'When you think you've lost the light,
Stuck in a starless night,
Lift your eyes and watch the sky—
I'll be your satellite.'
"Satellite" ~ Ben Abraham
After sixty years of life on earth, Giancarlo would like to think that nothing surprises him anymore. He's seen whales swim under the belly of a boat, sharks, squid, a squid eat a shark, a half dead man with a micro laser in his hip, ball lightning…
But there is something special about seeing a blank slated, burly young man take his first bite of lime meringue pie straight from the dish. Whipped cream gets lost in the dimples on either side of his smile. It's unspeakably precious, though Giancarlo could not quite put his finger on why, if pressed, to witness a sight so pure—a young man overwhelmed, delighted and emotional, by something so simple as a dessert he doesn't remember eating, if ever.
The fork barely makes it in between the draw bridge of John's teeth before his eyes go wide, white with their surprise, and he slaps the table.
"This is amazing!"
Giancarlo beams, dealing out seven cards for the Frankenstein version of Black-Jack-meets-Crazy-Eights Eamon made up. "It had better be—my sister baked that pie before my shore leave was up and I've kept it secret in my quarters all this time. You got the inaugural bite."
"I'm honoured." And then John laughs—really laughs, open mouth and all, showing off green meringue—and the cards fall straight out of Giancarlo's hands. Shock rings over his head. "Thanks, skipper. For fixing the coffee machine yesterday and for this. It means a lot, especially as I don't think I've eaten anything like this in a long time. Homemade food it…it tastes different."
Giancarlo's glasses begin to fog, so he takes them off. "Of course. I smuggle the boys treats all the time. It's only fair you get first dibs, being our guest and all. Besides, you're much too skinny."
The sound of that laugh, innocent, impish, full of life, replays in his head while he resumes dealing. He's never heard anything like it. Such an innocent sound out of such a world-weary face, even if his eyes don't recall everything they've seen. Watching John gobble up a whole piece of pie softens the sharp flutters. His eyes narrow with warmth.
You're getting sentimental, Gian.
He rustles out of the affectionate moment to tap the dish near John's hand. John pulls away. It startles Giancarlo, like it always does every time this shying away from contact happens. He is continually baffled by how much fear is inherent in the action, but he knows better than to push.
"So," he says aloud. "Are we going to discuss it?"
John has grace enough to swallow before speaking this time. "Discuss what?"
"The laser I dug out of your hip, dear boy." Giancarlo checks around again for eavesdroppers, not that there's any need. They're alone at the table, owing to a fireworks show happening off the coast that the rest of the crew rushed up to the deck to watch. "It has an account number for a bank in Zurich."
Nose wrinkled, John throws down his fork. "I know."
"Is that where you'll go, once we catch our quota of fish?"
John looks at him, examining, always studying. Giancarlo would think he was a professor or scientist in his past life if it weren't for the way his eyes look like a snake's when he does it. "Probably, yes. They've got to know who I am, right?"
"Of course," says Giancarlo, though he's not sure.
By John's clouded eyes, he's not sure either. They're alone with their thoughts and John lets Giancarlo have the first turn. He lays down a king, then John two nines. His deference and respect for Giancarlo and anyone his elder, contrasted against the wariness, is something Giancarlo can't decipher no matter how hard he digs. John is not like the stars and charts he relies on to navigate the boiling ocean, not something that can be mapped with a compass and reached by sheer logic.
No, there's something else behind the eyes that Giancarlo is just beginning to read.
"If you could be anyone, what would you want?"
The distraction works and John surfaces from his grimacing reverie. "Anyone? Do anything?"
"Sure! Better to dream than wallow in what-ifs."
John smiles. "Maybe I'm a doctor."
That's interesting. It wouldn't have been the first thing Giancarlo expected John to want for himself but in a roundabout way it makes sense.
"Or a boxer, me thinks. Especially with those muscles."
