berlin_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Unlucky
Synopsis Berlin follows advice from one ghost and runs into another.
Date May 10, 2019


Berlin isn't a completely unfamiliar sight to Providence, although she has been absent for some weeks now. She stopped by her cabin, settling in for a visit of undetermined length, but now she stands in front of the town's church. Her hands slide deep into her pockets as she looks up at the building. She's not sure this is where she's meant to be, although the connection between her target and Eileen gives her enough confidence to be standing here.

Her power seeps out around her, feeling out for traces of life in a way that has become second nature. Her eyes shift from brown to an unnatural blue. She knows that color is something of a signal to people who know. She knows that Gabriel Gray knows.

Otherwise, she seems like any other young woman in her twenties. Perhaps one with a too-serious expression, but that isn't so strange for people these days. If only it were.

Up until recently, she would have escaped his notice, even with such distinctive blue eyes. It has taken some time for Gabriel Gray to really take note of much beyond his narrow scope of interest — another woman, with distinctive blue eyes — but New York City has a way of weaving you back into its larger picture, the longer you stay. He has always known that, about it.

So he follows this girl, when his own network of spying avian life catches a glimpse. At a far distance, at first, where flitting sparrows and finches fit in amongst the springtime chorus of the forest. Then, with diminishing distance, until her far flung senses register a life signature immediately behind her.

That you might encounter a wolf is unlikely but not impossible, but maybe you'd imagine them to be starving things, skittish, prone to keeping their distance. When Berlin turns to confront her stalker, the big black wolf emerges from the tree line with a confident struts, and comes to a halt that makes a firm-footed claim of territory. Yellow eyes consider blue ones, and its head ducks, ears back, not yet exposing teeth.

When she turns, she stills at the sight of a wolf. It isn't impossible, not out here, but before this moment had hovered out of her direct worry. She takes a moment to remember to breathe. She doesn't meet its eyes, but instead starts to move slowly backward toward the church doors. If she ever knew the correct thing to do in this situation, it's left her in exchange for the danger a hand with a gun in it represents.

She is pretty sure, however, that she is not likely to talk a wolf out of an act of violence if they were inclined toward it.

The wolf slowly creeps forward, head lower than the cyclical roll of scapulas beneath dense coat and lean musculature. There is an unambiguous sense of hunting as it moves closer and closer, slower now that it is in the open. Wolves don't know about guns, or blue eyes, or the distance between Berlin's back and the church doors and how they close, so although her teeth are blunt and her ears are dull and her skin is unprotected save for tearable fabric, she has her advantages.

Now, its lips curl back, the flesh of its muzzle tightening into crinkles like a drawstring has been pulled. Yellow fangs jut from anemic gums, held tense like a wound trap, and when the wolf issues a snarl, it snaps at the air, as audible as the bass growls that have come up to a continual rev.

Creeping closer. Soon, it will be in leaping distance.

It's the snap that changes her tactic. She reaches outward, her power starting to drain life from the tufts of grass around her. They turn to ash quickly, but the wolf is another matter. She focuses— and she takes a little. Just a bite of her own, enough to weaken it while she pulls the church door open and ducks into the building. She slams the door closed, both hands flat against it and her feet planted as if she expects to have to fight for it.

She remembers to breathe. A ragged sound. Her power stops taking once she's inside, but she keeps a feel for the wolf, just in case.

Once she is there, her hands on the door, and she quests out— her sense of the wolf is gone. But she had sensed it. She had taken something from it, had seen the grass curl grey at its paws and heard it issue a soft whine as she fled, she knows it like she knows her own breathing, that air is passing through her lungs.

But she isn't alone.

It's just behind her, now.

Except as soon as she senses that information, that growl doesn't return — in its stead, there is a husky laugh, masculine, quiet. "Don't shoot," the voice attached to it says. "I surrender."

Inside the dimly lit interior of country church, Gabriel Gray has taken a slightly exhausted looking seat on one of the pews, one hand gripping the back of it, turned around enough to be looking at her instead of the altar. Breathing a little laboured, strength dwindled to a flickering candle. "Little quicker off the draw than I expected, but you pulled your punches." He splays his other hand on his chest, gives a dry cough, before suggesting, "Let me guess — dog person?"

