Date: May 29, 2010
"People like us only get to sleep when we're dead." - Porter
The Pacific Ocean
Another sleepless night, this time one without the blissful few hours of meditation. Unable to drift into perfect relaxation, Vasha spends the dark hours restless and rolling from side to side. As the clock rolls to 5:27am she sits up straight in the bed, her hair is matted to her forehead and down her neck and back by perspiration.
«"Mama, there's a dog near the fence…"» she ekes out in Afrikaans, her voice sounds so different from normal, almost innocent and childlike. «"There's a boy hitting it with a stick…» Then she falls back down to the pillows, curling onto her side and letting out a keening sound and hugging her arm.
It's been like this for 2 hours now.
A chair, a bucket and washcloth, and what medical supplies Porter was able to scrounge are arrayed around the bed on a nightstand and a coffee table. The table wobbles with each sway of the yacht, a byproduct of it being unbolted from the deck in the galley through brute force alone.
Porter is seated in the chair with one of last week's newspapers draped across his lap and his eyes half-lidded. Though he's done his best to remain vigilant, he was also injured and thoroughly exhausted by their expedition. His shark-bitten arm is a mess of bruises from shoulder to elbow, each surrounding a distinct impression left by a shark tooth pressing against his kevlar drysuit.
When Vasha sits up abruptly, so does he, sending his newspaper flopping to the floor. It takes a moment for him to regain his senses, but the instant he does, he has one of the washcloths and the bucket in hand. He wets the cloth, wrings it out, and wipes Vasha's face gently. "Shhh," he urges her comfortingly. Though he understands Afrikaans, his accent is terrible. Best to stick to English. "I will make the boy leave," he promises.
«"Dead… dead… they're all dead… the men they came they killed them all. The dog, the boy, mama… Mama…"» The woman murmurs as the fever burns through her mind, killing more than just a memory or two. Blearily, she looks up at Porter, a glimmer of recognition in her eyes. "Por-ter?" she says slowly, reaching with her uninjured arm toward him and gently caressing his injured one.
Then, like a shark, she strikes. Gripping it hard as a snarl emits low from her throat. "Por-ter… You…" Her lip curls in distaste until she suddenly lets go and grips her own arm again. "You did this… Why? I tried to protect you… keep you safe as agreed." Her eyes roll to the side and she reaches out again, this time patting his knee.
«"They will take care of you, huh? You cannot follow me, not where I go, too dangerous…"» Her voice is a little huskier this time, weak from the sickness that the bacteria's spread through her system.
No matter how many black belts you have, an injury is the perfect equalizer. As the damaged flesh and sinews of Porter's arm compress, he lets out an audible gasp and crumples bonelessly against the edge of the bed. "Too dangerous?" he groans weakly as he scrabbles for a foothold against the deck. "I'll take my chances."
As gently as he is able, he extracts himself from Vasha's rough grip and seats himself next to her. When she shifts her hand to his leg, he covers it with his own. It's a gesture meant to comfort them both. "You agreed to keep me safe," he acknowledges. "And you did well. Now let me keep you safe."
Once again, he picks up the cloth to bathe her brow, this time using his injured arm. It brings a grimace to his face, but he seems unwilling to let go of her hand.
Slowly, her clammy fingers lace with his, twining until they're tightly bound together. The expression on her face is one of appreciation, however fleeting it is. Vasha wavers a little her grip on him losening and then tightening again, bringing his arm over to her stomach where she curls around it.
"Stop… stop… I do not like the water… too cold…." she breathes, once again looking at him through bleary eyes. With her injured arm, she brings it up to her forehead, blocking him from wiping her brow any further. "I am too cold… take me home, please Porter, take me to my home…"
"Okay," Porter says, his face contorted into a pained and helpless expression. He knows he can't do it. If she were coherent, she'd know it just as well. He takes a deep breath, exhales, and tries to compose himself. "I'll take you home," he lies with every ounce of skill and wit he possesses. "And I'll keep you warm until we get there."
Gingerly, he slides onto the bed next to her and fits his body against her back. Spooned together, the two fit like lock and key. He rests his chin against her uninjured shoulder and presses his cheek against hers. "Better?" he asks.
"You are quite warm…" she murmurs softly in reply. The lack of engine noise, the fact that they aren't moving aside from drifting along on the waves is completely lost on her. With each breath every muscle in her body tightens as she shivers. "I cannot wait to lie on the white sand in the sun, you will join me there."
She closes her eyes and tries to rest, unfortunately her eyes fly open less than a moment from when they're closed. "Tell me what it is to dream, Captain. Tell me the visions you see in your head."
A long, quiet moment passes.