There's that laugh again, a fragrant incense filling the room, harmonizing with the squeaky lantern and booming fireworks. "How about a pilot?"
"Ladies love a pilot."
"Or a firefighter."
Just the image of John as a mail carrier, walking the beat, is enough for Giancarlo to join in John's merriment. It's ludicrous to imagine him with a bag of mail every day, staid and predictable and without any excitement other than the weather and angry dogs. Over the next few minutes, the suggestions get more outlandish—stunt driver, mime, hand model—until they're both doubled over, tears streaming down Giancarlo's face.
"What about…oohhh…what about a monk?" John suggests.
"A monk? That's the best you can think of?" Giancarlo wipes his eyes. "You might as well just go ahead and be a lion tamer."
John's laughter tapers off. "If I can't figure out my identity, joining the circus might actually be a tempting option."
Giancarlo isn't even sure whose turn it is anymore. John again lets him go and between their two forks, they demolish the pie in record time. Giancarlo's sides hurt with a pleasant ache; he can't remember the last time he laughed so hard or so long. For such a serious young man, he makes Giancarlo smile more than he has in years.
"I've got a head for numbers." John shrugs. "I can remember long strings of them without even trying, same with names. Maybe I was an accountant or stock trader."
Giancarlo is doubtful about this. He's seen the speed with which John can catch a runaway fish flopping off the deck, or the way he grabbed Picot this morning by the back of his coat before he could slide overboard. John, at least in the past, is not a man who used to have a desk job. Giancarlo would bet his left arm on it.
"You are a free man, take comfort in that."
John pauses in the act of laying down a queen and cants his head. "Free?"
Giancarlo leans forward, so he's sure he has the boy's full attention. That eerie stare is back, though this time it's tinged with uncertainty. John looks nothing so much like a child who's nightlight has just burned out and he's scared of the dark.
The thought arrests Giancarlo for a moment.
"You are free, son, because from now on you get to choose who you are. Whatever you were before, your choices from this day forward define your identity. Not a name, not a bank number. You. Just you. No one else has that right."
John sits back, eyes on his cards and the pie plate.
Those three letters hum in the space between their bodies, the truth of what they mean and how strong Giancarlo's words are because they are true. Solid ground amid the rapids.
The two men resume playing but they are quiet. It's a good quiet. The room hums with golden light, fizzy, hopeful, and basking in the presence of each other. Giancarlo also can't remember a time he's ever been so content.
What do you know—the fireworks show lasts for two nights instead of the planned one-night-only festival finale. The encore show is mostly golden spurts scintillating the night sky, as if each firework is trying to imitate the flickering of stars.
Giancarlo can always tell when they're near the coast without actually seeing land because of the reduced presence of stars overhead from ambient light pollution. Standing at the bow of the ship, he gazes at constellations bobbing up above, in time with their rocking across the waves. They shrink at the next flash of bright purple pinwheel.
Boots are nearly soundless in their approach, but it's three in the morning and there are only two known insomniacs on this boat. Giancarlo grins.
The young man stands beside Giancarlo's shoulder, close but not enough for them to brush.
"Couldn't sleep, Gian? Even the boys gave up watching."
Giancarlo lights his pipe and blows out a fat ring of smoke. "Sometimes the boat is so noisy during the day that I like a bit of tranquility."
John hums. He too stares out over their heading into the small white caps, his hands in his pockets. Giancarlo's face has long since gone numb from the salty midnight cold whipping at his cheeks. But John doesn't seem as affected, even though he's wearing fewer layers and his skin is far less hardened against such weather.
Giancarlo imagines what a picture they must make, grizzled old sailor who should have retired years ago and doesn't only because the minute he stops he'll keel over, and a young man with too many scars on his body and too many instinctive skills in his head. A burned sapling next to a gnarled oak tree, resting in its shade.
"There are a lot more stars up there than we even know about, huh?" John flicks his chin up to the sky.
