Under The Bed


eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Under The Bed
Synopsis It's where Gabriel finds her.
Date October 3, 2009

Staten Island: The House On the River

The river safehouse is not quite as Gabriel last left it. Where its termite-eaten interior had been vacant but for a few sparse furnishings before, it now resembles a makeshift storage garage with boxes and crates arranged around the high-backed chair in the living room and the portable stove that provides the house's occupants with hot water for drinking and washing, though no glow emanates from the pit of its cast iron stomach this late at night. If there are other members of the Remnant taking shelter here, they're either asleep or making use of the facilities out back.

Thin slivers of moonlight filter through the gaps in the plywood that cover the safehouse's broken windows, illuminating the staircase and second floor landing with its ruined baseboards and peeling wallpaper. Twin pinpricks of green light at the top of the steps focus on the front door, belonging not to Eileen Ruskin but a feral cat with patches of fur missing and a thin rat-tail that twitches like a bent reed fluttering uselessly in the wind.

Soon, the temperature will drop and what's left of the Vanguard will have to find a new place to make their den. They won't survive the winter in a hole like this.

Where Gabriel goes when he is not right in front of you is anyone's guess. You can tell how bad off he is on the grain of his stubble - if he has time and the means to shave, then the world isn't falling apart. The peppery smatter across his cheeks and throat is ambiguous even now when he first arrives home. It's not really a home - this place will never be anyone's home, not anymore - but it's the closest thing to it right now. The way he seeks company is as consistent and predictable as the weather, but sometimes, even he finds himself coming back.

Loneliness can drive you insane.

It's almost too quiet for his liking, and though he'd only come, really, for warm water and somewhere dry to curl up, the silence makes him hesitate and consider moving on. The cat at the top of the stairs gets a glance upwards as Gabriel gently shuts the door behind him, a tall figure in his customary black and sharp gaze.

Consideration of moving on only lasts as long as it takes to remember that he can always check. To a bird telepath, perhaps she would sense the sweeping touch of a psychic radar being sent out to detect signs of life. Perhaps not. Perhaps some things are more important. Regardless, as soon as he can sense Eileen's slight frame existing somewhere within the hollow house, Gabriel begins to move in that direction.

The cat bolts at the first sign of movement, taking the stairs two, three at a time until it hits the ground floor with its front paws, darts between the twin towers of Gabriel's legs, shimmies under the chair and is gone. Even without the use of the ability gifted to him by Teodoro, Eileen isn't difficult to find; like the feline huddled downstairs in the space between the wall and a wooden shipping crate, she tends to favour small, dark places when it comes to hiding, and of all the rooms in the house, the second from the top of the stairs is the smallest and the darkest.

It's also the coldest, but in early October this is a problem that can be easily overcome by layering the cot with quilts and blankets and burrowing beneath them during the nighttime hours when frost sometimes forms on the windowpane and the wind whistles in through the cracks in the glass. Like the windows downstairs, the one in Eileen's bedroom has also been boarded up and provides just enough light for Gabriel to make out the cot's metal frame and the glint of the buckles on the leather shoulder holster slung over the back of a solitary chair by the open closet.

Unless his radar is lying to him, she's somewhere in the room, though the sound of her breathing must be so faint that his ears fail to pick it up. Outside, the branches of a beech tree catch the breeze and scratch gnarled fingers against the window. The cat gives a plaintive meow.

It takes another sweep of the radar to determine the fact he wasn't wrong. Floorboards, the swirl of dust that could very well trigger the panicky closed throat-ness people like Eileen should have caution for, and a certain numbness that can't complete disguise the fact that she's under the bed. While Eileen may have similarities to the cat downstairs, dogs also have a tendency to hide in such places. At least, they do that when they're injured, or finding a place to die.

Gabriel's foot steps are heavy and a little impatient as he crosses the room towards the bed. The brush of his coat against the backs of his thighs create that swishing sound of fabric, hem coming down to pool on the floor as he shifts into a crouch, lowers a knee against it, a hand, ducks beneath to look.

She's not dying or hurt, that much he can tell. But something is wrong. "Eileen." His voice is gravel, breath swirling dust and eyes twin pools of matte shadow at this angle, no light to catch the glimmer of iris and pupil.

There's a stir of pale limbs and dark hair under the bed, followed by a sharp intake of breath and a groan murmured around long, chalk white fingers. The hand over Eileen's mouth is her own, though, and she flinches at the familiar rumble of Gabriel's voice when it soils the quiet. Her body trembles, rocks, shudders with a visible effort to either keep warm or contain sound. Hunched shoulders, clasped fingers and wet cheeks that shine silver in the dark all point to the latter, though the gooseflesh prickling along the curve of one shoulder and the length of the attached arm are clear indications that the blanket she's cocooned herself in isn't doing its job as well as it probably could.

