A Return in Investment


eileen_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title A Return in Investment
Synopsis Teodoro and Eileen catch up after Moab. Apologies are made, points raised and contentions offered, but no definitive conclusions reached. In short: little changes.
Date April 16, 2009

Old Lucy's — Apartment

Rain distorts the view overlooking the street below Old Lucy's as well as the mottled reflection of the young woman whose breath spreads a fine layer of mist across the glass with every laborious exhalation. Eileen's bird-boned frame fits perfectly in that of the window, one long leg stretched out from one end of the sill to the other, the other bent at a sharp angle and tucked snugly against her chest. A lit cigarette, two thirds spent, dangles from between the joints of her left middle and index fingers, fills the stale air with the acrid perfume of burning tobacco and shrouds the ex-Vanguardian in a smoky haze that makes her features difficult to define in the room's muted half-light.

She's been expecting company and does not move her head away from the pane when she hears knuckles rap against the door. Instead, she lifts the cigarette to her parched lips, sucks down a deep drag from the filtered end and holds it in for several moments to calm her nerves before blowing it back out again in the form of a protracted stream. "Come in."

The door swings inward under the pressure of Teo's palm, and he walks in the next moment, the hallway lights ceding him briefly to silhouette, before he reemerges in the drab color of the minimized apartment illumination. It's thoughtful of Eileen, reducing her hostess' bills as much as practicality allows her to. Either that, or the darkness suits her mood. He doesn't know her well enough to tell which it is.

For him, it would have been both. It has been both.

There has been a surprisingly small amount of reading to do at the apartment, and even then, his preference has been to keep the rest of the rooms turned off while he sits alone under an unaccompanied burning star of lamplight. "Ciao, signorina." Teo's hand stays up long enough for a wave before he shunts it into his pocket. A backward push of his heel shuts the door.

A pair of form-fitting denim jeans faded around the knees encases Eileen's slim hips and legs, and while she isn't wearing a shirt her breasts are covered in a fresh wrapping of gauze held in place by strategically-positioned safety pins that appear as slivers of silver darting fishlike in the darkness when she moves. She taps a package of Camel cigarettes against the inside of her thigh once, twice, then holds it out to Teo in offering. "I always thought ciao meant good bye," she says, refusing to look him directly in the eye when she speaks. "Figures it'd mean hello, too. Everything's interchangeable these days. Salutations. People."

She flicks the ash from the tip of her cigarette into an empty bottle sitting on the adjacent nightstand and returns it to her mouth, using the very tip of her tongue to maneuver it somewhat clumsily from one corner to the other. "Have fun in your red desert?"

"Ciao is older than you or I." Teo takes a cigarette between forefinger and thumb, pulls it free of the box's slender fit. He has his own lighter, which he digs out of the inner lining of his jacket because— she doesn't appear to have a lot of places to hide one of hers; something he notices only retroactively, and only retroactively remembers to have grace enough to glance away from. "Buona sera, then.

"Though from the looks of things, it isn't."

His lips flatten around the cigarette, new-lit. He takes a drag, exhales a curly skein of translucent smoke into the air in front of himself. "Only a little. He's fine." The butane lighter shuts with a clink, snuffing out the pip of orange-yellow light that had momentarily limned the gaunt lines of his face in trembling strokes of the same color. "You heard the headcount yet? More losses than gains," he offers, by way of summary. In case she hadn't.

Eileen's initial response is a disdainful curl of lip, followed by what sounds like a raspy snarl but is really just a wheezing snort of laughter. Or something close to it. "I wasn't asking about him," she clarifies in a voice Teo hasn't heard for many months, back when he was demanding names and she still insisted on holding out. Her words drip with a murky blend of emotions, all of them ugly — the things they do to her face aren't any more flattering. "Eight missing is what they told me at the safehouse. Dean and the others, everyone you went in for. Alexander."

Her eyes move from her own reflection in the glass to Teo's, assessing the Sicilian as best she can with fat rivulets disfiguring his shape, rainwater rendering him like something straight out of an Escher. "I'm sorry."

It says nothing sweet or edifying about his character or growth of the past few months, that Teo finds himself momentarily incredulous— not only that she hadn't been asking about him, but that she'd been asking about them. He's so used to adapting his bullet list of concerns for his immediate company or practical agenda that he's disconcerted at having his immediate company cut through his practical agenda and— um.

Apologize. His eyes close and open with surprise.

Which fades when he creases both eyes closed again, sniffs once, sharp enough to crease the sides of his nose, as a dog sneezes. It yanks a visible eddy into the vaporous weave of rising smoke. "'S less than that now," Teodoro answers. "Helena and the others are still gone. Couple other operatives."

