The Fine Print


eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title The Fine Print
Synopsis It isn't limited to contracts. Eileen awakens for the first time in several days and discusses what future may exist with Gabriel.
Date January 6, 2009

USS George Washington

He'd taken a bed next to hers, the sickbay bright with sunlight streaming in through windows and making the sterile white glow. Everything seems heavenly that way, from the paint to the tile to the lights. Bed sheets, his T-shirt, the bandages on his left arm, the pallor Eileen's skin has taken on since she hasn't woken up. The taut skin on his knuckles whenever he makes a fist. Bleached out and pale. On thing that isn't, however, that he imagines one day used to be, stark white against red cat mouth, would be the chipped lion's tooth he dangles from the leather strap it's secured to.

It's yellowed, brown spots, white in some places but age and damage has had its way with it. It swings from where his fingers tangle the necklace itself, and Gabriel sets it swinging with a tap from his other hand's finger.

He's lying down, occasionally letting his mind snag on someone new, lets them walk around the carrier for him. There's a lot of familiar faces. Peter. Claire. Gillian. All his favourite people, and so he hasn't moved from this place, not in the flesh, watch dog both over her health and the ease at which people could just snatch her away again. It doesn't occur to him that he could be snatched away too.

Eileen has been off the respirator for two days, and although she hasn't shown any signs of stirring since being interred here, her prognosis has improved during their short stay aboard the USS Washington. She's dressed in white rather than the traditional bluebird egg colour that's normally associated with hospital gowns, which matches the cotton sheets on her bed but not the wool blanket pulled up to her waist to keep her legs warm. That's gray-green, and not like her eyes — more like lichen and moss, organic, fibrous things with an abrasive texture. The blanket is made of the same material that small children try to wriggle out of when it's pulled over their heads in the form of sweaters. Not that Eileen has been wriggling. She hasn't been doing much of anything except breathing and occasionally winking back into consciousness before swiftly fading out again.

Antibiotics supplemented with malaria medication have been standard. A saline drip to keep her hydrated. Her heart monitor doesn't make any sound — instead, it keeps track of the rhythm on the outdated display, checked once every few hours by one of the ship's medical personnel along with her chart to ensure there haven't been any unanticipated changes in her condition. The last visit was a little less than half an hour ago, leaving Gabriel alone with Eileen, or at least as alone as they can be. Cloth dividers strung up like curtains provide some privacy but nothing intimate, nothing personal, nothing that can't be eavesdropped on by random passersby on the other side.

No physical signs precede her return to the waking world. It's a slow, gradual transition, at least in comparison to the way Lang took her out of it. One minute her eyes are closed. The next she's watching him blearily from beneath her lashes, saying nothing.

Down here, it's at least slightly more private, flimsy curtains aside. No matter what the hell happened out at Madagascar, it won't make the Navy soldiers aboard the USS George Washington any happier about his presence, like chickens eyeing the stalking cat in the den. Or perhaps the other way around — the line between prey and predator blurs, shifts out of focus, fuzzy with mutual distrust and capability. Kershner's enthusiasm will probably only get him so far and does nothing for the glances he gets, silent animosity that doesn't matter so much as exist. Gabriel crosses his ankles, mattress shifting, and continues to study the pendulum swing of the lion tooth.

The feeling of being watched falls like a very fine rain, uncertain if it's even there or not until Gabriel looks over. There's a pause, the expectation being that her big eyes will slide shut again at any moment now. They don't, at least, for long enough that he pauses to slip the thin leather braid around his neck, let the lion tooth rest high on his chest.

He swings his legs over the side of his bed, the rest of him following the momentum in sitting up, though he goes slowly. The collar of his T-shirt is high, but not enough to completely disguise the bandaging on his chest, visible even through the thin cloth, not to mention the swatches of the white stuff on his arm, across the back of it. He doesn't say anything, just yet, studying.

