A Couple Of Terrorists And A Teenager


alexander_icon.gif colette_icon.gif emily4_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title A Couple of Terrorists and a Teenager
Synopsis At Emily's insistence, Teo invites old friends over for dinner.
Date May 30, 2019

Hey Teo, you ever talk with anyone else from back when?”

It was an entirely innocent question, asked absently while Emily was thinking about her own friendships, wondering if the bonds made over several months would last several years. (A decade? Longer?) She hopes so, that she and the people she's come to know will stay in touch even as life dictates they drift out of each other's immediate spheres because life pulls them one way or another.

Hearing Teo's response, the not really of it, and the follow-up that he knew some of them were still around New York threatens the hope she's spun up in her head. Her eyes widen.

“Teo,” she says urgently enough that he turns her way. “You're kidding, right?”

No, miss Epstein, he is not kidding.

“You should call them at least,” she balks.

Nnnnnnhhh, but it's been a long time and he's sure they're busy with their own lives…

Te. o.” Emily demands his attention, not finding the excuse valid. What if this was a vision of her own future! Letting perfectly valid connections slip away for the fear of being a bother. “You should call them!” she insists. “See them. Have somebody over—” maybe so she didn't feel as guilty about having guests over and having shot down the one he had asked about.

Her eyes light up as she continues to badger him, a sudden idea hitting her.

Laudani-Epstein Townhome

Friday May 30

So that's how they ended up having guests, plural, over for dinner.

A hot plate sits in the center of their refurbished dining table with its false bottom. A hot pot sits atop that, the largest one their kitchen had to donate. Broth bubbles in it, with meat and vegetables already stewing while more lay, uncooked, on plates by its side. The cooking meal is fragrant, it lets off steam. It’s pleasant on all fronts.

Emily would be paying more attention to it if she wasn’t busy looking down at her place setting, trying to angle her hand around her chopsticks so they don’t just look downright wrong when she holds them. She’s slowly coming to the internal conclusion maybe some people just weren’t meant to wield them, but continuing to try different variations anyway. “There’s forks if anybody needs them,” she announces casually, certainly not for her own benefit.

No, she’s stubbornly in for the haul with the chopsticks for this one, even if she has to stab her food with them.

It may be a shared meal, but ghosts of a non-Laudani variety haunt the dining room. Standing in the threshold between dining room and kitchen, Colette Demsky looks awkward in her own skin, nursing a beer she's pulled three-fifths of the label off of. She's slouched against the doorframe, eyeing the table like it was something far more intimidating than just a place to sit. Colette’s looked tired since she arrived, but a shade of tired that's accompanied by a healthy glow, like someone coming down from a gym workout. That wasn't where she was.

“I'm still tryin’ t’wrap my head around this…” Colette says, bottle up near her mouth. “So you're… Epstein’s daughter.” Her dark brows shoot to the fringe of her bangs, blind eyes fixed on Emily with more surprise at that than a near decade-out reunion with old family. Because that's what the others here are. Family.

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ…” Colette mumbles in a slow exhale, taking a sip from her bottle and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

Colette is, in many ways, exactly what Emily would expect from one of her father's coworkers. She walks like a soldier, laces her boots high and tight, but the rips in her dark jeans certainly aren't any sort of military regulation. Her black tank top shows off arms laden with tattoos, from the Manhattan skyline on one forearm to a forest of scattering birds on another. She's marked with her personal history. Possibly married too, judging from a woven silver band she wears.

Also, she's legally blind. In a mundane sense. Judging from her cataract-laden eyes. And yet, she had no problem helping herself to a beer in the refrigerator. Or… driving here.

“I'm figuring Sicily cooked,” Colette says as she leans away from the doorframe, moving closer to the table, inspecting everything laid out, brows creased with uncertainty. “You cooked back in the day, right? At the safehouses?” Some of her memories of that time are foggy at best.

The knock at the door is the newcomer….latecomer…prodigal…or skeleton at the feast, depending on how one looks at it. Jesse - Alexander - gone for so much of that history, vanished back to the heat of the South. Not consumed by the war, though, unlike so many.

Time’s been kind, in terms of wear. Still with that lunar pallor, marred here and there by pink scars - the ones over the orbit of the left eye still give it that permanent droop. He still keeps the red hair in that neat crop. The only really notable changes are a few more lines around the eyes, and a set of tattoos, bright and detailed and very well done. The right arm has a copperhead twined around it, from the crook of the elbow to the wrist, and the left a rattlesnake. He’s only in a black t-shirt, plain jeans.

He has, however, lost that air of carrying his own personal stormfront with him. Maybe better control over his power….or his anger. There’s certainly a smile there when the door’s opened to him, and he’s got a box under his arm. Something sweet as a gift, surely.

“Hey, y’all,” he greets. The accent’s only gotten stronger, in the interim.

It was not until this moment that it occurred to Teodoro Laudani that this dinner was a flawed concept. Why did he say yes? God fuckin' knows. He hadn't really been firm on a No, obviously, but he hadn't bothered to think about it particularly closely until Colette arrived low-key in the uniform of the paramilitary organization his husband runs, and then his ex-boyfriend showed up. With an abstract pang, Teo realizes he still has a chesspiece tattooed over his heart.

Teo thinks first: that Francois wouldn't like this. On any number of levels.

Then he thinks second: Whatever. (Conveniently forgetting that, 'Whatever' is exactly the sentiment that got him into this situation in the first place.)

"Credit," translation: BLAME, "is all Emily," Teo says, clomping along the hallway. "She's taking this independent living thing by storm." He was putting Colette's coat away, and now he's moving to get the redheaded telekinetic's, though not before he administers a Manly Hug. Behold. Brief chest contact, a percussive thump against the bell of the Alexander's ribs in the back. He'd given one to Colette, too, if fractionally gentler. "Hey, Alex. Nice ink." Long before he became Evolved, Teo had a knack for behaving as normal when he felt anything but, which has been indispensable as much for the untreated maintenance of his particular brand of insanity as it has been in preventing his pathology from growing out of hand.

If you can work, sleep, and entertain guests, hooow insaaane can you beeee? Not very. "C'mon in. Colette's already here. The short one's Emily, currently disclosing her backstory," Teo adds. Himself, he looks as solid of build as ever. Older, a little; more beard, more hair, but his grooming is fine. No observable fresh scars, no new ink exposed. He doesn't interject Italian into casual conversation anymore, but probably that's probably just from living here so long. probably.

The attempt to distract herself from everything else going on is not going so well for Emily. Her attempts at turning over the thin strips of meat boiling in the pot become even more nervous under Colette's continued supervision. As Teo throws her under the bus for the meal, her plans of being polite and quiet and gracious in front of his friends wither just a tad further. She's turning into a well-stuffed tinderbox, only another spark of Epstein's daughter away from lighting up.

