Almost Human


f_eliot_icon.gif f_zoe_icon.gif

Scene Title Almost Human
Synopsis Zoe's husband is a no-good cheat and she ain't gonna take it anymore.
Date April 26, 2019

Porter-Ford Mansion

He doesn't spend much time at the club anymore. It's only when he wants /novelty/ that he deigns to put his feet there. Novelty, or some young, taut flesh that will marvel at his inner youth while revel in his seductive age. Only Eliot would think of himself that way. He's only in his early forties, after all. At the moment, he's in the den, at home, with a glass of scotch and a good book, and the door closed. His children know not to bother daddy when the door is closed.

Mommy, however, doesn't particularly care that the door is closed. At least not enough to keep from knocking on his door and cracking it open. "Eliot." she says softly. "I need to speak with you. It's important." She's so calm. Draped against one arm is a blouse, probably kept at the back of her closet for years now.

"Hmm? Is it about Daniel's fight at school today? He told me about it already." Eliot puts his bookmark in the book and closes it, setting it aside. "If the other boy started it, I can't fault him for finishing it." Eliot has been teaching Daniel muay thai. It's not the smartest thing to teach a young child how to use his elbows lethally, but.

"No, I told you we're on the same page about that - he's sensitive and he deserves to be able to stand up for himself. As long as he's not starting fight and not sending anyone to the hospital." She steps inside further and moves to sit opposite him, the blouse in her lap. Her expression is still marvelously serene. "I need to show you something." She holds out her hand, expectantly. In recent years, she's been able to share her visions. Sometimes she and the children would spend long periods holding some antique toy, giving them a window into the past.

Eliot raises a brow. "Not Parker's new obsession with painting the floor, then." He finishes his scotch and sets the glass down, sighing, almost as if he's humoring her. "Alright, then." He reaches over and takes her hand.

Zoe reaches across the desk and takes his hand, a single flicker of her lashes summoning the silver shine of her eyes.

"Anger is good. Healthy. I'd be perturbed if you weren't." Linderman says nothing more on the subject, however…they've been through this a hundred different times before and he's long since given up attempting to convince anyone of his unique perspective. It didn't work on the jury, and it won't work on Zoe. "An hour…isn't a lot of time. Is there anything else you'd like to get off your chest?"

"It wouldn't be enough time if it was two hours or all day." she declares. She wants to declare that it isn't fair…except that it is. Fairness and what one wants don't generally coincide. "No, but - is there anything you want me to do? Specific, for the company. Or for me. I'll do my best, I promise.""

All I want is for you to be happy. If you'll promise me that, I can walk down that aisle and pass through those doors content. That's all that I ask." Kain and Eliot will handle the numbers, the logistics…every loose end that needs tying up and sequestering away, swept under the rug with the rest of the allegations that didn't stick. Daniel Linderman may be a dead man, but the Linderman Group will live on. Under a different name, true, but it's the foundation that counts. "There is one other matter, however, that needs to be addressed."

Zoe nods. "I'll be happy." she promises, trying to force another smile. It might be more accurate to say at this juncture that she'll be content. Happy is hard. Happy is something you have to fight for, and Zoe is a mouse. Mice aren't fighters. "What is it?"

When Linderman next speaks, his voice is considerably lower than it was a few moments ago, bordering on a whisper. "Eliot isn't an empath," he says as he gives her much smaller hand a firm squeeze and interlaces his fingers with hers. "I've been protecting him for years, for fear of what the government might do if it discovered what he was truly capable of. You need to be aware, and more importantly you need to be wary. I don't believe that he would ever intentionally do you harm, which is why you were never told. But listen."

Zoe blinks. "Eliot's not an empath?" she repeats. "But - but he's so good with people! He always knows what to say, people just listen to him. And he wouldn't hurt me. I mean, he's never been dishonest to me, even if I hadn't liked the truth. Except for…what does he do, then?"

