The Hand of Phobetor


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Scene Title The Hand of Phobetor
Synopsis Greek myth.: The god of dreams… The god of nightmares.

Hana faces off against her shadow.
Date February 14, 2010

New York City

Although beauty is a subjective thing, there are many people who posit that New York City is more serene during the winter than it is in the summer. Central Park exemplifies their argument with its dead, threadbare trees stripped of their leaves, branches caked with silver frost with the texture and appearance of thousands upon thousands of infinitesimal diamonds. Elsewhere, snow gathers on parked cars, wooden benches and an abandoned food stall at the intersection of 5th Ave and Waverly Place, which advertises kosher hot dogs and deep-fried latkes with sour cream in lettering so iced over that only select portions are visible.

On any other day, the stall would be crowded by men and women in heavy winter coats, wool caps pulled on over their heads and knit scarves gathering ashen flakes of snow that contrast with the material of their clothes and the colour of the sky, which hovers between purple and gold. Both sun and moon are visible, but it's the latter's light that reflects off the snow and lends Hana's surroundings a radiant glow with a lustrous cast.

It is as though everyone disappeared one day without pause or thought for what they were doing. Even the birds in the squat elms and huddled at the edges of rooftops are strangely absent. The streets are filled with unoccupied vehicles, among them a crumpled old bus with yawning mouths where windows should be and thin shards of glass for teeth.

Inexplicably, the headlights have been left on.

In the midst of this pristine, albeit coldly frost-rimed, beauty is a patch of darkness.

Darkness with two legs, two arms, eyes protected from snow-glare by sunglasses, hair bound into a braid beneath woolen cap. Clothing in shades of charcoal, softer and subtler than black; and skin that isn't. Black, that is. There's also very little of it to be seen — face and throat, and little else.

Ice-crusted powder scrunches beneath her footsteps, the woman walking down the middle of the road as though its double yellow line demarcated a valid pedestrian path; assuming the line is still there, under its cover of snow. Some roads, that's a dubious assumption. Gloved hands tucked loosely together before her torso, Hana Gitelman looks at the cross-streets, at the abandoned vendor's stall, at the derelict vehicles and the bus lacking windows. She steps around a Subaru, brick-red, hatchback, stopped in the left-turn lane waiting for a green arrow which will now probably never come. Walks down the center of the cross-street, in the general direction of the ruined vehicle, listening to the only sounds to be heard — her own footsteps, and the quiet rasp of her own breathing.

Somewhere, there's something else out there. Some one else. Scanning either side of the road, checking her six every so often, listening to the white noise of atmospheric static, Hana continues her aimless search of the abandoned streets.

She does not have to search for much longer. Falling snow collects in the depressions left by her footsteps and covers her tracks, concealing the Israeli's presence much the same way it blankets the city in what looks like angel feathers and hides all evidence that life once existed here. The crunch of Hana's boots echoes sharply in the air and is joined by a second pair as a shape emerges from around the front of the bus and cuts through the twin beams of light emanating from the headlamps.

Long, dark hair is worn straight — several shades darker than the pair of honey-coloured eyes that track the other woman's movements with the hungry acumen of a large, sleek cat. The stranger's movements, too, resemble a feline's. Slow but fluid, her every motion carefully measured so as to be perfectly precise, she comes into Hana's field of vision, stops ten yards ahead and turns to show her face.

It's Zahava — or at least that's what initial impressions suggest. Closer inspection reveals features too intimately familiar to be Hana's mother. A thin nose. Small lips. Narrow brows that betray little about what's going on behind the eyes beneath them.

She's looking at herself.

The reflection of her own face is twenty years more familiar than the image of her mother; sharp and severe expressions, the aquiline intensity that Zahava never needed to invoke; not in the context of family and home. The mistaken identification is bypassed almost as quickly as it arises.

For all that she might as well be looking in a mirror, Hana slows, the rhythm of her footsteps gradually drawing to a close. Ten yards remains the distance between them, the woman turning her posture in an oblique angle towards her double; it presents a smaller target, and she doesn't even consciously realize she's made that shift. The leather-wrapped metal which slides down into one gloved hand is more strongly noticed, for all that it's been long since warmed to skin temperature.

Normally, one would trust oneself. But unlike many people, Hana knows what she's capable of. Knows it quite well; she isn't about to trust this reflection. Whoever or whatever it really is.

"This is a new trick," the woman remarks casually. "Did Bennet send you?"

"Bennet," Hana's shadow echoes, her voice low and onerous in comparison to the other self's offhanded tone. She too is dressed in dark colours that draw a sharp distinction between her trim figure and her washed out surroundings. A leather jacket in shades of raw umber hugs her frame, its zipper fit snug under her chin, while the gracefulness of her long legs are accentuated by black denim jeans and the calf-high leather boots she wears on furtive feet.

