Ambush, Part II


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Scene Title Ambush, Part II
Synopsis Eileen and Gabriel regroup following a devastating guerrilla attack on their platoon's campsite.
Date March 3, 2011

Somewhere in Argentina

Dawn has been, until recently, the high point of the platoon's day — it's when the jungle's temperatures are at their mildest and the sky above the canopy is the most colourful, splashing the mountains in resplendent shades of gold and bronze, carnation pink and blue limned in silver. There are no clouds overhead, and yet rain still comes down in the form of a fine mist, gathering as iridescent dewdrops on the leaves and grass, illuminating spidersilk, livening the air.

This morning, however, is different. Smoke casts the camp in shadow and smothers those in the vicinity with the smells of wet charcoal and gunpowder, diesel fumes and burnt flesh. Unless you're one of the buzzards making lazy wheels through the smog, and Gabriel is not, there's very little to look forward to.

He awakens to the sound of gunshots penetrating the stillness beyond the riverbank he's washed up on, clothes soaked through minus one shoe. It's impossible to know for sure how much time has passed since he hit the water, but it can't have been more than a few hours because his skin and hair are still damp, and the mud that cakes the rest of his body has yet to crust and harden in the sun.

He's also alone.

Had Gabriel known he'd wake up covered in mud, a buzz of a headache putting pressure on the front of his skull, and the sound of gunfire making the air vibrate… he might have dressed up for the occasion. A wife beater, pants and one flip flop don't offer much in the way of protection save for dignity.

You know. Barely. Sinking fingers into soft riverside ground, Gabriel rolls onto his side, gets up with all the caution and slowness of a wounded beast. Except he's not wounded, and as he turns his eyes away from the water, he can see why.

The greenness of the verdant backdrop is destroyed in a scar of ashy death; the closer, more delicate plants withered to nothing and gone muddy in the misty rain, and a tree has fallen from where its trunk had been sucked dry of life and structure, broken like it's been broken for years. The skeleton of some small squeaky furry animal is littered amongst the dead vegetation, and the scar extends at least five feet from his body, before things start to become lush once more.

Thanks, Kazimir. You're a pal.

Getting to his feet and trying to keep the shiver out of his hands, trying to keep his legs steady beneath him, Gabriel takes a step away from the river side, gaze turned across the tranquil waters towards the sound of gunshots. Instinctively, the light bends around him to lend his body the colours of his surroundings, a wraith on the shores of the river. The second show of power, as instinctive as the need to protect himself, he searches out the minds of the birds nearby to see if, perhaps, someone else is doing the same.

What few birds there are in the trees are anxious. Most have fled for higher ground further up in the foothills above the smoke and carnage, making it difficult for Gabriel to pinpoint much of anything except for a general sense of unease spreading outward in every direction.

Eileen is here, somewhere. Alive, but perhaps not conscious. He'd know if she was dead, either taken by the river or marched off to the site of her execution, which is undoubtedly what's happening now to anyone fortunate enough to survive the initial attack on the base camp only to be swept up by Vanguard search parties in the aftermath.

They'd all been doing so well, too. Making progress. Pushing the enemy back. A few more weeks and Gabriel could have been on a plane back to the United States to collect that pardon they'd promised him, and maybe a medal or two to boot.

That doesn't seem very likely to happen now, or at least not anytime in the near future. He needs shoes first. Maybe a—

"Gabriel?" Ah.

His feet leave tracks in the muddy forest floor nearest the river. The smoother shape of sandals, the cruder, basic human print of a foot sinking into the dirt. These are telling signs for no one to see, the mostly invisible man pacing along the shore and using a telescopically accurate gaze to sweep across the river, to find the source of a familiar voice.