“Teo likes weird shit like pho, so this seemed right up his alley,” she explains blandly, the emphasis on her thought of trying to make this a good, enjoyable, interactive experience lost somewhere in the mention. She's a little distracted, in a very different place mentally than she was when she'd been thought through making this a nice time for everyone.

Man, when she had made the suggestion for dinner, she had not considered how she'd intersect into this at all.

Emily looks up after successfully fishing out the cooked slice of meat, Colette kept in a near-glare out of the top of her vision. “Either take a picture or start fixing yourself something.” Look ma, no expletives. She goes on to helpfully explain, “You just drop it in, wait til it's done, get it out yourself.”

She settles back into her seat, hand swiping down her front to ensure none of the long, dark-colored cloth vest she wears over her gray three-quarter shirt brushes and stays on the table. Grudgingly, Emily decides to try and make conversation instead of just leaving since she's being gawked at. “So you're with Wolfhound.” Clearly. “I'm sure there's more interesting things about you than just your associations. What might those be?”

“It's like looking into a funhouse mirror of bad attitudes,” Colette says with a difficult-to-repress smile as she comes to stand behind one of the chairs at the table, eyeing the cookout. “You’n your dad, I mean. It's cute, really strong thesis case for genetic memory or somethin’.” She sets her beer down, mangled wrapper halfway flapping off. “But I don't work with him anymore,” she explains with a tilt of her head to the side. “After our last op, I retired. Got a good lead from my partner’s father on an NYPD gig, so… M’gonna follow in my dad’s footsteps. I'm sure he'd be— ”


The sight of that scarred ginger coming into view with Teo causes Colette’s breath to be stolen away. A voice she hadn't heard in going on ten years, and suddenly she can smell the musty stink of an old basement, gunmetal, and sea water. The smells of Ferrymen safehouses she frequented. Suddenly, fleetingly, she's a child again.

Jesse!” Colette barks, breaking away from the table and taking long-limbed strides in the most direct route. She doesn't stop until she practically collides with him, forsaking inquiries of personal space to throw her arms around him in a fierce and desperate hug to make sure he's real. It's the same way she greeted Teo, but with less surprise given the invitation. “Holy shit, you're— ok!”

These two men were the closest things she had to brothers, if you can count that in measures of taught her to use a gun and unwavering emotional support. A moment ago Colette was one more wry comment away from ruining Emily’s night, and now she's got her face buried in Alexander’s shoulder, bubbling with laughter filled with emotion.

But does he fool Jesse? Not likely. The question is how much of the good ol’ boy bluntness has been eroded by time, distance, and uncertainty….not to mention learned bedside manner. How much does he have a right to say - how much are they his business, now? The pale eyes flicker over Teo’s face during the process of the hug - the token backpat, given in return. Much less felt tension on his end, too…or better control, anyway. “Thanks,” he says to Teo. “Had ‘em done down near Atlanta.”

Then he’s advancing to put the little box down on the table: a guest’s gift, a box of fancy chocolates to contribute towards dessert. “Smells good,” he tells their hostess, dredging up the remains of manners. Someone’s tamed him, scraped away the sullen veneer that held the old anger in check…..or he’s just learned to bury it deeper. Colette’s presence is such an impossibility that it doesn’t register, for a beat.

Then she’s on him, and his arms are around her…..and the room is filled with a momentary flutter of something. Like a pocket earthquake - the box judders on the table, glasses clink, chairs shift an inch or two, before it subsides. Two of the three will recognize the tells of a momentary slip from him. “Goddamn, girl, look at you,” he says, voice muffled against her hair. This isn’t any token hug, carefully circumscribed by uncertainty and the restrictions of hetero guy contact - for a long moment, he clings to her like one’s saved the other from drowning. “You made it.” As if this meeting had been set up years ago, an appointment to be promptly kept, beyond the ebb and flow of years and war.

Teo bundles the other man's coat over his arm and eases out of the path of the hugs occurring between his old friends. He reaches automatically, unthinkingly to still the clock on the wall when the telekinetic shiver goes through the room; an old habit, if not one as well-ingrained as you might think. Neither Phoenix nor the Ferry really had a budget to blow on wall art.

The coat, Teo puts in the closet. Something about the embrace going on behind him, Colette and Alexander, makes his chest tight. It's embarrassing, but the kind of embarrassing that wouldn't be better if he looked directly at them. Like unearthing ancient terra cotta, or a book so old the pages have all turned brown, fragile relics from another era that make you worry that breathing on them might be enough to turn them to dust. Once the articles are installed, he lopes over to Emily and her super delicious cauldron. He leans his ass on the counter.

Maybe she's right. Maybe she should be worried she's going to turn out just like Teo.

"This was a good idea," Teo says to her, quietly, so as to pretend he isn't referring to the display of friendship over there and not to be overheard. He crooks a grin at her, pokes her elbow with his elbow, and in that moment, his pretend is not so pretend, and there are worse people to grow up to be. Teo then: attempts to steal something out of her hotpot. She was right, it's true; he eats everything.

Hey, at least someone is eating aside from her. It takes the edge off some of her nerve, along with the admission that this was a good idea. Colette being distracted is another bonus. Now, so long as she doesn't turn around with her new companion to resume gawping, Emily will be fine. Even she's not sure of that, though, sensing her capacity to deal wobbling, an unsteady needle on a dashboard of other internal metrics.

Because it's easy, because she's already standing there, she throws a few more slices into the pot with her unsteady grip on those chopsticks. Tosses chunks of vegetable in after them. While waiting, though, she has nothing to do but watch the heartfelt reunion taking place only feet away, and as uncomfortable as she is otherwise — she's glad for them all to be able to have that moment. Maybe bonds can last that long, strong enough to last even years of not having seen each other.

If this is a mock of her own years-long-in-coming reunion with friends, Emily knows she more or less is right where she'd be — not in the center. Happy for its happening, surely, but in her own way. She realizes of the three, she really is most like Teo. Except for the stealing food part.

She wonders, briefly, if something should be said about the tremor that's so far been casually ignored by others, and ultimately opts against it. “You should tell them to come get some,” Emily says, coming to her feet to stand over the table instead of sitting. Everyone else is, so she might as well. Socked toes shift on the wooden floor as she nudges her chair back from her with only the push of one leg.

“I’m emotional, not deaf,” Colette says to Emily, turning her face out of the crook of Alexander’s shoulder to do so, “but— it does… smell good.” Slowly disengaging from the embrace, Colette rests her hands on Alexander’s arms, looking at him with wide, cataract-scarred eyes. But she sees him, really sees him. “Look at you, y’big dumb nerd,” comes with a wry smile and a crease of her brows, further slipping from the embrace to let her hands fall away from him.

“C’mon,” Colette says to Alex, that single contraction as much a request as it is a plea. You’re staying, right? “There’s beer in the fridge if you still drink,” She adds, making her way over to the table. She flashes Teo one brief look, one of emotional compromise and barely contained avenoir. She takes a deep, steadying breath and pulls out her chair, settling in at the table beside her label-mangled beer. It’s only then that she’s assessing the table, the cookpot, the meat. One of her brows raise.

