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Also featuring:

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Scene Title Exorcisms
Synopsis When the ghosts of a dead future come calling, Teo uses problem solving skills. Later, Francois will stick hypodermic needles with sedatives in him out of love.
Date May 14, 2010

West Village: Maison d'Allegre

Each of these days has a sameness about it. Spent indoors, within walls that can only be decorated or redecorated so innovatively, the wind droning outside whenever the wind deigns to actually bring some form of auditory relief to the stagnant nothing of the brownstone settling into its hinges and stone foundations.

Frost lays flecked against the window panes in nonsense static patterns that have nothing in common with the elegant whorls that the satellite photographs promise in the macrocosm movement of things. The trapped pips freckle Teo's cheek with pointillist shadows stencilled out of the late afternoon sunlight. This is the third book he's read this week, and it is inexplicably about small talking mice, voles, and other rodents, carrying swords and shields, waging wars, and going to church.

Or at least living at an Abbey. He is sitting on the sill, wrapped up in a sweater— possibly two, his sausage-fattened arms bend up to prop elbows on knees. A cup of mostly-finished coffee is vaporizing slowly beside his bare ankle, holding off the fatigue of boredom while the book dams off the ambient stresses related to Dreyfus and Abigail in separate quantities. There is one pistol under his arm.

His reading light rigged up in a precariously leaning tower of chair and phonebook and tea tray because he was concerned about scratching Francois' floor. The stains and scratches in the wall have already been an incredible bitch to get away instead of scarring them worse.

Bare feet making whispering sounds on the stairs, smooth skin a supple contrast to the hardwood steps beneath them as a figure descends from the second floor draped in a robe of black silk and a lace chemise beneath it. Long sleeves dwarf a slender arm that ends in a small hand with delicately tapered fingers with nails like porcelain. It does not belong to Francois, and not only because its bone structure is immaculate.

At the bottom of the stairs, Eileen drags her fingers through the tangle of short, dark hair that crowns her head and then moves her hand to her mouth, smothering a yawn. One foot lifts off the floorboards and rubs at an itch on her opposite calf with its naked heel. Without even a softly-spoken hello or a glance in Teodoro's general direction, she goes gliding toward the kitchen as easy as a swan carves through water.

Apparently, this is her pond.

An occupied one, actually, as movement is tracked and brought to a point towards where the kitchen is visible beyond its counter. Gabriel Gray's shape and frame and even demeanor are familiar things, if— inappropriately so, in sleep pants and a loose white T-shirt that lacks definition, makes up for it in comfort. He has his back to Teodoro and even Eileen, investigating the tea tins that line one of the windowsills in a way that seems curious and investigatory. Not, mind you—

In the way that a stranger might finger through someone else's belongings. Gabriel is merely misremembering where they put the coffee these days, marvelling now at the collection of loose leave selections. As Eileen goes gliding by, the search is abandoned — one long arm goes to loop around her waist and draw her in, his chest to her back, something muttered that Teo doesn't get to hear.

'Hey guys' would be an inappropriate salutation, probably. It's the one that stirs almost irreverently to the tip of Teo's tongue, before he realizes who he's talking to. What he's talking to. It's part of the what that he nearly does proceed in such sloppy terms, of course. The mind tricks itself. Makes him think what he sees is there, and normal, until the rankling realization sets in not only that he's been lied to, but he bought it for the span of all of three fucking eye-blinks.

Fuck. His fingers go rigid around the neatly columned serif font of Brian Jacques' prose, the worn varnish of the hardcovers. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He has stiffened, unsubtly hackling, staring over one peaked knee and around the leaning tower of his reading light, and the speckling of silhouetted window frost gets lost in the rumpled thread of his hair. The corded sinew stands out in his jaw for a long moment, some shout or curse or helpless word of denial verging on speech.

