Just A Whisper


avi_icon.gif sibyl2_icon.gif

Scene Title Just a Whisper
Synopsis Neither Avi not Sibyl can sleep, for wholly different reasons.
Date February 26, 2016

Avi's Safe House

The Safe Zone


The voice is small and familiar like the brush of bare feet on wood and creaking mattress springs. He’s stirred from his slumber by a pale hand on his arm, his eyes blearily opening to find another set of brighter blue ones gleaming back at him. Normally, this would be cause for alarm if he was back at the Bunker, but he isn’t — even if it takes him a few moments of soaking in the attic’s dark, claustrophobic atmosphere for him to remember where he is.

Avi,” Sibyl says again from her crouch beside his bed, more insistent this time, although whenever’s the matter isn’t urgent enough for him to shake him awake. The hand on his arm is still, if gripping him a little more tightly than is comfortable. Outside, moonlight reflects off the snow choking the streets below and bathes the attic in a brighter glow than usual, allowing him to make out the shape of her face, which for an instant looks like someone else’s while he’s still gathering his wits about him like his comforter. It shines like a beacon in the dark, cheeks wet with fresh tears.

Her other hand clutches at the blanket she has draped around her shoulders like a great wool cloak that swallows up her diminutive shape and spreads open on the floor behind her. “Avi, I had the dream again.”

The noise he makes in response is more like what a tired old dog makes when it rolls over in its sleep; a weary whuffing sound from breath hastily exhaled. An arm comes up out of the blanket, fingers scrub at his eye tiredly. One stays shut, for her sake. Blearily he focuses on her face, hand coming up now to cup a rough palm at her cheek. The noise now, not so much tired old dog as tired old man.

He props himself up on his elbow, loose gray wool of a sweater hanging limp in moonlight. “Hey, hey,”’Avi tiredly mumbles. “S’just a dream, ain’t nothin’ ok?” It's a weary attempt at reassurance. There's no clock he can see, so it's hard to tell how few hours of sleep he'd gotten. “Jus’ go back t’bed n’uh…” he scrubs a hand up and down his face, squinting at her. He closes his eye again, sighs into his palm in a way that turns into a yawn. Resignation sinks in.

“Alright, Christ, alright.” It's not as harsh as it sounds, the irritation directed inward at his own dismissiveness than her need for comfort. He shifts to the side, props up a pillow. “//C’mon,” he says in a small voice. “I'm up, might as well… talk, or… something.”

Sibyl draws herself into the bed arms first, followed by her legs and the trailing blanket, which she pulls up behind her like a cat flicking its long tail. Now that he’s awake, she does not touch him; there’s always a space she maintains between them, enough for him to feel the heat generated by her body but not any part of it, even through the blankets.

She settles with her hand on the offered pillow, and her cheek on her hand. Her tears are drying quickly, leaving only a film along her jaw that’s visible when the light hits it exactly the right away. The rest are damp on his hand that cradled her cheek.

“It was so dark,” she whispers after the sheets and blankets have ceased rustling around them and their bodies are both still except for the rise and fall of Avi’s chest, “and it was so loud this time. So loud—”

She swallows the rest of that sentence to watch him, to study him. Her expression belongs to someone who is wondering something but is afraid to ask. “I want something,” she says, “please don’t be mad.

“We've been over this,” Avi responds perhaps too soon, “there's no room for a dog up here.” But his tone isn't actually chiding, it's a more joking thing. He knows that isn't what she wants, what she's troubled over, but he's trying to lighten things for her in his own inherently cantankerous way.

But his awkward smile is enough to show the intent of the message. He props up his own pillow, sits up more fully so he can keep a better eye on her in the moonlight. His sigh isn't one of frustration or irritation, but something more complex. Something more understated than obvious emotional response; Gentle, small, and reserved.

Sibyl reaches up with her hand not trapped under her cheek and picks some of the hair off Avi’s brow, then tucks it behind his ear, which is easier for her than maintaining eye contact for any extended period of time. Maybe because he only has one and she has two. Or maybe it has something to do with what she confides next.

“I don’t like how you look at me sometimes.” Context, she decides, is important. She doesn’t mean the sort of way a stranger might assume if they walked in on them in this moment, because Avi never has, and to be sharing a bed she must implicitly trust him never to. But she wants to be clear: “You’re afraid. Tell me why.”

There's a noise in the back of his throat at that. Half a grumble and half a groan, and it builds up to a half truth too. “Why wouldn't I be?” Avi turns to actually look at her with his good eye. “Look at me,” he motions to his general condition. “Here I am, a broken fucking G.I. Joe action figure trying t’tale care of a literal living breathing human being.”

