They take him out of the glass today. All of them are on different terms with this.
Despite himself, Spy has high hopes for the boy's recovery. Though, he is prepared for the worst, and should Scout fail to move into clear consciousness, there is always the boy's mother, who has pulled up in her cherry red jidney, childless, for once. He watches from the veranda, above, where they smoke.
They are already very entangled, for lack of a better word. But it's only polite to have her to break it to the recovering son. That is, if he does recover. Spy likes him, certainly, but not enough to be optimistic.
Crushing out the cigarette, he wonders through and into the locker room, hearing the roar of running water. The tile floor is dry, for the most part, but the squeak of nice shoes gives him away. The pleasant hum beneath the water stops altogether.
With his presence announces, Spy unbuttons his blazer, slowly, and hangs it on the nearest peg, before undoing his tie. It hangs, too. He is already halfway down the shirt buttons when he starts to speak.
"That no-neck imbecile got gun oil on my shirt." He is shouting, with admirable clarity, but gets no response. Naked from the waist-down, he stands very proudly, and very openly, awaiting attention, but in a very cold and coy manner. And he is left waiting, until the roar of the water dries up, and a hand behind a shower curtain reaches for a towel.
"What was that?" the voice is even more indifferent, and unreachable. "I couldn't hear you over the roar of the water." How cruel it is to hear nothing in that voice. Literally, nothing at all. After a moment, sniper appears, his hair pushed from his face, dripping on the tile. For just a second, all of his attention belongs to Spy, but it passes so fast that it leaves him almost hurt.
"That no-neck imbecile got gun oil on my shirt." He says, again, slower, with this kind of infinite patience. "So I have to change it." all the while, Spy makes no move to put a shirt on at all. He knows that in ten minutes, maybe less, he will be downstairs, being Teresa's charming, gallant man, but for the moment, he remains attentive to Sniper wholly, his needs, his space –his body...
Isolated from it all, Sniper is drying his face by the mirror. He barely glances up when he speaks, unused to it. "Why'd you call him that?"
Spy moves closer. He turns and meets the eyes of his own reflection when he talks, measuring how undesirable he must be today, not even to be glanced up at. "Why do I call who what?"
"Heavy." Sniper moves away from the mirror almost instantly, going to sit in the bench in the middle of the room. It's as if he is incessantly bothered by something. Spy cannot think what. "Why'd you say 'no-neck'?"
For the moment, Spy stays put completely. He looks, now, at Sniper's glorious, glistening back from the mirror. "Because his fat head sits on his shoulders with no junction between."
Boredly, Sniper dries a shoulder. "Mm, that's too bad."
"You know, it really is." Slowly, he moves over to Sniper so that their backs are nearly touching. He reaches into his blazer, still hung up, and pulls out his cigarette tin. "It makes it all the harder to wring a neck if he's not got one. Cigarette?"
Sniper doesn't take one. He barely responds at all, in fact, still drying himself slowly, as if withdrawn from himself. It doesn't matter. Not really.
"It's naive that he's trying to keep himself so busy, given what's coming later-…" He puffs on the cigarette and sighs. "That no-neck is a very funny bird, always running around for cover when he hasn't got his 'doktor'. Not that Medic has much of a stake in their little –whatever you'd call it. Yesterday, he practically locked the infirmary, and he only unlocked it to let Miss Pauling in. It was so awful." Spy says it with such delight, too. From anybody else, it would have sounded even apathetic, but his voice is shaking with such laughter and pleasure, it is nothing, if not indulgent.
"You don't think so?" Late, odd, Sniper pipes up. He is still staring into the midspace, speaking softly but sharply. "You don't think Medic likes him?"
Spy is breaking out into a smile even before he speaks. "I think he tolerates him. I think he engineers their little rendezvous out of necessity, more than anything. You only have to tolerate a person to have them in your bed. Isn't that right, amour?"
Sniper stretches out a leg with contractual leisure and is already better dressed by the time he lifts his head, speaking wryly to some shadow more so than Spy. "Did you say something, Spy?"
"In a way, I suppose I envy the man. Living with one you tolerate must be less lonely than loving someone." He doesn't take Sniper's wryness as malicious, but as if the man can't help it. Isn't that right? That the man should be beyond help.
