The Hunter Becomes the Hunted


etienne_icon.gif kaylee_icon.gif nick_icon.gif

Scene Title The Hunter Becomes the Hunted
Synopsis All deceptions must eventually come to an end.
Date September 20, 2018



Tall and tapered, with canopies that fan out like the barb’s on a bird’s feather. Dark silhouettes that stand out against a marginally brighter sky. The air smells like dry earth and hardening sap.

Shadows blur by, allowing only glimpses out a window covered in streaking drops of summer rain. There is a road that extends all the way to the vanishing point at the end of the horizon. Headlights illuminate a sign that reads:

Welcome to New Jersey
The Garden State

Then the letters snap back into darkness.

The girl’s breathing is shallow, frightened. Her ability uncurls like a nesting bird as it opens its wings to greet the new dawn. Sparrows take flight, hundred of small-bodied, soft-voiced little things that scissor effortlessly away into the early morning gloom, each with an identical message to impart.

Help me.

Two miles off the coast of New Jersey

With only a few days into the very edge of autumn, there's been no time at all for the east coast to shake its summer, and even in the gloom of nightfall, the trees that line the Jersey coast are dense with green. They blur on by despite the slower pace that the Salve Regina has set, keeping its guttural engine growl to a minimum.

It seems almost ridiculous to try manage something like a stealthy approach, when the entirety of the Garden State in its decay and decline seems so profoundly empty. North of their position, even Staten Island seems like it has more life, with glimmers of wood-burning fires warm in its dark coastline.

Even so. This is something of an intelligence gathering mission. It pays not to announce their arrival.

Kaylee Ray-Sumter and Nick Ruskin have the deck to themselves, where the air is cool off the water, and the momentum of the lobster boat they are on picks up its own wind and flusters around them. Their third companion is driving, a shadowed figure in a wheelhouse he's kept dark. Gruff and taciturn, generous proportions of hair salt-stiff at the ends and left loose to tangle down his back, Etienne Saint James hasn't said much to Kaylee's chosen ally, and seems to dog her shadow a little as if she's acquired for herself a loyal mastiff.

Or perhaps the better analogy might be some other, bigger predator with less inclination towards taming, broad-nosed and patiently in pursuit of her for some reward at the end of it. No guns on his person, just a big hunting knife badly concealed by the flat of leather jacket, and a smaller blade tucked into his boot.

Preoccupied, for now, with Nick and Kaylee left to ponder the giganticness of their search, looking and dark to the right of them.

“This kind of takes me back to the old days. It’s been awhile since I’ve had such a huge task laid out at my feet like this,” Kaylee comments softly to Nick, angling a tired smile his way from under the shadow of her hoodie. Hands are tucked into pockets to keep them warm against the chill that has started to find its way in the air. She looks nothing like the corporate persona she normally puts on. This was the real Kaylee. “I’m glad you could join us. I feel bad leaving Richard in the dark, but he’s got enough of his own problems.” Her head turns a bit towards the wheelhouse, her lips tugging a little one side, “Luckily, I have a good companion.”

Her attention goes back out into the dark world beyond, though she’s not really looking at any one thing. Really too dark for that, her mind is turn inward listening to the hum of the minds around her. “I hate that it’s taken this long,” Kaylee sounds worried for the young girl and that wouldn’t be wrong. “Too long for my comfort, especially, since I don’t know how fast our Eileen’s mind is being eroded away.”

In Etienne’s presence, Nick’s been quiet, as well — unknown entities are slower to earn his trust, and he’s let Kaylee do most of the talking but for a few replies that fall into the terse category — not curt, just efficient.

He’s quiet, too, as he looks out at water and trees with Kaylee. It feels strange to be on deck and not in the wheelhouse, but for all of that, it still feels too familiar to him, like all the comings and goings from Bannerman so many years ago.

Kaylee’s words earn a nod before he turns away from the water to look at her, his hand reaching into the leather jacket he wears, despite the still-balmy summer’s-end air, and pulls out a pack of cigarettes. They’re not his old brand of Capstans, much too hard to get post-war, but Lucky Strikes. Shaking one out, he brings it to his lips, before tipping the pack her way. Whether she shakes her head no or takes one, the pack goes back in the pocket and cigarettes are lit with a flick of a lighter.

“Ray’s a good guy but I don’t think he and my sister were ever close,” he says quietly. “As close as anyone can get to her, anyway. I know you had your issues but I trust you to have her best interest at heart.” Nick’s pale eyes dart back at the water, then back to Kaylee. “My order of priority hasn’t changed, but in a perfect world, no one gets hurt.”

A long drag of the cigarette lets him prepare his next words. “Can you get in the other’s head or does her ability keep that from happening, d’you know?”

There a shake of her head when offered the cigarettes and a polite no thanks. “Didn’t start out that way with her and I… but, after a fell in with Joseph, we just didn’t quite mesh anymore,” there is a lopsided smile for the woman’s brother. “Doesn’t mean I didn’t still respect the hell out of her.” Kaylee leans a little a closer and adds confidentiality. “And didn’t stop her from trusting me and I her. So don’t worry, I’m on her side.” Always has been.

Then she shifts to the question, lips press into a thinline. “That there is the kicker,” Kaylee finally sighs out after some thought. “I’ve only ever been able to do with touch.” A hand slips from her pocket to touch her temple as an example. “I know it is possible.” There is a bit of an embarrassed flush of her cheeks, “I’ve been tangled up in Epstein's head, but that was with Gillian’s help.” There is a little resigned shrug of her shoulders, “I’m just not half as powerful on my own, unlike some I’ve seen.” Too bad they were dead.

“So,” the telepath says slowly, focused on the problem, “there could very well be a snag there, unless we can convince Gillian to help or find someone who can do something similar.”

Nick huffs out a short version of a laugh. “Avi’s head. Jesus, I don’t even wanna know what that’d be like. Probably littered with bottles and leftover pizza. Do you see a landscape, like Delia does? Mine’s…”

He shakes his head. She’s been there. She knows. Even if he can’t quite remember it all clearly, delirious with fevers as he was when she was in his head.

The question of touch makes him sigh, bringing another cigarette up to his mouth for a long pull, releasing the plume of smoke into the darkness around them. “If it’s skin to skin, you can’t, even if we could get her to hold still.” By force, if necessary goes unspoken. He looks back out at the water, dark brows furrowing for a moment.

“Gabriel might be looking for us. I don’t know. Delia and Eve went to find him in a dream, but I didn’t get the details. Just that he knows, now. He might be out there to find her, too. You and him okay?” The question is volleyed to her with a nod of his head in Kaylee’s direction.

Mindscapes. “Yeah, you could say they work a little like dreamscapes. Difference is what you dreams is always changing, but what is in your head,” Kaylee taps her’s, “It doesn’t change as much or as readily. It’s more of a snapshot of you, than a dream. Though both are influenced by time and experience.” It sounds a lot like a lecture, which the realization gets a huff of amusement. “Sorry.”

Pushing the hood off of golden curls she looks out at the dark shore, eyes narrowing like it might allow her to see better. “Okay?,” Kaylee asks curiously, fingers catch as wayward curls drifting across her face in the sea breeze and tucking it behind her ear. There is consideration for the question, the telepath turning thoughtful. “He and I have never had anything against each other, of course, we did not exactly step into each other’s path much. I can’t imagine there being a problem.” Even before she went and married a holy man, Kaylee has always had a bit of a positive streak when it comes to people. “Of course, what we were will not always be what we are now. Even Gabriel Gray, I imagine.”

“We know what we are but not what we may be,” murmurs Nick. “You’re practically speaking Shakespeare.” There’s a small smile in her direction, before he takes another pull from the cigarette, then lets it fall into the water. Not much of an environmentalist, sadly.

“Just curious. He, as I’m sure you can imagine, isn’t fond of me, but hopefully he’s gotten the message I’m trying to help her. I hope he at least got the message she’s out there, so he can try to help her, if we can’t,” Nick says quietly, turning back to rest his arms along the railing, leaning a little to look down into the water.