At the edges of even his supreme hearing, he can hear it. Sounds of life. There are others, over there, but from the direction at which her voice had come— he tries to throw out his voice in the form of a telepathic projection. It comes shiftily, uncertain, an uncomfortable echo to his voice as if his control were slipping, but ultimately it's a simple question—



A gunshot pierces through the air, ridding the trees of what birds are left and casually making Gabriel feel like someone just slammed him on either side of the head with cinderblocks, having pushed his hearing at the right time. The wrong time. The camouflage is dropped in the same instant, hands up to his ears with a twist of a snarl on his features.

On the other side of the river, not much better off than Gabriel in her bare feet and the clothes she hastily pulled on when he called her out of her tent, Eileen staggers into view. Although she doesn't have the luxury of being able to regenerate from her wounds like he does, she appears mostly unhurt, if a little disoriented and shaken, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a drowned rat.

She hasn't lost her rifle, though it's questionable whether or not the weapon still works after being submerged in the water for however long she was. Her eyes search the opposing bank, not just for signs of Gabriel's presence but for a safe way to cross the river as well — even if his voice echoing between her ears was just a hallucination induced by stress and wishful thinking, the gunfire is coming from somewhere in the trees at her back. Braving the water's current, no matter how cold or deep, is preferable to standing around out in the open and gawking at empty space like an idiot.

The instant his shape flickers into view, Eileen charges out into the shallows, paying no heed to the sharp rocks, broken sticks and whatever else might be poking out from the river's silt-heavy bottom. Water splashes her legs, surges all the way up to her thighs, but she stops before it can consume her hips or waist. As much as she wants to get to the other side, she knows better than to blindly take the plunge.

His hands lower from his ears, seeing Eileen around the same time she sees him. Reflections dance on the surface of the river, and when the sun gets to its highest point, it's going to be a mirror of eye-stinging light as the waves chop and dance minutely. Similarly, Gabriel mirrors her actions, abruptly moving through the shallow water, stumbling over the slippy rock and debris beneath the murkiness, the mud that tries to grip onto him, drag him down.

And he doesn't stop, rather abruptly putting his hands forward, and diving as the water becomes deep enough.

It's not feet that flicks up to splash his way across, no flailing of arms or gasping for air. No, it's as if he's disappeared completely, the water rippling from where he'd vanished, and maybe Eileen's eyes were playing tricks on her. Maybe what she saw was not him diving to swim, but him falling from some unseen injury, body giving in before it can get up. But even then, no unconscious form rises to the surface either.

Long seconds pass before, finally, beneath the glistening surface of the river, the inky shadow of Wu-Long's legacy is snaking sinuously through the water, a thicker substance that, all the same, seems to blend in with its aquatic environment. He goes no faster than he would have had he kept his solid form, but then again, he also doesn't need to breathe. With a ripple rather than a splash, the phased creature tornadoes up from the water, Gabriel Gray stumbling into tangibility not a few feet away from her. And still muddy. He managed to take that with him, the thick dirt plastered to his arms, torso, along his neck, streaking through his hair.

Those few seconds elapse in the time it takes for Eileen to suck in a sharp, hitching breath, then realize she's been holding longer than necessary, and yet she doesn't let go of it again until Gabriel reappears — and then it's as though her entire body has deflated, relief washing through her like the river over the rocks, leaving her knees weak and her chest tight.

She thought she'd lost him. Again.

The gunshots have ceased, replaced by the much hoarser sound of Eileen's ragged breathing as she wades through the water and seizes the front of Gabriel's wife beater in her tiny hands. Sopping fabric bunches between her fingers, nails dragging across his skin through the material in a desperate attempt to find purchase. If she's holding onto him, he can't go anywhere. Moon logic, sure, but it steadies her trembling arms and calms her down long enough for her to spit out a curse and thump him on the chest with her fist.

"Don't do that."

Gabriel's large hands find her arms, slippery with dirt and water, not so much as to prevent her from holding onto him but her encourage her to claw less at his shirt and skin. Her fist bounces off his chest, not completely ineffectually, just he's too out of breath to care much. The machinegun pace of her own heart beat is confusing to his ears; he was just trying to cross the river.