The knife she wields is almost an inch wider near the tip than it is at the handle, which shifts the weapon's balance point forward and allows a substantial blow to be struck with minimal effort by using inertia alone to complete the cut — or would, if she displayed any inclination of using it. So far, she has not.

"Bennet wouldn't be a problem if you'd taken care of him when you still had the opportunity," she says. "Instead, you put everyone under you at risk. For what?"

For what?

Hana's shadow knows better than any how to ask the questions which cut deepest. The woman resumes moving, suspicious confrontation turned into the beginnings of a wary circling; snow crunches beneath steps that involve more sideways than forward. Each placement of her feet, one after the other, is slow and deliberate; one crunch for the weight that lands on the ball, its muted counterpart heralding the touch of heel.

In the waking world, Hana would say it's not her doppelganger's business; that whoever they are, shapeshifter, body-sculpted, they don't need to know. But this frostbitten city isn't that — isn't waking, isn't real; it only exists within the bounds of her own mind. And in Hana Gitelman's mind…

For what?

…it's not the first time she's asked that question of her reflection. Or vice versa.

For what?

Quiet, grudging words the snowfall nearly swallows whole. "…I don't know."

"Petrelli. Bishop. Dalton. He sympathizes with them." Hana's shadow mirrors her movements with ease and accuracy, never allowing the distance between them to close as the pair orbits one another at a lazy tilt. Her eyes do not leave her other self's — she knows where to step even before she's lifting her booted foot off the ground, and has no difficult navigating the drifts of snow that have accumulated on the street, thickest where the wind has blown it into the shape of small, rounded dunes.

"He would sacrifice one hundred of the people under your protection if he thought it would twice that. Not only would he be wrong, but he'd stick a knife in your back to do it. You're failing them."

Twin arcs are traced in the frozen powder by booted feet, circle closing when it's Hana and not her shadow who stands with the rusting relic of a bus at her back, squarely bracketed by the beams of its headlights.

"What do you want me to say?" she challenges of her mirror-image. "I'm not Nakamura; I can't turn back the clock. Yes, he's stabbed me in the back; and yes, he'll do it again. He's still more a part of the Ferry than I ever could be," the woman concludes, words hissing through the narrow space defined by her teeth.

"It'd cost them more to lose us both." Because if she went after Bennet — that probably would happen, one way or another.

Hana's mirror image lifts both her brows at this assessment, skepticism written in the hard lines at the corners of her mouth and the creases just below the peak of her hairline. The expression seated on her face is not dubious — it's accusing. "Is that the best excuse you can come up with?" she asks. "Bennet's life isn't worth jeopardizing the safety of the people we're responsible for. Margaret Simpson, Obie Sanchez and Salvatore Bianco are all dead because of decisions you didn't make. The Ferry's current leadership is so weak that it voted to turn Danko over to Homeland Security after he murdered our people in cold blood, and now he's roaming free."

Margaret Simpson, Obie Sanchez, Salvatore Bianco

Where her doppelganger fails is that all of these names are little more than names and the faces to go with them. Oh, she knew them. She did, in some fashion, concern herself with their welfare while they lived. But they are dead now; and these dead are not her dead.

For her part, Hana's eyes narrow. "I don't make excuses," she tells her mirror image. Remains where she is, with the lights at her back; in theory, the glare might provide some advantage, if it comes to that. They're both Hana — it probably will.

"I'm not going to listen to this," the woman continues. "Stay out of my way."

Hana's shadow does not oblige by stepping aside. She stays anchored to the spot, legs like limber tree trunks with deep, curling roots that hook thorny feelers into the road's concrete foundation. Her back is straight, shoulders squared, but there's an inherent looseness about her body language which suggests she's more relaxed than her posture appears.

The cold does not seem to bother her, either. Each breath exhaled produces a fine cloud of vapour from her nose. "No."


Can't really call that a surprise. Or a disappointment, for that matter.

It's not difficult to predict Hana's next move; not the flick of wrist and arm that sends the slim, narrow blade winging from her hand towards the shadow who has now moved into the category of opponent. Quick strides carry her in its wake, cutting the distance between them; the knife-hilt her left hand curls around stays there, for all that it has little edge to speak of.

There are some people who believe that in situations of great desperation, time slows down. Normally, this is just a figure of speech — but here in this dead, gray place where the only real colours bleed out from a bruised and dying sky, the expression is very literal. Snow hangs suspended in the air, and sunlight reflects off the edge of the blade as it darts fishlike through the air, its metal surface shimmering under the glare like the belly of a mackerel.