Avi exhales a sigh, leaning his head back against the pillow, state at the ceiling. “I never told you this, but… I have— had…” his brows furrow, “two kids of my own.” The revelation leaves him quiet for a moment. “My son, Taylor. He'd be older than you now, but… he— he joined the military like his old man. Died overseas.”

Taking in a deep breath, Avi’s eye wanders the ceiling. The water spots, the cracks in the molding. Cobwebs in a high corner. “My daughter, Emily, isn't all that much older than you. She… she was really sick for a long time. Then got better, then got worse. Now— I think she's doing ok. We… don't talk.”

“I'm scared,” Avi turns to regard Sibyl again. “I'm scared because I've never been a good father t’anybody. Never been a good husband. Never… been good at family.” He swallows noisily, then looks away. “M’afraid you'll realize I'm not worth the trouble and just take off too.”

Sibyl’s expression darkens as Avi speaks. She studies his face with the intensity of someone counting his eyelashes, or imagining what his skull looks like under his skin, although what she’s thinking might not be as morbid as that.

Or maybe it is. Her voice has a different quality when she answers him, one that he’s heard a few times before; it is measured and low, brooding without losing any of its softness or its familiar, gentle rhythm. “But I didn’t,” she says, and there’s no reluctance to elaborate on what those words mean, only a lost opportunity as the moment abruptly passes.

“You should find her,” is her suggestion, on the subject of Emily. Her hand drifts to Avi’s chest and rests there, palm flat, feeling his heartbeat through the rough, worn material of his sweater. “Don’t call. Knock. There was a war. I’d want to open the door and see your face on the other side.”

Avi turns his head away. “I know where she is. Jensen’s kid took her in, they live out in Bay Ridge. I just…” There's a moment where Avi almost seems like he'd try to justify himself to Sibyl. But he fights it. A look is fired her way, sour and frustrated.

“Didn't you want something?” Avi had assumed it wasn't as simple as to ask a question. But even if it was, he hopes the distraction pulls her away from talk about his daughter and that more complicated part of his life.

“I asked why you were afraid.” Sibyl presses the heel of her hand harder against Avi’s chest, although not so hard that it hurts. “You answered, but you know that’s not what I meant.”

She shifts her focus from his heartbeat to the sweater’s weave, rubbing it between her fingers for lack of anything else to occupy her fingers with. There’s a joke about getting the kid a fidget spinner to be made here, or there would be if she allowed him the breathing room to make it.

She doesn’t. “I know I shouldn’t use it.” Her ability. “I can ask it about you. I want to ask it about you.”

Drawing out another sigh, Avi sits forward, shoulders slouched and hands folded in his lap over the blankets. “Kid, I did mean it.” That he's afraid of losing her. “But… yeah,” he looks down to his lap. “Your ability is dangerous, psychic stuff always is. It's a door, you leave that shit open and someone else is going to walk in.”

“I know you're curious.” Avi’s brows furrow, lips downturn to a frown. “I don't blame you. It just— I'm shit at that stuff. I can't teach you how t’control it and I'm scared as shit of letting anyone else know what you can do. Because it won't ever be about you,” he wrings his hands together, “it'll be about them. Because people are fucking selfish.”

Turning his head just so, Avi regards Sibyl with half his face lit by moonlight. “You deserve to live your life, not… somebody else’s shit. And, I know how that sounds, keeping you here and being the way I am. I'm just…” he sighs again. “I'm selfish too, I guess. I just don't think I could handle losing…” he looks down to his lap, “anyone else.”

Sibyl draws away. She sits up and swings her legs over the side of the bed, pulling the blanket she’d dragged into his room around her body like a bird folding in its wings. Her bare feet carry her from the bed to the window overlooking the street below and the gutted Manhattan skyline beyond, all hazy shadows and flat skeletal structures that reflect no light due to the absence of any intact glass.

It’s a blight on the landscape, but so is the rest of the city.

She shows him her back. “You can’t keep me here forever,” sounds sullen, and like it should be a threat, but her tone lacks malice or any kind of heat. It’s simply a statement of fact. Her breath fogs the window a few inches away from her face. “And if I go away, it doesn’t mean I’m lost.”

She uses the tip of her finger to trace a shape in the gathered condensation. It vaguely resembles a helix. “You’re a good man who’s done bad things. I know all about the people who disappeared from your life. The ones who left and the ones who— died. That’s not me.”

“I know, kid…” Avi exhales the words as he rolls onto his side, them comes to sit half-tangled in the blankets on the bed. His feet don’t quite come to hit the floor. His expression has become distant, tired. “That’s what scares me most out’f anything. The thought of you, out there, in that gutter.” Though whether he’s being figurative or not isn’t elaborated on.

