Three Questions


eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Three Questions
Synopsis Gabriel and Eileen regroup at the Remnant's river house before making the last leg of their trip to the Dispensary.
Date March 7, 2010

Staten Island

Eileen grew up in a small flat above an antique shop in East London that reeked of smoke and her mother's gardenia and amber perfume, a smell that she can summon from memory with perfect clarity, and even though the old river house on Staten Island stinks of cedar wood, old upholstery and small balls of chemical pesticides meant to protect the contents of its closets from damage caused by mold and moth larvae, there is something about its low ceilings and squat rooms that reminds her of her first home.

This isn't the Dispensary with its high lancet arches, spiral staircases and yawning corridors with expansive sash windows, but it doesn't need to be — her stay here is a temporary one, and by this time tomorrow she'll be warming herself in front of the Dispensary's old cast iron stove or the ornate stone fireplace downstairs rather than bandaging her wounded hand with a strip of cloth torn from her old bedspread, which until a few minutes ago had been in storage. As far as emergency safehouses go, the Remnant could do a lot worse.

The Englishwoman hasn't spoken a word to Gabriel since they fled the Speakeasy, and with good reason: she doesn't know what to say. Blanket wrapped around her shoulders, she sits in the armchair in the living room with her bloodied feet drawn up and placed on the edge of the seat's cushion, green eyes downcast as she continuously winds the strip of cloth around her hand and focuses on her work in the hope that it will distract her from the other presence in the house even as her thoughts turn toward what she left behind in her hotel room and whether or not she'll have an opportunity to return for it.

Some of Gabriel's more distinct recollections of this place are during a time he couldn't even see it. And so scents, yes, and the map of the floor beneath his feet, the touch of peeling wallpaper, bloated wood, dust-marked glass. It was a small ordeal, a handful of days, but surreal — a game, at the best of times, and paralytic fear at the worst. It feels like an eternity ago, and they didn't even have the Old Dispensary then. But they'd been fighting with both Teo and Raith, and so. So. It wasn't so long ago after all.

She will hear him before she sees him. A benefit that being blind had had in this place — it's very acoustic. In his hands is a sweater that could be big enough to be a dress on her, but it seems warm, all black wool, and vaguely smells like him under the more pungent scents of mildew and dust, although it's apparently been beaten and shaken clean. He pauses at the doorway, as if unsure what to do with this offering.

And then steps inside and tosses it onto the arm of the chair she's huddled in. An aborted sound, like he's about to explain why, but it's pretty self-explanatory so sound never quite reaches word status.

Mildew and dust are both preferable to freezing to death, and although neither of them are in danger of needing to be thawed out come morning, her jaw has begun to ache from the effort of clamping down on teeth that want to be chattering so badly they feel like they're vibrating her in her mouth. Cinching the makeshift bandages, she shifts her focus from the pale weave of her fingers to the sweater on the arm of the chair, and without protest picks it up, wool scratching roughly against the chair's polyester upholstery, and pulls it over her dark-haired head.

A fire would be warmer in this weather but it would also attract attention, glow flickering gold in the opaque windows like some sort of homing beacon for Gabriel's 'better half' to follow. Layered on top of one another, the quilted blanket, coarse knit of the sweater and sheer satin nightgown beneath it will guard against the cold in its stead.

She should say thank you. Doesn't. Whatever trust she's willing to extend to him right now has an almost ephemeral quality to it and speaks volumes more about what's gone on in his absence than words could possibly convey.

If Gabriel is expecting a thank you, he's expecting it to be delivered to his turned back, which is what she will see when she reemerges from a turtle shell of black wool. He's not leaving the room, moving past the empty hearth and on towards the window, where there's water and trees and things to look at. Fingers make four defined prints against the glass when he lifts a hand against it, coming away dusty, and his eyes hood a little as, not for the first, second or third time since they've been here, he makes that psychic sweep of life, an ability from an injection no longer even active in the man he'd borrowed it from.

There's no one. Just them. "He was…" Gabriel's voice dies, as if surprised by how loud and unnecessary it sounds in the room, still with his back to her, although she might see a slice of his reflection in the window. "He was meant to watch over you. For me." He blinks like the flap of weak moth-wings, observing how that sounds, now that he's spoken it aloud.

Not good enough, somehow. He scrubs dust off his fingertips, head ducking, the nape of his neck showing between the curve of his coat and the curled ends of dark hair.

