Brownstone and Cards


francois_icon.gif teo3_icon.gif

Scene Title Brownstone and Cards
Synopsis One of them is a better material to build houses from than the other. Talk of ethnically diverse murderers is derailed by talk of home.
Date March 1, 2010

Greenwich Village: West 11th Street

Monday mornings are shit for somebody else. The worst day of the week— a return to the droning drudgery of the beehive after one or two days' relief, with five eight-hour days looming ahead in all their soul-crushing sameness, but Teo— well.

Teodoro Laudani is unemployed. Lives on the boom-and-bust cycles of wet operations, mercenary work, and social warfare based on the Evolved-non-Evolved class distinction, and the time required of him comes erratically, and under only the most unexpected of pressure. It is only to be expected, then, that he's spending the day stilting gingerly along with one gimp leg and a scarred cheek to his left, and a Frenchman gripped steadfastly in the hand on his right.

"I'm not hungry anymore. I think these pain meds are doing something to my appetite." Teo squints down the block this way, and then that.

Red brick buildings stand up under the brilliant technicolor of graffiti tattoos, brighter and crisper here, somehow, in the hard white light reflected off the snow than in the muggiest, most passionate lambence of the summer solstice. Some clothing stores, some apartments, gingko biloba trees filtering the exhaust and man-made scuzz out of the air with the coarse skin of their frost-rimmed branches, seasonally deprived of its saucy festooning of fan-shaped leaves. Which are great, and all. It's nice here. Just populated enough. But no trash cans.

"Do you want this?" It's half-eaten, but some minutes earlier, he'd bifurcated the giant waffle neatly down its dorsal line, dripping an ounce or three of syrup-squiggled peanut butter and condensed milk over greasepaper and foil, and onto his shoes as he'd done so. It hasn't been directly chewed upon, in other words. You know.

In case Francois is worried about cooties.

Yesterday, Francois crashed his bike, not for the first time, but now for the last time. It was sad, he has bruises belt-high on his side, a scrape on one palm and now there's something wrong with the handle end of the vehicle itself, left to rot in the back alley of Old Lucy's, shunned. Walking, though. Walking is alright too, if not for men with a sore ankle, granted — they're going slow. The streets are thin, at this end of the West Village, as old fashioned as the buildings, turn of the century stuff. Where a tree grows from metal rings, the two Europeans have to go single-file for a foot and a half.

"I don't know," is an honest answer, but Francois reaches anyway, relieves Teo of the waffle and his hand, too, tearing a piece off primly and delicately, cautious nibbles. Okay. Not bad. He's not the kind of Europe to shun American foods — he'd lived on deep South cuisine for the better part of three decades. Awful rich. "I don't think it is the pain meds. We can go back soon."

The bizarre angle that the West Village is famous for departs from the usual streamlined grid. It confuses the people that live here, too, let alone the foreigners, but Francois seems to know where they are, anyway. "Do you know why Catherine believes that Elisabeth is next?" is asked as casually as comments on breakfast food. It is Monday, after all.

Back to work.

Fingers tightening around the Frenchman's other hand, Teodoro had scissored his jaw out to the left, audacious, scoffed. "Used to be able to eat two of those." And no, Teo had never been fat. Ever! Only exception being, maybe, as an infant, and even then. He hadn't been one of those disgusting little larvae so fat they couldn't open their eyes. No, his heft had been pure pow—

— errr. The sidelong glance indicates that he had not realized that his lover had been privvy to that particular tidbit of information. He is careful not to do anything incriminating with his mouth or eyes, suddenly suspecting, perhaps, that the suddenness of that question had been some kind of ambush. Maybe that reaction is needlessly kneejerk, the product of too many (though not that many) disappointed exes. He closes and opens his eyes, underneath the fringy skew of unshorn blond.

"No," he answers, finally. "I mean, apparently there was a raid. I didn't know about the raid." The italicized stress is faint, but there. Teo make steadfast eye-contact, even slows his crooked step lest he trip or slide all wrong on the compaction of snow. Quieter, then, "I guess— following the pattern, logically, because Dreyfus and those fuckers haven't managed to take anybody from her yet."

