What Feels Real


eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif

Scene Title What Feels Real
Synopsis Gabriel and Eileen regroup after the disaster at the American Ballet Theatre's charity ball.
Date March 17, 2011

Speakeasy Hotel and Casino

The light goes on. No cockroaches scuttle for the corners of the room. Reassuring.

Illusion has long since shivered away since they turned the locks to close off the Speakeasy's room from threats that might somehow be stopped by mere metal, Eileen left once again with her own face and Gabriel allowing himself to become visible once more after silently following the woman checking into her room, an unseen equivelant. Seen now, taking off his coat with his back to her, and maybe oddly, his black shirt has no bullet holes in it, no blood stains, even if he doesn't move with as much ease as he would normally.

But who isn't feeling a little sore right now? Existentially speaking. "I guess we'll know what happened when it reads on the news stands." It's sort of like humour? No one ever told Gabriel that jokes are meant to be funny, but he lets wryness dry his tone as he moves to draw curtains closed.

Eileen doesn't have a coat to take off. It's still hung behind the counter at the Corinthian, waiting for Roslyn Charbonneau to claim it by presenting the numbered ticket that matches the tag attached to the appropriate hanger, but maybe it and her clutch purse can be retrieved from the staff after enough time has passed for things to blow over.

If they blow over. Reclaiming her coat and the items in her purse has not yet even occurred to Eileen and won't for some time. She's preoccupied with wiping the blood from her hands in the bathroom with one of the towels provided, the door left yawning open so the starling perched on the bed's headboard can observe her while she works.

"That was a trap," she says, voice still a little shaky with anger as she smears more of the stuff off onto the towel's pilling fabric, "and we walked straight into it."

"He would have wanted her," is insistence from Gabriel, quiet, slightly echoed from the fact he's saying it across the apartment. But it's not objection to her assertion, especially when he falls silent after that. Getting his shoes off, socks following. Paranoidly scoping psychic radar around enough to make him a little dizzy, relenting by the time he's peeling off his button down and wincing with the movement. Denial breaks, and the illusion drops enough for him to study the wound in a sliver of mirror.

He's bled enough for the plane of his back to be varying shades of smeared ruby over skin and tree tattoo, thickest where a small hole interrupts his skin dangerously close to his spine, but no bones are broken. He doesn't demand for a little help here, knowing he'll probably get it when she's done cleaning her hands.

That fucking bitch, is what he gets first, scathing, vehement, and without Eileen moving her mouth, which is pinched into an expression that matches what Gabriel can both feel and hear in the psychic equivalent on a snarl.

He isn't meant to hear it. If he was, she'd have said it aloud instead of just thinking it, and that's the only explanation for her voice in his head unless he's hallucinating.

Small feet in heels snap across the floor — very real — and a clean hand goes out to press fingers against the skin on either side of his wound, dirty towel discarded on the toilet's lid back in the bathroom. All of the blood on Eileen's dress, once blue-green but now black where the fluid has soaked thoroughly through, belongs to Audrey, and maybe he catches a shimmer of something about somebody's death before she lets that whore's mix with his because she keeps the rest of her body, unwashed, away from Gabriel's as she summons the starling over for a closer look.

There's a gruff, wolfish sound at the feel of hands resting on either side of the bullet wound and dirty fingers with fresh if drying blood, preoccupied with listening to what he shouldn't be able to. It's not exactly a flood gates, but once the sharp thought pierces through— Gabriel's eyes shut and one could suppose it's from the pain, but it's an effort to keep this little channel of telepathy small. But not closed. Uneasiness slithers beneath the surface.

Not quite as detectable as the bullet lodged in muscle, beneath the skin, and the way his bones have maintained as strong as metal, shoulder blades doing something to glance off the small round fire, spine unharmed despite the proximity.

Eileen pinches her fingers together to confirm the bullet's location through touch rather than relying on the starling alone, which she calls over to her other hand, wrist bent, and raises above Gabriel's shoulder so she can see the wound from a different angle. "You'd be dead if you were anything less," she says, and she directs the starling to the bathroom sink with a flick of her wrist, sending it fluttering away in a wide arc that carries it to the faucet labeled hot.

"I need to take the bullet out," isn't a request, but it isn't a command either — it's a warning. "Then you can close it until we're home. Stitches if it reopens. A round of antibiotics to stave off infection." She drags her hand across the breast of her dress, leaving a dark smudge on the gossamer material. Still more blood, this time Gabriel's rather than Audrey's.

"This will be easiest if you sat in the bath."

If she says so. Gabriel doesn't argue — summoning reason and words both to do so seems like too much effort. And there's something about being shot, even with bones like titanium, that drives one to be looked after someone else. It's sort of an old game they've played before, back when they were called Vanguard. He pads bare footed and mute for the bathroom, then, the harsh light spilling white over his shoulders, the jagged tattoos and the scarlet layer of fluid painting his back.

