Rating: PG-13 (shock shock!)
Author’s note: Written for the lukexsylar challenge 4, based on this picture. Beta'd by the tireless jaune_chat and the eagle-eyed redandglenda
Summary: At Ellis Island in the early twentieth century, Gabriel Gray finds a newly detained immigrant strangely fascinating.
You watch the day’s first batch of immigrants walk up from the pier. Through the little barred window, you can’t see too many details. Still, you make a game of guessing the nationality of the newcomers streaming into the building. That woman is Irish, that man Italian. One of the crowd—a young man, little more than a boy, with a round face-- looks up and catches your eye at the window. Then he is gone, herded into the building with the rest.
You know all the ways to sneak around the compound. When the nurse steps out for a smoke, you jimmy the lock to your room and slip down the corridor. There’s a balcony above the grand hall, and that’s where you stand, lingering in the shadows while the island’s great machine of bureaucracy grinds into motion.
You scan the crowd for several minutes until you see him: the boy who caught your eye. He’s on his way up the stairs to where the doctors stand. He’s not as young as you first thought. There’s a woman—his mother, most likely—with her hand around his arm. They’re separated at the top of the stairs, and that’s the last you see of her.
The boy stands in front of one of the doctors, a high judge in a lab coat. You can’t hear at this distance, but you see the doctor recoil in disgust when the boy coughs on him. The doctor takes a stick of chalk from his pocket and draws a letter on the breast of the boy’s coat. You have to wait until the boy turns around to see it, but when you squint, you can see the P written there. Physical defect. Perfect. You creep back to your room before the nurse returns.
In the two months you’ve been here, your English has improved vastly. Words you like, such as clever and independent and freedom. Words you don’t like: nut job, solitary, deranged. The nurses don’t say much to you anymore, and the doctors are worse. They’re trying to get rid of you: you’ve heard them talking about it. Germany’s refusing to take you back, and they can’t let you into the country like this. You fit in nowhere, belong to no one. You’re a monster.
You wake in the morning to pale light streaming through your little window. Your cell has all the niceties. On your first day, the nurse had explained that the big sink was for washing and the small one for spitting. For sanitary reasons. As if you were the kind who spit. She didn’t see you for who you were. She only saw the X circled on your jacket in chalk: mental defect.
Your little mirror shows a patch of sky and the back of the great statue. Lady Liberty. You’re glad that you can’t see her face. She’s a liar. She hasn’t welcomed you. But you’ll show her. You’ll get out of this cage soon and run free on the streets of New York City. There’s opportunity on that shore for a man of your talents. And you’ll get there if you have to kill everyone on this island to do it.
You see the boy again in the courtyard. They’ve taken you out for a walk, and across the way they’re leading patients out of the tuberculosis ward. The boy sees you looking and nods, although he couldn’t possibly recognize you. As the other TB patients circle the yard for exercise, he drifts over to you. You stand looking at each other.
“Speak English?” you ask.
“A little,” he says. He pats his hand against his heart. “Luke.”
“Gabriel,” you say. You sit down on a bench along the side of the courtyard path, and he sits next to you.
He’s at breakfast the next morning. He sits down next to you without asking permission, or saying anything at all. As if he belongs at your side. No one has ever sat next to you before.
You can’t take your eyes off of him as he devours his plate of pork and beans. He eats like a starving thing, though he hardly looks starved. Baby fat clings to his cheeks and his hips. When he’s done with his meal and seems ready to lick the plate, you push your own plate in front of him.
He looks up at you, almost suspicious, like a dog more used to kicks than kindness, but he takes the plate. When he’s finished, he leans back with a contented sigh and rests a hand on his plump belly. He smiles at you. You did that. You made him happy.
You snatch up your empty plate and walk away.
There’s a commotion in the TB ward the next day. You can hear shouting across the courtyard, but it’s not a good time to sneak out. You don’t want the nurses to know you can get out of your cage. Let them think you’re no better than the degenerates and crazies locked up along this hall. You know you’re different: special.
Out your window you watch the ward nurses hurry about like flustered chickens, and you think of the boy. Luke. He’s in your thoughts often these past few days, though you’ve no idea why. A few hours later, a guard comes to share the latest intelligence with the psych ward nurses. You press your ear to the door.
