Twenty-Nine Centimeters


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Scene Title Twenty-Nine Centimeters
Synopsis It's the length of a Batangas knife; incidentally, also the distance between Gabriel and Eileen at more than one point during the conversation they have when she takes shelter inside Gray and Sons.
Date August 18, 2009

Gray and Sons

An old watch repair store, completely boarded up and abandoned.

It's during when you most want to be alone, someone will come looking for you, for whatever reason that might be. Gabriel's gone out of his way, this time, avoiding the Midtown haunts that Peter knows to find him, headed for Brooklyn. The windows of the store are boarded over with aging wood and plastic, and these remain untouched, giving the illusion of emptiness that's desired. There's a sign outside, a graphic of a clock, an arrow curving and angling towards the entrance way that's been long since locked for a long time. Gabriel took the side door, leaving the front face of the watch shop be.

He's having a hard time sleeping. Likely due to the lack of anywhere comfortable to do it, sprawled on a floor that's collected in dust and fine debris with his curving back against the wall, head tilted against it. To be honest, however, such angles don't bother him. It's more than that.

There's something at the edge of dreaming that he continues to automatically pull away from, rousing himself into consciousness. And upon each time his eyes twitch open, he doesn't recall why.

Spiritual mediums claim to be able to sense the presence of the dead, and with the recent insurgence of Evolved in the aftermath of the explosion that claimed Midtown, maybe there's someone out there who's telling the truth, someone whose special gift allows them to commune with the recently deceased and act as a mouthpiece for business left unfinished.

While Gabriel isn't fortunate enough to have acquired such a power, he doesn't need it to know when he's not alone; absence of superhuman hearing aside, there's someone in the adjacent alley who shouldn't be. Booted footfalls crunch through pieces of broken glass that were once part of a Heineken bottle before it was casually discarded and cracked against the pavement like a plate at a Greek wedding. Whoever it is doesn't bother attempting to maintain an air of mystery, however — at the side door, there comes not a knock but the sound of a familiar voice, low and husky, words snarled beneath the speaker's rasping breath.

"Gabriel," it hisses. "Open the door."

He could almost be dreaming it. In the fit of stop-start sleep, resembling the special hell of eternal waking, it could be a dream, a mysterious voice from the darkness jarring him properly awake. It's when words follow his hissed name that Gabriel can determine that this is very much reality— that or he's going insane. And Gabriel doesn't like to fancy himself insane.

The lock is already broken— he might have to outfit it with something better if he ever comes back here, but for now, broken. There's a single shard of something that resembles obsidian stone jutting from the metal, sharp and wicked looking as well as unmoving, although in the right light, when the clouds push aside to let a little moonlight in, it seems more rust coloured than oily black. So there's no scrape of a key when Gabriel, having climbed to his feet and blearily navigated himself towards the door, goes to let it swing open without urging, trusting the desolation of this particular place for such things like unlocked doors to no longer matter.

Or for them to stand useless against the enemies who'd seek him out anyway. Appearing in the door, he looks like he's rolled out of bed, despite the lack of such furniture. A black T-shirt, untucked over jeans, feet bare against the dirty floor, and he could probably do with a shower.

The sight of Eileen Ruskin covered in blood is nothing new to Gabriel. Once, he pulled her out of a drainpipe when she was in a similar condition. The part of her that he carries inside him along with the phantoms of Zhang Wu-Long, Kazimir Volken and Jennifer Childs has also chosen, at times, to appear with dark hair and clothes drenched with crimson, skin so pale that it rivals the whites of her eyes and the flash of her teeth when she speaks again, her tone considerably less demanding now that the door is open and Gabriel's shape is filling its frame.

"I need to borrow your sink." The difference, it seems, between tonight and the last time they encountered one another under such grotesque circumstances is that the blood doesn't belong to Eileen. Can't. There's too much of it for her to still be standing if it was, and if Gabriel looks carefully he'll detect a flush of pink beneath the stains on her face. She's very much alive, very much unhurt.


