Burden of Proof


cat_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif ghost2_icon.gif lucrezia_icon.gif

With a special appearance by:


Scene Title Burden of Proof
Synopsis Ghost comes to visit Cat and finds himself interrogated by less than happy women.
Date June 26, 2009

Village Renaissance Building — Cat's Penthouse

First there was the word which filtered through connections with the Ferrymen about Eileen having some trouble with Arthur Petrelli and losing her phone to him. Then came the call from Eileen, or someone who sounded like Eileen, in any case. She had considered for a few moments the possibility it could be Arthur Petrelli using her body to produce the voice, but discounted that. He would, she reasons, impersonate someone other than Eileen to come at her if it were him. Most likely Father, claiming to have escaped from Pinehearst. And it certainly doesn't hurt to hold the meeting here. Eileen knows she has the place, and as for Arthur, if it is one of his tricks it doesn't really matter. He'd know exactly where she is if he wants.

So the invitation is given to come here, to get in the first elevator to the left of the security desk and press six. Then she watched the cams for Eileen to enter the building and opened the panel which hides the buttons for floors above three and sends it down. When it returns, Eileen would find Cat waiting for her at the double doors just across from it.

When Eileen steps out of the elevator and into the hall, it's with a mild amount of trepidation. There was a time when she considered Catherine Chesterfield an enemy, and although that time has long since passed, she has difficulty shaking loose her misgivings and the lingering feelings of resentment that give her gray-green eyes its skeptic's chill. She wears her right arm in a makeshift sling with her jacket sleeve hanging off the attached shoulder, wrist encased in a plastic brace and what looks like medical tape. Inky black stitches zig-zag across her pale forehead and end just above the uppermost point of a finely arching brow. Her lip is split, one cheekbone bruised — the last time her face was this purple, Teodoro Laudani had broken her nose.

"Thank you for making the time to see me." The words come out stilted and clipped, her tone sharper than she probably intends. "I shouldn't take up too much of it."

"You're welcome, Eileen," Cat replies, her voice changing in tone as she gets the full view of Eileen's condition. "Come in, please." She moves to close the doors after the younger and less tall woman then secure them. "Word went around you had a run-in with Arthur Petrelli." That name is spoken with some venom to her voice, mixing with a bit of alarm over her condition. "He did all this?" she asks. It won't be a moment too soon when he gets permanently made dead, somehow.

Alert eyes scan Eileen again, the visible injuries being compared against that copy of Grey's Anatomy on file in her brain.

"It's a sprain," Eileen says of her wrist. "Some superficial contusions. Nothing that won't heal." She seems to be telling the truth, too, if the catlike purposefulness with which she moves is a clue that Catherine might pick up on. Unhindered by any serious pain or physical discomfort, she opts to adopt a position near the closest window rather than take a seat in one of the penthouse's chairs. The distant fires burning on Staten Island appear as thick plumes of smoke obscured by a twilight haze, an occasional tongue of flame bleeding red through the smog.

"I thought about seeking out Helena," she explains, "but then I remembered she has her own agenda. What can you tell me about Pinehearst?"

"It's a biotech firm," Cat begins as she walks with Eileen toward a window which overlooks 4th Street in the Village below, "run by Arthur Petrelli from the shadows, in legal terms, since public records say he's dead. Arthur's major goal is to re-create a formula for bestowing Evolved abilities in people who don't already have them. He intends to then use it as a bargaining chip in leveraging the Federal government through the Frontline program, the ranks of which he would be able to supply. His agenda is also to dismantle and destroy both the firm he was attached to before his faked death and the people who founded it along with him. Operations are being planned to block his goals and deal with him definitively.

"Arthur has a number of abilities, the primary being an ability to steal powers through touch. He has, beyond that, telekinesis, clairvoyance, shapeshifting, telepathy, and whatever else he's managed to rip away from others. Sadly," Cat adds, with her face taking on a measure of self-castigation and anger, maybe controlled rage too, "he also has a perfect memory."

Shapeshifting, telekinesis and telepathy are not news to Eileen — she experienced them all firsthand a little less than twenty-four hours ago and bears the marks of her encounter with the man of whom Catherine is speaking. Her brow furrows, creases appearing where there were none, quiet consternation written across the pale, sweat-slick skin of her forehead. "I gave Gabriel my phone so he could use it to track Teodoro.

"When I called it last night, Petrelli picked up. I don't know if he's dead or alive, but if he's being held by Pinehearst I'm not going to sit around with my hands under my ass." She directs her gaze at Catherine's reflection in the windowpane. "He helped break your people out of Moab. Any chance Phoenix might return the favour?"

There's a digital trill from the pamnesiac's pocket, brief, one-note: not to herald a phonecall but, instead, a text message. When she digs it out, it turns out to be a rather brief one, a single line of alphanumericals wrapped around the tiny width of the screen.

'May I come in?'

She probably wasn't expecting to receive such a request in this format, but given the sender— identified the next instant, it probably isn't altogether unexpected.

"I believe that's in the cards," Cat replies, her eyes darkening again with more evidence this isn't just business. "There are people in Arthur's clutches I want back in any case. He took the appearance of one of them when he came at me. But it doesn't really matter who it is, we don't intend to leave anyone there in his clutches." Whether or not they make a strike at the place, she'll certainly pass word to both Monk and Micah Sanders, disembodied 'net spirit.

