For Too Long


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Scene Title For Too Long
Synopsis Deciding what's best for your child is just one of the challenges of being a parent.
Date April 28, 2011

In Dreams

The boy in the bed looks a little old to be guarded over by their parent in the dead of night — but here Eileen is, with swiftly cooling rooibos tea half-consumed in porcelain, the handle held tight fingers and red knuckles, a shawl of wool pulled around her shoulders. He is all limbs in the mildness of the evening, making shapes beneath the light cotton covers, his sleep very still, blessedly so. Oblivious of her presence, where she sits on the wooden chair in the corner, pillowed with a loose cushion, a flaring back. If it offered more comfort than that, then it might coax her to sleep.

Exhausted. She is exhausted. But willpower keeps her head up and eyes open, even if she allows her gaze to blur fractionally, focus loose. Weariness ages her, but she can't be so old, her hands still clear of all the signs of wisdom, but harder than that of a girl's, veins just visible beneath thin skin. When she breathes in, she smells the mustiness of the house, but also soapy water off her, by now, dry hands. Laundry.

It's been nine days, now. Nine days since Gabriel's been gone. This was one of the rare occasions where he clarified he'd come back.

So when the creak of a footstep in the hallway just outside closed bedroom door reverberates through the floorboards, tugs at her hearing, it might not be a surprise. A familiar presence she can feel through the night owls, and the birds she keeps close for her eyes.

Eileen rises from the chair, joints flaring painfully in protest, and she sets her cup of tea aside on the nightstand with a gentle rasp and click of porcelain on wood. There is a temptation — always a temptation in times like these — to reach out and brush fingers through the boy's hair, press a kiss to his brow and gather him up in the protective circle of her arms, but it's a temptation that the Englishwoman's rationality does not allow her to succumb to. He's sleeping now, and it would selfish if not cruel to wake him, which is why she pauses only to adjust the blankets before rising fully and moving toward the door.

Her feet are bare and her frame too slight to respond to the sound of creaking floorboard with creaking floorboard, but the door's handle makes a rusty noise when she turns it. It shudders on its hinges, reminding Eileen how old the house is, and she nudges it all the way shut behind her because she does not like to do things in halves.

Also: the sound of their voices might rouse him without something to muffle them.

He's a black shape cut out at the end of the hallway — at least, until Eileen's eyes adjust, and she can pick up notes of wool, hair, denim, leather. An elbow against the wall in tilting lean, fingers skritching through his hair to itch his scalp, but his head turns to glance at the noise of someone emerging just behind him. Gabriel's attention had been out the hallway window, but now circles around to the woman several feet down from him. There is no metal on Eileen's fingers, and thus nothing to match her on his own, but kinship doesn't have to have ceremony to affirm it. He is her husband.

And a father, too, and tonight, more of one than the other, because he asks, "How is he?"

Turning to face her, Gabriel appears to be unhurt, face free of bruises, but he didn't shave in the time he was away, and the dark shadow of silver-peppered hair is a bristled beard on his face, down his throat. And in his return, his hands are not empty — the thing he holds is white plastic, a slender box with a primitive clasp, something stolen.

"Sleeping," is a neutral answer, but the haggard tone of Eileen's voice tells Gabriel what it is he wants to know before she does. The tips of her fingers fall away from the door, and she reaches up to snag her shawl in them so one hand has a place to settle that isn't loose at her side. The other skims along the parallel wall — although there is a handsome little sparrow peeking out from behind the dark curls of her hair, she still employs her other senses to navigate her surroundings and keep herself sharp.

She's more foxish around the face now than she was in her youth, all slender cheekbones and long narrow nose with the kind of eyes that look like they should be naturally rimmed in black. The arch of her brows communicates her emotions much more expressively than her mouth does because her mouth has grown hard.