Generally, when people are dying, they don't want a sink. That's yet another clue that has tension draining away after the few seconds it took to build up, flash frozen into stillness at the sight of her before understanding sets in. There's a short pause before her final plea has him stepping back, admitting her entrance into the back work room that looks exactly the same as it did a few years ago, except stripped bare, except covered in dust, except broken in some places and devoid of light. There's a desk shoved towards the back, a chair tucked beneath it, other surfaces and cabinets, a work space for one, a place he'd been intimately acquainted with, had organised and cared for.

It seems as alien to him these days as it does now for Eileen. He glances at her sidelong, and mutters, "You're not supposed to roll in it." That would normally be edged with humour, as caustic as it usually is, but his words come out flat and limp. Perhaps simply tired. Rubbing his hand over his face, Gabriel points her towards where a door creaks open, showing nothing but shadows inside - presumably the small bathroom at the very back of the store.

He, meanwhile, moves for the desk, opening the drawer. A lighter is taken out, and a stub of candle already fixed into a holder. There's a sharp scrape as he flickers flame to life, touches it to the wick. "What happened?"

"You've done worse than roll," is Eileen's terse response, clipped out in between breaths as she abandons the alley for the shop's blackened interior. Her eyes adjust gradually to the change in light, gaze roving across the walls, along the floor, around the legs of the chair and under the desk, unable to pick out the finer details that someone gifted with either night vision or special goggles might.

That she continues to move with such confidence in almost total darkness is a good measure of the trust she has for her host. Without trepidation, unabashed, she maneuvers her way toward the back of the store and begins to peel off her shirt, pulling it over her head and then down her raised arms in a series of jerky motions that suggest she didn't come away from the incident entirely unscathed. She has a few bruised ribs at the very least and some more visible contusions where her back collided with the side of the trailer at the very worst.

"Raith took me out to clean up the trailer farm in El Barrio," she explains, feeling around for the light switch in the bathroom in spite of herself. "Things didn't go exactly as planned. You'll read all about in the paper, I'm sure."

Upon finding the bone white little switch in the wall, it folds beneath her touch, but no light sparks to life. At least, nothing from the burned out bulb in the wall, but quite suddenly, a fairy seems to dart over her shoulder and hover in the middle of the room, burning a fireglow with an impossibly bright pin prick center. It allows for a wobbling but adequate light, sending strange shadows around the small bathroom. There's a medicine cabinet attached to the wall with a square, age-spotted mirror, over the rounded basin with metal taps that still run with water, thankfully.

"That doesn't bode well for our intrepid band of anti-heroes."

Holding the candle whose fire flame has petered down into an almost invisible waver, Gabriel comes to stand nearby, focus on the light displaying the bathroom for her. It's not the only unusual thing. Eileen will know a creeping, crawling sensation over where the blood still touches wet against her skin and in her hair. In the flickery light, Eileen might catch sight of movement in her reflection - a blood spatter on her cheek constricts into a thin rivulet, and snakes across her skin.

At first, Eileen isn't sure if what she's seeing in the mirror is real, a trick of Gabriel's supernatural light or a very convincing hallucination caused by an abrupt mental break. Leaning over the sink, studying her reflection with eyes narrowed to catlike slits, she reaches up and touches her fingertips to her cheek where the blood appears to be slithering. She stops just short of asking him if he's the one responsible, an unspoken question poised on the very tip of her tongue and pinched between her front teeth. Her focus shifts from her own face to what little she can see of Gabriel in the mirror, her stare quiet and accusatory.

"Accidents happen," she says, the hand at her cheek falling away. "We did what we went there to do. One less monster hiding under beds, nesting in closets." She closes that same hand around the faucet's handle and gives it a sharp twist to the right, letting out a thin hiss when she hears water splash against the bottom of the basin and immediately begin swirling down the drain. There we go. "No soap, I take it?"

A streak of blood is already running into the sink, diluted to pink, and without discernible source - but that's the last of trickery, it seems, when he glances to meet her gaze in the reflection. The wobbling fairy light in the center of the room expands, relinquishing it's bright center in favour of illuminating the space with a dim, consistent light, around the same time Gabriel's foot steps can be heard, moving away. Hidden in the shadows, with a candle that gives no light, he's mostly a collection of dark shapes without detail beyond the doorway.