Half-beat. "Thanks." One inadequate set of words for the other. Teo looks up. She's nearly as scrimshaw pale as the linens rimming her torso.

And as expedient as hauling a lever back, he's practical again the next, the bullet list seized with both hands. He could rot in the dark at home. "I want to get you and that Julian guy out of here. Former occupant got snatched up by Homeland Security just a few weeks ago. The danger is probably minimal, but it's probably safer. How are you faring, otherwise?"

The incredulity doesn't come as a big surprise to Eileen, or if it does she subdues the physical affect it has on the bow of her mouth. Only her eyebrows arch, lifting to form a mildly more expressive contour than the flat look her face has adopted in the absence of either smile or frown. She isn't sure whether she should be offended by Teo's assumption. On the one hand, it paints a clear picture of what he believes her priorities are. On the other, his conclusion is one he couldn't have arrived at by himself — something had to have led him there. Her behavior, maybe. Gabriel's.

She directs Teo's attention to her chest with the smoldering point of her cigarette. "Got tagged twice. First one punched through. Second got caught under my collar, but it's out now. As long as I don't come down with sepsis or some shit in the interim, I should be in the clear. You?"

"You're staying under Abigail's umbrella of protection and wearing bandages. That gives me some cognitive dissonance." He smiles because he's Teodoro Laudani, and refuses to be perturbed by her demeanor and expression because of same. She looks like a doll in the mirror, proportions of eyes and nose in such hyperbolic ratio— and much like a doll she sounds as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. Still, he smiles.

A small one, which seems to indicate that it's sincere, as does the fact that it lacks luster or joy. "'M fine. A few scrapes signorina Beauchamp already took care of. Everybody else seems to be intact. The ones we have back," Teo clarifies, his voice emptying to do so. More because it is the logical next station for her train of thought than because he thinks it would comfort her, he adds, "The rest, we're looking for."

If there was something she could do that Teo thought might help, Eileen likes to think he'd ask. Then again, until a few moments ago, she'd also been under the impression that he understood what she meant when she'd inquired about his adventures in Botswana. "You know how to find me if you decide you need an eye in the sky," she says, not wanting there to be any further miscommunication about where their odd little relationship stands, "I don't expect anything in return, either. For the record."

And, hey. While they're being truthful— "The company's enough, to be perfectly fucking honest. I appreciate having someone to be miserable with. No offense."

Miscommunication has its limits: it's rarely beyond Teo to believe that somebody has good intentions toward him, as much his curse as his blessing. It seemed natural she might ask after Gabriel.

He would appear to be intact. Fully healed, not even a sunburn. Be easy to think he'd had fun in the red desert, or at least that the worst parts had mostly involved waiting and walking a lot and being raw with thirst. For now, he listens, stands, and speaks without apparent difficulty. "I do. Grazie. Not even the attempt would've been possible without you."

His face changes slightly when he is recipient to more honesty. On the best of days, Teo is a bad liar. At his worst, he simply looks it, and not all the finest healing available to Abigail Beauchamp's God can efface that away. He pulls his cigarette out of his mouth briefly, lets the smoke sting in his eyes for wont of anything from the inside burning to emerge.

"I know what would make me fucking happy," he hedges, finally. "You?"

Eileen's shoulders rise as she inhales and fills her lungs to their full capacity, the effort of which causes them to rattle and her breath to hitch when she lets it go again, body deflating like a sickly balloon. She rolls her good side into a noncommittal shrug. "Something other than a death wish," she suggests, voice as sly as it is self-depreciating, and not without a touch of mirth. "Backbone, maybe. Not having to place second. A hug."

It's difficult for her to take Teo's question seriously, but beneath her exterior lies genuine melancholy, a distant sadness that she can't hide in spite of her best and most acerbic efforts. "You know what it feels like?" she asks. "When the best you can ever hope for is to rip the other person in half?" Teeth rake across her upper lip, and she touches the tip of her tongue to the roof of her mouth behind them. Her throat contracts, swallows hard. "I don't want to split anybody apart. Couldn't."

Discomfort squares Teo's jaw around the cigarette; so tight that he almost severs the cancer stick in his teeth. The fact that he understands is awkward. Her grief, its context, its generosity, the double-edged nature of harboring virtue when it's tested and therefore needed.

There's this whole religion about that shit. "The closest I've ever been to that, I put an end to early enough that it doesn't really matter anymore." His brow creases; the hollows of his cheeks deepen around an unformed syllable. "It would be doing you a disservice to say I can't understand, but it would probably be just as graceless to say that I do in perfect clarity."