Snapped off with a click of his teeth. Teo twists his head away. Stares out of the window again, the vague porridge-color of sunlight blanking his pupils and wintry irises. Count to five. Count to five. One. Two…

In the window, Eileen's reflection takes Gabriel's hands, her head tipped back, and guides them down to slight swell of her stomach where she rests hers on his and moves her mouth against his jaw as she speaks. Although the glass makes only their outlines visible, Teo can't turn away from the sound of the Englishwoman's voice, low though it is. "Can you feel anything?" she wants to know beneath her breathy laughter, the question punctuated by a kiss pressed to the very bottom of his chin.

She isn't any taller at thirty than she was at twenty, but for what she lacks in height she makes up for with poise. Composed and at peace, contented — this is the Eileen that Ghost remembers, and for a hallucination she has a very potent presence. He can focus on the window, place his hands over his ears, but the smell of her perfume is filling the room too. Sickness lays claim to his senses.

It should be noted that this Gabriel could be the one that lives in the Old Dispensary, fractures himself into four pieces and kisses wrong girls. They both look the same, except this one's had his haircut recently, and he smiles much, much easier — in Ghost's future, most people did. Like now, in fact, with his hands pressed to warmed silk and the subtle roundness beneath, and a nervousness in his tone when he laughs, a little. "Oh no, am I meant to?" is a jest, rocking back a step and easing Eileen along with him, an affectionate sort of sway.

By the time Teo is hitting four, five, Gabriel is stealing a pecking kiss from her. "You need to give me the cues — I've never done this before."

Place his hands over his ears. Teo opts to do precisely that. He closes his eyes, squeezes them once, hard enough to feel the frictive burning of thin skin and small muscles there. But all the sounds are inside his head, even though it's formatted itself to seem as if it's merely too quiet in here, and the saccharin conversation of the dead husband and his pregnant wife are seeping through his fingers and reverberating into the white-bitten cups of his ears. Pregnant wife. That's—

"She wasn't pregnant." There is weakness in the denial, in the fact that he actually picked up his voice, slotted words into it, hurled it across the room in hopes of hitting somebody with it. His voice is black, furious in a rawed-over and ridiculously offended way, as if astonished that his subconscious would have even stooped to that, trivializing, cheapening, crass exploitive bullshit, like invoking Tiny Tim or fucking kittens. "Fuck." Aloud, this time.

He's on his feet in an instant. Giving the phantoms his shoulder, bulling past their sweet upright spooning-together near the kitchen counter, aiming his socked feet toward the bathroom. His feet slap out a sea lion's rigid gallop, leaving a hardcover illustration of armed mice tumbling to the floor below the window. The medicine cabinet flips open with a clickety separation of magnetized cinches, and then there's a hollow fumbling of plastic as he rifles out a thermometer.

"Would that make you feel better?" Eileen asks, appearing in the bathroom doorway behind Teo. Her build is too slight to fill it; one arm stretched above her head, fingers curled around the wooden frame and her cheek resting against the pale curve of her bicep, she watches the Sicilian rifle through the medicine cabinet with a fey smile that shows no teeth.

While there's nothing wrong with what he can see of her in his periphery — all shadows — her reflection in the bathroom mirror presents a more grotesque picture. Inky curls of dark hair are saturated with gore, their ringlets plastered to the left side of her face by a thick sheen of glutinous black blood with a tacky texture that swells around the cavity in her skull. "Murdering your friends is all right, I suppose. As long as they aren't having a baby."

Teo stiffens. Thermometer bared out in a callused hand, his shoulders up like a beaten dog's hackles, his eyes on the mirror, balefully, meeting with the dead girl's there. He couldn't have not expected it, but he flinches anyway, and he doesn't actually want to know what that says.

"Don't be a bitch, Eileen," he says, glancing sharply downward. He knows he shouldn't have answered, but he finishes his answer anyway. "It's only the difference between slaying someone with a pistol in her hand and a defenseless blotch of lumpy cells that didn't have time to do the world any harm before its unfortunate termination." His own hands take up all the width of his field of view, pinching out a swab of cotton, cooling it with a wet daub of alcohol.