When she speaks through her fingers, her voice is very small and belongs to someone much younger than her twenty years in spite of its rasping hoarseness and comes out as a thin hiss. "Don't."

He's heard that command from her plenty of times. Don't speak. Don't come near. Don't leave. It's never quite sounded like that before, the little girl voice that trembles through fingers becoming slick with tears and saliva. Gabriel stays kneeling for a moment, looking at her as much as she looks through him. It's only a matter of time before he's reaching beneath the bed and curling a strong hand around her wrist. It's been a long time since entertaining the thought of leaving her there would factor in.

She's forced to slide along with the ground, blanket and all, as Gabriel goes to reel her out, other hand out to calm as needed as he brings her into the room that while has shadows that stretch thick black and lacks the necessary light at this hour for any real study, is better than the shelter of the bed.

Eileen's fingers hook into the mesh underside of the cot first, then scrabble nails against the floorboards when that fails to secure her. She doesn't fight Gabriel so much as she squirms away from him, twisting into a loop of frigid limbs tangled in blanket's coarse woolen material like a larger version of one of the box kittens sacrificed and reduced to ash on Swinburne Island.

This isn't like the time he handcuffed her to the radiator. No claws come out and no lip curls, and although there's a brief flash of tooth in the instant he finally hauls her into the open, it's accompanied by a gasping snarl instead of a curse.

Her breathing takes on a low, guttural quality next, and she braces the hand that had clutched at the cot against his cheek. "No. No, no, no, no. You'll wake her!"

Eileen has gone insane. This notion makes Gabriel's brow furrow into a knot of pure consternation, and he sends out another futile psychic pulse of radar to confirm there's no one else in the house. He has a hand pinning down the arm he'd grabbed, a staple of strong flesh and bone pinning the limb to the wooden slats, though this is the only attempt at physical control for the time it takes to study her.

His gaze skims her, trying to find anything— something— amiss, before both hands move to grip her wrists, drawing her up to sit, a hand shifting then to grip her jaw and direct her gaze to his.

"Eileen. Eileen." It's almost a growl, as quiet as it is. "Look at me."

Green eyes meet brown, their edges rimmed in pink and limned with tears. She's been crying for a long time — long enough for blood vessels to stand out red against the white of her eyes, but not so long that they've swollen shut or have difficulty seeing the face in front of them. There's a moment where her lips begin to form a name that isn't his, the tip of her tongue pressed to the roof of her mouth just behind her front teeth to produce a low "Nn—" sound.

It isn't right. Eileen must realize this on some level, because she pauses then, fingers curling in on themselves as the muscles in her arms and shoulders grow tight around the bone. "I'm scared," she tells him in a fierce whisper. "It hurts. Every time, it hurts."

It's the kind of language mad prophets tend to speak, with their abilities Gabriel avoids like they're poisonous, but there is something about her voice, that Nn that suggests she is not looking forward. Gabriel's eyes shut for a moment when she looks at him and sees whatever it is she's decided to see in his stead. Open again, try to connect. He's always had trouble, doing that.

"I'm not going to hurt you."

He shifts enough to sit down, properly. Some instinct has him not directing her to the bed, or really trying to make her move beyond keeping her out from beneath the furniture. An arm curls around her, a hand grips her arm, eyes scoring down the pale underside where needle marks settle on the inside her elbow. The blanket pools beside them, and this he drags up to, wraps with a flutter of fabric through the air around them both.

Eileen's head comes to rest against the crook of Gabriel's shoulder where his collarbone meets his neck. She sinks the tips of her fingers into the material of his jacket and bunches it between her knuckles, slowly working the fistfuls like a baker kneads bread but without the heels of her hands. Her hair is damp with sweat and smells only faintly of her shampoo and the perfume she sometimes wears behind her ears, on the inside of her wrists and at the hollow of her throat. More potent is the scent of fresh tobacco — on top of whatever drug is responsible for this episode, she's been smoking again.

The next few minutes see a gradual decrease in the speed of her breathing and its intensity. Eventually, a conscious decision makes it stop altogether, and she looks up at him again from under lashes that are still heavy and sodden. Her throat contracts in a dry swallow. Hands move from his chest to his arms, feeling him in the dark. Wherever she was, she isn't there anymore. Uncertainty still pinches her face into an ugly, contemptuous expression, however, and she doesn't risk guessing whose arm is around her. The list is very short; she'll have an answer momentarily.