He looks like he does in pictures, in grainy footage, in documentaries, in mugshots, but those were never particularly flattering.

It probably isn't too usual that people heave a sigh of relief upon seeing Gabriel Gray, but that's what Berlin does. Her hand rests against her chest and she leans against the door.

"Jesus," she says as she pushes off the door, glancing back at it like she still suspects a wolf on the other side. "The goal of self defense is to do enough to get away, not get in a fight." Not exactly a dog person. She comes over to sit on the pew opposite from him, across the aisle. "I was told that I should find you. That you might be able to help." She gestures toward him, a wryness entering her expression, "If you can forgive me being quick on the draw."

It's light-hearted, but there is room there for him to not forgive her.

She might have taken shelter in the church, but she's not out of the woods yet.

There is nothing friendly in Gabriel's regard of her — just an absence of aggression, no wolf snarls, no teeth bared. He's going to need longer than just a few minutes to recover from his brush with her ability, but he likewise does not seem fearful. He watches her as she nears and keeps a steady focus as she sits across from him. The now abandoned wolfshape was more impressive, granted — the human form is dressed in a grey hoodie, in jeans, in muddy shoes.

He tips his head, a cynical raise of an eyebrow. He manages to neutralise any surprise pretty well — that she was, in fact, looking for him, rather than him hunting her. "Who told you a thing like that."

That is a question.

One Berlin isn't entirely sure of the answer to. But she has a guess, so that's what she goes with. "An apparition," she says as if her answer were part question, lifting her shoulders, "he didn't introduce himself." She taps her finger against her temple. "They've been a little pushy lately." Which might be why she accepts the word of a ghost enough to be sitting here across from him.

It's also why she's desperate enough to be sitting here across from him.

"He said if I found you I might find a place to find myself," she says, to be more specific, her leg bounces as she speaks, her heel thumping gently against the floor, "which is annoyingly riddle-like and vague and I wouldn't give it so much weight except for the fact that I'm not sure how much of me is even left anymore."

"And why would I know that?"

Gabriel isn't expecting an answer for that one. There is a lot to unpack, here. Apparitions, with meaningful gestures to the brain, make a certain sense to him — it'd make sense even if this little girl sitting across from him didn't have near-glowing blue eyes, but context helps, of course. "If you're being haunted by ghosts," he says, "then you should make sure to get their names. It gives you power over them." He is a little serious.

But mostly taunting. "I don't know that he did you any favours, pointing you to me. I'm not exactly an expert in self-actualisation?" Eyebrow raise, question mark. "And I don't know you, except that you're the latest in a long line of unlucky supervillains."

"I don't want power over them," Berlin says— a real answer to a taunting comment. Truth is, she doesn't know what she wants in relation to her ghosts. Which is just a small slice of her unluckiness. She looks over at him, shaking her head lightly. Not to disagree, exactly. "You have no idea," she says, "just how unlucky."

She hesitates on explaining. It's true that he doesn't know her and she really shouldn't know him. But. There's memories floating around in her head that don't belong to her. Some of them are his. It creates a sense of familiarity that she should learn not to lean on.

Some day.

"I have both of them." Her hands press against her knees as she lets out a sigh. "Instead of what the ghost said, maybe I can just ask you my own question. It's personal so I get it if you don't want to answer, but this unlucky supervillain," she notes, dryly, "would appreciate it. Did it feel violent? Sometimes when I use them they feel like they want to hurt someone. Anyone. Everyone."

The sass ekes out a little of Gabriel's expression, relaxing cocked eyebrows and the cynical line his mouth has made. Something about what Berlin says resonates, but perhaps not in the way that she anticipates, Gabriel lapsing now into a thoughtful silence as he weighs up the cost-benefit of speaking with this girl. He doesn't trust ghosts, personally. And he certainly doesn't trust the Conduit, or it's supposedly good-er counterpart, entwined as they allegedly are.

