Death Grip


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Scene Title Death Grip
Synopsis Deckard answers Joseph's call and falls short of providing the kind of easy salvation the good pastor might have hoped for. He has to lie to get what he wants. Meanwhile they nearly kill Teo on accident but he winds up coming around in the nick of time. Once he's coughed up enough blood to be capable of quiet conversation, Joseph leaves him and Flint to say what they will across the bloodied church floor.
Date May 31, 2009

Guiding Light Baptist Church

There is no mistaking this building as anything but a church, with its arching glass windows and concrete cross fixed to the edge of the pointed roof. Curving stone steps lead up from the pavement to a set of black double doors, often kept closed during the colder weather, but unlocked during the allocated hours written on a blue sign fix to the brick wall. In white, formal letting, it reads GUIDING LIGHT BAPTIST CHURCH and lists its hours of worship.

Through the doors, you first step into an open, nondescript foyer, with access to an unobtrusive staircase headed upwards, and a second hallway leading off somewhere less public also. Mainly, this room opens straight out to the much more spacious worship hall, with immovable rows and rows of pews. A small church, it only seats an absolute maximum of around one hundred and fifty people at a time. It has a high ceiling and is warmly lit, simple and reverent in design, colours light and earthy. The stage before the pews is wide open, with seats off to the side for other pastors and guest speakers, and there is a podium placed off center. On the other side, there is a small organ with music sheets kept nearby.

It's at an time when the church is normally silent, even with Joseph's usual tendency to remain there beyond the hours. He's kneeling beside a stranger, one who's stopped talking a while ago; the pastor is almost unnecessarily vigilant, sleepless, his own far warmer hand currently clasped around a slack, cold one. Maybe a gesture of bedside manner, but in reality, it's a source of connection while the Lord's Prayer is being uttered. The traditional words, lots of thys and arts.

Not sure how the Catholics do this, to be honest.

He's reasonably sure he wasn't supposed to be here just to witness a young man die. The future cannot be that lame, but he supposes it might make some sort of sense, and perhaps some people are so friendless that dying beside a relatively random preacher might be ideal. Doesn't make it any less lame.

As mentioned, Teo stopped talking a while ago. A crumpled, bleeding mess on the floor of the worship hall, Joseph didn't take his silence as a cue to move him any. Comfort, sure, keeping him rolling onto his side, mouth leaking, a cushion sourced from the comfier areas of the church used to let his bristled head rest against something other than cold floor, hard beneath relatively cheap carpet. They make still statues, both of them, with Joseph kneeling beside him.

He thinks to check that Teo is still breathing by the time there's the sound of someone trying to gain entrance at the locked double doors of his church. Joseph's knees ache in protest as he moves from the kneeling position he'd been in for goodness knows how long, Teo's hand released gracelessly. But he's quick, and trusting, to unlock the door and allow the pale light of Greenwich nighttime to flood in, illuminate his own pale— just not as pale— face, etched with concern and expectance. Specks of blood here and there dot light coloured clothing, but certainly not his own.

One phone call, hours of haphazard, breakneck travel across one very long bridge and an irradiated state line or two later, that Deckard's forward progress should be stunted by a door that he expected to be open is received with a resounding thump against the wood, steep enough to rattle the locks and the nearest window. What little patience he might have started out with has long since frayed through in its delicate stretch over the cold-burning bowels of his temper. Tension is sunk deep into the hollows in his jaw and written out stark in the austere lines of his face, hard angles cut out of the dark of Guiding Light's stoop in strips of urban orange courtesy of a street lamp two or three doors down.

The pits of his eyes are black when the door finally drags open — no unholy blue light to mark him for who he is when he squints to rake Joseph in, blood spatter and all. He's damp with sweat, coffee and tequila on his ragged breath, the woolen texture of his overcoat soaking at dull orange light for all its worth. A robust briefcase is gripped firm in his left hand; the right is bandaged, bloody despite that. It's dried sticky between his fingers and across his wrist, but he doesn't seem to notice. Or care.

Sick worry is creased coarse and fragile through the lines across his brow — surface fractures that hint at deeper fissures chipped and cracked into his rotten core. …He will probably opt not to remember as much when he thinks about this later.

"Where is he?"

A flicker of some sort of expression shows in Joseph's face, somewhat unreadable in strange lighting and masked by a wealth of sleeplessness, not quite as shattered as when he'd crawled his way to the pirate island but getting there. It's late enough to be early. It could be surprise, the expression, fleeting shock despite knowing that Deckard would be here, and it's gone in the next instant, evading analysis as Joseph pushes the doors open wider.

"Just in here. Close the door." And he's being literal on that first part, turning his back on Deckard and moving further inside. No lights are on, the shadows heavy with conspiracy, which might be strange, but perhaps like the locked doors, there's a reason.

Teo isn't stashed somewhere comfortable, and several feet through the doors, without the clarity glowing eyes could bring him but impossible to ignore all the same, Deckard will see Teo's supine form laid on the ground, silhouette muddled and made vague by the coat drawn over him, which Joseph kneels down again to remove. A vest of kevlar is off to the side, as is a tissue box now used to contain the debris of red-stained crumpled white. The pews are long and empty on either side, the ghostish lighting bouncing off polished wood in a way familiar to those who come here at night, which would make two of them. The cross on the far wall looks more like incidental mark than symbol.