“Everybody thinks they’re different, that the world’ll treat them better, or that they’re smart enough to… I dunno, make better choices.” He finally pushes the rest of the way onto the floor, then moves to stand. “It’s never about choices, it’s about the world not giving a shit what you choose. One day, you’ll walk out that door and…” a sigh fills the silence. “I dunno. I just want you to be as ready as you can be. I just…”

Silence comes again, longer this time than before, hand at the back of his head scraping uneven nails against scalp. “I just want you t’be happy.”

“Me too,” says Sibyl. She’s drawing something else now. It looks like it might be a flower, but Avi knows that it isn’t. Her fingertip adorns it with frills. Her eyes watch his obscured reflection in the glass. “Foxgloves in spring would make me happy. Or tulips. They have them in the market, sometimes.”

She rests her head against the pane, shifting her focus from Avi’s reflection to the city beyond it on the other side. Lights twinkle, some closer than others. “The dreams aren’t always scary,” she confesses. “I get nice ones, too. There’s a man who smells like damp wool and woodsmoke with big arms that wrap me up and make me feel like I’m sleeping inside my favourite sweater. We drink coffee and talk about small things. Or the world is spinning because I’m learning how to dance for the first time and there’s music and somebody’s hands are holding mine so I don’t look stupid even though nobody else is looking.”

Even though she claims it’s a nice dream, the corners of Sibyl’s mouth are drooping into a more troubled expression than her descriptions deserve. “I even had one about you, once,” she says. “After the first time you came to see me at Saint Margaret’s. You were sad, like you’re sad now. A little. It was dark, and you were hurt, and all I wanted to do was shine a light on you so you wouldn’t be anymore, but then I remembered that’s not how fixing people works, so I woke up.”

Her frown deepens. “I don’t think I’m meant to fix you,” she says. “I just wanted to. If me staying here makes you happy, then I guess that’s all right. I can be a light. For awhile.”

Slouched forward, arms resting across his legs, Avi shakes his head in response to the notion. “Nobody’s meant t’do anything, kid. Least of all fix somebody else.” There's a bit of pessimism there, but it's liberating in its own way. “People choose t’do shit like that, because that's what makes it worthwhile. Ain't nobody ever told me I was or wasn't meant to do anything… so I never let that get in my way.”

Avi smiles, briefly, at the thought. “Maybe I need fixing, maybe you're the one who does that.” But then, more grimly, “I really wouldn't count on it though.”

But this has gone on long enough, and even Sibyl’s good dreams give him pause and cause for alarm. “You want the big bed?” Avi motions to his, as he rises to stand, “I don't think I'm gonna be able t’get back t’sleep anyway. Be a shame for it t’go unused.”

Sibyl retreats from the window with some reluctance but no protest. One foot weaves in front of the other, and then the other, walking a straight, perfectly even line back to the bed. She’d tell him she was sorry for waking him up, except she isn’t. Sorry.

She is tired now that the adrenaline that shot her awake in the first place has ebbed, flushed from her system by a few minutes of conversation and platonic physical contact. “Good night,” she says in lieu of an apology, burrowing under the comforter. She drags her own blanket in after her, and fastidiously arranges it around her body until she’s comfortable like a frail little animal constructing its nest.

“Say goodbye before you go,” she adds sleepily, voice muffled by the excessive layers of fabric. Beneath the covers, she curls into herself, making her shape very small. “In the morning.”

Avi turns, regarding the window in silence for a time. His brows furrow and expression remains a statue of a pensive man. Eventually, he walks beside the bed and looks down at Sibyl, small as she is there. “No,” he says gruffly, a beat too long between words and thoughts. “I mean, I'm not… leaving tomorrow.” Even though he should.

“It's raining,” isn't the excuse Avi means for it to sound. “Ground’ll be a little soft tomorrow. We’ll go up to Park Slope, skulk around some of the old buildings.” He knows how much she enjoys those walks, infrequent as they are. But there's a practicality to it. “You need t’practice how t’follow tracks. Cover your own. It'll be like hide and seek. Without abilities.”

Hesitantly, he brings a hand down atop her head. Thick and calloused fingers brush dark hair away from her face. “I'll say goodbye the next day,” he belatedly promises, letting his hand slowly move away from her hair. He lets that promise hang in the air, turning from the bed and moving to the narrow set of stairs out of the room.

He lingers in the doorway, watching her in the pale light. Then, with a soft sigh he disappears down the stairs. “Love you,” he says so only he can hear.

It would be too difficult otherwise.

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