Wo Ai Ni


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Also featuring:

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Scene Title Wo Ai Ni
Synopsis Eileen's issues with abandonment and her feelings of guilt over Gabriel's death are exacerbated by a visit from the Nightmare Man.
Date February 10, 2010

Dreamscape: Old Dispensary

There's a terrible sound, nagging Eileen awake. Cats yowling, the protesting cry of wood being splintered under pressure, or the higher octave of screams that bled from Kazimir Volken's dying shadow on the bridge. A hell sound, piercing torment manifest in a noise no human could achieve. She won't remember climbing out of bed, possibly still too asleep to function, only drawn in, drawn out by that god forsaken racket. Underneath her bare feet, the floorboards creak as if to join in, cold to touch, the chilly air prickling at her bared shins.

She didn't fall asleep in the Old Dispensary, and her apartment in Fort Greene is certainly warmer. But it's where she's woken up, and stands in the doorway of her bedroom, head turned towards the noise.

The shadows stretch long, making up for in concealment and confusion in their jagged edges that they lack in true geography and sense. Nighttime has drained this place of its colour, touches of blue and grey in ghostly light. A cockroach, a black little leaf shape, makes a skittery arc over one exposed wall, onto the ceiling, spiraling around the dead eye lightbulb set into the plaster before it disappears in the crack of the trapdoor that makes up the way leading up into the attic.

That's where it's coming from.

Her nightgown is a lucent thing, all white gauze, semiopaque and surrounded by an anemic silver glow created by the moonlight refracted by the Dispensary's ageless windows. As she moves toward the trapdoor, it ripples across the exposed skin of her legs and arms, milk pale and indistinguishable from the material of her clothes except for the rosy edges that define marred clumps of scar tissue with texture like sea glass or mermaid's tears tumbled, frosted and smoothed by ocean water and fine granules of sand.

Eileen's breath leaves her mouth as a haze that does not disseminate into the air as quickly as it should. It lingers there, filmy vapour, and parts only when she passes through it and dissolves the cloud into tendrils with a touch. Small hands with a network of dark blue veins beneath the tissue paper surface of her skin close around the rope attached to the door and pull it down, filling the hall with a low creaking sound that produces a shuddering echo. She's climbing next, bare feet on wood, clenched fingers clutching at the rickety rail for support.

The ladder groans under the woman's weight but offers no more protest than that — she's done this so many times before that she and the steps have become well acquainted with one another and know what to expect.

The howl continues, closer now, the pitch of a wolf's cry closer than the lonely hunter expects. Eileen's feet, porcelain delicate but well-traveled, pick up the stairs, and each step up brings the sound together. If a pulled thread made to unravel a knitted scarf could be reversed, that's what this sounds like — order beneath the chaos as the liquid screeches wind together, finding themselves, creating a sensical tapestry until it starts sounding like music to Eileen's ears.

That would be because it is. Someone's playing the violin.

Peek up over the edge of the attic stairs, and the room is familiar, the constructed bed off towards the fair end visible and empty, the window showing off only a nighttime slice of Staten Island, with fogging up the glass. There's a table, however, one she recognises if without recollection as to whether it should be there, a kitchen table with a scattering of bits and pieces. A bottle of gin. A lonely glass.

A figure stands beside it, a skirt down to the knees and a drag grey sweater draped on her willowy torso, drowning her. Dark hair spills down her back, clean but in need of a comb to pull apart brambling knots, and she sways a little to the music she plays, the sound filling the room and coming together, if screeching at times when the bow falls harsh against the strings.

The shadows in the room are thick, broken apart, and seem to shift and darken in time to them. The woman turns, and Sophia Ruskin only raises her dark eyebrows in greeting to her daughter, a Mona Lisa smile on her pale, drawn face, before her eyes shut again in concentration.

