Your Bedside Manner


francois_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Your Bedside Manner
Synopsis …could use work. But a counter-proposal wins some points.
Date June 30, 2011

West Village: Maison d'Allegre

There's a stagnant quality of stillness to the warmth in here that makes Teo think it's still cold. Or maybe it's merely his proclivity toward Mediterranean weather— but he doesn't think so. Not anymore. Cultural conceits were fun years ago, before some of him travelled through time, mind-melded with another of him, invoked a medium-luminosity future as compared to, say, 'dark' and 'light,' and produced a fiancee of his lying there like.

A doll? Teo stares across the lumpy blankets. Marionette, strings-cut. Muddled mound of bones. Fish washed up ashore. Ugly metaphors, but the ugliest thing, the Sicilian thinks, is that illness has added a peculiar quality of beauty to Francois' gifted features. The blotchy phase has faded away, leaving an even porcelain pallor to his cheeks, smoothed his brow to a wan and eerie perfection, lips reduced by expressionless slumber to a clear pink symmetry, and his hair longer than ever.

The mortician wouldn't have to do much except pad out his clothes, and then Teo hates himself, that next instant, for even thinking that thought. His fingers curl tight around the box in his hand. He clears his throat and grates a shoe (he'd forgotten to take them off) on the floor, moving a little closer, his shadow sliding across the watery bar of morning sunlight that's crept in under the blinds. "Hey," he says.

"Babe? Etes-vous éveillé?"

Eyes twitch awake, and that's the most Francois moves for a few seconds. Even in this light, the deep redness that's flooded the once-white around green irises is visible if only because eyes aren't meant to be like that at all, but they'd be shut anyway in the open casket. They squinch shut again, and limbs and body begin to move beneath the covers, sticking in some places to where exposed flesh is cool and damp, his thighs and the undersides of his arms.

The answer was sort of non, then, but oui, now. He is healing and doesn't look all the way like it, lingering anemia and physical weakness, lack of appetite, these things replacing the swooning fevers and the visions in the half-light he still sometimes wakes up to when it's dark.

Smeary bright blue eyes— Kazimir? Deckard?— in the shadows, feeling fixed on his eyeballs when he glances around like a light trick or a flaw on the camera lens. They follow across the room until it vanishes with resolving, wakeful clarity and Teo's distinctive silhouette. The other man gets his answer without words — Francois grates out a parched sounding sound at the back of his throat, and a hand fishes out, steers the bedside clock to face its green numbers at him to assess the time.

Fiveish. Four-something. Mornings come early at the height of Summer, even to the reach of the Northern hemisphere. Something about the tilt of the planet's axis, or other trivialities of cosmic proportion and very little applicable significance. Teo looks at the clock because Francois is looking at the clock, and a furrow creases into his brow for a moment. He doesn't like the reminder, about time, its passage.

Still, he's never been one to become over-preoccupied by abstractions, and the next seconds see him moving closer yet, through space, a long-fingered hand descending to press a recognizable weight on Francois' arm. He's sitting on the edge of the bed the next moment. Then comes the murky shape of the ring box in shadow, but murky yet.

Clearer is, of course, the fact that he's neither Deckard nor Kazimir. Straight nose, broad shoulders, mottled-gray shirt to go with the tweed trousers; evidence that he hasn't done laundry in a day or two, or not enough. Sick-sweated blankets take up a lot of room, and their electricity bill has already gone up between heating and cooling too without adding yet more water. He can wear tweed. Francois probably thinks he looks pretty anyway. Francois missed out on a lot of the particulars of fashion and propriety along with the intricacies of tile grout scrubbing.

It's less difficult to think of such mundaneties. Some things you miss, you don't mind having missed.

Having failed to ever take Francois to Barbados however !!

"You slept for five hours," the Sicilian adds, caption to the clock. "Which must be some kind of record. There's just me here right now— I wanted to talk to you alone." He isn't just talking about the extra company comprised by Eileen and Abigail, either, but there's no need to specify that.

"I'm not going anywhere," is permission given, after his clears his throat, a sound that is somehow both wet and dry, and a smile drawing at the corner of his mouth.

Sitting up a little, Francois' gaze drops on the hand at his arm, instinctively responding with the backs of his fingers at Teo's elbow, returning touch without grip, and he's aware his hands are usually clammy. He isn't in tweed, just cotton, white stretched across his chest. Every other day, the room smells more like laundry soap than sweat and vomit, and lacks the chemicals of the hospital. He doesn't regret this decision, and would have had he passed into a coma with fluid filling his lungs. This is nice, the quiet morning, resting his head back against the familiar frame of the bed and focusing on the younger man denting his mattress.

He's been drawing, too. There are two notepads next to the clock, both of them half-used, one flipped back to expose rudimentary ideas of a vintage car. It has gone from flimsy outline to sketchy detail. The proportions are off, but it's easier to fake than with people.

