Axiom Ch. 07bydrunkenphilosophy©
"I'll leave," he offered, getting up from his seat. "Again, I'm so sorry for everything, Mrs. Kenner. I hope that she'll get well soon."
Before he could walk away, she spoke up without turning to face him.
"Do you love her?"
He froze, a little taken aback by the question. She slowly turned to face him, pinioning him with a serious gaze as her eyes met his. "Do you love her?" She asked again.
"More than anyone in the world could possibly imagine." His face was blank but she could see the sadness in his eyes. "Your daughter is the most incredible woman I've ever met, Mrs. Kenner. I've never known anyone so strong, so resilient, and I-" He halted.
The passion was creeping back into his voice but he kept it in check reminding himself that this wasn't about trying to win her over. "I'm so sorry, I'll leave you be." Swallowing hard he turned to walk away, feeling the dread throb in his chest.
"If you really love her - if she means that much to you, you should be here for her. Stand by her side through all of this. If what you said is right - if she really is in there because of you - then you owe it to her to see this through. The least you could do is to take care of her. Be her rock."
He was utterly floored. When he looked at her face he could've sworn that it was Gwyneth's - he saw the soft, warm eyes of Sayuri Kenner and understood where Gwyneth got her forgiving nature. Of course she had her doubts, he wouldn't be surprised if she blamed him. It made it all the more remarkable that she was doing this - choosing to set aside any grudges, wiping the slate clean, giving him a chance to prove himself.
"It would be unfair for me to fault you for loving her. As much as I want to hold you accountable I think we both know that it's going to lead us nowhere. If she got into this because she was with you, it would be senseless to ask you to leave. Just promise me you'll take good care of her, Aidan. This is my daughter we're talking about."
Hope blossomed anew within him, fresh determination surging forth in a cleansing wave. "I would be more than honored to, Mrs. Kenner." His eyes were serious. "Thank you so much for letting me be here. I swear, I will care for her and cherish her with everything I have." He sounded almost fierce with intent.
"Good." She nodded briefly but there was a small smile on her lips and her eyes were friendly. "Now, there's no need to be so formal. Call me Sayuri."
Over the next few hours, Aidan and Sayuri gradually warmed to each other. They just went on talking in one of those conversations that didn't seem to ever end. Initially they discussed the more trivial matters such as working life at the law firm and the Ceres scandal. Somehow the conversation shifted to personal experiences, where Sayuri regaled stories from Gwyneth's childhood days and Aidan talked about how he came to meet Gwyneth.
Aidan admired Sayuri right from the start. She was a soft-spoken Asian woman, gentle by nature but obviously not one to suffer fools gladly. It was easy to see where Gwyneth got her natural good mood from - her mother had the same pleasant temperament, the same calming aura that made people feel relaxed and welcomed. Even in times of crisis Sayuri held herself well, exuding grace in every respect.
One of the doctors came over and told them that Gwyneth's condition was stable for now and her vitals showed no signs of permanent damage. They would be allowed to see her once she woke up but until then there was nothing much for anyone to do. Upon hearing that, Sayuri decided that it was best for the boys to be sent back to the hotel to get some rest.
She was a motherly character - an Asian mother, in essence. Underneath the layers of tender love and caresses lay the firm skeleton of a strict disciplinarian. Aidan quickly realized that when he saw Sayuri manage her sons - all three complied with her instructions without so much as a peep. Left alone, the both of them talked and talked and talked finding solace in each other's company, bound together in mutual grief and worry.
There was a small frisson of excited activity when Gwyneth woke up. From a distance, Aidan noticed her head moving on the pillow and alerted a nurse who confirmed that she was indeed conscious. The anesthesia and sedatives from her surgery must have worn off. As much as he wanted to see her, he encouraged Sayuri to go in and see her daughter first. The least he could do was afford them some privacy and bonding time after all the trauma of the night.
Observing them from outside was like watching a silent movie. Sayuri's face crumpled and tears streaked down her face as she picked up her daughter's hand and kissed it. And then she was nodding and talking, the other hand gently stroking Gwyneth's hair. The weight on his shoulders felt a little lighter but the guilt still felt as black as tar in his chest. The only reprieve was that she was safe for the time being.