There's a thud and scrape of furniture, the sound of an antique chair being pulled out from beneath the desk, a groan of wood as he settles down into it, hand rubbing his forehead wearily. Taciturn, especially so tonight, he doesn't say much more than that one simple response, playing his fingertips across the near invisible candle flame with vague, weary curiousity.

Eileen continues watching Gabriel's reflection, all shadows, in the mirror's warped reflection as she reaches down unhook the Batangas knife she wears on her belt. A sharp flick of her wrist all that it takes to snap the weapon open, its edged length glinting obsidian in the bathroom's muted light. Rather than rinse her hands and face or attempt to wring the blood from her hair, she focuses on washing off the knife first, using her fingers to coax its surface clean beneath the flow of cold water.

His reticence hasn't gone unnoticed, and until a few moments ago she'd chalked it up to having woken him when he'd rather be sleeping. "I'm sorry about invading your space like this," she says in a much quieter tone, soft with apology. "I'll try not to again."

No words, at first, save for an impatient sigh in reply, funneling through nostrils rather than mouth, which only twists into a frown. Gabriel slides a glance towards what he can see of Eileen in the bathroom, lingering, before darting away again as he sets the candle down upon the desk. Wax catches on the lip of the holder, turns slowly to solid before it can meet the wood below it. Before the silence can thicken so much as to suffocate them, he says, with that same vague impatience, "You can come here. Like you said, we're running out of foxholes. There's room."

As much room as a shop without a bed and a single, shower- and bath-less bathroom can allow for. He runs the skin below an eye as if to soothe the physical ache of sleeplessness, the light within the bathroom dimming off an on now and then, but maintained.

The blade of the knife is drawn along the leg of Eileen's jeans and wiped dry. Not about to argue Gabriel's point, she lifts her shoulders into a shrug, not to express her frustration but to work some of the excess tension from the muscles in her back and neck while she works. Her hands are next under the water, flecks of dried blood dug out from beneath her fingernails with the knife's narrow tip and then tapped off against the side of the basin. Apparently deciding that a change of subject is in order, she abruptly asks, "Have you ever been to the Philippines?"

It's a rhetorical question, must be, because she doesn't give him the opportunity to formulate an answer before continuing in her South London lilt, voice light in comparison to the gravitas that hangs like a lead balloon in the space between them. "They make these by hand there. The Filipinos call it the Beinte Nueve. Twenty-nine centimeters. I got mine in Mexico when Ethan and I were on assignment in Guadalajara, but maybe you'd like to take a look? It reminds me of you."

Whether or not she meant to coax him, a response manifests only as the sound of his approach after a small and wondering pause, his hand gripping the edge of the desk, leaving behind candle and lightless flame as Gabriel once more moves for the bathroom, gaze moving from her face in the mirror's reflection then down to her hands and the knife being cleaned. Eileen and he will have something in common - knives reminds them of people. Certain makes and shapes.

This one, he doesn't quite see it. He leans against the tiled wall, raises an eyebrow at her. Though healthy as he's been these past few days, there's a slice wedged into his upper arm, midway, not quite concealed by the sleeve of his shirt, but it's healing along just fine, with minimal bruising around the skin. Almost a neat line of black-red, unstitched. The tattoo on his other forearm is more offense.

"Knives? You? I wouldn't have guessed."

"Just this one," Eileen says, squeaking the faucet off, either to conserve water or to make it easier for Gabriel to hear her above the gurgling pipes and the excess liquid bubbling around the mouth of the drain. To demonstrate, she snaps the knife shut and runs a single knuckle along its folded length, which appears to be little more than a finger-thin baton divided into two halves with small indentations studded along its silver length. She rotates the weapon between her hands, allowing Gabriel to view it from multiple angles, light rippling over the metal in undulating waves. "The man I bought it from told me that people used to fight duels with them a couple hundred years ago. It's mostly a utility tool these days. Clean. Efficient."

Without warning, in a series of practiced motions too fast for Gabriel's eye to follow, Eileen flips the knife around, snaps it into the open position and points the blade at his chest. "Do you see what I'm getting at?"