Giancarlo rumbles. "Aye, so they say. I've used a high powered telescope only once and it always amazes me how gravity keeps it all in balance."
John shakes his head, though in the dark it's hard to tell whether the gesture is wonder or doubt. "Trillions upon trillions of stars—and every single one has its own place."
Giancarlo is about to make a joke about all that hot air and nowhere to go, but pauses when he hears the hollow pang in John's voice. He's heard it many times before, in his own voice while relating events to a friend over a beer or to his sister on the phone.
"Yes," he finally says. "Yes, they do."
Some things are visceral, beyond education and beyond life experience.
John, for instance, knows with unfailing certainty that no matter what career he had before or who he was friends with or where he lived or how he chose to live his life—he's always been a light sleeper. It's something arcane, planted at the molten level of who he is. It's right there alongside with a woman's voice singing his infant self a lullaby and the fact he doesn't like small spaces. These are parts of who he is as a soul, not a mind.
He stares at Picot, Eamon, and the other sailors with naked incredulity while holding the door frame for support. Each and every one of them is fast asleep in their wall bunks. Eamon's snores, in duet with the captain's around the hall, attest to this. This is the first storm since the night John was rescued and the ship pitches drunkenly through the waves. The crests aren't high yet, not with the storm just starting, but there are a lot of them. They splash against the sides of the boat with ferocious detonation.
John lays back down after making the trip from the bathroom back to his infirmary bed without incident, trying to sleep. Something in his spirit is restless with this reminder of the night he was found in the water. No…not restless. Scared. It's a scrying bowl of acid in the hollow of his spine where sweat collects, a shake in his limbs he can't quite still. He's not scared of the storm, of almost dying.
He's scared that he will remember. The truth has always been there and John just now begins to understand—that some primal part of him does not want to know.
But he is a light sleeper. John doesn't even realize he has fallen asleep until the first percussive blast of thunder erupts overhead. That and a white out crack of lightning are all it takes for John to bolt upright and bang his head on the ceiling.
"John? John! Are you alright?"
Phantom images swim in front of John's eyes. He quivers from head to toe, absolutely petrified down to his marrow. Gravity pulls his legs to the side and he finally sees that he's not on the bed at all. He's sprawled on the floor, and instead of the ceiling, his head hit the underside of the infirmary cot.
John curls up, back against the bed, and tries to wrestle back the dry sobs that want to push from his lips. Women in labour talk about birth pangs, the electrocution-like signals that demand a baby's expulsion and precursor new life into the world. John's mouth feels like that now, stuffed full of buzzing bees stinging at the inside of his cheeks and the back of his tongue, demanding to be let out. The birth pangs of truth are relentless. They crash along with the thunder, they shock him with the lightning.
A beam shines suddenly in front of his face and he winces away.
"Sorry, John." Giancarlo's profile materializes. He sets the flashlight on the floor, though it skitters around, and kneels in front of John. The skipper sounds shaken. "I had to make sure you didn't re-injure yourself when I heard you fall. I wasn't even sure if you were awake."
John's not sure either, to be honest.
Giancarlo is faintly visible by the erratic light, but it's enough to see his eyes pooling. His hand hesitates in the space between them and John prays, desperate, that he won't touch. John still doesn't know why he dreads the contact, but he has an image for it now. The dream floats in front of his eyes, the corners of the room, ghostly blood seeping between his fingers.
A tear slips down his cheek unbidden. "Giancarlo."
"I'm here," the skipper whispers, voice wretched and wet. "I'm here, John. You're not alone."
"I don't…I don't understand."
Giancarlo doesn't ask what he's talking about, doesn't demand to know what the nightmare entailed. He doesn't badger John to get off the floor and back into bed, doesn't pester him about possible head wounds.