The complexity of spoken language is a double-edged sword. While it allows mankind to communicate thoughts and ideas too profound to be expressed through body posture, gestures, eye movements and other non-verbal signals that are sent and translated subconsciously, it also provides plenty of room for multiple interpretations of the same theme. What Gabriel says isn't what Eileen hears. Not exactly.

She's influenced by her own point of view, biases, neuroses, and when he tells her that her the animal that's been hounding her was given her scent for her own protection, her reaction is to make a hoarse noise at the back of her throat that could be mistaken a short bark of laughter if it weren't for the mirthlessness in her eyes or the ceramic cast of her face.

"Then you should be proud," she says, her voice at a comparable volume. Neither of them need to speak much louder than a whisper for their words to carry. "He excelled at his work."

"No." No, he didn't. No, don't be like that. No, I'm not proud. These sentiments and maybe more are all articulated in the heavy sounding syllable he chooses to sum them up, turning his head like Gabriel will glance at her over his shoulder, but he doesn't end up doing so. His arms fold across his chest, and he angles his attention upwards to the treetops of the Greenbelt, watching the birds, or what theoretical birds might be there.

Shifts to the side to lean a shoulder against the window frame, and maybe pettily, leaves it at that, mouth shutting into a sullen kind of line. Makes another psychic radar sweep and ignores how hungry he's getting, and the same can probably be said for the other room occupant.

A dark sky transitioning from dusk to nightfall makes it difficult for Gabriel to differentiate between the gnarled shapes of the island's threadbare trees and those belonging to the birds perched in them. Grackles glittering blue-black stream in a thin flock across a waning crescent moon, their wing beats like the distant drum of rain — if it weren't for the fact that Eileen's avian telepathy automatically tunes his brain to its frequency, he wouldn't be able to hear it at all.

She does, of course. She hears everything from the dry rattle of dead leaves trembling in the breeze picked up by the copse's resident screech owl to the wailing gulls offshore. Everyone is hungry. Not just Gabriel and Eileen.

There's an argument on the tip of her tongue, straining against her teeth and the flat lips pulled straight across them. Using what he took from Nina Norwich, he can feel it too — that subtle change in heart rate and blood pressure, the internal temperature of her temper slowly rising.

Is she sick? That could well be. But a glimmer of Teodoro Laudani's ex-ability says no, she's just pissed. Silence is a good pressure cooker, but this isn't a deliberate tactic from Gabriel by any means — he just isn't sure what to say, exactly, chin tucking in and studying now more the glass a few inches from his face than whatever is going on outside of it. Like birds. He rocks a step back from the window and squares his back against the wall, a hiss of fabric against the wallpaper sounding out as he sliiides down to sit, long legs in a loose tangle in front of him. The square of the window hovers beside his right shoulder and Gabriel rests his head back against the wall.

He wriggles a little to get comfortable. Then says— "Just say it. Whatever it is. I won't even interrupt you. But Jesus Christ, say something." There's a deceptive drawl in his voice, a sardonic kind of tone that mirrors Sylar's facetious bastardry, but there's a nervous way his gaze catches on her and wanders to the floor that takes away from it.

"I need a cigarette," probably isn't what Gabriel was expecting from Eileen, but he implored her to say something and there it is. With its bitter blend of domestic tobacco and smoother Turkish counterparts, Camels are her preferred brand; as she drags her teeth over her split lip, she's trying to remember whether or not she squirreled any away under the river house's floorboards or in the brick walls of the basement. More specifically, on top of the tar, formaldehyde and ammonia, it's the nicotine she's after and the paradoxical effects it has on her mind and body by inducing relaxation and stimulating her brain at the same time.

Finding the right words is difficult. Stringing them together into coherent sentences that abide by logic rather than allowing emotion to rule them is even harder. Perched in the armchair, diminutive body dwarfed by the borrowed sweater she wears, she resembles a bird herself with her green glass eyes and dark plumage fluffed to protect what's beneath it from the cold. Fingers like talons hook into the upholstery, the deep red varnish gleaming on her nails the blood from a fresh kill. If she was as easy to read as her avian thralls, they wouldn't be having this conversation.

"You can't even look at me."