Once upon a time, he'd dumped Felix Ivanov. That's all.

That's not much at all, and he is painfully aware of this inadequacy of personal experience, all things considered. He watches the rain slash the window pane. "I'm sorry I said those things to both of you. It wasn't my place."

"Sure," Eileen agrees, "but you were right. Whether or not it was your place. It doesn't change anything." She can't speak for Deckard, can't even begin to fathom what he must be feeling if what Teo said affected him the way it did her. "Fact of the matter is we're both cowards. Rats. And that's Flint's word, not mine."

She removes the cigarette from her mouth and smothers it in the sunken hole where her reflection's left eye should be. Perspiration leaking through the window causes ash to stick to the glass, leaving a pasty smudge in its wake that the young woman doesn't bother to wipe off. Instead, she discards the crumpled cigarette by jamming in violently down the neck of her makeshift ashtray. "Sneaky little shits. Plague carriers. Vermin.

"I might've have had him, Teo. If I hadn't put him above me, pushed him toward Gillian. If I hadn't spent all that fucking time convincing myself I deserved to be unhappy, I wouldn't be."

In the meantime, the animal metaphor to which Teo has been assigned is a blue bird. Tamara's handiwork. Less useful by far than rats and vermin, as far as he's aware, if dignified by being some sort of salute to Pila. He would argue her self-deprecation, but he doesn't.

Not because he doesn't disagree, but because there seems to be disagreement, incipient, coming from the girl herself, its inching, halted, limping progress crippled by rhetoric and the grudging of any real admission. He watches it hobble through the air on the translucent wrinkles and curlicues of nicotine smoke. "Past-tense," Teo observes, with neither optimism nor further rebuke. "You say that in past-tense. And you have to know it's not too late to…"

Try, he was going to say, but he does not. It sounds ridiculous, either condescending or personally insipid. His shoe drags an audible noise of abrasion as he moves over to the nearest corner of carpet and drops himself onto it: not all that near, but close enough that the next fat droplet that winds its way down the window trails a shadow down the edge of his face. His legs fold a loose sprawl.

"I take it that means I was wrong," Teodoro says in a flinching sort of intonation, tapping ash onto the triangle of floor between knees. "You do know how he feels about you." He has a bad habit of that. Feeling sorry for doing something; doing it again anyway. In this case, minding the business of others.

Does she know how he feels? Eileen finally turns, the very bottom of her chin brushing her collarbone as she shoots Teo a dubious look over her shoulder. "He hates me," she states in the same trite tone people use when making remarks about inclement weather, "or he's ashamed of me. Anyway, it doesn't matter. He doesn't love me, and after the piss-poor way I've treated him — he never will.

"It's been a month since the last time we even spoke, and the only reason he sought me out then was so he could forcibly take from me what I wasn't willing to give." As Eileen continues, her voice undergoes a gradual shift in pitch, and while it comes perilously close to breaking it never quite hits that shattering high. Instead, breathy fissures slip their way in between syllables, causing her words to hiss past her teeth. She couldn't be any more venomous unless she possessed a forked tongue.

"My thoughts, feelings, memories — everything. What does he need me for when he has all that?" Her fist connects with the window's wooden frame with enough force to jostle the pane and punctuate her fury. Veins stand out on her neck. Cheeks flush a deep carmine pink. "You asked what would make me happy," she spits. "I lied. I never want to see him again."

Teo's face is too tired to contort around a spectacular ceremony of sympathy. Sympathy, when it comes, is a zag of distorted shadow in his brow, fatigue commensurate to her own lifted up to the trickle of light in his shoulders without disciplining them out of their enervated slouch.

"Not to be difficult," as if he's ever really anything but— even when the opposite adjective is selected in lewd slang, "but I don't think you fucking lied. Maybe you changed your mind? You have before; will again. He noticed, because that wasn't the first time he'd taken your imprint before, was it? You're more than a static snapshot of a fantasy to him.

"And he doesn't fucking hate you." Teo's eyes hood momentarily, before he decides to close them for a few seconds. He remembers he is holding a live cancer stick, and takes a drag from it, the end coruscating the darkness with a momentary flare of orange. "You could get him to, I think.

"He cares enough for that.

"But— from what I can tell," this disclaimer is almost farcical, Teo knows: he's speaking out of turn no matter how one slices it. Emotional fatigue wears his voice to something approximating smooth. "You've yet to be able to bring yourself to do anything so malicious it would really fuck up his regard for you that much. Gabriel doesn't seem to think well of martyrs. I mean, consent and ability abuse aside—

"He's the kind of man who wants to know when he's loved, and 's proud to be able to be in a position to offer a return in investment, i'nt he? It's fucking bizarrely healthy." A callused thumb roughs over the inner corner of Teo's left eye, irritating one inert tear duct. "Through my stupid fucking bubblegum pink lenses, anyway."

