The Blame Game


eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title The Blame Game
Synopsis You can't always have what you want. Unless you take it.
Date March 23, 2009

The Greenbelt

After waking, Eileen has been reticent to show her face around the Rookery — she is, after all, supposed to be dead, a victim of a petty robbery gone awry in which nothing of value was stolen except for her life. Instead, she's chosen to spend her time in the company of those who are truly dead and gone, their bodies reduced to piles of stone stacked with the greatest care in the quietest glen she was able to find during her cursory exploration of the Island's greenbelt.

Leaves appear on the trees as tiny buds swollen with the promise of spring, bulging at the tips of spindly branches glistening with meltwater. As the weather continues to improve, returning the forest to its previous splendor, the creek that runs through the glen will feed what lies dormant in the soil and cover its sun-dappled floor in ivy and wildflowers. But that's still several weeks off.

Today, on an unpleasantly cold March morning, the brightest, most colourful thing in the immediate area is the striking crimson and saffron yellow plumage belonging to a lone red-winged blackbird perched in the tree under which Eileen is resting, her slim body bundled up in a heavy winter coat to ward off the chill that permeates the air and turns her breath to a fine, silvery vapor every time she exhales through her nose.

It's peaceful here, and if the glen's irenic spirit fails to lift her mood, then the memories of the people who the stones are meant to represent undoubtedly will.

It's a good place to get lost. Hiding as much as he is, maybe it was random chance that Gabriel should stumble across Eileen in the vast greenbelt and it's becoming wilder wildlife. There are stray dogs out here that might be hungry enough to take down prey like the huddled girl resting by her tiny monuments, but they might as well be the least of her worries. There are worse things out here, and that's not even counting Gabriel.

The ground sounds wet underfoot, and water makes everything prettier. Draws the light, bends it, glitters. He's been following for a little while, now, and so no, it can't be a chance meeting. The forest is too big and Eileen is too small, even though her presence is a little flag in the minds of all birds for a good radius of a few miles. It's not hard to find the center.

She might even feel it, too, the shimmer of another powerful mind through the greenbelt's bird community. No real unease, just acknowledgement, like the dawning of the sun. Slowly creeping, unstoppable, present. Gabriel says nothing as he approaches, wearing exactly the same kind of attire he always wears - black and practicality in every stitch of clothing, black boots making deep prints in the soft, giving dirt.

The blackbird explodes into flight, its expulsion from the branch like an abrupt crack of gunfire bringing Eileen back into the present. She doesn't have to look, knows who it is even before she even thinks about sitting up. Dew clings to her hair, her face and the coarse fibers of her woolen coat, hundreds upon hundreds of droplets glittering iridescent in the sun.

She doesn't sit up. Won't even open her eyes or show so much as a sliver of gray-green iris to acknowledge Gabriel's presence in the glen. The way her mind opens itself up to him does this for her, conferring a cautious welcome without words. Here I am, here you are. What now?

At first, his encroachment on her territory is met with the same hardened disdain Eileen would show any other trespasser, but Gabriel isn't just anyone — the irritation festering at the surface soon fades, waning petulant, though it never disappears completely.

Emerging from the thicker forest, into the clearing Eileen's found for herself, Gabriel comes to stand several feet away, not really inclined to step into where the sun is creeping on from the morning direction, already making shards of sunlight and clarity through the parking of looser branches. He can sense her resignation, in that distant, foggy way of theirs, second-hand intuition that fizzles like static in the back of his mind.

"What are they?"

Should she look, she'll notice his eye line cast down towards the stacks of rocks and pebbles, the ritualistic nature of such arrangements not lost on him. He knows about ritual, whether due to being a mildly OCD watchmaker in another life, through to being a systematic serial killer - no real difference.

"Markers," Eileen answers. Her speech is succinct, but at the same time lacks the slurry quality it held the last time they spoke that sopping night in the clinic — she possesses clarity of thought, if nothing else. The blackbird darts past Gabriel's head, narrowly clipping his ear as it veers left and dives for cover in a nearby swath of brambles, either at Eileen's command or some strange volition of its own.

