The Beaten Trail


felix_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title The Beaten Trail
Synopsis Felix is lost, and subsequently found.
Date July 30, 2009

The Greenbelt

The Greenbelt is 2800 acres of mixed urban parkland and natural preserves that have since gone wild, equal parts dying and thriving in the neglect that the borough of Staten Island has suffered. The more natural areas are primarily a succession of ridges and boulder-littered moraines beneath the canopy of a hardwood forest - beech, hickory, maples, and oaks in the main, with a variety of less common trees mixed in. At the lower points of the parkland, this forest gives way to wetland, overgrown with ferns, skunk cabbage, lady slipper, and trout lilies.

An overgrown golf course is home to unkempt grassland and a site for the island's residents to discard junk. The cemetery is similarly writhed with impossible weeds, and contains the smell of an open grave or several. Stray dogs have taken to existing out in its thicker parts, gone wild and dangerous, and there are other dangers too - desperate cut throat muggers have been known to roam the pathways, and an urban legend of a monster lurks in its shadows.

It's not impossible to get through the Greenbelt without harm, and many make such journeys every day - but its no surprise that very few desire to linger longer than necessary in the midst of dead trees, tangled weeds, and the occasional unpleasant surprise in the dark.

"In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.."

The poet's words are literally apt, at the moment. For Felix has lost his way. It was meant to be a safe shortcut through the little wilderness that'd bring him out in sight of one of the harbors where he might find passage back. But in that heart-in-the-throat mingling of failure and despair, blood roaring in his ears, Fel's gotten badly turned around. And, since that's how the story goes, now, of course, he'll meet the Leopard.

It made sense at the time. There might've been Deckards in the long sea-grass, or peering out of the broken windows of uninhabited buildings that overlook the path along the water. Memory is currently too heavy a weight, and it'll be a long time before he can hear the sound of waves and be at ease. So Fel's wading through the woods as the day fades, having found one of the old paved paths that's reasonably clear - he's proceeding at the nervous jogtrot of someone who wants to be back in civilisation before night falls.

There are veins through the Greenbelt, the unofficial paths taken by those who know the better ways around the overgrown brush that is this reserve, dependent on where you want to go. Downhill winding roads towards the nearest coastline, uphill treks to the old golf course, roundabout ways to find the secret location of the cottage known better for its wildflowers, the Garden. Such a path that Gabriel is taking, dressed in black that stands stark and uncamouflaged in the grey shadows of the dusky forest. It only works as a disguise in the darkest points of nighttime, and that's still a few hours off.

Not a beaten path, however, just one he knows, only mildly trampled by foot steps of adventurers. The paved road is over there, where he can hear the jogging pace of a man. He goes still, a hand placed on a moss-covered tree trunk, and watches. Territorial, almost, rather than the hunter that is a leopard.

A slice of white bone, teeth, show in a sneer, before it dissolves into so much black as Gabriel's solid form suddenly shifts into the incorporeal stuff that is Wu-Long's legacy. Flitting soundlessly through the trees, Felix will only hear the sound of feet coming to rest against the ground several paces behind him, the grit of boot soles against the gravel. "What's the rush?" Gabriel states, loud and clear, voice cutting through forest silence.

For the first time in his life, Fel's literally frozen in fear. Rooted to the spot. His power remains in the possession of one little sister of mercy, and the trade isn't much good against one Gabriel Gray. The expression with which he greets Gabriel isn't terrified, however. There's merely a strange resignation, as if he half-expected this all along, as if Gray were one of those demons invoked merely by the speaking of his name. He gestures towards the path, in lieu of explanation. To the other man's sensitive hearing, his heart is thundering, but it lacks the previous machine-gun rattle. Someone has hobbled the Fed.

Apparitions appear out of nowhere, too. Gabriel is doing nothing, really, to ground the situation in reality for the fed, staying where he is and looking him over with an analytical, amber-brown gaze beneath the tension of his brow. Reaquainting himself with a face only familiar to him in the confusion of hunting, on a rooftop, on a tiny island between Staten and Manhattan. In many ways, this is an opportunity - the silence and the stillness, allowing for a few seconds of strict observation. The ratatatat that Felix's heart is not making is a detail that goes missed, but everything else does not.

"Not really a rush for you, though," Gabriel says, a casual glance down towards his own feet, the heel of his boot scuffing against the broken ground of the pathway. "More like a stroll." The gaze goes back up, fixing the other man with a look as if he could pin him in place with eye sight alone. "What's a lonely federal agent doing out in this neck of the woods?"

