A Handful of Dust
Part 1 of the Eliot Trilogy, followed by What the Thunder Said and Lune de Miel
(Written for the_safehouse livejournal community "quotes" challenge (quote: "People change and smile: but the agony abides." -- TS Eliot))
"Good morning, Mr. Doyle."
A wary touch on his arm brought Ray awake with an unpleasant start. He uncoiled from his sleep-heavy position and blinked hard to clear his vision, withholding a grimace as his eyes tried to focus on shades of gray and white.
"What time is it?" he mumbled. A slow hand drawn across his raspy cheek was no clue -- day and night were interchangeable, noted only by the slant of light through half-open blinds.
"Going on five, dear." The nurse imparted a motherly smile as she moved to the bed, a smile Ray had come to distrust as much as he distrusted the cautiously optimistic prognosis of the doctors.
They'd long since stopped attempting to pry him from Bodie's side -- Ray wasn't sure it was his own hostile intractability or a private word from Cowley to the hospital administrators that'd caused that welcome change. He didn't care -- Cowley's face, sere with worry and fatigue, now blended with all the other faces that came and went as the anxious days and fearful nights trudged onward.
The nurse left and Ray hardly noticed -- he was focused on the delicate rise and fall of the blanket tucked smoothly across Bodie's chest. That was his anchor now, his only remaining tether to reason. The gentle, perfectly timed flutter calmed his thinking and pushed back the nightmarish belief that Bodie had left him while he slept.
He rose with a spine-snapping stretch, one arm bent high over his head while he scratched lightly at his belly. His mouth felt thick, his tongue unused, and as he poured himself a cup of water, he prayed that this would be the day that the smiles on the faces that passed him by would be ones of joy and relief, not fading hope and growing pity.
"Morning, Bodie," he murmured. They were the same words he'd spoken every morning and he took comfort in the prosaic greeting. He looked down at the pale, perfect features, seeing past the stubble and the slack muscles to the man inside, trying to infuse the broken body with the remnants of his own tired will. Bodie wanted to live -- Ray knew that without question. He knew that Bodie was fighting as hard as he could, that Bodie would never give up -- and that Bodie would never leave him alone.
Bodie had promised him as much the first time they'd made love. His face buried in the slick curve of Ray's neck, their heated bodies pressed close, Bodie had pledged everything to him and Ray had reciprocated with husky-voiced emotion. They both knew they were only putting words to the silent truth they'd shared for years. Ray had no intention of setting Bodie free from those promises.
A clatter behind him spoke of doctor's rounds. Another set of faces, another crowd of expressions so bland Ray wanted to strike them all, wake them up to the heartbreak that went on in the rooms where they so arrogantly trespassed. They wouldn't look him in the eye, of course -- to them he was the trespasser, an unwelcome reminder of the high cost of loving someone.
You don't know him, he wanted to snarl as they gathered around Bodie's bed, herding him aside with glances of subtle superiority. You can't see it, but I can -- he's there, he's trying, go ahead, tell him he can't do it! Stubborn bastard loves to hear that -- stubborn bastard loves a challenge --
Ray turned away as the doctors continued their low-voiced assessment. He didn't want to hear their opinions, they didn't matter to him and Bodie. They were above the natural laws, now -- apart, they were nothing but handfuls of dust, a scattering of leaves, shapeless and lost.
But together -- they were magic, invincible, and Ray knew that deep inside Bodie the battle for that magic waged on. In the narrow corridors of his own overtired mind, Ray fought beside him, lending him strength in the intertwining of their fingers or in the teasing caress of that one wicked eyebrow.
The doctors left and Ray sagged with relief. He rearranged the bedclothes they'd mussed and spoke quietly to Bodie, letting him know he was leaving to clean up and hunt down some tea and toast. He knew he'd feel better for the brief break, but leaving was always hard. To have Bodie wake up -- which Ray never doubted he would -- without him there would be a betrayal of them both.
Pausing at the door, Ray looked back, checking one more time to make sure Bodie hadn't roused. The time away would be filled with more watchful eyes, more dispassionate smiles -- nothing to relieve the pain Ray bore without complaint, because in the depths of that first black night, he'd realized why this had happened to them both.
This agony, this unrelenting torment was a test -- a test of a bond both implausible and immutable. And just like every other test they'd faced, Ray knew he and Bodie would pass with flying colors. The faces with their false smiles and sympathetic tears would fade and all that had ever mattered would remain.
Ray and Bodie -- and their magic.
-- THE END --