You Were Gone


bella_icon.gif deckard_icon.gif

Scene Title You Were Gone
Synopsis Bella returns to find a criminal has vandalized her home and fallen asleep, drunk, on her floor.
Date November 2, 2010

Chelsea - Bella and Deckard's apartment

Pointedly avoiding work is actually a lot easier when you're a mid-level cheese, but it leaves one with rather large swathes of time where you are staying in your office pretending to work furiously so as to keep anyone from putting an end to the ruse. Hours on end, Bella is trapped in her office at the Suresh Center, very important looking statistical analysis programs and the occasional spreadsheet on the monitor of her computer, serving as distraction should she be intruded upon. Hours she chooses, being cut from a rather archaic cloth, not to spend driving down the information superhighway, but rather reading. Novel after novel, words consumed and time killed.

But this means she runs out of reading material much faster than her packing instincts provide for. She has already been back to Chelsea once for reading material - that rather stomach turning evening when she went to the dessert shop - and she's back again, her well worn copy of 'The Corrections' peeking out of her purse as she moves up to the apartment door and gets out her keys, clattering a bit at the lock, fiddling to get the damn thing to open properly. She's inside in decent time, though, unburdened by groceries or anything like that. Traveling light, in and out quickly, before the emptiness of the place gives her that unpleasant feeling again.

Flint is on the floor next to the couch, too much of him to fit neatly into a fetal curl, cagey ribs to hard wood, knit cap still clawed into one fist while he snores. Dirty, bloody. Dead asleep.

His bottle of Patron is open on the coffee table. So are three bottles of half-empty Miller Lite and two shot glasses. A third lies in viciously curved slivers in the midst of plate glass shattered out've a framed print at the far wall: the one of the train station, all brown and yellow and grey.

The television is on its side but otherwise intact. There is a cushion missing from the couch; deeper in, kitchen cabinets and the refrigerator stand open, still feebly spilling cold air into the apartment proper.

His flip phone is close to Bella's feet at the door, one half twisted neatly from the other.

They've been burglarized. Of this Bella is instantly and blood-chillingly certain in a way that only a Westchester County kid living in a bad neighborhood could be sure of. It was, now that she's seen it, inevitable. They will always come. The reason you flee to the suburbs. The voracious bogeyman of the criminal marauder.

But it's not just any criminal. It's Flint. And familiarity changes everything.

Bella will not easily be able to describe what it is she feels upon seeing Flint's hunched back. The context is all so screwy, the circumstances so unforeseen (at least in her mind) that she has no idea how it is she is supposed to make herself feel. She doesn't even know how she really feels, the situation is so strange and out of joint.

Her next action is made in a desperate attempt to normalize. To restore some modicum of legibility to the scene. Bella steps past the fragments of the phone and moves into the kitchen, walking quietly as if Flint were a lightly sleeping child. When she gets there, moving in amidst amid the slack-jawed cabinets that gape stupidly at her, she reaches out and closes the refrigerator. To save energy. To quiet its soft, open mouthed humming and its unconscionable waste of energy.

Suddenly things seem just a little easier to handle.

Bella returns to the living room, setting her purse down behind the couch, and steps around so that when she crouches she can see Flint's face. And crouch she does, eyes sweeping over him. Assessing his health, as quickly as her trained eye can manage.

Satisfied that he's dead asleep only and not sleeping the sleep of the dead, she reaches out and brushes a hand against his cheek, before taking his shoulder and giving him a light but incessant shake.

"Flint. Flint," will be the refrain he awakes to.

There's Stuff in the fine lines that matte out the texture of human skin across the rawboned ridge and hollow of his cheek. Brownish red, still damp in places. Thicker where it's found purchase in the grizzle of his sideburn and stubble. He's cold. He's lost weight. He smells. He's wearing a winter coat. At least four of his knuckles are split and he's bled on the couch and on the floor in addition to himself, drool dried crusty white at the corner of his mouth.

The way he startles at the sound of his name on the butt of a shake is keenly unpleasant, chilly eyes shuttered and focused like feedback: too shrill. Breathing jolted into a hitch and adrenaline huff, he doesn't pull away. Probably because he's too quick to close his eyes again — too hard while he soaks the sensation of his matted skull being dried out and cracked open under alcohol's lingering influence.