He just kneels there, broken open and available. John's body is one big PING! now, red hot and caged and so, so confused. Undone by Giancarlo's mere presence. And this too John's body should know but it doesn't. It hasn't had such intimate proximity with another human being in a long time. John adds this one to the list of things he's positive about himself—the top of the list.
"It's alright, son. The storm will pass."
John hiccups and another tear falls. He repeats his question from a week ago. "Why? Why, Giancarlo?"
"It…" Giancarlo swallows. "That's not important right now."
"Yes it is."
He may not know himself, but he knows people. He knows Giancarlo's behaviour doesn't make any normal person sense. None of it does. Now the captain on the other hand, he makes sense, his complete ignoring of John. The way he's almost forgotten about his presence altogether. What doesn't make sense is hot chocolate and pie and card games and fixing the espresso machine and wanting to touch him all the time, like it's something to be freely given. John doesn't have a category for this at all.
"I dream about it," John insists, teeth clenched and angry in a way that isn't anger at all. "I finally had an actual dream and do you know what I saw?"
Giancarlo's hand hovers over John.
"I see faces." John's hiss makes them both pale. "They're just kids, Giancarlo. Why am I dreaming about kids? They make my chest heavy, all these children staring at me and mouthing things I can't hear."
John hangs his head for a moment. The images claw at his skin, the itchy callouses on his fingers, especially his right hand. "They're not my own children. I know they're not mine…but they are. They're a part of me, no matter their ethnicity or age."
He looks up at the skipper, choking back a mewling noise. "How messed up must I be?"
There's a violent rod of chain lightning, and it highlights Giancarlo's own tears. His haven't fallen yet, but in a reverse flip, his lips are ajar, shaking with small breathy sounds. The birth pangs of truth. "Did you know that even pneumonia can be fatal?"
The question is a left field ball, pitched straight into the empty bleachers of John's thoughts. All he can do is nod. Yes, he does know this.
"Look at me, John."
John doesn't, silent tears plinking onto his knees.
"Please, son. Please look at me."
Finally, John lifts his eyes all the way, to see that hand just inches away from his cheek. Giancarlo has never looked this way before—like a thirsty man in a desert seconds away from dying if he doesn't get a drop of water. The crusty old man is gone, replaced by a bloodshot soul bared open for John to see in all its glory. It's a mirror, the remnant of who John is reflected in this man thirty years his senior.
"I don't know what images burden you, what specific faces go with those children, but I don't need to. I know who they are."
John really doesn't understand now, on multiple levels.
Giancarlo's first tear runs off the bridge of his nose and his hand, at last, touches John. His palm is warm and real, cupping John's face. "The children are you."
Their skin on skin contact sings with life and John's eyes scrunch. It does nothing to stop that sob from hurtling up his throat at Olympic record speeds. Colour explodes behind his eyes, breakthrough and catharsis and defeat.
"Your body remembers what it's like to be somebody's child." Giancarlo's voice drops to a whisper again. "Your spirit is grieving, John. The children represent a good thing—they are the part of you that's human, compassionate, working through all the horrors. Don't block it out."
Thunder crashes in chorus with another sob, though it's hard to tell from which man. John knows it can't be that easy, that all those faces have a story to go with each of them, especially the little African girl, but in this moment it doesn't matter.
He tips forward suddenly, a begging lurch. Giancarlo lets go of his face to catch him, guiding John's head to tip onto his collarbone, one hand on his back and the other cupping his head. The embrace is firm and pliable, suffused with a warmth that extends beyond the body into the ancient recesses of John's mind, that remembers what it is to be held like this. Something inside of his heart breaks, a cement foundation crack booming inside his chest. His sobs are wet and messy, a smidgen too close to hyperventilating.
Giancarlo shushes him, but he's just as distraught. The ship rocks them back and forth, a cradle to go with the lullaby of Giancarlo's heartbeat against his forehead. And John knows, with glass plated clarity, that he was once somebody's son. Not in the abstract way of having someone assist in his conception but in the cell-deep memory of knowing he was deeply loved by a father, once.