After a pause, she seems ready to speak again. "Arthur is a form…" The voice trails off when her phone rings; she looks at the display and studies it for some moments. This should be interesting. A text message is sent in reply. 'Who are you, really? Better tell me something only you and I should both know, and fast.'

"Arthur can also regenerate. But I've seen the inside of Pinehearst and there are ways of having a look inside to see if Gabriel's there."

Eileen's eyes move from Cat's outline to that of the phone she holds in her hand. "He spat out the two bullets I put in his stomach," she says, turning her body in a way that allows her to divide her focus between the other woman and the window. "How do you plan on killing someone who can't die? He's not like Volken — there's no miracle cure you can just magic up out of Louisiana."

The fingers of her right hand flex, tendons audibly straining against the brace she wears around her wrist. Plastic creaks beneath the pressure. "If you have the ability to look inside, then look inside. I can't think of any reason they'd keep him alive longer than the time it takes for Petrelli to take him apart, can you?"

There's a moment's lag for thought, before the answers ring in, rapid-fire, as if a certain ghost has spent far too much time overdeveloping his skills with operating inside the machine. 'You know that question is pointless because you don't know how long I've been here.'

Possibly, Ghost is merely being an ass, but it might occur to the pamnesiac that he has a point; and that's a realization that he'd know would occur to her, above most others. Quick on the heels of that incoming message, however, there's another string of wasp-bitten letters, an unwontedly incisive query.

'Are you two talking about Gabriel?'

"That would depend on what Arthur wants him for," Cat replies. If anything. "If he doesn't want something from Gabriel, he'd already have been killed and wouldn't be at Pinehearst. Assuming he can defeat Gabriel, that is. They already fought once, to a draw that wasn't entirely a draw. He got Delphine out of Arthur's clutches, after all. She was being used as a lab rat there."

Eyes lower to the phone again when text appears, the woman's brows furrow with thought. He's in here? How? He knows who's here and who they're discussing in part? At the least, she can even the tables by letting him in and giving them a target to shoot at if needed. 'Which door are you closest to?' she asks textually.

The tension in Eileen's jaw thickens, her lips pressed into a thin line as she clamps her teeth together. Lab rat. "If Danielle was still alive, you'd be doing everything in your power to bring her home. I can't take back what Ethan did, but you have to understand— Catherine. That pain you felt. The anguish of not knowing—"

— is exactly what the young woman standing by the penthouse window experiences now. There's fury in the firm set of her chin, and a murderous look of cold, reptilian resolution in her eyes. "You'll tell me if there's something I can do to help." A pause, accompanied by another sidelong look at Catherine's cell. "Or if I should come back later."

What follows is a small missile array of projectile— text replies. 'It was a Yes or No question, Cat. Either being acceptable.

'I am

'Uncomfortable. I think Eileen is getting that way too.

'Let me in. I promise, if I was going to do something awful, I don't have the time or resources to be this fucking creative about it.' There's no way of telling how much of that is truth, naturally, but there's the sense that Ghost is perfectly aware of that floating ambient around his flippant choice of words, every degree as cool as the blood that Eileen's eyes call for.

Her features darken, the emotion shown in her eyes is one of loss, pain, guilt, anger, that same muted rage which was seen earlier sharpening, being shown as held by force of will from exploding. The jaw is still set, fists form and relax a few times as she scans the street outside. "I'm in that same place again, Eileen," Cat shares with a voice which quavers slightly. "My parents work, or worked, with Pinehearst. Father told me what Arthur is up to, told me that serum existed once before and was destroyed in the 80s then was locked away by one of the other Primatech founders. He sent someone to me as a contact for working to tear the firm down. He was our best inside source of intelligence. But somehow, after Arthur had his battle with Gabriel, maybe even before, he found out what Father was up to. I've no idea how long he's been able to read minds. I tried to contact Father, he said Arthur lost his mind, and we agreed to meet in Hartford at the family home."

"But it wasn't Father who showed. It was Arthur using his appearance. He told me about the fight, asked if I'd help end Pinehearst, and I said yes. Then it wasn't Father anymore in front of me. It was Arthur. He ripped the ability out of me, set the house on fire, and pitched me out the window. So, you see, that uncertainty, the not knowing, here I am again."

"What we need most is intel, surveillance. Let me get you to Delphine, get your birds back, that's a start. Before Arthur uses clairvoyance to find and grab her again. He can be killed. We've got a negator, and I think he can be done in with a large caliber head shot, but that's a gamble. The brain controls so many automatic body functions, it probably has something to do with it…"

Only then does she look at the phone again, while telling Eileen "Stay. You said Gabriel was trying to find Teo. It seems he's here." And she texts in Italian. 'I think you know who we're talking about, and to let you in I have to know which door you're closest to. Four entrances, you know.'

As Catherine speaks, the muscles in Eileen's neck visibly contract and cause the ridges of her windpipe to bulge reedlike against the paper-thin skin of her throat. She could apologize. Angle her head in such a way as to offer a more sympathetic ear. But ultimately she does neither of these things, for whatever she might have been about to do or say is cut short with astonishing swiftness and an upright jerk of her head. All it takes is the mention of Teo's name to snap her out of her sullen stupor, upper lip curling to reveal a reviling display of pink-tinged teeth as she aggravates her injury and tastes it leaking back into her mouth. "Let him in."