She inhales, chest rising beneath the double-breasted front of her coat as she fills her lungs with air, her nostrils with the heady scent of damp earth and all the other smells associated with it. Breathing deep feels good, but it would feel better if it weren't for the persistent, nagging voice in the back of her head that likes to remind her that, without him, she wouldn't be here to experience it.

"I promised to remember him when he was gone," she says, the words coming out in the form of a breathy exhalation, "and now the trees will too."

He. Could be a few people, and there are indeed a few "markers", Gabriel having tilted his head away from the darting flight of the bird and now trying to look and see the meaning behind the rocks. He. Perhaps there is at least one that bears some mention, but Gabriel says nothing. Wu-Long might approve of the distant, disconnected way Gabriel recalls his death, and maybe even of the vague shame that accompanies it when he remembers how he'd carried himself— or not— when it had happened.

But probably not of the niggling remorse. He's had a lot of time to reflect. Too much thinking to communicate it to the girl in front of him. Finally, Gabriel moves further into the glen, either ignorant of how unwelcome he is, or uncaring. "That'll make two of us," he says. Raises an eyebrow. Remembering. "In defiance of your intentions."

The barb sticks, worms its way under Eileen's skin and nests with all the others he's planted in the time she and Gabriel have known each other. Something twitches at the corner of her mouth. It isn't a smile, not even a little rueful one. "My intentions," she repeats, tone flat, lackluster. On the outside, the expression she wears on her face is unchanging. On the inside, her blood runs hot and her stomach churns, twisting her bowels into uncomfortable knots as she battles to keep her emotions in check — it's difficult, but by drawing on the stillness of the forest around them, she manages to smooth her lips back into what appears to be a thin, unimpressed line.

"I never intended for the bridge to fall," she reminds him. "I never intended for your memories to leak out your ears with all that water. I never intended for you to forget who he was. Or who I am."

"No," Gabriel agrees, the word coming out lightly, lacking the severity his accusation had - although a piercing gaze makes up for it, as if attempting to pin her in place with sight only. How long before they stop coming back to this argument? It's Tavisha's one legacy, the one hurt and annoyance and source of anger that carried on over into Gabriel, everything else left for tatters.

Step, step, closer. He doesn't sit down, just moves until he can rest a shoulder against a tree, making sure to move around the monumental rock piles so that his coat doesn't snag it. "The man who runs the Pancratium hauled me in from the river. Once they had me on dry land, a woman was brought in to remove my memories, piece by piece."

He continues to watch her as he talks, hands linking at the end of loosely positioned arms. Slowly, slowly, Gabriel's voice begins to let annoyance leak out of it, transparent and resentful, not entirely due to the woman he speaks to now. "She took everything. Everything I had. They wanted to use me, and they did. Your blank slate you wished for me was a little cluttered with what everyone else wished for me."

Anger flares pink across Eileen's cheeks, a furious blush that spreads all the way down to her neck, half-covered by loose coils of knitted scarf. She'd been looking for an answer, some logical rationalization to explain why things progressed they way they did, and now that she has it she's not sure what she should do with it. Her eyes open, the sharpness of her gaze diluted somewhat by the shadow of her lashes as she lifts her chin, peers up at the man peering down at her with a look that borders on murderous.

She was been beaten half to death by someone wielding Kazimir Volken's physical legacy. Teo Laudani nearly drowned. One of their mutual acquaintances lost an eye, another her tongue. And somehow it all pales in comparison to what Eileen has just heard.

Taking away a part of someone may or may not be forgivable. To purposely take away the very essence of who they are?

She might spit.

Her reactions are read carefully, and that's not entirely a difficulty - she's more or less an open book, eyes bright with indignation and cheeks red. Gabriel's own anger his contained to his voice, remaining mostly stoic as he regards her for the short while of silence that extends between them, before whatever is there satisfies him. He lets out a sigh through nose and mouth, hands gravitating towards his pockets, to warm his knuckles nipped red by the cold.