Then, all in one pop, he does understand.
He thinks of the tan line on Giancarlo's left hand, the alabaster band where a ring used to sit. John pulls back a little, so that their hands are linked instead. Giancarlo still has one hand on the top of John's head, playing with the unruly bristles. They gaze at each other for a minute without speaking.
John whispers with a tone he's never heard from his own mouth. It's tender, so human he almost flinches to hear it. "Pneumonia kills, huh?"
"Yes." Giancarlo nods, eyes pained. "It does."
"How old was he?"
A long pause follows, so long John considers whether Giancarlo will deign to answer at all. The thunderstorm reaches a fever pitch outside. The rhythm of the waves matches John's breathing, which has slowed down to a tolerable speed. His face is flushed and blotchy. So is Giancarlo's, his hand tottering where it explores the scars along John's scalp, the ones he'd also found the first day he sat alone in the bathroom and catalogued all the strange marks on his own skin.
Giancarlo's voice comes out as a whistle of the wind, all breath and fractured memories. "He was thirteen. Raphael was thirteen when he caught pneumonia, with his already weak lungs, and…and he…"
The pinging, in an abrupt retort, goes still inside John's body. He stops listening to it and is instead awed by the dyad of his and Giancarlo's heartbeat against each other, where Giancarlo's thumb rests against an artery in John's hand.
"He never got to choose." Giancarlo sniffs, then lets it out in a huff. "But you do. He had your eyes, that old soul figuring out the world, curious about everything."
John comforts Giancarlo this time, squeezing his pock marked fingers.
"You're going to make it, son. You're going to be okay, better than you ever were."
John's eyes fill afresh, lips losing the battle to remain unyielding. He blinks to get rid of tears, to try and memorize every tiniest detail of this man's countenance, his bearing, his spongy eyes that are soft with fondness for people. John hopes his brain is as adept at remembering faces as it is with numbers. "How do you know? How can you be so sure?"
John certainly isn't. The future looks bleak, void, filled up with little more than endless codes to solve and mountains to climb. He's exhausted just thinking about it.
"You're going to be okay because you were loved. And…" Giancarlo strokes his hair. "And you still are."
John hears the words behind the words. He stores them away in the deepest parts of his memory bank, along with a mother's song and key lime pie and Giancarlo's smile and the endless rocking of waves, back and forth, back and forth…
"Are you sure you don't want to stay? With Roberto on sick leave, we'll need an extra hand."
John grins, hauling the last cooler of fish out onto the deck while Picot gets ready to let the anchor down. "I need to find answers, Gian."
Giancarlo pretends to grumble, but he can't help the lighter expression on his face either. There's a dark storm cloud in his heart for the absence about to affect them all, yet he knows this is for the best, that John deserves whatever the world has to offer and peace about who he is. He looks out over the wind and waves, appreciating a still-waters day after the massive thunderstorm two nights ago. The air has new smells in it now, spices and gasoline and other city things the purity of ocean air inside their nostrils hasn't scented in over a month.
"Even if you never find out," says Giancarlo, "I hope you pursue who you want to be."
John pauses. He sidesteps to avoid Eamon's noisy passing, who already whistles yet another drinking song, but he keeps his eyes on Giancarlo.
"I will—and I'll keep my promise."
"Bah!" Giancarlo waves him off. "Sure you will."
"It's true! I plan to come back one day, to show you what's become of me."
"Bring along a pretty girl, eh?"
John sulks. "Unbelievable. At this rate I'll never get more pie."
"So that's what you mean me to be, a pie mule."
"Hey, your sister makes good lime meringue." John winks back at Giancarlo, and it does funny things to the skipper's chest to know he's mimicking what he's received. That he is trying to reciprocate affection. "Thank you, Giancarlo, for everything. You've saved my life in more ways than one."