"No," he says. Gentler in general, suddenly. He sniffs, smells blood from fine capillaries broken, like she had punched him in the nose rather than drained a percentage of his life-force. In the semi-dark, he drags the palm of his hand across his mouth and nose, checking for blood. Just a filmy sheen of pink. "But it spoke to me, when I first controlled it. Had a life of its own. It took from others to protect me, or to save someone I cared about."

He narrows his attention back on her. "That was back when I didn't know what I was doing. Long story."

Berlin sinks further into her seat, his own experience with it seeming to deflate her somewhat. "They don't usually act out like that for me. Only when I tried to use both together. That was the first time I felt out of control since I was a kid." Being a young woman, that couldn't have been that long before, but she speaks like it was a lifetime ago. "I get a lot of other people's memories. Flashes. Sometimes I don't feel like myself." But that she seems to take as par for the course, as uncomfortable as it may be.

"I have a theory. I spoke to a woman named Rouen. She also said the conduit didn't make her feel violent. I'm starting to think it amplifies what we… are. Or what we're after." Her eyebrows lift, looking over at him for his opinion. Or maybe she hopes he'll disprove her theory. There is a hint of desperation in the look she gives him.

There isn't much to find, in Gabriel's expression — he's listening, absorbing information, but like the way a black hole absorbs light, with nothing escaping it.

His head tips. It feels a little like being regarded by hawk, all sharpness without giving away anything.

"And what are you?" is the natural question. "What are you after?"

"I'm angry," Nat answers, not seeming to mind being frank, "and I'm after revenge." She's been getting it for years with Wolfhound, helping to gather the remains of the institute up. That works for her. Mostly. "Legally," is how she explains it, "but that hasn't been— how it's played out. Lately. When I think about the people who came before me… I don't know. Volken had ambition. And then he had centuries of ambition to draw on, to feed it in himself. And I'm starting to worry that I'm drawing on centuries of anger."

"What's wrong with that?"

Maybe the ghost of Berlin's brainmeat had no idea what the fuck he was talking about when he recommended she speak to Gabriel Gray. He raises an eyebrow in something like honest query, although his face and voice have a natural register that makes people tend to feel as though he is fucking with them. "If it's getting you what you want. If it's what you've been given. What's stopping you from drawing on centuries of anger, if it belongs to you to draw from?"

These are the kinds of questions that sound as though she's meant to kind of take them away with her, but there's still a direct quality to them that indicates that Gabriel is, too, interested in the answer. And how she answers.

"Because it doesn't feel like they're mine, but that I'm theirs. It doesn't feel like me." Nathalie furrows her brow as she answers, no longer sure if this is a conversation or a test. "It's getting me what I want, but it's costing me myself. That's not a deal I'm okay with."

She stands up, nervous energy making her feel the need to move. "I saw what I become if I don't control them. Or myself. A lonely demon, angry and regretful all at once. It didn't feel like me. And I know where that leads. I could last forever, if I wanted to, and rule over a graveyard."

Gabriel watches her stand up, that borderline insufferable aloofness keeping his focus fixed, until it— dims, in a way. A subtle shift around the eyes, the edges of his mouth, micro muscles that only other humans can possibly be attuned to notice and interpretation, which is all a way of saying that maybe Berlin might think she has struck some kind of chord.

He doesn't know what memories of his that she's seen. He wonders, briefly.

"That's the rub, isn't it," he says, after a while. "Where the ability ends, where you begin. It's nice and neat to think that it's just the ghost of centuries' past preying on you, sapping you of your own identity by flooding you with its anger, its ambition. But it gets complicated, doesn't it. The human brain tricks itself. Plays fun pranks, like suicidal ideation, self-destructiveness, intrusive thought, self-loathing. No one fully knows themselves. Ever. You don't need parasitic superpowers to join the ranks of lonely demons, out of control, empty."

Cheery pep talk, he knows. Eyes refocus, a little, considering her face, the emotions he can read there. "Sounds like you need to figure out what Berlin wants and how badly. In the meantime, you're gonna have to face the fact that controlling these things is the only way to ensure you're not being controlled by it."