He glances back to Kaylee, then to the wheelhouse, and back to the telepath. “You should know I won’t help harm her. I can’t. Even if it’s the right thing,” he says quietly. “But if it comes down to her or Sibyl… “ he looks away, brows drawing together into a deeper scowl. “You should do what’s right.”

The push of the boat comes to a slower crawl, and through the bones of the vessel comes footsteps as Etienne emerges from the shadowy interior. There's a look first to Nick, then to Kaylee, an accounting for that doesn't give much away about what Etienne may or may not have been listening to — and certainly not how much he cared about what he did.

"Look alive, Princess," he says, which is the kind of rude thing to say, but probably, Kaylee had it coming after she got her het up about a sideways purse comment. There's no venom, anyway, barely any humour, flat tone honed to a jab to get her attention only. "There's light, further south. Campfire," is offered as a likely guess, rather than a certainty.

Just to look, all Nick and Kaylee will see are dark trees. But then, as the boat drifts nearer, the barest hint of light glimmered through. Gone again from sight.

"Want to take a look, or should I just bill you for the diesel we're burnin'."

There is a wrinkle of her nose at the nickname and a flat look tossed Etienne’s way. Really?! Though even Kaylee can appreciate the fact that she did deserve that jab. Still the nickname earns a quiet suffering sigh as she turns her attention to the dark bank as prompted.

There is a touch of doubt as she is greeted with darkness. She even begins to ask if he was sure when she spots the faint light, hands sliding from pockets to grip the cool railing of the boat. The curiosity of what is out there — or maybe she just needed a break from the monotony of staring at shoreline, but her head starts to slowly nods. “No reason to leave any stone unturned,” she quips easily. “Let's have a look”

Stepping a little closer to the pirate, her eyes still on that faint light that shift between the trees,she adds. “And you and I both know you were going to foot me the bill for it, anyway,” Kaylee tone is colored with obvious humor; just an easy observation.

And why shouldn't she help pay for it? They’ve been a team on this search after all.

Nick turns at the sound of Etienne’s voice, before he turns to look in the direction indicated. His eyes narrow, straining a bit to see that faint glimmer, but he nods once he’s seen it.

There’s the smallest twitch of mouth into something resembling a smile at the banter, and he tips his head in Kaylee’s direction. “You make more money than both of us put together, I’d wager.” He glances at Etienne, to add, “No offense, mate. I’m sure you’re very good at what you do.”

Whatever that is.

“As fun as wasting fuel sounds, we should check it out,” he agrees.


The night sky is pristine. No clouds, only a fine sprinkling of perfectly lit stars that assists the moon in illuminating the clearing where the old trailer sits collecting moss. With only a few weeks left before summer relinquishes the weather to autumn, it’s an ideal time to turn eyes upward and simply enjoy the warm air and sounds of cicada song.

It reminds him of camping trips in the old rundown RV.

Of Natalie nestled against one side of him and Gabriel on the other, dark head tucked into the crook of his father’s arm.

Of lightning bugs twinkling in the dark, and a game they once played where Natalie challenged them both to differentiate between the insects’ glow and the intermittent crackle and pop of campfire embers floating into the night.

More often, she called the animals to them, and watched fondly as Samson taught their boy the difference between a potoo and whip-poor-will, birding book splayed open on his lap with his son on his knee and the flashlight gripped in Gabriel’s small hands.

That was a long time ago.

The only company Samson has at the fire burning in the pit outside tonight are the shadows of the trees crowding in around him, and they don’t ask him questions about the world.

They don’t say anything at all.

It makes them fine accomplices.


Plastic crinkles and pops, dryrotted wood snaps, and the long shape wrapped in a blue tarp and sealed with duct tape isn't trash or roadkill, though blood pools at the bottom of the tarp nevertheless. The plastic fabric weave isn't quite waterproof, but Samson can't find the effort to care anymore. He shuffles small, aging steps into the dirt clearing behind his trailer, dragging the wrapped corpse feet first on an unseen hook.

It's flung unceremoniously into a shallow grave beside other, older earthen mounds. The plastic crunches, then goes silent as the corpse stops rolling down the slope. Damon Vandercamp once had the ability of terrakinesis. Not a particularly refined version of it, as it turns out, just enough to manipulate loose earth and soil. Samson didn't even need it.

With an unsteady wave of his hand, he sweeps the dirt from the shallow grave back into the hole, covering up another kill like so many more dotting the forest around the trailer. He didn't want to kill Damon, hadn't even hunted him. He just overheard him talking, sensed what he could do, and…

Samson Gray stands over the loose earthen mound, shoulders slack and head down, eyes partway lidded and expression blank. He thinks about what he's lost; Natalie and Gabriel, in the past. The safe shelter of Benchmark, more recently.

He looks back to the fire, burning softly just a dozen feet away from where he'd dug a shallow grave, and turns back to its allure like a moth would. What else would he do? What else could he do?

His activities tonight have not gone unnoticed.

As Samson turns, he spies two identical lights hanging static in the darkness on the other side of the fire, too steady, too focused to be either embers or lightning bugs. He cannot think of any animal, either, with eyes that glow quite so brightly or with the intent that these do.

A sweep of the ability that once belonged to the late Wendy Hunter doesn’t clarify what— or who is a few footsteps away from trespassing on his campground. It only confuses the situation further.

He senses two abilities, intertwined, one intimately familiar to him and the other cold, indifferent, alien. Eileen Ruskin pops the helmet of her FRONTLINE armor, visor peeling back like a cobra somehow slipping out of its hood. Firelight washes over the suit’s protective plating as she winds closer, and highlights the hollows of her cheeks and the heavy bags beneath her eyes, which are no longer red but have yet to divert their attention from the apex predator who calls this patch of the Pine Barrens his territory.


In the dark Samson can hide his frailties, edging out of the firelight and doing his level best to keep a stooped, predatory posture. Thick brows rise in surprise, then narrow in confusion. His edges ripple, threatening only shadow in squidlike escape, but his curiosity keeps him anchored and the darkness at bay. He's silent, like an animal stalking prey, even if the roles are momentarily reversed.

“Nice try,” Samson rasps out, one brow raising slightly higher than the other. “What is it, some sort of… combination of sensory deception, mixed with an empathic glamor?” His tired, cloudy eyes narrow. He doesn't believe his senses. How could he.

He knows where Eileen Ruskin is.

But then, as if turning a page in a book and reading the full paragraph of the situation, realization dawns on Samson’s face. Whatever it is he thinks he knows stays unsaid, but he stiffens in posture just so. Just enough.

“If I could do that,” Eileen says, “don’t you think I’d choose a different face?”

She orbits the fire, the sound of her footsteps absorbed by the soft earth and whatever technology that allowed her to sneak up on him in the first place. A holstered pistol sits on the curve of her hip, presumably in the event that her armor fails her— or maybe just for show. As sleek and as dangerous as the plating makes her appear, it does nothing to disguise her compact size.

“Your dead wife’s,” she suggests, “or your son’s.”

She does not say the name Gabriel, not out loud. The wound is still too fresh for both of them.

When she’s within striking distance, she stoops to sit, settling on an overturned log that has begin to moulder but is not yet so decayed that it crumbles under the combined weight of her body and the armor she wears.

“Why don’t you sit down, Dad.”

Samson doesn't. Instead, he remains at the edge of firelight like a wounded dog, hackles raised the moment Dad is uttered, and teeth bared at the threat of that armor and those abilities. Briefly, he glances about the tree line half-expecting there to be something or someone worse than this phantom out here, but then even that expression relents, and he's left to stare in confusion. Intellectually he knows the things he suggested aren't true, that she is what he sees in her, and that is both nothing he wants…

…and exactly what he's been looking for.

“Why are you here?” Samson pointedly asks from the edge of the firelight, eyeing the armor with a crease of his brows that pulls at dozens of other sharp lines on his face. “You don't belong here.”

“Colonel Heller’s actions eight years ago opened a vacancy,” Eileen answers. “All I’ve done is filled it.”

She appreciates the implication that she only has to defend rather than explain herself, that he requires she address the why and not the how. Fingers knit, she rests her hands in her lap. “I knew about you, where I come from. But we were never formally introduced.”

