The Rope-Maker


b_gabriel_icon.gif natalie_icon.gif young-samson_icon.gif

Scene Title The Rope-Maker
Synopsis Gabriel awakens to discover that he is alive and not dead and seeks answers from at least one person who is.
Date December, 1978

Falling snow gathers on a wooden sill, part of an empty window frame with a tarp covering to protect the antiquated interior of an old, squat cottage on a stone bluff overlooking the slate gray Atlantic. Inside, a fire crackles in the hearth and warms the face and chest of the large man sprawled out on the loveseat in front of it, which is upholstered in an inoffensive floral pattern comprised of pale pastels that clash with the faded Persian carpet on the floor, frayed and beginning to unravel.

This is not the dwelling of a family with any real material wealth to speak of, but it's power rather than money that Gabriel comes from, and the presence of one does not always guarantee the other. The smell of hot coffee on an outdated stove fills the adjacent kitchen and overpowers the earthy aromas of whatever it is that's simmering in the pot beside it.

When he opens his eyes, he sees none of this. Instead: the same ceiling that was above his head when he last closed them. The only difference is that it's now day instead of night, and he's on his back rather than his feet. A tattered quilt covers the lower half of his body, still clothed in the pants he pulled on the last time he dressed, but his shirt and coat are missing, and should he move to touch the source of pain in his chest, his fingers will brush gauze, not skin.

Someone has seen to his wounds, and it probably won't be difficult for him to guess who. His chances of getting it right are the same as predicting the result of a coin flip.

Coastal Maine

December, 1978

The quilt falls from his body with a shift of his leg, aged fabric landing in a pile with a soft hiss even after his hand roves after it in the hopes of remaining under it after all. Gabriel shuts his eyes instead, feelings the prickle of fire heat against his bared skin, before he goes to grip the edge of the loveseat and roll himself over. Tattooed back, bruised here and there from recent activities, shifts its painted branches beneath the flickery golden heat.

A low groan emits along with his next exhale, a hand drifting to the gauzed patch as if he could intuit what happened to him when those arms had squeezed the life from him. Or at least the consciousness. Head heavy, he isn't immediately climbing to his feet and making a stagger for the door, for all that, if he had hackles, they'd be on defensive end.

At the kitchen table, a man that Gabriel will recognize as his father glances up and across the room, studying him with a pair of narrowed eyes lighter than his own from behind chunky reading glasses that take up most of his face. It isn't the sort of look one predator exchanges with another, but nonetheless full of cagey suspicion and obvious dislike punctuated by the harsh clucking noise he makes by knocking his tongue against the back of his front teeth.

He dismisses him again just as quickly, gaze dropping back down the wooden creature he holds in one callused hand, and the paintbrush caught in the fingers attached to the other. It's part of a half-finished mobile intended to be strung above an infant's crib but currently resting on the soiled pages of newspaper in front of him: brightly-coloured songbirds on equally vibrant threads of yarn in corresponding shades, including a robin with a rust-orange breast, a periwinkle bluejay, and a diminative chickadee coated in pale yellow. Judging by the deep purple sheen on the end of his brush, the unpainted bird he presently cradles in his palm has the potential to eventually become an indigo bunting.

"He's awake," he says. Not to Gabriel.

Not to Gabriel means Gabriel is lifting his head to look around, towards the nearby doors. Realisation filtering in that not only is he not dead— but maybe, somehow, Natalie isn't dead too. His brown eyes have white ringed around them, mouth small and a swallow shifting the stubbled skin of his throat. With slow, slothful movements, he shifts to sit properly, hand protectively covering that bandaged area as if to soothe the ache beneath the white.

A darting, mistrustful look towards his father, a glance down at the items of the table that has his mouth twitch cynically. "What happened?" he asks, voice rough, quiet.

The physical resemblence between Natalie Gray and Eileen Ruskin exists only if someone is looking for it, and in the future some thirty years from now, Samson sees his dead wife and the son he abandoned in everything. If he didn't, he might not have spared her life. The similarities are these: the woman who gave birth to Gabriel and the woman Gabriel loves both have a combination of fair skin and dark hair that naturally compliment one another and eyes most people would classify as green, although Eileen's are paler, and Natalie's have a ring of copper-brown around the outer edge of her irses. His mother is taller, heavier, more classically beautiful, and she moves like an entirely different animal.