'It's more of a vampire thing,' comes the ghost's genial response. In another protracted moment, the rectangled shadow of his shoulder eases out against the wall of the hallway.

He peeks around the doorframe, more rather than less, retaining that blue-eyed, canine and fretful furtiveness, but his face is not the face that Eileen expected him to be wearing, probably; his face is the wrong face entirely, one that Catherine only knew from the digitized replications that Salvatore had provided shortly after his attack. Eileen, on the other hand, sees — Ian. The Ferryman at the Garden from that debacle with the female hygiene products, clad in a blue T-shirt with a dark green collar, a black jacket yanked on over it, slacks, yesterday's mud and today's brick dust rimming his boots.

A callus peeling off the rounded ridging where his knuckles push through the palm of his hand. Bloody, but nothing he would require a band-aid for, even if the women were inclined to offer one. It's what he gets for hanging off the Greenwich Village's walls like an asshole primate (sometimes— he is). "Sounds complicated," he offers.

She lets the man in and closes the doors behind him, securing them too, taking care not to be touched by him. Cat's still wary, both based on Teo's recent actions and the risk he could yet turn out to be a disguised Arthur. Her expression is far from amused, her words of greeting are simple. "You've been a busy man," she utters in a tone which very much says she's all about hearing his reasons.

Rage sucks the colour right out Eileen's face, leaving her bone white and deathly pale, drenched in ice cold sweat. That's Teo? The arm in the sling shifts, elbow drawn tight against her side, posture becoming more defensive with booted feet held a shoulder's width apart. A rigid spine and an arching neck fortify her stance, as taut and wiry as a fiddle bow.

There are simply no words.

If eyebrows could shrug, that is what Ghost's would be doing now, a slight loop ruching up through the flat bars that have ever and always continue to boldly pronounce his feelings on the top half of his face. They relax the next instant and he visibly stays the urge to say something else commensurately flippant. Instead, he puts some serious thought into what he's about to say, slowed by the burden of distinct realization that it will be difficult to provide an explanation that is adequate, never mind an excuse.

"I'm Teodoro Laudani from the future. In the latter years of my life, I develop a fairly liberal standard acceptable collateral damage. You're going to learn about it when you're older."

Somewhere in the amorphous and overcrowded recesses of his mind, he realizes that an apology might have functioned better and hearkened comfortingly back to the younger man that both of these women remember Teo being, but he lacks the interest and willpower to do this thing. Instead, he squares his shoulders slightly, a gesture measured in subtle inches that no doubt misappropriates the phrase 'soldiering on,' but lending this summary dismissal of past and previous topics an aspect that might make it more palatable.

Who wants to talk about the past, anyway? "Sal was right, then?" he asks. "Someone took Gabriel's body."

"Are you?" Cat asks, her face showing she's very much unconvinced of this claim. "Why would you not look older like the others who came from that timeframe. No one who encountered you made any mention of you being ten years older. The others who traveled, though, they are. And what did you do with the current Teo? I saw him after he and Gabriel got back from the Moab mission. They'd not aged. The study of him is intense, as piercing as she can make it.

"I've had quite enough of shape-altering people lately," she tacks on. "Pretending to be people close to me and taking advantage. Then you attack our allies, associate with our enemies, and not a word to explain yourself."

"If you want me to believe that claim, you'll need some proof."

If there are two words that are as swift and efficient as a knife buried up to the hilt in Eileen's heart, they are: Gabriel's body. She continues to say nothing as Teo's implicit suggestion, whether intentional or not, settles over her and smothers her fury with all the snuffing power of a meaty fist closed around a butterfly. Catherine's voice sounds like it's coming from somewhere else entirely, far enough away that Eileen has to strain to hear it but not so distant that she can't.

It's a good thing the older woman is piling on enough accusations for the both of them. For several moments, the only sound that she can summon is the unsteady rasp accompanying her slow intake of breath. Catherine is asking for proof. She's not even sure what that means, only that a tiny little voice nagging at her from the back of her head assures Eileen she already has it.

"I dreamed about you," she says, her voice parched. "You're dead."

Unknown to the women, Gabriel's voice is a serpentine presence, if not in consonants or any air to hiss through teeth, but in texture. Words from the back of Ghost's mind collect together, slowly emerge like the resurfacing of some prehistoric scaly thing from a lukewarm swamp. The words slither to the forefront.

You have nothing but the truth. Perhaps you should try it. Words, words, and the volume increases, fills Ghost's head, a growing baby snake within a thin shell, undulating, sliding against itself, ever restless. Tell them what happened.

He wishes he could see better. This is worse, in some ways, than Kazimir. At least his body was his own; Gabriel still filled familiar territory, even if he was dead and useless within it. Here, even the eyes are difficult to peer through, like foggy windows. He's not supposed to be here, but if Ghost complains, he'd be a hypocrite.