"Do what?"

If there's an opportunity to answer, it's taken up by another crack of a gunshot, Gabriel's hands clenching instinctively around her arms, a predator movement in the way his head turns towards it, seeing nothing but trees. "They'll come this way when they're done. Do a final comb through." Looking for the ones that got away. "We should pick a direction and take it. Or kill them all and wait for helicopter out of here." That last option may be wishful thinking, and the river laps at their standing forms, water as high as Eileen's hips.

Can't we do all three? is what Eileen is thinking, wants to say, but she's too busy gulping down air to articulate the question. Instead, she focuses on the fact that, yes, Gabriel is alive and standing right in front of her. She releases her hold on his wife beater and moves her hands up his chest to his shoulders, and then to his jaw as if checking him for injuries that aren't immediately apparent — in reality, this is only half of what she's doing. The need to simply touch him is almost as overwhelming as the desire to confirm that he's all right and not about to fizzle away, mirage-like.

Really. This is the worst possible time. "North?"

The timing could be better, certainly, but it's helpful in a sense. The inability to see anywhere and everywhere, the clamour of the jungle too dense for him to pinpoint the enemy, and the growing stress about how likely all of their resources are destroyed by now— the hand at his jaw forces him to at least be still, look down at her.

North. North? "North," Gabriel repeats, a twitch of a glance upwards to the sky and then towards the direction she listed. He sure hopes it's morning, but even if the sun in the sky were tricking him, he recognises this river. With a gun between them, it's poor equipment to go traveling the jungle on bare feet (three of them anyway), even with Gabriel's arsenal of power, but it'll have to do.

But maybe not. "I don't know if I want to give them a chance to vanish like smoke when they're done," he says, a certain harshness in his voice. "Not when they're just over there. We came here for a reason." A job with a once-in-a-lifetime pay off.

There are a lot of things Eileen would like to do. Grab Gabriel's face in her hands, for instance. Pull him down on top of her right here in the middle of the river. Fortunately, she still possesses enough sense to realize this is a bad idea — just as charging back to base camp, guns blazing, is a bad idea. Both are acts of passion dreamed up in the heat of the moment, and both have undesirable consequences attached.

Forcibly distancing herself from temptation, she shoves away from him, frees her feet from the gunk at the bottom of the river, and slogs back out onto the bank. "You're right," she says, feet squelching in the mud, "we came here so we could live. If we go back now, that isn't going to happen. We don't even have any shoes." Gabriel's solitary flipflop Does Not Count. "Wait."

"Does 'north' have shoes? Ammo? Food, water?" he asks, bitterly, rhetorical questions. No, not necessarily, not for some miles anyway. He extends an arm, dripping with water, still, the solitary tattoo that once claimed him as someone else's partially obscured by dirt and grime, and points towards the direction of their ruined camp. "They have everything we need. I can…"

Can what? Go in, lasers flaring, become a Kazimir phantom that washes the jungle clean of their ashes? Possibly. Still, he doesn't complete the sentence, Gabriel fixing Eileen with a conflicted look. His arm lowers. "We run," he states. "And we wait. And then we go back. Pray no one wonders why we left soldiers for dead." Although the gunshots have stopped since the last one.

"Yes," Eileen agrees, "yes, yes, yes." There is nothing wrong with this plan, except for the fact that he isn't following her — something she attempts to remedy with a quick glance back over her shoulder. Her eyes are drawn to that mark on his wrist, but only for a moment, then flick up to his face as if to ask: Are you coming?

That the gunshots have stopped may not be a good sign. With nothing left to occupy enemy combatants except the search for the remaining survivors, which hopefully number more than Gabriel and Eileen's rather pathetic two, there isn't a lot of time to find a safe place to lay low and wait for nightfall. "How long can you stay like that?" she asks, and only after the question has left her mouth does she think to clarify what she means.