It's become a habit, of late, to circle. As if standing still were a useless action, and he moves to pace the periphery of the glen, shards of light and shadow falling and drifting over him as he moves. "It's a miracle we're even alive, you know. I probably should have died with Kazimir. I expected to. I stopped imagining what it would be like to be free again, for a while. And even if I had…" A rasping chuckle, almost self-deprecating, at the corner his self as an amnesiac had painted him into it. "This wouldn't have been it."

From somewhere behind her, the pointed question is asked, "What about you?"

What about her? Eileen looks up at the skeletal canopy above her head, and might at any other time marvel at the way the moisture paints the tree's slim branches in hues of silver and white. She wonders at his question as an alternative, focusing on its implications rather than attempting to formulate a timely answer, so entrenched is their relationship in cryptic turns of phrase and double-meanings.

"It's not exactly what I envisioned for us either," she admits after a long pause that stretches out between them, increasing her perception of distance but not distance itself. "You and Ethan. Amato. All that's left. We could've come out better, could've come out worse too. I don't know what I'm supposed to be thinking about anything anymore."

Ethan. Amato. At those names, the sound of pacing comes to a halt, another lengthy silence between them as if they truly were miles and miles away, relying on echo and static and all other kinds of physical obstacles that don't exist. Only mental ones, entrenched in history. Awkward attempts at kinship, sharper, even more awkward attempts at staying away.

Always finding the other again. "Stop pretending like I'm not here," comes Gabriel's severely toned request. "Stand up. Look at me." Beat, milder but not apologetic: "I have a question."

Gabriel has a question. Eileen might have an answer, though she's almost certain she doesn't want to hear whatever it is he intends to ask. Her first instinct is to tell him no, and she actually has to purse her lips to keep the word from carelessly spilling off the tip of her tongue in an instant of childish irritability. She makes getting up more of a chore than it probably has to be, using her arms to jackknife her body into a sitting position doubled over at the waist. One hand swings up, slim fingers curl around lichen-covered bark, bone white against molting gray, and a low branch creaks in her grasp. Taking advantage of her forward momentum and the assistance of a secure handhold, she pulls herself all the way to her feet in one smooth motion that resembles a cat floating into a vertical leap.

If she found standing up to be difficult, then satisfying the second half of Gabriel's request borders on the impossible. For a moment, it even looks as though she might not — her gaze wants to go everywhere and anywhere else. First to the stones, then to the mottled sky overhead, churning slate gray in anticipation of rain. Finally, him. "Ask."

By the time she's standing, Gabriel insinuated himself back into the border of the glen, one shoulder finding purchase against the rough bark of a tree trunk, body angled and casual as he distributes his weight into the support. When she finally gets around to meet his gaze, Gabriel is the one to break it not a moment too soon, down towards the crushed grass and the stone monuments.

He's lying. He doesn't have a question. He has about twenty-thousand of them. Too many might end in broken wood and scattered birds, too many sound petulant when he tries to word them in his mind, so he opts for pragmatism. "Where are they? Amato. Ethan. I want to know if they knew."

Depending on how Gabriel chooses to react to the response Eileen offers him, things may still end in broken wood and scattered birds, petulance aside. "What will you do to them if they did?" She's not entirely sure what he's asking, her apprehension made clear by the cautious manner in which she regards him — not afraid, but inherently suspicious.

"None of us knew what Kazimir had planned for you," she says, just in case Gabriel has any lingering doubts on the subject. Judging by the vague way he phrased his question, she suspects that he might. "Not Amato, not Ethan. Not anybody. They never would have let it happened if they did. You were family."

He listens. That's about all the courtesy she's granted, eyes narrowing even if not yet meeting her's, jaw tightening, a sigh hissing out with the rise and fall of shoulders. Through that hazy, strange intuition they share, about as blank as fog when nothing of note is occurring, there's a shimmer of aggravation at what he considers to be a delay to answering his question.

Then, that final sentiment, of family. Eileen gets an incredulous look snapped back up to her, a twist of a frown in something like disdain and disgust. His weight rocks back onto his feet, off the tree, and he takes a few long steps towards her. Enough to loom. A hand moves, as if to make the threat a little more palpable, whether in a grab through flesh and blood or something more supernatural, but something barely stops him - enough to rein it in, the instinctive reaction to punish the source of sharp, copper-tasting anger.