"It isn't that he always knows what to say," he murmurs. "I apologize. I don't know how to explain this in a way that won't put him in a bad light." Linderman places both of Zoe's hands in her lap, resting his atop hers. His gaze is steady. "Eliot is good at what he does because it's everything he can do. It's a sort of hypnotic charm that commands attention, drawing others in like flies to honey, moths to flame. You'll pardon the weak analogies. I'm very tired."

Zoe blinks at that. For a moment she just gapes at him. "Oh." she says at last. "Oh." Then, "He admires you. You've been a great mentor to him. He won't let me come to harm, and I'll be careful."

Eliot's return to consciousness is sudden and he gasps. Her visions always leave him lacking breath. He pulls his hand back and pushes his couch back, rising violently, hand smacking his scotch glass across the room and against the wall. "SONUVABITCH."

Zoe was out of her trance the moment he broke contact, and she could've done it herself if she'd had a mind. She watches his reaction with a flinch, but visible determination. "You understand what it means." she says. "Almost ten years, and I've never told a soul, Eliot. When you came to me on New Year's Eve? I knew. When you asked me to marry you, I knew. I did it anyway, and I never told anyone."

"He promised me. He told me he would never tell a single person until the day he — oh, sonuvaBITCH!" Eliot's punch shakes the wall, bruises his knuckles. He's pissed as all hell, he's not even listening to her. "Word-playing motherfucker, if he weren't dead already…"

Zoe cocks her head at him, like she's really seeing him for the first time. And then, with contempt, "You idiot." She rises to her feet, almost swaying, digs into her pocket and slams something down on the desk. Moving her hand away, it's revealed, a pair of dissolve tabs.

Eliot glances over and… blinks. "…tricky little vixen, just like Uncle Daniel, huh?" Eliot snorts and closes his eyes, biting his lower lip. "So what now, Zoe? You tell everyone? You humiliate me? You get someone to stick me with the stuff twenty-four-seven so I can experience my personal Hell? WHAT NOW?"

Zoe looks incredulous for one second. "No…" she breathes. "Oh god, you sonofabitch, open your eyes and look at me!" Gone is the serene expression, replaced by an unhappiness so great it's a shock she doesn't just drop to her knees and start keening like she's a Trojan widow. "You're so goddamn selfish that you don't see. Ten years, Eliot. Ten years and not once did I ever say so much as a word. And it doesn't even occur to you, sitting there and cursing Daniel's name, to ask me why I would do that."

"It doesn't MATTER, Zoe!" Eliot does look at her; boy does he look at her. "You don't get it, do you? It's not real. Nothing's real. It's all a lie that you weave yourself just to reconcile me in your life, you DON'T LOVE ME." He really believes it.

Zoe blinks in disbelief. It sounds like he actually gives a shit, and that completely flabbergasts her. She's quick enough to recover, though. "Daniel told me to be happy." she admits, "And you could make me…you could make me happy. And I already loved you a little, I couldn't help it. But the kind of loyalty it would take for me hold that in, for so long, with the way you treat me - I may be thoroughly under your spell, but I'm not a doormat." Not anymore. "And you're so caught up in your ego that you can't see that loyalty for what it is." She picks up the blouse, pulls out paperwork from the folds. "I was going to spike your scotch." she says unrepentantly, "Because I thought if I wasn't under your influence, I thought I'd have the strength to give you this." She tosses the paperwork down on the desk. Divorce papers.

"The irony," Zoe says, looking like she's going to cry, is that I'd be divorcing you because I love you. Because I can't let this be pretend anymore, because I'm tired of touching your clothes and seeing other women…of seeing Nalani and that blonde…I can't." She turns away, puts her hands to her face.

Eliot sets his jaw. Divorce papers. It figures. "No. No, the irony is that I can't try to convince you otherwise, because I know that if you capitulated it wouldn't be because of me, it would be because of what I am." He could turn it off, if he could stop shaking. Emotions are the reason he chose to masquerade as an empath; he doesn't read them: he writes them. And he can't control it or he couldn't and much less now: how can he stop affecting others when he can't even control himself?