Her back straightens, narrow shoulders squared. There’s nothing overtly aggressive about her posture; the way she perches on her log opens her body up into a more neutral position instead, although she’s conscious not to expose any visible vulnerabilities either she or her armor might have.

It’s scuffed in some places and scratched in others, because of course it is.

“You look like him,” she observes, and unlike her physical weaknesses she makes no effort to disguise her interest. “A little leaner around the face, maybe. Your angles are sharp. His were blunt.”

“He got that from his mother,” is Samson’s rough estimation of small talk. As he creeps toward the fire, Eileen can see just how sharp his lines are. The thinness of his body, the redness around his eyes, the hollows of his cheeks he's trying to hide with a huge beard. He's dying.

“You remind me a lot of her,” Samson adds, brows furrowing together, “stubborn, always think you know the right thing to say, but don't.” The bitter invective doesn't have much weight behind it. Neither does Samson, to be fair. As he moves over to the fire, wearily squatting down on one of the logs beside it, Samson brushes the still bloody heels of his palms against his dirty pants.

“How'd you get here?” Samson asks rather pointedly. “They still playing God somehow?” They.

“I’d explain it, but I don’t understand the science myself.” Natalie wasn’t good with numbers and equations, either. Eileen leans forward. She tries anyway: “There are doors between worlds,” she says, “invisible to the human eye. It takes advanced technology to open them— or, sometimes, it’s a special ability.”

The closer he comes to the fire, the better Eileen can see him; her owl positioned in the tree some fifteen yards away can only assess so much. Up close, the ragged quality of his breathing is more apparent, and the nurse in her recognizes the symptoms of late-stage cancer staring her directly in the face.

“Whatever you’re thinking,” she suggests, “don’t. It’s a monkey’s paw.”

Samson laughs, a hoarse, short little thing. At this distance Eileen can hear Samson’s breathing, wet and heavy. Reaching inside the pocket of his flannel shirt, he retrieves a nearly flattened pack of cigarettes and places one in his mouth, bent at the middle but not quite broken, and the end just crackles with light and heat and begins to burn.

“I've got some more pressing problems,” Samson finally says, breathing in a deep lungful of smoke and then exhaling it out his nose. “But you…” Samson’s brows raise and leave furrows deep in his wrinkled forehead, “you're in a world of trouble. I'd wager.” Looking down at his cigarettes, Samson considers them, then shakes one out partway and offers it out to Eileen.

“They're shit.” Samson digresses. “But good luck finding anything else.”

Eileen slips the cigarette from its battered packaging. There is something fatalistic about taking tobacco from a man whose lungs have metastasized — but of all the thing she has to worry about, getting sick isn’t among them.

She rolls the cigarette between her fingers, which are surprisingly deft for being encased by the heavier gloves she wears, fashioned from some sort of synthetic material that Samson isn’t familiar with.

Not her brand. Doesn’t matter. Eileen steers the cigarette into the corner of her mouth, and asks around the filter, “Trouble? Me?”

Samson’s brows furrow and the end of the cigarette ignites with a just right level of combustion. Someone would probably be cross to know that he killed Angelina Jackman so he could more easily light cigarettes. Perhaps they'd find irony in the notion they're killing him right back.

“Trouble,” Samson reiterates, watching Eileen like she was some sort of exotic animal, something trotted out for the entertainment of the zoo-goers for a brief time; a nature show. “When my boy finds you,” Samson looks into the fire, “and so imagine he will, he's going to be very relieved at first…” Dark eyes level back up on Eileen. “Then very disappointed.”

Samson draws in a breath of smoke, pinching the cigarette between yellowed fingers. “An old man might be convinced to offer you some advice,” is said with a wheezing exhalation, “in exchange for some information.” Samson’s dark eyes lift back up to Eileen, searching her unnaturally blue ones a shade too fair for his memory.

Eileen remembers the cold tile floors of the bathroom she and Gabriel shared in another life and the warmth of his body juxtapositioned against it as he held her in his arms. She remembers his rage, formless but familiar, when she’d told him about the interdimensional doppelgangers lurking in their midst. Through the tenuous psychic connection they’d shared, she sensed his intent and understood without any words needing to be spoken exactly how far he was willing to go to fix it.

In other words: She doesn’t think Samson is wrong.

She pulls a long drag from the cigarette, considering.

“That’s fair,” she answers.

“It's really not,” Samson responds, staring into the fire. “Losing you destroyed him. Finding you like this? It'll kill him all over again.” Slowly, Samson looks from the fire to Eileen, sucking in a slow breath and drawing that smoke into his dying lungs. “But he will find you, so there's no stopping that. Unless of course you go back to wherever it is people like you are from.”

Samson exhales the smoke in a slow, wafting breath that churns like a ground fog out of his mouth, rolls past long and yellow teeth, drifts into the air and swirls on the thermal current created by the fire. “But if you can tell me the name of someone who might have a regeneration ability,” he looks back to Eileen, “I might be able to be of some help.”

He wouldn't be this mercenary with his Eileen. Perhaps not even this one, if things weren't so dire, but they are. She can feel it in her bones, feel the conduit stirring in her chest like an animal roused from sleep. Samson is dying, and that presence can tell.

There’s the temptation, a nagging little voice in the back of Eileen’s head that wants to know whether or not it would really be that bad to just— let go. To breathe in, open her ribs like the doors of a steel cage, and let the conduit flow out of her on the next exhale. She imagines the release it promises before the the end, what it must feel like to be emptied of all her grief, fear, and pain, as easy as the cigarette smoke leaks from her nostrils and thinly parted lips.

But also: Eileen remembers why she sought Samson out in the first place.

“Let’s say I could heal you,” she posits, and although it’s a struggle to keep her voice steady, this internal conflict is one she’s winning. “You’re like him. Damaged in ways no combination of abilities can fix, slave to your compulsions.

“Gabriel used to the call it the Hunger, and we thought he had control over it until he didn’t.” Eileen taps the ash from the tip of her cigarette and watches at it disintegrates into the same nighttime breeze tugging at her hair and the leaves in the trees. “What guarantee do I have that you won’t come after me or the people I care about?”

“There's no guarantees in life,” Samson ruefully notes, “and I think we both know that. But what I want…” He reconsiders whatever he was about to say. “I just need to get better again. I was better for a while, but the cancer came back, then the desperation. I don't… want this life, though.”

Realizing he's rambling, Samson takes the time between breaths to suck down another measure of his cigarette and flick some of the ashes down to his feet, mindfully scuffed out with his heel. He doesn't want to start a forest fire. “You stay away from me,” Samson motions around the trailer, “I stay away from you. It's that simple.”

Though if that weren't reassurance enough he adds, “I just want to make things right by my boy.” His attention moves to the fire. “For however long I've got left.”

Eileen plucks the cigarette from her mouth and lets it dangle between her knuckles, indecisive. Then, with practiced deliberation, she brings it back up to her face and touches the lit end to the exposed skin of her left cheek. Heat blisters flesh; whatever ability the Englishwoman holds in addition to Natalie’s must not render her immune to pain because she sucks in a sharp breath through flared nostrils and the muscles in her neck and jaw go taut.

She holds it there until the count of three, then allows her hand to drop down against the inside her thigh, palm curved into the shape of a claw and facing up. Unremarkably, the cigarette continues to burn undeterred. What’s of interest to Samson is the tendrils of black energy lapping against the open wound, stitching charred skin and muscle back together with the efficiency of the world’s smallest pair of knitting needles.

Her complexion smooths over, its texture as pristine as a slightly underripe nectarine the next time she turns her face toward the firelight.

“New deal,” she suggests. “If you can take it from me, then you can have it.”

“I already have cancer,” Samson says with a look to Eileen, “you think I want poison too? That's not healing, that's… someone else’s bullshit.” His dark eyes look her up and down squinting against the firelight. “Do you even know what it is you've got there inside of you?”