Once he's there, he waits for more direction, as if his mind were elsewhere. The mirror is glanced at, and then avoided with a shoulder. He isn't sure if she means that she wants water, or a catch all for blood, and so lets her deal with it as he absently casts a hand over the bathroom sink, and draws the spatters of run off blood from her hands cleaning into the drain.

He has thoughts to share. He will, in his own time.

The hotel room isn't equipped with much, the towels hanging from the metal rack beside the clawfoot bath, and another set tucked away behind the doors beneath the sink. There is no rug in the bathroom or complimetary cotton robe hooked on the back of the door like they might find at the Corinthian, but the Corinthian this is not. There are spare changes of clothes for both of them in the duffel under the bed but no first-aid kit, and maybe that was arrogant of them, not that Eileen anticipated Homeland Security or a firefight in the middle of a charity ball.

Maybe that was arrogant, too. She follows Gabriel into the bathroom, reaching around to snap apart the clasp above the zipper of her dress, which she's shedding a moment later like a snake discards its skin, leaving her in what little she wears beneath and the empty knife sheath nestled against the outside of her thigh. This she takes off as well, slapped down on the edge of the sink with enough force to make the starling give an anxious, involuntary flick of its wingtips on the faucet.

"He wanted her," she agrees at last, "but us also. Hanson. Your illusion. The timing of it. Run some water."

The metal squeaks, pipes groan, and water spatters into the tub, slapping wetly. The plugging of it, he lets her do, that's too much bending for him as he simply nudges the door halfway shut to retain some warmth that the water will eventually give, and sets his hands on his belt. The buckle rattles and the leather slithers from belt loops, loosening denim to drop down his legs and kick aside. "Then he's a better planner than I would have given him credit for. I wonder if he came up with it himself." But he probably did, says the downturn frown at the corner of Gabriel's mouth.

"Maybe it's retaliation. For going after him in low profile."

"Retaliation." Eileen stops up the bath using the plastic wedge attached to the silver chain dangling from the faucet — the Speakeasy is still a little behind the times when it comes to plumbing — and evicts the starling from its seat so she can properly scrub her hands in the sink while Gabriel is undressing, rinsing the more stubborn gunk from under her short glassy nails, kept trimmed by necessity. "Yes, I suppose it could be that.

"Or suicide." Satisfied, she relinquishes the sink to the starling again but this time does not bother to towel off her hands. They're wet and going to remain that way. "I don't see how he expects to achieve anything while he still has you to contend with, but without you he can't even exist. If Hanson had been aiming higher—"

She sits down on the side of the bath and opens the cupboard below the sink to snag a washcloth between her fingers, then trails her thumb along its edge all the way to the corner to confirm it isn't another towel before she holds it under the water's gurgling flow. "You'll manage," she says of Gabriel's size in relation to the bath itself, "though your legs are a little long."

Gabriel's eyes drop down to his bare legs, protruding from the hems of soft cotton; big feet braced on the tile.

And then he grows shorter, a slow and gradual sinking as his limbs thin and his hips reshape, even his ribcage seeming to shift beneath skin that grows fairer, smoother. Silver hair develops a glossier, darker sheen, curls, lengths enough and seems to drop past his ears like unfurling weeds as his face changes into something sleeker. Amber-brown eyes lighten, brow milds, and eyebrows thin but not but a very substantial amount. Swiftly— if never swift enough for it to not be fucking disturbing— Eileen finds herself looking at herself, dressed in boxers, her arms clasped across her chest. And a slight smirk on her face.

The boxers are kicked off too, and ~shorter~ legs step over the rim of the bathtub. The tree tattoo seems to swallow her whole back and curve branches long enough to edge to the front of her ribcage, reaching for her belly. A pale hand sweeps brunette hair out of the way of the bullet hole that remains as constant as tattoos.

"I bet you think you're very clever," Eileen leers, and in Gabriel's defense he is. Here is an unconventional solution to a problem that she was able to identify without offering any of her own. The starling at the sink is a little confused, however, and tips its head to the side as though rotating the angle from which it views the world might offer it insight as to why the tall, dark man that had been standing on the other side of the room is now a small, dark woman almost identical in every way to the one straddling the side of the bath.

On the bright side, the Englishwoman is thinking, and whether or not Gabriel picks up on it depends entirely how focused he is on listening, I won't be distracted by what I'd rather be doing to him.

She wrings out the cloth above Gabriel's— her own shoulder blades and sends rivulets of water cascading down his borrowed back like rain snaking down the truck of the tree inked into his skin, no leaves to catch it. When she uses it to wash around the wound itself, her touch is gentle but firm, mindful of any sensitivity he might be experiencing if he hasn't numbed himself to it all, including her hands and the temperature of the rising water.

Slender, fawn-like legs fold, and skinny arms wrap around them. Gabriel won't be able to maintain this for very long — she's too small for his frame to hold onto. He'll start feeling tired, nauseous, and run a fever until unconsciousness takes him, threatens to pull him into a coma. He's never tested what happens after that, and isn't planning to now. But Eileen has efficient fingers.