“The x-ray machine near blew up. Darndest thing you ever saw. They had just put this kid in it, one of those Latvians, I think. Well, the kid was making a fuss, and Betty was talking to him, trying to calm him down, and then the machine started to smoke, like it was on fire or something. Nobody could figure how it happened. They’re gonna send someone out from the company to try and fix it up.”
You creep away from the door. You know it had to be Luke. It just fits. There’s something about him that’s different.
Once the moon rises, you take out your father’s pocket watch. It still runs perfectly; you wind it every night. At half past eleven, the nurse goes off duty. There’s a guard, of course, but his rounds won’t bring him to this part of the ward until after midnight. You wait until you’re certain the nurse has left before you sneak out of your room. The window behind the nurse’s desk has no bars, so you open it up and climb onto the roof. If you close it most of the way behind you, the guard won’t notice. He never does.
On the roof, the moonlight is very bright. You softly tread the length of the building until you’re close enough to jump to the next roof. And so on, until you’re above the TB ward. Their windows aren’t barred because presumably their problems are purely physical. They’re not a danger to themselves and others the way you are.
By hanging off the roof, you’re able to pull open the window of the dormitory. You slide down to the windowsill and lean into the room.
“Hissst,” you whisper. “Luke.”
Several pairs of eyes stare out at you. In the seeping darkness it’s difficult to make out faces, until one moves. Luke.
He comes right up to the window, and he takes your hand when you offer it. Before anyone else in the room can raise a fuss, you’re up on the roof, both of you together.
You take him to the far end of the building, where you sit with your legs dangling off the edge of the roof, looking up at the back of the statue. The water laps at the edge of the island. It’s peaceful.
“Did anyone tell you about the statue?” you ask.
Luke shakes his head.
“It’s a symbol. It’s supposed to welcome all of us to our glorious new lives." You pry a loose tile off the roof and chuck it vaguely in the direction of the statue. It falls into the water with a soft plop. "Some welcome.”
Luck chuckles under his breath.
You’re not sure how good his English is, but even so, it’s nice to have someone to talk to. And Luke listens with rapt attention, like a pupil at his master’s knee.
You look back out at the statue. “I came here because I knew I was meant for something special. Something greater than dying a watchmaker and son of a watchmaker. Instead, I’m rotting here.”
You point to the shore, to the city, dimly outlined in the fog. “It’s there, Luke. So close I can taste it. It should be ours.” You check yourself, because “ours” isn’t quite right. It’s “yours,” has always been, in your plots and plans: your right. Your destiny. But now there’s Luke, and it all seems different, somehow. Even the city looks closer tonight.
Luke is looking at you instead of at the shore.
“Doesn’t it bother you?” you ask. His lack of response is starting to wear on you. “Don’t you care? Do you want to stay here forever?”
Luke shrugs. “You’re here,” he says
While you’re staring, he leans closer to you. Closer, closer, until his lips brush against yours. You stay that way for a minute, locked in a chaste kiss, your mind spun to a halt.
Then Luke slips a little, and your arm goes to his waist to stop him falling off the roof. The spell is broken. You pull away.
“Let’s get you back before the guard comes around.”
No one stays on the island forever, of course. They’re either sent back across the water or allowed into the country. But you can’t wait any longer for others to decide your fate. You’re out of patience, and you’ve been getting more restless every day since… Since Luke.
New arrivals come in every morning, and by nightfall most of them have been ferried to Manhattan. All you have to do is make it to the ferry. You need a plan.
You don’t sit down for breakfast. Instead, you stand by the window in the mess hall watching immigrants who’ve passed the officials’ tests come streaming out of the grand hall and down to the ferry.
Luke skips the breakfast line and comes to stand next to you, although he must be hungry. He’s always hungry.
“Shoo,” you mutter, and push him gently.
He doesn’t budge.
“Go on,” you say. “Don’t you have anything better to do?”
He shakes his head no.
This bathroom is empty, at least for now. And Luke’s a quiet boy. Nobody in his ward has missed him yet, and no one will miss you until they go to take you out for an afternoon walk. He sits on the windowsill and watches you twirl between you fingers the sharp piece of metal you pried off the roof of your building. He reaches out to touch it, but you snatch it away.
“It’s sharp,” you warn.
“I know,” he says seriously.
You can’t stand the way he’s looking at you. Like he wants you to say something more. Instead, you go to the door. “It’s time.”
You step out into the hallway, casually, as if you belong there, and stroll down a ways to the edge of the great hall. The place is buzzing with activity as people of a dozen or more nationalities and languages register with the clerks, or wait, or try to corral their children.