His pupils dilate wider, so wide that they swallow his iris, turn his eyes a suffocating black that seems bottomless. “I can see what that thing does, and if I ever want to hold my wife again,” he says with a bristly smile, “it won't be with the reaper’s hands.”

Maybe his danger sense will warn him just before it happens, a gentle pressure that sets in. Located at a point just behind his eyes. He was either developing a sinus infection or it was something more interesting.

«Mr. Samson Gray.»

A soft feminine voice whispers in that space between his ears, a brush of words that hold no malice or ill intent. «Don’t let her know I’m here. I have a proposal for you and I do hope you are willing to listen.» The words curl around his mind like the swirl of heavy mist and it clings unshakeable as it continues. «You and I both know the thing that is curled inside her. The damage it will do and to be honest, you and I know she isn’t going to let you live.»

For a moment, it seems like the mysterious visitor is gone, but like the tide she returns with a caress of words. I can help you, I may have something she is interested in. An assurance that will allow you to live another day. Do I have your attention, yet?» There might be a touch of mischief to those words. «In return, I need her for information. To be blunt, you are not my priority but the girl she holds captive.» Another pause to give him a moment to consider. «Do we have an accord, Mr. Gray?»

So many bargains being struck tonight.

If Eileen is privy to the stranger’s side of the conversation, it doesn’t show on her face. As the unknown voice speaks soundless, honeyed words to him and cradles his consciousness in the equivalent of its palms, she’s studying his eyes. Her hand drifts to her sidearm but does not free the weapon from its holster; instead, she rests her heel against the grip and flexes gloved fingers, bracing herself against any sudden movements that come from Samson’s side of the fire.

The resemblance between father and son goes beyond physical appearance.

Her other hand flicks the cigarette into the flames, where it’s swallowed up in an audible pop and flash of light that expels a spray of microscopic embers.

“I have some idea,” she says of the ability still rousing inside of her. “Do you?”

And while she thinks she knows what she’s talking about, both her words and actions suggest there are things she doesn’t.

The fact that they’re no longer alone, for instance.

Plucking his cigarette from the corner of his mouth, Samson affords a look over to Eileen. He slides his tongue over his yellowed teeth, hazel eyes narrow, flick left and right, then settle back on Eileen. “I didn’t know it was Halloween,” Samson grumbles, rolling the cigarette between his two fingers, “and I didn’t ask you t’come knocking for tricks or treats.” He eyes the trailer in the near distance, his one last safe haven, the last place he could retreat to if everything else fell apart. When he looks back to Eileen, there’s a sourness in his expression.

I just wanted to be left alone.” He flicks the cigarette toward the fire, but it goes further than it should have, twirls end over end and strikes inside the fire and then explodes in a violent combustion of light and heat, sending flinders of burning wood and ashes up into the air in a swirling cloud; a distraction. Samson seems to move with a horrifying speed in the moment after that, but the reality of the situation quickly comes to crystal clear focus for Eileen, in that time is slowed for her. Everything is moving in slow motion — the exploding fire, the ashes hanging in the air, the steady sway of the pine trees — everything except for Samson Gray. He rarely has to call on Karen Lau’s ability, hasn’t felt the need to flee for his life like this in years. His luck was bound to run out eventually.

As Samson moves, his body looks to be consumed by the bonfire, but instead of flames ravaging his body, he merely crumbles to a billowing cloud of ashen smoke that falls flat to the ground like a low-lying carpet of fog. Aerokinetics stolen from Thalia Ashford allow him finer control of where his ashen form goes, and while it seems like retreat — it isn’t.

His mind is probing outward into the darkness of night. He may be cutting loose his engagement with this revenant of Eileen Ruskin, but he is leaning into Wendy Hunter’s ability to detect the presence of other evolved to find the one whispering sibilant promises into his mind.

He doesn’t react well to being cornered.

Inside the fifty foot radius of Wendy Hunter’s ability, Samson detects the unmistakable psychic ping of a telepath.

Not of the avian variety.

Eileen, who lacks the same tools of perception that Samson has at his disposal, resorts to the feedback gleaned by potoos and whip-poor-wills and all the nightbirds of varying size between. She frees her sidearm from its holster and flicks off the safety with her thumb at the same time she shifts her weight onto her back foot, shoulders tucked in to present a smaller target.

Outside of Samson’s fifty foot radius, her additional eyes and ears pick up something else. Her free hand snaps to the earpiece hidden beneath her hair. “Eyes on the woods,” she instructs over the radio. “I see three, plus the old man. Be ready.”

«You damned, old fool. I’m trying to help you, here.»
The mental voice goes from reasonable to annoyed. «She has people in the woods. She is going to kill you. Not just you, Sibyl….» The voice trails off suddenly. The presence is there in his head, but if this individual succeeds, he’ll have a hard time finding where they are. Every time he thinks he knows, he’s diverted. Changing that little detail in his mind almost as soon as it forms. «GOD DAMMIT, SAMSON!» The voice returns sounding strained as whoever this telepath is, tries to play the mental game of hide and seek with a killer. «I want to save our world’s Eileen. Are you that cold-hearted? You said it yourself…» It hisses angrily in his mind, tactics changing. «You want to make things right with your boy… how about we start with this? Help me find out from this invader where she is keeping Sibyl.»
So, caught up in trying to keep from getting caught by a serial killer, the telepath shadowed in the woods, doesn’t even notice the tiny eyes on her.

“Come out, Thatcher!” Eileen roars, although her voice can barely be heard above the flames. She raises an arm, shielding her face against the billowing smoke and embers; the Black Conduit provides no protection from the haze and does little for the sting of all the fine particles gathering in her eyes and lashes, or the tears she’s abruptly blinking away.

Beyond the ring of ember and ash, it’s hard to see one of those spied figures coming forward, though Eileen has her birds to help make sense of the dark shadow. The crack of twig under boots is the first audible signal that someone has come out of the treeline.

It isn’t Thatcher.

The lean man’s fingers wrap tight around the black iron of a gun, held to his own temple. Blue eyes squint into that firelight; the expression on the pale face is a grim one. Fear is almost palpable in the tension of his muscles; his free hand at his side twitches now and then against the dark denim of his pants.

“Lee,” is his hoarse whisper, the only syllable Nick utters.

Black and gray smoke moves in a carpet along the forest floor, billowing path Nick Ruskin like a tidal wave that parts around his ankles and rolls beneath his legs. It comes with a strange slowness of the world around him, and he watches himself moving at half speed, watches Eileen moving at half speed. But the smoke all around him is accelerated, a blur of ash and soot.

A clinging layer of dust and soot sticks to Nick’s pant legs. When would come the telekinetic hammer of Samson's ability is instead the horrifying reminder of what fate befell Molly Walker the last time these two were in close proximity. Samson bypasses Nick much as he had the first time, but it's immediately clear he has his wild-eyes sights set on someone else.

No underbrush can hide Kaylee Thatcher, no tree for cover, nothing short of distance and anonymity, neither of which she now has from the spooked beast of ash and smoke barreling directly at her. The tree beside her explodes at the middle like someone took a hammer to it, wood flinders fly into her hair, bounce off her clothes. Before she can recover from the reflexive recoil, there's a new sensation at the center of her chest as she’s yanked forward and off of her feet to meet the smoke cloud as it rises up in a column and solidifies into the shape of a deathly thin man reeking of carbon.

Samson says nothing, his wide-eyed and frantic expression coupled with his frenetically erratic thoughts says enough. He's afraid and this combination of whatever it is that Eileen has become and the telepathic intrusion was one spook too many. Like a frightened old dog he's scrambling across a proverbial linoleum floor trying to find a way out. Ultimately, they meet eyes for only a moment, before Samson’s self-preservation and rapidly firing danger sense overtakes the hunger of what ability Kaylee offers. He can't take her ability, there's no time.

Not here, anyway.

Instead, Samson changes from roiling smoke into something more horrifyingly familiar to Kaylee: a tattered shroud of living shadow. Her brother Richard’s old ability.