A sidelong glance that, in response, gets Francois concentrating on waffle and the obligatory finishing off of, sufficiently hungry. If the question had been an ambush, then the Frenchman isn't going in for the kill. Maybe it hadn't. Maybe it had been just a question, debriefing and information sharing as if making victims of Team Charlie would reunite them in the same kind of sense he'd gotten when Cat had sent a message his way. He eventually makes eye contact in return and nods at that, confirmation of speculation. Anyone can speculate. It doesn't not make sense.

"I suspect that they had to act fast on current information," he says, dismissing shared exclusion, once another bite's been taken. "It happens. And yes. Oui. I was told what happened. You are surprised?"

A moment is required for proper consideration of that question. It's a sensible one, bumps awkwardly into Teo's understanding of the world as it's been wrought by overlapping decades of experience. "Sometimes Catherine is… cagey?

"I act faster than a lot of the people I know. It was an option she chose not to take." Teo's answer is forthright. He raises his shoulders slightly, a shrug that's partly helpless in the face of the lawyeress' personality particulars, and partly self-deprecating, largely impersonal. It doesn't not make sense, she wouldn't invite him along. Many of his relationships seems to built on a 'need to know' basis, lately.

He drags his boots forward, slow but gamely, under the slim-boned shadow of a gingko tree. His brow furrows, and he tries to remember how Chesterfield had phrased her text message. "I answered to check if Cat and her team were all right, medically, but I didn't ask what intel she'd based her conclusion on. You think there was something to it?"

He got halfway through a half before the waffle is being enveloped in the greasy paper, the Frenchman focused enough to keep his fingers clean, even with the awkwardness behind the left set of them. "Je ne sais pas."

Accelerating a few steps to fidget trash into the gaping, tied up end of shiny black trashbags huddled like oversized insect eggs on the side of the road. His heel makes half a C in the dirty snow on the pavement as he shifts, facing Teo as he steps backwards a few feet. "But if it was a theory and only speculation, I thought it strange to include in a quick update, that is all.

"And I was surprised too." He smiles, quickly, before he steps aside and reaches out a hand to take back Teo's. "We did not get along very well, towards the end."

Holding haaands with a boy in public. How much Teodoro has grown over the past few weeks! Or, you know, having one dead ankle is his excuse and it's sad that he still needs excuses, but not as sad as not, and maybe better than actually having a good excuse. He cants a brief glance at the sky, which is so hard and bright that one might think that Earth's stratosphere had ditched the blue frequency of light in exchange for a permanent clarity of white.

Cold as ass, too. He looks back down again, stubbornly pushes the weather out of his mind. Francois said they could go back in, but that seems cowardly, suddenly. "I'll text her about how she got that impression, if you aren't going to. I wasn't paying as much attention as I fucking should have. There's this other lead, but I don't know for sure that it'll pan out: some" sociopaths, of Abby's erstwhile kidnappers, former slaveholders, " criminals I know think that Kozlow can be bought, so there's some remote chance we could lead him to think we would play ball.

"Feng's this other motherfucker you should know about. Flippy ninja Chinese guy, with a hard-on for Eth— who wants to kill Ethan," Teo says, navigating awkwardly around probable disparities in slang. You know.

Sometimes Francois is sort of old, though you'd never think to look at him whether naked o. Rebalancing, verbally this time, he exudes a huff of condensed breath through his teeth and continues. "And maybe for the rest of us, I'm not sure what's going on there. He almost killed Deckard with five gallons of gasoline and a lighter, once, and he found the Garden by himself. 'S the reason the safehouse feels like it's emptier than it ought to be, eighty percent of the time. I think I might ha—"

And Francois' hand slips free of Teo's, and at the exact same moment, he'd disappeared from the Sicilian's side. There's no explanation other than Francois wants to go this way now — and apparently, this way is up towards one of the homes they cross by, some 1800s thing of brown brick and grey granite. Black iron follows up the grey steps, towards the painted double-doors, beside blank eyed windows with empty windows boxes beneath them. Three storeys up, it slots snugly between its neighbours like a book on a shelf.