From the yawning cavity in the floor, the attic's great expanse seems even larger and more hollow than it really is. Eileen doesn't have to be small enough to ride on her mother's hip to feel that way, especially not when she's looking up at Sophia, palms laid flat on wooden slats, chin tipped up and eyes shyly searching her mother's face with the kind of quiet bewilderment that hasn't been seen in her expression since she was six years old and still struggling to comprehend the words Daddy isn't coming back.

High ceilings amplify the volume of the music and create acoustics unique to the room. Every scrape, scratch, chirr and creak is distinctly audible as she pulls herself up into the attic on all fours and settles at the trapdoor's edge with knees bent, her figure hunched and meager-looking. Dark hair the same shade as Sophia's glistens in the moonlight, each strand coated with colourless phosphorescence to give it the appearance of lit gossamer.



The bow drags senselessly against the strings as she pulls it from the instrument, dark eyes open again as Sophia lowers both parts, the bow hanging past the hem of her skirt and the violin clutched around the neck like a dead chicken, gleaming brown wood. "You're back now, are you?" Strung wood comes to rest on the table, put down with numb fingers, care without coordination before her hands come up to push her hair from her face, tucking the ends into the back of her sweater collar to catch and gather beneath it, lazily taming the wild tendrils of near-black, sniffing once.

"All little girls become their mother," she says, casting a look back at Eileen as if uncertain as to how to talk to her, a flicker of a smile attempted before it drains away again, too easily. "That wouldn't be so bad, would it now? It wouldn't be so bad. Come here, 'Leenie."

The way that emotions mix together to form more complex states of being is not unlike the manner in which a painter manipulates a colour wheel or blends acrylics. Blue and red make purple. Submission is composed of trust and fear. White lightens red to pink. Sadness tempers discuss and transforms it into remorse. Eileen's first instinct is to feel contempt for the woman beckoning her closer, but any anger she might be experiencing at the sight of her own features mirrored in a face much older and wan finds itself undermined by a very human desire that most people share.

Her father abandoned her physically. Her mother in spirit soon thereafter. And while their actions may have left her with a deep resentment for them both, there is nothing more she wants from either of them except their love.

They're her parents — they're the ones who are supposed to give it unconditionally. Not Ethan. Not Kazimir. Not the man whose attic this used to be.

The possibility of obtaining Sophia's acceptance makes her whole body ache. And yet—

"No," she says, and the word turns to ash in her mouth. "I'm not like you."

Hands like chiseled bone cup the air, as if there were a substance to draw from it, fingers with creaking tendons curling in. "Oh, my girl," Sophia sighs, heavy lidded eyed showing only glimmering crescents of moisture, although she doesn't cry as much when she's like this as when she's like that. "You can't love anything until you love yourself. You can't protect anything. That was me. What makes you so different?" There's a small hand gripping onto the wool of Sophia's skirt, stick legs with wee leather boots set against the wooden floor. When Bai-Chan peeks around at Eileen, his eyes are like chips of black glass, blinking.

Sophia sets her pale hand down on his glossy black-haired head. "You think you left when you walked out the door," Sophia says, her voice a whisper, weak-willed, but insidious. "And you did. But you didn't leave me behind, girl. You just took a piece with you." And white fingers begin to clench into the silky mane of sleek black hair on the little boy's head, eyes flashing with sudden fear.

There are things that Eileen does not handle well. Grief, anger, fear — all unflattering and graceless, obnoxious and abhorrent. When she loses control over her emotions, it is not the sort of display that is celebrated or admired by anyone. That piece of Sophia has gradually metastasized over the years into an malignant growth too large and embedded to excise without sacrificing her better parts as well. Julian Kuhr's ability only aggravated the condition, much as she would like to believe otherwise.

She reaches out with both arms for the boy without rising from her knees, palms open and the tips of her fingers curled faintly inward as she gestures for him to come, pleading with her eyes first and then her voice, its tone hushed but coarse.