"Like— Zhang?" Her voice cracks down the middle when she says the name. Splinters. Unhappy memories trickling back.

Despite agreement, despite the fact she's moving away and he can't quite bring himself to just leave her behind, not here anyway, Gabriel is taking his time in following her. But he's had to obey quite a few marching orders over the last few months and so with her final look cast back to him, he finally follows, his steps exaggerated when his feet threaten to sink past the ankles into the soft ground, heading for the coast.

He glances up at her when she asks that question, more startled by her choice of words than anything else. The moment is swept by a moment later. "I can stay that way for as long as I want," he says. "What takes energy is the changing in and out of it, and how much I'm taking with me."

It's the how much I'm taking with me that gives Eileen pause. Whatever she was thinking might not be plausible in light of his answer. Frustration shows in knitted brow, pursed lips, and she directs her gaze into the trees, mindful of the shadows cast by their long, thick trunks and comparatively spindly branches. They've had to make a lot of difficult decisions since setting foot on Argentinean soil — in theory, this one shouldn't be any different.

If she's learned anything during their time here, it's that sometimes she needs to think with her head instead of her heart, so what she's about to say makes sense as far as she's concerned… much as she is loath to suggest it. "You should use that, scout ahead. Find someplace—" Eileen makes a vague gesture with her hand. "Safe. Where they won't be able to squeeze in. I can wait here for you to get back."

It's not a bad suggestion, but skepticism is written into his face when she makes it. There are a few things wrong with it, but there's a lot right with it. After a moment, the tension in his body language slackens, and Gabriel nods once. Okay, okay.

Okay. Without waiting on further instruction, he implodes into that twist of black shadow, with all its vague inkiness and anti-gravity, tendrils reaching out to grip onto the ground in shifting motion, making its zigzagging way past her.

Until one branch of black high-frequency energy siphons out and seems to wrap without feeling around her ankle. Likely Wu-Long has shared this with her at least once or twice before, in some motion of protection and escape from whatever danger had cropped up, but it will have been a long time before Eileen would have felt it again. The rifle in her hands dissolves as well, becoming a part of her as she transforms into a skein of black energy, her awareness slamming into the same black cloud Gabriel had transformed into.

Far from pulling him down on top of her in the middle of the river, this is about as intimate as two people could hope to be while being completely unaware of each other. Eileen can sense more than hear and see, no limits like eyes and ears, no direction. Also no control over movement, and there's a dizzying sense of falling when the swatch of darkness, big enough for two, suddenly goes leaping into the thick of the jungle, agile as a monkey and twice as fast.

It's been years since Eileen experienced such an abrupt and jarring disconnect from the reality she knows, and while the initial plummeting sensation is the same, this is where the similarities between Wu-Long's application of the ability and Gabriel's end. She barely has enough time for a low, snarling gasp to be torn from her throat before it hits her, dissembles her body into thousands upon thousands of infinitesimal threads and assimilates all that she is, along with her rifle and the clothes on her back, into the sentient plume Gabriel has become.

Existing as the same amorphous cloud of energy is easily one of the most intimate ways to be with someone, but it isn't the sort of closeness or familiarity that she can enjoy — not when she can't even tell which way is up anymore. She can, however, mentally make the distinction between past and present, the man whose presence with which she is currently entwined and the one who came before him.

Physically separating herself from that entity is a little more difficult.

Like a monster from some horror fantasy, the kind with bad animation, bad acting and earnestness, the dual entity of Gabriel and Eileen goes whipping through the jungle, vague notions of direction indicating only they are headed north. It's hard to feel much, in this form. Physical blows are cut down to almost half and in a way, everything else is too. Gabriel knows distant amusement, distant fear, distant anger. Could account for some of how Wu-Long came to be, really.

