The Gift of Eileen


bf_eileen_icon.gif magnes_icon2.gif

Scene Title The Gift of Eileen
Synopsis Magnes tries to stealthily follow Eileen to make sure she's doing okay, so she gives him a heartwarming gift as a reward.
Date January 23, 2012

A Back Alley

Rituals are the foundation upon which Eileen has rebuilt her life.

Every morning, she wakes up and brews a hot cup of black tea, which she takes with her breakfast: fresh fruit and tinned fish. Then she runs a shower that borders on scalding, sometimes with Gabriel, but often alone, especially on days when their schedules do not overlap.

Today is one of those days.

She pins up her hair to let it dry at its own pace and chooses clothes from the modest, freshly-laundered collection hanging in her closet. Then: Two spritzes of musky floral perfume to cut the smell of cigarette smoke that somehow still manages to cling to her skin, no matter how hard she tries to scrub it away.

Magnes, who has been watching her, knows that the Englishwoman’s destination is bound to be one of two places. St. Luke’s Hospital, where she works. Or the farmer’s market, where she whittles away her free time browsing the stalls, although it’s rare for her to spend any money on items that she doesn’t consider essential for the existence that she and Gabriel are eking out together in New York.

She doesn’t need the flowers, but she wants them badly enough that she’s prepared to make an exception to this rule as she haggles with a vendor whose fat pink peonies have caught her eye. At a distance, it’s impossible for Magnes to know what’s being said, only that they settle on a price that’s acceptable to both of them, as the florist bundles the bouquet in plain brown paper and sends Eileen on her way.

She loops around the back of the stall, briefly disappearing from Magnes’ line of sight before she reemerges again, making a beeline for a nearby alley that cuts out of the market and across to an adjacent street.

Magnes has never been the best at stealth, but most people aren't particularly observant of what goes on above them, and it doesn't take him long since arriving in this version of New York to get a good idea of how to get around on the rooftops.

When Eileen heads into the alley, Magnes carefully walks across one of the rooftops that make up the alley, occasionally glancing down to see what she's doing, when he feels it's safe.

Today he's wearing a pair of black cargo pants, a white long-sleeved button-up, and a black tie. On his feet are a simple pair of black Converse. It's difficult to say what he's dressed for exactly, but it's probably not this weird stalking he's been up to.

But, that's Eileen, he thinks to himself, his way of coping with the loss of Munin. Eileen is alive, she's thriving, even if she's weirdly subdued in the way that she lives her life, she is alive, somewhere.

Every time he does this, he considers the implications, what it all means, what death means, what life means.

Do we merge, somehow, do we have souls that are all connected together by some greater whole? Does nothing matter and human life just infinitely spreads out for no reason at all?

So far, he can't be sure, all he can be sure is that she's alive, she's living, and he still can't get the image of Munin's skull out of his mind, he can't get the fragility of this woman out of his head, that her life could simply end…

"Damnit…" he says to himself, wiping his eyes, because now we're at this phase again, where he thinks too much, and it hits him hard.

He jumps down, trying to silently and gently land onto the ground not far behind her. He continues to pursue, but he occasionally tries to duck behind a trash can or something.

At the alley’s halfway point, Eileen stops.

Maybe it’s the sound of Magnes’ pursuing footsteps, his shadow in her peripheral vision, or the fact that she has an entire city’s worth of pigeons at her disposal, but he suspects he’s been spotted without her having to say anything.

Because she doesn’t say anything.

She turns her head instead, looking back over her shoulder in the general direction that she knows him to be in. Her feet stand a shoulder width apart, and Magnes can see the tension in her neck and shoulders beneath the black silk blouse she she wears beneath her lightweight springtime peacoat.

Her hand not holding the bouquet drops to her side. A pair of shears lifted from the florist’s stand is cinched in the knit of her white-knuckled fingers: a warning.

"Shit…" is the first thing Magnes says, taking a single step back, as if he's considering just running away. But then he just stops, and sighs, taking a deep breath. "I'm not a time traveler." is the only thing he can think of at first, wiping his eyes again, tears still trickling down. "Sorry, just… seeing you, even knowing that you want to stab me…"

He walks to the wall, leaning against it, trying to breath. "Fuck, what did I do… what am I even doing, this is stupid."

But, finally managing to get it together for a moment, he looks back to her. "I'm not here to hurt you, I'm not here to do anything to you, I just… I had to see you, I had to know you were okay, I just… I had to see you living, being in peace, and not… not in some living hell."

"You can't tell your Magnes…" he suddenly thinks to say.

Eileen has been the hunter, but she’s also been hunted; it’s difficult for her to be certain, even with Magnes’ reassurances, exactly what scenario is playing out here, and whether her response should be fight or flight.