"Bai-Chan," because that is his name, and she knows it as well now as she does his face and the feel of the floorboards under her feet. "Wo ai ni."

It only takes that much. The boy gives a soft keening sound before he takes off at a scamper, Sophia's hand closing only on air and eyes snapping wider as she watches Bai-Chan's lithe little frame, all limbs, go loping. He's small but solid, the impact of his embrace not quite enough to knock Eileen back, but there's a dubious flash of imbalance like he might before it rights itself. Too big to be held on Eileen's hip, but clinging a hug around her neck is acceptable, his own ducked into his arms.

Trust is simple, and Bai-Chan has handed it over, freely. Sophia's face goes mask-like and severe, mouth pinched and hands forming knots at the ends of her arms. "Fine," she says, her voice coming haggard as she grips onto the neck of the violin, raising it aloft. "Fine." The natural progression occurs — she brings it down and cracks it against the side of the kitchen table, wood splintering and strings going loose.

At once, the shadows in the room that had vibrated like a content cat to the rhythm of the music surge from their corners. It swarms the room, a mix of ink through water and ashy explosions that blacken the air, coming to tornado around Sophia, the woman only raising her hands in protest before the rotten desiccation begins. Her pale skin goes grey, flaking off her flesh, biting through muscle and tendon until she's fallen as bones that break soft against the ground in the crumpled remains of dusty clothing, pieces of hair blowing away.

An outstretched hand— or the remains thereof, white bone with leathery strips of flesh clinging attached— lies upon the ground, and splinters underfoot as a boot casually steps down upon the brittle material, the other coming to rest beside it among ash and pieces of violin. The last of the shadows soak in under Gabriel's clothing, upon his skin, colour out his eyes which turn to her, and the boy huddled in her arms.

The hand at the back of Bai-Chan's head tightens its grip, steers his face into the side of her neck so she can hook her chin behind his ear and shield his eyes from what's happening. She has the urge to squeeze hers shut too but somehow lacks the ability, unable to look away as her mother undergoes flash desiccation and shrivels up like a Peruvian mummy with parchment skin tossed into a fire. Crackling flesh is a sound she'll never forget — like her relationship with the attic stairs, she has witnessed the effects of Kazimir Volken's terrible ability too many times to block it from her memory.

Flakes of residue gather in her hair like sooty snow and black cinders. Where they blow across her arms and face, they contrast with the pallid cast of her skin but compliment its sickly fey hue. Tears combine with the finest particles of Sophia's remains and leave tracks of Eileen's cheeks that can be traced back to her eyes, which she lifts to Gabriel's face.

They are filled with want as much as they are fear.

In contrast, Gabriel is clean, as if stepping into this world from somewhere entirely different, free of dirt, ash, mud. Although now the fine dust that was Sophia Ruskin mushrooms up at each shift in the air, plasters cloudy grey streaks against the black fabric of his clothing. The ends of his coat drag in it when his knees bend into a crouch, the flat of his hand against the floor as he regards her, his expression impassive. Brown eyes tick downward, veiling eyelashes betraying nothing as he studies where a snag of long brown hair is caught against a rough patch of flooring.

When they look up again, there's only focus. Want, too, the fearless kind. "Give him to me," he invites, voice low in its natural gravel. "Give him to me before you hurt him."

Eileen's fingers wind through Bai-Chan's hair much as Sophia's had done, only fiercer and more possessive. Nails press into and bite at his scalp, and her jaw curves hard against the boy's frail neck — even though she doesn't mean to, she's hurting him now. As Gabriel lowers himself to her level, her gaze tracks his movement, unwavering. Blink and he might be gone. It had almost happened that fast at Amundsen-Scott.

"No." Denying him feels wrong, but so does continuing to hold your breath after a minute of being submerged in water. The right choices are not always the ones that come naturally. Her instinct is to want to hold him, too — bury her face in his neck, experience the press of his body against hers one last time and bask in the heat radiated by his breath.