You catch the eye of a man who’s sitting with his son, a teenager about Luke’s size, on a wooden bench near the wall. You beckon to him. He looks around, trying to see if it’s him that you mean. Then he stands up. He brings his son with him. Perfect.
This is the most dangerous part of your plan. If someone should see you… But no one pays the three of you any mind. You could easily be one of the scavengers who frequent the hall to sell food or other necessities to people like this man and his son. No one will stop you.
You lead them down the hall, and usher them into the bathroom where Luke is waiting. The son gives a startled shout. Quickly, you jump into the room and pull the door closed behind you.
Luke is grappling with the boy, and the father is trying to break them up. You pull the man back by his shoulder, and he throws a punch at your face. You dodge, and shove him further into the room.
Your blood is up now. You feel better than you’ve felt since you came to this stinking island. You feel mighty.
You hand delves into your pocket for the piece of metal. It fits into your grip like an old friend. When the man lunges at you, the force of his momentum drives the shard into his belly. He staggers back, away from you, and slumps to the floor, moaning softly.
Luke is standing frozen by the window. The boy he was fighting is on the ground with a gash on his head from where it slammed into the sink.
“Good boy,” you tell Luke.
The look he gives you in return is half terror, half glee.
“Get his coat,” you say.
You go to the father and start stripping off his jacket before it can be stained with blood. The man struggles feebly, but you ignore him. He’s in the last moments of his life, and he’s no threat to you. You stand up to pull on the man’s jacket. It’s a near enough fit. More importantly, there’s a card pinned to the breast with a passenger number from the man’s ship, and his name: Zane Taylor. This should do nicely.
Luke is crouched by the unmoving boy. It’s hard to say what he’s thinking. It occurs to you he might think he killed the lad. “He’s not dead,” you snap.
It may be your imagination, but Luke seems disappointed.
You help him pull off the boy’s jacket and try it on. Now you both have new names, new identities, and a chance at getting on that ferry.
“Ready?” you ask.
Luke gives you a feral grin, then darts in for a kiss.
For a moment, you allow it. You let him kiss you. He tastes clean and eager. Then you push him away. He makes a displeased noise in the back of his throat.
Not now. Not until you’re free. Then you can let yourself have him. For now, you must stay focused on your goal.
Luke is behind you on the way up the stairs in the great hall. The doctors are all that bar the way to the ferry. They stand along a painted white line, passing hopefuls through or sending them with the guards to be detained. One more trial, then liberty.
You step up when a doctor beckons you. “Where do you come from?” he asks.
“Austria,” you reply. You doubt this man could tell one foreign accent from another, but it’s better to be safe.
He looks in your mouth, then your ears, then asks you to take a deep breath.
That’s when you hear coughing behind you. The doctor’s eyes snap to Luke, who’s clapped a hand over his mouth.
The doctor taps you on the shoulder. “Move along,” he says.
You step past the white line, and turn back. Luke’s staring back at you, terrified. “Gabriel?” he says querulously.
You should do something. Go back. Pretend to be his father, plead with the doctor to let him through. There’s a dead man’s money in your coat pocket. You could bribe the doctor. But you don’t have to. There’s no reason you should. It's not your real goal.
The doctor takes a piece of chalk out of his pocket and marks a P on Luke’s borrowed coat, then whistles for a guard.
Others around you are streaming toward the ferry. No one is paying the boy any mind. His mother left him here. He has no friends. Only you. But you have a destiny, and a city to go to, and a future. You have your plans.
“No!” Luke yells when the guard grabs his arm. “No no no!” But he doesn’t scream your name. He doesn’t shout after you or point. He does nothing to incriminate you. He only struggles to get free.
You look down at the white line: you're on the side of liberty. Your purpose, your goal is within your reach. You look back at Luke, who's reaching out for you, crying out wordlessly now.
You turn around and walk away, letting Luke's screams fade into the noise of the crowd.
The ferry glides smoothly across the harbor. It’s a much gentler ride than the ship that brought you across the ocean.
You watch the skyline of Manhattan loom closer. You’re almost at your goal. This is all you’ve thought about for months, ever since you purchased your ticket on a ship bound for America.
You turn your back on that view and push your way to the other end of the ferry. You can make out the outlines of the buildings on Ellis Island, and beyond that the statue, getting smaller every second.
You get the sinking, sickening feeling that freedom has slipped through your fingers.