Presumably these things are locked, which is why Francois has a key in his hand, glinting silver. With footprints in winter slick leading up the cement stairs, he has a slight headstart in unlocking the place and, when the doors successfully give, he disappears inside. Without a word.

Not that Teo isn't saying interesting shit. He really is. Important things, that Francois had crashed a bike over finding out about. The doors remain open a fraction.

Hefdsuhsuh? Teo's lopsided mouth is left flapping in the cold air for a long, perplexed moment, the brittle shifts of atmospheric scissoring steam from his lungs and his hand, summarily deprived of Francois', afloat at his side like a discarded cork. What!

What. He has to look twice to verify he had not imagined the serenity and style of the other man's departure. Sudden and silent as a cat without a bell on its collar, Francois is gone. Francois is going— over there, spinning the Sicilian's ragged, bearded head like a globe rotated on its axis by the indolent forefinger of an armchair explorer. One imagines, this is not an undue amount of influence one lover should have over the mood and attention of his lover.

And the hapless dog cub follows, breaking free of the gate's shadows, his rubber boots beating fatly against the frost-rimed steps, gloves seizing railing. "Francois?" Teo throws his voice through the open doorway and is mystified to hear it bounce off clean walls and a handsome square footage. Then there is a stupid question, and he knows it's a stupid question even before he asks, but he asks, "Whose house is this?" as he comes clopping inside, one hand flattening on the wall, the other itching for his handgun, his eyes wonderous saucers in his skull.

Teo stops to sniff at the air, quite literally, somewhat furtively, his head tipped back and the long white shape of his nose raking its giant hastate shadow on the hall's wall.

It smells like dust and cleaning product both, citrus and intangible earth caught in the air in respectively damp and dry spirals, although it's only dust that shifts in the air, catching in shards of light through spotless windows and up from where a stairwell snakes square up into a tall ceiling, showing a lofty, shadowy upper level barred off by wooden railings. No furniture, filled with echoes instead, and the sound Francois' feet make as he veers off casually towards the stairs.

He grips the end of the railing, shifts up to sit a little higher up, arms folding up on his knees as he peers off towards the space, a grand looking hearth tucked into the exposed brick wall. "It could be mine," he responds, unable not to smile. Just enough. He looks back towards Teo, shrugs. "My meeting with Kershner went well."

"I'll help you check the structural soundness," Teo volunteers, after a moment spent doing nothing more ostentatious or visible than turning his eyeballs to and fro in their sockets. His long-fingered itch to wield a gun goes unrelieved, and the astral projection in his head fails to stir a single inch outside the physical limitations of his skull. For the duration of a protracted stare, he can't for the life of him tell why this place perturbs him so. "And for electronic listening devices and— mildew."

When he blinks, however, realization hits him at an angle, ambushes him in his hobbled tracks, goes straight for a soft spot. This place perturbs him so for no greater reason than because it is perfect. It is difficult to notice that fact because it's empty, so new— or at least, resurfaced, that the cleanness of the paint seems more like an absence than a presence in space. Its proud new owner is sitting on the maple syrup glister of a naked stair, and Teo is slightly afraid breathing too loud in case it spoils things with a mark of residue.

He decides to blame it on the staircase. If it wasn't doing that tender Springtime tendril thing, it'd feel a little less palatial. Though, granted, it would probably be a good idea to check for bugs anyw— "Whoa," he adds, in that way that a man might: retroactively, hastening to mollify, but sincere. No, this apartment doesn't make you look fat.

"Merci," might be in response to offers of inspection or the thought behind the 'whoa'. It's brick and wood and plaster, space boxed in a pretty package, with a locking door and everything. No furniture. One hopes he has a budget to work with. Francois turns the key until it warms in his good hand, glancing up towards the tall ceiling and the modest lighting fixture dangling like a giant, single earring in the immediate hall. I do not usually own things, he wants to explain, but refrains, smile forcibly dimming.