Hana's shadow is strafing sideways just a fraction faster than the thrown knife flies. It cuts across her shoulder, tearing through the leather of her jacket, and embeds in the soft wood of a telephone pole to impale a tattered old pro-Registration poster stapled to its frozen column. As time speeds up again, she launches herself forward to meet Hana halfway, a lioness exploding through the tall grass of a snow-covered savanna.

Time slows, sand beading like liquid at the interface between glasses before finally plummeting into the hourglass' lower chamber.

Hana watches her double's image jink sideways, herself half-twisting in that molasses-like moment to follow the motion; meets her charge forward with no effort wasted in attempting to avoid the grab at Hana's left arm. Cold fingers clench on knit charcoal sleeve; but being inside one's arm's reach is also being inside the other's.

Hana's palm flashes forward towards her shadow's chin, on the follow-through sliding forcefully down towards the other's left forearm. The one whose hand holds the heavy knife.

The shadow's head snaps back, a snarl expelled with an explosive grunt through her nostrils, billowing vapour. Hana's hand connects with her forearm and knocks it aside, though the leather of her glove assists in maintaining her grip on the knife's handle — although the shadow does not drop it in the snow, she is currently in no position to bring it up and cut at Hana's face or the inside of her attacking arm.

Instead, she drives her opposite knee into Hana's midsection as she recovers from the blow to the head, blood oozing from the corner of her mouth in a thinning stream.

There's no snarl in the sudden expulsion of air from Hana's lungs; sound, but without meaning, only the significance of wind. As in the lost kind. It doesn't take air to lash out in return, or even thought, only the subconscious calculation of reflex and reaction informed by too many years spent in just this pursuit. Even as Hana gasps for a breath, she shifts her weight to the right as if preparing for another strike or punch — but doesn't, keeping that arm where it might be called upon to block instead, left wrist twisting to bring point of knife into play.

The hand at Hana's forearm releases, fingers like claws coming away with nothing clutched in their hooked grip. One foot plants firmly behind the other, and the shadow takes several abrupt paces backwards in what appears to be retreat, but Hana knows better — the space that exists between them is a temporary cushion and will not exist any longer than the brief time it will take for the shadow to recover from the strike, reassess the situation and locate another opening in which to exploit.

"You are nothing," the shadow spits. "Weak-willed and weak-minded."

Temporary cushion, but not one she's about to scorn; Hana has the moments she needs to get her breath back, adjusting the set of her feet in the snow and redistributing her weight. Trampled, the street's white coating is now anything but pristine.

She looks at her doppelganger, lit up by yellow headlights, reflection eerily freed from its mirror, granted will and self-direction. "I could say — that makes you the same," the woman points out, around a rasping swallow of air. Thin lips pull back from Hana's teeth, death's-head smile. "But why bother?

"Prove it," she challenges instead.

The knife flips around once in the shadow's hand, a full rotation of its handle, and snaps back to attention. She adjusts her own posture, body shifting in subtle ways that would be too slight a correction for anyone else to pick up on. For Hana, there is intimate familiarity in the nigh imperceptible transfers of energy between booted foot and leg, arm and shoulder. What happens next happens too fast for almost anyone else to react to — Hana sees it coming a fraction of a heartbeat in advance.

Blade aimed at a downward angle and wrist cocked, the shadow brings her knife across Hana's middle in a diagonal arc between her breasts in a swift, sweeping motion with all the abruptness of a striking cobra with its fangs bared.

Hana rocks back on her heels, away from the slashing swipe. Nonetheless, threads part with a barely audible whisper before the knife's silver edge, blood painting it crimson and welling up to stain her sweater somewhat closer to true black. Second blood, pain written in far more jagged lines with the motions of each breath, but not enough damage to matter — yet.

Hana steps into the void left behind after the passage of her shadow's arm, the momentum of that motion carried through into a kick at the doppelganger's knee, right hand attempting to catch hold of either arm or wrist behind her opponent's weapon.

The shadow's leg folds at knee and she drops down in the snow, one arm raised aloft at the wrist where Hana has caught it. The other splays fingers and distributes her weight through a palm pressed flat against the icy pavement. Her face is level with Hana's middle — all it would take is a kick from the Israeli to shatter the bridge of her nose and crush her into submission. Unfortunately, before she gets the opportunity, her shadow is swinging around with the leg not trapped beneath her and clears Hana's feet out from under her at the ankle.

Now the knife does fall, the sound of its impact absorbed by the snow rather than ringing out with a shrill clatter.