Two figures tumble out of the black cloud which turns to nothing, onto dry ground, somewhere where the air doesn't smell like smoke and any gunshots are masked to at least Eileen's ears. The rifle falls between them, Gabriel shifting to roll onto his back for a moment, breathing hard enough to imply that maybe he ran on foot all the way here. There's canopy above them, casting shadows, the sun higher in the sky, and not far away, there's a mouth of a cave, a deeply shadowed crag in all the verdant flora.

A good a hiding place as any. For now, he gives them a moment to breathe. To talk. First off— "You don't have to make every decision for us."

Gabriel's on his back, Eileen on her belly, one arm stretched out in front of her and the other trapped beneath. She can taste dirt in her mouth, hear blood pounding in her ears — there's nothing distant about the emotions she's experiencing now that she's as tangible as the solid ground upon which they both lay. Gray-green eyes gleam with intense heat as she lifts her head just enough to slide an ugly look in her companion's direction, fury etched across her face's features in the form of stark creases and smudged but expressive lines.

The arm pinned under her chest straightens at the elbow, acting like a jack as she shoves herself upright and spits into the grass. "I haven't been," she grits out in response, "or've you already forgotten who sent us into the river?" Saving both their lives in the process, but still. Details.

"You could've asked."

Gabriel's eyes roll at the jab, responding to her glare with a lazier look of his own, elbowing back against the grass to lever himself, coming to sit in a slouch and cast a slightly squinted look around the slight clearing. Insects click and there are birds, here, away from the smokey atmosphere of the ambush site. "You never do," he points out in a distracted tone of voice, before getting his feet beneath him too. Both of them bare, by now, a flipflop half-buried in the muddy shores of an Argentinean river bank.

"No, you're right, why waste time getting away when we could have spent time fighting about it?" He rolls to kneel, running his arm across his face to rid himself of some of the mud spattered there, a grimace on his face. "How long do you think it will take them to move out?"

A lot has happened in the last twelve hours, so much that Eileen has trouble separating fact from fiction and differentiating the truth — the way she remembers the ambush is undoubtedly very dissimilar to Gabriel's view, which is in turn unique and set apart from the Vanguard's. In the end, everything comes down to individual perspective, personal bias, and so the answer that first springs to the forefront of her mind is haphazard at best, wildly inaccurate at worst.

As if realizing that their bare feet, river-soaked clothes and muddy bodies call her memory's reliability into question, she pauses and offers Gabriel a long stretch of silence in lieu of whatever she was going to say. When she does speak, it's with grudging acknowledgement, her tone taking on an aloof air of apology, though it might be difficult to pick out with her voice as low and gravelly as it is. "I don't know," Eileen says, and it sounds like she swallowed a mouthful of rocks at the bottom of the riverbed. "A couple more hours. Safer to assume less."

Well like he'd always known. Best to sleep when you're dead. Gabriel nods his reluctant agreement, that Vanguard would be too smart to linger and dance on the graves of their enemies. Thinking. It's hard to do that when the sun is bright and his head is buzzing as if all those insects had somehow gotten into his skull in a swarming headache. "Send the birds out to track them when they start to move. We can get ahead of them." He looks towards her, eyes sharp beneath the tense knot of his brow, his voice merely dust and rough gravel. "Cut them off."

He doesn't say make them pay. The dead soldiers aren't worth that. But they came here with an objective, and it's nothing to do with vengeance. Not even a little bit, not for Gabriel, apart from being so woefully inconvenienced and almost killed.

Eileen stoops to pick up the rifle with one hand, wiping some of the dirt from her face with the other. Vengeance isn't a hard concept for her to wrap her head around. The resentful knot tightening in her chest and belly when she thinks about what happened back at the encampment isn't entirely unfamiliar — it's the same tension she feels every time she sees something that reminds her of Kazimir Volken, and her recollection of this morning's carnage does exactly that.