He mentioned a few things over the phone. The word dying came up. Found 'im, too, so Joseph manages to bite his tongue against rambling too much, as much as there's a waver in his voice. "Been bleeding from the mouth, his leg's busted but— " But that's not what's killing him. The carpet is stained with it.

Flint's already had plenty of time to bulldoze his way through shock and surprise and all accompanying hesitations and delays. His expression doesn't change at all, fossilized into the concrete set of his long face not long after he initially set off. He's still breathing hard when he nods past Joseph's indication and turns to pull the door shut behind him, bloodied hand tacking audibly at the handle.

"What happened?" Thunk. The briefcase hits the floor halfway between here and there, letting some of the weight off of his knees. What was a barely noteworthy hitch in every other step for Sumter's last visit has pronounced out into a stilted, uneven favor where rough-edged bone has bit deep into muscle beneath the swing of his trouser leg. He's thinner, too — lean beyond flattering applications of the word when he tips awkwardly down onto his knees at Teo's battered side, balance maintained through the process with a last second brace of his hand against the unconscious man's shoulder.

The absence of a physical response beyond an awayward roll of dead weight is enough to illicit a more desperate snatch for the cold skin at Teo throat, bony, bloody fingers pushing in with undue force in search of a pulse. They find one: thready, fluttering. Weak. They don't find anything else. No sense of where the damage is worst — no sense of any damage at all despite the cold wet soaking in from the carpet to flatten suit cloth to his shin. A panicky hitch in his breath betrays the failure before the absence of returned consciousness can. It's not working. It's not working.

Joseph's had time to stare down at Teo; it's Flint's limp that he watches for the moment, although offers no help when the older man comes to crouch down on the other side of the injured party from where Joseph's already descended down into the reverent posture usually angled for the pulpit. He says nothing of it, either. His hands twitch over where the bloodied coat is now bundled on his lap. Instinctively wishing to push Teo back onto his side, but ultimately either Deckard will heal him or he won't.

"Car." It's a short response, worn at the edges, quiet. His darker eyes watch Teo's face for signs of life now that Flint has his hands on him, fingertips fretfully worrying at woolen fabric. His voice sound harsh, breakier than usual and resigned. "Said he made a mistake. Um. He's messed up on the inside— 's all you have to worry about for now."

Not that he has a true notion of how Abigail's ability works, but it makes a logical kind of sense. Fix that, not this. Teo's leg is an awkward pillar bent wrongly, dead from unconsciousness. Joseph hasn't seemed to even pretend to know what to do there. Also, nothing's happening. He darts a glance up to Deckard's face, reads what lines are there to be read.

"Flint, if there's ever a time you can do this, it's now." Just a shade shy of I believe in you.

"Bullshit," says Flint, which is not at all appropriate language for the location, but seems plenty apt for the situation overall. "—no fucking car." Incomplete thoughts filter out into incomplete, staggered mutterings while his eyes sketch with adrenaline-driven clarity from the grip he has on the clammy meat of Teo's neck to the discarded vest.

Where's the switch? How many times is he going to have to force himself to find it before it feels like it's within his reach? Joseph's encouragement is fenced off with an even more exasperated exhalation, teeth flashed sharp in the no man's land between a laugh and a grimace. Sanity is a slick, slender rope to hang onto under stress that greases black at Deckard's death grip.

Focus, focus. He re-establishes his hold on Teo's neck, tendon and bone and bandaging shifting up a choking inch and a half as if intent upon squeezing life in rather than out. "He's dying."

Watchdog duty switches between waiting for Teo to gasp to life, to Deckard's expressions and the words hissing out of them. Joseph remains still, save for subtly fidgeting hands, jaw clenched and aching from that clenching. "'s why now's a good time," comes out tensely.

While symbols can mean more than what they appear, Joseph's whittled it down to two. Italian, which is only so helpful, and options. Which is also only so helpful. Either the blue touching Teo's lips will spread to the rest of his face in some kind of deathly ash beneath the bruises and grime, or— Or life bleeds red. So far, this precarious balance of limbo, the same Joseph's been guarding for hours, is remaining. "You made it work last time. You— were angry, not panicked. So feel something."

A pause, and then— "I. Slept with Abigail." Lying's a sin, pastor.

In any other situation, under any other circumstances, such a lie would never pass inspection. Doubtless there are tell-tale tracks of guilt worn in unmistakably around Joseph's teddy bear brows and slightly crossed, button black eyes. Nevermind the fact that he wouldn't. That she wouldn't.

Nevermind all of that, and still, Deckard's eyes lift, halcyon blue puzzled bright in the dark beneath an incredulous furrow at his brow. Whu — what? His grip on Teo's neck winds tighter, the steel cording rigged taut up the back of his arm finding unconscious strength enough to neatly close off whatever air might have been getting through up until this point. Teo's dying and now Pastor Sumter is sleeping with Abigail. What the hell?

"No you didn't," is meant to sound cynical. Instead it wavers weak, almost hopeful. Surely not. Suuuurely. His eyes fall back to Teo next, drifting gradually out of focus, like he's coming to some kind of realization where there isn't one to come to.