The movements are followed with a doggish kind of interest, brown eyes dull beneath the lights, nearing black circles, chips of obsidian, and only looks back up when the steal tip of the knife is pointed somewhere towards his ribs. As if ready to slide beneath them, through dense tissue, into the softer stuff beneath that. Hearts and lungs. "I see a knife pointed at me," he states.

The best way to know what kind of game you're playing is to participate. He moves with almost the same amount of speed, larger hand coming around to clasp her's, wrist and palm and fingers. The intent to twist is there. Efficient. As for clean, she did say he's done worse than roll in it.

Whether Eileen is genuinely taken by surprise or allows herself to be caught and seized will forever remain a mystery — either way, Gabriel's reward is a sharp intake of breath followed by the familiar sensation of something yielding under his grasp, soft and warm. Although she doesn't drop the knife and allow it to clatter to the floor, it would be easy for him to wrench it from her hand as he twists, exerting enough pressure to draw out a low sound of pain.

"Did you want a turn?" she asks, glancing up at him sidelong, eyes bright with mirth and gleaming green behind their lashes. There's something sardonic about the question, and unlike the one about the Philippines it's one that she expects him to answer. Not necessarily with words. With the slightest tip of her chin, she gestures to her captured hand and the knife crushed between her slender fingers. "Go on," she says, finally. "Take it. Disarm me."

Far from the knife in their tangled grip, Gabriel is watching her. The mirth she shows in green eyes is met mainly with study in his brown ones. Doing the reading helps to avoid being read. Tension hangs heavy on the string of silence between them, before he does as asked, twisting the knife free of her hand with only a tweak of a twist, brief and fleeting pain that burns for a second, diminishes in the next.

There's a loud clatter, metal and porcelain, as the knife is thrown, underhand, into the basin just next to them, and he studies his palm where traces of blood— who knows who's, he'll be sure to read about it in the paper— have mingled with water and collected there. This is scrubbed off against his denim clad thigh, surliness in the hunch of his shoulders.

"You should get clean."

Eileen's hand falls away, her rings and fingernails biting against skin as she curls it into a fist and resists the urge to crack an open palm across Gabriel's face. You should get clean, he says as if that's what this is really about. There's a moment where it looks like she might, arm growing rigid with tension, elbow cocked at an angle perfect for striking, but it doesn't take long for the surge of anger, electric in its intensity, to crackle, fizzle and eventually sputter out.

He's in a bad mood; what about, Eileen doesn't know, can't even begin to guess, but she isn't quite presumptuous enough to assume that she's the root cause. Rejection stings, hurts worse than the soreness beginning to sink its way into her body's musculature, leaving her feeling heavy and cumbersome, though this too will pass. "You're right," she says brusquely. "I should."

He notes the track of tension that makes vague tremors up her arm, expands in her torso in preparation for the strike that isn't executed. Gabriel, in unconscious reply, merely braces himself - no twitch of defense, or preparation to retaliate. The light in the room seems to brighten, for a moment, flaring. This tension, too, crackles and dies when her's does, the light settling back into its stagnant dimness and his shoulders going loose.

Gabriel blinks once, heavily, a different level of tiredness hitting him in the same moment. Apology might be about as useful as spitting to douse fire, so it never occurs. He's not really sorry, anyway, not for reasons that would make sense without context. He doesn't want to play, apparently.

Rolling his shoulders as if to get rid of whatever weight is on them, he nods once, heads out of the bathroom.

Eileen turns back to the sink, eyes shying away from the mirror, picks up the knife from the bottom of the basin and reattaches it to her belt before she turns the faucet again, her movements much swifter and purposeful than before. Careful not to lose any of her rings to the drain, she spends the next few minutes washing the blood from her face and hands and then rinsing it from her hair. Her shirt, discarded when she first stepped into the bathroom, is wrung out under the water and summarily squeezed dry until she can pull it back on without dripping all over the floor.

It isn't perfect, it isn't even really clean. It will, however, suffice in the absence of soap and responsive companionship. Satisfied she no longer looks like something that walked straight out of The Evil Dead, Eileen steps away from the sink, wipes her hands off on her jeans and finally exits the bathroom, headed for the same side door she came in.