Kind of a wrestle, but it gets there. He tucks the key back into a pocket. "I found it myself. I gave the address to Kershner without expecting much, but. She thinks I am requesting too little. She is going to help me be a physician also." Hands splay, as if to wash them clean of responsibility. "That is Abigail's fault."

That math is wonderful easy: "Make Sarisa get you your furniture, then. And a car. Waterbed? I bet you could get a really great mattress out of her." Teo is being facetious! Kind of. Maybe he is just being warm, supportive. Strangely proud, so proud of what Francois has accomplished, in this— place. Bleating no-no-no's and desert-baked cars forgotten, or at least forgiven. He thinks Francois deserves this place, now. Deserves to own things, if he's ready to do so.

It's a little weird, isn't it? Being proud of a home for somebody, or wanting something with this absurd winged-stomach fluttery grim degree of desire for somebody else, but it's true. It seems right if anything seems right. Teo fights down the urge to take off his boots with every step he takes across the hall, and then stops directly below that single gumdrop moon of a ceiling light, tipping his head back to admire the height of the floor. "That sounds really cool. I wish I had marketable skills like that. Ones that weren't plumbing, maybe."

Thunk-thunk. Francois pulls himself up, boots thudding back down to floor level, and giving Teo a wider grin. His arms go out, precarious like a seagull keeping its balance. "Moi aussi. The last time I was a doctor of any kind was in the thirties. I do not know what I was thinking." He drifts on closer so that he might be able to sling an arm around Teo's waist. "I would ask to get furniture instead of a job, but she has already offered her help on that front. But I will ask for a car.

"Maybe an Italian one. There is too much space in here," is an abrupt observation, mildly displeased as he scans a look around, but that could also be attributed to tall ceilings and its emptiness.

Often, Teo attacks problems like they are tactical. Or practical. Possibly mathematical. Or gramm— you know; like they are less subtle and complicated than pains of the heart or habit are wont to be, but then, one might argue that that's the only way to approach such things. "You can start out using two of the rooms and expand gradually," he suggests. Companionably, he slings his own arm around his lover, too. His elbow heaps up over the top of Francois' shoulders like an ox under the yoke, his fingers hanging off the point where the Frenchman's sleeve is sutured onto the fabric proper of his lapel.

He surveys the land. They picked a good day for first impressions, all the light, crisp edges, the textures, the space in silky-lined chiarascuro. "Start with the bedroom. Make a nest, big enough for the occasional nocturnal visitor.

"Maybe I'll loan you my budgie." Stupidly, then, Teo's throat closes up. It's very abrupt and without fanfare, a visceral pang and a shuddering twitch of fingers off the cliff's edge of Francois' bicep, and he probably wouldn't have betrayed himself at all, really, except that the Frenchman is a little bit perceptive sometimes and Teo chooses that particular moment to clear his throat. Hhhem. Abruptly self-conscious, he plucks his arm up.

Begins to hobble enthusiastic gimp-tracks toward the kitchen, blinking in the brightness of the light, and nothing else. "I'm going to try all your faucets," he says. "Make sure you didn't get gypped."

And Francois lets him go, watching, thinking his stilted gait resembles the determined stumble of one of the penguins on the George Washington, and decides against saying a thing. His hands push into pockets, fingers unconsciously curling around the crumpled paper he feels in there on one side, the hard key on the other, and he swaggers after him for a few steps. It's the staircase that has his attention, though, desiring to stomp on up and wander back and forth in sentimental admiration to how all this is his.

Mostly. He clears his throat too. "There is a spare key, in case I lock myself out, but I am very responsible," he says, voice echoing up off the high ceiling. A bright smile more in his voice than his face. "Would you like it instead?" See what he—

See what he did there? Francois isn't sure what he did there, apart from open the door and keep it as such, metaphorically speaking. Not literally, it's too fucking cold, and it makes the accessible rooftop inhospitable too, but it will be nice in the summer. He'd like to still have it in the summer. "Especially if I am borrowing your bird."

