Title: Sunlight on a broken column
Summary: "And Tom realizes two things at once—one, that something terrible has happened to Dr. Gawa, and two, that she is so very small." Coda to Echoes.
Disclaimer: Oh, how I wish I'd come up with this brilliant love story. Sadly, they aren't mine.
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
as the hollow men
The stuffed men.
His head is killing him and behind his mirrored aviator sunglasses, his eyes feel like they've been pushed straight through to the back of his head. His people are stable for the most part, though most of them are still rocking in place and talking to ghosts.
He walks down the narrow isle between the beds—five rows wide and eight deep, and still there are people huddled two-to-a-bed or braced against the walls. He wonders how much worse this would have looked if the infection had been airborne.
His partner—the one he trusts with his life—is still shaking and whispering multiples of five to a ghost named Mrs. Mason.
No, Tom thinks touch did just enough damage.
His foot catches on a bunk and it nearly sends him sprawling, and the jolt causes pain to jackhammer into the back of his skull. His wounded ego is only overcome by his actual wounds.
"Here, let me help you."
He half turns, and his eyes land on the pretty doctor from before—the one whose slim figure and high heels are more memorable than her name.
"Dr. Gawa," she says with a smile, like she knows what's he thinking and she's only judging him a little for it.
"Right," he says. "Dr. Gawa, has anyone ever told you how stunning you are?"
"I see the drugs are still addling your brain," she answers.
They're not, of course; the multi-color hallucinations and panic are gone, and now all that's left is the washed-out pain in his head. She's certainly beautiful, but in a startling way—so far from convention that he doesn't think there's a category for her.
She puts her hand on his arm, and he reaches for her with his other hand, so that their limbs form a rectangle of connection between them.
"Have we met?" she asks.
"No," he answers. "If I met you, I'd remember."
"I just feel like..." she stops, shakes her head. "I'm sorry. It's so strange, but I feel like I know you."
"Guess I have one of those faces," he says with a shrug.
Her grip on his arm tightens and she tugs him toward the cot. "Well, sit down so I can take care of you."
He resists her, stays on his feet. "Shouldn't someone be taking care of you? It's a little fuzzy, but I remember the screams. Your screams."
Her face goes stiff like he's just reminded her of something terrible, something she'd managed to forget until he was foolish enough to mention it. "I don't know—well, the drugs did funny things to us all, didn't they?"
And Tom realizes two things at once—one, that something terrible has happened to her, and two, that she is so very small. He wants to wrap himself around her, bind to her so that nothing can break through and hurt her. The reaction is too strong for someone he just met, even someone so beautiful and so fragile.
"Are you sure you're all right, Dr. Gawa?" he asks, his voice quiet in the space between them.
"I'm—" she stops, shakes her head. Then she takes a step away, and the backs of her knees bang up against an empty cot. "I'm fine, agent, and I'd really like it if you let me take care of you."
He nods and sits down on the edge of the cot. His knees are uncomfortably high, reminding him of when he was a kid sitting in the school nurse's office, usually after a fight. He looks back up at her and swallows; his nurse never looked like that.
She pulls out a flashlight and shines it into his eyes, and he flinches back. The light is like fire, burning across every nerve-ending from his eyes to his spine.
"Sensitivity to light," she says, which is an understatement. "How's your vision? Seeing double?"
"I wish," he says, and his eyes focus shamefully on those perfect legs.
"Stop it," she says, and he looks up.
"Stop looking at me that way," her hands are harsh, running through his hair and jerking his chin up. He thinks she'll bring back the light. "I'm trying to do my job, agent."
Her fingers wound tighter and he reaches up to loosen them. She jerks away, and the look on her face says there's a scream caged at the base of her throat.
He stands and it puts them close together—too close for her. She stumbles backwards and he reaches out to brace her.
"Don't touch me!" she says, just shy of shouting, and he automatically drops his hands.
"Doc," he says, holding his palms up. "I think you're still reacting to the drugs. I'm not going to hurt you, all right? And no one else will either. I won't let them."
She blinks, comes back to herself. He can see the fine shake that's started in her hands. "Yes, of course. I'm sorry, I don't know what's—"
"We all saw some weird things," he answers. He gestures to the cot. "Now, will you sit down so we can make sure you're all right?"
She hesitates, then nods. "Only if you get a check-up too."
He gives a curt half-nod and sinks onto the thin mattress. She perches next to him, stiff and flighty as a bird.
"I'm sorry," he says, his voice quiet. He keeps staring straight ahead. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
"You didn't," she answers, quickly. "It's just—this case. I wouldn't have thought it possible if I hadn't experienced it myself. A drug that can make your mind unravel that way? It's insane."
He wants to touch her again. His fingers stretch wide and then curl into his palms, struggling with the urge. He wants to touch her and tell her he's so sorry that something bad happened to her—and absurdly, he wants to give her strawberries.
"Do you like strawberries?" he asks, finally looking at her.
"No, never had the taste for them." Then her eyes go foggy. "Wait, that isn't right. No, they're my favorite."
He looks down, sees her fingers doing a nervous tap dance against her thigh. Carefully, he covers her hand with his and squeezes. "How about this," he says. "After we wrap all of this up, I'll take you out and buy you some strawberries."
She goes still and he thinks he's upset her again—but then her hand curls up to meet his. The tips of their fingers just touch.
"That would be lovely," she says.
"Oh, for Christ's sake, why are they still here?"
Tom looks up, his hand tighter around Dr. Gawa's now, his body inching to cover hers. The man from security, Dominic, is prodding Tom's partner on the floor. Dominic digs his toe in, but the sick man just mumbles and moves to multiples of 10.
"Oh, I'll do it myself," Dominic says, and starts walking toward their cot. Tom stands.
"Is there a problem?" Tom says.
"Matter of fact there is, agent," Dominic answers. "You're late for your treatment. You and Sierra both."
Dr. Gawa stands up too. "That's not my —"
"Don't you want a treatment?" Dominic interrupts.
A treatment. Yes, that sounds nice. Both he and Dr. Gawa would get their treatments, and then he'd be free of this rotten headache and she'd be free of whatever memories the drugs had shaken loose inside her head.
Tom turns to her and smiles. "What do you say? Treatment then dinner?"
"Jesus," Dominic mumbles, but Dr. Gawa doesn't acknowledge him.
"As long as there are strawberries," she answers.
Tom bends down and pecks her on the lips. It's quick, almost platonic, but he doesn't want to push further and scare her again.
"Oh, great. Dewitt's gonna love this," Dominic says. Then he puts a hand on Tom's arm. "C'mon, lover boy."
Tom agrees and leads the way, Dominic and Dr. Gawa following along after him. He sees the familiar black SUV's parked outside—one for her and one for him. He waves goodbye to her as he pulls himself into the sleek van. A treatment. One easy treatment, and then he'd see her again.
He can hardly wait.