The sparrow's gaze focuses on what Gabriel holds in his hands, though she is plainly relieved to see him; Raith is a dear friend, but like Francois, Teodoro and the other men in her life, Ethan included, he is not a substitution for the boy's father. "He misses you," she feels compelled to say, and so does she. The hand that had been at her shawl touches Gabriel's wrist, asking without words what the box contains.

After departure, doing something selfless— as they've been doing since the boy was born— Gabriel is inclined to pull close to Eileen and nudge his jaw along her temple and breathe her in. There aren't any bruises on his face that the sparrow, this close, can see — just shadows around his eyes from sleeplessness, and no different from her own. His wrist doesn't recoil from her touch, as the item he's carrying isn't something he feels the need to hide. If it were anything revolutionary, it'd probably be cracked open by now, spoken about sooner than asking how his son is.

"I'm back," he says, needlessly, backing up a step to bring up the box. A thumb, nail rough, pushes in the clasp to pop the lid, opening it up enough to peek into. Glistening plastic and glass are vials, two with capped needles attached, unbranded and with carefully measured doses. "Adynomine."

In a world of Negoxan, it seems hardly worth the trouble, but he isn't immediately explaining why he picked up no such thing from the pharmacy.

"Adynomine," Eileen repeats, sounding as though she's hearing the word for the first time — impossible, not only because of who they are, but because intimate familiarity is required to produce the effect it has on her. Her breath stalls, and the next she draws in is thin, reedy. The sparrow's wings blur into motion then, though it does not take flight — the brittle crackle and snap of its feathers is a way of releasing some of the nervous energy pressing in around the tiny bird's heart in sympathy for the woman whose collar it perches upon.

Eileen's hand strays from Gabriel's wrist and glides a knuckle along the closest vial, then splays its thin fingers across both in a pale fan. He's the one who's just returned home, but with the opening of the box and his succinct explanation of its contents, Eileen feels like they're arriving at an entirely different destination together.

It's not a place she wants to be, even if it is the solution.

Especially if it's the solution. "Gabriel, no."

No one wants to stick their child with needles, but Gabriel doesn't look like he's making that leap yet. His brown-eyed stare glances up from the neat selection of vials to take in her expression at her swift denial, uncertainty making his expression loose and blank, standing with the result in his hands. It's not what he set out to get, but it is what he's come home with. "If it's tied to his ability," he starts, after a second, realising that maybe he needs to guide her along the same lines of thought he traveled, "then this is what we have to do.

"I've watched this for too long." There are a few meanings there. He's watched it for too long to not know what he's talking about. He's watched it for too long to not try.

And he's even moving, now, despite the report that his boy is asleep, stepping around her.

Eileen does not protest further with either her body or her voice — it would be an easy victory for Gabriel if it was Gabriel she'd been opposing. Her conflict is not with him. It's with the implication that what they've been watching for too long is as much a part of their son as his coal black lashes, the colour of his eyes or the pattern the swirls on the pads of his fingers make on paper when he dips them in his father's paints.

Unfathomable to think that his genetics are to blame for this when they're also responsible for all the minute physical details that Eileen has cherished since he was an infant. If it's tied to his ability, it's with him forever, and there's no correcting it with anything except what Gabriel is carrying.

She does not make a decision now because there is no decision to make. Eileen follows Gabriel into the boy's room without conscious thought. This is not something a parent should have to do alone.

There's a few seconds delay before she joins the scene, on Gabriel's heels — for a moment, father and son are reunited, even if the latter is fast asleep as the former comes to sit on the edge of the bed, and place the container on low, bedside table. A gentle fairy light sparks out of nowhere and hovers accordingly as Gabriel goes to take one of the capped needles from the case. And hesitates. He does more delicate things to watches than the care it takes to slip a needle into a vein, but he also isn't the medical professional in the room when it comes to having the other things that come along with the mechanics — bedside manner, for one. Making sure it hurts less.

He was also never very good at the discipline side of things. But it's a pride thing as well as a desire to solve it himself that stops Gabriel from asking her to do it. Just glances at her, forces her to be a part of this.