Stupidly, Teo feels his throat tighten and his eyes begin to sting because of those four words that just came out of Francois' blood-flavored mouth, a series of nervous reactions that he recognizes. He blinks rapidly a few times and crosses his ankles underneath the bed. Lifts up the ring box and moves it over to perch on Francois' belly, his fingers curled over it like a cage for a second or three of idiotic procrasination before he wedges at humb in to pop it open, pulls the ring out.

And he's making snuffling noises now, he realizes, audible underneath the uncharacteristic percussion in his head and the faint pull and release of Francois' breathing. Snuffle snuffle. Like a pig looking for something in the mud or something moulding at the bottom of an animal shelter's pen, a broken car, something awful. He says, "I— want you to have this. Now.

"Fucking perfect timing right?" And the edge of metal is there again, pressing slim and cool into the edge of Francois' hand while Teodoro fumbles a little, almost drops the box on the sketchbooks, darts his eyes around, tries not to look at the clock. Outside, the traffic is picking up a little. "I thought about something with a more um, complicated, sophisticated pattern because I liked the herringbone a lot — there was this whole awkward stalemate with the saleswoman because she didn't want to say 'fruity,' or what 'most men' like, but I think this was a good compromise in the end.

"Anyway." Give me your hand, he almost says, but he's already trapped the one that reached for him with the crook of an elbow, cradling it to his belly like a baby as he figures out Francois' thumb, forefinger, long slim middle finger, a thumb rasping gently past the faded promises of tans and calluses, a gentle squeeze on Francois' wrist.

His heart feels like it's sluggishly turning over when Francois sees the ring box, like something dead and floating, and he mostly focuses on it and the shine of silver inside it when it opens instead of Teo's face. Not feeling ready or. Preened enough. But anything is better, probably, than spitting blood on your fiancee's face, so whatever he does now — lie there mutely, damply, eyes blood red and everything that grows a little long — is probably a step the fuck up.

Being too neurotic and vain to really try and figure out why now, why 5 AM in the morning and why when he hasn't recovered yet completely, in other words. Francois' hand is loose in Teo's both, before getting a sense of itself and shifting a little. Helping. Fingers lengthen instead of droop slack, and the other hand finds a grip around Teo's bicep on which the Frenchman levers himself up to sit a little more, desiring to see, and be a little closer despite prior neuroticism and vanity.

"I never thought you wouldn't stay," he thinks to mention, because he would like to say something this time, even if his voice sounds as rough as sandpaper scratching along the walls of his throat. "Even if I do not think you meant this when you said, our lives are complicated."

"I'm not really the one who's pitching a threat to 'leave,' as it were," Teodoro points out, his voice clipped and short in a way that's embarrassingly, obviously a threat of choking on some awful wet breathing difficulties that can not be accounted for by dreadful plagues that were psychically engineered specifically to decimate a subtype of homo sapiens. Ordinary weakness, common love. "Am I? Well I'm not. Anyway here you should—" Not be sitting up.

But the ring's on already, and it wasn't really conditional on Francois sitting up, or being pretty, or. Or getting better, which is the point of all this, in a way that he isn't sure how to articulate other than shunting the wee circlet of precious metal down to the fourth knuckle of the Frenchman's hand, rolling it gently between forefinger and thumb so that the sapphire glints up, vivid and proud, even in the gloom. "I can't believe I nearly dropped this after all the time I spent looking for it. And no, I don't think anybody ever thinks about this kind of situation when they're proposing in a gallery of terrible art."

Francois is sitting up so he can see, doesn't jerk a stare towards Teo without at least seeing this time, something he hadn't done properly the first go around. He reaches a little so that he can see the colour of the gem in a shaft of morning light. He's surprised by it, admiring it, and then his fingers clamp like an alligator mouth over Teo's. "I just— I mean that sometimes people leave each other. Often things have felt temporary to me, before. Especially— " Especially with plagues and things, blood diseases that kill people where healing touch doesn't work, but he doesn't expand on that, suspecting he isn't saying this the way he wants to, nerves finely tuned more towards the nuances of Teo's breathing than the words he chooses in English.

He leans back into bed, studying Teo's profile. "Thank you," he settles on, slipping his hand away just enough so that he can look at the jewelry again, other thumb brushing over the set jewel and the smoother contours.

Funny breathing and shiny eyes aside, Teo's keeping it together pretty well, all things considered. When Francois' words break off, his mind adds the wrong things to it: Especially relationships. The lady who died in the fire the other year, the fellow in the trenches of Europe, the multitude (— in a flattering way) of others in towns he'd passed through, following Kazimir Volken's bloody trail.

So he says, "I know what you mean." He wipes his nose with his wrist after that, wrinkles his nose, snrfs again, and then drops his eyes to the sketchbook and pulls it over, past the glint of the bright stone on Francois' white hand, flips the page open on the flat of the Frenchman's lap, admiring the lines defined by graphite rasped sleekly across the canvas. His other hand stays trapped in the alligator. "But I wouldn't have said 'Yes' if I didn't mean it 'til. Death does us part," he finishes, unsteadily. "Finché morte non ci separi. I was raised Catholic, you know. We don't even have divorce."