She rises shakily to her feet, bones creaking, muscles aching, and pinches her face into a pained expression. They have other things to worry about, maybe, like giving their bodies time to recover before attempting to head Vanguard off at the pass. Also a priority is moving out of the open and into the shade provided by the cave. "Do you think he knew?" she asks as she picks her way through the grass and rocks, a little unsteady on her feet, not because she lacks balance or coordination, but because she's making a painstaking effort not to injure herself further. Only when she reaches her destination, lithe shape draped in shadow, does she recognize that some elaboration is probably in order:

"Aviators. He took off in a hurry, didn't he?"

The cave opening offers nothing comforting save for the promise of a hidden place to rest and perhaps a break from the sun. Nothing more and nothing less. Gabriel follows Eileen, his foot falls not particularly eager once he's finally pulled himself to stand with a digging of strong fingers into ground damp in some places, dry in others. He misses her question entirely until she's clarifying it.

"Mmhm. Smart of him."

The clipped quality of his words imply that maybe he's not referring to the ambush itself, but the confrontation that had led to Aviators' hurried departure. He moves after her inside the cave, immediately shivering as cold shade prickles over his skin in contrast to the far more invasive sunlight, making damp clothes feel colder. "You don't think he's too much of a coward to pull something like this?" There's honest question in his tone, and snide cynicism.

"Not a coward. Opportunist." Eileen moves further inside, but does not stray far from Gabriel — although her desire to make herself more inaccessible by seeking shadier shelter somewhere within the cave's craggy interior is strong, her attachment to her partner is stronger still. Reluctantly, she sinks back against the wall, careful not to jostle any rocks loose or disturb whatever might be lurking inside nearby cracks and fissures.

A centipede winds its way around Gabriel's foot, slithering snakelike through the grime, and disappears under an overturned stone. Deeper, wing beats buffet the stale air, audible to his superior ears only — birds don't chitter, and they certainly don't squeak or spend precious daylight grousing around in the dark.

"I never thanked you, did I," Eileen says, and it isn't a question. She regards Gabriel morosely from where she stands, slender arms encircling her upper body for warmth, fingers grasping at clammy handfuls of pale flesh just beneath her shoulders.

"I suppose he could get away with it. Fabricate a reason for his not being there. They'd believe it, that the Vanguard could attack us like that. Or if anything, they might think we're turncoats." Gabriel's eyes try to focus on Eileen's through the shadows, a pause in his navigating for somewhere comfortable. "Especially with us surviving, and all."

Superhearing is a benefit Gabriel couldn't imagine going without, but in this case, he'd rather not know. Insect legs scratch against rock, inside rock, and the sounds of bats is distant and constant. Gabriel extends a hand out towards the cave entrance, and a beam of light sunlight suddenly pierces through the shadows, improbably, although not enough to accidentally scare down a flock of bats. Enough to see for a few seconds before his hand clenches, and he releases it.

Darkness settles itself once more, and Gabriel's knees bend as he moves into a crouch, as comfortable as such a thing can be, keeping only his bare feet making contact with craggy, dirty, insect-ridden rock. It's enough to make the OCD in him shudder. Head tilted up, he raises an eyebrow for a moment. "No, but you did accuse me of spying."

And that isn't anything close to a proper thank you, not even by Eileen's warped standards. Gabriel's lifted eyebrow is met with a flat expression from the woman standing across from him, though it doesn't take long for the emotion to start creeping its way back into her gaze. Doubt flits across the woman's severe features, indecision pinching the corners of her small mouth into a frown. "You weren't supposed to see that," she grits outs, grinding her teeth to work some of the excess tension from her jaw and neck.

An apology, maybe. Or a half-hearted attempt at an explanation for her ridiculously cold behavior toward him. She snorts out a sigh through her nose and drops one hand away from her shoulder to wipe at the mud on her face. "I didn't want you to see that," she corrects herself after a moment, her soldier's tone losing some of its edge, voice growing less serrated, gravelly. More like the young woman who once encouraged him in throaty whispers to turn his back on Kazimir Volken. "You probably think I'm— fuck, I don't know. Inviting you back to my tent. It was stupid, I'm sorry."