But he's done that enough in the past. To her, even. That's a second courtesy he grants - he holds back. All the same, Gabriel's voice comes out as an angry hiss. "The Vanguard was never my family. You were right about one thing - they used me, made me into their tool. If you played a willing part in that then I can't imagine Ethan— Amato— were innocent victims. Where can I find them."

Eileen has spent enough time seesawing between what she believed in December and what she believed in January that she isn't surprised to hear Gabriel turn her own words against her. She meant what she said about not knowing what to think about anything anymore, though she's too proud to admit it a second time, even if it might spare them both a lot of quiet suffering. "I was wrong," is what she should say.

She doesn't.

"You can't be mad at me for trying to excise that chapter of your life," she shoots back, without thinking, without remorse. "Not if you agree with what I said before." It's a lot of self-defensive posturing, made all the more ludicrous and outlandish by a curling lip and her rising voice, guttural in its snarled intonations. "Did I let you fall or did I push you?"

"No. I'm pretty sure I can be mad at you for saying one thing and meaning another." His hands grip onto her arms, and there's a tremor of a shake, as if Gabriel could somehow physically remove the truth from her. Gabriel's back is bent enough that his face is inches from her's, brown eyes blazing and bright, which might be an improvement from the flat, cold gaze he can sometimes default to.

On the other hand, his fingers are digging into her arms. "Families don't use people. People who do that aren't family. Let's get that clear." Another shake, not yet relinquishing his grip on her. "Where is Amato? Where is Ethan? I know he's not with the Pancratium anymore, I helped him escape. So tell me."

Eileen's breath leaves her body in ragged hisses blown out through her nostrils, curling hot against Gabriel's face and neck. Her mouth grows tight, shoulders tense, and as he digs his fingers into her arms her hands ball into fists, nails sinking into the soft flesh of her palms. It's a reversal from that night in the drainpipe when she had him forced against the concrete wall with her fingers buried in the fabric of his jacket, and though their roles have been switched, she feels exactly the same now as she did then.

Frustrated. Helpless. On the verge of doing something she really knows she shouldn't. Gabriel is so close, so exactly the way she remembers him. The temptation to close what little distance remains between their bodies and simply take by force what she's been wanting from him ever since thought she saw him returning triumphant from his confrontation with Kazimir threatens to completely consume her.

Which is why she slaps him.

An abrupt crack shatters the perfect stillness of the morning as Eileen's open palm connects with Gabriel's mouth as hard as it possibly can. This time, she does spit. Monosyllabic.


It's enough to loosen his hold on her arms, and it turns his head, blinking with shock at the scenery towards the left of him without really seeing it. Not from the pain - that's a fleeting, sharp sensation, as he's felt a thousand times worse than the open-palmed slap of a wiry young woman, as much conviction as there is in it. Just from the simple fact that she struck him.

His rasping laugh comes guttering from deep in his throat, almost rusty, humourless. His back straightens and he backs up from her. "Makes sense," Gabriel says, not really to her. The edge of his heel sends one of the piles of pebbles skittering as he takes another step back. "Family has to stick together."

It'd be easy to retreat with the proverbial tail between the legs. Tavisha would have. It'd also be easy to strike back, Sylar seeing her as a thing made up of bones, flesh, muscle, skin, and about half his size. Something to be swept away with a flick of his fingers. Caught between these extremes, Gabriel does nothing, just considers her.

"We can't always have what we want, remember?" There's a mocking quality to Eileen's voice. Her brazenness is due only in part to a perceived need to quell her physical desire for the man standing in front of her — self-preservation factors into the equation as well. Neither Sylar nor Tavisha, Gabriel could go either way, and if his innate aggression decides to take hold, she wants him to know that she won't be reduced to a gasping heap on the floor, wondering dumbly at questions like, "Did I hurt you?"

She isn't that person anymore.

As Gabriel steps back, she steps forward, her hand half-raised in gesture that implores as much as it threatens. "You told me to stand up. I'm up. You told me to look at you. Well I am." And she can't stop.