"But you could." Zoe says bitterly. She looks over her shoulder at the tabs, at him. "The dose lasts forty-eight hours. But even then, there'd be a cost. Because it's not me and your playthings anymore. It's me or your playthings, but not both. I won't take your children from you and I won't take your money, but you won't have me, as if this wasn't a marriage of convenience in the first place. You're talking like you love me, but if you did, you wouldn't still be seeing those women. You wouldn't spend your time guaging whether something more amusing might be around the corner."

He sits down; he looks at the back of his hand, worrying the bruising from his punch at the wall. He flexes his fingers. He knits his brow. "I don't have to feel guilty about it with them. I don't care if they take their clothes off because I'm rich or good looking or because I have the paranormal power to make everyone that sees me and hears my voice and tastes my scent like me and love me. I don't /care/ about them and I can lie and use them and… when I do it to you it… even my kids don't really love me, not like they should." And maybe this is why Eliot is such a bastard. He's been given everything, including the power to take more than he ever deserved and more than he could possibly want and throughout all of it and beyond it all he really feels is alone.

"Your children love you." Zoe believes this with all her heart. "If you really want to know - if you're not just a coward who can say how lonely you are and how none of it's real and you actually want the truth…" she pushes the tabs toward him. "Find out."

"And if I am a coward? And if I can't bear to know?" Eliot looks up at her and shrugs, spreading his hands to either side of him. "I haven't known what anyone thinks of me, not really, for the past twenty-five years, Zoe."

"Then I suppose you lose." Zoe says unflinchingly. "I suppose your fear outweighs your love of your children." She doesn't bother mentioning herself.

"Ho… — how long do they take? To go into effect." Eliot stares at the pills with stark fear, his face pale.

Zoe looks down at them. "A few minutes? They're fast-melting. Ten, twenty minutes, then." She lifts her eyes. "I came here with divorce papers anyway. To be honest, I still don't understand why you wouldn't want to sign them. But if you're saying you do what you do because you have no way of knowing truth, then here's your chance to know. I'm willing to give the forty-eight hours before putting a pen in your hand."

"How long has it taken you to work up the nerve for all this?" He looks up at her and leans back, considering. Considering his fears and his loves and his needs.

Zoe sits back down with a thump. "Work up the nerve isn't quite the word. Waffling terribly, more like it. You have no idea how hard it is, fighting against this ingrained /need/ I have to make you happy." She looks down at her fingers. "But it got a little easier, every time I touched your shirt and saw a woman who wasn't me take it off you. Every time I smelled perfume that wasn't mine. Every time I watched you look around a room and wonder if there was something better to be had than me."
"Not better. It wasn't ever about it being better, for fuck's sake, Zoe." Eliot rubs his eyes and sighs. Why should he expect her to understand, though? His reason sounds false even to him; even to someone that knows it's true.

"For fuck's sake, Eliot." she volleys back. "Do you really think I'm going to sit here and let you turn your infidelity into a reason to feel sorry for you? There's a fine line between loving you and being a moron, I see. The proof is in the pudding. You have no idea what kind of agony it is, the thought of you signing those papers. But I also can't go on living like this. It has to change, and if the only way it can is for you to have an understanding of the people in your life above the influence of your ability, then it's not my decision, it's yours."

Eliot pours himself another drink, slowly. He listens to her, and he watches the pills, as if wishing them away. It's a nightmare. It's all a nightmare. He'll drink himself to stupor and when he wakes up it won't've happened.

Zoe nods a little to herself. "Right." she says softly. "I never was worth enough to you, was I?" She starts to get up. "As I said," she says tonelessly, not able to look at him. "I won't keep the children from you. You're a wonderful father. You can see them whenever you want. The assets will return to their original owners, but we'll have to decide what to do with out ZG stock." As she speaks her voice becomes less certain, more tremulous, oh god, he's going to let her walk away.