It takes a moment for Colette to pick up her chopsticks, snap them apart, and fish around for a slice of meat to drop into the boiling water, but years of takeout experience have made wielding them a lot like riding a bike: hard to forget. “This might be the fanciest thing I’ve had to eat since Tasha took us out for our anniversary last year,” she says with a smile up to Teo, then looks back down to the cookpot. It’s clear from her demeanor this entire night that she might not have even the slightest inkling of there being any trouble between Teodoro and Francois. It’s emphasized by what comes out of her mouth next.

“Is Francois up in Rochester?” Colette asks, trading chopsticks for her beer. “He usually doesn’t turn down an offer for a free meal,” she says after taking a sip, “I was kind of expecting wine.” That he’d bring. Because he always does.

Deliberately oblivious to whatever undercurrents there might be, or letting it be….ice that thin doesn’t bear a booted foot coming down on it. And his place is the least certain - Alexander’s kept away from old contacts in the almost-year since his return, ironically at the behest of the government. Colette’s look is greeted with faint puzzlement. Why wouldn’t he stay? “Good t’see you again,” he says, reverting back to politesse. “Not so much,” he adds, “But I’ll have a beer.” One he’ll nurse to the bitter end, thank you, Baptist upbringing.

Then he’s ambling over to examine the pot. “How’s this done?” he asks, curiously. Undisposed to ask personal questions, or volunteer, contenting himself with grasping at the impersonal platitude. For now. It’ll get more personal later, maybe….or maybe he’ll slip away before it can, pleading work.

Certainly, it would be doing Teodoro Laudani A Favor if everybody would clear off personal topics.

But there goes Colette. Which sounds like the title of some pop song equivalent of Short Skirt, Long Jacket, in combination with any number of catchy tunes features women's names and a frame of trepidation. Teo has no particular reaction, which probably just serves to highlight to the only one who's close enough to really look at him right now— Emily—- that there is little spontaneous about Teo anymore. No reflex, every visceral feeling muted, every adjusted for an audience. He can't hide that he has to think about it though; he glances at Emily, as if sharing this small, stupid secret.

(Teo doesn't know that she's already been susceptible to gossip herself.)

But Teo isn't going to lie to his friends. That's not his job; you could say it's technically a function of Francois'. "No, he has an apartment over in Williamsburg. We're spending some time apart. I think the saying is, 'trouble in paradise.'" Har har. Now we're also pretending we aren't fluent in English. Anyway, it's virtually impossible to pretend that sentence exists in a paradigm of normal, so the ruse is up — but Teo is content (determined) (nigh delusional in his persistent compulsion) to behave as if his emotional response falls with normal limits. As if. "We'll be okay," he adds, heading off the inevitable concern, even as he goes to the fridge to get Alex a beer. "Long distance was tough on us, so technically being in neighboring borroughs is a Hell of a fucking improvement."

(They will not be 'okay.' Teo was driving up and down New York State days ago, exploring the geographic locales where his husband had allegedly stuck his dick in other people or, as it happened to be, having dicks stuck in him. Emily's still like, three percent traumatized from the shouting tom fight that happened outside. He drinks a lot.) (— maybe they'll just be okay later.) (It was Francois' fault for marrying an insane person, probably.)

Awarding the beverage to the telekinetic, Teo then slides into his seat. Taking chopsticks for himself. "Tell us about Tam and Tasha," he suggests to Colette, because that seems like a logical transition.

"And if you show Al how to use the strainer scoop, he'll catch on quick." Nudge nudge, Mr. Telekinetic. Time to utilize your powers for whimsy and food sharing. Peace-time. Teo glances at him expectantly and it's a little like Phoenix again; the small things they did to kill time between the big things where half of America, it felt, tried to kill them. Teo still remembers his stories, about how Alex once used his power to stop a sandstorm from paring his flesh down to puree nothing, in the military. He remembers Colette's art, that would have made Picasso weep, something like his light drawings articulated with greater finesse than anything that mundane media could have imagined.

Teo remembers a lot of things. He remembers being in a frame and state of mind like he imagines Emily is now, when such small pleasures lit up the dark and shielded him from storms. He thinks she'll love it now.

Emily returns the not-so-furtive look Teo shoots her about the state of his relationship, almost immediately after peering away so she can wade cooked-enough slices from the broth. As far as it goes, and to make sure there's zero misunderstandings about how they ended up under the same roof, she asides, “Two perfect strangers don't end up living together unless there's a reason. Also, Craigslist.”

Because it wasn't kismet, it was the internet, and that was a fairly important distinction.

She sidles a step over, crowding Teo in order to make room for Alexander. “You just put it in, wait for it to cook. The broth does the work for you.” The plate with its few slices of meat, the odd broccoli, cabbage, some kind of crazy-expensive imported mushroom is offered out to him with a swivel of her elbow for him to sample. Her gaze follows shortly after. “I'm Emily, by the way,” she says, not realizing the information's already been shared (and without the Epstein, even! Hopefully.)

Her attention only timidly returns to Colette, cautious of drawing fire again, but she can't help but be curious. Tam? Daughter, she figures? Tasha — one she's married to. She thinks she follows, waiting politely to hear about Colette Things without interjecting entirely unnecessary additional questions.

Taking another sip from her beer, Colette looks across the table at Teo, using the excuse of drinking to take a bit longer than normal to formulate her answer. She feels an immediate regret on bringing up Francois, and rather than apologize and keep focus on it she ticks and rolls out of that conversational truck straight into the oncoming traffic of her own personal life. “We’re great, actually,” is surprisingly honest. But it took her a moment to reconcile whether that answer was genuine or just her avoiding her problems. For once, it's not.

“Retiring from Wolfhound was basically the best thing I could've done for us. Tam’s got her detective business going strong, because— you know,” and Colette taps her temple as if that's all the answer anyone at the table needs. “Tasha’s legal practice is pretty good too. We joke about how we have a monopoly on the legal system now with my joining the force.” She cracks a smile, setting her beer down on the table.

“You should come up to our place in Williamsburg,” Colette says quietly, “we've got this patio out back. I don't know how Tam landed it in the lottery but…” she shrugs and smiles, “I'm not sure the explanation would help. We've got a little photo studio in the basement, Tasha’s been doing her photography and we've been scrapbooking for Tamara so she's got physical connections to the past to keep her grounded. She's changed a lot. More… stable.”

Starting to pick at the label of her bottle again, Colette smiles absently down at her distraction. “Pollepel kind of changed everything for us,” comes later, and Colette’s brows knit together. “Tasha got— really badly hurt. If it weren't for her dad, she'd be dead. We spent a lot of time recovering up in Canada. Tasha had a… a pretty bad TBI, had to learn how to walk again. Talk.” Colette’s smile becomes more rueful and painted in around the edges with an attempt at not delving too deeply into that story. “But we made it through.”