But if you try sometimes… Jagger logic. The compulsion to continue shaking the answer out of her — and he barely even remembers what the hell he was asking — is something slightly more hamfisted than the tuning the Hunger gives him. Plain anger, not as blind but just as indiscriminate. Gabriel's face is long with contained, conflicting reaction, glancing her up and down when she comes forward. No longer pretending he's not here.

"And what do you see?"

It catches Eileen off-guard, disorients her more than any other blow possibly could, no matter how swift or well-placed. Her hand drops to her side, arm growing slack. The rest of her body, however, remains fortified and alert, anchored in place by the sinuous arch of her spine and her build's narrow shoulders, perfectly squared with his.

So much for not wondering. At least she doesn't look like her jaw is about to drop or her lips are about to part.

Her eyes narrow into cat-like slits limned in want and yearning, fury and frustration. "Someone who doesn't fuckin' get it."

Another laugh, as quiet as the last, smile spreading easily across Gabriel's face, head bowing for a moment as if finding her impassioned answer funny. Which it isn't, not at all, there's something painful about this entire conversation that he both does and does not recognise. "Because you're so very forthcoming with the truth," he says, laughter dying, smile fading.

The breeze runs invisible fingers through the trees above them, shifting light through the play of emerging leaves on thin branches. He almost walks away. Instead, Gabriel goes forward, this time not really to loom. His moves are cautious, almost experimental, hand raising and fingertips pushing aside the loops of woolen scarf at her throat until they can smooth around to the back of her neck, beneath her hair. He's studying her, from her eyes and down towards the smooth plane of her jaw that had once been so burned.

His own face isn't quite an open book, a watchmaker's concentration masking more than that. Then, Gabriel's eyes hood a little. Then, Eileen will feel the familiar, telepathic twinge at the back of her skull, as if he were removing something. Ideas, memories, thought.

It's a dirty trick, one that Eileen should have seen coming as soon as he started asking after Ethan and Amato. Incensed by conflicting emotions that she herself doesn't completely understand, she'd forgotten about his ability to worm his fingers into her consciousness with a touch. He'd done it once before on the Narrows at Kazimir's request, and now he's doing it again — to what end, she doesn't know, doesn't even particularly care. Not yet.

When she feels Gabriel's hand on her neck, she jerks beneath him and starts to pull away, but any unpleasant sensations he might have induced are quick to fade, giving way to warmth and familiarity. It's harder for her to resist when she isn't the one initiating contact. Eileen lets out a slow, shuddering breath wracked with indecision, following his gaze from beneath her lashes as his eyes rove across her face. She reaches up, closes her fingers around his wrist as if to keep his hand from straying should he have any second thoughts.

It's then she feels it. That emotive tug. The blood has never drained so quickly from her face in all her life. "You bastard."

"You have no one to blame— " Gabriel's eyes go a little wide. It's been a while since he's done this, and it's no less invasive. His voice becomes strained. "— but yoursel— " His hands jerk away from her, staggering back a couple of steps as his hand comes up to grip his forehead. She'll know this, remember it, the way he'd clung to her, relied on her eyes to guide him somewhere safe to adjust to the tide of new information of such a confusing array.

He's also not misguided enough to expect her help. Without even a goodbye, Gabriel implodes into the ghostly, inky entity, the shadow-being that is Wu-Long's legacy, and with more agility than his staggering body would have allowed for, he flows away from Eileen like ink through water, darting between trees to find somewhere to curl up in peace.

As Eileen's consciousness gradually integrates itself with Gabriel's, entwining their emotional identities, he'll find the answer he wants at the cost of it being painful to accept. Every impassioned thought, every word unspoken, every night laying awake debating the merits of what is versus what could be — it's all there for him to experience in visceral detail, and when it's over he'll know the meaning of every cryptic message Eileen ever attempted to deliver through Tavisha.

She can't assign a single phrase to what she feels toward him without stripping it down to something base and ugly, robbing their relationship of all the conflicting idiosyncrasies that give it value, but if she did that phrase would be:

I love you.

Her only consolation as she takes her leave of the glen, withdrawing into the mist and ultimately herself, is that by the end of it he'll be hurting as much as she is.

And he'll have no one to blame but himself.

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