After a while Sayuri slipped out of the room, her face shining. She gave Aidan a brief squeeze on the arm and wiped away a final tear with her cardigan sleeve.
"She's asking to see you. Go ahead, go in."
The sliding doors made a hissing sound as he closed it behind him. There she was, lying on the bed with a lazy smile on her face. He settled into the chair beside her and took her hand. Gwyneth was a little groggy but undeniably lucid. Seeing her awake and conscious flooded him with relief. Tears sprung to his eyes but he forced them back not wanting to show her how torn up he was inside.
"Hey," his voice was gentle and loving. "How are you feeling?"
"Pretty badass," she drawled, a small smile on her lips. She meant it as a joke but he flinched at her words. "I'm fine, don't you worry. Sorry for the scare back there."
"Sorry? You're sorry? Jesus, if anyone should be apologizing, it's me. Gwyneth, it's all my fault that this happened. I should have seen this coming, should've upped security detail-"
"Don't -" her voice surged with aggression, startling him. She was still weak, but there was no mistaking the anger in her tone. "Don't you dare. No, not now - it's not fair. I don't have it in me to argue with you right now, so shush."
Still he refused to let it go. "No, Gwyneth," he persisted, sounding determined "I am to blame here, and you can't deny it-"
"Aidan, please?" She sighed. "Not here, not now. Please." She closed her eyes, sounding so tired and exasperated that he decided to back down.
"I'm sorry, I'll stop for now." He pressed her palm to his lips. "God, I've been worried sick. When I saw you with the two men..." he drew in a ragged breath. "If only we were a little faster, if only we had arrived there a little earlier..."
"Aidan, what did I just tell you? No, okay? No." Despite the obvious fatigue he could still hear the edge in her voice. "I'm alive, I'm safe, and that's all that matters. Don't dwell on it - it's over now, alright? It's over now. It's over now." Her head sagged back into the pillow as she repeated it, as if to convince herself. "It's over now." She exhaled deeply, obviously a little more than exhausted.
"You should get some rest, love."
Her eyes flashed open in an instant. "No please," she suddenly looked so fragile, her voice sounded so small. "Please don't go yet. I don't want you to leave."
"I'm not going anywhere, baby," he comforted in a deep voice. "I'll be here, I promise. Now go to sleep, you need your rest." He kissed her on her forehead and continued to hold her hand while sitting next to her bed.
Mollified, she smiled up at him. She really was feeling quite tired. Gwyneth was about to turn away and close her eyes when he called her name.
"I love you."
She was momentarily silenced, stunned by the three words she hadn't expected to hear from him. Her eyes met his and they looked at each other for a while, not saying anything. Truth is she loved that he said it but she couldn't help but wonder if that was just a knee-jerk reaction to the events of the night. Maybe this was just an impetuous declaration of love, precipitated by fear instead of true affection. Maybe -
"I know what you're thinking, and no, it's not like that." His eyes were serious but warm. "I've felt this way for a while now and I should've told you. Should have said it out loud that night, but I didn't, and that was my mistake." His fingers clasped firmly over hers.
"When I saw you lying there, the thought that I could have lost you without ever telling you..." he shook his head. "...it made me realize that I never want to live another day without saying out loud just how I feel about you."
There was a lump in her throat and at that moment, she felt like she was going to cry.
"I love you, Gwyneth." The look in his eyes was as tender as she'd ever seen them. "You never fail to amaze me and I'm so glad to have you in my life."
She smiled a little and closed her eyes to try and stop the tears but a few drops managed to leak out anyway, rolling down her cheek. Catharsis. It had been one hell of a night and the last thing she should be feeling was joy but nothing could rob her of the happiness in her heart now. She felt his thumbs carefully brushing away the tears on her bruised cheek and then the rustle of his lips on her forehead. She could feel his breath on her skin, warm and familiar.
"Get some rest, my love. You're safe now. I'm here and I'm never going to leave."
The next few days passed by in a semi-blur. Gwyneth spent most of her time sleeping. Her abdomen was swollen and bruised as a result of the injuries she'd sustained as well as the surgery. This caused plenty of discomfort so she was put on a low-dose of morphine, which made her mind all addled and hazy. She could vaguely remember snippets of moments with everyone: her three brothers, Dylan, her mother and Aidan - but the chats were usually brief and generic. How are you feeling? Get well soon. Take care. It was like being moderately drunk, where she semi-remembered what she was doing but for the most part she was running on autopilot.