Eliot grabs his drink and puts at the edge of the table, and then scoops the pills into it, setting it down again. He watches them sizzle.

It grabs her attention, but she says nothing. It doesn't mean anything unless he drinks it.

It takes him a while. An eternity, at a time like this. And finally, he just waves her away, and swallows the glass down; dismissing her and fifteen years worth of lies all in a single gesture.

"I don't know how," she says as she watches him, "But you managed to turn this into how you're not sure if people love you. I want you to understand something. I have no doubt you love your children, but I hadn't believed you loved me for some time." She reaches out, touches the empty glass. "This is the first time I've ever thought you might, actually."

"Yeah, well." Eliot just sits there, terrified. He's lived his life with a coccoon of sorts; a shield that has for the past twenty-five years repelled most of the negative emotions people might feel towards him, and done away with them. Now, he feels naked.

"Yeah, well." she mimics back. "Welcome to your two-day pass to the way the rest of us live." And she sits, again, watching him with a sort of clinical fascination. Is he going to sprout horns? Start howling at the moon?

Nothing like that. Over the next few minutes, Eliot Ford goes through no physical alterations whatsoever. He does, perhaps, shine less. He is perhaps smaller, in her eyes; he might, perhaps, have shallower eyes. His smile might be dimmer and his words dissonant.

"Why does it kill you to say it?" she murmurs. "Why do I even have to ask?" She gazes at him, thoughtful. He's more human now. Less perfect. She tries to think about how that makes her feel.

"To say what?" Eliot smirks a bit, and it's not that nice; it's a little crack'd, actually, and ugly.

Zoe glares at him - such an expression he's never seen on her face before. "If you have to ask, you've failed from the start, I suppose. I should thank you perhaps, better that you never lied by saying you loved me, you just never said it at all."

"Mmm, oh, that." Eliot snorts and shakes his head. "It's not hard to say. I just don't think you'd believe me." He reaches behind him to rub the back of his neck and sighs.

"You've never so much lied to me as avoided certain truths." she says, her voice dry. "You know. 'Darling, I fucked the nanny. You don't mind, do you?'."

"I can't say I didn't." Eliot, at this point, is willing to admit to murder. It wouldn't be a lie, depending on whom he admitted to murdering. "What do you want from me? Do you know how naked I feel right now? I'm not making pretenses or excuses, but just… think for a moment at what I am consciously experiencing. Fuck. I feel like a guinea pig."

"What do I want from you." Not so much a statement as a review of what to consider. Zoe leans back in her seat. "I wanted - I want, you to love me, and to be able to say it. I want you to stop fucking other women. I want an actual husband, not the pretend happy-families one I've had for the last ten years. And if you can't give me that, I want a divorce. I want you to need me, and as something more than an asset. This little excercise is as much about what value you place on me as much as the value your family places on you. That's what I want from you."

"I didn't love you when we got married. I didn't even love you when you had Daniel." He plays with his wedding ring, slowly turning it on his finger. "I stopped taking my ring off when Parker was born. I think when I walked into the hospital room with Danny and introduced him to his little sister I saw you and I just… I guess I finally stopped falling." Eliot gives a slow, languid sigh. "After that all the things I did out of sheer excitement at being /able/ to I started to do out of sheer guilt and…" Downhill from there.

"And you just couldn't stop?" she asks quietly. "Do you think you'll be able to?"

"It was just easier to concentrate on treating other people like crap than it was realising I was also doing it to you." Eliot shrugs.

"Do you think you'll be able to stop? Because I won't put up with it anymore." she says to him frankly. It won't be as easy to lie to her now. To her faint surprise, she sort of wants to punch him.

"I think so." Eliot takes a deep breath. This will require an entire restructuring of his life. He starts to think of all the stuff he has on various lovers, especially the kind that might take his dismissal as harsh. He has blackmail on all of them. He just needs to figure out how to apply it.

