And All Its Stars


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Scene Title And All Its Stars
Synopsis Gabriel and Eileen raise a glass to the beginning of a new life together.
Date January 10, 2012

New York City

It lies open on the low coffee table, along with a three-quarters full bottle of gin (also open) and a wooden bowl filled shallowly with water, just enough for floating flowers and candles.

It being a letter, all ordinary black print on white, an electronic signature over a name. It is addressed, authoritatively, Mr Gray. In blue, the letter head reads, The City of New York, with a round seal, and another heading, NYPD Police Academy. It was folded into three pieces to fit into the envelope, and those folds have been worked between Gabriel's fingers until they've become fine, translucent lines, easy to fall apart. So he stopped fidgeting with it, and set it on the table, where it has since stayed.

This is also where they eat, seated on cushions, elbows up on the low table of dense, reclaimed wood. The apartment is comprised only of two rooms, really, unless you count the ladder leading up to an alcove above that fits mostly just their bed as a whole room of its own. In the winter, cold wind seems to just blow straight through the exposed masonry. During the summer, they have to keep the doors levered open if they want to breathe, and allow the noise of city and the arguing neighbours across the street to shatter the peace.

They're still living out of suitcases, too, like tourists. Like criminals on the lam.

He's been quiet, since the letter, since they agreed they should mark the occasion. Walking back, now, with glasses caught between his fingers and a small glass bottle of lemon-tinged tonic for the gin. He is in blue jeans and a soft grey cotton T-shirt, and it's all nice in its modesty. New things. He smells clean, looks sharp, since they touched back down in America, with consistent access to soap and running water and razors.

Sets the glasses down and reaches for the gin. Idly, the flowers and the candles in the decorative bowl all gently start moving clockwise with a gentle nudge of psychic command over water.

Eileen, although fond of the smell of fresh flowers and burning candlewick, is more focused on the letter than the arrangement lending their small flat the personal touch it so desperately needs. She doesn’t completely ignore it; the tip of her finger traces the bowl’s edge as she reads the letter’s contents for the third time as of committing the words to memory, and maybe she is.

On paper, aside from their official pardons, this is the best thing that’s ever happened to either of them. At the sound of tinkling glass, she looks up and shifts her hand from the bowl to her collarbone, left exposed by the plain silk slip she wears beneath her robe. Like Gabriel’s jeans and t-shirt, these are also new purchases: small indulgences that feel soft and fine against her skin after so many months of coarser clothes steeped in sweat, meltwater, and other things she’d rather forget.

There’s nothing wrong with Gabriel’s silence; he’s often quiet, but in this context it forms a vaguely worried expression on her face that she attempts to hide behind a smile. “Officer Gray has a pleasant ring to it,” she says. “Detective, soon. Captain, someday.”

Gabriel sits before handling the distribution of alcohol, and there's a shade of a smile to his expression as she speaks. "Yeah, well," he says, of climbing ranks. "Cadet. One step at time." Gin is topped up with tonic, almost equal parts, bitingly strong.

He picks up both glasses and hands one to Eileen, a certain old shyness having settled on his aura, almost like nerves, which seems better suited for before having opened an envelope, rather than after. In truth, there's a corner of his mind playing out the first moments they'd reunited.

In vivid, uncorrupted detail.

Bright noonday sunlight is strong enough to pass through the canvas fibres of the tent. The smell of the earth is thick. The sounds of helicopters, of voices, of jungle bird calls and wind wraps around their world like a warm, damp cloth. He's saying; "I guess it's less humiliating when the other is in the same boat."

The tension in her voice is that of a piano string, ready to snap or sing. The tension in her body reminds him of a sapling, quivering in the wind, but unbreaking, upright. "You guess. You guess. It doesn't have to be humiliating at all. Unless that's the way you want it?"

"There's nothing about being here that gives me a sense of pride. It just means they won. I couldn't do it, not another year. Not another day. And you couldn't either. No more running."