"I'm sure it's less complicated than I want it to be. But it seems to me that we enable each other. I'd rather not fall into that particular trap. Again." Her palms rub together as she takes a few steps away, then back again. "And I don't want to dump all the responsibility on them when it's really mine."

There's enough regret in her expression to imply that she believes it is.

She comes over, sliding into the pew in front of his, hands gripping the back. "But how do I do that? I can bury them, I can use them, but how do I control any of it?"

Gabriel shifts enough to track here, now slouching where he sits as she positions herself in front of him. At this distance, she can see the effects of the brush of her ability, eyes slightly reddened, skin taking on a sickly pallor, emphasised with the dark grain of hair grown in along the slope of his jaw. She can hear his breathing.

"Do you know why I was able to control it the way I did?"

Berlin looks over her work, but it's hard to say what she thinks about it. She doesn't look pleased, at least.

"Why?" she asks, rather than guessing at the reason. She has hope that maybe his answer will be something she can learn from. Her hand comes out toward him a beat later. "Do you want me to fix that?" she asks, fingers gesturing him closer to her offered hand. But she does leave it up to him.

Gabriel can see that hope, and it's unclear if he has anything she can use. Maybe that's why he doesn't answer her, and instead looks at the offered hand. He's had several run ins with this ability, knows the length of time of recovery, had been very prepared to simply hide it behind his layers of mask until such a time as his strength is regained— but there is a flicker of curiousity, there.

How these two unique abilities mingle together is interesting in a way that could get quickly dangerous for them both, but he's had long practice at restraint.

He shifts closer as beckoned, by way of answer.

If Berlin is aware of the danger she's in, it doesn't show. But if she harbors an invincibility complex, perhaps he can understand why. When he moves, her hand touches his arm and he can feel the damage start to mend. It's quick, like a rush of cool air running through him, and then he's better. As if it never happened.

When she pulls her hand back again, she rests more gently on the back of the pew. "Are you going to tell me you controlled it because you're mosaic? All this practice with all sorts of abilities?"

Gabriel eases out a deeper breath as strange damage is restored from, settling back against the pew. Glancing down at his arm, as if expecting to see withered skin, but is not surprised when he does not. He lets his attention idle there as she asks her questions, beating him to the chase, and his eyebrows raise at her word usage. Mosaic.

How pretty.

"Not exactly," he says, letting that arm drop. "I started out with just the one, you know. It has a way of taking things apart, understanding that thing completely, hardwiring that information into who I am. When I gain an ability, there aren't any growing pains. No mistakes. Perfect control. For a while, when I had Kazimir's power," he still thinks of it that, way, even now, "I wasn't in touch with that aspect of me. So it did what it wanted. And then one day, I had it back. And it was mine."

Until it wasn't.

Folding her arms lazily across one another, Berlin listens, her head tilted in interest. She knows better than to think his ability makes him lucky, as she can only imagine the swirl of abilities something like the memories and personalities swimming around in her mind. Crowded and oppressive.

"I know enough to be able to push them back. But if I want to use them, the memories seem to come along with it. I spoke to someone— someone who had one of them before us. I gathered that being that open to them means I will probably get lost among them. Is there a way to tap into them without losing myself? I don't want them to do what they want, I want them to do what I want." That isn't quite the way she would word it to most people. Those sort of things bring out haunted, worried expressions. The ghost of Kazimir lingers along the conduit for a lot of people. But she suspects he'll understand. Or, at least, he won't be afraid of her.

"There's always another way."

Gabriel could be a bitch about it. What's so great about yourself is on the tip of his tongue, but he has too much intimate experience with a multitude of abilities attempting to claim real estate on his sense of identity than to be glib in a way that indicates he doesn't.

"It's like love," he suggests, instead. "How do you love someone the right amount, before it overwhelms you, turns your mind against itself, destabilises everything when it turns out it can't stay." Everything in moderation. "My ability comes at a cost. Maybe it's before your time, but, I got kind of famous for chopping people's heads in half so I could understand their power enough to take it as my own. I was only able to do that because something about the learning made me not care about the murder."