Porter moisted his lips with the tip of his tongue and squeezes his eyes shut as well. "I dream of peace," he admits, his voice small and quiet. Like a child.
Slowly, he inhales and exhales. Again. A third time. Finally, he continues. "I dream of a time when people like us won't be needed. When we can curl up on the white sand in the sun and never have to worry about who to kill next, or who might try to kill us. No more ICBMs. No more insurgents. Just peace."
"You are n-not…" A violent shudder courses through Vasha's entire body and she quiets, presumably to allow the contraction of her stomach muscles to subside. A few deep breaths later, she stops shivering for just a minute, as she leans her cheek into his. "You are not worried that you will be obsolete? That there will be no use for you?"
Then she laughs, a soft huff of a bittersweet sound that ends in a low moan of pain.
She remains silent but only for a moment, comforted by the close contact of her father's enemy. "I do not suppose you will ever be useless. You are a man of many talents, you would survive through sheer gall, hmm?"
A strong hand is pressed against Vasha's belly, supporting her as the tremors course through her body. At the same time, Porter curls closer to her back, giving her something to lean against. When the quivers have subsided, he lets up on the pressure, but leaves his hand and body where they are.
"Obsolete?" he muses, brushing his stubbly chin against her shoulder. "If only. I'm too old for this, Vasha. I'm too tired and I've seen too much. I don't even like to touch guns anymore. You know that."
"Why do you not retire then? Find a small hovel somewhere on a lonely beach and dry out like a raisin in the sun?" Vasha's voice is soft and she half closes her eyes as he rubs his chin against her. Her hand raises to cup his cheek in a tender action that he's never been party to, let alone witness. Ever the cold fish, perhaps the fever has melted her ice.
"Unlike you, I am quite afraid of becoming useless," she says in a low voice. Another tremor shudders through her and she presses closer to him for protection from the sickness. "I find retention in my field lowers when you become older."
"That it does," Porter replies stiffly. For a spy to reach middle-age is almost unheard of. When it happens, the inescapable byproducts of age makes a longer life even less likely. Distracted, the man opens his eyes and stares blankly at the wall. His only comfort comes from the hand against his cheek, and he takes that comfort gladly.
"Retiring isn't an option for me," he goes on, his voice quiet and throaty. "The Agency isn't known for handing out pensions and gold watches. Even if they did, I'm still needed. What am I supposed to do? Walk away? Let people die when I could be stopping it?" Frustrated, he interrupts his own series of rhetorical questions. "Not me. I'm no quitter. Not when there's still work to be done."
Her fingers scratch through the stubble and finally Vasha's eyes close for a long while as she ponders the questions that Porter doesn't expect or want answers to. "Then much like myself," she starts slowly, turning in his arms to face him. The dark circles under her eyes make her look much more haggard as does the fevered palor of her skin. She's much less composed than she has ever been in his presence, mind and body alike. "Your only rest will be your death."
She tucks her head under his cheek, forcing him to use her as a pillow. Her arm circles around his waist as she tries to fit snugly against him. "You are a fool, Captain, an admirable fool. Many men would simply walk away when they tire."
This conversation seems to have taken a bit of the wind from Porter's sails. His jovial confidence is much diminshed, leaving him… smaller. Older. More human. Absently, he noses at Vasha's face.
"I tried," he confesses. "I told myself I was going to leave it all behind when I turned forty. Packed my bags, set up a retirement account… I had it all in place. There was a girl."
He blinks and passes a hand over his eyes. It's as if he wipes away his emotions, leaving his expression stony and cold. "I couldn't do it," he goes on, his voice as bland as the look on his face. "They called and I answered. I stole her car and left her with a bullshit note. No, you're right. People like us only get to sleep when we're dead."
"And what happened with this girl?" Vasha asks him, the man she's grown accustomed to being strong and resilient finally seems to show a crack in his armor. She raises her chin and brushes her lips against his. "Had you done such a thing to me, I would rip your intestines from your body and allow you to scramble to reclaim them as you expired. It is something that I have seen only once, a most horrid way to pass."
Then her hand finds his cheek again to softly caress his skin. "At this moment, I cannot say that I regret your decision. Perhaps when the sun rises, but not now." Her fingers continue to trace along his jawline and cheek, back and forth to the rhythm of the rocking boat. "You should sleep now, Captain, I will watch over you."
Like a fist that's no longer needed for striking, Porter's body relaxes as soon as the admission slips from between his lips. "She's around," he says vaguely. "I've… I've never… told anyone that. Before. About her."
Each word comes slower than the last. Despite his self-made promise to stay vigilant until Vasha's illness has passed, he's starting to… fall…
Quietly, he starts to snore.