Bubblegum pink lenses. Eileen allows herself a derisive snort blown out through her nostrils and straightens in her seat on the sill, drawing her spine into a cattish arc that spans the length of her slender back and emphasizes each individual vertebra. "You weren't there," she points out, perhaps in her own defense, "you didn't hear the things he said, the insinuations he made. I apologized. Told him he was still a part of our family. If that isn't letting him know he's loved—"

She cuts the argument abruptly short with a swift and dismissive gesture of her hand that knifes through the air in front of her face. "Fuck it. I'm only a martyr if I let it rule my life. And I won't. What's done is done. I've always made the decisions about us for him — this isn't any different."

The leg stretched out across the base of the sill joins its bent twin. Eileen's arms encircle her knees. She and Teo are of differing opinions when it comes to the subject of Gabriel Gray, which is why she takes the opportunity to attempt to put the matter to rest with a simple, "I'm being selfish again." Sorry. "Julian and I'll get on tomorrow, find someplace Ivanov hasn't been sniffing around. Thanks for the warning."

Ashes and tubular paper grind flat underneath Teo's heel, matting into the grain of the wood just beyond the carpet. Fire spent, the gray and sterile aftermath cools steadily and stinks quietly, joining the rest of the residue suspended in the shuttered air. "Family," he says. Bares his teeth, briefly, a grimacing rictus of a smile. "I sure as fuck hope that's British slang for something, ragazza.

"Maybe it should be." Different.

Still, when she stamps four words down on it with as much gusto as he'd ground his heel into his smoke, Teo isn't one to try and breathe fire back into the argument. No. At best, it's a dispute for another time. At the very minimum, he can spare enough temporary grace to act upon the sincerity of his endless supply of apology, just this once. He blinks up at the sky empty of stars, skirting the elfin outline of her bandaged torso for the nth time.

"I'm getting sick of Felix's capacity to twist his oaths to wring blood out of them. He smudges your record, only to come after you with his badge. If you don't mind, I'm going to tell him that you've joined Phoenix. If that doesn't get him off your back— on threat of war, there's… only so much I can do," he admits, ruefully. "But it's no less than I'd offer a member of the Ferry who's done as much for us as you have."

"I wasn't always a friend to your people." As far as reminders go, this probably isn't one that needs repeating. Eileen finds it hard to believe that Teo would forget where her allegiances used to lie, but just in case: "If it weren't for Phoenix, the Bureau wouldn't have half of what it does on me. Maybe there was a time when Ivanov could've smudged my record, but you—"

Her chin slopes away and the pale dome of her forehead bumps audibly against the glass. "You've gone and set it in stone, haven't you?" She could be angry. Embittered. Resentful. But she isn't, and it has nothing to do with the onset of emotional impotency in light of their discussion about Gabriel. Eileen has had months to turn this one over in her head. Forgiveness is easier to come by when you've been given ample opportunity to rationalize it.

"There's no such thing as a free pass," she says finally. "All the mistakes I've made. All the people I helped Kazimir to find. If Ivanov doesn't catch me, then what's left of the Vanguard will. Best to let it go."

A scowl finally disrupts the absentminded serenity of Teo's expression— if serenity was the word for it. He exhales nicotine stink onto his fingers, drags a trace of rainwater out of the bristly hair on the top of his head. "I wasn't always a friend to my people, either. It's not like there's a fucking application form. People find their way in through the worst or most edifying courses.

"There was never a time Ivanov could've purged your record: he isn't Homeland Security. The least he could do is personally lay the fuck off if he said he'd try.

"I didn't—" He cuts off abruptly, a few syllables short of denying his involvement with the concrete shoes that have been poured in around her feet. For one thing, that wasn't what Eileen had meant; for another, she is right anyway. Teo has to take responsibility for the actions of his operatives. It is part of his job description. Fourth bullet item down, underneath 'kidnapping little girls' and 'playing pattycake with pigs,' subpoint under 'personnel management.'

He studies the flat line where her forehead meets pane. "Everybody fucks up. If I didn't notoriously come to Earth off a rainbow bridge from a marshmallow moon, you could accept that as fact.

"I'm less interested in what bad you've done than what good you could. It isn't a free pass— it's just a better way to pay than sitting and rotting your lily ass in jail. Or the Vanguard's guillotine." Gingerly, he leans back. His back meets the wall; the more comfortable because it isn't a perfect fit. Even when Teo's run down by misery, he can still argue. A little. If it's about marshmallows and rainbows.