That was meant to work. Flawless victory. Not so much, or not yet. There is guilt detectable in Joseph's expression, round shoulders is a slump that's not exactly relaxed, just bone-tired and tense all the same. "Did." The smaller the words, the smaller the lie? Joseph isn't looking where he should - that is to say, Teo's lying near forgotten between them and the pastor is attempting to gauge out whether he needs to say more or say something else or at least say something from Deckard's face.

"We… have a lot in common," he feels pushed to point out, which is truthful if he can pretend it's not connected. Joseph's gaze dips guilty down, "and. We just got talkin'— " which is good because, "Flint, you're chokin' him."

Joseph hand goes out, quicker than what his usual wandering movements would suggest, to wrap his fingers around Deckard's wrist in an attempt to ease him back, just not completely away, mouth going into a line. "You want to kill him?" he snaps, voice breaking over the emphasis. "C'mon, you fixed me, now fix him."

"What — like the fact neither of you ever gets laid?" Skepticism cuts into coarse crosstalk across the life that's ebbing gradually out of Teo's torso laid out between them, teeth bit out again in a defensive sneer. It's a vicious look, distrust wild in Deckard's eyes and chiseled harsh into his skull while he leans still more of his weight into Laudani. "I don't even think I'm really — " here.

Joseph's hand at his wrist is enough to make him recoil, but it's the abrupt flow of easy warmth diverted in a rush between pastor and patient that startles his attention back down again. Wrath and cynicism sublimate into cool fascination; his binding hold on Teo's throat jumps back to a splayed plant at the base of his neck. Sumter is talking, but he's lost all interest in the passage of a single breath, anxiety returned in full force to drill down into closed eyes and bloodless flesh.

There hadn't been enough breath trying to climb out of Teo's lungs, or he would have choked and thrashed like a fish in the hysterical throes of suffocation, probably. Instead, the contracting bars of Deckard's fingers packed the column of his neck up into an arch, and when they release, his head and its stem buckle again, lolling loose as string across the floor, his face rotating bonelessly around, squaring to a stop to confront Joseph's knees with closed eyes. Probably, if he had been awake enough to bear witness to that ridiculous (!) skirmish, he'd be glaring.

Fortunately, the bloodied church is spared another extraneous spark of conflict. By the time his eyelids start their ragged flutter, the argument is sort of a peripheral thing. Teo gasps. That turns out to be a bad idea: throws off the agonized effort of ribs trying to winch themselves back into place and seal out of the way of his perforated lung, so he snaps his teeth shut the next instant, a groan bulging unvoiced syllables out the underside of his jaw, an asthmatic wheeze hosed out through his nose.

It's fortunate that he recognizes this warmth.

He closes a sticky hand-mark around Deckard's forearm, creasing the sleeve. One pallid blue eye seams into view, closes on Joseph then reopens on Deckard, a thin slice of glistening satisfaction quivering unsteadily in oscillating proportions of pupil and iris. It's a familiar look offered by an unfamiliar soul. Teo's glad to see him.

He might object and say that such a point means they cancel each other out, but there's no need anymore when— "Oh," is Joseph's reaction, wavering at the sudden and familiar feeling of warm he feels shooting up his palm, and he has the presence of mind to steal his hand away from Deckard's rigid arm, coming to curl with his other in an anxious clasp.

And look, Lazarus walks again. Neurons fire and the comparison is made before he can completely shut his brain down against the analogy, because Teo was never dead and Deckard is certainly not Jesus. Not even a little bit.

Doesn't mean it's not special and it doesn't mean that Joseph doesn't fall into that silent reverence he had when he'd been healed, a hand coming to press high against his own chest in an absent clasp. Relief is like tumbling bricks from a wall barely managing to hold itself into place, which isn't to say that Joseph is similarly collapsing, but it shows all the same. It would probably be less heightened had he not been playing guardian for hours in the wee hours of the morning, but. "Thank you," is murmured. To Deckard, to God, whichever one appreciates it more.

Just like that. He bites back the instinct to ask Teo if he needs anything. He's not entirely sure he's not halfway done yet.

Eyes bright in his skull, Deckard leans forward over signs of stirring. Slow at first, then steadier. Jumbled bone and stringy muscle hunch under the flat back of his coat, the manic energy cut into his weathered face enough to stave of the worst of the ability's inevitable drain. The wiry strength in his posture fails anyway, blacking and curling back from healing heat like bat wings from a fire. Papery and insubstantial.

He's glad to see Teo too. Not that he'll be overly inclined to remember that either — but it's written undeniably into the fuzzy lines around his mouth and tilted into his brows. Giddy, demented relief. It's disarming enough that the unconscious press of his unbandaged hand against Teo's ruined ribcage to help them along as one would help an overstuffed sock drawer back into a dresser probably comes as some surprise. It's working!

Joseph is there too, sharing in — oh. Joseph's here. Broodier reservation overtakes his own stupid excitement all in a thundery rush, clouding at his bristled jaw and dimming his eyes. "Don't," thank him. Or whatever. It just makes it awkward. Except it's too late, now. It's already awkward, and Flint is looking almost inappreciatively at the way Joseph is clasping his chest. He's making this into some kind of moment.

These are difficult circumstances to gloat under. Teo is unable to pay this whole thing the proper recognition. Contrary to his savior's opinion, this is a moment, isn't it? An unexpected role-reversal, if not the first that the ghost has actually experienced. He remembers throwing up and crying in public and all this other shit Deckard can't possibly.