The light of the bathroom only goes out when she steps into the dark of the rest of the shop, springing back as if an elastic band were cut and condensing into the flickery little concentration of light hovering above the burning stick of wax. Gabriel's moved back to sit beside it once more, mind wandering away from him while the sound of the faucet was going, but now his focus comes back together, hones in on the figure of Eileen headed for the door without a word.

He's close to letting her, and likely it won't come down to whether he lets her or not. Not without supernatural ability anyway, so in theory he could do just that. Rather than standing up to grab her or keep the door closed in her retreat, he tries with words, voice cutting clear across the room. "I talked to Gillian today."

Eileen's boots grind to an abrupt halt, swirls of dust gathering around her feet in the instant she stops, then dissipate, reassimilated by the empty air. She has her back to him, halfway between the bathroom and the side door, one hand at her side while the other reaches back to idly thumb at the pistol she has tucked in her jeans. Her weight shifts in stony contemplation from one foot to the other, floorboards creaking audibly beneath the strain. It would be an easy thing to disregard his comment, brush it away with a vague gesture of her hand or a bob of her damp head.

What's easy is not always what's best. Turning her face just enough to view Gabriel in her peripheral and allow him a sliver of her uncommunicative profile, she inclines her jaw. "Yes?" she asks. "And?"

A short stream of air puts out the candle, conserving what's left of the stick, a single curl of white smoke writhing up towards the ceiling. There's enough light managing to wriggle its way into the room, between boards and glass and plastic, to give some basic illumination, especially when eyes adjust. Coincidentally, the side door's entry way is promptly doused in darkness. "I wanted to ask her about what happened on Swinburne Island. The things she said— " His jaw clenches, renewed, petty anger flaring up. "It was infuriating. You wonder why."

The explanation comes stilted, a thorny and wilted variety of olive branch. Gabriel isn't really watching Eileen, instead touching the previously burning wick with the tip of his finger in boyish, idle fidgeting. "If they ever knew you at all." And now he glances at her, as if to see how far along she is in walking away.

Eileen hasn't budged an inch from where she stopped when Gabriel erected the verbal obstacle in her path, which might be good news if he wants her to stay and bad news if he'd rather she go — there's really no way of knowing what she might be thinking, her facial expression shrouded by the cover of darkness, cocooned in shadow. The hand at her pistol removes the weapon from her jeans, checks the safety for lack of anything better to do with her fingers, and then ejects the clip into her opposite palm.

"Maybe you changed," she suggests as she makes her decision and shows the side door her back, feet carrying her toward the desk, "or she did." Eileen places both the pistol and the clip down on the desk beside Gabriel's candle. She does not look at him. "I don't think it matters which."

Gabriel's gaze switches down to watch her lower the gun and then the clip onto the desk. "Both. I don't think I knew her either." His hand moves to smoothly wrap around her wrist, without the swiftness, without the electricity of the moment in the bathroom. Same hand, same wrist, though no twist accompanies it. His hand is relatively warm, a little clammy, fingers strong but not, this time, digging into skin.

Only holding, apparently, still not quite looking at her as he speaks. "I finally told her everything I wanted to and it didn't help. It's stupid. Futile. All of it."

Eileen's eyes move from the gun to the hand at her wrist, milky pale, free of blood. She might have missed some of the gunk caked beneath her nails, though this is ultimately unimportant in the grand scheme of presentability — no one will be checking there. The temptation to pull away is almost as strong as striking him had been. Again, she resists, arm growing tense beneath his hold, tendons flexing as her fingers do. She isn't clutching a knife this time, either. That helps.

"What were you hoping to achieve?" It's an important question, and maybe not one that Eileen wants the answer to in spite of asking. But just as what's easy isn't always what's best, what she wants to hear isn't always what she needs. "Would you put things back the way they were if you could? Before Tavisha? Before Jenny?"