When she emerges from the bedroom, baby swaddled in her arms, she adjusts the robe she wears with the intent to preserve her modesty without interrupting the Little Gabriel's breastfeeding session more than she already has.

"My angry bear of a husband," she explains, albeit distractedly. The infant demands the majority of her attention, even as she pads across to the kitchen to check on the stove. "But if you're asking about that woman, I couldn't tell you. There one minute and gone the next. Can I get you some coffee?"

His hands curl compulsively, and it's probably likely that Samson won't much appreciate the avid stare the other man is dealing his wife, but it's nothing to do with her bone structure and the slice of flesh that her robe allows anyone to see. Her presence makes Gabriel anxious, and the baby in her arms makes him even warier, like one of those charms designed to ward away predators or bad weather. "How long have I been out?" brushes aside offer of coffee, not really intentionally.

That gets him looking back towards Samson, his brown eyes holding irrational accusation. Like Samson shouldn't have attacked him, because he's his dad. Never mind their last encounter nearly shattering Gabriel's hand against a wall. Never mind that there's no way for this younger version to know.

He'll be operating on all cylinders soon. One hopes.

"I mean." His eyes squinch shut, opens them again by the time he's turning his attention to Natalie, almost shyly. "Yeah. Thanks."

"About twelve hours now," Natalie answers from the stove. Hinges creak, a cupboard door shudders open, and the sound of tinkling china follows soon after. "Samson wanted to drop you off at the hospital in town, but I thought it would be smarter if you stayed here with us until you're feeling better."

Clink goes the mug she took down from one of the higher shelves, and she sets to pouring. Samson, meanwhile, appears to take a keen interest in his work, mouth set into a thin, unimpressed line as he uses the brush to follow the curve of the bird's back, laying down the first stroke. He says nothing to contradict his wife, but his body language makes it clear to Gabriel that he isn't as accepting of Natalie's decision as she makes it sound.

"Ask him what he's doing here," he gravels out, as if Gabriel wasn't in the room at all.

He snags up the fallen blanket with his fingertips, drawing it over inked back and bare shoulders, cacooning himself in fabric that still retained some body warmth and heat from the fire. That question has him ducking his head.

Probably, Gabriel has enough of the faculties necessary to disappear himself out of the timeline, but reluctance keeps him grounded. Uncertain that twelve hours is enough. "Someone was trying to hurt your wife and your kid," he finally manages, chin lifting a little. "And I was— " A wince writes across his features, defines lines at the corners of his eyes, at some twinge beneath bandages. "I was in the neighbourhood." He doesn't mean to growl it out, but it does come out that way regardless.

"His name is Gabriel," she offers kindly. "I'm Natalie."

And you're like me. It may take Gabriel a moment or two to realize that this addition isn't whispered, but communicated in a telepathic fashion. Don't be afraid — he can't hear us.

And if he can, Samson is a better actor than even Gabriel. He gives no outward indication that he's aware of the so far one-sided conversation happening only a few feet away. Just dips his brush back in the pot of deep purple paint and resumes blessing the bunting with the plumage that gives it its name.

Natalie crosses back to the loveseat with a steaming mug of fresh coffee and crouches down in front of Gabriel, her free hand at the nape of the infant's neck, supporting his dark-haired head. As she holds it out for him, she ducks hers and presses a quick kiss to his younger self's crown.

Nod if you understand?

For a long moment, Gabriel debates nodding. Natalie can probably see it already, the minor stiffness that goes from tailbone to the nape of his neck, the half-blink following nonchalant stillness. He takes the coffee and wanders a stare away from the woman crouching in front of him, almost angled away from her and the infant she holds. But he brings porcelain up to his mouth. And he nods, minutely, and with all the caution of something wilder than a human, he touched upon what might be an empathic connection, barely there in comparison to the link he shares in the present.

Which is probably a good thing, because Eileen would have been able to pick up on the overwhelming mess of anxiety that isn't from post-battle tension.

"My name's Sylar," he offers, after a stagnant pause.