The sound of Hana's collision with the ground is nearly absorbed by snow — but only nearly. The grunt of air driven from her chest, albeit with less emphatic force than last time, is more distinctly heard. Despite the force of impact, Hana knows better than to remain still; she rolls to the side, smears of crimson marking the touch of her front against otherwise white snow. The slice bleeds more freely now, torque from movement outweighing constricting cold.

Even as she collects her feet beneath her, Hana casts a sidelong glance at her shadow, establishing position; then catches up a handful of ice-grained snow, lofting the loose powder towards her opponent's face.

Granules gather in the shadow's hair, in the spaces between her lashes and coat the outer rims of her nostrils, making it difficult to see and painful to breathe until she's blown the chunks from her nose and dragged her arm across her face, leather coming away wet. She locks onto Hana from where she sits crouched, coiled and ready with shoulders hunched and tension winding its way through her back.

Calculations happen at a speed too fast for the eye to follow but not for the brain to process. The shadow is moving again before the snow has settled, weight thrown forward in a rolling motion that propels her into Hana with enough force to throw them both back to the ground.

The tackle is all the more effective in that Hana was just about to rise; the resistance offered by joints in motion is negligible, and the former Mossad hits the pavement again, force of impact jarring the knife from her grip, a pained cry from her throat. At this rate, that slash may never have a chance to stop bleeding.

Pinned, Hana isn't helpless; particularly not when her reflection truly is her double. She counterattacks not with flesh but with ability, a burst of digital static analogous to a sudden shout - or the vibrant strobe of an antique camera's flashbulb. Then Hana attempts to turn the tables, the better to not be the one pinned.

The pair goes rolling through the snow with an audible crackle amplified by the stillness in the air. Hana's shadow reels, taken aback, and as her senses are still re-acclimating ends up on the bottom with Hana's weight bearing down hard on her sternum. Breath leaves her lungs in a thin, raggedy hiss that sounds like laughter — is laughter, even if she has nothing to be laughing about.

Her gloved hand closes around something at her side, steel flashing that same fish-scale sliver beneath the ice.

Most people would hesitate, faced with themselves as an opponent; hesitate to commit themselves to what could be termed suicide, there being no better word in English for the killing of one's own shadow. If Hana were one to hesitate in such a circumstance, however, she would have died long ago.

While her doppelganger laughs, the woman does not; lacking any weapon but her own hands, she closes gloved fingers around the shadow's throat.

The doppelganger's scrabbling fingers are outside anything but the most peripheral of Hana's vision, the sound of cloth rasping against snow too faint to overcome the rasp of her own breathing: she misses it.

One of the first things they teach you in the army is that even the smallest mistake can be fatal. It's not recklessness on Hana's part and it isn't really an oversight, either — sometimes these things just happen or are made possible by exactly the right set of circumstances. In this case, it's the combination of the blood pounding in Hana's ears, the obscuring snow and her inability to see what's coming until it's too late.

The knife that had slid from her shadow's grasp connects with the base of her neck and cleaves cleanly through skin and muscle, including the thick cartilage of her trachea before it hits bone, sinks its edge in a gap between vertebrae and cannot go any further.

When she pulls it out, it frees itself with a sharp, moist sound.

It doesn't feel real. The blood that wells in her throat, trickles down beneath the neckline of her sweater; doesn't hurt exactly, doesn't feel like anything Hana can find words to describe. Only the weakness that drags leaden at her extremeties, reaching fingers falling far short of their goal. Numbing cold spreads from where her knees are braced in the snow, from the left hand splayed against its icy surface.

Dark eyes trace a drifting snowflake down to where it lands in the pool of blood gathering against her shadow's clothes, edges blurring into amorphous roundness, the drops still warm enough to melt it. Snow's white glare dims, darkening at the edges of her vision, hemming it in further and further still until Hana cannot see anything at all.

She hears her shadow's mocking laughter.

Beneath it, a flat electronic buzz that has nothing to do with the desolate ice-city, her doppelganger, the confrontation in the street. Rather, it belongs in the context of white sheets twisted into tangled knots, with the metallic clatter of an IV stand knocked from its perch and sent careening off the wall on its way to meet the floor.

Her knees buckle, although it's hard to say where in the sudden and violent motion of Hana's awakening they were actually ever called upon to bear weight; she slides down from the side of the bed, utterly graceless, fingers clutching at the concrete wall of Grand Central Terminal, their tension the only thing that keeps her from being a completely crumpled heap of linen, limbs, and hospital gown.

Hana listens to the old-model monitor wail over its lost lead, and with fingertips pressed lightly, disbelievingly against the intact curve of her throat, coughs blood onto formerly snow-white sheets.

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