For the barest moments, a black shadow lingers in Teo's periphery, a dark smudge of a silhouette that doesn't quite fit with the lighting in the Penthouse. The black figure wanders a touch further in the peripheral vision, wavy tresses of gray hair coming down to shoulder height, an ink black suit that seems to dither on the edges to faint wisps of smoke, eyes a blue so cold they seem to drain the warmth from the room.

But when Teodoro's vision reflexively snaps to where the specter of Kazimir Volken was standing just a moment ago, there's nothing there but a bare wall, and an odd shadow cast by a curtain.

Affording Cat's suspicion yet another foothold, there's a twist to Ghost's mouth, dryly amused in a way that Teodoro had never had the distance to be. Proof, he imagines, continues to reside in the fact that both women are still breathing; Eileen's invocation of his deceased status is just ironic. Humor fades the next instant, however, when he hears Gabriel. Like a cheesegrater dragged down his face, rips the smirk right off.

Though that isn't what turns Ghost's head to look over his shoulder. Not by a long shot. His skin seizes into uneasy needles, and it's only by virtue— if 'virtue' is the word for it— of an overdeveloped guard that he doesn't sweat, because he's learned better than to let anybody see him do so. There was something— he could swear, he saw— but there's nothing, not a stray dust fleck's visual artefact in the blur of his periphery, not even a particularly ominous-looking coat rack.

Suspicion lances the membrane that keeps the two intangible men separate: Did you just—?

Aloud, he is of course always one to be articulate. He grunts, reaches up to plow blunt fingers through the bristly black hair at the side of his scalp. Breathe in, breathe out. Neither Eileen nor Cat react, so he's left with a handful of understandable if not reassuring assumptions. "I was bodily slain, grafted onto Phoenix, and hijacked Teo's body— your Teo's. A situation a lot like the one that Gabriel's enjoying right now. You wouldn't appreciate the irony. He's listening right now.

"If you want specific proof, you'll have to ask for it," he adds, shifting his gaze over to settle it on Cat's face, as tangibly as frost fastening to a stone. The silence that follows feels like it could be measured in the rotation of a minute hand, but it can't be, not really. "The truth is, there isn't a lot of information that Arthur couldn't replicate through one means or another, if he could be fucked to put in the work. Fortunately for you, that would require humility and finesse over power. Not his strong suit.

"We may disagree on several of our enemies and allies, but we have a few important ones in common."

Her eyes don't move away from the apparent Teo before her, and the expression doesn't change much. "Disagree on allies and enemies," Cat remarks, "I don't see the why. It would help if you'd explain the reasoning behind your actions. Including why you haven't already. It's rather difficult to operate when people aren't on the same page, and make no effort to stay or get there."

From her stance near the windows overlooking the Village, she waits for his answer. This better be good.

He says that Eileen wouldn't appreciate the irony, and it's true — she doesn't. She studies Teo's face — Ghost's face — in search of the answers his haphazard explanation fails to provide. This is, admittedly, quite a morass they've entrenched themselves in; it would be easy to shunt the blame onto his shoulders, point fingers and waggle them like Cat is waggling her tongue, but she's beginning to get a sinking feeling that the situation isn't as straightforward as anyone has presented it.

"You can start by telling me why you threw your lot in with John Logan," she suggests. "Then maybe you can explain what you've been doing in my head and how Gabriel is listening to this."

For the time it takes for the two women to speak, it's quiet in Ghost's head— if not silent. The restless unease is like an overactive mind, even if the thoughts aren't his own and nothing he can directly access. Finally, Gabriel gives a mutter of a response, the simple word shimmering through neural pathways and more metaphorical routes alike; No. No, he didn't just do anything; but apparently he very much saw what Teo did too.

As Eileen veers conversation back to what he considers to be the most important conversational piece of the day, Gabriel attempts to peer out the foggy windows of Ghost's, of Teo's eyes, tries to steer eyeballs, eyelids, but it's about as impotent as being the passenger in a car. And Gabriel isn't above backseat driving.

Tell her that I'm not dead. My body isn't, I know it isn't. He has to believe it, anyway.

Breathe in, breathe out. It's fortunate that all good little ninjas ('good' describing aptitude rather than the other departments of superiority that would make most of the other people in this room bristle) make a point to stay hydrated otherwise he would be feeling prematurely parched at the prospect of dishing up the multitude of answers that the women would like to hear.

'The women.' Fine, Ghost answers the other man flatly. He turns his eyes, either because he can feel Gabriel struggling to or because that had been his autonomous reaction anyway. He looks at Eileen's face for a protracted moment that might prompt his other psychic companion to reconsider the wisdom of having made that request, faceted viridian eyes and cut china features. There's always something a little fey about her, he thinks, and in spite of everything it is not gone from her now. He thinks this before remembering that the English slang has fey down to mean doomed to die.

"I haven't explained myself because there are people— including yourselves— who I'd prefer think we weren't associated. I've looked into John Logan because I'm throwing him as a listening satellite at Daniel Linderman, who somehow survives even when Primatech, Phoenix, Humanis First! and Arthur fall. No small feat, and despite all my studying, I've never been able to figure out how. I haven't balked at the prospect for much the same reason you stopped giving so much of a fuck about Ethan Holden," a nod at Catherine, before he shifts his eyes at Eileen, "and you were sleeping with him. Because strict moral outrage is goofy bullshit, no matter how prissy a face you make about it. Personal outrage goes on a case-by-case basis, and Logan's trespasses against me are dwarfed by those of the other friends I have always found necessary to make on behalf of Phoenix, be they asshat Feds or genocide terrorists.