"That a first name or a last name?" asks Samson without turning his head. He rubs the tips of his index finger and thumb together, then wipes them off on the front of his plaid button-down, which he wears over a plainer black shirt paired with denim jeans and heavy working boots. It leaves behind a smudge of paint, and he seems not to care. Either these are old clothes, or getting stains out of the laundry doesn't concern him.

It's impossible for Natalie's expression to soften much further — her mouth is like butter — but the same ability that allows her to telepathically communicate with him provides her with a much keener understanding of his emotional makeup than another person might have, even if this understanding isn't as intrinsic as the one Eileen possesses. She places her hand on the back of his in an attempt to put him at ease, not realizing that his presence and the presence of the infant at her breast are largely responsible for his discomfort.

He doesn't know what you can do, she confides in him, and if you value your life, you'll keep it that way.

"Only," is clipped response to Samson, but Gabriel has his focus on Natalie and the words twisting through his head. He doesn't move, beneath the touch to his hand — it's almost as if there's a magical property to it, making him become a statue crafted of flesh and bone. Lasts a couple of seconds before he retracts, attempts to shy away from that telepathic bond for all that it seems the woman is better at it than he is. He isn't scared. He values his life but doesn't exactly fear for it, despite that the bespectacled older man had bested him this time.

Well, maybe older. But the point is—

"Thanks," he says, probably not for the coffee, but outwardly, it seems to be the cause of it. He needs to start lying better. "I'm surprised you don't have police crawling everywhere. Or is it just home invasion season?"

"It's a small town," Natalie says, rising from her crouch, "and our closest neighbor is a quarter mile away. I don't think anyone heard anything. Not with the storm." As she speaks, Samson is setting his paintbrush down and fishing out a package of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, and although his wife notices, she does not attempt to discourage him from smoking around their son. That's probably an argument that they've had dozens of times before, if the tic at the corner of her mouth when she catches him doing it in her peripheral vision is anything to go by.

Gold foil crinkles, and he pulls a solitary cigarette from the package, then sticks it between pursed lips that reveals a flash of faintly-yellowed teeth begun to go crooked. "Brand of watch. Sylar is." Samson rubs his tongue across the inside of his cheek, idly toying with a lighter that seems to have magically appeared between his fingers even if there's nothing magical about it. Gabriel knows better. So does Natalie, and she frowns. "I've got a brother over in New York, likes to fuck around with clocks. Our daddy did, too.

"You sure that's your name?"

Nose dips past the rim of coffee, inhaling its aroma as Gabriel takes a warm sip, eyes half-lidding. "It's German," comes out a little muffled as a result, before he's lifting his head to look across at Samson properly. "It means 'rope-maker'. Pretty sure it's my name." His gaze ticks towards the lighter, then down. More coffee is tipped back, enough to near scald his lips and the roof of him mouth, before he's setting it aside — well, on the ground, lacking more alternatives.

"Thanks for stitching me up but I should probably go," sounds a little cagey. "Where are my— ?" Standing up comes with a frission of pain he wasn't aware enough to dull down sharply pulls through his chest, and bloodloss he hasn't yet replenished through his own means has the world tip like a stormy boat deck.

The cup skitters across the floor from his heel impacting it as legs attempt to sure up his balance enough that he mostly just falls back to sit down again as opposed to swoon, hot coffee spilling near his bare feet.

Samson coughs up a lung's worth of hoarse, grating laughter, snaps on the lighter and waves its flame under the end of his cigarette until it begins to glow. "You should probably stay," he says. "Legs can't hold your own weight, never mind carrying it. Take a look outside." And because Gabriel can't stand, he does it for him, rising from his seat at the kitchen table to peel back the tarp covering the window the younger man hurled Linda through the previous night.

Twelve hours ago, it had been raining. This morning, the trees outside are limned in silver and snow drifts two feet high pile up against the cottage's exterior wall. Samson's pickup truck is buried under more of the same stuff. Presumably, so is the road — the only problem is there's no road at all that Gabriel can see.

"You don't want to pull out your stitches," Samson advises him. "I won't put them back in again."