It could be defiance, when Gabriel does steer a look up at her again — a dead, flat kind of look, and his head tilts forward a little to take his skull off the wall. That hurts, a fact he's only reminded of when it happens, and he cards fingers over where broken skin is hidden by thick dark stands of hair. "Yeah, well," he says, bringing that hand around as if to inspect it for ruby red — only browner flakes where it's dried, "see no evil, speak no evil. We pretty much have it covered, I guess."

If there weren't bruises making artwork beneath his clothing from where'd been flung into a wall, Gabriel might be sullenly getting to his feet and stomping off to some other corner of the house. Fortune has it that he's too tired. "You might get lucky if you check your room," he gravels out, barely audible. "You probably stashed something there." If there's what she chooses to say, that's how he responds, back to eyeing the floor.

It isn't a long way from the living room to the bottom of the staircase, or from the bottom of the staircase to the end of the second floor hallway, or even from the end of the second floor hallway to the small room overlooking the water that Eileen once claimed for herself when the Remnant was still using this building as its primary residence. When you put it all together, however, the distance adds up to something insurmountable, and so she remains in the armchair for the same reasons Gabriel hasn't budged from the floor.

Her eyes move between the brown stains on his fingers to what she can see of the back of his head from where she's sitting, and although there's definitely something predatory about the way she tracks his hands, her gaze is absent of malice. "You let us think you were dead."

"I was injured. Sick. Weak." His hands brush off on one another before his arms circle around his knees, drawing them up with the soles of his feet pressed to the floor. "I thought about it — staying dead. I'm not like you." Despite his invitation for her to talk, Gabriel seems inclined to take the stage when she stays with terse, cautious fragments of thought. "Or any of them. There's no pardon for me. No scholarship, no apartment, no parole officer. It's the biggest crime committed by any one person and I didn't even do it, and it doesn't matter. The only bargaining chip Sarisa had for me was you."

His lip curls, as if the sting of that particular lie was still fresh. "And you told me, when all of this was done, I should go. Do something for me. With everyone thinking I was gone, what better time to do that? Get what all of you got my own way? To tell you the truth, I kind of thought you'd understand.

"So yeah. I let you think I was dead. And then I came back."

The hand on the chair's arm tightens its grip, creating a low creaking sound that fills the room as Eileen straightens hers at the elbow and levers herself up. One foot touches the floor, followed by the other, the majority of her weight balancing along their outer edge rather than their soles. She has a hole in her hand, a knife wound wedged between two ribs in her back and a series of stitches above her left eyebrow — the additional cuts and scrapes she acquired during their brief encounter with Sylar are undoubtedly painful, but not as painful as the other injuries she's accrued.

"Mourning a relationship isn't like mourning a person," she says, blanket cascading from her shoulders in thick folds that gather in her slender arms before being unceremoniously dumped on Gabriel's legs. "That's guilt you never let go of."

Rippling though the blanket's patterns are, there is very little liquid in its movement when it lands on his knees, an irritated kind of shy away twitch jerking subtle in his hands before protesting that seems too exhausting. Looking at the gathered fabric, then looking up at the girl, whites of his eyes showing beneath his irises. There is little to read in his expression. "One person knows, and eventually everyone knows," Gabriel finally states, cold logic. "Telepaths. Empathy. Postcognitives. List's endless. It wasn't about trust or—

"Hurting you." Rapid blinks, a line forming between eyebrows tilting in consternation. "They all saw me go down. What's better than dying a hero and getting to live afterwards, even if you don't tell about." Another look up at her, mildly accusing. "I didn't realise your advice was conditional. My mistake."

Another step, and Eileen is crouching down beside him, her bandaged hand at his shoulder to hold him in place as she rakes fingers through the dark mane of his hair toward the back of his head, surveying the damage in what dim light the living room affords. In less than an hour's time, the glow forming a thin gold thread along the horizon will be gone and the stars will have joined the moon in a purple sky.

Even if the wires in the river house's walls had electricity running through them, there are no bulbs in the ceiling's rusty old fixtures. She wants to look at him, and she wants to look at him now while she still has the opportunity. "It wasn't intentionally hurtful," she agrees, and this small concession is accompanied by a faint twinge of pain as her thumb curves across the incision on his scalp and measures it through touch. "Not like what you're doing now."