"If it helps, I helped save Cardinal and Eileen, and as of my glance through a few days ago, Mason and Jennifer are still alive. I'm sorry you've been scared for them. I think that goes both ways."

He closes his mouth for a moment, moves a swallow down his throat to check that the subtle gaps between his teeth and the back of his tongue retain enough moisture to speak with. A distorted ache fades out of his hand, torsion of miniscule muscles and slim bones giving way to a flex of fingers. It occurs to him only now, belatedly, he'd almost shot a hole through the wall Volken had posed before. Fortunately not: that probably would have been even harder to pass off as something friendly like remodeling than the rest of this. "I'm an astral projectionist, Eileen.

"In your dream, I wanted to show you the good that could come of your future, but— " and here, there's an absurd twinge of self-consciousness; Ian shuffles his weight from left foot to right, but whereas that motion had looked perhaps bashfully doggish in the Garden before, now the restless paranoia comes off him in waves like undulating heat shimmers, an extraordinarily well-groomed bush coyote than anything particularly domesticated. "I have a tendency to cause nightmares. Gabriel tried to save Teo— your Teo— by tearing me out of this body. I stopped him, but he's still in here much like my younger analogue is. Sometimes dormant and sometimes not, chatty. Feels kind of slippery. Teo's just fucking loud. We don't believe his body's dead."

There's no translucent drift of italicized thought to indicate to Gabriel that the ghost truly does say this from the heart, or whether it was a vague and generalized effort to slather comfort on like aloe to burns. Either way, the statements end there. Now, he asks: "How did you find out Arthur took it? Sal said he didn't find jack shit."

The mental membrane is a thin one, and not everything has to be words to carry. Ghost will feel that jerk of surprise, in the form of mental stillness, a pause in the turmoil of thought and memory that is Gabriel Gray. Sort of a blip. She did what— ? I was going to suggest that you tell her you're a jerk, but you have that one covered. Then, more silence, quieter than before, that texture of presence and slipperiness diminishing to something a little more tolerable. Not allowing himself to submerge within the murk mud of Ghost's subconscious to breathe and exist as simply as a fetus in a womb might; still above water, listening.

Analogue. Now that, at least, sounds like Teo and eases her concern, but only a small amount. Her attention to him seems less harsh now, more speculative over the info he's finally shared. "I'm hostile," Cat begins, "because of too many experiences with people who alter shape pretending to be others. It's not likely secrets can much be kept from Arthur, being telepathic makes it much easier to dig up things which only two people should know and use them to carry off his act, but that won't make me stop trying. He fooled me once, shame on him. If he fools me twice, shame on me."

"Whatever your reasoning for what you've been up to, keeping us disassociated from what you've done, it was a wrong move not to clue us in on your actions. We might've, for example, told Mr. Redbird to stay away from John Logan, that we've got uses for him as a pawn and not cost us the trust of someone we need. You also, by extension, thus wouldn't have needed to save him." Her head shakes with disbelief. "Did you really think we'd not have been very on board with anything that gets us intel on Linderman's operations, finds a way to end him? What the hell have we done in the future to earn such belief?" She has questions still, more of them than can be counted on all twenty digits, but the floor is still yielded. She doesn't know the answer about how it was known Arthur took something. Took what?

It's hard to believe that the man standing across from Eileen is an older version of the one he keeps caged somewhere in the back of his skull. Of all the things Teo has ever said to Eileen — and that includes accusing her of being suicidally spineless — nothing is as cruel or cutting as laying bare her relationship with Logan for the whole room to see. What little trust remained between them is in ruins, demolished by a few hasty blows and a surreptitious kick placed squarely in the center of her chest.

They're only words. They shouldn't hurt as much as they do.

I was dying, she wants to tell him, I didn't have any other choice. Instead, she directs her gaze past him, the malice in her eyes exchanged for a glassy sheen, distant and unfocused. To tell anyone she didn't have a choice in the matter would be a lie, and while Ghost might not deserve her honesty — there's at least one other person here who does.

"I called my phone," she says, her voice devoid of everything except for an encompassing sense of emptiness. That should be enough.

It must be a relief for Ghost, coming back to 2009. If these are his true colors, it had been a lot of paint rollered over and to constantly maintain any sort of facade to the contrary, never mind a reasonable facsimile of the Sicilian that they had known. He watches Cat with the contemplation better suited to an alligator watching water. "Last I checked, Phoenix doesn't do dumb shit like pick arbitrary fights with John Logan because you have other fights to pick. Never would've thought it was relevant.

"'Nd frankly, I couldn't remember who the fuck Richard Cardinal was at all. Besides an idiot hero." There's a quirk to his mouth when he says that, not deep, almost a reflexive twitch of muscle. He knows how that must sound: Teodoro Laudani calling Richard Cardinal out on foolhardy good intentions. His expression grows brittle, however, under the two-sided wear and chafe of the other man residing inside his head and the Englishwoman bleeding out on the floor in front of him. Obscurely, he realizes— remembers that he isn't the only one whose existence is made more palatable by well-coordinated lies.