Samson explodes up into the air like a tattered piece of black fabric caught on the wind, but he never once releases Kaylee from his telekinetic grasp. He flies without restriction, up into the night, and like a predatory bird he soars into the darkness with Kaylee Sumter in tow, held by a hook of telekinetic force as she crashes through branches, smashes against trees, and then wildly slings about in the warm night air.

As he ascends into the sky, time begins to assert itself and move normally again, outside of the influence of the late Karen Lau’s ability.

Not so fast, old man.

Just like Samson was absolutely not hoping for, a second voice slithers sibilant through his brain. Despite the lack of physicality in such an experience, it's a recognisable voice, sharp edges and monotone and arrogance as Gabriel Gray's presence manifests as words inside Samson's immaterial skull. Power sense alive, he might realise that on his way to snare Kaylee up into his invisible talons, there is a second Evolved nearby, the distinct register of Kaylee's telepathy copied over.

And then something else, the bristle of multiple powers alive within one, before the world goes white, and Samson's consciousness leaves his body on a tether, his control over his active abilities unravelling — and as quickly as she was rising, Kaylee is falling.

On the ground, another story is playing out.

Nick, standing with a gun to his head and a plea in his eye. Eileen, armored, surrounded by a haze of embers and smoke.

And shadows in the brush as men move into position under Eileen's direction. One is moving for where Samson blazed his trail, rifle held low and steady. One of Eileen's roving birds, flitting through the branches, keeps track of his shape — and then his shape is gone as another, bigger one slams into him with the sound of splintering wood, rustling, a near animal growl from the cavern of Etienne's chest.

There's a short burst of rifle fire, muzzle flare just visible from the shadows on Nick's 3 o'clock, and then stillness.

Eileen hesitates.

Her brother stands just outside of arm’s reach, a gun to his head and fear in his eyes. She hasn’t seen that look since they were both living under their mother’s roof. The logical part of her brain insists that this is a trap, but as usual the Englishwoman’s brain isn’t the organ in control of her body.

The next breath, when she remembers to take it, feels like there isn’t enough room in her chest to accommodate.

“Stop,” is what comes out of her mouth, whether she means it to our not, and it isn’t clear whether the instruction is directed at Nick or at Kaylee who—

— has disappeared? Confusion pinches the panicked expression on Eileen’s face; she swings her attention toward the muzzle flash, upper lip curled around a muttered curse or a snarl.

Stop!” she barks again, louder, hoarser.

There is an unintended shriek of surprise as she is yanked through the air, fear lancing through her as she meets the familiar eyes of Samson Gray. Then the world becomes a blur and full of pain as she connects with trees and bushes… It leaves Kaylee barely conscious enough to notice the mental feedback that comes to being near a telepath.

Though there is no time to even think on this as she finds herself falling. Slamming back into the trees and connecting heavily with a ground. The telepath’s body is almost ragdoll like as it tumbles and comes to a stop. Already a dark red starts to seep into her blonde curls. From where she lays she is a totally mess. Sharp branches have torn and ripped her clothing in several places, some of the tears darkening at the edges as they soak up blood oozing from gashes.

One might wonder if she was even alive, at least until she starts to move with a heavy groan of pain. First she tries to get up, but ends up crumpling back to the ground with a yelp. Pain turns the edges of her vision red and then black as she realizes something is wrong with her wrist.

Maybe she’ll just lay here a few moments longer, because everything hurt. Shifting carefully, Kaylee flops over onto her back, grimacing at the sharp pain in her head.

In that slowed-down time, Nick’s eyes move from smoke to sky to ground to Eileen. The fear isn’t an act — the sick feeling that comes with the memory of the last time he felt Samson’s ability run through him and yet leave him standing in its wake is all too real.

As is the sound of Kaylee’s body as it crashes down to the earth.

Everything beyond, to his right, he doesn’t think about. There’s a moment here.

An opportunity.

Suddenly the gun comes from where it’s held to his own temple, to point at Eileen. His brow furrowed, the pain that crinkles the corners of his eyes is sincere.


Her word repeated on his lips is quiet, rather than yelled. He can only hope his back-up is swift, to take advantage of the few moments this will hopefully buy him. Them. “Is Thatcher all right?” he asks, knowing Eileen will know without having to look.

What Samson experiences is what survivors of a plane crash describe as sudden descent. The telekinetic hook holding Kaylee in place releases while she's mid-air and she can feel the dissonant explosion of thoughts in his mind and the severe disorientation he experiences. It's enough to break his concentration, visible in the way the tattered shroud of darkness fleeing into the sky peels back like a rugged tablecloth, revealing the withered old man beneath.

Outside of his shadow form Samson is without flight, spiraling end over end through the air much as Kaylee was. He crashes through pine branches, is spun around by the impact. The ground is soft and muddy here in the woods from the prodigious rain of the last week, but it's still the ground and when Samson impacts it there's an audible snap as he bounces, rolls, and tumbles through the mud.

Kaylee landed just as hard as Samson but without the same severity of injury; She's younger, leaner, in better shape and not whittled down by cancer’s scythe.

My boy,” Samson hisses in a whisper through bloodied yellow teeth, pushing himself up into one shaky arm. His legs lay twisted behind him in the mud, though he attempts to drag himself forward a half-lurch. There isn't anger in Samson’s eyes, there's nothing but fear.

It's not her!” Samson pleads with his son, unknowing if this trap was for him or Gabriel. He refuses to take the risk. But it's also in that pleading scream that Samson is screaming at himself.

It's not her.

Suddenly, he feels like a ship lost in still waters.

I know, says that voice in Samson's head. That vicious edge has abated, now that he's effectively slapped Samson down to the forest ground, as brutally as gravity can be. Looking around, Samson sees nothing, save for where Kaylee shifts onto her back several feet away, bramble swaying and shivering with the movement. But we need her.

Hesitation, and then instruction;

Stay down.

People are yelling to stop.

Guns are being pointed.

There is a choking, dying sound from the brush and the soft thump of a body in the forest dirt. Etienne plants a boot down on the back of the man he just knifed, picking up the rifle, then lifting his head to evaluate what all is happening around him. Battle hasn't broken out — for the best — and he can see their target squaring off with a man who has a gun fixed on her.

Rifle held a little like a club as opposed to a gun, he moves, a big shape just beyond Eileen's immediate periphery, hands resolving around the rifle as he eyes the back of her exposed skull. He doesn't shoot it, but he doesn't stop either.

Right. This is what betrayal feels like.

The gun that had been pointed at Nick’s head is the same gun that Eileen finds herself staring down the barrel of.

It was a trick, because of course it was. Her teeth come down around the first syllable of whatever she was about to say next. There’s a point at which words lose all their worth. Nothing she can spit at her brother will express her disappointment or her rage as thoroughly as the look she levels at him from across the clearing.

There’s a more effective way to communicate it, though. Whether or not Nick’s finger contracts around the trigger, Eileen raises her arm and points her firearm at his center of mass—

—and pivots to fire off three decisive shots in quick succession to Nick’s right. The first strikes Etienne in the throat. Bullets two and three catch him in the cheek and under his eye.

She could stop there, except she has another five in the clip and a surplus of pent up frustration that she can still take out him on his way down.






Click. Clickclickclick.

It's the sound of Samson’s voice not too far from her, that has Kaylee’s eyes snapping open and she sits up in a panic; half expecting he is coming back for her. This action sends her head swimming and she has to brace herself before she falls over. This brings another grimace at the sharp pain in her wrist and a hiss of pain. Holding it against her chest, she presses her free hand to her throbbing skull. There is surprise when it comes away sticky with blood. Great.

Looking past her hand, she sees Samson on the ground as well. A flash of anger passed behind Kaylee’s eyes as something hisses softly at her at the edges of her mind. That darker part is awake and it’s not happy. “Damn it, Gray!” She hisses our quietly, with a glance toward where Nick and Eileen is, “Is this how you react to people trying to save your old ass!?!” The words snap out before she can filter them. She sighs and moves to get up, using the tree for help, nails digging into the bark. “You have got to work on your people skills.” She have growls at him before turning her attention back to what was going on, hand holding her up.

«Sssstay Down.» Her ability slams that suggestion home, she’s mad so it hits him like a slap across the face.

