a faintly plaintive sound. There aren't any birds left for her to see through, and she's quick to grab hold of his shirt when she realizes the rocking motion that woke her is connected to the crunch of his footsteps through the snow.

"Gabriel," she starts, but doesn't get much further than that when she abruptly realizes how cold her mouth is, and how difficult it is the form a three syllable name, otherwise she might follow that with a question. She turns her face against the material of his shirt and breathes warmth into the material to bring feeling back to her lips and the muscles in her cheeks.

"Cold," she concludes instead. "What—"

The world spins queasily around Eileen for the time it takes for Gabriel to angle through the doorway she'd moved from, kicking it closed with a thud that blocks out wind chill, but not the cold. "You were sleepwalking," is the best he can do, at a low growl, voice seeming to originate somewhere deep in his chest, more texture than volume. "Talking poetry with the birds." And sleep kissing. Sleep wanting, sleep demanding. It doesn't add up, and Eileen can feel the chord of uncertainty that strikes dissonant down the line.

He's moving for the hearth, which doesn't have a fire in it, but will in a few minutes. With ice melting between his own toes as he pads numb-footedly through the building, he could use it to, as a new sleeping place for the evening.

Eileen knows better than to say no. She can think of no reason why Gabriel would lie to her, and it's not the first time. Waking up with fingers and toes that feel frostbitten is vastly preferable to his blood all over her hands and a slick pair of scissors grasped between trembling fingers, at any rate, but she makes a groan of protest that sounds suspiciously similar to the sound she'd made against his mouth, substituting desperation for irritation.

It's still too cold to talk about it, and by the time they're warm again, she'll be too tired.

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