Soon the swelling reduced and so did the pain. She was weaned off the morphine and her condition improved greatly which meant that she was transferred out of the ICU into a private room. Without the miasma of drugs clouding her mind, she felt much better and a lot more alert. The first thing she noticed was how her mom and Aidan were so easy with each other. She was talking to her mom in the room when there was a soft knock on the door. In bustled Aidan, who was manhandling several Dean and DeLuca bags. Sayuri welcomed him with a broad grin.
"Hi," he greeted them with a friendly smile and turned to address Sayuri. "I didn't know what you'd need, so I just bought some food that I thought might be convenient. The usual hospital fare isn't exactly what you'd want to eat."
"Aw, you shouldn't have, Aidan." She took the bags from him and touched his arm. "Thank you so much, sweetheart."
Gwyneth was a little surprised but she felt a glow of pride for him. He really could be so sweet sometimes. As her mom rummaged through the paper bags he came over to kiss her, looking all clean and handsome like he always did.
"You look a lot better today," he commented. She smiled up at him and nodded. "Are you feeling well? Does this hurt?" He gingerly touched her cheek, just below the swelling.
"It doesn't really hurt. I feel a whole lot better, honest. Does this mean I'll be discharged soon?"
"Let's not rush things now," he cautioned. "Take all the time you need to recover. It's best that you not stress yourself out - after all, you're still a little frail."
It was true - there was no disputing her physical condition.
"But I've been bedridden for almost a week now," she complained, sounding more whiny than she'd intended to. "I'm tired of being here, Aidan. I just want to go home. That's where I can really recuperate and normalize again, not here in this..." she waved at the space around her. "...sterile little box."
His face twisted briefly. "Gwyneth, I understand that you want to go home but I'm a little worried about you going back to your place -"
"I'll be fine!" she interjected passionately.
He was adamant. "You'll need security detail, at least for the time being. I'm not quite ready to say that you're in the clear just yet."
"I'm in a hospital now," she threw up her hands in exasperation. "What difference does it make? I'm pretty sure a locked apartment is just as -"
He cut her off smoothly. "There are currently three ex-SAS operatives stationed around you, all of whom are disguised as medical personnel in this hospital." He pointed at her wrist. "That bracelet has a built-in GPS that can pinpoint your location accurate to the meter." The look on his face was stern. "Trust me, there's a lot more you don't want to know about, so yes, I'd say that it makes a huge difference."
She just stared at him, struggling to process the information let alone think of a comeback. Her mom chimed in unhelpfully. "Darling, he does have a point."
Gwyneth rolled her eyes, trying to cool down her rising temper. She could feel her mood steadily slipping south. "Oh come on, not you too. I'll be fine, I know I will. You know what - if you're really going to insist on this, you can have half the CIA camp right outside my front door for all I care but I'd really like to go home. It's been a rough few days, okay? I'm tired of being here."
Her words hung in the air, bouncing between the three people in the room. She wasn't sure if she quite liked the look of silent communication between Aidan and her mom. Since when did they get so chummy, anyway? They'd only just met and now they were making decisions together already?
The sound of knocking broke the silence. The door edged open and Dylan's head poked through.
"Hi, is she awake?"
"Oh, she's up alright. Come on in, dear." Sayuri gestured for him to come closer. Dylan shuffled awkwardly towards the bed with a bunch of sunflowers in his hand. As if the atmosphere in the room wasn't stilted enough as it is Dylan's presence just added to the weird tension that loomed about.
"Aidan, I think we need to talk about where Gwyneth's going to stay when she leaves this place." Sayuri gave him a meaningful look and subtly nudged her head at Dylan's direction. "Shall we take this outside?"
He got the message. "That sounds good. I do have a few ideas..."
The both of them walked out of the room leaving Gwyneth alone with Dylan. He tried on a smile but she didn't smile back - she wasn't feeling particularly cheery right now. Neither party said a word for a few painfully awkward moments. She looked down at her blanket and pretended to be engrossed by the pattern of the fabric. How did things get so strained between them? He had been her best friend for so many years and yet now they were acting like strangers.