So she holds her ground and tightens her grip on the shears until she imagines she can hear her bones creak under the strain. “You’re not him.” Her Magnes, she means. “Then what are you? Shapechanger? Vanguard?”

The way she says the word Vanguard, an unconscious upward hitch in her otherwise soft and steady voice, betrays her worst case scenario.

"I came from a parallel universe. Like time travel, but sideways. This is the third universe I've been to, counting my own. I'm trying to find my way back home, and I'm stuck in this one for a while. I just…" Magnes pushes off from the wall, holding his forehead, as if trying to drive images out of his head. "I just came from a universe where the virus ravaged the entire planet, where Kazimir ruled everything. I… you helped us escape, but he… I saw your skull, Kazimir…"

He falls to his knees, then, covering his face with both hands. "I couldn't save you, I wanted you to have a better life, I wanted you to be happy, I wanted to give you hope, and… I couldn't… I couldn't save you."

Looking up at her, eyes red, as if he's been at the crying thing for a while today. "I've been watching you, because I need to know that you're okay, I need to know that this life is good for you, that there's a you who's happy, a you who isn't just fighting for survival every day, or living in fear of Kazimir. That world… that world was hell. My world isn't perfect, but that world…"

Everything about this feels like a trap.

Eileen looks past Magnes, toward the mouth of the alley where she can still see the marketplace bustling with colorful, animated activity, the sights and sounds and smells of which make this world everything that the other world Magnes refers to was not.

She doesn’t see anyone else there. Neither do the pigeons crowding the rooftops above.

Small reassurance, that. So tiny as to be insignificant. Although her breathing is measured, it’s also very hard in order to compensate for the rate at which her heart is rabbiting. “Don’t talk to me about Kazimir,” she snaps, prickling. “Don’t talk to me at all.”

"I didn't plan for you to see me. I don't know what to say to you. I didn't really think about it. Whatever I tell you, I think it'll only make you more suspicious. And I'm not really sure what you've told this Magnes. Just… can we forget this happened? I swear I won't bother you again, I plan to find a way out of this universe and then this won't matter at all." Magnes tries to run a bit of damage control with that, lifting his legs to cross them in the air, in that way that he often does, which at least confirms that he's not a shape changer. Maybe.

"Okay, assuming a few things, I'm trying to think of something that no one else knows that you may have told me…" He gives that some thought, long and hard. "You opened up to me, the you in the Virus world, and I'm willing to bet that no Vanguard would know these things."

"That after it all happened, you felt guilty, you wanted to hold yourself accountable, you didn't want to live after a while, I don't think… I think it's maybe thoughts like that, that's why you stopped it all from happening in this universe, and mine." he tries to explain, at least, something. "I'm not your enemy, Eileen, I don't want this to be a thing, I just wanted to see you, I wanted to see you and then go home and be glad that you're alive and well."

"Can I do that?" he asks, sounding sincerely desperate, or, more accurately, pleading, a bit helpless perhaps.

Now Eileen does turn.

It’s the only alternative to running.

She hefts the shears and points them at Magnes’ center of mass. There are no pistols hidden away in heavy wool coats here, no knives tucked into boots, or rifles at the ready. The slim black heels she wears on her feet are made for walking, not sprinting — when she bought them on sale at the department store, it was because she was given a piece of paper that promised she’d never have to flee from anything or anyone ever again.

It’s this train of thought that has a new suspicion forming in her head, as her expression and eyes grow dark. “Did Epstein send you?” she demands, taking a jagged, uncertain step forward. Her fancy new shoes scuff on the pavement. “Thinks this is all it takes to get me to slip up?”

Her lip curls. “I’m not going back. You can’t make me, the ink’s dried and I’m free.”

"You know, back in my world, I don't think it ever occurred to me that you're the most stubborn human being I've ever met. In my world, you're calm, and composed, and you read books, and run shadowy organizations. In the Virus world, you might have been incredibly depressed, but you were ridiculously stubborn and hard to get to listen to reason." Magnes groans, sounding a little frustrated, but, well, he's made a mess now, so…

"I have no idea who Epstein even is… wait, you mean Avi Epstein? The guy from the time travel stuff? Well, that probably didn't happen here… anyway, I have no idea what you're talking about, I don't know what you mean about slip ups." He sounds and looks entirely clueless, shrugging his shoulders.

"Okay, let me try to explain this in more detail. I wanted to avoid it, but, well, here we go. I came from a world where everything isn't so sparkly and futuristic. I can't tell you the details of that world exactly, since I don't want to mess up this world somehow. Some guy from the future augmented me and set off a mental trigger from back when I got brainwashed in a uh, a weird cult thing." He actually stops to think about that for a moment, scratching his head.

