Stock Standard



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wf_delia1_icon.gif wf_gabriel1_icon.gif

Scene Title Stock Standard
Synopsis Breaches of trust do not have to be malicious.
Date March 30, 2011

In Dreams

The squealing cry of a baby could possibly wake the dead.

Hurried feet carry the noise away, a tall woman with cropped auburn hair, and other details that escape Eileen's notice because she's gone around the corner as quickly as it is safe to do so while holding an infant. The squalls reduce to an echo, proximity or a lack thereof making the racket tolerable or even familiar, and there's the quiet click of a distant bedroom door coming shut. The dimensions of Eileen's own room extend around her, identifiable, from antique pieces to the careful but not obsessive placement of precious things, such as a vial of perfume or a figurine of porcelain, an antique box or a pocket watch left open. In places her hands can readily find them. The Staten Island greenbelt shivers outside in mild winds.

The faded rug beneath her doesn't do too much to protect bony rear from the hard ground it covers, but it's something. A candle shudders its flame within reach, making the finch bird on her shoulder a little nervous, but too under her thrall to do much about it than grip the wool of her cardigan with its tiny claws and direct its gaze to the test kit debris in front of her.

The throw of golden firelight makes it difficult to pick out the colours, even such basic ones as red and blue, and so the finch comes to land upon her wrist to take a closer look. By then, the baby has stopped crying, and foot steps are softly making their way back, too anxious to stay away.

Eileen holds the card between her fingers, her back to the wall, and angles it so the finch can better see. Her other hand still has the lancet that came with the kit, fingers curled around it with the instrument itself pressed hard into the seat of her palm, and although her knuckles have gone white under the strain, she's remarkably steady. She has to be.

And not only because she just pricked open an infant's thumb a few moments ago, producing the dark bead of blood needed to answer the question that all new parents in America, young and old, are compelled to address whether they obey their government or not. Her back to the wall, she gathers the kit and rises from her seat on the floor, shifting her work from the carpet to the flat, worn surface of her vanity where the wood has begun to crack and peel in places, its mirror warped and stained, too impractical to replace.

She moves aside her bottle of perfume, years old and kept for its sentimental value rather than what little is left inside it. The glass contains memories, too, as potent as the smell of cigarette smoke that saturates her hair and clothes and is more powerful these days than the rose oil she likes to dab at her throat. Her finch flicks a glance back over its shoulder toward the sound of the approaching footsteps.

Entering back into the room by the time the child's fussing has died down, Delia stands nervous in the mouth of the bedroom, looking vaguely sick and guilty, but hungrily curious as she eyes the smaller woman across the short span of distance. She's all greys and whites, in athletic cotton pants over bare feet, the matching hoodie made for comfort and warmth, swamping her a little, and strands of red have come loose to hang as long as her chin, fly away in their wave.

"Thanks for doing this," she says, in a tone that rings like it's been said a few times now, the way it jangles against Eileen's nerves. "I've been sitting on it for a while now. Figuritively. I've just kept the test under my bed. Is it working? Is it expired?" This last thought only just now occurring to her, blue eyes widening.

"It's positive," Eileen says, and maybe it's to spare Delia the anguish of waiting any longer than she's already had to. She bids the younger woman to come closer by trading the lancet for her candle, which she holds so the test is bathed in shuddering gold light. A flutter of the finch's wings carries it from her wrist to the top of the vanity's mirror, its feathers rumpled and glassy black eyes reflecting the candle's glow the same way the mirror itself does. The Englishwoman has no desire to look at her own reflection — not because she isn't vain but because she is a little bit, enough that when the finch steals a glimpse of the shadows under her eyes, her anemic complexion and pallid tone, she turns her face back down, veiled by her hair.

She offers the card to Delia. I'm sorry, is what someone else might say then, all things considered, but Eileen forces a small smile instead. "I imagine you'll want to keep this. He might want to see it when he's old enough to understand what it means."

Emotions play out across Delia's features, brows drawing together and mouth parting without words coming out. Like she didn't expect that result, or fooled herself into thinking it wouldn't happen. "Okay." She blinks once, twice, before tentatively drawing farther into the room, her hand limply going out with the intent to do as instructed—

And then it happens again, the echoing, piercing cry of a baby finding itself alone and unhappy about its circumstances. Delia lets out a sharp exhale, before retracting as swift and fluid as a bitten sea creature, leaving Eileen with the damning results. She doesn't have to make apology for abandoning Eileen in favour of the child — she does it all the time and now is no different. Disappearing back out the hallway, she quickly treads back the way she came, and when she opens and shuts a door to disappear inside, Eileen can probably sense she might not come back out.

The finch glances off for a corner, then, spinning Eileen's gaze, but whoever is calling it isn't so dickish as to make the bird move. A few moments later, the familiar shape and configuration of a man is sinking through the wall, stepping into the room.

Eileen opens the vanity's drawer and, without much deliberation, tucks the card inside. The man may glimpse a shimmer of pearls, something silver gleaming in the candlelight — the drawer is where she keeps her more valuable possessions, and although the results of the test do not belong to her, they are important enough to warrant a place there until they can be retrieved by their rightful owner.

Or the rightful mother's owner acting on his behalf, at any rate. She gently eases the drawer shut again and, her back to the man, occupies herself with tracing the shape of the ornate brass handle with the edge of her thumb, either lost in thought or the absence of it.

"Does it bother you that they're here?" she wants to know, though her voice is soft, unaccusing.


Gabriel's gravel voice is a distinct one, but she doesn't need it, nor the shape of him through birds' eyes, to sense he is there. The empathic connection has only been given time to grow and cement itself — she'd have to mentally trick herself into thinking anything else other than that Gabriel is in the room. "When it cries like now. She does too, just not as loudly." Eileen can sense, too, the way his voice is perfectly even, the way a man's shoulders can be because he's holding a knife in the folds of his coat. There's something sharp laying in here too.