He has to have been in worse shape before, Bella reasons. No need for undue concern. No need to let herself get upset or frazzled. Such an open and naive sentiment would be distasteful to him, and she doesn't wish to earn his distaste.

Though, it occurs to her a split second later, he probably is too busy being in considerable pain to worry about having complicated perceptions and opinions of her. Still, mother-henning at him would be unwelcome, she figures, that pain considered. Bella purses her lips and favors Flint with a sympathetic look that he may miss, but is offered all the same.

"I'm going to get you some water," she informs him, keeping her voice low, both in volume and in pitch, "and some ibuprofen." And that's all she says before getting up to do as promised. She doesn't take long. She glides around the house, however ravaged, collecting what she's after before returning to Flint's side, glass of water in one hand - equipped with a straw, no less - and three small brown tablets in the cupped palm of the other. She offers the pills like you might offer some feed to a llama at a petting zoo, not demanding he employ his hands. The straw will facilitate ease as well, and it's quite a thoughtful gesture if you try not to think of the medical training that informs it.

"I'd like to know what all this," she motions at the room with a small roll of her head, "was about. In due time."

As he bears some superficial resemblance to the ungulate in question and can't immediately think past the sensation in his brain, you'd think Flint would be grateful.

You'd think.

Instead he pushes his bloodied hand up between his mouth and her offer of ibuprofin, bumping the promise of some (any) measure of relief away with the curl of his fingers closer to his temple so that he can roll thickly onto his back instead. His eyes slide partway open again when he does, irises ringed pale within bloodshot white. He's trying not to breathe so hard. Probably. His guts hurt.

"You were gone," is less promising without the full truth and context. But pretty unpromising on its own, too, voice rasped raw in his throat.

What can Bella say? Even with an imagined context, that her absence was the cause of this absolutely mess - it's touching. At least Bella finds it so. Self centered and self aggrandizing though her interpretation may be, it impresses upon a simple need, stated simply. She wanted to matter. The scene is evidence of her mattering. Shattered glass and toppled furniture paint a portrait of desperation, and she that portrait's inspiration. Bella's self love is too great for her not to fall for it.

She starts to laugh. Not loudly, and Bella tries to cover it up a little, setting the glass of water down and holding her hand over her mouth, eyes darting over to the side, self conscious as she imagines herself, as she so often does in his presence, through Flint's eyes. Another quirk of narcissism. That he may not be studying her ever move due to his crippling pain doesn't really occur to her.

If it weren't for how weirdly moved she feels, Bella might have the temerity to force feed Flint those pills, for his own good. But his pain is as much ode to her as it is elegiac, at least from her current perspective, so okay… she'll let him keep it. The brown tablets drop out of her tilted palm, bouncing against the side of the glass and settling with a light tac-tac on the wooden floor. Rather than loom over him, Bella shifts in her seat and then leans back into a recline of her own, stretched parallel to Flint, the smaller side of a bodily trapezoid, sketched fully head to head, foot to foot.

"I was waiting for you to call," Bella explains, voice bouncing off of the ceiling and back down at them, "like I told you to do," just the slightest bit chiding, "I was staying with a co-worker."

Quiet again while discarded pills skitter and spin into idle abandonment under the couch and elsewhere, Deckard can't help but lend fuel to the process of Bella's assumption by looking faintly relieved despite himself. Crow's feet etched in dirt ease their cinch at the corners of his eyes; painful tension in his neck recedes. He breathes slower and deeper and with less of a rusty rattle.

"I was in nineteen ninety-nine," conveyed in the same flat tone usually applied to discussions of things like doing laundry or standing in line at the DMV, he swallows and closes his eyes again against the ache boring persistently into his sockets and spine.

At close quarters he smells like musty homelessness. Unwashed. Alcohol. Old clothes and smoke. "I forgot."

One of the plusses of being a doctor is a inurement to the less socially acceptable realities of the human body. When you have lanced every sort of boil in every sort of location, when you have been bled upon, puked upon, shit and pissed upon - sometimes as a matter of accident, sometimes (as with the worst of the psych ward's inmates) more purposefully - when a cadaver and its smell of pure putrefaction no longer faze you, you find that the more incidental of foul orders are somewhat less offensive. Just people, living and dying. The reality of flesh.