He rests a cheekbone against a knee, eyes lidding as if to sedate himself beneath the feel of her prodding around the open wound. He doesn't numb himself either, not as punishment necessarily, nor to enjoy it. It's a part of life, is pain. There's a huff of a breath as that thought whistles through his head, and a flicker of a smile is hidden from her, shown to the wall. Maybe this will be a fun one to have, if it doesn't inundate him as he thinks it could. "I am clever," he asserts — her voice, his accent. "Maybe he thinks he's strong enough by now to survive it.

"Or doesn't deserve to live if he can't. Either way. If he keeps off his leash, he's going to die. There's a reason I learned caution." Negation gas, clever bullets, underhanded promises and people with enough determination. "At least the heat's on him."

"Unfortunately," says Eileen, "there are people who aren't able to tell the difference between you." When the wound is cleaner and the starling can see what she's meant to be doing, she slops the washcloth across her leg and spreads her left hand around it while she flexes the fingers on her right. The left pushes up, squeezing the bullet closer to the surface, and when pain lances through the nerves in Gabriel's back the bite does not last for more than a few seconds — a slow count of five or six.

She leans forward, snakes an arm around his side and offers the bullet to him where it now gleams dark in the seat of her outstretched palm. "I hesitate to call such people our friends, but sometimes they're our allies. You heard what Varlane said."

By the time Eileen is handing the bullet over, Gabriel is lifting his head and having left white bitemarks in his own arm to suppress sound or reaction beyond the clamping of his jaw. The skin too mortified, it seems, to bleed. He reaches to take the bullet, as he's done before, and turn it around in his hand. "I don't know," he says, legs loosening a little, dipping into the tepid, slightly pink water to stave away risen goosebumps. "Sometimes I think it'd be freeing. For everyone to be scared of me again. To expect nothing better."

The bullet makes a tik sound as he sets it on the corner of the bathtub. "And I wouldn't even have to do anything." His fingers snag hers, turn hand over to compare the exact sizes, accurate down to the whorl of fingerprints.

"Fear you, hate you, want to see you dead and pale, broken or bleeding." He's still doing a little of that — the bleeding — and she lets the blood trickle out freely, purging the wound as he takes her hand, made only a few degrees warmer by the water. "One of the greatest mistakes a man can make is to assume that this and respect are the same thing, and it's fault of Gir forest lions, the Carpathian bears and wolves. Russia's Far East has man-eating Siberian tigers. In Papua New Guinea, they worship sharks."

Eileen presses a kiss to the top of Gabriel's head, her other hand still splayed across his back. "What are you possibly bound to, Gabriel, that pretending to be everyone's enemy can free you from?"

"Obligation. Expectation. Do you know what Varlane said to me, once?"

He moves, still in her body, and blood runs up his back even as water trickles down it, coming up to wind into the open bullet wound, push back into veins, and dry and scab along the edge of ruined skin as it does, like frost in fast motion. Gabriel bends legs beneath him, turns sinuously to look up at her with eyes that work. "He wondered why I didn't stop wars single-handedly. Why I didn't be the world's champion. I don't remember what answer I gave him, but the real one is that it's too much to think about. I don't think that's something Gabriel Gray could do."

"It's not something anyone could do." Eileen's hands, still dripping, take Gabriel's face as she rests her forehead against his. It's surreal, not only to view her mirror reflection through the starling's eyes, but to feel it under her fingers and against her brow as well. She is very rarely intimate with anyone anymore, especially not other women, and never like this the only body she is more familiar with than her partner's.

"Varlane's heroes are a fantasy, virgin births of wishful thinking. All that is real about them is the texture of the paper they're printed on." A thumb hooks a strand of brown-black hair and peels it away from his cheek. "Decide what feels real to you. Be that."

This close, Eileen can hear and slightly feel the intake and exhale of breath from the man she holds close to her, hands on female jaw. And then she feels and certainly taste the touch of a kiss, which isn't something that can register as identical — no one really knows what they kiss like. His back ripples pain like the bullet mark is an epicenter, aftershocks with each movement, but it's ignored as Gabriel further raises himself to his knees. By the time Eileen can feel arms wind around her waist, they are thick, masculine.

The bathtub is too small for his legs again, but they have made do in worse circumstances for more trivial things. She's drawn into the nest of warm bathwater and porcelain, her back against its curving side and his legs between her's.

She did tell him. To seek what feels real, and be it.

Eileen's chemise clings damp to her frame, but she does not resist being pulled in, or balk at the water — she was bloodied earlier, and being wet is much preferable to that, especially when it is the price she pays for closeness. She receives and returns his kiss, and her mouth is a little like her hands when it comes to what is firm and what is gentle, unwilling to exchange one for the sake of the other.

Her hands rake fingers through the thick, black mane of his hair, threaded with silver, and rove down the slope of his neck and back. In the end, it is not as simple as being a man, or being a woman, or even being a man and woman together, but that's what they are, and Eileen surrenders to it with an escalating repetition of I love you I love you I love you.

That he is not meant to hear it does not mean that it isn't meant at all.

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