"No." The denial is simple, quiet, and still manages to echo within the curved walls of the nature-made cavern. A rasping chuckle follows it, throaty and genuine, gaze tilting downwards towards where rocks are so cast in shadow and dampness that they gleam like glass from some angles. Gabriel's hands come up to run his fingers through dirt-spattered hair, trying to smooth it back. "That wasn't the stupid part. I should have seen it. If I hadn't have seen it, you never would have told me, and then where would we be?"

The words are sardonic, but not necessarily cruel. There's no point in cruelty, here. His knees are already starting to seize and stiffen up from the position, hands moving to run over his tensed thighs as if to relieve it. "Do you need water?"

Eileen's clothes and hair are soaked in it. Goosebumps stand out against her skin, prickling the fine hairs on her arms and the back of her neck. She's cold, wet — the last thing she needs or wants is more water. Her eyes move from Gabriel back to the cave's entrance and then out to the forest beyond. The acrid smell of smoke and gunpowder no longer pervades the air, but it still clings to her body and stings at her nostrils every time she inhales. She can't imagine being left alone in the dark with it, which might be why she visibly tenses at the question, gradually becoming very still.

"Are you going somewhere?" She tries to make it sound casual. Idly curious. The shrill lilt at the question's tail gives her away.

She's afraid.

Edging away from the wall, she takes a tentative step toward Gabriel then stops, indecisive. Fear and aggression are intimately related — were she to open her mouth again now, any attempt to convince him to stay would twist around her tongue come out as a demand rather than a request.

The hitch of a quickening heart beat, the taletell signs of fear, has Gabriel's head tilting, and it only makes sense when her question is asked. Slowly, he stands before his muscles can cramp and lock into that crouched position, a shake of his head barely seen in the darkness.

"No." His hands lift, and in the same movement is dripping water. In the fleeting light, it becomes clear that his hands have begun to glisten with collected water, pooling over his skin in snaking rivulets and taking dirt and mud with it. He releases it with barely a thought with a rain-patter sound of dirtied water, before putting his palms together, hands cupped to accommodate fresher water drawn from the dense cave air and into his hands. This, he promptly drinks down, barely spilling a drop in the process.

Hours spent in rain, river water, and dirt may be nourishing in its own right, but he hasn't drunk any. When he's done, Gabriel offers her his palms, fingers relaxed. "Give me your hands." A pause, and then, "I'll phase us, afterwards. We can sleep that way, it'll be easier."

It's easy for Eileen to see how Gabriel might become so attached to all that he can do. She watches the water move over him neither in admiration nor admonishment, but rather reverent silence. By the time he's showing her his hands, she's already closed half the distance between them and continues to narrow what little remains, saying nothing though her body language brims with subtle hints of what she might like to.

The first thing she notices as soon as she's drawn close enough is how warm he is in comparison to their surroundings. The second is the size of his hands. She's put so much time and energy into staying away from him that she'd forgotten how large he was. How tall. "I don't know if I can," she says hoarsely. Sleep. Like that.

In spite of her reservations, she lays her palms over his, cool and quivering to the touch. She doesn't want him to see this, either — never mind the tremors quaking up and down the lengths of her arms, only partly to do with the cold.

Clean hands, even if the rest of him isn't, cup beneath hers, staring down the top of her head. "You can't sleep like this either. And we need to." Unconsciousness never counts, this Gabriel has learned over a healthy career of being knocked out before. Strong fingers maneuver her hands around, to face her palms upwards towards the ceiling, and then— it's a strange sensation. As if her palms were suddenly clammy, and then wet, and then quite suddenly holding a shallow pool of water that refuses to leak out between the gaps of fingers.

"Drink." He urges her hands up a little higher, hands beneath hers.