That doesn't mean Bella's about to roll over and snuggle with Flint. But it makes it easier for her to turn onto her side, facing him and drawing air from his proximity, without being put off. "What does that mean? 'I was in nineteen ninety-nine'?" though as soon as she says it, an answer occurs to her, albeit not one she's a huge fan of, "as in the year nineteen ninety-nine?"

She props her head up with one arm, giving a quick shake and sweep to get her hair back out of her face. "I should have left a note, I'm sorry," Bella says, "I was sort of angry. But I'm not angry right now. I'm just glad you're home." A tilt of her shoulder lets her reach out and brush his cheek again, a communicative gesture now that he's awake. "Savor my relief and appreciation while you can. We have things we need to talk about. But they can wait at least until you've taken a shower or soaked in a bath for a bit."

The ease with which she forgives him is examined no more than the ease with which she accepts that he is in need of forgiveness. That there is something a little wrongheaded about her mixture of relief and satisfaction upon finding Flint, passed out, bloody and suffering on her floor, fails to sink in. Her goodwill feels like a gift horse, so the full dental exam is waived.

Not all that keen on being touched anyway, Flint doesn't turn into the brush of her hand as conspicuously as he doesn't turn away from it, tolerant without emotional give one way or the other. His mind's somewhere else, ghostly irises slow to pan aside, away from their slit at the ceiling after the source of contact while he lies there and breathes. And breathes. And breathes.

She was mad but she isn't now. He did mean the year. They have things they need to talk about. He has to eye her for a good minute before he decides that he can get away with saying nothing by means of agreement before he rustles stiffly over onto his opposite side to begin the process of standing up.

"I'm gonna puke," muttered in an explanatory aside, he pushes off the couch and unsteadily up to drag himself into the bathroom, where. He retches.

Some time later, water hisses hot through piping through the ceiling overhead. Cabinets open, the shower curtain slinks shut.

It's forty-five minutes before the water shuts off. Fifteen more before he pads quietly from the bathroom to his bedroom in a towel to rustle around after less dirty shit to wear.

The sibilant snarl of the shower - always a slightly dreadful thing to Bella, causing her to imagine the uncertainty of its temperature, almost always at some extreme - lets her know he's going to be a while. Fine by her, really. It gives her a chance to take in the shattered tableaux as a problem to solve rather than a celebration of her importance to a man with few other options.

She flirts with the idea of letting him clean it up, as it is his mess, but flirtation it remains. Bella guesses that any such gesture would be met with truculence and inaction. It rankles her maybe a little to think that she is literally cleaning up after him, but maybe she's making too much out of every gesture. And that broken glass is just dangerous.

Broom and dustpan gather clear slivers that would, otherwise, lie in wait of her socked and careless feet, becoming-traps. The TV she has trouble with, so she abandons it in favor of putting the kitchen back into order. Her head pops out when she hears the water turn off, but when Flint fails to emerge immediately, she gets back to work, restoring sanity and livability to the space.

Save for the TV, the missing cushions and the gap-toothed shark's mouth of the picture frame, things in the apartment start to look a little less vandalized. Bella finds a perch on the arm of the couch, shoes discarded beneath her, straw between her lips as she slowly drains the drink she got for Flint. Someone's got to drink it. Beverages left out, unfinished, make her nervous. The Miller Lites are nowhere to be seen, victims of this particular pet peeve.

At length, Flint emerges clean and mostly dry from the murky cave of his quarters in a pair of old grey pajama pants and an even older white t-shirt, as oblivious to the hour as he is to the date. He doesn't have a job to show up to or a favorite tv show to catch. Clean-shaven he more closely resembles a put-upon gradde school principal than a violent offender, already long and narrow countenance all the longer and narrower for lack of any bristle to fill out the hatchet-hewn angles of skull and muscle belted lean from mandible to ear.

He sinks down against the opposite arm without really looking at her, bare feet spared glass by broomwork for all that he registers that the television is still on its side. The cushion next to him is missing. He hooks a mistrustful look down after the empty grey space, right hand curled up over the rest for him to rest his jaw against.