It is impossible to explain, but the jog and weave of his jaws, upon separating, seems to be making a unilateral effort to do so. Instead, he coughs. Screws his face up, weakly, and glances over to see what Joe is doing. Hand over heart, self-generated hope glimmering in the dark satellites of his eyes, oh. Portrait of a believer. 'S pretty, in a blurry, staticky, half-blinded sort of way. Pretty like Flint is when he's happy to see you, and— manually shoving your ribs back into their sockets.

Fucking hurts. His neck goes momentarily purple, lined through with the bulge of veins. Even as his lung returns itself to its proper shape, wasted blood catches in his windpipe, sends a horrible racking guttural cough heaving out of his emptying lungs. With a kick, he turns over onto his side. Spatters the point of Joe's knee with stained saliva, despite his mannerly attempt to block it off with a fist curled up in front of his face.

The look Flint gets over where Teo is recovering is unimpressed, at best, and simply tired, at worst. Don't what, don't thank someone for a miracle? A miracle under the roof of a house of God, no less. Joseph manages not to waste these words on the other man— maybe later— and his mouth goes into a tolerant line before his expression softens a little more, and that hand lowers.

All at once he wants to go home and sleep, as if work was done for the day. It's not, so. Joseph isn't looking when Teo sharply rolls over and hacks up red-stained clear onto carpet and a beige-clad knee, the pastor wincing and shuffling back an inch— it's still a moment, okay— but not before a steadying hand goes out to touch Teo's shoulder, palm warm and fingers gripping only gently.

"Hey, welcome back," he murmurs with a faint smile, glancing up at Flint again, briefly lost before asking, even quieter; "What do you need?" Uhh. Or. "He need."

With his freshly fractured attention span and new determination to pretend as though nothing in this sweeping room is having any effect on him, Deckard fails to register any extra pain he might have caused by way of his particular method of repair. He lets his eyes linger on Joseph instead, reservation withdrawing still further into resentment until the absence of a real justification for that feeling pushes the line of his closed glare elsewhere. Onto bloody carpeting, then back over his shoulder, towards the doors.

He's slow to settle back off of his knees and onto his ass, stiff in his legs. Stiff in his back. Stiff everywhere. There's a foggy, opaque numbness settling into his muscles, individual fibers hatched into the tension knotted at the back of his neck and jaw. He seems to have forgotten that his right hand is still curled into the shirt at the Italian shoulder Joseph hasn't claimed as his own, his dry blood brown to Teo's stickier stuff.

"There's a thermos in my briefcase. Coffee." And tequila. For all that he's accustomed to being awake and alert at this hour, he mostly looks like he needs to maybe just sit where he is for a little while and not think about moving. "I dunno what he needs."

Thunk. The side of Teo's head meets the floor with the force of gravity, slung on the wet noodle line of his neck and shoulder. That would be the report of the healing clocking in at ninety-nine percent, which is enough percent that he's swatting Deckard off him now, the back of his hand in loose insistence swatting the old man's grip offa him.

He ends up on his face, in a swayback heap, kneeling, his back shaking as he tries to force extraneous fluid out of his lungs. Teo's fist drops away from underneath the pink-toothed gape and clack of his jaws, and he raises it up near his head to offer Joseph a thumbs-up of gratitude. The coughing takes work and energy he doesn't really have: exhaustion is making his face gray underneath the eyes.

A vast improvement on his earlier circumstances, to be sure.

"Alright." Joseph's hand drifts away around the time Teo is rolling over to rid his lungs of fluid it's not meant to be breathing, one more smile in return before the pastor is awkwardly getting to his feet despite the mild protest of joints and muscles. He moves around the discarded, bloodied kevlar vest like it's normal.

It's not quite a doctor's kit. The briefcase, that is, Joseph crouching back down and angling the thing to open, hands casually flipping open buckles and fasteners until he can open the lid and— sharply close it again, blinking rapidly for a moment or two, hands hovering as he strives to unsee things. Doesn't work. Okay. More cautiously, Joseph opens it once more, and works at extracting the thermos without touching the uzi. Or extra magazines. Or any amount of items that he never wants to see in his church again.

You'd think bleeding terrorists and world-weary criminals might count.

The pastor's already thinking of what cleaning product is to be found beneath the sink that removes sticky blood from carpet and how little sleep he's going to get as he makes his way back over and holds out the thermos towards Deckard. "You can both stay here for— however long you need," he offers, despite his concerns. "No one really comes by early morning except me." Surprise.

Flint's bony hand isn't in any hurry to dislodge itself. The ridgid claw of his fingers takes some work to release, joints worn stiff into their skeletal curl. A last muffled brush of warm comfort eases more gently after the withdrawal, bearing no ready association with the gaunt crook's conformation. If looks alone were the determining factor, odds are his system would manufacture some way to make it hurt.

As things are, he's stuck with projecting a pleasant, bleary fuzziness generally better suited to Abigail. And fabric softener commercials. Unfortunately, as told by stiffness, wearing exhaustion, bandaging and dragging limp, he doesn't feel a thing.

