Mon Cœur Qui Bat


eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title Mon Cœur Qui Bat
Synopsis Some subjects are best discussed in the dark when both parties are too tired to argue, especially when both parties are prone to arguing.
Date December 20, 2010

Pollepel Island

If European folklore is to be believed, then the witching hour is when spirits are at their most powerful, and although Eileen — who stopped believing in selkies before ten and began having her first doubts about God in her teens — is not a particularly superstitious person, there's something about this time of night that makes her uneasy. When she still had her sight and couldn't sleep, she spent it either watching the dark shapes moving outside her bedroom window or tracing the patterns on Gabriel's back. She still does, sometimes, allowing sense memory to guide her fingertips rather than her eyes, but not tonight.

The snow outside makes no noise as it falls. What she has to listen to instead is the sound of his breathing and the occasional whispering voice swept down the narrow hallway on the other side of the door by the draft. Her lantern has burned itself out. Fuel for the kerosene heaters is being rationed. This would be more of a problem if there wasn't another body like a furnace in her bed.

Her face has been resting on his chest long enough that when she presses it to his neck, her nose isn't cold against it. The hand curled at his abdomen splays fingers beneath the wool covers and shifts it several inches up. Eileen is rarely tentative about anything anymore; they can't afford to be anything except cautiously confident, but there's hesitation in the movements her mouth makes, as if unsure whether to kiss his throat or murmur his name against it.

"Gabriel," she decides after a few moments of mute indecision, though her voice is quiet enough that it might not rouse him.

Quiet enough, but when it's whispered as it is against his throat, her voice converts from sound to sensation. Skin and veins drink it up as readily as it registers as audible, and she can feel Gabriel shift beneath her, feel the change of breathing as consciousness encroaches. The hand placed on her hip twitches, and a growled rumble in his throat tilts upwards in tone, questioning. The attention afforded to her is not meant to be insulting, in its minimum, just.

He was sleeping, and now he's aware his feet are cold. Legs shift beneath the covers, to bring his toes closer to the warm core of the bed. The edge of Eileen's fingertip finds scarring, with a similar but not identical starbust of shiny skin where the second bullet had entered his torso, back in Antarctica. By rights, he should have more scars.

The silence that accompanies Eileen's exploration of the tissue's unique texture could mean it was his imagination. A creaking hinge that sounds like his name. The groan of old branches outside the window. Some sort of auditory hallucination.

She does not nudge him further at first, either second-guessing herself or taking a few additional moments to translate the sound he makes into something that can guide her actions, bringing him around as gently as possible. If she waits too long, she'll lose him again. "I had a dream," she says, and she follows the shape of his sternum with her fingertips in a subdued attempt to coax him the rest of the way awake.

As far as Gabriel knows, Eileen does not dream in prophecy. It's the first thing he wonders when he registers her words and tries to figure out ahead of time why she might be waking him to say them. A hand creeps up and rests slackly over her wrist, tension around his eyes as he cracks them open, the world swimming sleepily enough that he gives up on that in not too long. But he's awake. She can hear that in his measured breathing, shallower than before, the soft vibration that comes with gently clearing his throat.

"Good dream or bad dream?" he mutters creakily, head turning enough that she can feel his breath stream warmly and damply over the top of her skull.

"There was a cemetery," Eileen mutters back, "and a great stone angel that took me in her arms. I was wearing a red coat, and the air smelled like wet earth. You could taste the soil in the rain." Her lashes are still against the slope of his neck; she has no reason to open her eyes, and not because it's dark. On the other side of the room on the edge of the writing desk, her pocket watch — left open — continues to tick. Moonlight reflecting off its silver chain is the brightest thing in the room.

"I remember thinking that I couldn't hide in the mausoleum because I wasn't small enough to squeeze through the bars on the grate. A nettle stung my hand but I didn't cry." There's no urgency in Eileen's voice when she speaks. She's tired, too, and pulls in a long, slow breath that she lets out again after holding, only a faint tremor in it like a moth caught behind glass. "Two men came. I can't see their faces anymore, but they knew my name. Said they read it in a prophecy. One of them gave me a book and I kept it in a biscuit tin for years.

"Did you put my brother in the infirmary?"

"No." His hand retracts from her wrist and settles half-curled on his chest, but that's the only sign of withdraw he gives — and maybe that's just granting her arm back its freedom. Gabriel breathes deep enough that maybe he's fallen back asleep, but an inhale swells his torso a little before he grates out the punchline; "The Ferrymen that came running out after I was done with him put your brother in the infirmary. I was pretty happy about where he was when I took off."

I.e., shaking in the snow, muscles spasming and bruised, bleeding from shallow gashes.

He doesn't dream much, meanwhile. He likes to think one of the guardians in his head takes care of that, or maybe the Nightmare Man yanked out something important. Opinion on what Eileen had to dream about isn't spoken, likely because Gabriel doubts it's really what she really wants to discuss.

"He wouldn't say who did it," she tells him in a tone that suggests this says everything, even if Nick refused to. "I don't know if it's because he thinks he's protecting you or if it's because he's scared." Her hand freed, she places it on Gabriel's cheek and uses it to angle his face so she can kiss the corner of his mouth in what might be forgiveness, assuming that there's anything for her to forgive. She does not sound angry, only resigned.