He takes in a breath quicker than he lets it go, holding onto it for the time it takes Eileen to roam her fingers over the wound, eyes sliding shut. Tension ticks like a pulse beat beneath the skin at his jaw, but Gabriel is tolerating it, if only because head wounds are a bitch to see to by yourself. Tension jams steel through his spine and he keeps his hands loose of it. "Then maybe we shouldn't be talking," he suggests, voice low and tight. "I'm just responding in kind. I don't know what you want me to say. You didn't even ask what happened."

The crack of Eileen's open palm against Gabriel's cheek rings sharp in his ears. She doesn't hit him very hard, just enough for its bite to register, and then it's over. Green eyes flash like summer lightning, but rather than shove off him and heave back to her feet, snatch up the blanket and ascend the staircase with a tumultuous flourish of drab fabric, she seizes his chin in her fingers and presses her nails into the rougher skin of his jaw.

Pissed was quite possibly an understatement. "Do not make the mistake of treating me like that skinny little bitch on the boat who pushed you away." Her voice is a hard, abrasive hiss — the sound of a knife's edge being drawn across a metal grain. "I'll talk to you if I fucking want to, and I'll ask you what happened when I think I can hear the answer without doing something I'll regret. Look at me."

He's looking at her. All flaring temper and avid brown and warning white in his eyes, his expression one that could be carved from stone if it wasn't for her nails dimpling into skin as if to prove its softness. He breathes hard through his nose when electricity or something like it makes his spine jolt at the grab, as if deciding whether it's worth tearing away from her and leaving tracks of his skin under her nails. He's not even thinking about all the other ways he can move away.

But he's looking at her, in that eerie way where you can see eyeballs move but not move, the way paintings follow you — Gabriel is studying one eye, then the other, as if he could read her like a book. It had been a mistake to treat her as anything other than the skinny bitch on the boat, and he goes still, mute and trapped in uncertainty. But comprehension too.

"Three questions," says Eileen. "I don't care how you answer them as long as you do." Her grip on his face does not go slack. Tightens instead, lifts his jaw a fraction of an inch with her thumb applying steady pressure to the vulnerable underside of his chin. Her breathing isn't much more relaxed than his, carefully measured though it is, a low and grating rasp that betrays her physical discomfort.

It had sounded like this last year when her body was at the mercy of Julian Kuhr's ability and slowly degenerating from the inside out with every cruel display of power. The only difference between then and now is that she's the one in control. "Did you tell him to impersonate Epstein?"

For all that he might resemble a mouse pinned between the paws of a hunting cat— well. Mice don't look at cats quite like this unless they don't mind the claws digging into their flesh. Gabriel is tense, because he's rarely not, but there's a difference between that and fear. Or intimidation. It's a waiting kind of vibe he has, although the question scores a frown at the corner of his mouth. Not answering might get him slapped again and the heat left behind from the last time is still cooling.


Eileen's breath flickers out through her nostrils and flushes Gabriel's face with its fleeting warmth. If it was only a few degrees colder inside the house, he might even be able to see it forming vapour in the narrow space between them. Also burning hot: her desire, if not for him then for the abrupt snap of her skin connecting again with his.

Somehow she manages to stay her hand. This close, his nose can detect scents that his olfactory nerves had been numb to before, and not one of them corresponds with the ferocity of her stare. Lavender and chamomile, talcum powder brushed over clean skin that still smells faintly of floral soap but tastes like rainwater if it's anything like he remembers — she'd just gotten out of the shower when Sylar came for her, and apart from a weak undercurrent of blood and sweat, her body has yet to resoil itself with natural oils.

"Why did you change your mind about coming back?"

She probably deserves and does not deserve in equal measures the response: because I missed you. Lengthy explanations similarly seem inappropriate here, not the least of which being her hand on his jaw. Unlike the repulsive scent of old blood and unbathed animal from Sylar, Gabriel carries with him only the scent of spring-winter outside, and now the clinging aroma of this house, of dust and neglect. "Because I was healthy enough to," he eventually states, eyebrows ticking up a little then back into their neutral lines. "Because things started breaking down. Because I realised that running away was a lie. Death just wasn't working out for me."

The amount of offense Eileen takes to this answer is not comparable to the one that preceded it. Less apparent is whether or not it was the one she wanted to hear; immutable and sphinx-like, she continues to hold his gaze for the time it takes her to process the response and translate how it makes her feel into subtle cues given by her guarded body language.