He hesitates, passes a tongue over lips gone suddenly dry, "I was on my way home, after visiting someone out here," Fel says, offering the truth, of all things. "I got lost." My, what big eyes you have, Grandma. There's the drone of cicadas, other summer insects, loud in the still air. Sweat beading on brow and lip, which he wipes away with a negligent hand. He's still too thin, whippet-nervous, blades of his shoulders stark under the shirt.

A smile breaks across Gabriel's features, jaw and throat moderately unshaven, an extra shadow in conjunction with the vaguer patterns of low sunlight breaking through the canopy above them. A whisper of laughter, low and dry as a breeze through the Sahara desert, is all Felix's overt nervousness gets in response, ground crunching underfoot as Gabriel takes a step closer. It's posturing - it's what wolves do. Only one person is afraid, in this scenario.

"There are stupider things," Gabriel states. "But not many. You have to know what happens to people when they get lost on Staten Island. They tend to stay that way."

He wants to run, he can't. That power's still left him. There's nothing conveniently ferrous to use against the killer. And Fel's hesitation abruptly dissolves - he goes for the pistol riding at the back of his hip, and while he is quick, there's no hint of that unnatural speed. It makes him sloppy, not being able to draw and deliberate as he used to, the summer silence broken by pistol reports.

Several feet away means point blank range, and so even as Gabriel abruptly phases into inky vagueness when Felix's gun catches the light, the bullets loosed from Felix's pistol pass through it, making it implode and roil, angrily. Far quicker, it darts aside and the solid form of Gabriel comes into being, shoulder connecting with a tree and an arm thrown out at the same time upon his appearance, that smirk on his fade disappeared in a scowl.

From the point of his hand, there is no sudden throw of telekinesis. Instead, something blunter, something painful. For all the world to Felix, whatever invisible energy is directed at him comes in the form of what can be compared to a baseball bat swinging at his chest with unchecked brutality.

It knocks the wind out of him, nearly takes him off his feet, leaves him doubled and gasping for air as he totters a few feet along the path. He has not dropped his gun, but he's making no attempt at all to bring it to bear. Fel is trying to run, but it's a drunken stagger.

The crack of Felix's gun had driven away the birds in the area, so there's little in the way of ironic twittering as the agent makes his staggering escape. Pleasant rustles of breeze make branches creak in their own ominous way, and of course, there's the sound of heavy foot steps behind him as Gabriel pushes himself off the tree at his own slightly unbalanced stagger, moves a hand.

All at once, Felix's already treacherous legs give out beneath him, folding to have his knees connect with the forest floor and stay there, as if they were no longer controlled by the federal agent. Which, they aren't.

"Would it help if I begged?" Fel is trying for sarcasm, but honestly, it's mostly an airless wheeze that doesn't at all convey tone. He puts out his empty hand to brace himself, keep from just falling over entirely. "For Colette, if not myself?"

The sound of foot steps continue, until Gabriel's long legs come into view, circling around Felix and keeping his distance, like one might from a particularly dangerous animal. There's a hesitation in step when that name comes up, Gabriel casting a searching look down on Felix's face. The agent's hand, the one gripping the gun, loosens against its own will - the pistol falls to the ground of dead leaf, dirt and gravel, and Gabriel comes to crouch several feet from Felix, sharing levels.

"Well, you're already on your knees," Gabriel states, tone languid, caustic in its sarcam. A tick of a pause, Gabriel glancing away in a restless, irritated gesture. "You know Colette?"

"Of course, yes," Fel says, with brusque impatience. "She's the adopted daughter of a very dear friend. What was it you and she were doing at Pinehearst? And why didn't you kill me back on that little island? Why let us catch you and then simply walk out of custody, then?" He fires off the questions as if he had Gray at his mercy, rather than the reverse. He looks ruefully at the gun. Does no good to call it back to him if he can't fire it, and then he raises a pale stare to meet Gabriel's eyes unwaveringly.

Gabriel's head tilts as if to work out tension in his neck rather than a gesture of innocent curiousity, tension throughout his posture and eyes cold. Whatever affect bullets passing through his previously phased self had on him, it doesn't manifest in leaking blood or bruised flesh, but his skin stands out paler than before, making the prickle of stubble seem darker, a sheen of sweat making a shine on his forehead.

"I didn't kill you because I wasn't a killer," Gabriel states, voice clipped, concrete. "And I didn't want to start. Of course," a languid gesture of his hand at the end of his wrist, "I wasn't feeling quite myself that night. Still up for proving my innocence, agent? You know, I don't hear any helicopters approaching."