This is not the first time they've found themselves in these positions. Once, they were even reversed. Eileen can remember, however vaguely, sitting at Gabriel's bedside in the company of Gillian Childs with a dog-eared copy of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner shared between them. That her memory of the book is clearer than the circumstances responsible for bringing the three of them together aggravates her more than the pain in her ribs does. When she exhales, it produces a shaky sound somewhere between a rattle and a whine — or maybe that's the gurney being wheeled past the bed on the other side of the divider.

Her hand with the IV in her wrist shifts, fingers extending across the hem of the blanket upon which they rest. Gabriel's injuries are assessed in silence, followed by his surroundings. It doesn't take her more than a minute to conclude that they're no longer in Madagascar. If she listens closely using her ability, she can hear the distant call of seabirds off Marion Island where the ship is docked, though the presence of terns, cormorants and albatrosses tells her nothing about what happened after Lang slid his knife between her ribs.

"You're hurt." Her voice is raw, hoarse. A little stern and accusatory, too.

The click-clack of heeled shoes moving beyond the drawn curtains accompanies the shadowed silhouette of one of the med staff drifting on by, earning a glance from Gabriel. He should be contacting one of them, opening the curtains for them to come tend to the newly awake young woman. As far as Gabriel can tell, they, and Eileen, can wait.

"Not like you," he counters, moving off the bed as if to demonstrate his capabilities of such things like standing upright. Remaining conscious. It also brings him closer, coming to loom next to her bedside, tips of his fingers brushing the snowy field of the bedsheets and the interruption of rough woolen green lending texture to the very small hills her legs beneath them make. "The Vanguard operative— Lang— scratched me up before I killed him. He got you first. We were extracted, and now we're here, off the coast of Marion Island." Whatever the fuck that portends. There's tension in his brow, the same he gets when he's indecisive.

It's important to know what you want, and Gabriel isn't sure about the next move. That much is clear. "All of the teams are back, missing only the ones who went back to New York City. Teo did. Peter didn't. It's been a few days now."

The Butcher of Mandritsara's name earns Gabriel a pointed look from Eileen. It makes sense in hindsight — although she never saw Lang, she recognized the sound of his voice but could not place it when his hand was clasped over her mouth, one meaty arm hooked around her neck to prevent her from struggling. She looks down at the shape her body makes under the blanket's coarse fabric and touches that same hand to her side with a wince that tweaks the facial muscles in her cheeks and involuntarily squeezes her eyes shut.

When they open again, they're wet with unshed moisture, tears that coat the surface rather than forming beads and rolling salty heat down the curve of her jaw. A dose of morphine injected directly into her IV would not go amiss. Neither would an update on Rasoul, but Eileen isn't sure she wants to know what became of the man she used to call Edmond. The memory of the pregnancy farm is still too fresh, too painful. Instead, she asks, "Ethan?"

"Is in a box— still under arrest— but alive. He got shot up in Russia, but he's probably gotten worse." The room— or this sectioned off square of one— is very empty. The people Eileen cares about are scattered like leaves and among them, on a couple probably would have thought to bring her flowers. Unlike Gabriel, anyway, and if the former thought occurs to him, he follows it with; "Peter is playing Kazimir. Something like that. One or the other, he'll probably want to talk to you. A few people have wanted to talk to me but I told them I'm still taking time to recover." Vicious as Lang's knife is, the wounds are shallow, and his mouth tilts with wryness.

Her pain isn't unheeded, and it's probably why Gabriel doesn't sit down, ready to steal away and make the nurses do it. Lingers for now, tries to remember if he still has the ability to numb nerves, and recalls he doesn't. "Did you dream?"

"Not like with you. Shadow memories, no future." No fishing boat. No Gabriel. That would have been, admittedly, a welcome reprieve. Eileen turns her head enough to regard the gap between the floor and the bottom of the closest divider. She can make out a pair of combat boots — a soldier — and scuffed leather loafers, likely one of the civilian personnel. Female or male, the shoes themselves are too unisexual in appearance for her to guess. Truthfully, it doesn't matter — what she wants to say isn't something she's comfortable being overheard by anyone regardless of sex or occupation.