In the present, this is what he says, too. "No more running." Only there's no ugly sneer in his voice and the characteristic challenge in his eyes when he looks at her is one that invites her to meet him halfway. He also lifts his glass enough to make it a toast.

“No more running,” Eileen agrees, hefting her own glass. She tinks its lip against Gabriel’s. “Cheers.”

The gin and lemon tonic is like a balm that melts inside her mouth and stokes the coals in her belly. It doesn’t take much to flush her cheeks rosy or implore her hands to seek out Gabriel’s body, accenting their conversations with not-so-subtle touches to his arm and face.

She’s not there yet. Won’t be until she reaches the bottom of this glass and is halfway through the next. For now, she lets the space continue to exist between them — and that’s exciting, too, in its own way.

“Something’s bothering you,” sounds like it could be an accusation. A year ago, it would have been. Every day spent back on U.S. soil softens her exterior, allowing Gabriel to hear the concern in her voice and not the cruelty she once used to disguise it as something else. “Is it the letter?”

Gabriel's eyes, having wandered to her hands, refocus and dart back up to her face. Guilt is the kind of thing he only experiences in boyish amounts, like now, eyebrows raised, as if she'd caught him in an act fractionally worse than merely letting his mind wander, or his mood to grow dim. "No," he says. "Not the letter. Letter's great."

They've had several good letters. Declarations of freedom and prosperity. He takes it off the table, spreading it open against its folders with pinched fingers. Being a police officer is one of those dreams that little boys have, like being an astronaut or a rock star, and although Gabriel never harboured those dreams himself, exactly, it still feels a little unreal.

Something's bothering you.

"I guess it still feels like just a letter," he says. "Like it can be snatched away by a gale."

Now she does touch him. Eileen’s hand cups Gabriel’s face with her free hand and leans in so that her forehead rests against his. She smells of gin and citrus, of course, but also the floral perfume and cigarette smoke that clings to her skin and hair like its own fragrance — the kind no one has wanted to put into a bottle yet.

“It can,” she agrees. Her thumb curves along the line of his jaw, nail raking against the stubble peppered there. “Everything’s ephemeral. Your letter, your pardon, your life.”

They’re close enough that Gabriel can’t see the smile shaping her lips. He feels it with his mouth instead when she kisses him. “I think that makes it even more special,” she says. “It demands the appreciation it’s due.”

Gabriel's eyes close slow as she kisses him, and he recognises, first, that subtle knot of anxiety that coils at the idea of everything existing in uncertainty, like vapour, like half-remembered recollection. Hadn't that been the basis behind every superpower he'd taken, pouring it all on the like concrete, tangible, permanent. He recognises it and lets it go again, because she is right.

He should say something like I just don't wanna screw it up, but he wouldn't mean it. Oh, his capacity to screw it up is ready and willing and will be a problem for him personally, which is why he declined the gilded invitation to go FRONTLINE, but it's not what's on his mind.

Maybe it should be.

"I'm fond of some constants," he says, having leaned in a little closer as she had. His hand collects hers, tangles them together, and keeps his eyes down on the configuration their fingers make, their palms. "I love you. I think that's always true."

“Always means forever,” Eileen teases, but gently. “I’ll hold you to it.” Another kiss, this time along his jaw. Then again, closer to his chin. Her face follows the shape of his. “Always love me, when I’m old and my bones are crumbling. Always love me, when I’m dead and my bones are crumbled.”

Her own gallows humour summons the ghost of a laugh, breathed against his neck. It’s easy for her to joke about dying when death isn’t waiting around the corner for them like it had been in South America, or in Russia. Danger feels so far away, like the ambulance siren blaring five blocks away as it bears down on somebody else.

“Always love me, across time and space and all its stars.”

It's easy for her to joke, but concepts of eternity, of the impossibility of his death, of the likelihood of hers, seem to cool his heart with icy condensation, and drip into his gut. But Eileen is right here, and he's had some practice, at this, of steering his mind where he needs it to be. Eyes half closed, he returns wandering kisses with a firmer one of his own, to her mouth, a steadying breath in, caught, held.