The glass has a psychologically neutral half of its volume remaining. And Bella offers to Flint, not as a test to determine his optimism or pessimism, but as a genuine opportunity for rehydration. "Please," Bella adds, "drink some water. It will help. I'd give you a saline drip if I had one on hand." But she doesn't. That would be creepy.

The offering requires her to swing her legs around - feet finding the cushionless expanse of slightly saggy canvas drawn over the wooden frame, resting lightly, as if on thin ice - and lean forward, arm extended. A slightly awkward position, but one she tries to give a modicum of grace to. Success of attempt, uncertain.

"Where would I even go?" Bella asks, picking up a conversation that was paused, or presumed ended, over an hour ago, "I mean, not to say that I'm not here by choice, but really, what am I going to do? Get a condo in Queens? Everyone knows it'll be on fire in no time at all. I wonder if insurance companies tried to increase their premiums in that area?" She's chattering for a reason, and chattering rather softly, too. She understands that she has a lot of conversational slack to pick up, and she likes the sound of her own voice just enough for this to be tolerable. With his hangover, his even nearer-silence is acceptable as well.

Creepy but less likely to unsettle the haggard whoopie cushion that is Flint's stomach.

He reaches to take the water from her anyway, reluctant and withdrawn in compliance as quiet as she is likely to expect.

Cool glass settled into the hollow of his temple once he's sipped enough to regret trying, he pushes a dreary breath huffff out've his lungs and sinks deeper into the warmth of the couch. Familiar routine feels better and comes easier in familiar company.

His reluctant, "I dunno," sounds like a confession, in this case. Metered quiet and slow. It made sense at the time.

"Drink it slowly," Bella recommends, "I would get some saline drips. I could steal them from work. But I don't know that I want to make the consequences of over-drinking any less unpleasant. Not, I guess, that that would ever really meaningfully factor in, with over-drinking like this." Her legs cross and she leans forward, repeating the previous posture but with arms crossed and set on her knee, rather less precarious-looking.

"What did you do in nineteen ninety-nine? Did you go see the twin towers? That would have been your chance."

"Bad things," is another confession, no doubt. Less straight-forward than the first. Deliberately vague in uneasy tandem with a tuck of his chin towards his chest that furrows his neck and renders him even more a part of the couch.

His eyes stay forward all the while, dimly focused around the blank screen of the upended TV. "What Tiggers do best," is even less coherent, but it probably isn't meant to be and he takes another sip of water before rubbing condensation cool into his brow.

Having grown up with Winnie the Pooh like any other red blooded American girl, Bella is able to appreciate what's funny about what would otherwise seem like a drunk-delusive non sequitur. Being more a fan of Owl and his cynicism (an Oscar fan as well), she always found Tigger's impetuous and dangerous 'spontaneity' to be bullshit. A fish fan, not a hat wearing cat fan.

Only that level of psychic investment can account for how funny she finds it. She splutters with laughter, trying to catch herself, but too late. She has to look away from Flint for a moment, and when she looks back, she can't keep a straight face.

I mean… you know… Flint's face, the Disney cartoon's face? She can just almost see it.

Deckard doesn't laugh.

He doesn't even smile. Sense of humor handicapped by his totally awesome adventure and hangover and all, he finally looks over at her to discern what it is he said that was funny only to be left skewed at a shabby loss, brows tilted and lupine features slack.

"You don't want to tell me about these bad things you did?" Bella says, getting serious as quickly as she may. His look actually does a good job at killing the mood. For the best, really. "Or you just don't want to talk generally?" Her brows arch slightly, "you should have taken the ibuprofen, you'd be feeling better by now. My every word must be an icepick, mustn't it?" She seems abstractly interested in this notion. Not a lot of pathos. Unless a little sadism counts.

Already long toes splayed longer, Flint tips his head back into the couch to better study her across the missing cushion from him, supine posture deceptively neutral. But there's an increasingly polished edge to the pale focus of his stare and tension's bitten naked into the hollows around his face, derivitive of the same spring-loaded temper that did some fresh interior design work last night. From zero to sixty too quick, with the dial twitching for any excuse to veer across into the red.

Also, he doesn't answer her.