Zoe considers a moment, her face drawn. "I was thinking," she says hesitantly, "Tomorrow, we should go to Unity Park. Pack a lunch, take the kids. See how it goes."

Eliot takes a breath and nods. "Okay. Let me… I call Annie and tell her to clear my schedule." He swallows. "… and then I'll fire her. Ugh." He starts finding his cellphone. Well, come on, he fucked the nanny. Did she think he wasn't going to be sleeping with his secretary?

Zoe's brows hit her hairline. "You can keep her, just don't fuck her." A pause. "No, actually, go ahead and fire her. And then you can convince me not to bury Nalani Hollingwood."

Eliot chokes a bit, and then shakes his head. "I'll admit to fucking them, I never said I liked them. Mostly, if you're going to have her killed, don't get caught."

Zoe's mouth quirks. "I rather meant financially." she says. "Woman sat across a table from me for ten years, smiling while she was having a piece of you. I owe her an answer for that."

"Mmm, I suppose. Well, I mean, would you want the same for me from /her/ husband?" Eliot tips his head. "Don't answer that."

Zoe puts a hand to her mouth, her eyes amused as she looks at him. "You seem so much more…" she trails off, trying to find the right words.

"Crude? Ugly? Honest?" Eliot snorts.

"Human." Zoe says softly.

"I'll take it as a compliment," Eliot says, unsure it should be.

"Good." she says. "Finding out you're married to a person instead of a demi-god is rather nice."

"Just a demi? Damn." He doesn't look that disappointed.

Zoe smiles faintly at that. "You know," she says, "Parker may look like me, but she's a lot like you. Neither of them have come into their abilities yet. It worries me, a bit."

"Why? I'm sure if they /get/ abilities, it will be something worth having." Eliot is afraid to move; scared she'll flinch.

"Their tests are positive. It's a matter of time." His body language is more revealing now. "What is it?" she asks, picking up on his nerves.

"Hm? Nothing. I guess we'll just have to wait. I wonder what Daniel will pick up." Eliot sighs. "If he heals things, I'm shooting myself in the head." His sarcasm is unpolished now.

Zoe snorts. "I'm not related to Daniel by blood. And you seem nervous. Though I suppose you have reason to be. You're rather naked."

"Don't have to be; a lot of studies show a high correlation between paranormal abilities and psychological triggers. We've told Daniel enough about his 'granduncle' and how he healed things. He might pick it up." Eliot snorts at her. "Yeah. Thank you for noticing."

Zoe frowns at him thoughtfully, starts to lift her hand to - push her glasses, which she isn't wearing, up her nose. Ruefully she puts her hand down, picks up off her chair and walks around the desk and bends down to kiss the top of his forehead.

Eliot closes his eyes at the kiss. He doesn't know how to react. He just keeps his eyes closed, his fingers tense on the armrest of his chair. He feels so vulnerable. This isn't the worst part, though. He dreads seeing his children.

Zoe still has her fingers on his chin, her frown still there. Tilting it up a little, she kisses him on the lips. It's a little awkward and intent, like having a first kiss all over again, only with the aggressor reversed.

Eliot kisses her back, and sighs. It feels strange; so strange. He reaches up, slowly, to run his fingers through her hair.

What she has of it - she's worn it short since after Parker was born. Pulling her mouth away, she looks at him. "Are you sure," she asks in a small voice, "That I'm going to be enough?"

Eliot shakes his head, after a moment. "No, but I hope so. Very much."

Not the answer she was hoping for, but a better answer than it might otherwise be. She holds out her hand. "I'm going upstairs."

"I — I'll be up in a minute. I want to say good night to the kids." He stays seated. He needs to face his children alone. He looks terrified.

Zoe nods. "Alright." she says, and with that, she slips out of his study. The blouse, and the divorce papers, have been left on his desk.

After a minute, Eliot rises and heads for his kids' room, each step monumental. Children are, after all, particularly cruel.

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