Curls of dark brown hair spread across the pillow like tendrils of greasy smoke that form a halo around her pale face, Eileen lifts her head as much as she's able and angles her chin, beckoning Gabriel closer. And just in case he isn't able to decipher the gesture's meaning, she reaches out and brushes her fingertips against the back of his hand, the touch accompanied by a quiet articulation of his name. The one on his birth certificate rather than the alias she's been using for the past month and a half.

He follows her glance to the visual cues of people, understanding enough that her gesture makes sense. Gabriel's hand lifts, enough to bump against her's without actually taking it or any such gesture that would have been expected of the man who's waited by her side since they arrived. Stepping up towards the head of her bed, he crouches, there, arms folded against the railings and mattress. He's shaved, since arriving here, jaw more or less clean save for the shadowed beginnings of stubble, clean chin an inch from resting against his arms. If Eileen couldn't already from what he's said, she can probably judge that time has passed by looking at his face - he's well slept, clean, healthy. Things none of them were, in Madagascar.

Eileen's hand moves from Gabriel's to the lion's tooth around his neck and traces her thumb along its hooked curve. She's in no condition to speculate whether he looks better without the stubble, but the smell of fresh linens, sterile clothes and the wash of antiseptics lingering in the background is a pleasant change from the combination of damp earth and sweat that she's become accustomed to. "Munin is bigger than they told us she was," she says, the pad of her thumb coming to rest on the tooth's point, dimpling skin. "One hundred megatons, a thirty-two kilometer blast radius. I was looking at the read-out when Lang found me.

"I don't know if the government has access to Rasoul's files, or if they were destroyed when they took Antananarivo. I do know they supported that doctor's research. The gas. Those women. It doesn't matter whether the dictatorship was Vanguard or not. You remember Sanderson's orders — the bomb isn't all they were after."

Brown eyes meet grey-green across the short distance they share, expression one of stillness and stoicism, not giving her much to read as she listens and then thinks. There's something— like guilt in the way his gaze drags from her's, watches her toy with the trophy piece on the braided leather, smooth and polished for all its discolouration, save for the ridge where a chip was knocked free at some stage in its life. At one stage, Gabriel's hand had wandered to touch rough fingers against the back of her hand, but now it tucks into the crook of his elbow, yielding the fang to her.

"Sarisa Kershner took the intel from you as soon as she could. No doubt it's already disseminated wherever she thinks appropriate, although I don't know how much she read and who she talked to."

Eileen blows a snort through her nostrils at the mention of Kershner and uses the tooth to draw Gabriel closer, cord pulled taut. It's unclear whether her motivation is rooted in her desire to feel his breath on her face and neck, or if the move is designed to rebuff suspicion should anyone glimpse them between the dividers — to the casual observer, the hushed tones of their conversation are a result of a desire for intimacy rather than secrecy. In reality, at least for the woman in the bed, it's a mixture of both with emphasis on the latter rather than the former.

"Listen." Eileen's mouth brushes a patch of skin behind Gabriel's left ear as she speaks, dry lips moving around a whisper. "Once upon a time, you made me promise not to lie to you, so I'm not going to. I'm not the person you want me to be, and I don't know if she's ever coming back. The risks you took were for her. You shouldn't take anymore."

He goes with the tug, at the risk of snapping the chord or letting it bite his flesh, a few rapid blinks communicating passing irritation before Gabriel allows himself to grow accustomed to the intimacy. His back still curls tensely beneath his T-shirt, minor resistance against the grip she has on the necklace. He listens, eyes hooded, before a soft chuckle reverberates down the braided leather, and he turns his head to murmur against the soft plane of her cheek. "I brought you back from the dead, once, and you told me I shouldn't have done that either. You're going to have to get used to it."

More resistance against her hold has him steering back enough to match her gaze again, a hand coming to rest high on her neck, enough to catch her chin. An eyebrow raises, and his voice comes out almost coy; "You don't know who I want you to be. You don't even remember her."