The lack of beard does make it just slightly harder to read Flint, so used to its presence is Bella. But she's seen him angry before, in a circumstances that doesn't lend itself to her forgetting very quickly. She's not scared, or if she is she vigorously denies it after quickly suppressing its momentary uprising. She gives him a cool look instead.

"I'm fucking with you. You can deal with it. You're a stubborn, prickish pain in the ass who is over a decade my senior. And I'm nice. If you really wanted me to lay off," she spreads her hands, beneficent, "you just have to ask nicely." Maybe she's being a little too mean. She amends, after a moment's pause. "I'm glad you're back but I'm pissed, and part of my being pissed is being pissed about how glad I am that you're back. I'm trying to resolve the tension."

Calling direct attention to what little ground Flint has to stand on seems to do the trick this time. At least in the sense that cold-blooded staring on the precipice of a snap misfires into irritation in a rankle at his nose and a glance away. The age thing smarts, even after being mistaken for Abigail's father in public more than once. This isn't as terrible.


Self-conscious to the contrary, he slags off the rest of his frustration in a dirty look at her that lacks true heat and downs the rest of his water like a shot of particularly foul cough syrup. "I feel more resolved already."

"If you're going to be a bitch, I'm going to be a bitch, too. Mutually assured bitchiness," Bella lets Flint know, tone appropriately informational, "We can call a truce though. I'm willing to be nice to you if you're nice to me. You know I'm capable of it. And I figure you've got some space for growth left, emotionally."

Deckard does not feel like being nice right now. He looks miserable because he feels miserable and he feels miserable because he is miserable. The push of one of his shoulderblades against the couch is non-commital to the proposed truce.

All the same, he has effectively subscribed to the notion of not saying anything if he can't say something nice.

Bella feels as if she might be striking while the iron is cold, beating her hammer to noisy and pointless effect against the anvil of Flint's silence. No more snarkiness seems forthcoming. She squints very slightly at him, instead, joining him in an elongated silence. She is, of course, the first to break it.

"Did you brush your teeth? After you showered, or during, or whatever?"

An absent nod is the inevitable answer, shorthand here for always. He has unusually pearly whites for a career criminal and vagrant — vestigial fastidiousness leftover from his being raised in mundane suburbia. That and his reflex removal of hotel comfortors from hotel beds.

Fastidiousness in such matters is a plus in Bella's book. Aforementioned tolerance of human grossness does not mean enjoyment of human grossness or even total neutrality. Tolerance demands there be something one must tolerate. Bella nods, slips off the couch, and gets on her knees, eyes scanning near floor level to locate the renegade pain killers. A short and slightly awkward retrieval mission later, and she's got them. They lie there, in the cup of her hand, held out between them. Bella examines them, examines Flint. Extends her hand.

She can look at him all she wants. And he will — eventually, grudgingly — shift on his cushion enough to curl the proferred pills up into his own palm.

From palm, the next stop is the side of his mouth so that he can sort've roll them over his tongue in spit before attempting to swallow all three at once without benefit of water. He succeeds with minor discomfort and an unhappy look sideways after himself for his own compliance.

Bella's hand retreats to her side as he gives in. No, not gives in. Compliance is the word. Much nicer. She retakes her seat, but this time right next to Flint, on the available sliver of cushion. With a gentle bend of her spine, she leans around and kisses him on the lips. She doesn't get too pushy, and it doesn't last long, but it is intent. Her best approximation of a 'welcome home' muted out of respect for his aching head.

"Thank you," Bella says. She means for taking the pills. Accepting help is hard to do, particularly for men, at least in her experience. "How long had you been sleeping like that? Do you have any idea?"

Instinctive suspicion (or mildly less malignant mistrust) of persistent affection despite the circumstances turns Deckard's chin slightly down from the nearness and warmth of her, if not all the way away. There's nowhere to go without being overtly uncomfortable, to the point that it's suddenly taking effort for him to be only covertly uncomfortable, far hand terse with distraction against the couch arm, near hand lifted and repositioned across his own knee to make more room for her to settle into.

The question she poses after the kiss is the best kind: one that he can answer in silence with a utilitarian shake of his head. No idea. It was dark out.