Having torn the entire label of her beer off and left it in shreds in the table, Colette turns her attention to the meat she’d put into the pot, taking the now cooked strips out and setting them on her plate as she talks. “Been going to therapy,” she tries to be vocal about. “Twice a month, veteran’s meetings once a month on Thursdays. It helps with the PTS. Tattoo therapy kinda’ helped a lot prior but… not really in a healthy way. I still think about Eileen a lot, n’everyone else we lost.”

Colette levels a look over to Alexander, smiling warmly but wearily. “And— I'm one beer in and already bringing things down. Okay, shit. Uh, somebody tell something happy.”

Lying to his friends, no. Lying to himself….well, he’s done that for years, and with no need for pay or compensation from anyone. Teo’s explaining, Alexander’s watching him with a kind of remoteness in that pale face. No one’s really changed. Amazing how no one does; Teo’s still out there performing that one-man ballet of self-deception, even if he’s upped his skills to Nureyev levels. Francois he remembers - the doctor, during that plague, but for the moment, Al can’t find it in himself to pry further. This whole evening may prove to be a glancing contact, not to be repeated.

The housemate speaks up, and Alex turns to her. Obediently, he samples what’s offered, murmurs approval. Looks into Emily’s face, and offers a hand - the copperhead’s eyes glare from the wrist. “Alexander Knight,” he says. “Pleased’a’meetcha.” His accent’s vastly out of place - the kind of tidewater coastal lilt that makes him like he’s very nearly from another country entirely.

Then he listens to Colette with a kind of pleasant gravity - learned bedside manner to be deployed even in awkward social situations. Beloved ghosts, popped from faded photos into vivid 3-D, it’s throwing him off-balance still. But there are no following poltergeist incidents, household knick knacks and dishware safe for the moment. “That’s good,” he says, gently. Then he casts that pale gaze back to the box on the table, nods at it. “Well, a lady opened a sweetshop in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. Tradin’ her excess eggs for the fruit of her labors got me a box of her fanciest truffles, when I told her I was off to a dinner party.” He has eggs to trade? Presumably there are chickens involved.

Curiously, to Colette, he wonders, “Veterans’ meetings? Where at? You know, turns out I still qualify for VA care, even though I was only a two-pump chump, back in the day.” He survived Iraq, after all, even before the US went to hell.

Teo tends to be handsy with people, when he believes it will not be threatening to them. And when the young Wolfhound operative shares her story, he reaches over and grips her shoulder. (It's not far to reach; Emily made him scoot.) "I'm glad Tasha's on her feet again," he says. There were a few years when his shoulder clicked if he rolled out of bed at the wrong angle or stooped the wrong way, carrying shit at the farm, and it had made him feel worn down by war, prematurely aged in his body, the way that life inevitably does. But it had gone away; he was young. Better than that, he was lucky.

Not lucky to have his spouse retire from Wolfhound, but Teo can't very well slag off his husband to Francois' own subordinates. That's neither here nor there. He's not self-absorbed enough to envy Tasha. A glance across the table at Emily. Colette isn't keeping it a secret, it just doesn't occur to her in hashtag 2019 to use the word. Helpfully, he adds for the younger woman alone:

⟪They're a throuple. Tash, Tam, and Lette.⟫

Teo's voice is just brief in Emily's head; communicative telepathy, nothing sinister, but the first time he's ever used it with her. He winks at her. The key to accomplishing Nuruyev level acrobatic dance maneuvers is to be as informal and sincere as possible; the best lies are mostly truth. However innocent, that sort of share seems to be the kind of thing that might fluster her. "There's a woman in town that looks like Eileen and has all her memories. Far as I can tell, it is her," he adds. "I'll come by Williamsburg, tell you all about it." (That one time he, hilariously, low-key tried to kill his clone.) (H i l a r i o u s.)

"It feels like everybody I know is going to therapy now," Teo adds, lightly, despite that he well understands what it must take for Colette to talk about it here, after that. After the mention of Pollepel, which still rings like a bell in the cavern of Teo's chest. "Liz Harrison, too. Shit, if even this one is going to go," he is clearly referring to Alexander here, with some air of incredulity, given the Southern boy's taciturn reserve, "I might actually have to check it out." No Commentary Please. "Hey, hey." Also for Alexander. Teo

punches him in the leg.

Not hard enough to mean it, just hard enough to get Alex's attention. Boy stuff, you know. "Come on, Knight, show off." Teo waves a hand over the hot pot, where several pieces of meat and vegetable are ready to be dispensed to the empty sections of their dinner plates. Telekinesis! You're a Zen Jedi now!

“Good to meet you, too,” Emily murmurs to Alexander, shifting the plate and utensils in order to tepidly shake his hand. Afterward, she tries to pretend for no one’s sake but her own that she’s not keenly interested in what Colette shares about herself and her partner…s. Plural. Her gaze darts to Teo when he confirms what she suspects, in silence chewing that small surprise over.

Oh, okay. That’s a thing.

She keeps her calm, save for a second, sharper glance in Teo’s direction when he brings up Eileen, lips parting to speak. Say something, anything. Specifically, on that subject.

Instead, she’s only able to make it as far as looking back to Colette. “Random, but … Tamara? Blonde, spacy, knows what’s good for you before you do?” Emily sounds a little bewildered as she asks, but she’s letting her gut lead her. Something about how Colette had implied the woman had trouble staying rooted.

It’s not exactly happy, but maybe it’s a happy coincidence?

“That's not even kind of funny, Teo,” Colette flatly lobs at him in response to the possibility of an Eileen doppelganger. “Like, not even a little fuckin’ funny.” She doesn't believe it to be anything otherwise, partly out of a disbelief in the reality of that situation, partly out of a disbelief that Eileen wouldn't ever reach out to her. Reaching for her beer and giving Teo a bit of a stink-eye, Colette looks over to Alexander, then Emily with a blink.


“You—” Colette exhales a breathy laugh. “Of course y’ do.” Brushing her bangs from her brow, Colette shakes her head and smiles. “Yeah, that's Tamara alright. She knew what was good for me before I even knew what I wanted, too. Eleven years later, n’we’re still together.” There's a brief look back at Teo, mildly apologetic for snapping him at what had to have been a joke. (C l e a r l y)

“She's a precognitive,” Colette explains and a motion toward her head with splayed fingers. “Sees every possible outcome of a choice, but, it's hard for her t’turn it off. T’focus on the now. It's gotten easier, but… she’s always been who she is.” That, alone, seems enough for Colette.

It's only then that she looks back to Alexander, remembering the question he'd asked before Teo derailed her train of thought. “There's a little group, run by the guy who owns WSZR. He's like 90, literally fought in World War II.” Like Francois, but less sexily. “Great guy, honestly. We get a lot of different people, but I mean…” she looks back and forth between Teo and Alexander, “you're both more than welcome t’come. Even if it's just t’listen…”

"Eileen, huh?" He remembers her, at least a little, and there's a momentary flicker of that old self, one frame of the past inserted in the film of the present, but then it's gone again, with no little seismic frisson to broadcast his mood. Surely, by now, he's got better control of both power and perpetually simmering anger? Then he turns aside from the subject, "Glad to hear your ladies are doin' all right."