"I won't," she insists, hoarse. "He's almost a baby."

Gabriel's head lists at a cant, bird-like, although for all that he might share a bird of prey's attributes, there's nothing Eileen can glean from him, her senses dead to him. Never mind a connection made through her power — a sense of awareness that binds all humans is gone, too, an unpredictable entity before her. His voice is still familiar, when he speaks. "A baby who's going to grow up," he says. Bai-Chan's breathing curls against her throat, and though he doesn't move from the embrace he'd clung around her, his limbs have gone rigid with rabbit-fright, whether from the sound of Gabriel's voice or the way Eileen grips his hair.

"He's going to grow up into a world where all futures mean death. A flood, a virus, an entire realm of possibility destroyed on a whim. And when he grows up and looks at you with eyes that know better, he's going to walk out like you did, and find exactly the same dead ends that you ran into. Can you do that?" Gabriel's brow crinkles, his mouth turned into a sneer of disdain, disbelief. "Can you really bring yourself to do that to him?"

A hand reaches out, but it's only a gesture. His voice firms, finds steel. "Give him to me. Give him to me or I will take him from you." Two seconds of a pause, enough for a heart to beat and icy air breathed in, dust whirls in the air, and then his voice finds a desperate volume, "Give him to me!" and cracks through the room like a bull whip.

Eileen flinches. It's impossible not to — she'd do the same if a gun discharged a few feet from her head. Her heart is fluttering wildly in her chest like a bird throwing itself at a window and beating its wings against the pane in an attempt to escape. Gabriel has only raised a hand against her once that she can remember, but the threat is enough to make tension palpable.

"It's nothing!" Now it's Eileen's turn to raise her voice, strident and thick. The size and dimensions of the room cause it to reverberate in the rafters, lending the woman a booming quality of her own that would be substantially less impressive almost anywhere else. "You don't need what he can do!" The arms encircling the boy's slight frame close further around him in a protective knot, eliminating what space remains between his body and hers at the risk of smothering him.

"If you want an ability, take mine."

The bottle of gin on the table suddenly tips, falls on its side, and as the clear liquid gutters out its slender neck, the thing rolls across the table, bounces at a strike against the floor, the force of its impact skittering up towards the bed. Gabriel watches it like a cat watches a mouse.

"Baby girl." Familiar voice, now, for as much as she hadn't heard it in so long. Sophia is curled up on the bed, her back against the wall, and shadows fall across her like veils. The darkness makes her skin look grey and weathered, makes it look like there's nothing where inky black fills her eyesockets. Harder still to tell is whether such impressions are true — she slumps like an invalid, her voice at a rasp, her lips gone chalk-white. "My girl. What's he going to take when he's done with you, 'Leenie?"

Her hand reaches out to grasp the sheets, pull herself closer, but she only collapses all the more against the mattress, dust blowing off her as if she were caked with it. Or ash. "Destroying yourself doesn't protect anyone." She gives a rasping chuckle, ash taking flight in the air from her mouth. "You— you fucking know that. Nick never did."

"Yeah, real noble." Gabriel's eyes flash as he gets to his feet, a hand held out as if his finger were on the trigger for whatever power might come next. "It's not about what I need. It's about what I want. I can't help myself." There's no show of regret, no twist of torment, his delivery neutral and factly. He takes a step forward.

Eileen's eyes dart between Gabriel, the fallen bottle at the bed and the corpse masquerading as her mother in as much time as it takes her to inhale a sharp, hitching breath. As he steps forward, she swings around to put herself between him and Bai-Chain, wrenching the boy off of her with hands that clasp and fingers that tear. She handles him roughly but with great determination, urging him toward the gap in the floor that leads out of the attic, down the ladder and into the darkened corridor below. It's the only place he'll be safe, and only if she manages to pull the trap shut behind him in time.

"Go," she snarls, upper lip curling around teeth that flash like a cat's fangs in the piebald lighting. "Run!"