"I think you forget the terms in which we all live together." There's an inch–but an inch of jocularity in that, but enough that Spy snaps.
"We occupy the same cage!" And then, remembering himself, remembering what he needs to, he rises and goes to his locker, twisting the lock until it opens. He takes out a fresh shirt. Softer, with more patience. "You mean, we occupy the same cage. None of us live here together."
"You want to live alone?"
Spy shakes his head, staring down at the straight column of buttons. "I shouldn't like to, no."
"What about with Teresa?"
He laughs harder at that, looking up, staring at Sniper in the mirror's reflection. "Oh, certainly. She, I, and six of her loving, charming children." And them, after a beat for the punchline. "Seven, if you're that much of an optimist."
"Or maybe I jus' like Scout." Sniper starts on his own shirt. He looks so good in red, that for just a second, Spy would be a locket around his throat, would be anything to be in his atmosphere again, as a participant, and not as lonely as a spectator. "I thought it was eight." The cold thought interrupts Spy. He is glad for it.
"No, seven, currently." He sighs. "Her eldest killed himself about a year and a half ago. Awfully messy business, a hanging, what with having to take him down, and-…"
Spy turns with a small, dreamy smile, thinking of something else entirely, but his smile fades when he sees how Sniper is looking at him –not even him directly, but something around him. It's alarming, and he draws back. "What are you thinking when you look at me like that?"
In the mirror, Sniper's face is unreadable. "I wasn't conscious of looking at you."
He turns, accusing. "I've caught you looking at me like that so often, recently." It is difficult to mask whatever emotion that rises from him to meet a gaze like that, but he does his best, trying to sound just as cold and indifferent as Sniper. Is that what the glance is? Pensive, thoughtful? Or -or worse..? "Are you thinking of Teresa when you look at me like that?"
There, he smiles. Never could keep his fingers off a sore.
Sniper doesn't like that. Not a bit. He draws back a little and there's a little bit of a sneer to him now, and not the least bit of jocularity. "I didn't think you'd stoop to that level."
It is all the more ridiculous for a notion like that. "Your level, you mean."
"An' what is my level, exactly? Could you tell me, exactly, so I can rise of stoop to it?" Then, so quickly, that levity is back, and it's like Sniper has been laughing for years. What's worse is that there's nothing at all Spy can say, so he withers, and goes to leave, pausing only at the threshold for some parting remark. "Shut the door on your way out, yeah?"
Today they take him out of the glass.
Jenny is nervous. Of course she is –she's terribly nervous, and has so many questions about the entire thing, but keeps herself quiet for fear of sly. It's all very scientific, that's the trouble. It's all so specialist –and yet, nobody seems to really know the least thing about it.
The facts are few, but there are some. The first is that on August third, her husband was shot at point blank range three times. This did not, surprisingly kill him in the sense that he was dead. But he remained brain-dead and for the better part of a year. And for six bucks and thirty cents.
The second is that she could not live without him, and was talking out of throwing herself from the top of RED. From below, she heard them: Miss Pauling, Miss Pauling, he wouldn't want this!
And she hadn't even thought about the rest of them: still digging up the earth as if to get back to him. Mrs, she's reminded them. I'm married to him. Don't you talk like he's gone!
Thirdly, at her tireless request, scrawling through the respawn files to find something –anything left of him. Any neuron activity in the voidlike darkness between death and life again, that would be enough to open his eyes, even for a little. One last glance, one last laugh. She couldn't help but think that if he could die thinking of her, it would change the terms of the argument entirely. They found more than fleet thoughts, certainly.
And so, they take him out of the glass today.
He has been suspended there, technically alive, for six weeks, and four days, and eight hours. Often, she comes by just to see his face illuminated by the light of Medic's desklamp, slowly transferring memories to him, consciousness to him. And if he looks hard enough, he might be asleep. He really could be. The cells are still somewhat active: his hair shaggy and suspends in the green water above him like a mystic ribbon of dirt. Wisps of pale facial hair catch in the light.
He never stirs. Less like Lazarus, less and less. At first, he had been paler, poorer, and sorrier for the seeing. But she can see the life in him, however slowly it returns. His lips look less blue. His hair grows. Perhaps, today, the words will return to his mouth, and his eyes will open today.