"No," Eileen agrees, "but I remember the look on your face when you realized the woman you were talking to didn't understand what you were saying. What I am right now disgusts you and it's going to take ten years of misery on a fishing boat with only hungry seabirds for company before you're desperate enough to settle." She winds the cord around her fingers, cutting into the skin around her knuckles and the cuticles of her broken nails without drawing blood.

Her pulse flutters under the hand at her neck, though her voice remains as steady as it is soft, steeled. "Eileen has loved Gabriel longer than Gabriel has loved Eileen. Whatever she did to earn it wasn't a decision I made. For every real memory I have of the last year, there are dozens more that are fake. I'm artificial. A cheap imitation of what you care about made to manipulate you into doing exactly what Kershner wants."

It never occurred to him that she might have been disgusted by Tavisha.

A lot of talk about letting him go, renewing his life, and such things he's not willing to do — also numbing her own hurts, but not disgust, and perhaps it's different, what she felt during a time she doesn't even recall now in comparison to what she has to say on her own predicament in reverse, but it's an inevitable comparison to draw. Something a lot like selfconsciousness crosses his features, disappears as fast as it had come.

His hand leaves her jaw, grips her wrist, firmly, blunt nails finding skin, all bone and tendon making a steely clasp. His words come out very deliberate, the kind of voice you get when you only desire to say a thing once. He feels like he's said it before, but then, she has a lot of catching up to do. "If you keep pushing, one day, I'll really be gone."

The grip on her wrist draws a pained groan from Eileen and forces her to loosen her hold on the lion's tooth, though she does not yet release it fully. "I want you," she hisses, strained, and it's not the first time she's said this to him either. The circumstances then, however, had been very different and in reference to something she isn't considering here or now in spite of their closeness. "I want to be with you, but I want you to want me too. Not spend an indefinite amount of time waiting for something to happen that probably won't. It isn't fair to either of us."

She lets out a slow breath against his throat. "When this is over, leave. Do something for yourself rather than someone else. After that, if you decide you still want this, I won't fight you."

He draws in a breath, noisier than the sigh that he releases after it, eyes going up if only to stop looking into her's and instead tracks over the sight of the machines by her bed, noiseless save for the sound of dormant, working machinery. Gabriel's hand relaxes, thumb the last thing to loosen where it had been clamped against her inner wrist, before he let's her go entirely. "You need morphine," he says, voice quiet and plain. "You need sleep that isn't unconsciousness. You'll probably need to read the fine print on whatever deal you made with them after they changed you."

In turn, Eileen lets go of the tooth and allows her hand to settle on the bedspread once more. His response isn't a yes and it isn't a no. Either way, she has little choice but to accept it. "I know what I agreed to. It's fake, too. They can do whatever they want to me. You, if you decide to stay."

She turns her head away from the Gabriel and the dividers, choosing to focus on her heart monitor's display instead. "Whether they follow through with their end of the bargain, drop me into a hole somewhere or worse — it's got nothing to do with any fine print. I trusted them before. Not after Mandritsara, Antananarivo. Aviators."

His back straightens, legs unbend, and he comes to stand and loom as she speaks to her heart monitor. A hand comes up, curls thicker fingers around the trophy he secured for himself from the man who killed a lion. "I'm not going to let them hurt you," Gabriel states, simply. There's a lack of sentiment in there, and it seems removed from their conversation entirely, about who she is and what he wants. It's a fact, spoken with a slight sneer, lacking the gravity of her own realisation.

Rippling over her bedsheets, his shadow shifts along with him as he moves away, trails along, opaque and helpless to his whim unlike the near indestructible substance of darkness he can become. The rings of the curtains sing against the metal railing as he brushes them aside, and becomes only that shadow reflected onto the other side of swaying curtains as he moves behind them and away.

Sleep that isn't unconsciousness feels like an impossibility, but so does getting up. Eileen's options are limited at the moment — she can either do one or the other, and in the end decides to close her eyes and wait.

A few minutes is all it takes. Less than the duration of their conversation. If she regrets its conclusion, she'll have the opportunity to lament later.

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