There's an audible squeaking of glassy friction as he cleans the thermometer's slender tube in sharp shunts and squeezes, this way and that. The soppy fluff raps down tinny inside the trash can when Teo leans over to drop it, waves the thermometer in the air to dry it off, urging it to hurry the fuck up and dry off. He isn't supposed to be sick anymore.

"I'd ask if you've read the morning paper, but they've stopped delivering." Eileen does not move from her position in the doorway, and although she does not fill it, Teo would be hard-pressed to move past her without pushing her out of the way first. Blood like tar carves a slow, rolling path down the slender shape of her neck, along the sharp line that defines her protruding collarbone before gathering in the space between her breasts beneath her chemise. More of the stuff drips off her hair onto the bathroom tile, and contemplatively the dead woman smears it across the floor with the tip of her toe, eyes downcast.

"Three hundred and fifty-nine dead in Prospect Park last week alone," she says. "I can't remember having a winter this unforgiving where we come from, can you?"

"You know." Gabriel's voice joins the chorus, oddly hollow for all that bathrooms have pretty good acoustics. He stands in Teo's blind spot — blind until the other man might glance his way — a long limbed shadow slouched casually against the white wall. Rather than shed his costume of domesticity, with white cotton that almost blends neatly into the bathroom's paint job, beneath these harsh lights, it's his reflection that brushes outward damage over his appearing.

Lobster red begins to blush along his neck, over the tender strips of skin of his inner forearms, blistered, blackening when it's focused, a slow diseased crawl of burning. "You're probably going to stop loving them before they all die again in some ambitiously creative way that doesn't improve the world. When was the last time you saw Helena Dean, anyway?" His brown eyes focus on the thermometer in Teo's hand. "Or Fido?"

Teo answer is short, and so is his tone. "They don't want to see me." He doesn't add, Okay?! out loud, exasperated and strange with grief, but it is there, hanging in the air, a strain of ugly music. Probably Catholic music. Probably involving great tubey organs. It isn't the way he was raised, but it was the way he wound up growing up, where thinking something awful was nigh as bad as doing it.

He shuts himself up, the next moment. Stuffs thermometer in his mouth, withholds the rest of his punchlines or retorts behind teeth clicking down caged on the hollow glass. He turns, sits himself down on the edge of the bathtub in one pronounced lurch of motion, not unlike Keanu Reeves screaming his demand for room service in some film he only half-remembers through a drunken stupor. Roughs his thumbs across his eyelids.

It is very warm in here. That's encouraging, or it isn't. GO away. Go away.

"No." Teo didn't speak the words aloud, but he doesn't need to. Eileen enters the bathroom, tracking blood across Francois' pristine tiles, and brushes past Gabriel on her way toward the tub. "You thought you were saving them."

She crouches down in front of him, folds her arms across his knees, and lifts her eyes to his face. At this level, she spares him her reflection in the mirror, but the floral aroma of her perfume has been replaced by a familiar stench. Rot. Decomposition. Death smells like a latrine. "It was an easy mistake to make. Helena, Alexander, even Delilah. There's no future here for any of them. No future for your son, a defenseless blotch of lumpy cells.

"Have you considered telling her to get an abortion? It would be kinder than bringing him into the world you've created."

Gabriel is a shadow, now — lacking definition unless directly looked at, but Eileen acts as the focal point of this particular waking-dream. Still, the policeman doesn't go far. He fact, he's nearer, now, a couple of wandering steps that come to a halt behind Eileen's crouching form, as loyal as a hound if two times the size and was never really properly tamed, something only Teodoro knew for certain when he was flung into the wall and held there.

His hands are in fists, and his eyes blaze in a shadowed face, the bathroom's glow more halo than illumination.

Teo has tired of Fight Club. He doesn't want to know what it'd look like if he and his mind came to blows, and already this is a disorienting kaleidoscope blend and crush of other genres. A Chinese ghost story has the weight of a mogui pressured on his chest, some Haitian loa camping out in his hands to make them jitter, lead clenched in his chest and spite reverberating atonally in his mind. There should be more of an echo in here, but his breathing and the erratic whap-whap of his heel on the floor are as flat and shallow as hers.