His hand squeezes hers. "Always," he says.

Another kiss that only just masks a subtle shift of movement, and then she feels it: distinct velvet, and firm, rounded corners, a hinged box small enough to fit in her palm as his hand opens hers so she can receive it right there.

It takes all of Eileen’s effort not to take her eyes off of Gabriel, or allow her focus to wander from his face. She tenses against him, not for the first time, or for the last — he recognizes uncertainty in her stiffness, but also doesn’t have to worry about its source.

She is sure about him.

Eileen has never not been sure about him. It’s the box in the seat of her hands that has her body coiled like a rusty, creaking spring. The sound her breath makes on the next exhale is a little rasping, too.

“I’m afraid to look down,” she admits, abruptly embarrassed. Still, her fingers close around the box as she says it. This isn’t a joke: Part of her is afraid to look down. Another is afraid he’ll take it back. “You’re going to have to help me.”

Now he smiles, a certain nervous energy to it, and then something more simple. Relaxing, a little, not that this isn't his secret alone. Reluctance borne of nerves has flipped around into a need for her to look down, and so Gabriel does, considering the soft, navy-blue box in her hand. Around her fingers, he turns it so that she's holding it like a compass, and opens it. Within the cushiony white, a ring sparkles up at her. Looped rose gold looks soft and old-world, cradling diamond-like moissanite, cut round.

"I didn't think I could love people," he says, after a moment, his gaze now down on the ring, the box, their hands around it. "And I guess that's because I didn't think anyone could love me. There are people in this world who probably think we don't deserve it."

He looks back up at her, his brown eyes very serious and intent. "Any of this. I don't care. I want it, and I want it with you. Will you— " And of course, it's convention that trips him, makes him frown, clear his throat. He thinks about his glass of gin, waiting for him on the table. Just a few more words, first. "Will you marry me, Eileen?"

She keens.

It’s low, at first, deep as the part of her chest that it originates from. But also: quiet. Gabriel might not be aware that she’s even making any noise until it involuntarily rises in volume and in pitch, prompting her to smother the sound against his shoulder. When that doesn’t work, she tries to fill her lungs with more air, but this turns out to be an unforeseen challenge too.

In all the time he’s known her, Eileen has always been a woman of emotional extremes. It’s possible that he’s more prepared for this reaction than she is.

This isn’t what sadness looks like. Relief, maybe, that he feels the same way about the second chance they’ve both been given. Happiness, maybe, that at least one of them has the courage to put those mixed feelings into words and take actions that might banish them.

So: Of course she’s going to marry Gabriel, even if she lacks the strength and the oxygen to him right now. She frantically nods yes instead.




Her reaction does not catch him off-guard; his own does, a little, a windrush of feeling when she articulates her affirmation, and it feels like ice cracking inside. It's odd, he thinks, how hearts can break from good things, too.

A little clumsily, Gabriel kisses her temple, his free hand sweeping her hair back and gripping it, as if they were sharing a stolen moment while taking heavy fire in Argentina instead of this little scrap of domestic peace in New York City. Takes her hand and guides them both through the motions, taking the ring from the box, which slips discarded between them, and then gently easing the loop of rose gold around the appropriate finger, past the first knuckle, and the second, and adjusted to sit nicely.

This feels less like something that can just be taken away, and he takes her face in his hands to kiss her properly, forgetting about the urge from a moment ago to down his drink.

He tastes the saltiness of Eileen’s tears on her cheeks and at the point of her chin, in the dimples at the corners of her mouth and on her lips. She wants to say I love you, but what she eventually manages to grit out is, “Gray is good. Good.”

She curls her fingers into a fist, and then shelters it protectively with her opposite hand.

The fear that he’ll take it back is gone, replaced by the deep-seated urge to protect what’s important to her. In this instance, it’s the ring — what the ring represents.

Eileen makes herself smaller in Gabriel’s arms and presses both her hands against his chest as she curls all the way into it, nesting there.

Finally she remembers to kiss him back.

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