His mouth finds a thin white line. Have you heard from Teo? he asks, randomly, without really knowing why.

Aloud, it takes him awhile to say, but when he does it's with a glance askance at Cat again. "In the future, what people do when I show my hand— is die. I understand your paranoia. It's not a problem. We were talking about Gabriel's body. Arthur took it."

Ghost's inner voice zigzags through the space in his skull that is at once both small and impossibly large, saying nothing of intelligence or ego, there, just at the spanning plains of mindscape all knotted up so compactly within a human skull. Words reverberate through this distance, like a tune playing on an obscure radio at midnight, the distinct impression that no one is listening.

Then, eventually, almost groggy in a sense, awareness clicks open like the second set of eyelids on a reptile; squirms up the walls of Ghost's head, rolls over. We haven't spoken. He doesn't pay much attention. There's regret, there, concerned annoyance. You were talking about my body, he adds, steering the man's attention to other such important things, a decent red herring if there ever was one. Extra handy because Gabriel wants to know, too. No matter the fact that, ridiculously, it isn't Ghost's business. If Arthur has it, there isn't much time.

"Mr. Cardinal is the one who pointed us to some of the paintings which helped me decipher who was with Edward Ray," Cat relates in a dry voice, "as well as helping me to search for Tyler Case before Primatech caught him. Sadly they got to him first and wiped out his memory. It was also him who clued me in on activities of Adam Monroe in relation to Arthur and an attack on the Nakamuras in the works. Not that my warning to them stopped anything," she states with some very visible disquiet, "but I was able to give it. Mr. Cardinal also assisted us with locating Abby, as well as being an associate of our airborne ally from the Moab raid. If he was shadowing John Logan to watch and see if he was getting back into the slavery business, well, I hardly find that a stupid thing. Nor do I much object to him seeking justice over what he'd been doing. Teo knows at least as much as the assistance he's given us in the past, the least we could've done is warn him away from Logan. Now he's reluctant to deal with us at all, and he may have info on Arthur we need." It seems to exasperate her to have to say any of this at all.

"Add to it all the war which is coming, and the need to amass as many decent allies as we can find, we can hardly afford what happened. Everything going on around the world, the escalations of violence, the formation of Frontline, it all connects."

"If you had just kept us informed, we could've avoided that, without our being linked to anything you're up to. You've a story to tell, you know important things, I can only hope you'll share all of it, but in the end you either will or won't."

Moving on now. "There are other forces aiming at Arthur. It's a relief to be told my parents are alive, thank you for that. I'd like to send them word, but he's a telepath. It'd be too easily intercepted. With him having Gabriel's body, he must need something. If he didn't, he'd just have stripped away every ability in it and either killed him or left him for dead." She knows this firsthand. "We need to get him out, along with anyone else in Arthur's clutches. And," she appends, looking at Eileen, we should get you to Delphine as soon as possible, before Arthur grabs her too."

Cue the remarkably well-timed announcement of someone seeking entry on the other side of those sturdy southern pine double doors. Knock knock.

There's a motion of Ghost's hand, not the sweeping dewy-eyed glimmer of Teo's apologies but a concession all the same. "Okay, okay, I'll go make up with Cardinal or some shit. Try not to piss him off— if you want him, I'll get him for you. You're welcome," he adds, about the Chesterfields, and there's a beat's pause to give the acknowledgment weight and gravity. He understands sometimes. About family. Lo, there's a knock on the door when he thinks of the Devil.

Lucrezia feels it then, a faint scratch, a psychic fingernail sliding around the corner of her telepathic perceptions. On the other side of the door, Ghost's eyes blink once, before thinning under the thoughtful furrow of his brow.

"Security will be tight," he says, presently, a slight startle through the square of his shoulders as he rallies back to the present. "Tighter. I got Matt and Molly Parkman out the other week." A lapsing silence; he studies Eileen for another moment longer, as if looking for the most minute shift of the small muscles of her eyelids or the angles of her fingers that might betray the flavor of her thoughts or whether she might float them past the humiliation— ? or grief— ? that seems to keep her stricken here. "I don't know if they've contacted Helena yet, but I told him to.

"That's my aunt."

Heading for the door she heard the knock at, which isn't too far from the window she's standing by as this conversation goes on, Cat nods once in the man's direction. "Thank you again. And good for getting the Parkmans out, despite all the evil Matt lets himself be connected to. Someday maybe he'll grow a brain and quit working for that coward of a President." But she digresses. "Arthur got his clairvoyance from the girl, he probably stole telepathy from Matt. If Matt wants, and has the sense to contact us, we can get them to Delphine too." Because in the scheme of things, when one needs people in debt to you, Matt's a heavyweight. Even if he disappears and leaves them holding the bag like he did before.

When she reaches the door and opens it, Lucrezia is greeted politely in decent Italian. "Buona sera."

Heading for the door she heard the knock at, which isn't too far from the window she's standing by as this conversation goes on, Cat nods once in the man's direction. "Thank you again. And good for getting the Parkmans out, despite all the evil Matt lets himself be connected to. Someday maybe he'll grow a brain and quit working for that coward of a President." But she digresses. "Arthur got his clairvoyance from the girl, he probably stole telepathy from Matt. If Matt wants, and has the sense to contact us, we can get them to Delphine too." Because in the scheme of things, when one needs people in debt to you, Matt's a heavyweight. Even if he disappears and leaves them holding the bag like he did before.