Sinking into the comfort of bed, Francois drags his attention from precious metal and gem towards his own sketches, of antiquated car models from a book they have, other more morbid diagams of various human anatomy vivisection as summoned from the text book that still lives in his head and done too scientifically to show anything other than the eyes of a dispassionate surgeon. Or a butcher. There are more than that and he is looking for when he might want to interrupt. His thumb roams up and down the hills and dips of Teo's knuckles. There is a small, raspy chuckle at this final statement, "Tres bien," and a flash of a white smile.

"You and I have both come back from the dead. At least a couple of times. Not that we could walk on water if we tried, but I expect to have vows before a eulogy. Here." He is not up on strength these days, but he expects no resistance as he pulls Teo's hand up, tilting his head down and to the side to touch forehead to knuckles, feeling warm digits, hard metal. Skin is warm but not boiling. Francois tilts his head back to then settle that hand at his neck, beneath his chin, Teo being able to feel as well as hear the ensuing, "I am fine."

No Teo isn't fighting. He lets the other man take his hand and move it all the way up to his forehead, and even curves his palm slightly to cup the convex of Francois' forehead, trying not to think of Francois' dismaying pallor or that his temperature isn't just right. That doesn't seem to be the point that Francois is trying to make. It's a little difficult to think clearly, though; he isn't sure Francois could have fit into that white T-shirt at all, a few weeks ago.

He concentrates. Supposes that Francois could be deader, sure. Thinking about that, Teo's eyes get distinctly puffy. "I know you aren't fevering anymore but you're almost cold. You look like a wind could crack you down the middle," he says, unsteadily, his fingers curling, moving instinctively to card through the still-rich thickness of the other man's hair. "And what you're fighting is a lot stronger than a wind. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. That isn't what I meant to talk to you about."

There's a knot where his voice box should be. Francois shuts his eyes and tilts into the touch through his hair even as the hand on Teo's forearm bites fingernails that need clipping into the flesh — enough to make brief dents that disappear once the pressure goes away. He makes a sort of nnh nasal sound, a chuckle that is both suppressed and forced, and his hands slips off Teo's arm, focus returning to the thick band of white-gold and winking sapphire, which looks absurdly delicate where it's placed. He would rather look at that, now, than the man sitting in such close proximity — it has the advantage of an excuse, of not really looking away.

He doesn't have the energy to be actually angry. "Really? That seems the conclusion."

"No," Teo says, unsure of how to phrase his objection exactly!! but Francois has the wrong idea about this. "No, no, no." Or maybe the right one but with a relatively unpleasant spin on it. The petting he'd placed atop his lover's head gives way to a grasp on the headboard of the bed, and he leans forward into it, ignoring the burn that fingernails left in his arm, putting a kiss on Francois' cheek and then his mouth, just in case the Frenchman interprets that one as having been dry or condescending.

Sometimes one must behave like a believer to become one. The principle holds for adulterers who abruptly discover their wife has cancer or something, burns at the core of what courage itself is, proves loyalty more often than oaths do. The next thing Francois has is a large, densely-packed Sicilian skull plunked down on his lap, an arm over his knees, like a cat making claim as much as a request. Well. Given it's Teo, a dog would probably be a better analogy, but he's that all the same.

"If you want to draw you can put your book on my head."

There are a few seconds of sulking silence and stillness before fingers slowly rake through off-blonde, mostly because Francois doesn't want Teo to feel bad or. Get into an argument with him. This isn't a particularly good argument to garnish protest, at least Francois doesn't think so.

Which Teo might pick up on when after the rustle of paper and the breeze passed his ear, there's a short slap of dense pages connecting to the crown of his head. "I will," sounds like threat, before an arm pins heavy over Teo's shoulder in encouragement to stay rather than take this as dismissal. There's shudder-like sound somewhere high in Francois' chest, the attempt not to set off the last lingering coughs he has left, relaxing again against the small mountain of pillows he has to work with.

There's an abortive mumble of protest. Possibly Teodoro had actually expected a hug and instant forgiveness or something, but crushing Francois' person with his arms and putting his head dolefully on some body part or other is foolproof more than reliable to entirely predictable reactions. Well. Maybe there is a nice drawing going on up there, or at worst, a letter of irritable but wholehearted forgiveness. He turns his eyes sideways in his head, glancing up at the shadowy, blurry proximity of the paper cover hooded over his cheek, trying to guess what exactly is going on there from the swiftness and certainty of the markings scratched down on the page — except there aren't any.

So it occurs to him, in a silence absent of scraping graphite with the sheets smelling not enough of sweat and mostly of detergent, the exorbitantly-priced hundred-percent cotton soft on his cheek and bedsprings gnawing gently into his hip and cars growling distantly, that this is perfect.

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