He raises an eyebrow. Is it before her time? She strikes him as very cavalier. But then again, she's obviously made her own messes. "For a while, I thought that was a part of me. The murder. The desire to do it, the fact I didn't care. It went on for so long that I'm not sure I ever weeded it out of me completely. The fucked up thing being that there was another way — that I could learn, without hurting anyone."

By now, his voice is actually a little raw. He never talks this long, anymore — but there was a time when Gabriel sure did love the sound of his own voice. Maybe he's been in his own company for too long. He seems to part with this information as if it is distinctly unsacred, despite how personal it must also be.

"You seem like you have a handle on its mechanics," he says, focus sharpening. "So you govern the urge. Practice makes perfect, you know. You don't need me to tell you that."

While he explains his past, there isn't anything like surprise on Berlin's face, or fear. She was more noticeably afraid of the wolf. Whether that means she already knew or is just very good at hiding when she wants to be— that's up to him to guess. What is noticeable this time is when her expression takes on a more sympathetic cast. That's not normally her reaction to confessions of murder, but she doesn't have memories of everyone swimming around in her mind. And she doesn't often hear them talk about wanting to change.

His advice— govern the urge— makes her sit back a bit as she rolls it over in her mind. She's been so focused on trying to find the line between them and her and trying to figure out which is the danger between the three of them— the black, the white, and herself— that she hasn't been able to sift out the complications.

"Whether it comes from me or from them," she eventually says, her tone halfway between statement and question, "it's mine to manage. The urge." And just like that, it's not an existential question of her true nature and more a practical matter of self control. Like not eating the extra slice of cake or making herself go to her workout when she would rather nap. Willpower can be learned, she knows that much. But, there's something else she knows, too. Or, at least, something she's pretty sure of.

"It isn't like love, though," she says, "some things are worth losing yourself in, even if they can't stay."

It's tempting to counter this last part, but Gabriel swallows the urge. Allows the claim to stand as is, because maybe, but also, it's not what they're here to discuss and it's nothing he needs to think about anymore, anyway. His silence in the immediate moment is illustrative, heavy, eyeline dropping to the back of the pew where she sits.

He remembers talking philosophy with Kazimir Volken, and how it had all been an elaborate manipulation. He wonders if she remembers that too, and then folds his arms across himself like he's cold.

"Crazy thing is," he says, "it was Volken that got me on the path towards thinking I could overcome it. Those urges. And he never meant a word of it."

He looks away and Berlin's expression turns more sympathetic. There's a glance outward— she knows who's here and has a guess why he's here, although she might give it a more romantic spin than he might like. But she doesn't push it. Especially when he mentions his time with Volken.

"Sum quod eris," she says— quotes, really— "he was cruel to you." She knows that Volken had a change of heart along the way; she knows that some people think it counts for a lot. In her mind, though, she has decades of him to reflect on. She's not sure the change at the end makes up for everything else. It's up for debate.

The Latin— that Latin— pierces through whatever invisible defenses keep someone like Gabriel Gray functioning, the intrusion of a decade-long memory that has him sharpen his focus on her. Although he barely moves a muscle save for that eye twitch upwards, there is an implicit warning written into new tension, the same subtlety of which predators communicate with one another in the wild.

Silently, he warns: do not.

Even if he started it.

And then he relaxes, a little, with the next long breath out. "Try not to disappoint yourself," he says. "You'll be the last one who suffers about it." He's done here, he thinks. The pew shudders a little under his weight as he climbs to his feet — just an errant bit of weakness from the damage she inflicted and took away, but that's all. He wants to say something else, some threat for her to keep her mouth shut about him being here, about what happens to supervillains who can't control themselves—

But Gabriel is hardly in control of his own fate, these days. Dictating the terms of someone else's sounds like wishful thinking.

The tension, the warning, makes Berlin straighten up in her seat. She doesn't move for a long moment, not until he moves and it turns out not to in her direction. The apology isn't spoken, but it creeps into her face all the same. Especially since his words are genuine advice— or at least, she takes them that way. She leans forward against the pew again, nodding to prove that she hears him.

"Thank you," she says eventually, quiet but sincere. She's aware of the fact that he had no reason to help her, and she isn't likely to forget he did anyway.

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