Alex demurs with a lifted hand, despite the punch. He grins a little wryly - they must, by now, have figured out what his stupid people trick is, but apparently, he doesn't want to demonstrate on simmering broth and people's dinners. Too much risk of an epic mess, though he did have fine control, back when: able to write his name and tie his shoe, without benefit of hands.

Emily gets a little smile, but those pale eyes are fixed on Colette, as he answers Teo, "I dunno 'bout therapy, but a veterans' group, might could. Got through two wars, I figure that's enough to qualify. Sounds good, hook me up, Demsky. M' grandad fought in WW II. He was a Marine, in fact, at Iwo.”

Teo meets Colette's eye over the subject of their old friend, but he doesn't laugh, or frown, or yell. He can't make her believe right now; in retrospect, if it hadn't come up in Wolfhound briefings, maybe he shouldn't have said anything at all. But the border between his responsibility to his friends and his obligations to his husband is difficult in a way that's almost refreshing.

Eileen's alive. There is definitely worse news to suffer.

Anyway, Teo is now going to start Putting Food on People's Plates, Italian mom style, since the telekinetic over here isn't going to do it. Despite his uncooperative reserve, Alexander gets served first. Emily second. Colette's plate winds up burdened with new meat to make up for the portion she's eaten after she helped herself, and Teo serves himself last. He's still listening, of course. And of course, he fails utterly to see that the invitation to a veterans' group would be anything but politeness, where he's concerned.

After all, Teo isn't military, or government-sanctioned paramilitary, and he never had been. He has a dim understanding of what veteran solidarity means, and just as he hadn't asked Emily to dine with a former Loyalist, he wouldn't ask former Loyalists to tolerate his unambiguously shitty company. But he isn't one to dismiss an idea, even if he has doubts about it. Teo asks out of genuine curiosity: "What's the difference between 'group' and 'therapy,' anyway?" (Teo doesn't know his player is a psychologist ok.)

Emily smiles politely when Colette works through the happy surprise rather than the alarming one that the subject of Eileen was liable to bring up. She nods — yeah, that brand of precognition aligned with her own understanding as well. Same person! “She’s a little hard to forget,” is as much as Emily says, some light amusement interjected for the sake of lifting the mood.

Even as Teo tries to mother everyone, the teenager elbows him roughly for what she interprets as a balking question rather than a genuine one. “I mean, one’s talking just to have people to relate to, the other is getting lectured about what you should do to overcome any remotely negative thing you make the mistake of telling them.” Emily dourly replies, even if he was trying to make light of it. She adds with a bit more thought to it, “Therapy tends to be one-on-one.”

And then it’s time to eat some of that food, because it’s best hot. It’s effort to fineagle the chopsticks into the proper — or a nearly proper position, but food makes its way to mouth, and she closes her eyes while she savors the taste.

Okay, this was one weird cooking experience she’d definitely do again if she had the opportunity.

“Good on you for moving on,” Emily abruptly says, gaze flitting back to Colette. “Though I bet you weren’t expecting Wolfhound would follow you to New York.” Her tone remains dry even as she jokes, “Maybe they all decided they’d miss you too much.” She snakes another vegetable off her plate, leaning over the table to drop more into the pot while she chews.

That much elicits a bitter bark of a laugh from Colette. “I dunno, with the number of fuckin’ Demsky’s your dad's thrown at me over the years… I'd say they're probably not missing me too much.” But it doesn't sound like she really believes what's she's saying. “I figured Hana had something lined up for after our work hunting down the Institute was over. I didn't figure it'd be SWAT side jobs.”

Shrugging, Colette finally starts picking at her meal, though she seems more inclined to talk than eat at the moment. She doesn't protest a bit at Teo’s mothering, though. It's familiar and warm, even if lacking interiezioni in Italiano. Slouching forward with one elbow propped up on the table, Colette clicks her chopsticks in Alexander’s direction. “The fuck’re you doin’ for work these days anyway? I never knew if you had a job when you were with the Ferry. Unless being an angry coppertop had employment opportunities post-war.” An easy smile slides across her face, and those blind eyes blink attention briefly over to Emily.

“I'm just gonna assume you're just CIA n’training or something?” Colette remarks, assuming that espionage is encoded in Epstein DNA.

Not just Italian mom style, but Southern as well. Alex accepts having Teo dole out dinner with equanimity. There's enough distance now that he's on manners, at least a little bit. He hasn't sworn at anyone or threatened them with some absurd punishment. Instead, he murmurs his thanks, and sits down to eat….only after the others have.

At Colette's question, he looks up, pausing in mid-chew. Chopsticks he handles with ease. He hastily finishes with the mouthful, swallows, and takes a swig of water, deliberate. Almost thoughtful, before he answers.

"Back then….I was a cop, 'fore I knew you all. I was the first NYPD officer to come out as Evolved, how's that for fuckin' history?" Oh, there it is, like one of those smouldering seams of coal that burn on for centuries under otherwise calm and verdant lands - that anger. "So they kicked me out. Ended up drivin' a cab. Made a real good cover for a terrorist, I had a legit excuse to be any damn where I could put that car." His smile is faintly edged. "Now?….now I'm a nurse. Night shift at Elmhurst. Finally used that GI Bill tuition." Then he's back to eating, trying again for that smooth facade.

dskglhhgs, Teo thinks, wiggling an elbow of his own at his roommate, without making a proper effort to defend himself. Why is she even. Elbowing him, that is. Her explanation of therapy versus group, on the other hand, sounds quite consistent with what he has seen in television and film. (Also: fictional narratives about fucking your healthcare providers.) "That doesn't sound fun," he hisses on an aside to her, without any trace of irony. "Let's not go, then.

"And you're interrupting their stories." Teo is of course referring to Alexander and Colette here, who are conversing like regular adults who aren't furtively poking each other with their bones. The chastisement holds up poorly, though, because Teo inevitably flashes her a half-grin out of his half-full mouth, even as he shifts his attention back to their guests. And their STOries.

Which are good ones. Teo is mindful not to comment on Wolfhound, or the SWAT, and then he is mindful of how many secrets he harbors on behalf of his husband's tiresome pride. He finds himself quite validated in Colette's demurral of SWAT work as something removed from Wolfhound's original vision, even if she isn't sermonizing about the increase in violence, risk. Teo tells himself BITCH DON'T SAY ANYTHING. He wishes he could. Maybe staying sober tonight was a bad idea, but he could sense he had Several Points to Prove to his Roommate, here. Any rate, he subjects Colette to a rather intense sidelong stare as he listens, nodding, listening. He just says, "Yeah," in the end. And also, "She's a SESA intern."

Who regularly puts down the significance of her job or prospects, but he's sure Emily will fill in there.