The boy stirs from heavy sleep, dark curls as slippery as his mother's. Eyes a dryer shade of green, when they blearily crack open through thick eyelashes that could come from either of them. His gaze rolls towards the sight of needle and medicine box before he really registers the man that brought it, but there's no protest — maybe because he's still virtually asleep, or because it's nothing very new.

Eileen comes around the other side of the bed opposite Gabriel and sits down on it, dimpling the mattress with her weight. The house is old, and so most of the rooms are small in comparison to buildings of more modern design — the bed was not made for more than one person to sleep in, but she pulls her legs up onto it regardless and fits herself beside the boy.

Their positioning reminds her of a time when they shared one room instead of two and the boy slept between them, and although that was many years ago, Eileen hopes having them both there brings him the same sense of security that it brings her.

"You could say hello," she murmurs against the top of his head, gently chiding, and uses her fingers to twist and then tuck back a stray curl behind one of his ears in an absent but affection gesture. "He's come from so far just to see you."

A slow, tired exhale seeps out from the boy's nostrils — the ordeal has been even more exhausting for him than either of his parents — and he obliges Eileen in a quiet voice that does not rise above a whisper.

"Like I taught you," she says, and he amends with: Dzien dobry.

One arm is coaxed out from under the covers and left to lie bare against them, Gabriel gently squeezing the boy's elbow in affection or reassurance or— it's what people do. It's what parents do. He can see the question emerging after Polish is recited. "This is going to help you sleep through the night," he says, voice low, secretive. "And you're going to count to three, and look at your mom." There's surgical tape as well, and soaking cotton, things that come after.

"And the nightmares?"

Sneaking a glance to Eileen, Gabriel hesitates. He has a hard time lying, except when it's the worst time to do it. "Maybe," is all he says instead. Doesn't know. Just watches as lambent eyes turn for his mom, before readying the needle. "Jeden, dwa— " The bite of metal point sinks in about as gentle as he could hope it to.

The boy makes a sound at the back of his throat at the pinch, and Eileen finally gives in, dropping the kiss on the top of his crown that she'd wanted to when he was still asleep. She attempts a compromise: "We'll both stay here with you tonight," in case maybe turns out to be no, "and in the morning we'll have breakfast, look for shells on the beach. We'll bring the good paper and charcoals so you can draw whatever you find — if you want, your father and I can even ask the birds to help us."

Her fingers stroke through his hair, soothing, and the boy closes his eyes again. Small fingers flex as if to make sure they still work after the injection, which they of course do. That done, he reaches for Gabriel and puts a hand on his leg, starfish-like.

"Okay," he says.

He's tired, she's tired, and Gabriel appears reluctant to do anything but collapse in their own bed and sleep through an evening without this burdening their own dreams. But perhaps it will take a night to relax. Two nights, and then they have as long as the supply lasts. Until he can get more. The plastic box is closed with a click, along with used needle, taping cotton over the tiny wound so that when Astor Ruskin-Gray next looks, the pinhole of red is gone in favour of a tiny, trapped cloud.

Moves, then. Sits deep on the bed, back agaist the wall its head is backed against, pillow next to his hip and a large hand coming to rest on the crown of the boy's head when Eileen's hand moves enough to allow it.

Astor turns his face to rest his cheek against the cool fabric of the pillow, his breathing falling back into a steadier rhythm that will allow his parents to determine whether or not he's asleep after he loses consciousness again. Eileen knows these patterns better than she does any bird call, and her personal library is home to hundreds. She looks over the top of his head at Gabriel, a cautious marriage of gratitude and pride reflected in her eyes and, more strongly, through the empathic connection that joins them.

He is a good father, and maybe she would communicate this in words if other methods were not available to her. On her next exhale, her own eyes drifting shut, she begins to hum a familiar lullaby that he is probably getting just a too old for, but he's also too old to be sleeping in the same room as his parents, and every rule has its exceptions.

Like saying I love you, and eventually, when Astor is asleep, she does.

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