Teo is in the kitchen. He has turned the faucet on, and it's sending a slender, braided ribbon of cut-glass clear water down into the brushed metal basin. He is not feeling altogether well, but only the kind— he suspects— that comes from too much of a good thing. He works his gloves off his fingers, and then cups a palm under the tap's cool liquid column. He drinks out of his hand, winds up making a mopstringy mess out of his beard, or would if he hadn't trimmed it down something tidy because he knew he was going to see Francois today. And eat waffles. Buttery beards are kind of disgusting.

The last time he played house, it was with the mayor's son, a place a little less nice than this one, with two birds, and he got shot in the head. The time before that, the Darien house had about half the square-footage, Pila singing in the biggest cage she ever had, and the television in the room with Northern exposure— just like the living space in this one— upon which he had watched the report on how his boy got blown to red spattered pieces across Columbia University's lawn. These are not the kinds of things he knows how to explain. They aren't even really intimacy issues, they do not point him down a particular course of maladaptive behavior or defensive mechanism. It is what it is.

Embarrassing, for one thing. Quiet, also. Awkward; he pretends to be thirsty for another gulp or two, and turns around to meet the smile he can hear in Francois' voice. Now Teo leans his ass on the counter, and is elaborately casual: "Curses only harm those who believe in them. Mia Madre used to say." Half-smile. "Do you?"

Hard wood turns into tile, the latter under Teo's feet, the former beneath Francois has he halts before he can enter the bright, sunlit kitchen. His hands lace together behind him, bemusement and amusement both hooking at the corner of his mouth, and he simply shakes his head. He backpedals a little, a reverse saunter. "I…" Another rolling glance up to the ceiling, then back down at Teo. "…'ve had some time to consider things. You should have some too, non?" For Teo's efforts, baiting for a response— further response— is sliced like a fish cut loose from the line. He turns.

"I'm going to check upstairs. You should rest your ankle, then we can go back, si." Thump-thump-thump go enthusiastic footsteps echoing eventually over Teo's head, Frenchman disappearing from sight and onto the generous landing above the kitchen.

Funny how an immortal gypsy throwback fake-doctor vampire from the 17th century is the most emotionally normal of the people Teo has ever dated and considered sharing housekeys with? He is left to peer at the rectangular hole that the Frenchman left behind, and then think about his foot. Of course, the moment he thinks about his foot, it gives a spiteful throb, a sort of nya-nya-nya in lieu of Francois being available to do so in person. He sighs his vast trials, sets his hands back on the counter, and pushes himself up. Very meticulously, finger by finger, he works his damp hand back into the glove.


Around the corner and up a little, Francois' feet plant the origin of a tortoise's savvy, thumping hike up the stairs then straight up, indeed, over his off-blond head. Teo tilts it back and looks up. Imagines he can see the dainty set of the Frenchman's shoes. He leans backward slightly, following the creak of floorboards adventurously trodden, echoing through the apartment's vast vacancy, blinking at his own miniature reflection in the blown glass conch shape of the kitchen light. As a consequence: his head bonks into the cupboards. He snatches a hand back to touch his head, through the strandy fraying of blond. Mumbles a curse.

The fish swims a few confused circles, burbling inscrutable fish-thoughts, disoriented by the terminated line floating in the water, the bloody rip through the corner of its mouth, the dip of the retreating paddle, and the worm in his belly. After a few seconds, the fish flips a fin backward, bobs in the water, decides to check the cupboards.

Already, he likes that they are many. It is better if they are also deep, but not too much so, and adequatey shelved, the better to exploit Costco's bulk prices on dinner materials and no-preparation snacks. He is falling into that trap already. Not so cunningly manipulative as fish-trap, but you know how it is. People love the idea of a place that has their own tastes.

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