If Gabriel did want to leave, to the point of going home, then the snow wouldn't mean much at all. As it happens, it puts a dampener on his intent to skulk and guard — at least two feet worth. He makes a sound at the back of his throat, supposedly communicating okay, settling back more on the loveseat without braving the attempt to clean up the mess he made. There is something about him that communicates an animal's hackles being up, even if the worst of his injury came from Linda.

"Duly noted."

"Natalie." Crossing to his wife, Samson guides a protective hand to the small of her back while showing Gabriel his. What follows isn't meant for his ears, but the Gray family patriarch makes no effort to hide it from him. When he lowers his voice, it's for the benefit of the infant now asleep in her arms. "Rest," he suggest in a quiet rasp. "I'll take him for a little while."

Natalie starts to open her mouth as if to protest, but he cuts her off with a terser, "You've hardly slept," and that silences her before she can articulate the mild indignation seizing hold of her face.

"Wake me up if he decides to fuss," she says instead. "You know how he gets."

Whatever that means. She flicks one last glance toward Gabriel — the bigger of the two — and then disappears back into the bedroom, leaving the door open a crack behind her. Samson waits until he can hear the muted squeak of springs before he returns to the kitchen table, son in his arms and lit cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.

"You want a bucket of hot water to wash, I'll bring it out to you." A towel is snatched off his work surface and flung at Gabriel's feet by the coffee spill. "Clean that up first."

He'll clean that up second. First comes avidly eyeing the passage Samson makes across the room, with the infant in his arms. Too vividly just Gabriel remember the crush of arms around his torso and that strange sedative experience that came after, took him out for a day and change, and he doesn't want to know what would happen if something happened to the baby being held by his attacker. If he would blink out of reality, or if he'd never get to go to a familiar home, that same paranoia that's driven people to throw themselves into the white water rapids of the time stream.

Crouching down with a hand balanced against the furniture he'd been seated on, Gabriel mops up the steaming puddle of milky coffee, lazily flopping the towel end over end to drag up the liquid. Blanket covers his back, shields around his shoulders.

"Nice family you have."

"Most important thing in a man's life," Samson agrees, and while he might not sound completely convinced, the man who barged into the bedroom and hurled himself at Gabriel must have had no doubts to have attacked him with such sudden ferocity and force. None of that violence is in the mild way he handles the infant, the partially-painted bird or the brush he uses to fill in its wings.

It is, however, at the back of his throat when he adds, "Stay away from my wife."

Hhhnhehaha. Hh. Heh. Gabriel doesn't do very good at keeping snickers quiet, and Samson will at least be able to hear the soft, chuckling exhale like grinding stone at the back of the silver-haired man's throat. The grin that splits across his face is bigger than quiet laughter suggests, a little overtired, but genuine. It would be easy to reassure, but toxic dislike gives a harshness to his tone.

"Staying away from your wife would have gotten her killed twelve hours ago," he gravelled out, as he continues to capture the moisture from the ground, then fold over the towel.

"Careful you don't make a rope to hang yourself with, friend."

The infant cradled against his chest detracts from Samson's threat. So does the mobile in front of him, thick pieces of woven yarn and delicate cuts of wood from which to hang them, though the birds themselves are considerably heavier in comparison, and could be toys in their own right if he didn't stick hooks in their backs, loop the yarn through the hole and fasten it into a fisherman's knot.

He's supposed to be skinning dead animals and putting them on display for fun and profit. Where are his tools for that?

"I've got my eye on you."

"Yes sir."

This is whispered with some strain as he gets back up to sit, hands in rigid knots gripping closed the blanket. A small, psychic glimmer of astral projection gives him some small insight to the woman in the other room, feeding back to him her physical stress, the weariness in her bones and the ache of her muscles, before Gabriel breaks off completely and looks towards Samson at his table with his son. "Who named him?" is an impulsive question, only needy-sounding if you were listening for it.

Flicks dark-eyed stare up from the tiny stunted growing serial killer thing to the bigger, fully grown version that created it. American monsters in a cottage from a European fairytale.

"You make it sound like it's got to be one or the other. Black or white, man or woman." Now less interested in his bird and more interested in the babe, he curves his thumb, callused and crusted under the nail with dirt, along his son's jaw, marveling at how small it is, probably not for the first time. Little Gabriel is six months old. Samson has held him often before, both when he's wanted to and not, and although this is not a new discovery to him, it's one of those observations that feels as though he's experiencing it for the first time every time.