Eileen elected not to take offense when Teo alerted her to her erstwhile guardian's status. She's unable to let any one of these next assumptions slide, however. "For someone who claims to be an advocate of reform, you sure are awfully judgmental when it comes to people whose viewpoints don't line up with your own. First—"

Her leg furthest from the window swings over the edge of the sill, followed swiftly by the other. As soon as both her feet touch down on the floor, the rest of her body is unfolding, rising from its seat with indolent slowness. "I've no intention of turning myself in or sticking my neck out any further than I already have, so you can lay off my lily ass for a minute.

"Second, don't insult me by pretending things might turn out okay. Yeah, everybody fucks up, but not everybody's spent four goddamn years of their life playing house with a cult of genocidal maniacs." Eileen blows out a short snort through her nostrils and slides the package of Camels between her belly and the waistband of her jeans. It's too boxy to fit in any of her pockets. "You and Abigail. You're obsessed with fixing people. Get it through your heads: not everyone wants your help, and I certainly don't need your protection. For me, doing good means taking responsibility for myself. Because Jesus Christ. Everyone else who's ever tried has either fallen off a bridge, exploded, gotten his face caved in or gone and vanished from the face of the whole bloody fucking earth."

The Sicilian's profile turns brighter as he steers his gaze closer to the young woman by the window through which the greatest sources of light come through, diluted by rain and filtered by unkempt glass. Real annoyance claws at Teo's forehead, leaves lines in it, the corners of his mouth. "I'm offering to tell one fucking tiny, translucent lie to buy you two inches of breathing space, and you're telling me I'm judgmental."

The corners of Teo's mouth plow inward, stitching his face into a brief silence, an internal check, restraint tangling against temper on the edges of his seated frame and stark lines of his brow. Neither seems to be winning out.

He isn't sure he should say these things because he has not quite been himself lately.

And he wouldn't want to do anything he'd regret, now. Then, "I'm not the only one in the room building crosses to carry, ragazza. I'm sorry you've lost people. It fucking blows. But that's the fucking point. Do you have any reason other than pride or your infatuation with the legend of your own destructive influence f'r why I shouldn't lift my pinkie?"

His teeth click shut. Hard to tell in the ambient blue of the evening light, but Teo's face has washed closer to red, now, either from embarrassment, misappropriated anger, or some Frankenstein chimera of both. Railspike claws and horns and scaly armor, some mutant dragon guarding the rainbow bridge.

All she needs is a reason. The more solid, the better, but any reason will do. Eileen stares at Teo as though he is very much a Frankenstein chimera, unmoving but for the steady rise and fall of her chest when she breathes, ribs visible as distinct grooves shifting beneath her skin. Her hipbones and spine, too, stand out more than they did when she was sitting down, though this has everything to do with the way she appears to be put together and nothing to do with her dietary habits. She'd accused him of wanting to fix people. There's definitely room for improvement as far as she's concerned, so perhaps that was an unwise contention to raise.

"I fought to disentangle myself from a terrorist organization," she offers, a little lamely. "The last thing I need is my name associated with another. I don't care if it's just pretend. I'm not one of you, and I don't want to be."

As riddles go, that was admittedly a hard one. As answers go, Eileen could have done worse, but stubbornness is in Teo's blood, and there's a certain aspect of obdurate in the set of his features as he studies the young woman's arrangement of china bones, cat's eyes, and flesh that was probably skinned off the top of a cooling mug of milk.

She has two bullet holes in her, the risk of sepsis, and she's bitching about he and Abby's obsession with healing. Women.

Time to change the subject. The man's back goes slack against the wall and his head rocks back until skull meets wood with a dull thump of doubled resonance. He can't think of a good subject to change to. Crap. "We're brainstorming," Teo says, presently, in the best of all of his 'not joking' voices, "about how to inspire hope in New York. Any ideas?"

"Hope." The word sounds hollow coming from Eileen's mouth. She could laugh. Doesn't. "Boy, you are asking the wrong person." Footsteps reverberate through the room, not quite as soft or reminiscent of cat's paws as they could be. A shirt is procured from the closet and pulled over her head, further tangling the curls of dark hair that crown it. Her woolen coat is next, arms into sleeves, each button fastened with snug precision.

The conversation over, no definitive conclusions reached about anything, with the possible exception of just how muddled things really are, she makes for the door, scooping up her boots on the way out. "Have a good night, Teodoro. I'll see you around."

<date>: previous log
<date>: next log
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License