Definitely one under the 'pro' column for surreality. His pallid eyes shift back to Eileen, slowly, grudgingly, checking the stickily-blooded whorls trapped in her hair, searching— just for a moment— stupidly— for the deep, ragged hole that ought to be imploded through the curvature of her skin. Not my choice. It's a little like 'Not my fault,' but less inculpatory.

"Putting me down like an animal was your choice," Eileen counters gently. "Sending Gabriel to his death was your choice. Fucking Delilah. Killing the baby would be, too." Her hands seek his upper thighs, roam over the flat of his belly and lean barrel chest all the way up to his throat before they settle on either side of his face, cradling his chin and jaw in her palms, skin like ice. "Or—

"You could kill yourself."

With a kind of unstoppability that one might associate with heavy machinery, with statues come to life, the unkillable golems that move slowly but very definitively, Gabriel's hand comes up, his fingers splayed in a more delicate kind of gesture as, invisibly, some psychic awareness reaches out and into Teo, or so goes this ritual. He's been on the receiving end of puppetry before, and will probably feel the handle of the pistol in his palm and his fingers clenching around it before he truly notices that his arm was moving at all.

The weapon jerks free of the holster, the barrel coming up to brush against Eileen's jaw — though he couldn't pull the trigger now if he tried. It's not something Gabriel would want to have happen, carefully directing the movements with a conductor's interest.

This just in: they aren't supposed to be able to do that. Future-people, dead people, imaginary people. Their sphere of influence is supposed— supposed to be limited, at best, to a lot of headache-inducing verbiage, cruel mind games, spinning the wheels of logic around in his head 'til they crack off their axes and come crushing through like a karma wheel out to tumble him over and shatter his legs. Teo generally figures he just needs to sit there and wait for it to be over. Maybe this is what it's like for a girl.

—But this, the arm suddenly locked up bone and sinew into trigger-ready with the muzzle of his fucking sidearm at the side of his own fucking head, ruched up through ragged hair.

This is not what it's supposed to be like for a girl, ironically. Ironic because 's what it was like for Eileen, if you took a couple disparate experiences, lumped them together. Her hands are fucking cold. The gun is fucking cold, too. She feels as real as it does, more real than the round Magnes had put in the wall or the snaking of blue-eyed Francois' breath across his cheek. He would like to think he's dreaming, but the pain that abruptly lances through his mouth belies that.

He manages to spit, reflexively, free his mouth of chinked glass before the medium inside can well up out of the broken thermometer and— poison him or whatever the fuck. Saliva-bridges and a smashed spider's worth of straight-edged glass go flying, shatter into still more pieces on tile, fleck platinum-colored fluid against the base of the wall. He still tastes blood, though. It's funny how his reflex angled itself away from Eileen. Funny, funny. She must feel it too. Surely.

How cold the gunmetal is. "That wasn't me," he states.

"It was." Eileen presses the tips of her fingers into Teo's face, driving her nails under his cheekbones with enough force to redouble the pain. Her small hands and bird-wing arms tremble beneath the sheer exertion of it, and behind the veil of her dark hair her skin has gone corpse-white, complexion like chalk. Even her lips lack colour.

This is either the most vivid dream that he's ever had, or his conscious self has lost all semblance of control over the situation as it continues to deteriorate.

Degenerate, actually. Under her touch, Teo's skin has gone as ashen as Eileen's. A moment later, it's begun to adopt a waxy texture as the muscle tissue beneath it wastes away and old injuries blister black, reopening into deep fissures that ooze blood and pus in equal measure. He knows what puppetry feels like. This is what Gabriel must have experienced when she turned Julian Kuhr's ability on him, because she's turning it on Teo now. Slowly.

"Gabriel and I can make the pain go away," she offers. "If you won't do it yourself."

The crrk sound of the safety being switched off is enough to resonate through the weapon as the muzzle comes to a comfortable rest upon his skull, buried into hair like the nose of an affectionate hound — solid coldness giving no other illusion to this effect. Teo's own arm is a wound cord of tension, the strain of muscles doing nothing bunching beneath skin, wrist beginning to ache with his fingers locked into position with one slid within the trigger guard.