Almost as soon at she does, shots ring out. Kaylee ducks from the sound and jerks around in time to see Etienne drop. “No!” she hears herself shriek out, watching in horror as the pirate hits the grounds. The telepath seems to stare with confusion at the body as if she can’t understand what she’s seeing… but then… slowly… Blue eyes turn toward Eileen and narrow dangerously.

«Drop the fucking gun.»” Even if it is empty, no reason for Kaylee to tempt fate. “«And ssstand there, like a good, girl.»” As she whispers the words and gives an angry swipe of her good hand, the telepath can almost see the glimmer of scales out of the corner of her eye. The woman might be too strong for her, but at least, maybe the presence in her mind will distract her.

His bluff, called. The gamble, lost. Only it’s not Nick who reaps the consequences, but Etienne. When Eileen turns and fires at his travel companion, Nick’s eyes widen, and he tries to fire his weapon — and fails. It was always a bluff.

It’s his sister.

Without warning, while she’s distracted shooting five more bullets into Etienne’s body…

(He said to her recently that he didn’t remember her being this dramatic)

…his long, lean legs push himself across the distance that divides them, to slam the pistol sideways against her temple and tackle her to the ground.

“Get the canisters or do your mojo!” he shouts to Kaylee, avoiding skin. He’s poised, ready to throw himself off if Kazimir’s treacherous ability begins to unfold, to find his way back to a safe distance.


The voice is like wingbeats.






Kaylee finds a flurry of white wings in her face, talons raking at exposed flesh and feathers caught loose in downy explosion. The white raven accosting her swoops and dives, shrieking it's red-eyed scream even as a rasping man’s voice emanates from within.

Look upon thy death.

Another raven swoops in, buffeting it's body against the telepath, shrieking and cawing and crowing with raking claws and snapping beaks.

Look upon thy death.

The two birds are relentless, a torrent of feathers and talons that sense the threat that the telepath represents, unaware of the other that stalks ever closer.

The way to dusty death.

Slowly, Samson rolls onto his side and reaches out to drag himself across the mud a bit away from the sounds of the gunfight. He sees Kaylee caught in the tempest of wings and talons, and does nothing to help her. Instead, he hauls himself back again, wheezing as he does. His senses try and track the movements of Evolved in the treeline, most especially Eileen, and inch by inch he moves to distance himself from the entire, insane fracas.

As Etienne has learned: always know when to quit.

Etienne goes down. Lies still.

Then moves.

His hands are empty, knife and rifle dropped nearby, and curl in forest floor, grasping earth and dead leaves between his fingers. His shoulders press taut against his jacket as he pulls himself up onto hands and knees, shakes his head— immediately stops that movement with a groan. Slowly, Etienne settles back on his haunches, a hand up to feel around where bullets connected with his face and apparently have left nothing in the way of a mark.

One eye has gone red, bleeding through sclera around blue iris. Both eyes close as he takes in the cacophony going on around him, and lets out a deep breath.

And he changes. The leonine mane of his hair darkens from its sun-touched chestnut to darker brown, borderline black, texture shifting smoother, and all that length dwindling shorter. The mass of his body grows leaner, too, if no shorter, and by the time he has climbed to his feet, Etienne has changed completely, the bones of his face reforming into a differently distinct profile, that of Gabriel Gray.


That red spot in his eye remains, crimson now circling brown iris.

Re-orienting himself, he turns in time to see more men with guns from the tree line now converging on where Nick stands over Eileen's crumpled form. Raising one hand, a low sonic boom ripples through the air, catching them both with a wall of invisible force before they can pull their trigger. He staggers, then, towards Nick and Eileen, barely looking at the former despite being hyper aware of him. "Eileen," is not Etienne's unique growl, but has a fair amount of gravel to it anyway. "Call them off."

The men with the guns, or the birds.

Nick’s momentum spins both Ruskins into the dirt. Even in her FRONTLINE armor, she’s smaller, more compact than he is; whatever assistance the technology inside the plating might have offered is rendered obsolete by Kaylee’s psychic onslaught, which is — not coincidentally — enough of a surprise that she hadn’t yet steeled herself against it.

It isn’t clear whether she’s willfully disobeying Gabriel or if she’s incapable of following his instructions.

The men she brought with her, on the other hand, have a standing order to fall back in the event of a crisis this ragtag strike team cannot overcome. There’s hiss that crackles electric over the radio, distorted perhaps by the poor quality of the equipment those who operate within the Pine Barrens can afford, but it quickly becomes apparently that this particular development (and there have been several in the past two minutes) tips the balance in Kaylee and Nick’s favour.

Gabriel’s, too.

It requires all her concentration to ball her dominant hand into a fist, handgun lost somewhere amidst the paper-thin leaves and pine needles, and bring it up in a sloppy arc that connects with Nick’s jaw, toppling him off her.

To be fair, resistance was expected, Kaylee probably would have been disappointed if Eileen would have been an easy manipulation. However, she is determined as tendrils of her ability start to seek out a crack in the other woman’s mental defenses.


Kaylee’s concentration is very abruptly broken as white wings rather violently slap against her face and talons rake down her cheek and neck leaving bloody trails. Instinct has her jerking back, with a yelp, from the sudden assault and the voice in her head. Arms swinging wildly to try and bat them away, missing of course as the birds dodge away, only to come back again. The sudden backwards movement doesn’t seem to agree with her sense of balance and the telepath finds herself back on the ground; wrist and head protesting the continued abuse. She won't try to get up again right away… preferring to curl up and be a smaller target, while hands work to keep the birds from her face and other exposed areas.

Why the voice of Kazimir is in her head is beyond her… that they come from the two white ravens is even that much more confusing. There telepath has only heard this voice a handful of times, it’s a sound that sticks.

Listening the telepath continues to huddle down trying her best to protect her head and face from the onslaught of feathers and fury. She hazards a look past her arms towards where Etienne should be… but anything she can see if blocked by a flurry of white wings.

Just beyond the protective circle of her arms, Kaylee notices a branch just within her reach. Since she couldn’t just continue to lay there, refused too, bloody fingers reach for it and curl around it and pull it close. «I have no interest in death today, old man.» Suddenly sitting up, the telepath swings the branch at the damnable things, dried and crumbling leaves being left behind in its wake.

«Especially, not from some old has been.»

The movement and metamorphosis of Etienne into Gabriel is only caught in Nick’s periphery, but the voice is one he knows and somewhere, subconsciously, he understands what has happened. Later there will be time to determine how he feels about it all — for now, at least there’s one less death on his conscience.

He reels away when Eileen punches him, but stays near — dangerously near, he knows. His gun is held, thought she already knows it’s a bluff. He can only hope that it’s mutual, that she won’t hurt him either. Kaylee’s another matter.

Please,” is his rasped addendum to Gabriel’s imperative. “Lee. No one wants to hurt you. Maybe we — he — can help you.”

Sibyl had told him to find Gabriel — had faith that Gabriel could help. Maybe the version of his sister in this stranger has the same faith.

It’s a big maybe.

The horrific birds continue their relentless assault, but then break away from Kaylee in a sudden burst of movement and begin circling around Nick, the closest visible “threat” to Eileen. They can and shriek but have no communication with him, nor do they dive into Eileen’s proximity. They merely circle, shriek, and flap their wings.

In the dark of the woods, Samson begins to pull himself away further, leaving a dragging trail on the ground. He can't feel the pain of his broken leg and knows that is shock. Before it deadens and the agony comes, Samson turns his attention to his son, to Eileen, and Nick. Kaylee is kept in his periphery, but she raises valuable points. Eileen didn't want him to live, but his son…

…he has doubts. Insecurities. It plays out as a dawning look of “understanding” on Samson’s face. He closes his eyes, shutting out the conflict, and searches his mind for the presence of—

Hnnhhh,” Samson exhales a keening spins of pain as he clutches his head, dropping immediately onto his side on the ground. He has sought to reach out and find Sibyl with the power Molly Walker had bestowed upon him, but the more he looked for her the more it felt like his mind was circling a drain, being drawn in on inky riptides toward an infinitely dark and deep point.