But, looking back up, leaning on his legs despite the fact that he's floating. "My ability went out of control, I turned into a black hole, and then I got crapped out of the other side of someone else's ability into the Virus world. We stayed there for months, huddled underground. You were a prisoner there, but you were the only person who knew where we could find an ability augmenter, so that I could actually escape."

"You following?" he asks, but he doesn't wait for her response. "Anyway, things got… tragic. We lost people, we lost a lot of people. I watched a version of me, Hermod, that was the name Kazimir gave him, he killed himself right in front of my face…" He has to close his eyes again, and shake his head, to get the image out. "The Vanguard killed so many of our people, and ultimately, at the very end, you were gone too. I can't…"

"I can't get the image of your skull out of my head, just, being dropped to the ground…" He stares at her, dead serious. "You risked everything, you sacrificed yourself, you never planned to come back. The last advice you gave me, the last thing you told me to do, was to keep my eyes forward, for me, my baby, my future wife. You told me not to look back, not to try to save you."

He steps down from the air, finally, and starts to step forward, but stops, offering his hand to her. "Eileen, you're one of the people I love most in this world, in any world, this is not some kind of trick, if I wanted to hurt you, if I wanted to force you to… I don't know what you expect me to do, actually, but there's a lot of things I could have done. But all I wanted to do was see you, and I don't want to leave here thinking that I ruined your life and you're going to look over your shoulder thinking I'm some… I don't even know."

There's a pause, and he just asks, "Is it true that I'm a drunk here?"

Stop it.

Everyone has their breaking point. This, apparently, is Eileen’s. What Magnes had intended to soothe her fears has only amplified them; by the time he gets to one of the people I love most she’s showing him her teeth in a snarl like a feral cat backed into a corner.

“I’ll kill you where you stand.” And she will. The threat of the shears is no longer idle; the tension in her small, angular body has gone from firmly taut to about to snap. “Fuck the consequences. Fuck you, too.”

"I can't believe you're this hard headed. My Eileen would have… okay, I'll stop comparing every Eileen to the others, Virus Eileen told me not to do that, that you're all individuals." Magnes takes a deep breath, his frustration high, but he still seems to be keeping his patience. "Well, first, you probably can't kill me, well, you probably can, you're, well, you, you can probably kill anything. But that's not what we're doing today."

"Did Epstein know about Kazimir's copy of the Art of War? Was that a thing that people other than you knew about? What do I have to tell you to calm you down?" he asks, while continuing to think about it, because there has to be something. "Back in my world, we were all on a mission. I was dating Claire Bennet at the time. This was when Gabriel was still having his urges, and he tried to take Claire's ability. I… really lost it, I wanted to kill him, I told you I'd kill him. But you told me that Gabriel was sick, that it wasn't his fault, that he was trying to change."

"I believed you, and you were right, he was trying to change. Me and Gabriel became something like friends after that, because of you. And after the mission, you gave me Kazimir's old copy of the Art of War. There was a reason for it, it was complicated. I'll explain when you aren't freaking out." He does, however, stop talking long enough to think, again…

"The first time we met…" he realizes, because this probably applies in every universe. "I know that this happened in every universe, it's something that you, here, can remember. That no one would know, that Epstein wouldn't know, no member of Vanguard would know. When we first met, we were in that church, you scared the hell out of me."

Fight wins out over flight.

Eileen scared the hell out of Magnes in that church and she’s about to scare the hell out of him now. It happens so fast that he doesn’t have the opportunity to react until the shears are already six inches deep in his chest.

She was aiming for his heart.

She missed.

Worse: She realizes that she missed, and twists the makeshift weapon in an attempt to wrench him open and inflict as much damage as she can before yanking it back out of him again. Blood erupts from the wound, spattering her blouse, coat, and those shoes she had been so excited to wear out of the apartment for the first time.

It gets all over Magnes, too.

"Fuck!" is all Magnes can yell, and then he yells even louder when she rips the shears open even wider. She's pushed back suddenly with gravity, which is about all he can manage before he hits the ground, with shears in his chest, trying to figure out just what the fuck just happened, in total shock. "Eileen what the fuck?!"

He he coughs up blood, he's felt this much pain before, but… that doesn't make this much pain not the worst fucking kind of pain, burning, literally searing, not a bad pun about shearing, in his chest.

Reaching up, he yanks, and tosses them into the air, all the way into the air, then tries to hold his blood in with gravity, trying not to bleed to death. "Fuck… what the fuck is wrong with you, Eileen? You're supposed to be calm and married in this universe…"

He finally tries to stand, stumbling forward. "I need to get to a hospital… Fuck, this hurts so much, I might pass out…"

It turns out there’s no might about it.

He does.

The last thing Magnes remembers as he pitches forward, into blackness, is the woman he came here to see as her foot comes down hard on the top of his head.

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