Teo leans over to migrate some more food onto Emily's plate. (She's too thin; Baptists and Italians would agree.) But it's Alexander who he looks at. Compassionate for the old hurts, the beginning of the path that had taken him to Phoenix. And pleased for him, that his new life is one of helping and healing. "You must work with Abby," he observes. "That's dope, what you guys are doing. What gave you the idea?"

It's not meant to be fun,” Emily says in that same low voice Teo addressed her with, because apparently they're now twelve and whispering to each other. “They help you figure out the shit you're too stubborn to fix on your own, or talk to anyone about. Change isn't fun.

Which leads perfectly into trying to avoid her plate being overloaded, rotating it (hopefully) out of the reach of well-meaning Teodoro. She's sure Colette's comment means well, just as Teo's volunteering of her information surely means well, but it takes Emily a moment longer than would be typical to formulate her response.

“No,” she manages out in a more conversational voice, stern but without irritation. “I'm not — like that.” Not like him, she'll insist.

She blinks hard, not looking at any of them. Her weight shifts, plate pulled back to herself while she remains standing. “I'm — I might do tech. Or engineering.” Anything not like espionage. Such as: “Law, maybe.”

“I've got time to figure it out,” Emily insists. “And in the meantime, the SESA shit pays for my tuition.” There's a shallow incline of her shoulders, a meek shrug rather than a halfhearted one. She mutters something else under her breath before reaching back into the pot to stir what's still in it.

Blind eyes angle away from Alexander and over to Emily as one of Colette’s brows rise. “Law?” She raps the end of her chopsticks on the table with one hand. “Tasha practices,” she explains as if Emily already knew full well who that was. “Defense attorney, not really big-time, but she’s got some good contacts and could probably give you some pointers about how t’get started on that. Or, I mean, if she needs someone in the office when you’re not up t’your neck in SESA work, I’m sure she could use an intern.”

Colette trades chopsticks for beer, and the nearly torn off label flaps languidly around the surface of the bottle. “An’ even if you wanted t’get in on some other level, her dad’s the Secretary of DHS, so there’s a lot of doors she might be able t’open for you. Just uh, maybe don’t mention your dad. There’s some— bad blood there now that I think about it.”

Because of course there is.

Awkwardly trying to divert the conversation, Colette splutters out, “So Jesse here, yeah, he sure was a poster-boy for Registration back in the day, when that was a four-letter-word.” Her smile is awkward and uncomfortable, no elbowing required.

Alex is reining himself in, trying to eat like a civilized person. They aren't at war, he doesn't have to wolf this to either get past the indifferent taste or for fear of an attack. But he responds to Teo swiftly enough, if haltingly, "Tired of destroyin' things," he says, simply. "Tired of ….bein' part of that. Thought about bein' a cop again, but there's too many opportunities for….things to go wrong there." Read: for him to lose his temper and turn a running perp into a smear on the sidewalk. "So, when the war wound down, I used my GI Bill stuff to get into an accelerated nursing program. There's a university near Atlanta that's got a real good one….and the country's so hurting for doctors and nurses, they'll pay you to get your degree, if you agree to go where you're sent when you're done. So I did, and they sent me here." In other words, New York wasn't his choice. No wonder he's been keeping his head down.

Emily's protests earn her a keen look, but he's the only one there for whom Avi is a distant abstraction and not his problem. "Seen the edge of that shadow world and want no part of it, eh?" is his comment on it.

Then he asides to the littlest Epstein, "My full name is Jesse Alexander Knight. Mos'ly don't bother with my first name here up north 'cause everyone thinks it's a girl's name. 's from the Bible, the father of King David. You use whatever you like - Jesse, Alex, Lex, or Knight, makes no nevermind to me."

Colette's grab for the wheel makes him grin at her, that old feral expression. "Yep," he says. "Like they say, no good deed goes unpunished."

Teo wiggles his elbow at his whisper-attacking roommate two more times in a show of defiance. I'll go when you go, ends up mouthed, completely silent instead of whispered, because this is definitely joking around stuff. Ha ha, who goes to therapy. (Besides: everyone Teo knows, apparently.) Because Emily's plate has retreated, he ends up stuffing a few pieces of vegetable onto Colette's plate instead, a vague effort to rescue awkward turtle, and then helping himself.

When our friendly neighborhood nurse explains how he came into his current life, Teo looks sideways at him. He understands, at least a little. He understands enough that he finds him focusing, much as he had when Colette had spoken about leaving Wolfhound, on

nOT GETTING ANGRY at Francois Allegre some more. Not because Teo honestly believes that the Frenchman wants him back on the front lines, of course. But because Francois had not seemed to understand at all, that it wasn't a lifestyle decision made tidily about personal preference and an intellectual understanding of the morality involved. The killing and danger had been bad, but they were bad like: the idea of having to pick up a gun for a righteous cause again makes him want to puke; that it is worse than killing to survive. And that Wolfhound is Francois' fucking calling is itself a splinter, a wedge, a driving scalpel in their relationship. New York is a monster made of memories. Chimerical. Wolfhound may be neither its head nor its clawed hand, but in so many ways, the paramilitary faction represents its heart.

A righteous war. Somehow, that is both everything and nothing.

Teo stabs a piece of cabbage with particular violence. "Pretty sure that's why I decided to try farming," is just one sentence, but one that requires effort. He nods at Alexander in agreement. "I'm glad you're doing that, even if you're stuck here." Teo isn't offended. He feels stuck here, too; one of those things Emily has observed but never asked about. "Law is meaningful work, too. Human rights work, or criminal law like Tasha. I've known a lot of people who made a good living from that." Like my clone is too difficult to introduce into conversation, so Teo doesn't. The man I'm a clone of.

Spit out some words and look what happens. Emily avoids looking overwhelmed by Colette's passionate volunteering of her other half one of her other halves purely because she can shoot a pointed glance in Teo's direction. Don't you test her, Teodoro. She's done the therapy rodeo once before and will do it again if there's spite involved. (The fact she could probably use her own entirely held aside.)

She does appreciate the advice, though, and needs to show that somehow. “Thank you,” Emily almost mumbles, and quietly reprimands herself for sounding childishly shy about the suggestion made to her. With more vigor, she adds, “I head that way, I'll keep that in mind.”

As for the rest of it, she shifts a look to Alexander out of the corner of her eye while he speaks, then while he tries to deflect and make conversation instead. Her weight settles as he keys in one of the whys for her preference in career paths, but when she gets done chewing, she thoughtfully remarks, “You know, the only time I ever hear my middle name is when I've really pissed my mother off, or she really wants to drive something home.” With a 'hmph’ of forced amusement, she drily adds, “Funny how different that works for different people.”

But she can't leave alone entirely the topic that's been teased, keeping him in the corner of her eye. “So what caused the change for you?” Emily asks off-handedly. She's heard the words poster boy and assumes they weren't said with sarcasm. “What was your tipping point for turning into a terrorist?”