"We need him," she says then, "like we need Walsh." Epstein might be on the tip of her tongue as well, but she has the sense not to include him in this. "Choosing who we buy from is a luxury we've lost, but we'll have it again after the winter is over. More arms dealers will come. Supply, demand — it's the way of things."

She trails her fingers along his jaw. "Are you protecting me?"

There's a subtle shift when Gabriel shrugs — not so much dismissing her concerns for her suppliers, but dismissing the idea that he might care whom she chooses to do business with, be it a Humanis First pawn or her rapist brother.

"I'm not going to kill him," is needless reassurance, but spoken anyway in case she was wondering, and his jaw lifts a little not to escape her touches, but encourage them down his throat. "He's just a coward." He bends an arm, tucks it back beneath his head. Eyes shut close. "And I'm just drawing a line that he probably won't make the mistake of crossing." He pauses, and then with the same note of genuine curiousity, asks, "Do you think I'm protecting you?" Like maybe he isn't sure if he is or not.

The fingers at Gabriel's jaw still, her touch cool and smooth where the crescent tips of porcelain white nails graze the rough stubble there and tickle her skin like sandpaper. It would be easier to read his body language if she could see it, but there's a lot that happens between a man and a woman — or a man and a man, for that matter — in the dark without even a sliver of light to guide their actions. The incline of his chin conveys all that she needs to know, and as she speaks she curves her mouth along his throat before claiming the protrusion there, articulating her answer against it.

"I don't always dream about Brompton," she breathes. "There's an elm that grows at the top of a hill, covered in snow, and its trunk swells fat at the roots. You can see the shoulders and neck of a man bulging in it, the long bow of his spine and the muscles in his back and legs. Its branches shelter me, this tree, even without the leaves, and in my dream I know that if I stop standing with it, I'll freeze. That if I stop standing with it, they'll come with their axes and cut it down. Cleave into pelvis and hip, break the tree down and apart, feed the pieces to their fires. I've spent so much of my life watching things burn, but nothing scares me more than thinking about losing the tree."

It couldn't just be a simple yes or a no.

He's silent, after that. Who wouldn't be? The darkness, her blindness, his subtlety all work together to create ambiguousness — maybe he's rolling his eyes towards the ceiling, or blinking in dumb incomprehension. That he's slanted a stare through thick eyelashes to regard what portion of her head he can see isn't detectable, not until he lifts a hand and rests it warm against her skull in something that is like affection and like protectiveness, like her anecdote is like a yes or a no. Without quite being so.

"I thought you'd probably get mad," he states, after a moment. He doesn't state before or after. Doesn't make it sound like apology, defeat, maybe due to the fact she doesn't seem to be.

"I don't know how I feel," Eileen admits. Her fingers curl loosely below his ear and stroke a dark curl of hair closest to his nape, a study in the difference between its silkier texture and that of his skin. "He always used to look out for me when we were small, before the worst of it, and I used to think that no matter what happened things would turn out all right for us as long as we were together. That nobody else could hurt me, until he did. Then everything changed."

She makes a soft feline sound in her throat, encouraging the hand on her head like she might prefer his fingers tangled in her hair or spread across the back of her neck. Touch is comforting. So is physical proximity. "I wish you'd loved me when my arms and legs were still sticks. I wish I'd had someone to show me what a line was, or how to draw one.

"Somewhere inside of me there's a little girl who's glad you did."

Fingers splay, dark curls slipping through them and tickling against his open palm as he listens, small tension developing between his eyebrows. He finds himself watching the shape of the window, and this close, she can hear when Gabriel swallows around his words as if to reconsider them. "Right and wrong was never a big deal to me," he murmurs into her hair, letting his eyes relax enough for the world to darken into unfocus and veiling eyelashes. "Either I was too insignificant for it to matter or make a difference, or…"

She knows the rest of that story, and it's not the kind of material worth sharing in the intimate space of a bed in the dark. "You know lines better than I do. And I know you can draw them yourself. I just figured, if you had the ability to throw lightning— "

Unsure of how to end that sentence, Gabriel blinks and lowers his head to rest chin against the crown of her skull, breath warm and damp. He shifts for comfort, bed creaking, silencing.

A blocky old watch that glimmers silver and bronze under the right light, hidden away somewhere in the Dispensary, would disagree with the descriptor insignificant. Eileen does, too, and her mouth adopts a wry, sad shape at Gabriel's assessment of himself, or what he used to be— what he perceives he used to be. This is an important distinction; her free hand finds the one not in her hair and captures it in his fingers so she can give him a slow, firm squeeze.

There's a song she hums sometimes when she thinks no one is listening, but Gabriel will recognize it; she does it in the bath, she does it when boiling water for tea in the indigo hour before daybreak, and she's doing it now, barely loud enough to be heard by him, never mind whoever might be wandering the hall outside. When she adds the words, it's in a thin, lilting whisper that's a little off-key.

Eileen plays the violin better than she sings. The lyrics are in French rather than in English, and maybe this makes it easier for her to express, knowing that he can't understand the words or judge them like he can everything else that comes out of her mouth.

It isn't a long song, and although tiredness saps her voice of her strength toward the end, it loses none of its conviction, ending in a more roughly-spoken, "C’est lui pour moi, moi pour lui dans la vie, il me l’a dit, l’a juré pour la vie." She turns her face against the side of Gabriel's neck. Presses closer. "Et dès que je l’aperçois," she finishes, "alors je sens en moi mon cœur qui bat."

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