The offer of the thermos is accepted without so much as a grateful glance upward once he's busied himself fumbling with the cap and taking a long draw off the murky sludge winding around inside. It's warm rather than hot, but the alcohol rakes down the back of his throat and into his gut like napalm and it isn't long before he's offered the concoction over to Teo on the floor nearby.

"Can we make s'mores?"

It's the probability that there's alcohol in the thermos' arcane mix— rather than the caffeine— that jump-starts Teo's hand up to reach. It doesn't get there before the next battery of hacking engine noise drops the extremity dispirited to the back of his head, flattening his face against the floor underneath its limp weight.

"Th-thanks," he manages, presently, between huffing and blowing breaths. Maybe he means about the coffee, or the tacit generosity of Deckard's sharing of s'mores. Probably not. The protein sack he's wearing now has fewer designs to die than it had a few minutes ago, despite the misleading kaleidoscope of static and color through his mind's eye. His physical ones have lapsed shut.

After a moment, Teo adds, hiccupy and wet, "—Guys." Not to leave the pastor out or anything. Couldn'tve done it without you, Sumter. He has no idea how much argument and strangulation went into his ungodly revival, but he is fuzzily aware of that much.

"No," is Joseph's quietly firm response, on the off-chance Flint wasn't kidding, and he comes to sit on the edge of a pew nearby mostly so that he doesn't wind up hovering fretfully around the two men, although it occurs to him— occurs that they might want to be left alone. Or something. Post-healing pillow talk, you know, but more accurately: they're friends, and one almost died.

Dark brown eyes move towards a shadowed corner of the church, contemplative, before he adds, "There're comfier places. There's a couch in my office, a space heater." He's not about to offer Ashby's, and he's running out of practicalities to list.

"You're welcome," Joseph thinks to add, at Teo's ragged inclusion of his own actions, a hand gripping the back of the pew tensely before he's rising back to his feet. "If you need anythin', I'll be— " Gesture. Flint knows there's a kitchen back there. Leather shoes are too worn to squeak in indication of walking away, the pews too solid too, so it's relative quiet that the pastor stands and starts to head away from the wider space of the worship hall.

Deckard sits in still, scruffy, sullen silence, watching Joseph excuse his way out with his eyes rather than a turn of his head. He has a look about him — like maybe he wants to say something when Joseph's bloody trousers sweep and swish by. Except he's Deckard. So he doesn't. Even if it was only going to be a question about it maybe being that time of the month. There's no, 'You're welcome,' from him, either. Rather, a stifling continuation of quiet made more significant by the setting than he's strictly comfortable with. Ignoring (of course) Teo's ongoing efforts to like. Breathe. Those probably aren't very quiet.

One knee drawn up ahead of the other, he takes his time in pulling in eventually enough oxygen to fashion words with, hands bandaged and unbandaged slung slack between the support of bony bends.

"…He didn't tell me you were here on the phone. Just…that someone had dropped off a couple of drugged up hookers and some blow."

Explanation comes rationally packaged but off beat. "So." His timing is off and he's too tired to smooth over the stumble, more intent upon measuring out the lines creased into his palms between callouses than he is saying something that sounds halfway intelligent.

No, Teo isn't being very quiet at all. Well— actually, there's a pleasant change to resounding psychic silence inside the ghost's borrowed skull, which is going to be refreshing until or unless it turns into alarm, but every other square inch of his coconut and anemic frame is rattling din. He watches Joseph and his polite hands withdraw into of the blurred corner of his eye, incorrectly marking down the probable trajectory to the office with the space heater in it.

It is kind of funny. He can remember the names, important dates, favorite haunts of any number of criminals, cops, and misappropriate allies from this era, but he can't for the life of him remember the layout of the Guiding Light Church's second floor. Not even the bathrooms. Or the kitchen. Or wherever Pastor Joseph puts the dog though, obscurely, he does remember there was a dog.

Post-healing pillow talk— well, that's kind of like throwing an obsequious queer a bone. Teo goes appropriately slack for this exercise. Makeshift blanket, Joseph's coat hangs crooked across his tattooed skin. Pillows his head on his arms, finally, slowing his breathing down to something that leaves an adequate margin with which to express his likely unexpected, if entirely understandable show of conceit:

"Kne—w you'd come." He even smiles. Wanly.

"Only trying to make things even." If he can even remember how many times Teo's had a hand in saving his miserable life. This makes it…what. One to three? Four? Five? Christ. …How many months has he even been in New York City? Nostalgic division occupies him for a few twisted minutes while he attempts to sort out the math. Probably a good thing he doesn't have health insurance, 'cause if he did it'd cost more a month than his entire being is worth.

Relatively clean hand pushed up to go against the increasingly grizzled grain of his stubble collection, he traces his thumb along the hollow sink under his jaw, all the way up to the loose skin at his neck before it falls away again.

"He said you were hit by a car." Somehow, he doesn't actually have to look at the bloodied bulletproof vest to allude to its conspicuous presence on the floor nearby. Something about his age, maybe. Old enough to be a father; old enough to insinuate accusation and suspicion without actually dictating it.

This incarnation of Teo, and this epoch's proper incarnation of Teo, and every Teo ever will always and forever deny that is true okay! Flint Deckard deserves health insurance. Probably, no company would ever cover him unless they were intentionally trying to go bankrupt or whatever, but he deserves it. Teodoro thinks so.