When she reaches the door and opens it, Lucrezia is greeted politely in decent Italian. "Buona sera."

It seems the mis-faced psychic something or other is right; it is Lucrezia Bennati behind door number one! "Buona sera," she says in pleasant reply to Catherine's salutation of the evening. Shrouded in sweet clove smoke, the Italian woman makes her way in to the penthouse proper and explains while rolling her cigarette-wielding wrist, "I couldn't help but to overhear your conversation…" From all the way down the hall on the level below this one. She eyes the occupants of the suite individually for a moment before fixing her dark stare on not!Teo and sucking in another cancerous drag.

"You're going to need my help."

Eileen's features are as difficult to read as they are somber and ascetic. Whatever she might be thinking is obscured by a hazy mask of mock indifference, expression hardening when Catherine opens the door and ushers the latest arrival inside — but if Ghost had to guess, it would be a safe bet to assume her mind is running parallel to the here and now rather than clunking along the same tracks. Lucrezia receives a brief glance, nothing more.

"I might, si," Ghost responds, lapsing thoughtlessly back into token Italian, easy as grace — even if that particular virtue or most virtues wouldn't be so readily associated with the man who stands before her now.

It's odd to think he looks as old as if not older than his aunt does now, but the dark-featured austerity suits him in a way; he looks like Romero might in two decades, and the younger Laudani boy had always taken after the Bennati pool's appearance more than their father's. Anyway, they look it more readily now than they ever have before. Like family. "Gabe's body being a tactical imperative. You'll need to be careful, though.

"His telepathy is pretty fucking powerful. I've always had to keep my psychic inquests minimal while he's in the house — while I don't know that he could come out on top in a fight, the last thing I want is to get detected. Being underestimated may come in handy for all of you, too." A beat's pause, and his left brow crawls a fraction of an inch upward, takes the corner of his mouth with it; he regards Lucrezia with the same genially wry quiet with which she watches him.

"Which isn't to say we aren't due our estimation."

Ghost isn't talking to him, now, leading down a trail of conversation Gabriel greatly approves of, enough to still the roiling, storm-surface presence of his reptilian words and questions. But now as there is new scenery, there's a shift in Ghost's head - no question is asked, as Gabriel expands his awareness just enough to notice there is another woman in the room, one of familiarity. Dark amusement, that it was in this exact state of being he had met Lucrezia the first time. Just collecting all the broken souls of Vanguard and Kazimir's mistakes, aren't you? It should be noted that the you is very much not directed to Ghost - it seems to zigzag through the mental scape, aimless. Phoenix, perhaps, or his neighbouring subconscious. The rhetorical question is a flare sent up into a dark sky, arcing, useless, and glimmers out.

"For all I know," Cat replies, "Arthur thinks I'm dead. He is, also, as tough a nut to crack as Eileen said he would be, and more. If it comes to the battle, we do have a negator at hand. I think, also, a headshot with a large caliber weapon would overcome his regeneration. I've not seen it demonstrated, of course, but the brain is connected to just about everything in the human body. Signals to do automatic things come from it. We wouldn't know what area of the brain covers abilities, and his in particular, so it'd take a weapon that does a lot of damage."

"One thing concerns me," Cat goes on to say, "since the last time matters were discussed as a group, one of our contacts was spoken with. He advises us to turn away from the issue of Pinehearst, assuring me others will tend the matter and cautioning we'll fail if we go at him. That decision has yet to be made, I can't see us just letting the matter go. In either case, however, before making any move we need as much data as possible, and others opposing Arthur with us would need it too."

Somewhere in the midst of monologue and exposition, Lucrezia wandered her way over to an unoccupied chair and proceeded to turn the thing into more than merely a piece of furniture in which to take refuge from the tediousness of keeping on one's toes— er, feet. When she takes a seat, her posture melts languidly as she allows her shoulders to greet the cushioned back while her chin remains angled upwards and upper lip stiff. It's almost regal; someone's found themselves a throne.

Despite the indifferent reception she receives from Eileen, the older woman still sees fit to brush over the smile she's wearing with something akin to sympathy… or possibly pity. Poor thing. Admittedly, Lucrezia is still just a bit preoccupied with eyeing up whoever it is that Teo's supposed to be now. Is that the face your boyfriend put you in?

After a slow smoldering exhale that seems to punctuate the end of Cat's summary of events, Lucrezia offers her inconsiderably small opinion on the matter in the form of a few words. "I couldn't agree more." As if she were reciting the last line of a saga… or perhaps starting a new one. "I'll be leaving in the morning to see what I can see in New Jersey. If you don't hear back from me in two days, then you may wish to reconsider this vendetta. All the same—" And here her gaze sweeps back over to Eileen. "…I do understand the desire to cling to those things that seem most familiar. I'll find what's been lost and let you know what condition they're in when I do. The priest knows the signs to seek. Stay close to him."