Unworried, apparently, the gun lying at Felix's knees goes all but ignored, and as Felix is forced to grow accustomed to his new position in the world, what is and isn't under his control becomes clear. His legs may as well be closed off blocks of ice, or encased in cement, and the stiffness of his hand upon the gun dropping fades out inch by inch.

Oh, that's rich. Really, it is. Felix laughs in his face. "Innocence of what? You've killed at least a dozen people, and that's only the ones we can confirm. Are you actually Gray, then?" It's uncomfortable, to be held in that penitent's posture. Perhaps the mortification of the flesh will be good for the tattered and venal remnant that passes for a soul.

"All the shades of," Gabriel responds, bordering on coy, although from his mouth it lacks the aforementioned innocence required. "You're really bad at this begging thing. Let's up the ante." His hand goes out, and all at once, Felix's body is entirely caught up in the strings of his power, back ramrod straight at first, arms stiff. Slowly, in jerky movements, Felix is forced to pick up the gun once more, the swoop of its barrel off the side before it comes to rest coldly beneath Felix's own chin. Gabriel's hand mimics this movement, fingers curled around air rather than the cold metal of the pistol.

Gabriel's eyebrows go up in a good humoured expression. "Federal agent found dead in the heart of the Greenbelt. Suspected suicide. Took a look into the hearts of all those bad guys he chases and found what he was looking for. Colette— you were saying?"

His breath is ragged and uneven, even as he's held in that grotesque posture. That'd be the irony, wouldn't it - to have someone else do for him what he's so often contemplated himself. At the mention of Colette, he's lost that cocky edge entirely. "She's a friend. What were you doing with her at Pinehearst. What are you going to do with her?" It's nearly a rhetorical question. And then he does beg, in earnest. "Please, don't hurt her."

A sneer curls on Gabriel's mouth, silence descending for a moment before he states, "I'm not going to hurt her. There are other people more deserving of hurt." The gun shoves up a little harder, as if intent to leave a bruise on the soft underside of Felix's jaw, Gabriel's gaze avid as if only waiting to see the spray of blood and grey matter that'd come from forcing the agent to pull the trigger. "As for Pinehearst? We were saving the world. What're you doing lately?"

There are other places, which also are the world's end…it's a stupid fragment of poetry that emerges, as his mind darts around frantically, like a mouse in a jar. "My job," he says, briefly, tone inconsequential. "Swear to me you won't hurt her. I don't know what you hold holy, but swear it," His eyes roll, fixing on the last rays of sunlight that come dazzling through the leaves.

Amusement and increduility paint Gabriel's next expression, the corner of his mouth turning up in something that could be good humoured. "I swear on my mother's grave," he says, voice slippery and sardonic as he gets to his feet, hand falling from the mimicked position. Perhaps horrifyingly, at least for Felix, the agent remains fixed where he was put, as Gabriel goes to circle around him, disappearing out his periphery with a crunch of foot steps, although his presence can still be felt, just over the shoulder. "I don't think there's a promise to squeeze from you I'd be interested in. Not one that's honest."

He chuckles again, gallows humor. "Considering what you did to your mother, that doesn't mean much," Fel mutters. And then he's silent, unable even to bat away the insects that circle him. "Saving the world, hm?"

"Saving the world. People change, Ivanov. History doesn't. The law doesn't. But people change." Quite suddenly, Gabriel is much closer than he was before - nothing supernatural in movement, but that respectful distance is shattered, coming to kneel just behind Felix, a hand on his shoulder, the base of his neck, and his mouth near the agent's ear. "Head down this path until you get hit the road. Take a left, and keep going downhill until you find the foreshore. Follow it west and you'll find the docks to carry you home again. You don't belong here."

He starts to move away, hesitates, leans in again. "This isn't about what I said. About changing. This is for Colette. Teo, too, I heard you two were close."

Felix smells of herbal shampoo, detergent, spicy aftershave, and fear-sweat. The sensation of breath on his ear has the fine hairs at his nape on end, goosebumps marching over exposed skin. An ear which flushes a deeper shade of red at that last off-hand comment. "You heard wrong," he says, without hesitation.

"I don't think so, dolcezza," Gabriel responds, just as immediate, then that hand on Felix's shoulder comes up to clap him once on the back. "Stick to the roads more traveled by, agent," he says, voice louder, conversational, as he starts to walk away from where Felix is knelt on the road. Behind him, but away, if the fading nature of those foot falls are to be of any proof. Gabriel's voice has distance as well as the erstwhile serial killer calls over his shoulder, "Or you'll just wind up lost."

All at once, Felix can sense he has control over his legs, his straight spine, the tensed hand clutching the pistol. By the time he might exercise his new mobility to look over his shoulder, Gabriel has disappeared from the beaten trail.

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