Drink, he says. Blink. Breathe. As though it was that simple. Eileen raises her hands to her mouth and, making a visible effort, does exactly as Gabriel coaxes. The water is fresh on her lips, and it tastes as clean as she imagines his hands do — until now, she hadn't realized how dry her throat was or how badly her body needed this.

When the last of it is gone, save for a glossy sheen of excess moisture clinging to her upper lip and beading at the very tip of her nose, she lowers her hands. Swallows hard. There's something she should probably say, some course of appropriate action she should take that doesn't involve standing in front of him with a dumb expression on her face and water dripping from her chin. Okay, maybe. I'm ready whenever you are.

What she shouldn't do is — as usual — exactly what she does. Mouthing his name in silent question, she wonderingly spreads her empty fingers across the palms of his open hands and raises her eyes to his face, imploring. Then again, louder: "Gabriel?"

Time to go. Time to do what's practical and then do more practical things. Gabriel's hands tense around Eileen's as the cave continues to crawl with the life of other things, the flap of wings in distant darkness and water leaking in its slow erosion between rocks from unknown sources.

There's no question on proportion. Gabriel will always know Eileen to be this small, a perfect memory or not. He loosens his grip on her hands as if he truly were about leave, and there's really no way he can, certainly not as easy as evacuating her tent had been. Instead, his hands go up, almost rough in the way fingers touch damp hair, palm nudging the angle of her jaw.

At least she can't say you've never, this time. On the plus side, he can always phase them into numbness should a second humiliation sting him sharply in the aftermath of a firm kiss. It tastes of fresh water.

This time, there is no sudden tug, no pulling away as Eileen retreats — she doesn't literally melt into him, but like the water her body seems to conform to his shape, mouth moving against his, face fit snug in the curve of his guiding palm. Her fingertips trail down his chest, nails catching in the fabric of his shirt, faltering before her hands curl and come to rest somewhere below the vicinity of his heart.

There is nothing practical about the kiss. Nothing practical about their haphazard style of dress or shoeless feet. They can't even claim to be practical people anymore, not when they both continue to convolute what is already a hideously complicated situation by succumbing to baser urges and their need to realize them.

Her mouth doesn't leave his when she speaks, and not just because she dreads to think what might happen if she stops. Kissing feels good in the same way that touching feels good. Safe. Warm. "I'm not— I'm not angry. Anymore."

A hint of laughter, another kiss, these things are shared intimately even as the horror story continues beyond the cave. The cover of darkness is a reprieve, as is this. Gabriel's forehead comes to rest against hers and his grip on her hair is almost too hard. He can only hope that when they see daylight again, they won't feel compelled to leave this behind in the gritty shadows of the jungle cave. It would be easy.

By the same token, nothing more can happen, even with this tangle of a hold as disorganised as their relationship usually is. His fingers loosen but don't draw away, too conscious on the way her hands clasp on to him. "Me neither," Gabriel confirms, his voice whispered gravel. He swallows, keeps his eyes closed. "Ready?"

"No," Eileen chokes out, "never ready." There's no way she can prepare herself for that plummeting sensation or the loss of self that comes with it, and for once she isn't going to lie. That isn't to say she doesn't understand the necessity of what's about to happen; she grabs two fistfuls of damp fabric in her hands, buries her face in the heat of his neck and squeezes her eyes shut, joining Gabriel in self-inflicted darkness before the real thing consumes them.

"Do it."

The last thing she'll feel will be the coarse, damp rock underfoot, wet and clammy, the grit of accumulated dirt digging into her soles. The icy damp of her clothes clinging insistently to her frame and the oppressive stale air all around them as present as the shadows. But also the heat of his breath through her hair as she burrows in close and his arms wrapping secure around her.

It all goes away in the next moment, something darker than the cave's brand of shade coming to slither over the rocks, to find a crevice to rest within, and eventually… she'll have no choice to sleep, drawn down into semi-consciousness with the man she's bound to and excluded from simultaneously.

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