Granted, Teodoro's methods and policies are not the most economically sound. He pushes the coat up higher over himself. Concealed, he makes a fist to test the solidity of his arm. Not even a twinge, though the shift in blood pressure spews static through the hollow of his head. "It w's an accident. Not just mine," he says, duly acknowledging that he wouldn'tve tried to get run over by a car on purpose. "Crooked cops made bad drivers. 'S okay now.

"'Verything's going to be fine." His eyeballs seem to burn against his eyelids when he squeezes them, but at no immediate risk of cindering through; darkness keeps the space between musty floor and borrowed garment comfortably close. "Promise," assures the least reliable source on the planet.

"You're messed up, I'm messed up. Abigail's messed up." The carpet is looking increasingly inviting, damp and bloodsmeared as it is. The poke of his own bones bites into his seat and prompts a restless, rustling shift in weight. "Sumter was messed up. I dunno if he still is." Hard to tell if it occurs to him that he should probably ask. The rickety slats of his ribs separate and sink around a nasal sigh; the faded color in his eyes searches over the floor without actually seeing.

"I can't see anymore." Seems like a petty complaint, in the big scheme of things. Flint notes as much with a downward tip of one brow, muddled self-reproach treading over more elaborate whining with an insectoid, crinkling crunch.

A subject change seems in order in the ensuing span. Or he could just sit here silently and look at things that don't matter in a church he shouldn't be in anyway. "You can't be everywhere."
Teo relieves the uncomfortably warm surface of his retina of its shuttered eyelid in time to watch Deckard's rue grind self-pity out of sight. That progression reminds him of somebody. Makes him smile, a little, hard to see under the hang of the jacket collar.

That last soupcon of wisdom hurtles in, lances the fog of disorientation, mushrooms of Teo somewhere underneath the mess. Probably true. Moreso now than usual, and due to persist over the next few days than usual, even. It's unfortunate. He hadn't liiiied— exactly, or not that much; he'd made a mistake. He'd planned on being around.

It suits his ego but not his comfort, that Deckard chooses to point that out instead of enumerating his other and plentiful and painfully visible limitations. Means it's high time for Ghost to ignore them, though there's nothing particularly ebullient about his arrogance, this time. "I'll go see Abigail." That, too, sounds like a promise despite the absence of word of oath tacked onto the end. "Pastor seems 'kay, vecchio. Think you helped j'ss now." His knee bumps into something, shuffling together in a sleeper's configuration on the carpet. It is perfectly comfortable. Deckard should joi— "Warms the cockles.

"'S temporary," he adds, indistinctly. "Wha' Tyler Case does. Uuusually. 'Ve read his file." However improbable that sounds. Hitching a breath, Teo adds, "'M goin' be fine. You fixed me." Consolation delivered piecemeal, in unstacked disarray, and for free. People don't usually mind with diamonds or quarters. Those are kind of the same thing. Then, "Hey. Hey—

"Do you wan' know what I did?" Ghost can't remember whether not he'd ever told him.

Silence, then: "She gave me a lap dance." Abigail, presumably. Not Joseph. If that wasn't — obvious from Deckard's casual choice of pronouns. He does lie down at long last, creaky and grim, more arthritic old tree than gun seller in the time it takes him to stretch out. Actual relaxation is slow to follow. He's hungry, but Joseph is in the kitchen and the kitchen is further than he feels like walking, which is nowhere.

The ceiling is black overhead, broken by pale shafts of moonlight and the glitter of unsettled dust every so often. It's pretty. If you're into that kind of thing. Deckard's brows are lifted as if he's trying to figure out whether he is or not, the lines etched out over his brow decidedly more careless now that Teo is awake and not more brain damaged than he was to start with. It's been a while since he's been compelled to look. But his heart isn't in it. Architecture looks better without light and shadow to obscure hard lines and clutter negative space. And he has other things on his mind.

"How many body parts does a guy have to lose before he gets laid?"

Predictable things, maybe. Enough so that he scrubs a hand back up over his face again, smearing Teo's blood into lines and creases before he thinks to glance at the coarse padding in his palm. Ffff.

"You're sure?" is kind of a dismal choice of follow up question, particularly since it's muffled behind the return of his hand, heedless of what may be swimming around in Laudani's veins. His nose rankles, one shoulder twitches back to scrub the beginnings of an itch out against cold carpet.

All in all it's kind of a long time before he finally meanders his way back over to sniff at Teo's original offer for information, almost too easy where everything has been so vague up until now. "Yeah. I want to know."

There's lots of wry bad jokes or sarcasm Teo could offer to that. Just one, but it's gotta stay gone! Sure he's sure, nothing shrewdly ensconsed in a manila folder has ever been less than one hundred percent fucking reliable. Blah blah. He makes a surly gift horse now, doesn't he? But he had been a nice person once. He remembers how it went. He has a little frown on, which is from that nice person era. Poor wretch.

They're lying down kind of close to each other in a church, while booze and moisture abound. He probably had a facetious dream like this, once. Strangely, the little frown persists.

"Killed a girl when I was sixteen. I taunted some douche with a gun— she took a bullet meant for me. My brother's ability switched it out from me to his sweetheart, 'nstead. This was my sadness." He breathes these words sluggishly because he is tired, each progressive syllable seemingly latched on to the next with clinky-loose delicacy like a series of Bocklebee clasp without anything especially lovely or valuable jeweling the strands between. If he is aware that this may not be the information Flint had originally petitioned, he does not let it on.