Samson exhales a shuddering breath, clutching his head and gasping for air. He was barely able to extricate himself from whatever that was.

Gabriel looks doubtfully towards the strange white creatures now flapping and screeching in arcs over Nick's head, hesitating, before reaching his senses towards them. He doesn't try to overrule their imperatives — rather, he reaches through them in his attempt to sense the woman on the other side, groping after a missing connection that, eight years ago, had been second nature to them both.

It feels different to simple telepathy, or maybe even the sound of his voice when her ears are still whining from the blow to the head she just took — familiar but different, a ghost of empathetic honesty, the strange alchemy of what he is feeling — anxiety, grief, desperation — pulsed through like a weak radio transmission. No command, this time, just a voiceless, wordless bid for familiarity.

He finds himself settled into a crouch several feet away, the distance one might keep from an injured wild animal with which they wish to win trust — or, conversely, a wild animal uncertain as to the threat level of its prey.

Although entirely focused on the woman gaining back her senses in front of him, Gabriel can't help the twinge of awareness he has as Samson collapses nearby. His body starts, as if to stifle the urge to go over there, but instead spares a single through towards Kaylee: help him. Gabriel just—

— needs a minute.

Kazimir, Eileen directs the birds, her voice a distant susurrus of sound and dampened feeling audible only to Gabriel and the entity it’s meant for. Stop.

She rolls onto her side, chest heaving beneath her armor, and shifts her weight forward until her upper body is supported by her arms. To Gabriel’s psychic feelers, her presence has a texture that’s both familiar and alien at the same time — like rediscovering an old coat at the back of a closet that isn’t quite the same colour or cut he remembers.

Panic flashes white hot through her when she senses his consciousness graze hers; she knows who it is even before she lifts her head to get visual confirmation with eyes that are similarly wrong.

But Gabriel already knew that.

Her hands form fists in the loose earth. She arches her back inward, catlike, and shows her teeth in a growl.

The fear and anger she puts forward on display are impossible for him to ignore. Whether or not they’re effective at hiding the anguish that accompanies them depends on how deeply he’s willing to probe.

Still wielding the branch like a baseball bat, a bloody mess and her injured wrist screaming at her, Kaylee glares after the birds as they change targets. She could think of any number of parting shots, but someone is talking to her. Gaze dropping to the scene below, specifically on one particular person. Eyes widen a bit at the sight of Gabriel crouched there.

The sound from Samson, coupled with the thought from his son, Kaylee’s attention is drawn the the crumpled form. The sight has the branch dipping and her expression softening a bit. Yeah, she’ll check on him. The branch is dropped as she moves to do just that.

The telepath approaches the old man like you would a wounded animal, cautious and careful. Her hands are out to show she is unarmed… mostly. “Don’t move,” Kaylee says softly, his danger sense shouldn’t be going off. “You’ll make it worse.”

Crouching next to Samson, Kaylee carefully eases out of her hoodie with a wince. While her wrist hurt, Kaylee knew that later she’d really be feeling it. Even now the dull ache was telling. Without the hoodie, Kaylee is left with her tank top, which is bloody from the gashes left from the fall. The one across her shoulder blade being the worse. Several of the wounds on body and face would need stitches. Not to mention all the bruising. Sorry Richard, your sister might be off work a few days.

In general, she looks like hell and hurts all over, but compared to Samson… she got off easy. Balling up the ripped and dirty hoodie she, leans forward. “I’m sorry I used my ability on you without your permission.” Kaylee offers trying to fill the awkward silence. “It was an emergency and I didn’t want Eileen to know we were here,” Gently, she tries to tuck it under his head, in an attempt to make him a little more comfortable.

The birds are watched warily as they come to circle around Nick, but the fact they don’t attack him means something.

She’s still his sister. As he keeps repeating. A painful refrain.

He moves slowly away, the gun still held, but lowered, still poised to take a shot if he has to.

If he can.

Blue eyes — like this version of Eileen’s — move back and forth between Gabriel and his sister, breath caught in his own chest, like breathing might upset this standoff. “She got his ability from you,” he murmurs quietly — his eyes still on Eileen, his words aimed at Gabriel, to give him context if he hasn’t figured it out or been told while wearing another man’s face.

To Eileen, he says, voice soft, like he’s speaking to a frightened animal, “I know you’re hurt and angry. But we care about you. We want to help.” It’s a bit presumptuous, speaking for Gabriel, but it’s all Nick has — words. Love. No ability to fix this mess.

Swirling up into the trees, the two white ravens join Eileen’s other birds. Willful as they are, they are still hers to command, even if their leash sometimes requires an additional tug back. They come to roost on high branches, cawing loudly and voicing their discontent to the display below.

Samson, like a wounded dog, lays teeth bared to Kaylee in the mud, watching her with wild eyes and wheezing breaths. Though still able to fend her off, he doesn’t expend the effort to, and the faintly hazy aura of smoke around his body dissipates as he considers his avenue of escape. Hazel eyes meet blue, then track to where Gabriel and Eileen are through the treeline. When those eyes settle back on Kaylee, she heard Samson’s voice in her mind loud and clear. He knows what he’s dealing with now, and he knows how to keep a secret.

I can’t find Sibyl. His voice echoes in her mind. Almost got caught in the whirlpool. Where is she? There’s an urgency in his tone, and Kaylee realizes what Samson does in this moment; even with two broken legs he’s still more than a match for any mercenaries Eileen may have hired.

I can leave. Get her. Samson swallows, awkwardly. I think I wore out my welcome anyway.

And for Eileen, Gabriel is familiar and different at the same time. He looks like himself, sure, but from another life, the beginnings of a beard growing in dark and dense to shadow the lower half of his face, and age, too, where the man who had mastered the power she wields now had slowed that process. Here, he has a handful of years too many, stamped at the corners of his eyes and peppered in grey around his mouth and streaked bright through dark hair.

This also isn't the first time he's come face to face with her.

Which doesn't prevent him from locking in, staring at her, only breaking that look to glance to Nick. A shuttered blink.

"The girl," he says, roughly, quietly, dragging his attention back down to the creature baring her teeth at him. There's a pulse between that strange tether, only tentatively hooked in. Agony, urgency, desperation. His voice has an edge. "Tell us where she is, Eileen."

“So you can do what?”

The unspoken accusation makes Eileen’s voice thick. Gabriel’s urgency and desperation is met with another white-hot flare of something like fury, and maybe if it was anyone else they might not be able to recognize the nuance.

Gabriel more than likely will. The place Eileen is operating from looks suspiciously like Sylar’s old stomping grounds: a strong sense of self-preservation.

“You don’t think I haven’t been fucking listening to you people?” she asks in a low sneer, although not so low that it isn’t also addressed to Nick by virtue of proximity. She flicks a glance in her brother’s direction — not at his face, but at the gun he grips in his hands. “Mas demands my help in one breath and asks Odessa Price what they’re going to do about me the next.”

Dark energy ripples off her armor. Her eyes gleam just a little more blue.

“This is my body,” she says, and levels a gloved hand at Gabriel. “She can’t have it.”

«That, Mr. Gray, is what we are trying to determine,» Kaylee admits, once his head is cushioned on the sweatshirt. «We’ve been searching for her for months, with no luck.» There is a sigh as she looks out at the scene playing amongst the others. “You really need medical help,” she comments out loud to the old man, voice just above a whisper. “Clots from breaks like that can be nasty.” No demand, just an observation. If he's anything like Gabriel… he’s stubborn, so she only offers the cautionary note.

She rests a comforting hand on Samson’s shoulder briefly before standing so that she can draw Eileen’s attention, clearly not holding a grudge for what he did.

“Eileen,” Kaylee says a little louder, her head shakes slowly. “We’re not working with Eve on this. I asked her for help finding Sibyl, but not what would happen after. Your body is yours, we get that. We” she motions between her and her companions, “haven’t even thought about taking your body for hers. You might be different, but you’re still her.” There is a glance at everyone around her as if seeing if she’s wrong in that thought. “But… to be completely honest we don’t know what we are going to do once we have her, but we want to help her and we need to before she’s gone for good. To give her a choice.” Hands a spread in a bit of a helpless gesture. “She fought to live and got sucked into that black hole. She deserves chance to live, just as much as you do.”