It's one of those questions one could regret asking. But rarely does the opportunity present itself like this. Most days, people make every effort to bury the war and build over it. Tonight, though, it seemed like it was making a small appearance. It didn't have to be a wholly negative one either.

The irony being that Al's already rejoined the cause. Like any gunslinger vowing over his wife's grave that he's abandoned the paths of violence, even as he knows damn well the six-guns are hanging oiled and ready in their holsters. The question is if he'll try and recruit these two, or if it'll fall to Eve, if she does. Holy war is always seductive.

He doesn't deny the epithet, no protests about being a freedom fighter. "Gettin' kicked off the Force for tryin'a do the right thing," he says, simply. "Made me realize there never would be a place at the table for the Evolved 'less we made it for ourselves….and it's damn near impossible to do that without force."

Setting down the chopsticks, carefully, he settles back, though he hasn't had all that much to eat, yet. "A man named Frederick Douglass once said, 'Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will…The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.'"

“Don't look at me, I was radicalized by rowdy teenagers,” is Colette’s deadpan non-answer, followed by a knowing look and a smile at Teo and Alexander. “I forget sometimes that there's people out there who aren't old enough to remember what it was like right after the bomb…” which she says without a hint of sleight to Emily’s youth. “It's weird being an adult in the room,” she adds.

“It's one thing t’read about it in a book or something,” Colette continues, moving her food around on her plate with her chopsticks but not really eating, “it's another to grow up in it. I was… fifteen when I manifested? Had a deep anti-evolved streak, right up until I was my problem. Then I had the double stigma, I was a queer evolved who was a fucking menace to society because some corrupt fucks said so.”

Dark brows furrowed, Colette looks down at the table. Though the gesture is somewhat vestigial, it reflexively paints an emotive picture rather than being a conscious choice. “Jesse n’me, we were people who were criminalized by blood. We either laid down and let the world step on our necks, or we lived loud. Folks like Teo,” she says with an ignorant smile, “folks without abilities… they were the real fucking heroes. They could've lived in the privilege of genetic normality, but they chose the hard path because it was the right one.”

Closing her eyes, Colette realizes she's been sermonizing. “We buried a lot of friends and loved ones for freedom.”

Teo is listening and eating. Obscurely, he approves of how well his new young friend is able to engage with the old guard. It's very impressive. She's mature, thoughtful, is able to read a room well enough to woo a little bit of quotable philosophy out of Alexander, whose still waters have always run deep for all surface chaos that his telekinesis used to animate. And with Colette, she asserts boundaries and reaches out with sincere curiosity by turns; an open hand with a solid backbone. It's impressive. At her age, Teo thinks, he was probably just hiding erections under the table and badly confused about who it was for, swearing too much to compensate.

And then of course, Colette says the thing. She says a lot of things. They're all very good, but at least one of them is factually incorrect in reference to himself. (He is rather flattered by this depiction of selfless moral principle though. Thanks, Colette. That would be the least maladjusted portrait of Teodoro Laudani v0.8.)

Suddenly Teo zooms in quite intensely on his food. He is always very enthusiastic about his victuals, but this is different. He can feel Emily's stare impending, some form of disapproval for the fact that he apparently resolves his old friendships with the same strategy with which he resolves murder angst, survivor's guilt, and hangovers, which is to lash a metaphorical bungee cord to his ankle and jump headfirst into the void. There's nOTHING WRONG WITH THE VOID. EVERYONE HAS ONE. This conduct is irrelevant to therapy. Or maybe she's not looking at him, and that's just his overactive imagination drawing from their brief but rich history of big-eyed You're kidding?s. (Unfortunately, Teo is never: kidding.)

Or — Teo questions this. Maybe Emily missed it? Intoxicated by the bitter liquor partaken of her heroes. Supping in fucking Valhalla in the company of honorable ghosts. Maybe she's already put two and two together, because Teo had told her once he had become Evolved. Maybe it's not a big deal; maybe she doesn't believe in communication problems.

Teo slides a piece of carrot between his teeth and glances at Emily, for an instant, his face pleasantly blank.

What a story it all is, one that holds Emily's attention firmly. There is strength in Alexander's forward honesty and passion, there is determination between the lines of Colette's shrug of a mention for her own, besides the humbling growth she had to have gone through to accept herself.

And then there is Teo.

Emily does turn his way when he's brought up by name, none of the perhaps anticipated accusation held anywhere in her being. For all the shit she might have given him that lead to this thing even happening, she understands what it's like to keep a complicated secret from your friends. She doesn't touch that stone, much less cast it. Her lips firm in a small smile for him before she turns back to the conversation.

Some part of Colette's admission brings something to her, another question she guards carefully lest she ask it. A rush of nervous energy floods her, though, and then she does it anyway.

“How did it happen?” Emily asks with cautious curiosity. “When you … manifested your ability.” The look is shifted between the two near-strangers equally. “How did you find out?”

Something in Colette's statement gives Alexander pause, and he blinks at her. "Y'know," he says. "A lot of us….a lot of Evolved I know are queer. I wonder if it's disproportionately so. Though it might be more that if you got enough guts to be out about one, the other don't seem so bad, you know?" Punctuating it with a lopsided grin, "Might as well go for broke in the bigot lottery, or somethin'." Then he adds, with a hint of that edge, a glinting look given Colette, "Killed a lotta goddamn fools for freedom, too." And doesn't mind owning it, apparently. Perhaps those snakes on his arms are not merely references to the caduceus.

"Started knockin' things over 'thout meanin' to," Al says, simply. "I was ….about to turn eleven. My parents had died, I was livin' with my grandparents. Things started floatin' around me, 'specially when I got upset. I was lucky - my grandparents weren't afraid. My grandmother especially, she called it my gift. Turns out it came down from her, or so she said. Her own mother could call lightnin' - she showed me the wreck of a tree she said her mother had split asunder in front of her. Might be she was just tellin' tales to make me feel better, but I dunno." He shrugs, easily. That last speech was probably among the longest either of his old kameraden have ever heard out of the coppertop's mouth.

Teo's silence he lets be. He can sense the tension from where he sits… but there’s no point in poking at it, for the moment, anyway.

Smiling at Alexander’s story, Colette takes the time to actually eat something that isn’t beer. Once she starts, it’s like opening the floodgates. She’s hungrily eating, nodding along as she listens to Alexander and taking a sip of her beer before she slides in with her own story of discovery. “I’ve always known,” Colette says rather flatly to Emily, “I just had to actually accept it.” She isn’t talking about superhuman powers, but part of Colette thinks Emily might not have been either.

“As for my genetic lottery ticket,” Colette begins with a circular motion of her chopsticks in the air, “I was just walking my dog, minding my own fuckin’ business, and got caught up in some shit between the Ferrymen and the Triads. Because that’s how a teenager’s supposed t’make discoveries about themselves, yeah?” Flashing a smile to Teo at that notion, Colette continues her story. “I ah… I remember Jupiter— he was an ex-K9, my dog — he got protective of me when shit got real, n’one of the Triad members kicked him pretty hard… I panicked, was shouting, an’ somewhere in that I started up a little light show.”