Giancarlo clears his throat to get rid of some dirt in his eyes. He'll cherish the memory of holding this boy, that terrible night on the floor, until the day he dies. "You were a gift to have on board, dear boy. Every second."
He fishes in his wallet for some money to give John, for he's certainly earned it. He doesn't miss the surprise on John's face, and perhaps it's warranted since he wasn't part of the crew for the whole expedition, only half of it, but John will need this to get to Switzerland.
They shake hands and it's a fireball point of contact, thawing and golden and beautiful. Then he hops to shore and walks away. Giancarlo hasn't allowed himself to dwell on Raphael in ten years…for a moment now he does. It was always too painful, especially after his wife left to live with her family in Lisbon. In this moment, the thought of Raphael and who he might have become brings him immense joy, the fact that he doesn't have to imagine at all—
He'd be similar to John.
He and Giancarlo are cut from the same cloth, weary face but fiery eyes. They have some licking flames left in them yet, and they're the reason John will make it home, wherever that may be.
"Goodbye, John," he whispers.
Like John heard these words, impossible since he's twenty feet down the dock by now, he stops and turns. After a moment of just staring at the boat, he waves.
Fifteen years later…
With arthritis deep set in his fingers, Giancarlo settles for yanking on both loops of the rolling hitch, rather than picking it apart like he used to. The rest of the crew has wandered off for supper on the docks, and his pride demands he finish doing this himself before they get back. He dreads asking for help, much as he needs to sometimes.
Boots clomp up behind his place at the starboard side. Then they stop, waiting. One scuffs, as if impatient or light on the balls of the feet.
"We're closed," Giancarlo tosses over his shoulder. "No more whale watching tours today."
The boots stay where they are.
"You looking for a signed invitation, son?"
"Mmm." A man hums. "Pretty sure you gave me one."
Giancarlo's hands freeze around the knot. Each pulse beats hard against his collar. His ears aren't what they used to be, and his captain's hat might be for show to amuse the tourists now, but his mind hasn't lost one gleam of its acuity. Still, he stopped letting himself dream, hope, for this a long time ago.
You're imagining things, Gian. You heard wrong.
He blinks, slowly pivoting.
And there, standing without a bag or belonging to his name, just like last time, is a ghost.
There's more grey around his temples now, ugly scars across his face and neck where the hem of his sweater slips down, the pucker of new bandages underneath the shoulders. His eyes are still the same bright blue, though they carry more shadows and burdens now, dimples deeper and wider than ever. He tries to swallow back a smile, but that doesn't work and so he stops trying. It banishes the darkness from his eyes in one weary, relieved pop.
"Here's a question." His lips twitch higher. "Is it possible for a guy to get a job around here without getting shot first?"
Giancarlo's eyes are bright too, for a totally different reason. Wiping off his suddenly sweaty palms, he gives up on the knot.
"That depends," he manages, voice wobbling. "Is this a temporary position?"
"I'm thinking of retirement, actually."
Giancarlo lets out a huge breath, an infant laugh. "Funny, so am I. Spend my last days out on the water."
"A man's got to stop running sometime." He holds out his hand. "I'm David. David Webb."
Giancarlo gasps. "Are you?"
John's—David's—eyes crinkle. "An identity bought in blood, but here now to stay. Maybe…so long as you've got pie."
It's a joke, a moment for a laugh. But Giancarlo's daydreams are standing before him, something he'd given up thinking he would get to see before he died. And so he shoves the handshake aside to hop over the lip of the boat and tug his boy into his arms, cupping the back of that sandy head. The years fade away and he feels the exact same against Giancarlo's chest as he did back then, weighted and warm and flushed with tears. David does laugh, and it's weak, tired, but oh so genuine. Joy bubbles from the sound.
And Giancarlo, too, is home.
AN: I didn't plan this little epilogue scene at all, but right before posting the muse would not shut up about a reunion, so here we are.
Thanks for stopping by to read some Bourne feels! :)