"No." The answer is quick, but not in the way lies can be. It's firm and cutting and confident. Gabriel darts a glance up at her when he feels her wrist go rigid beneath his grip, and his hand falls slack. "It was a lie. I told you. And I don't know what I wanted to achieve." His grip falls away completely, now, hands up in something of a shrug, as if to say, like right now. How best to proceed, in anything, to avoid damage? What risks are worth it?

The chair scrapes against wood as he levers it back from her, heel pushing against the ground as if he might then go to stand, but he doesn't. "You're in the crossfire. There wouldn't be one if I kept things simple."

Eileen lifts her hand from the desk, examining her wrist for signs of a mark even though she already knows there are none — not that either of them can see. "I don't think I understand what you're trying to tell me," she says, rubbing her thumb along the inside of her wrist with the same subtle attention she paid the grip of her pistol when it was still tucked down her jeans. "The only crossfire I'm in the middle of has Ethan Holden on one side and Daiyu Feng, Felix Ivanov and all their ilk on the other."

Now she's the one closing fingers around her wrist, easing some of the lingering rigidity from the muscles there. "You watch my back, and I watch yours. It doesn't get any simpler than that, does it? What's to stop us from carrying on as we have been?"

It should be strange that riddles in the rain would come across in clear as day clarity, and yet conversation— his attempts to explain, to talk— are puzzled over and misunderstood. Mid-response, Gabriel closes his eyes in mute irritation, only opens them again when his gaze is angled away. "Maybe I should be asking you that," he states, his posture one of tension and awkwardness, rather than the fluidity he usually has even in anger. He glances up at her, then eases himself out of his chair. A step is taken to carry himself around her as he adds, mildly sardonic and plenty bitter, "You should go. I hadn't realised you actually wanted to."

At times, conversing with Gabriel is more dangerous to Eileen's well-being than then handling a venomous snake — this is twice in one night she's been bitten, and while it's partly her own fault for provoking the reaction, she can't help but feel a twinge of resentment at his words and the astringent manner in which they're spoken. Silent again, she begins piecing her gun back together, rings glinting in what little natural light the shop affords. Her brow furrows, knits together, quiet confusion and dismay written in the lines of her face, further darkening her eyes.

He told her she should clean up, and so she did. He told her she should go, and now she will. "I didn't," she says, sliding the clip back into place, punctuating her statement with a sharp clack. "Coming here was a mistake, I apologize. It won't happen again."

At the efficient, metallic sounds of the gun being put together, Gabriel is pacing away, across the room, arms coming to fold. Vaguely towards where he'd been trying to get some sleep, although he's not even close to settling down - not even close to tired. Tension snakes up his back at her apology, has him bristling but for once he manages to hold his tongue.

Instead; "I wouldn't have opened the door." His words are clipped, still, edged; but quiet, weary, and he's not turning to watch her go.

Likewise, Eileen does not chance a haphazard glance over her shoulder at Gabriel's back lest the sight of him rob her of her resolve. It's a long way to the nearest Ferryhouse and well past curfew, but she has her gun, a mental map of the city and the aid of its pigeons — she won't be caught, not tonight. Her retreating footsteps stir up still more dust, preserving the impression of the boot prints she leaves in her wake.

If there is one thing she's learned in the past year from losing the ones she loves, it's to let them know she does on the off chance that any good bye could be the last. For Gabriel, there is no parting shot, no words she'll later wish she could retract. Just a succinct, "Yes," on her way out the side door, conceding his point. "Sleep peaceful, Gabriel. Dream sweet."

The yes doesn't seem to fit correctly with his imagined tail end of the sentence, but drawing her back into discussion is complicated and maybe— maybe Gillian had made a good point, about pride, and the memory of that is almost enough to have him saying something. Third time could be the charm.

But they'll never know, now, as Gabriel doesn't respond, and listens to her foot steps as she heads out the door. The muted sound of it shutting is enough to make him want to, say, flip over the nearest table, and he has just enough tense energy to do it.

Instead, he moves to resettle where he'd been when she knocked, as if nothing had happened - the sink is clean of blood and so it's only the disturbed dust and a fraction of burned down candle that tells the story of Eileen's arrival. He won't sleep when he next closes his eyes, and all things considered, that could be a benefit.

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