His back curves against the edge of the bed, seated against it as he lets her curl against him. Between his coat, the blanket, the continual touch of her breathing warm against his neck, the room is stifling for Gabriel. He watches the way the tree outside makes shadowy veils in its silhouette across the glass, shivering from the wind and tapping the glass, until he feels her shift. Feels her look at him.

Sitting up, his hand steers her back as well as steadies her; the other faces palm up, his fingers curled. What little light in the room gathers into glowing ball of ghostly pale ambience that lights up his face in shadows, angles and curves. Her own features are touched by the light, too, making the smears of tears and mingled sweat shine.

Waking up from a bad dream has never been so uncomfortable. Eileen should feel relief flood through her and fill her torso with buoyancy. Instead, her heart sinks, her stomach turns to lead and whatever question she'd been prepared to voice is twisted off before it ever gets the opportunity to leave her mouth. The first thing she does is drop her eyes, tug at the sweatshirt sleeve rolled up around her elbow and peel it all the way back down to her cocked wrist. Colour flushes her cheeks. Her gaze shies further south.

Anger is easier than shame — to apologize would be to acknowledge that she's committed a wrong, and even though this wrong is against herself more than it is anyone else, it's still about as palatable to her as a mouthful of sand. "What are you doing here?"

The blanket slides off his shoulders, hand retracting from her as he levels his gaze steady despite the fact she's analysing the ground. The question could offend him, but doesn't. Mostly because he doesn't let it. "I come here sometimes," is his wry response, voice quiet, before he allows the gathered light to disperse and settle itself even and spread thin throughout the room. "A better question would be, what are you doing here?"

He makes no move to tip her gaze upwards, or duck his head to meet it. There's a pause, before Gabriel's hand snakes out to grip her wrist, clothed now though it is, to angle her arm towards the ceiling. Firm, if not so strong that it can't be fought. "Or what are you doing here?"

Eileen weighs her hallucination against reality, and without attempting to shrug off the hand at her wrist decides that this — unpleasant as it is — is the more preferable of the two. Being trapped in a memory is exactly that: trapped. She can't change the past any more than she can change the seasons or the weather that defines them. While she might not have complete control over her current situation, she at least has some, and some is better than none.

"You don't get to judge me," she grinds out in a low voice rubbed raw and pink with the rough side of emery board for emotions. Her fingers bunch into a fist. "Not when you fuck off without a word to anyone. I know what you did to that boy."

Gabriel's hand snatches from her wrist as if it scalded him, expression frosting rather than the familiar flare of pure temper. Silence is as cold as the bone-chill that's come with fall descended upon the upper echelons of his ghost house, or the moonlight through the window, before he breaks it with; "Do you think that after what I did to that boy, I'd be fit to be around you? There's no rehab for what I have, and it hurts people.

"You're only hurting one person right now." The point is edged in two ways - the obvious, alluding to the destruction of chemical and bite of needles and all the psychological fuckery that goes with it, and the other, what sticks and stones can do to him that her words can't. Or won't.

Eileen's lips thin out and go white under pressure. Her armour is not so strong or stalwart as his, and maybe it has something to do with the drugs lingering in her system, or maybe it doesn't. His words have a cutting effect that makes her bleed out a tissue paper thin sigh which would be visible in the air if the temperature was only a few degrees cooler.

"You made a choice. So did I." There's little else she can say in defense of the marks on her arm or the empty syringe seeping traces of vibrant blue liquid onto the cot's cotton pillowcase. Disposing of it isn't as easy as crushing it her hand, so she doesn't try or even draw attention to it beyond a haphazard glance directed over Gabriel's shoulder. It doesn't last, either, not any longer than the time it takes her to confirm that the needle is where she left it and not underfoot, knocked off the bed sometime in the past hour.

"Don't worry," she says. "I'm not going to argue with you about your priorities."

"I don't want to argue at all," is almost a growl, lip curling, gaze shifting away finally and if he had hackles to rise, they would. Everything inside humans are messy, from organs and nervous matter congealed and sticky blood through to the complex tangential thoughts and emotions that a map couldn't help you follow. Gabriel really only can master one category of insides.

He steals a look back at her, sharp. "It must be reassuring for you to know that as long as you hit rock bottom, I'll always be there. Maybe one day you'll even let me help you instead of validate you."

Getting to his feet in one lithe movement, if only to put some distance between them, Gabriel paces away. Not to leave. He moves for the window, cracks it open an inch or two with a rusty creak. The chill of the wind that blows through is somewhat reassuring for him, the scent of water refreshing compared to the stale air.

The gossamer fine hairs on the back of Eileen's neck bristle, only in part due to the chill, and she scrunches the blanket up around her shoulders, holding it shut with one hand while the other goes to rub anxious circles on the inside of her thigh as a way of working some of the tension from the muscles in her leg and fingers. She doesn't keep it up because it doesn't work.