It's what she should be doing as well, but both her legs and Wu-Long's son's are very short in comparison to Gabriel's. She isn't going to elude him that way even if she can outmaneuver him first.

She's not sure that she can.

Bai-Chan's eyes swim wide at her before he's running. It's her that frightens him, gets him to moving, but it doesn't matter, as long as he's moving. Spry as ever, coiled strength in growing limbs, he disappears down the hatch, fairly flies down it in swinging motions as his hand catches the side and a soft thump below indicates a sound landing. It's barely heard under the sudden crack of wood against wood when, as if by magic, the hatch door slams up to shut, the light from the hallway cut off and a silver catch locking into black.

Like a dash of water, thick shadow breaks against her turned back and spills around her, blinding darkness until it congeals into solidity before her. Crouching again like a predator, Gabriel fairly snarls before a hand reaches out to grip the white material of her nightgown, the fabric pulling to choke around her throat, tight at her chest, and as he hauls them both up, the fabric rides, skitters up her thighs.

She's cut loose a moment later, flung across the room like a ragdoll only to land square in the center of the bed. Ash rises up from the impact, coats her in grey, choking swirls in the air, and Gabriel is bearing down on her, the thumps of his foot falls against the ground matching heart beats in the cave of her chest.

Something cold in her hand, hard loops of metal, the silver blades extending down from her grip and brushing against the inner of her forearm. The scissors shine at the corner of her eye even through the haze of ash that thickens in the air, turning to shadows.

The first thing Eileen does when the breath is knocked out of her is to suck it back in again, but much like trying to pull down air underwater while drowning, this proves to be a mistake. She can taste the ash in her mouth, feel the grit accumulating in her nostrils and airway as soon as she opens her mouth — all at once, the smooth muscles in her bronchi constrict with the force of a clenched fist.

All of a sudden, her chest is feeling unbearably tight and there's an invisible force compressing her lungs harder than Gabriel's could be if she doesn't do something. The sound of someone trying to breathe when they can't isn't a sound at all — the only noise Eileen makes is the rustle of linens and the squeaking of springs as she arches her back off the bed and twists her fingers around the blade mixed in with the sheets and the familiar smell of him, once comforting but now compounding her terror.

There's a desperate scrabble of bare hands and feet, naked limbs and the abrupt snap of the scissors connecting with the bed frame. She doesn't want to hurt him.

She doesn't want to die, either.

There is little natural in the way he moves, as if the inky blackness rolling off him in skeins through the air made up his joints, his muscles, lending them the same fluidity and ease as he charges towards the bed. A leap sends him soaring the rest of the way, landing over her with a straining creak from the mattress beneath and the rickety structure it balances upon. His knees on either side of her thighs, hands pinning against the ash-coated bedsheets on either side of her head.

One hand plants down high on her chest, an external pressure that has no correlation with the panicked tightness in her chest as ash tickles her nostrils, the back of her throat. Fingers slide up to her throat, black eyes above her focused on her own green-grey. She's seen this look on his face. It's just not very often it's turned on her.

Considering the way Sylar works, evolutionary imperative dictates that you're not meant to see it all that often.

His other hand raises, two fingers jutting rigid as the others curl lax into his palm. Air whisping with a juddery kind of anticipation through an open mouth, Gabriel stops looking at her eyes. The sound of splitting bone promptly fills her ears, the trickle of warmth from the wound flooding down her temples to gather and stick in her hair, to get in her eyes.

Once upon a time, he'd called her weak — weaker still for the fact that she doesn't have to be. He'd pulled her out from under a bed, then. Now he's pinning her to one. She can't breathe, which means she can't scream either — what she can do is fight back, fingers bent around the scissors. A hard twist of her wrist wrenches the blade free from the gap between the bed's mattress and frame and tears fabric as it comes away.