"We were passing through New Hampshire on our way to Moosehead Lake," he says. "Natalie was six months pregnant. You take Interstate 93 and it runs through a little town called Hooksett in Merrimack County. She's waiting for me on the bed at the motel in less she is now, and the nightstand drawer is all dropped open like somebody's jaw, but she's got the the Gideon's Bible out. Looking at names. Next morning, she lines the suitcase with all the pages she tore out, packs our things and we're gone. It's two hundred miles before she tells me we're gonna have a little angel. Gabe or Mike — I only get to pick which it is."

Through this, Gabriel has managed to get to his feet, slowly and with more caution than before. It's as if his blood pressure, now tamed through his own manipulation of his bloodstream, knows that he isn't planning on going anywhere, and he doesn't swoon as he puts his weight on his feet. Slowly, he makes for the table, blanket still bundled around him before he's sitting down. "Gabe," he repeats, with a soft whisper of mirth that's neither chuckle nor sigh, something in between.

The look he is given Samson should, if his mind could be read, communicate why do you do what you do? But he kind of knows the answer without knowing it at all. Territory that's been walked, just not from this side. You can only demand why so much.

Otherwise, his look would better be interpretted as silent enquiry, for more information, for a story.

"Strong man of God," says Samson. "He's not much now, but he'll get bigger." It's not quite the same tone a man might use when selecting his choice of puppy from the litter, but he takes one of the infant's hands between his fingers when he says it, and rubs it between their pads like a tiny paw, admiring the way it splays beneath the steady application of pressure, even if he's more impressed by the fact that his son does not flinch away or squirm.

"I never wanted a son," probably isn't what Gabriel is expecting to hear, but there it is. "Didn't tell her no, either. That's the problem."

No one's making you be a dad. You could leave any time. Never says it. Watching Samson handle the child with liquid brown eyes before he's more studying his own hands, where they hold the blanket closed, one set against the edge of the table. "You change your mind?" Gabriel asks, his voice low and unassumptive, trying to gently nudge along dialogue without directly interfering with it, without guiding it or hurl the accusations that are building by the second.

It is a lesson in restraint.

Under different circumstances, Samson's hesitation would be all the answer that Gabriel needs, but his silence isn't a guilty one. It's introspective, and rather than drop the infant's hand once he's through, he gently guides it down, folding his son's arm at the elbow.

"You've never had a child," doesn't sound like an accusation. It may even be the least accusing thing he's said to Gabriel since he came here in terms of tone and the inflection of his gravelly voice, already rough and worn by his smoking habit despite that he's only a few years older than Gabriel himself. "Maybe you've got someone you think you'd do anything for, but it doesn't compare to even that. Can't."

"I should sleep."

As greedy as Gabriel was for answers, for stories, there's something those words that has him severing his connective tie to the conversation. Samson might imagine it has things to do with never having a child. Maybe there's a story there. Or maybe he really does need sleep, because unconsciousness isn't really sleep, and he'd been the one to see the 6'1" worth of homewrecker near swoon. Still, a measure of flat discomfort confirms that it's not so simple.

What he needs is to think, and stop picking at wounds. Like he'd reprimanded Eileen about — getting dusty. It would be easier to be angry, at this man, but something is crumbling it. He doesn't get up, though, just states it and sweeps a look around cosy cottage. Away from father, and his son.

"Then sleep," says Samson. "I'm not going to stop you." But he's not going to remain in the room, either. He plucks the cigarette from his mouth, grinds it out on the newspaper at the table and then discards the crumpled butt, along with his paintbrush, in an empty coffee mug off to the side before he rises from his seat and draws in a long, slow breath of winter air that hitches in the back of his throat.

"Tomorrow you get to help me in the shed."

This is funny at least to Samson, who gives a dry chortle of laughter when he exhales next, chair legs scraping against the hardwood floors as he pushes in his chair and steps away from the table. Languid strides carry him and the infant past Gabriel, past the vacant sofa and into the bedroom, to Natalie.

He leaves the door open a crack. A taunt, a challenge, or a dare, if there ever was one.

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