"This would be quicker," Gabriel adds, his voice taken on an almost metallic edge to it, slithery, vaguely reminiscent to how he sounded when he was taking up psychic space in Teo's skull, "than the last time."

Teo is inclined to agree about Gabriel's point, on the most basic terms. Quicker than last time. Quicker than Ghost's time. On most other levels, however, he doesn't like this at all. His face is unravelling in her hands. He did shrooms once, and it was nearly this bad, the sight of his own face stretching out, melting candlewax in the mirror, his jaw boneless and eyes reduced to glitter holes in the dragging lassitude of dough. This terror lacks the convenience of real belief and has to it a powerful clarity.

"I never want to die." The moment the declaration is out of the gate, he hates how he said that. There's admission in it, a reference to a history of acts that he'd been trying his damnedest to disown. What the ghost did. What the self-flagellating Catholic boy that had come before both of them had never quite gotten past, for all the theatrical heroics. He never wants to die, and while that perhaps articulates no worrisome vice, he's never given his life for anything.

And he's had a fair number of opportunities, reasons, and judiciously applied punishments that would have warranted him doing so. His stomach knots. Heat needles his eyes in a way that can not be explained by the pricking pain at his jaw, the blood in his mouth, the agony puckering at his hackles, his face. His teeth ache where Kozlow ripped his cheek open to show them. Hoarsely, "I can deal with the pain."

Eileen leans forward and touches her forehead to Teo's. She's making a soft, breathy noise — a susurrus pinched between her front teeth that sounds like something mothers are supposed to reserve for the children, and although her voice is velvety and smooth, her grip on his face has not loosened. Breath reeking of wet earth and the greasy worms that dine on what's put in it slithers into his nose and mouth.

"No," she says, not for the first time as she forces her thumbs under his chin and digs their nails into his throat, forcing his head back. "You brought us here to help. There's no shame in being afraid."

There is conviction, however, in Teo's defiance. The real world dictates that there is no fighting the power of Gabriel's puppetry, not when your own tools are willpower alone, but this isn't— exactly— the real world. As the world tips along with Eileen's coaxing hands and the bathroom lights beam down to create prints in Teo's corneas, he can feel himself winning. Just a little. The tip of the gun's muzzle eases up, scrapes along skin and hair until it would probably only take off the top of his head if he shot himself now.

Only that. But then it tilts for the ceiling, shaking and quavering. The figment of imagination that is Gabriel Gray only narrows his eyes, his hand as steady as the pressure that Teo pushes against.

There is an absurd note of fear in Teo's voice. Absurd insofar as that— nothing about this fails to be absurd, these deranged fictionalizations manufactured by his mind's eye, his mind's ear, the oxygen-starved lobes of his brain. "You're not helping." Petty. He could have chosen more eloquent words than that, at least. A fragment of Eliott, or a Lacuna Coil lyric. He is frightened. This, of all things, is what is grinding muscle in bone, braincell against cell, pushing the gun away from his own fucking head.

It feels real, now. Not merely because of temperature and texture or even because of the hideous intent in Eileen's yellowing eyes, but all of those things together in their unmistakable weave, a reflection of some hideous component self-loathing and guilt too true and resonant in its symbolism to be dismissed as a mere reflection. It isn't backward, smudged, diluted, or warped. If he were more honorable than scared shitless, maybe then—

There's no optimistic way to end that sentence. His fingers go white, except for the trigger, and the spidersilk-scraggle of neck vein and swooped clavicle stand out underneath his skin, engined by horrified desperation. "I don't want it, Eileen," he hisses. "I'll find another way."

It follows that what Teodoro notices, the hallucinations notice too. They come not from a source external to him like Grigori Zhukovsky's illusions but from some secret place deep inside. If not his heart then another organ with special significance. His liver. Maybe his stomach, which is something that's difficult for him not to be aware of when it's making a tight little fist in his abdomen above the twist of his intestines, a mating ball of snakes.