His discomfort can't go unnoticed, so we can only presume that it simply goes unregarded. Given more space, Bella takes it, a leg pulled up behind her, toes tipping over the edge and brushing against the uncushioned canvas. "If you need to rest more, come to bed. I'm going to go start a new book," she says, a hand lighting upon his chest, just the fingertips, "don't sit out here any longer than you have to."

There is a brief increase of pressure on his chest as Bella pushes herself to her feet. She pauses for a moment, eyes flicking over the haggard breadth of him, bone and bent, familiar features in a familiar configuration. "Drink some water, at the very least. You've been through quite enough, from the looks of it.'

The touch at Flint's chest coaxes a glance out've him, the bridge of his nose hardened into more of a flinch when pressure increases, however briefly. Still stitched up. Still sore. Still marching steadily towards November 8th.

He says, "Okay," once he has his orders, dimly apologetic in the hollow turn of his cheek for the bedroom. "The" bedroom rather than "her" bedroom, suddenly.

It's a neat little semantic distinction, that, but terms are never wholly free of their pasts. Though no possessive hangs before the room name in question, whose room it primarily is would be sort of hard to miss. There are, past the door that Bella is pushing her way through, far more books and far fewer guns. There is more actual officially sanctioned furniture as opposed to repurposed crap used as furniture. It is a space heavily inflected by its habitual resident.

Still, when Bella takes her place on the bed, it's a spot set off to one side. She could, arguably, just be positioning herself near her bedside lamp, for better illumination as she cracks open 'House of Mirth'. But that would be equivocation. There is a space next to her, however inflected, left open.

Deckard is slow to join her.

Even after he's sat and eaten at himself long enough to feel comfortable turning his thoughts elsewhere, he procrastinates. Gets a glass of water, sits back down with the water. Watches bubbles lift gradually off the bottom and sees that she's still awake.

Eventually twin desires to sleep off his headache and to not have uncomfortable conversations about why he went back to his own bed are enough to hoist him back to his feet. He does so quietly, untouched water left behind. His progress for the bedroom is also quiet. Suspiciously so, maybe. There's no rustle of couch fiber or pajama trou in the span just before he sidesteps in, leaving open the opportunity to change his mind until he's across the threshold.

The rest isn't much less awkward from there. He's stiff and stooped with tension all through the process of nudging back the sheets on the opposite side to lever himself in.

Bella's eyes flick up to the door the moment he's through. She was most definitely wondering what was taking him. Not that she'll ask, and not that she'll do more than glance. Back to the book next instant, scanning the lines behind her wire-rimmed reading glasses. It's as if she hasn't even noticed he's arrived, otherwise, at least until he's slid under the sheet. Then her eyes slide over to him again. And she smiles, just a little.

"I just want to finish the chapter. I'll turn the lamp off afterwards," she informs him. A narration of banal events to come. The essence of normal life.

Don't take up too much space, don't accidentally touch her feet, don't jounce the mattress, don't breathe too loud. Don't do anything weird.

"I can't see it anyway," is reminded after too long a pause once he's in and on his side, facing away. Too still for all that his breathing has gradually started to sink deeper against his diaphragm.

Bella can't quite seem to make it through the chapter. She tries, but she finds herself reading the same paragraph over and over, then the same sentence. It's like fatigue, but that's not quite it. Eventually, she just has to give in. She gives a very soft huff, giving up the ghost and slipping a bookmark - the receipt she received when she bought the book, in fact. She wouldn't dogear the pages. She hates when people do that.

The book comes to rest on the beside table, and with a shoulder-tilting lean, Bella reaches out to snap off the light. So she can sleep. She tugs the blanket up over herself, up to her shoulders, and spends a moment looking upwards into the utter dark. She waits until her eyes adjust so that the dimmest of exterior light becomes enough to see the contours of the moulding where the wall meets the ceiling.

Then Bella scoots over and makes Flint the little spoon. She's warm and very slight, and she's relaxed, ready to tilt gracefully into sleep.

It's a little like spooning with a freshly dead corpse. Still warm but a little stiff. Broad across the back. Ribs flexed wide, like bony gills against his sides once oxygen deprivation forces him to unclench into a threadworn sigh, he relaxes at a steady decline, flat unconscious again in a matter of minutes.

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