Rock bottom is climbing the Narrows and curling her toes around the edge. Rock bottom is revealing brutal truths to a relative stranger when she hasn't yet admitted them to herself. Rock bottom is discovering that someone who's supposed to be dead might not be. Rock bottom is a lot of things, but it isn't this.

"You aren't. Weren't." She reaches up, smudges at her cheek with the side of her free hand and then looks down to check if her skin came away clean. "You don't know anything about what's happened to me since January. The things I've done. Had done to me."

Turns out retreating to the window was a good move. Gabriel's jaw goes tense, his back rigid, though his hand lifts lazily to rest his fingertips against the cool glass. Dust cakes it, makes streaks when he drags digits downwards. Making race tracks an inch south.

"Funny. You're right. I can't judge you. Not even if I wanted to."

The implication being that he doesn't, but words that aren't worth saying out loud go unvoiced. He draws his hand away from the window, rubs away the dust with his thumb, miniscule rolls of dirt that fall away. "You never wanted me to know, Eileen. I give you the space you give me. We have secrets. I don't want to be worse, equal to, or better than you, but I think you deserve more than quick fixes. But you don't think I'm the hero to help you."

That is, if 'I saw what you did' is to be of any indication. I saw what you did, down here in the dirt. Gabriel doesn't turn back to her. "I could tell Raith. Ethan. Teo."

Raith. Ethan. Teo. Three of the four names on the very short list of people at the forefront of her mind when she realized the arm around her belonged to someone other than her brother. Eileen wipes off her hand on the wiry fibers of the blanket. "You don't know what I think either," stands to be said, and it is. Tersely. She can see Gabriel's back in her peripheral vision without having to look at him, so she doesn't. That his focus is elsewhere than her huddled form on the floor provides her with no measure of comfort. The physical distance between them may as well be an ocean's worth.

"What would you tell them, Gabriel?" A name for a name. Sylar would be crueler, but she isn't aiming to be cruel — not since he made it clear that mechanism won't work under these circumstances. "Eileen's hooked on Refrain? I found her hiding under the bed ready to piss herself?"

"You know, that would probably work." It's a ruthless concession to make, spoken flippantly with an edge to it. Wiping his hands clean entirely, Gabriel brings them up to rub tired over his face, through his dark hair, a smile glinting for a moment in the window's reflection before he turns back to her. "You're weak. Weaker still for the fact you don't have to be. But we've both done worse things. The only reason I'd leave is if you drove me away. That's the only reason I ever leave."

Save for feelings of homicide. He didn't quite retreat under the bed to quiver in the wrath of his own addiction, because, you know. Everyone looks under the bed. "You should get some rest if you want to feel a little less like hell in the morning. Where do you want me to be when you wake up?"

The question is such a sharp divergence from where Eileen thought the conversation was going that she doesn't say anything for what feels to her like a very long time and probably is. She backtracks what came immediately before it, gets hung up on the implications attached and feels a sudden tightness crushing her ribcage as a result. The breath is squeezed out of her lungs and she closes her eyes, retreating into the solitary darkness the room no longer provides.

Trick question. Loaded question. A gesture of sincerity. All of the above. None of the above. She has to remind herself this isn't some sort of test before she can formulate a coherent answer that isn't another implicit accusation — or worse. "I don't understand what you're asking me."

If Gabriel were capable of pity outside of distant, arrogant disdain, he might angle it towards her now. But it's mostly grudging silence. He knows this, the frantic fingering through of words to find the sharp bits before they can dig into your hide. The trick. The catch. His shoulders are slack beneath his jacket, hands loose on his wrists, and he looks tired.

"I'm asking if you want me to leave."

This time, there's no hesitation, no lapse in which the ambient noise of the decaying house and clearing outside have to fill the silence for her. Just one beat — short and simple, but not sweet. "No." Eileen takes hold of the blankets still on the cot with one hand and braces her palm against the dusty floorboards with the other, pushing herself to a knee. She does not trust her feet. "I don't want you to leave." It's hard to say which is the more accurate translation: I want you to stay or I don't want to be alone. Her body language, exhausted as it is, lacks its usual expressiveness and colourful subtext, which might be one of the reasons for what she says next.

"I need you." Just so there isn't any doubt.

He moves, then. Not immediately to her. The spent syringe is picked up, the fairy-eye fine tip avoided as he sets it down onto the dust-stained bedside table. Only then does Gabriel offer out his hands to get her up off the ground, direct her into the bed already rumpled and waiting. It's late, all velvet shadow and silvery moonlight. Introspection is for daylight hours. It's unhealthy to do it at night.

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