Her head jerked up at the sound of those words. "I'm so fucking sorry, Gwyneth."
She could see the remorse on his face and his broad shoulders were hunched over. Suddenly, he didn't look so tall anymore. His usually jovial smile was replaced by a solemn, tight-lipped expression. "I'm so sorry I behaved like that. I know I was being a juvenile dickhead the other day."
"Yeah you were. Seriously, that was totally uncalled for."
"I know, I know. And then I left you at work without giving you a ride back..." He heaved a sigh and perched himself at the edge of her bed. "If I had stuck around to at least send you home..."
"Don't even go there." Her voice flashed with anger. "I'm not entertaining this from Aidan and I sure as hell am not going to take it from you either. Enough with the speculating, enough with the hypotheses. It happened, I survived, end of story. I don't want to talk about it and honestly, I just wish that everyone would leave it. Can you?"
She could tell that he was shocked by her response. He hadn't expected her to react this way, so Dylan just nodded his head obediently. Gwyneth sighed and shifted around on the pillows.
"I just don't get it. Why all of a sudden?" she asked. "What the hell was up with you that day? Don't tell me that it was nothing - I'm in a really bad mood right now, I'm running low on patience and I'm about this close from shouting at someone." She held up her thumb and forefinger to demonstrate.
He knew her well enough to understand that he was skating on thin ice now. Like her mother, she usually kept her cool but when she exploded, not all the king's horses and all the king's men could put everything right again.
"I was jealous," he admitted, shoving his hands into his pockets.
Hearing him say that rang alarm bells in her head. Did he say that he was jealous? She stared at him, a little slackjawed. What if...what if this meant that he had feelings for her? Dylan saw the look on her face and quickly realized what she was thinking.
"No, no, no..." he backtracked hastily. "Okay, bad choice of words. I wasn't really jealous, more of...envious. That's it, envious. I don't have any feelings - I mean, um, I-" He clamped his mouth shut, looking like he was figuring out what to say. "Look," he said. "I think we've made it pretty clear that we're just friends, right?"
She eased back in relief and nodded. "Yeah, yeah we have." She frowned in confusion. "But...why envious?"
Dylan looked genuinely caught out. "I don't know..." he started, sounding contrite. "Life has really been working out for you lately. Your job was going great, you were so in love, you looked so happy..." He broke off and shook his head with a pained look on his face. "I know, I know - what kind of friend does that make me, huh? Not that I wasn't happy for you - I really was, G. I still am. It's just that we started hanging out less and you were so wrapped up with your new guy, you were busy with work...I guess I just felt a little left out. I mean, when was the last time we hung out, just the both of us?"
She felt a twinge of guilt and all traces of anger dissipated from her mind. He did have a point - ever since she'd started going out with Aidan, she hadn't really had the time to be friends with Dylan. She realized that she no longer knew the little details of his life - who was he interested in? Had he been dating anyone recently? How was he feeling lately? To add insult to the injury, she had deliberately left him out of the loop. He must have felt so alien, felt like he wasn't to be trusted. She reached out for his hand and squeezed it.
"Look," she said in a soft voice, "maybe the fight was partially my fault too. I know we haven't really been spending much time lately because of me. And maybe I should have told you who I was dating. We're friends - we're best friends. If you're not the one I'm going to tell, then who?"
He half-smiled at her in return. There was a moment of silence as she contemplated whether or not Dylan had already figured out that she was dating Aidan. It definitely would've raised his eyebrows to see the berg being so involved in Gwyneth's life, especially in the past few days. Dylan wasn't stupid. He was the King of Gossip for a reason.
"So..." his tone was lighthearted. "Aidan Scodelario, huh? Can't blame me for not guessing that one." He tried to joke.
She flashed a halfhearted smile back at him, feeling a little awkward. Heart-to-heart conversations were never her forte. She thought about what he had said at the diner and realized that he was right. She hadn't told him about her fling with Aidan precisely because she knew that he would disapprove.
Anyone in their right mind would because at the end of the day Aidan was still her boss. The question is, what would Dylan say now? Also, what did it mean to her whether or not her best friend approved? A million questions began to pop up in her head.