Her eyes leave his face and track the angle of the gun. Obvious displeasure and frustration make her mouth as tight as Teo's gut probably feels. She — it — wasn't expecting things to go quite this way. "You keep calling me that."

Gabriel's hand, splayed, curls fingers into hooks. Teo's own hand twitches in response, but no where near the extent that would have him redirecting the muzzle to himself. Rather humanly, there's a huff of a breath from Gabriel, even as his shape seems to be mostly made of shimmering shadow rolling up his body, broken apart only by the glow of radioactivity under the surface, a molten combination of conflicting powers that seem as though they're taking over, much like both his Hunger and grief did that— one—

Time. The gun moves, now, to squeeze between his perched self and towards Eileen's gut. "You won't need us, in the end." The strings cut, Teo's arm jerking when it's abruptly freed from whatever that was, self-imposed puppetry. "To finish the job."

The socked heel of Teo's foot squeaks hard on tile, clunks a halt against caulking that reverberates like a fucking drum through the hollow wall of the bathtub. He falls backward. Hits the textured porcelain with a painful whack of sinew-covered bone and dense clothing. His hands spider helplessly in the empty air, and the gun threatens to spin around trigger-finger like a fireman swizzing down the pole. His eyes sting, awfully, with relief. "That's your name," he says, "'nd no other. Grazie, now get the fuck out of my—"

His face blanches white-green like poisoned milk, and the pupils dilate to pits that nearly eat up his whole eyes. Teo stares as the thing comes up behind Eileen, fast like a shadow, resolving into the harsh-focused definition of long fingers, scarred knuckles, a tattoo of leopard spots riddling the exposed crook of his wrist, seconds before it closes neatly around Eileen's throat. There is the impression of droopy eyes, sandy hair, a scimitar's apologetic smile, black metal composite socketing its muzzle in the mochi-tender hollow of Eileen's cheek.

This time, the Ghost does not care if she has a face left.

Adrenalized realization jams in the column of Teo's spine. He sits up in the tub, his toes splaying a throwback colt's kick, a yell coming out of his mouth in a mess of spit-slick scar, some incoherent terminology that no language he's ever learned will ever intersect on. It is not thought through, when the pistol's snout goes to his head.

Eileen lets out a strangled sound— strangled because the apparition's hand fits neatly around her neck and bears down on her windpipe with enough force to expel a suppressed squeal from her lungs along with all that air. Whether or not she's real, just a figment of Teo's fevered imagination or — most likely — something in between, she does what the woman his memories are based upon would do in the same situation if given the opportunity.

She fights.

A hand closes around Ghost's wrist, crescent nails leaving raw, red marks in his skin, and she twists away from the barrel of the gun, her other hand clutching at the lip of the tub mere inches away from Teo's knee. It hadn't been like this on the floor of Alexander's hotel room, bloodstained Berber carpet under their knees as she groped feebly at his leg. He'd put a knife in her first.

Surprisingly, there is life, outside of this bathroom. It probably did not feel like it, world constricted to white tile and wall.

There is a shift in the battle going on, a reversal where something attempting to commit suicide is now fighting for its existence. Gabriel surges forward, but his hands never make it to the apparition murdering his wife before his form seems to burn itself away, with nucear light flaring beneath shadow-blackened skin to a degree that has him disintegrating into tendriling smoke, ash creating a choking cloud in the bathroom enough to blot out the light in the same way killing Arthur Petrelli had swallowed the sun.

There's still the matter of the struggling girl. There's still the weight of the pistol in his hand.

Then there's the sound of footsteps briskly following the echoing voice — not a walk, or even a concerned trot, but a panicked run of finding some unknown invader killing his boyfriend in the room he was hung. When Francois does not see any— this is not cause for hesitation, when he finds what he does see.

Porcelain bruises shins as Francois artlessly steps through the cloud of fire-tinged dust, even through the entanglement of Ghost and Eileen, half-throwing himself where Teo had previously levered himself backwards. Teo's arm suffers the strain of weight pushing it back against tile, gun angled for the heavens if heaven were a little more at an angle. Green eyes are wide with alarm, and Francois brings with him the damp smell of snow and the urban outside and solidified reality.