It isn't until the point is buried in the side of Gabriel's neck that her brain catches up to her body, and when it does she's forced to make a decision that no one who loves another person should ever have to.

It's his life or hers, and downstairs there's a very frightened little boy who needs someone who isn't going to hurt him, and while neither she nor Gabriel deserve Bai-Chan's trust, she has no intention of separating the top of his head from his body. She drives the blade in all the way up to the handle and holds it there, blood in her eyes, mouth and nose. Not all of it is hers.

Gabriel gapes like a fish, and no sound is coming out either, eyes flaring wide and white around discs of vivid brown, amber-like instead of blank, sharkish obsidian. The red is a rich scarlet, coming at an unforgiving gush around where silver penetrates the solid column of his throat. It freezes his movements as if stopping all of time, the only passage of movement allowed being the trail of red that soaks through black, smearing pale skin and running in spiraling tendrils down Eileen's arm.

Life and tension flee at the same time, Gabriel tipping sideways at a deadish slump and slide, arm folding beneath his weight as he lands against the bed. The scissor handles twitch when muscles shudder, ripple beneath stained skin. The details are sharp, from the uneven grain of stubble on his face through to the reflection of her own pallid face in a reflection of one soon to be unseeing eye.

Too real, all at once. Morning light is pressing into the attic window, and beyond that, there's no kitchen table, no ashy remains — not on the floor or in the bed. The attic room stretches out as it always has, and bedsheets tangle around both herself and the dying body of Gabriel Gray. He's stripped from the waist up as he will be when he sleeps, and his breathing sounds wet and pained around where scissor blades stick into flesh. Brown eyes swim with delirium and saline glossiness, pained confusion.

Eileen's hands leave the scissors and seek Gabriel's face, smearing blood across his chin, jaw and the dome of his brow beneath his hairline. A thin, reedy hiss escapes from her lungs, her asthma attack beginning to subside now that the danger has passed and there is no more granular ash to aggravate her condition. Harsh and ragged with an abrasive edge, her breathing joins his, its rhythm convulsive.

She's croaking his name, lips moving against his mouth as she pleads with him to do the same as she did at Amundsen-Scott. "Stay with me." Remorse causes her voice to come out discordant and strained, rough with quiet anguish in between feverish kisses fueled by grief and desperation rather than sexual desire. "Gabriel— Gabriel, stay. I need you. Please. Please."

There's no response, and after a while, there's no breathing, no bleeding, no blinking. Face drained to sheet-white paleness, Gabriel stares through Eileen, and there's no chance for him to even form words, to respond, much like the last time. There isn't peace in death, his brow still tense, his slump awkward. Flesh becomes dirt, after a long period of time, and the process begins now.

The soft sound of footsteps come from a different corner of the bed. Sophia grips the edge of the sheets, fingers fondling the fabric as she looks at her daughter through her eyelashes, mouth twitching in the beginnings of a conspiring smirk.

"You know, 'Leenie… The best kind of nightmare are the ones where it doesn't get better when you wake up."

She kisses the air, and her wrist flicks, the sheets billowing up as if setting sails, as if she were shaking the very world from the fabric of reality. Eileen is sent tumbling head first into wakefulness, where it's even colder.

It does not help that she is drenched with sweat and tears. Cotton sheets provide no protection against the frigid winter air, and neither does the nightgown plastered to her breasts, the flat of her belly, hips and thighs. At some point during the night, the cast iron radiator mounted to the wall shut off, stripping the room of all warmth except that which her body produces.

Eileen's inhaler is in the bathroom behind the mirrored cabinet, too far away. Her hands grope at the linens, their damp material clutched between her fingers as she lifts her back and shoulders off the mattress and twists her lower half around in a slow writhing motion that undulates muscle and contorts tangled limbs.

The best kind of nightmare are the ones where you wake up in somebody else's arms, soft words of reassurance curling hot in your ear. Eileen is so alone that even the neighbors can't hear her strangled weeping.

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