"No." It's a succinct answer, as simple as they come. There's no underlying venom, no barb poised on the tip of her tongue. Eclipsed by dark lashes, Eileen's eyes move to meet Lucrezia's gaze and hold it. "You can waltz in here, all fur coat and no knickers, pucker your lips and play the diva all you like, but you aren't going to tell me whose company I should keep. This isn't the set of one of your movies, Lucrezia. You can't just delegate people to your long list of supporting cast and expect them to be grateful you gave them billing."

She draws back, shoulders flush with the window pane behind her, the back of her head reflected in the glass as a dark orb of glossy black curls. "I won't make decisions for Gabriel anymore, either," she adds, though this is directed more at Teo than it is Lucrezia. Her attention shifts, creeping lengthwise across the room to where the other Italian still stands. "He's right — it isn't my place. Will you ask him if there's anything he wouldn't want me to do?"

More hesitation, the echoing of somewhat cowardly silence in Teo's head. Perhaps Gabriel can pretend he's not there! Or at least, not listening, but he is, and Ghost knows he is, and Gabriel knows Ghost knows he is. While the difference between them is as solid as steel, it's certainly a damn sight more opaque. Tell her- It's a pride thing, and it shouldn't be a pride thing, and it almost always is. Tell her no, is the final answer, grudging, reluctant. It would be nice if he could say it himself, but Teo is better at rue any day.

Maybe even today. Despite his great show of asshattery several minutes earlier, now the women are talking; means that Ghost might sooner prefer to abscond out of a window with a metaphorical phallus covered carefully in hand, really, and leave Phoenix— or the desiccated reputation of his younger analogue— to enact what it will in the way of providing receptacle to Volken's cast-offs.

"If you can get your telepathy back, there's more than enough recon that needs to coordinated," he offers, a little lamely, deferring to Cat's notion of intelligence-gathering even if he withholds his opinion of the final battle-plan for now. His gaze cuts left, circles back with difficulty grooved in the twixt of his brows. If it weren't so absurd, it might occur to them— any of them, that he might far sooner deprive an old friend of his body, Eileen of her dignity, Cardinal of his alliances, and Cat of her peace of mind than any of them of their lives.

It's with difficulty and, indeed, a reasonable fascimile of rue that he finally says, "He says 'No.'" It falls neatly if profoundly uncomfortably in line with his earlier proposition, doesn't it? It could be worse. Working in adjacent terrain isn't the same as working together. Ghost's gaze jigs downward, shades back up to Eileen's face.

She doesn't seem interested in the interaction between Eileen and Lucrezia, nothing is done to suggest she's aware of it. Cat has instead, apparently, been mulling over all she's heard in this encounter so far and perhaps some other things too. Her eyes shift to settle on the former and perhaps future ruler of birds, to state something and ask a question. "You said Arthur attacked you, Eileen. It's his operating method to take away abilities when he is at odds with anyone so equipped, it's likely you suffered that. Was there anything else he wanted of you?" Then her eyes drift over to Teo.

"Have you run into troubles with the police? There are reports of that kind."

Lucrezia sits back, smokes, and says nothing. This is neither the time nor the place. She averts her eyes elsewhere — a convenient window, perhaps — and plays the role at which she's become the most adept. The listener.

"Only my memories." Eileen steps away from the window, adjusting her sling, and moves toward the door. There's no dearth of subtext in the answer Teo provides. Earlier, he'd implied that she was beginning to become uncomfortable. Incidentally, he'd been right — and if she was uncomfortable then, there are very few words in the English language with the capability of approximating how she must be feel now. "Excuse me."

Ghost shakes his head at Cat, the hollow of his cheek flattening slightly, with a twitch that might have precursored a completely inappropriate joke or punchline of dismissal a few minutes ago. Not now. "They're looking for me, but I should be fine. I've been running away from police for a long time." And, frankly, the face doesn't hurt, except for his ego. He scissors long fingers, wry, a wave. "To the best of my knowledge, Arthur can't find me either. Something about two Teos— double vision."

The youngest woman's exeunt is acknowledged with a slight dip of Ghost's head. He turns it to the opposite wall, the hallway recessed through there; the one through which he'd come. "I should haul my ass outta here, myself. I'll remind Parkman to get in touch, and come back in to speak to Helena soon. There anything else any of you want to tell the others?" Gabriel, he means. And Teo. The query is so casual he might as well be offering to jot down a message on a Post-It.

Message given, message received. There is no impulse to follow, no wistful desire that Ghost can detect to walk after Eileen; at least, not from Gabriel. There's a shimmer of an impression: negative. Nothing more to say, nothing of use. But he thinks to add: Plenty for you to say instead. Find her later. Over and out. Ghost will feel it, like water running over the smooth back of an alligator as it glides back beneath the surface, leaving only ripples behind but these smooth out too. Gone, to wherever Gabriel goes in here, a place as dreamless and dank as the bottom of a swamp.

"Take care, Eileen," Cat offers, as she makes for the door. She doesn't make the offer again of taking her to Delphine, the former and possibly future BirdWoman knows it's a standing one to take up at any time, as would be leading her to Flint Deckard about the injuries.

And it's a simple "Molto grazi" to Lucrezia for her upcoming recon efforts. Then attention goes back to Teo. "It's said you caused the deaths of some police officers." No accusation, just relating others make that claim. If true, he'll say so and why if he wishes. Or not.

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