Her own jaw stiffens, teeth compressing around words that are better off unspoken because she makes no sound at all, not even a brusquely dismissive one. Three questions, she said. Two down and only one left to go. Of the set, it's the most difficult one to ask, and if he replies with another riposte

The thumb at his chin shifts to trace a firm line along the bottom of his jaw, touch too rigid to properly be called a stroke. "Do you still love me?"

It's not a riposte except in the strictest sense. Eileen's arm is smacked away hard enough to make her wrist temporarily numb, and in one fluid motion, Gabriel surges forward. It's graceful in some ways, awkward in others, like too many limbs are involved, too much height, too many twinging bruises.

Either way, an arm presses high against her chest, following the line of collarbones, and she's shoved into the wall he was formerly leaning against, his body at an awkward but completely rigid and still crouch. "Ask me that," he says, voice low and quiet, breath hot between white teeth that show between syllables, "when we're not playing this game. Do what you have to to get this out of your system, I don't care, but don't ask me if I love you while you do it. It's not how I want to repent."

Eileen's bandaged hand forms a tight clasp around the forearm crushing her against the wall. The other splays fingers on the hardwood floor and knocks an elbow against the wall with enough force to produce a loud thump that resonates through the whole house. The reversal happens so fast she doesn't fully comprehend it until his body is the one pinning hers — a wild animal might have better luck dodging the teeth of an iron trap in the instant it's sprung.

Her bare feet brace against his right thigh and left side of his lower stomach, legs folded up at the knee, but do not push against him any harder than the amount of pressure required to keep most of his weight off her. She hasn't forgotten what happened on the eighty-sixth floor of the Empire State Building or in her room at the Red Hook Speakeasy. Caution has her sizing him up from behind the strong press of his arm.

"Repent for what?"

The weight against her chest is akin to the pressure her feet put against his body, both testing and firm, the strength behind folded limbs displayed if not utilised completely. Only occurs to Gabriel then that there are only so many ways for aggression to end, a convenient realisation to have when she poses this question to him. A few more inches and he can press his arm up against where fading bruises are still working out of her skin the last time her neck was grabbed, but a few more inches for her

Beneath the bare soles of her feet, he shifts, places a hand against the wall and lets up without entirely backing off. "Whatever you want, Eileen."

Between the two of them, they have more to atone for than either will be able to achieve in their lifetimes. Eileen curls her toes, producing a fresh trickle of blood that follows the natural curve of her foot all the way through her ankle and slender calf. In this light, or the absence thereof, it appears black instead of red, a glistening trail of ink that stands out raised against the pale skin of her bare leg that ends at the knee where the weave of Gabriel's sweater and the satin of her nightgown beneath meet.

When he shifts, so does she, but it's to place the foot that had been jamming its heel into his abdomen onto the opposite thigh, gradually easing herself back into a more neutral position. "What you choose to ask forgiveness for isn't my decision," she says, adjusting, "nor should it be."

Birdlike though she might be, getting his hands to wrap entirely around her ankles would be an uncomfortable stretch. Thumbs rest in the hollows created by bone, fingers splaying a few inches up her calf, palms settling. "I can't know what hurts you," he starts, irritation manifest in his voice and the angles of his expression, but— this conversation is ridiculous. They are ridiculous. Scraping philosophically along these kinds of arguments gets them nowhere fast anyway, and— "Forget it."

Her feet are raised up off his thighs and steered off towards the left to settle where they may. Again, not looking at her, in the way untrained dogs don't acknowledge things like eye contact as he shuffles back, to get up, leave her— and whatever this is— be.

They settle on dusty floorboards that until tonight had not seen use for many months and leave prints in the grime, more powder than dirt or the wet soil tracked in from the snow by Gabriel's shoes. As he's moving away, Eileen is using the wall behind her to take some of the weight off her legs so she can push herself back up, nails momentarily catching in the peeling wallpaper before a quick flick of her wrist wrests them free of the snag. They might tangle in the sweater, too, if she was feeling self-possessed enough to tug it back down and cover the jutting shapes of her naked knees. Isn't, incidentally.

Because he isn't looking, he'll hear her footsteps on the stairs before he observes her slim back and the wiry muscles moving beneath her clothes as she ascends to the second floor and disappears around the corner. Somewhere in the river house, a door opens and closes. Does not slam.

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