He remains asleep not as a product of injury, but intervention. Barbiturates to induce a coma. Keep him cold enough so that the blood doesn't reach the injury–or all of those new and fragile memories. She has had it explained to her so many times. They give him less and less slowly, as a process. Today he has none. Like yesterday. All that remains is to give him warmth.
She likes to think they all miss him. Hell, even BLU don't speak about it. It sits between all of them at dinner. Some took it harder than others, and in stranger ways. See, she couldn't eat when he was gone. Couldn't laugh or think about anything else, because she was scared –terrified, even, that even for a moment, she had forgotten him.
Blessed are the forgetful, they told her. For they get the better even of their blunders. She didn't feel especially blessed. She felt like dying, just to get back to him.
And even today, she can only smoke. It was a habit he got her into. Standing out in the damned heat catching mouthfuls of tobacco that cooked her tongue only held it's novelty so long. Try one, he'd urged her, putting one right between her lips. What choice did she have?
Today they take him out of the glass and that's all she can think about. The feel of his fingers brushing her lips. The taste of his cheap red stripe cigarettes. All of that time.
The rest of the team know. It wouldn't be fair to them otherwise, though; she didn't want them to be present. Didn't want them to see her like this –giddy and terrified and dumb with anxiety: especially not his mother, who was forever spurning her as an eligible woman. She finishes the seventh cigarette–the seventh, and crosses the room.
All the while his memory plays out in her head like an endless projection, and she swallows. I won't let you disappear. I won't.
"We'll start soon." Medic alarms her. Turns to her and tries to smile –he is just as nervous, wants to help but has only mortal hands. And the sentiment is potentially lovely, but perpetually human. "Is there anything you're unclear about, Frau?"
Her lungs are itchy with carbon monoxide. She is too small for all of her clothes, and her wallet is overflowing with pictures of him. Nothing makes sense but the constant. Him. Every time she talks of him, it is so altered, like a politician's resonance: and in one sense it's patriotic, and the other it's blind.
"Will he-…"her voice is rusty, and short. She tries one more. Presses hard, digs deeper. Pulls up her statement from the roots. "He will remember me, won't he?"
Medic looks at her. His eyes are sad. They have seen too much they should have been closed to. "I couldn't say." Is his most honest answer. It scares her. "He has pieces of his consciousness. Some are from over three years ago. Others are from only nine months ago."
She shakes her head. "Is that a yes?"
"That is-" He clears his throat. "That is a possibility. Parts of the brain are damaged further. It's likely he'll have to lean very basic things again. Some of his memories will be intact, but others are lost. They won't match up."
"I don't understand."
Medic shrugs. He fetches himself a record of notes and skims over it. "Neither will he. But it is likely that he will…manufacture new memories, if you like. The brain must adapt." They both turn towards the glass. His glass. No –no, they turn towards him. "I am aware that there is much you want to say to him. I appreciate that. But it is likely that for his first few hours, he will be remarkably fragile. The entire thing is very touch-and-run, if you like."
"I think you mean touch-and-go." She says, quietly, even though she prefers 'touch-and-run' if she is honest with herself, and she always tries to be, part of her does want to run so desperately. It is the other part stopping her, nailed to the ground that is the problem.
As if to join her, Medic withdraws a smooth, dark pipe from his top drawers and fills it with care before lighting it. He comes to stand next to her, his eyes searching for the spot hers are on. It is as if he thinks staring at the same thing will help him draw the same conclusion. The sentiment is sweet, really, but she can't do anything with it.
He blows a ring of smoke. It grows in size before being lost in the air. "Are you sure you want to be present?"
"What do you mean?" She turns, alarmed, as if floating between her own arms.
"I mean-" he puffs again. There is a solemnity now where there wasn't before, and it worries her. "This is highly experimental. I cannot make you any guarantees. Are you sure you want to watch, if there is even the slightest chance you might watch him die?"
Her voice is a whisper. That's all. There is no certainty in her to be channelled. "Any news is good news." Her shoulders hitch and sag in some kind of shrug. As if she can bear breeziness –as if she can afford the term at all. "It's better like this."