To emphasize her description, Colette continues tracing her chopsticks in the air, but their tip glow with a neon pink light that stays frozen in the air. From it, she traces a three-dimensional light painting of a somewhat cartoon dog with large ears and a dangling tongue. The light shimmers and flickers, threads and ribbons of pink and purple illumination. Then, without so much as a gesture they shift into sparkling motes of light that drift like fireflies around the table.

“It wasn’t that cool.” Colette admits. “The most I could do back then was do an impersonation of a flashlight with dying batteries. Grace,” Colette furrows her brows and looks up to Emily, “who was about the age I am now, back then… she grabbed me and dragged me into a car. She uh, was someone I knew. Didn’t realize she was Ferry, but that was the way of the world back then. She got me to safety, because all I was doing was having a panic attack.”

Lowering her chopsticks, Colette dismisses the fireflight lights and then wink out one by one. “Figurin’ out I was gayer’n a rainbow was a lot less traumatic.” Which isn’t entirely true, but it might as well be now.

You should all be aware that if you say, 'La la la I am totally normal,' no one will believe you. And so, Teodoro Laudani performs better than that! He says nothing at all once again, allowing the natural rhythm of conversation to bury the uneven beats of his cacophonous existence. He eats. He gives people more food! He lays a few more strips of raw beef into the cauldron. He acts: normal.

But when the blind girl sitting over there shows off her power, Teo has to interject. "Isn't that fuckin' cool?" he asks of Emily, even though he already knows she thinks so. She's that kind of person. She can see light and promise in the city's broken rebar bones and shifting rubble, she can find purpose to the noise of their mundane days. Of course she can find something to love in the colors that essay from Colette's fingers. He skews his chopsticks through the broth in his bowl, his pale eyes tracking the disparate points of illumination floating over the four of them, a unique constellation.

He watches the lights go out.

One. by. one. and beautifully.

Teo's pale stare goes out of focus for an instant. Remembering. Or, perhaps for a refreshing change, not remembering. And then Teo blinks back to the present, looking down at his food. "A way of seeing," he adds, helpfully. It's half a Kenneth Burke quote, and half an explanation for the blind white of Colette's eyes.

Emily lets out an amused snort of breath at Alexander's wonderings about the sexual tendencies of the Evolved. Her expression returns cautious, listening delicately. He knew. Colette apparently knew, too?

Oh. Different kind of know.

She's about to ask what Colette means by light show when the traces of glowing color trail away from her chopsticks. Emily's eyes soften in wonder, shoulders sloping as she looks on in awe. She's enraptured, right up until they feather away into nothingness. “That's amazing,” she breathes.

Emily adjusts the plate in her hand, mellowed. “Thank you,” the teen says from nowhere. “For sharing— for coming over in general.”

Glancing sidelong at Teo, she says it for him, “I know it must mean a lot to all get together again after so long.”

"Same," says Alex, bluntly. No sign that he has any idea about Teodoro, and the blond's tension over concealed falsehood is just in line with Teo's general squirrelly unease. That he's lying Alex is sure, but he's figuring it for the usual whorl of self-deception.

He whistles at that story. "Damn," he says. Then the lights, and the pale gaze tracks them with growing wonder, a funny little smile that looks alien on a face that's grown used to reserve, used to concealing feelings….though it, at least, isn't the old prisoner's deadpan, or the mask he used to don to hide the rage.

They vanish, and he remembers himself enough to turn to the food, dip more into the broth. Still with mundane means, and no offer to demonstrate his power. He's got it, the little tremor earlier is proof, but….is he afraid of it? Or has control gotten worse?

To Emily's comment, he merely nods, quietly, not able to summon up some genial reply. Back here again, too conscious that the cycle he thought he escaped has lured him back. It'll make for brooding over later, innate stubbornness kicking back at fatalism and resignation.

“It does,” Colette says after too long a moment of silence for that fragment to make any sense. She looks up from her thoughts, embarrassed, and smiles awkwardly. “Getting together, I mean. It matters… probably more than you know. Most’f the people I grew up with are memorialized at the Brick House. Took me seven years t’go there and bawl my eyes out with the adult forms of little kids I babysat in the Ferry…” Colette grimaces, shaking her head and raking one hand through dark bangs.

“Teo’s got the details right, though. All this, it’s how I see. My whole body’s like one big iris, I can see in any direction without having t’turn my head. All sorts of fun party tricks.” A decade ago Colette would have been unable to stop from showing off, but today there’s a temperature cooler tone to her voice. There’s a feline manner to her posture. There’s the imprint of Hana Gitelman — a woman who might as well be her surrogate mother-in-arms — over everything she does. Maybe it’s a window into how Hana might have had rough edges when she was younger, how she wasn’t always a stoic wall of uncanny precision. Odds are more likely this is as close as Colette will get, because oil and water can only mix just so.

Reclining in her seat, Colette hooks one arm over the back of her chair and looks over at Teo. “You got a roof on this place?” She wonders. Not a roof for protection from the elements, he understands, but a roof for drinking and stargazing. “‘Cause that’d be a good way t’cap off the night, under the stars n’junk.”

There's a tenuous second or three when Teo is thinking about chasing Alexander around in his silence, or Colette around in her denial of Eileen's renewed existence or ignorance of his recent. details.

But it's a pleasant evening, and he's grateful for the trouble that his young roommate has gone through, and his friends being here. There are ordinary explanations for the strange tension here: they had met each other in times of war, staked their relationship on life-and-death, high adrenaline, a desperate bid for victory against violent injustice. Things have to be different now, erosion of context forcing brittle vulnerabilities to light; the rigid framework of shared principle and secrets that had made them strong before showing cracks in the light of normal life. There's the rub. But there are worse things, for sure. Dying at Pollepel Island being just one of them.

"Yeah, we do," Teo says. "C'mon, I'll get a dinner tray and we can finish up up there. But first, how do you guys feel about Emily getting a picture of us?"

It's a little silly, Teo knows. He has less than no social media presence, as much as possible, and it's already disturbingly easy to Google him. But there are keepsakes worth having; it's not silly to have a heart, and Emily's good at that. He only needs a moment's assent before he's passing her his phone, throwing an arm over his old friends.

Nothing is ever perfect, but just because it's not perfect doesn't mean it's not in its own way worthy.

It's a thought that sticks with Emily as she turns the phone over in her hand, flicking through the settings to find the best filter for the lighting. Make it all look as natural as possible, rose-colored lens and all.

It makes for a better memory.

“The three of you get in there,” she encourages them, waving a hand like she's herding them closer. A smile sings in her eyes while she examines the frame, tries to capture the best shot that won't need excessively cropped later. When she finally glances up to confirm what she's already seen on the screen, it spreads to her lips.

“Annnd… Cheese!”

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