Whether it was or not, in the end, Deckard was raised by humans as opposed to bears or wolves or rats and has social savvy enough to know better than to yank the rug out from beneath a story about accidentally killing a person when you were sixteen. The less civilized majority of him is annoyed all the same, suspicious of sleight of hand manipulation more and more. Everyone seems to know which levers to pull these days. Maybe that's what he gets for talking to them. He second guesses intent with a sideways glance but it's dark and they're both tired and he can't see.

"'Was,'" is all he can make himself pick up on aloud, observant neutrality clear of sympathy in his face and in the rough of his voice for the story as it's delivered: in past tense. "…Doesn't bother you anymore?" Odd to think. Especially without benefit of background or details to fill in blank, unfamiliar faces and circumstances.

"Wouldn' say that." Teo's fingernails rake coarse gray wool fiber. The flats of his skin are so tarred up by blood and dirt, by now, that he can't feel the sedimentary stains layered on the floor here. It feels dry to the brush of palms and clumsy knuckles, as if he is actually getting anywhere with cleaning his hands. At least, it keeps him awake. "I have diff'rent ones now, that's all. You know how it is. How many body parts 's a guy have to lose?"

He arranges his shoulder bone into a shrug, pistoned upward briefly before it lapses into an ungainly angle that defers to gravity without being anything like 'comfortable' or 'relaxed.' "'Ve left Phoenix. Decided there's nothing I can do for them anymore. Podcasts 'nd YouTube and shit— not really my area. I was in New Jersey. I'm sorry about your eyes." It is very belated, Teo's saying this. There is a pricking of self-consciousness on the nape of his neck, knowing this.

You know how it is. Deckard isn't sure that he does. His brows twitch into a knit, first at the sentence alone, then at a sketchy replay of all of it, in case maybe he — misheard or Teo mumbled. There's no audible repetition. Just a vacuum of muddled insecurity in the absence of any kind of immediate response.

Shrill tinnitus fills the void, and the sound of Teo's breathing. His own is quiet, smoker's lung long since trimmed away along with whatever skull fractures he incurred during his last meeting with Felix.

He can't even manage an, 'Oh,' for the rest. Still confused about the first part, he seems to give up on trying to figure it out at the second, which is as baffling or — maybe even moreso. Unease pulls tension into the worn out muscle bound in around his chest and back, tugs faintly down at the corners of his mouth. He finally shakes his head slightly at the last, distracted to the point of awkward delay. It's fine. NBD, right?

There's a memo that Ghost keeps forgetting to put in, prrrobably because he doesn't have the his younger analogue going off like a klaxon or an over-personal pager constantly in his head. 'By the way, I'm not who you think I am; the Timestream shat me out a few weeks ago, see, I'm a legally deceased time-traveler here to right the wrongs of this world.'

Reminder comes anyway, in the puzzled creases framing Flint's mouth, the furtive switch of round eyes against the austere, lupine narrow of his face. The kindness that his hometime's intervening decade had shown the gun-runner is evident in the similarity between this man's face and the one that Teodoro Laudani remembers circa 2019. He had forgotten to explain himself. Oops. Well—

Maybe later. Automatically, he pulls in his knees and elbows, makes himself smaller underneath the massed folds an untucked sleeves of Joseph's coat. "Sorry," he repeats again, a drowsy sort of mumble. He gestures Ved fingers between his forehead and the blank of floor between them. "Very blurry. She gave you a wha?"

There's moisture sweeping up from the carpet to take hold in the wiry bristle around Deckard's head, displacing stale sweat and dry warmth. The longer he lies here, the more uncomfortable he becomes and the less he cares about how uncomfortable he is. The regular rise and fall of his chest has slowed considerably since his arrival and can't be bothered to speed up now. In a way, this isn't surprising. In a way it makes sense. He has low expectations for everyone else. For a long time, he had them for Teo too. He just…kind of. Forgot. There's comfort in that, somehow, even if it weighs at his thoughts and constricts around hope. Right again.

"Nothing." No passive aggression there. A haze of earnest apology instead. I shouldn't have said anything. "I was exaggerating." His bandaged hand curls up under his collar to pop another button loose, baring narrow clavicles to the cold between the open halves of his overcoat.

Though lacking X-ray vision and deprived even of most of his normal vision as long as he's in here, down here, Teo can tell there's more to it than that. Because he's a genius! And because Deckard had said something, and because— because he was only exaggerating. There should be beer instead of toxified coffee, probably. Bar lights, congratulatory back-slapping, crowing reassurances, friendship bracelets in boy-colors (black and blue) and then maybe they could've trashed a frat house.

Or not. "Still," he says, as persistent in his optimism as he— really should've grown out of, by now. "Still." Ghost doesn't elaborate, feeling first that he shouldn't need to, and second that it would be nice to have Flint hang around until he completes this onerous decrescendo into passing out. Darkness is crowding in, if only slowly, puffy dandelion clocks of static smearing in from his periphery.