She graces Medic with two displays of character: one cavalier, and the other a walking contradiction –a paradox at heart. It doesn't make sense, but to be fair, none of it really makes sense. What is clear and well-seeming about a man as young as that –as good as that, being practically murdered for change that couldn't even buy dinner?
"Well," Is all Medic can say. He doesn't have ground enough to disagree, and doesn't have strength to dissuade her to the contrary. "Don't expect miracles of me, Frau."
"I can't promise you that." She laughs, giddy and almost terrified. "Nobody can." And then, softer, more dignified. "You must value him a lot."
Medic looks at her, almost absently.
"Scout, I mean. Or medicine."
He laughs at that. "The latter, I suspect." He says, softly. His voice trails a little as if caught on something far away, until she realises that it really is, as far as home, for some. "You know, it was the prison camp that made me realize that I had a love of science. It seemed to only way I could get at any of them."
These stories always haunt her in the moment, and while she feels cold, she listens on, anyway, for his sake, and not her own. "I don't really know what you mean." And yet, she can't help but think she's heard this story before.
"They rounded some of us up for experimenting on. It wasn't fatal. Not for me, in the least. But the scientist-" Medic laughs. "He consistently made errors. So I told him. It made him furious." She swallows, faintly. "Then, of course, he asked me how could a child of sixteen know such a thing? I told him I just did, and it made him all the more furious. He began to scream, 'why are you telling me, then?' And I told him, if he was going to do such things, he could at least do them properly."
The anecdote is lost on her. She looks past it, to the glass, to Scout, as if all of that green water, and wiring is a mere psychical extension of him. He is small, but strong, and just like her-…if she had only known sooner. For so long, she had been indifferent to him, not out of indifference itself but indignance. As if unable to let him win. It wasn't just flowers.
It's unnerving to watch them: Engineer and Medic both, heave this limp, drowning body, free of it's plugs and sockets, onto an examination table, dripping, cold. Somehow, alive, he was something fierce, and looked ten times stringer. He had been invincible. He had. And now his lungs have trouble supporting themselves. It's so difficult not to despair entirely, and the only thing keeping her from it is the notion that getting the wind knocked out o him was the only way to remind his lungs how much they liked the taste of desert air.
Now the glass is empty, haunting her, the home of her prayers once, like some ghastly Vatican and she is sick to death of hot salt.
His hair is uneven from where bullets have interrupted nature. There are others, on purer skin, all the more horrifying for clarity. But, oh, for just a moment of clear, well-seeing consciousness-...yet, she swears she was born to live without him.
They let him be with some dignity, a few more wires, a few blankets. Them, they turn, and go, like the job is finished. He hasn't even stirred yet.
"But-"Her voice is so small. She is so small. She finds herself more Alice than herself today, helpless, small, in a world that is not her own. "What –what happens now? When will he-...when will he wake up?"
It has robbed her of all breath. Medic looks at her, at a loss. "He should come around when he warms up, I imagine. I'd advise you not to wait on it."
she looks at her husband, breathing faintly, vital, and then at Medic. With growing strength and certainty, she meets his eye, trying to be unafraid, and of all things, brave, which used to be so natural. "Is that an order?"
Medic smiles to her. He dares to, so naturally that it catches her for a second. "Not at all, Frau." He says, quietly. "A suggestion, that's all. I'll be back long before he comes around."
With that, he's gone. And for the first time in so long, she's alone with him. The body. His body. Him.
For a very long time, she just looks at him. His face. It is measured with parts of sleepiness and parts of serenity. This is the only time she's ever seen him look calm: truly.
"Scout?" She comes to sit right on the edge of the examination table, feeling beads of chilling water permeate her skirt and bite at her, frosty and bitter. "Scout?" she wonders if her voice reaches him at all. If it does, he doesn't stirs at all, though.
He looks cold. That's what strikes her –the vaguely bluish tone to his complexion, and she feels so terrible that before she can help it, she has crawled onto the examination table next to him. Despite the damp, and cold, she joins him beneath the pathetic blanket and puts her arms around him.
He is freezing, but alive, and she clings to him for both of those aspects. And it's more intimate than some of the sex she's had, in a very unusual way.
"I won't let you disappear." she says, sure of it, now. "I won't."