He's moving for her bed, absently reaching to run his fingers along the edge of the mattress, dancing fingertips over the dips and folds of linen. "But I'm getting used to it."

"When you've been through what she's been through," Eileen says, "sometimes there is nothing left to do but cry." She draws her fingers back off the handle — there is nothing for her to glean from its texture — and allows her hand to drift back down to her side as she lowers the candle and sets it down beside her bottle of perfume, beside the lancet. What's left of the kit can be disposed of in the morning, but for some reason she makes sure that the cradle on which the candle is set, designed to catch the wax as it melts and runs off it, covers the folded instruction booklet that came with it.

She lifts her gaze to confront him with eyes that cannot see, but if they could they'd be studying his reflection in the mirror with a feline intensity matched by what her body's language can still communicate with perfect clarity. "Are you cross with me?"

Mouth pulls a little, grimacing against immediate words that could fly out at any moment. Gabriel isn't looking at her, studying the rivets and dips of patterns in the crumpled bedthings, resembling a slow rippling desert from sky high. That probably answers the question on its own, actually, but he entertains a pause.

When he does speak, his tone is steel against anything, such as anger or hurt or prying curiousity, affecting an edged kind of apathy, like not caring could be a threat. "Why do you think you can hide it from me?" A restless step to the side steals him from her view just enough for him to apparently skip forward in time, appearing sudden closer, obscuring the doorway in the reflection. "By now you should know you can't hide anything from me."

Not caring is the worst threat of all. He could raise his voice and thunder at her, and it wouldn't have the same effect that his apparent disconnect does — fear before remorse, the slow, creeping kind of panic that worms its way into the marrow of her bones and solidifies there, making her limbs feel leaden. The physical distance Gabriel deliberately puts between them she can tolerate; it's the absence of emotion that has her so thoroughly terrified that she does not answer at first.

She isn't even sure she's breathing until she hears the air hissing in her those on the next intake, and that's a sharp, almost involuntary sound that would betray her if the ability they share wasn't a more reliable method of measuring truth.

Her hand curls at her chest. "I don't know what I'd say."

"Nothing isn't better." Maybe he does care. It's difficult to be apathetic and still manage that crack of tension in the emphasis, Gabriel stepping back like this conversation is also coded in proximity, body language, posture. Most conversations are. And by his tone, more of it should be coming — accusation or attack hemmed into syllables, but nothing does. The breath he takes only serves to be exhaled again, jaw clamping tense and uncertain while his posture seems like it's on the brink of depature.

He doesn't do that either. He stays, watching her, waiting.

He waits a long time, but maybe it isn't very long in comparison to what's already elapsed before it — the time spent deliberating over whether or not to have this conversation at all. Eileen knows exactly how long it's been for her because she's been counting in notches. There are some things even she won't put down on paper.

Paper can be found. Paper can be read.

She smears her knuckles across her cheek and her hand comes away wet. Her mouth opens as if to speak, but then she closes it again to swallow hard, not trusting her voice as she shakily wipes her hand off on her cardigan's sleeve. "What do you want from me, Gabriel?" she asks when she's sure she can do it levelly. "There's nothing more to know than what you already do."

The animal kingdom gets it good. There's bristling, and low rumbling growls, fanning crests and other displays of aggression and aggravation that human beings are not so gifted with. Fists are made and the look he gives her is a flat one of little sympathy for the dewy evidence of her angst, unforgiving. "That's not true," Gabriel says, and what growl is available to him is installed in his words. "You could start with why it's a secret from me. Why you don't know what you can say, because I'm pretty sure this is one of those things that come with some stock standard answers.

"I waited." If he's hurt, it goes unbetrayed — she'll have to divine it from implication and its absence in his voice, and the tenuous link between them that shivers with it. Indignance, anxiety, confusion. Curiousity.

"You might ask me to do something I can't," is said more in honesty than it is in self-defense, and although there's a little of that in her tone as well, her fight is quiet and she's given up all pretense of keeping her voice steady, "or you'll leave because I won't." The cracks in her composure are becoming deep fissures — Gabriel can feel her breaking apart almost as intimately as she can. If fear had kept her from saying anything until now, then it's pride that prevents her from showing him more than her back.

Warmth on her face and a taste in her mouth rather than blurred vision make her aware that there are more tears than she can wipe away with any real dignity so she lets them run hot. "I'd have told you. Eventually I'd have to have told you."

In the other room, the child has stopped crying.

Maybe things are already bad, because whatever patience that Eileen can even remotely assign to Gabriel doesn't seem ready to be given here. His reflection recoils, vaguely, like her words had a slap in them despite being wet and quietly spoken in a different direction. His shoulders draw up like puffing feathers, before he blurs briefly out of sight. Changes his mind within some indefinite span of time until the only response he has for her is a dangerous kind of unfocused decision in amber brown eyes, and the raise of a dustily silvered eyebrow.

He moves, then. That he's using legs and flesh and the door is because maybe he wants to be seen to leave. Anger could possibly send waves off him like heat from tarmac by the time he's catching the edge of the door already left open by Delia. Stepping out of it.

Slamming it behind him hard enough to rattle the things on her vanity.

It rattles her, too. She sinks back down to the floor after he's gone and tilts her head back until it's resting against the edge of the closed drawer. Bleary eyes squeeze shut and Eileen sucks in a long, hard breath that makes a reedy sound when she lets it out again. Her hands cover her face, smothering any other noises that she might involuntarily make.

If nothing else, she is determined to be quieter than the baby.

Quieter than Delia.

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