"It wasn't anything. She was just…I dunno. Trying to make herself feel better." Nothing sexual about it, as it turns out. Contact without passion, moves made without followup. Normally Flint has to pay for that kind of thing. There's resignation in the tilt of his brows and the closed mutter of his voice. He should have known that too. Something in his brain has gone weak and soft and sore and he's only just getting around to tarring over the hole so he can lay new asphalt down.

He doesn't want to talk about it anymore.

"How long did it take her to die?" When he throws levers, he does it with stiff-armed, jerking swiftness and at a transparent remove. No mercy for the state of Teo or the day he's had. His own week hasn't been that great.

Little touchy-feely to take the pressure off. Believe it or not, but Teodoro is familiar with this principle. Actually, that is why he knows that doesn't sound like Abigail at all, but he isn't really in a position to put up much of a fight. Deckard isn't the only one having trouble with brain consistency as of late, but at least it's his own gray matter he's working with.

The question should surprise Ghost with the ruthlessness of its self-immolating existence, maybe! It doesn't. "Fi-ive minutes 'r so." Rough night at work. He'd brought it up, anyway. Thought that Deckard ought to know. He has been catching up on a lot of should-have-had conversations lately. Racing the clock! From where he's heaped facedown by the pews. "Sounded th' way I did tonight, but…" the red-rimmed ring of his mouth folds just, tasting at words, discarding incorrect syllables before he finds the right one: "longer."

Five minutes sounds like a long time, when you're dying. Foamy red at the mouth, shock in the eyes, terrified realization, open chest wounds sucking ragged over punctured lungs.

Sorry. That'd be the polite thing to say.

A shaky breath later, Deckard rolls away onto his side, hollow cheek turned by chance into an unsullied patch of flooring before one of his arms crooks up into a makeshift rest. As it turns out, he doesn't actually want to talk about this anymore either.

His briefcase is out of reach, but there's the rigid poke of a semi-automatic against his side and a knife at his hip should anyone decide to storm Joseph's castle with a warrant and a ream of uncomfortable questions.

"'Nd then my brother took his gift away. Di'nt have the stones to go after the gunner without it." Secondary facts. Fleeting, infinitesimal, life-altering details (maybe if Romero had stayed; maybe if he had followed through on vendetta, maybe then). As useless to the greater moral quandary as they had been to Gianina by way of solace as she thrashed in agonized gurgling in the circle of Romero's arms. It's just formatting and finishing touches on the basic verisimilitude. Teodoro Laudani killed a girl once. That was his sadness.

There's a semi-automatic, a very sturdy-looking thermos, and a half-cleared fugitive from justice between Teo and the PoPo. If strength of will had anything to do with it, this might be why he is 'letting' himself slough down into sleep. He'd be worried about nightmares, talking about this shit, except he never has to worry about those anymore. "Feelin' kinship?" There's a stifled yawn, an intake of breath between barred teeth, a blustered exhale. Teo's voice is getting smaller. "'R just cold?"

Flint's answer is slow in coming, as they often are when they're alone and not yelling at each other. The carpet stretches out rough ahead of him, stray fibers winding out of the low-lying texture to catch at what little light there is. Even without blotches of blood red and wet grey, it's ugly. Probably full of dust and mites and microscopic particles of dog shit carried by the passage of many unclean feet. It didn't bother him before. Now his nostrils are flared and his roving eyes narrowed against the imaginary stink.

"I dunno." An increasingly common half-lie roughs quiet across the span of floor between them. There's something there, elsewise he wouldn't be here on the floor. Sheer exhaustion isn't the only thing keeping him off the soft sprawl of Pastor Sumpter's couch upstairs. Maybe he feels both.

In any case, it's easier not to try and frame unfamiliar words around an already awkward arrangement. The fork of Deckard's tongue is agile when it wants to be, but not particularly versatile. "I'm glad you're alive."

Unconsciousness closes in, sublime and cottony numbing, accompanied by a more existential lack of giving a shit too. That is also nice. Otherwise, he might be a little hurt at that half-lie; all of this is taking him considerable effort, and the least that Deckard could do is serve up altruistic fulfillment.

"Thanks," he answers. Breathes it more than saying it, really, a low-pressure exit of air with syllables stenciled, barely a note of real resonance over the strands of vocal cords. "You too."

Teodoro's transition into lassitude continues even after his eyes have slid shut and his jaws slack around the absence of anything else to say. He still hears for a few seconds, before that's gone too. His hands go limp and heavy as bags of sand discarded over the lip of a hot air balloon, his boots crossed and tattooed shoulders huddled, disheveled bristle of hair splayed tatty across the pale relief of his inner forearm. And here we have takeoff. The thing that remains, anchored to the floor of the Guiding Light, is snidely helpless.

"Thanks," Deckard echoes into wool of his coat, as lax as he's going to get. Bone tired, achey and not remotely sleepy, he keeps still save for a single glance tipped stiffly up around his shoulder once it sounds like Teo has passed out.

He stays like that for a few seconds, scruffy head up, face twisted around, but the younger man doesn't stop breathing or look likely to start bleeding again. Eventually he resettles, pale eyes half-dead on the locked wall of black doors a little ways away. It isn't until grey contrast starts fills into the windows and filters feebly across the floor that he finally dozes off, quiet, huffing breaths and rickety ribs building gradually around the beginnings of a muffled snore. He probably drools too.

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