That said, Kaylee crouches back down next to Samson. “Please, just tell us where she is.”

Nick’s hand shoves the gun back in its holster; the bluff’s up. The same hand comes back up to push his hair back in that telltale nervous tic of his.

“I wouldn't do that to you.” His voice is low, low enough that it’s a strain to hear it for anyone but Eileen.

“I don’t know how we fix this, but we can figure it out, yeah? It’s not the kid’s fault and she doesn’t deserve to pay for anyone else’s past, does she? Maybe…” His eyes dart to Gabriel and then back to Eileen, “maybe my other sister’s consciousness or whatever you want to call it, maybe we can put it in me. You know I won’t hurt you. I could go far away, wherever there’s no more interference, no more cross over, where you both can feel safe.”

He takes a breath. “If we could figure out how to do that…” He throws another desperate look to Gabriel, Samson, Kaylee — if any of their abilities or a combination of them might be able to pull off what he proposes. “At least to buy time to figure out a more permanent solution.”

He faces Eileen once more. “All three of you deserve to live. No one is questioning that. Please tell us where she is, Lee.”

In the woods, the wounded wolf stares back with narrow eyes at Kaylee. Was this your plan? Samson hisses in her mind. Creep up inside my head while I'm cornered? And you didn't think I’d bite? His fingers dig into the wet earth, the anesthetic of shock beginning to fade.

Rather than be rendered helpless, Samson suspends his physical ailments by transforming himself into a billowing shroud of darkness. He is swallowed into the beak vestige of Richard’s lost ability, slithering along the forest floor like shreds of wind-tossed ink, pooling at Kaylee’s feet.

A whisper rises from her feet. “Tell me my boy didn't come up with this plan.” Plan.

Eileen seems to be taking into consideration their words. She reacts with subtle changes to her body language and expression, but only Gabriel is close enough to be able to identify them.

He sees her intent before she has the opportunity to act on it: Her back foot shifts and her weight tips forward, building forward momentum in the instant before—

Gabriel had risen with her, back half-bent, two predators squaring off as words and promises and plans come as soft and gentle as a persistent, irritating rain. His focus on her remains even and direct, maintaining some knife edge balance between plea and challenge, staring past her raised gloved hand. As Nick starts to talk, make promises, make plans, Gabriel exudes a doubtful, wary silence, discomfort set in the stiffness of his shoulders, and any desperate glances towards Gabriel to help bolster these claims with confidence comes up empty.

Aware of the churn of black shadow coalescing around Kaylee's feet. Aware that no one here is capable of securing the information he needs, with the urgency he feels. Not Nick, sundered between duty to both; not Kaylee, velvet gloves and so many words; not his father, the sibilant whispering of contempt creeping in from Gabriel's periphery.

But maybe those things could work. Looking at her now—

He raises his hand. Points. There's no sound, but Eileen's body suddenly twitches backwards as if struck across the forehead. Samson might wonder if that's what hit him in his attempt to fly away with Gabriel's telepath, until all can see where the skin has broken at her hair line, bright red blood smeared across pale brow. She lies crumpled, unconscious, and when no sudden surge of black necrotic energy comes flooding—

Gabriel relaxes, hand lowering, and he looks ten years older than he should be. There is a brief ripple across his form, as if on the cusp of reverting back to the shape he'd taken on before, but maintains.

"The plan," he says, voice raw, only just catching the whisper of his father's words. The tone of his voice is somewhere between his own and the disguise he's been speaking through for so long, smokey and quiet. "I can take her somewhere. Take her memories." Now, he drags a look to Nick, wary in a way that is not afraid so much as unsure if they can be trusted together from here on out. He offers; "We get the girl. Get Eileen."

New plan.

There is a nervous glance goes down to the pool of black at her feet, but he attention is fully on the scene before her. For all her relaxed demeanor around the old man, Kaylee knows what he is and that is he extremely dangerous.

When Gabriel relaxes so does Kaylee, letting out a huff of breath that she’s been holding and shoulder dropping with relief. “Thank god,” she murmurs, before adding… “You should have more faith in your son’s ability to get stuff done.” Blue eyes drop to the pool at her feet as she says that. She leaves out that this wasn’t really a plan… so much of a Oh hey! Will you look there! situation.

Once, most of the danger has passed, something shifts in the telepath’s demeanor. Samson can come with her or no, but Kaylee makes a beeline for Gabriel. “All this time… you could have told me you had an ability like that.” Wait what?! Her voice might sound a little emotional as much as it accuses. She’s really trying hard not to show any. Still something odd happens, the telepath gives the man a hug. Kaylee… gives Gabriel Gray aka Sylar a hug. “You scared the… “ she doesn’t finish that thought… As fast as the hug happens, she steps away. “And thank you,” she adds… clearly for the save.

That all out of the way, she looks down at Eileen with a sigh. “Her defenses are pretty strong. You might need help.” Not an offer outright, but it is there. “We need to find out where they are keeping the girl. Just hope there is plenty of her still there. The trick then…” Kaylee looks at Gabriel again, “Is to get her out of the girl’s head. I think together we can figure it out.”

When Eileen collapses, Nick swells forward for a split second, before Gabriel’s words stay him, and he rocks backward again. The words take a moment to process. There’s a second where he looks like he might argue, his eyes flashing back a cold blue in Gabriel’s direction, before something pulls back that anger again. Without the need to make a decision, without the pressure to act, he suddenly looks exhausted.

Later he’ll have the time to be angry at the ruse played. For now, he’s grateful they’re all still alive.

Slowly he moves closer to his sister, crouching down to ensure she’s alive. He looks up at Gabriel then to Kaylee and the pool of darkness that is Samson.

“Just let me know what I can do to help,” he says quietly at last. “I’d like to think I didn’t lie to her.”

Shadow whirls at Kaylee’s feet, a churning swarm of shredded darkness that comes together and rises in the silhouette of a man looming along the ground, a second shadow all her own. “Messing with memories never ends well,” never ends well. It slithers from beneath Kaylee and comes to occupy the space between she and Gabriel, and a black arm motions out to Eileen.

“I can't find the girl, she's a sinkhole.” Sinkhole. “If you can pull the name of someone else whose with her out of her pretty little head, I can find them.” Them. As Samson talks, Gabriel finds the discussed ability familiar. Like father like son, it would seem.

Gabriel is hugged. It kind of happens to him, looking for all the world like a man experiencing shell-shock, even if, by rights, he should have the least cause to do so. He lifts an arm absently to permit Kaylee's gesture, his gaze still locked on Eileen's crumpled form with a dead expression, unable to effectively relay whatever is going on beneath the surface. He nods to Kaylee's words. He nods to Nick's words.

He looks, then, to the shadowform of Samson, and knowing registers in his fixed stare, before he nods to that too.

He can do that much.

Slowly, Gabriel approaches, and sinks back down into a crouch near Eileen's head. There is a certain reluctance to his body language, as if he hadn't really wanted to do this, but is doing it anyway. He's been putting warm bodies between himself and this moment long enough. He looks down at her face, studies that peaceful expression that comes with unconsciousness, and looks to that bleeding wound at her head.

He reaches out his hand, and presses his palm to it. Immediately, he feels necrotic energy spike through his flesh, and he bares his teeth. Her flesh heals over, a few snaking tendrils of ashy substance trailing after it as the split across her brow closes, leaving behind blood on sound skin.

"Follow me," he says, voice tightened in his throat, as a deluge of memory ices over his own brain. If Kaylee were to look, she might experience a moment of double vision as memories into into his consciousness as if they were his own. Eileen's eyelids twitch, before both she and Gabriel suddenly collapse their forms, converting into a mass of liquid black shadow, more ink than Samson's ash. They come together, coalescing in place, her strange abilities bound up and smothered within his own.

And then, slowly, snakes away, leaving this place behind, and all that has happened here.

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