Teo's elbow folds like a noodle and slams painfully into wall, with a noise like pop and bone and skin singing acoustics through the hollow space between layered plaster, gypsum, and the load-bearing structure of the wall. A tile clinks: splitting, coughing out a thin powder of mortar, even as the split ceramic halves fall out and land on the fabric somebody's pant leg. He was going to smash an emergency escape route through this wall a couple days ago. Funny how that happens.

The gun goes off. It is fucking loud and plugs a hole in the ceiling, four inches from the round light screwed in there, pocked out like a crater in the face of the moon. Gunpowder stinks. Francois is heavy, takes up too much room in quarters already cramped up by the tub's contours and the small size of the room. Broken thermometer glass is squeaking friction, rubbed into the ceramic. Teo says something in a gasp. Can't fucking hear what he's saying. Irrelevantly, he tastes blood. His other hand snatches at Francois' sleeve. Fuck, man— now he's going to kill h

But he doesn't. The ghost's pistol goes off, but the first shot, at least, reels wide, crams lead into the wall next to the window an inch above her head, blowing a mushoroming bullet trail through the fading confetti of Gabriel's incenration. Scarlet lines on his wrist open up under the flechettes of Eileen's fingernails and his other arm bends, shifts his grip and shifts between weapons abrupt with the intent of surprise, shutting long fingers around her jaw. Murderous as ever, he just as fluidly pivots to slam her leisoned head into the sink.

Still smiling, though there is no pleasure in it, now Teo can see his face. Scarless, snared as close to the back of Eileen's head as a tomcat astride his opted queen, at least for the split-second before the brutal shove.

You don't need a gun or a knife to kill someone. Sometimes, especially when that someone is built the way Eileen is, all it takes is the proper application of brute force. The sound of her skull connecting the porcelain of the sink isn't as loud as the shot, but it rings out with the same succinct finality. Her hand at Ghost's wrist grows slack, loose, and although her fingers never fall completely away, they leave a wet smudge across the back of his knuckles when her body grows limp.

There's blood in Teo's mouth, blood in the Englishwoman's hair, and maybe the sight of her slumping to the floor — alive or dead — would be as distressing to Francois as it apparently is to the Sicilian if he could see it. Doesn't, of course. The only real thing about Eileen is what she, Gabriel and Ghost all stem from.

Which is the man pinned down in the tub. Francois is the only one in the room who has his priorities straight.

And so it stands to reason that Francois ducks when the gun goes off, nearly collides skulls in the process, before hands go to close on the one holding the pistol at wild angles. No broken fingers, but brief strain felt in tendons under pressure when the weapon is forcibly twisted from Teo's grasp like negotiating an apple off a stubborn stem. A moment later, the clip is clattering without ceremony to the bottom of the tub, sliding off towards the drain.

French sounds chaotic, this close in proximity, between caught, frightened breaths and echoing in the bathroom's acoustics — he is probably asking what is the matter with you without properly awaiting an answer.

Find himself half-kneeling, half-fallen into the tub in some combination of being beside and on top of Teo, one leg haphazardly angled over the other man's thighs, the other folded uncomfortably but ignored beneath the Frenchman, and he brings uneven hands to clasp either side of Teo's face in an effort to get him to look at him, a palm shifting to the back of his skull and tangling in hair. Green eyes seem to dart to study one blue eye, then its neighbour.

Teo doesn't cry but he obviously wants to. Unshed tears, Francois knows the kind; they stand out against the normal layer of fluid over his eyes, make them look blurry and disfocused because they probably are. Not that that can entirely account for Teodoro's actions, of course. A brief spate of myopia or allergic symptomology never made a man put a pistol to his own head.

Lucidity is a long few seconds coming, and when it does, it doesn't appear quite complete. Not that an abrupt appearance of clarity would have soothed Francois overmuch, of course. There's been a lot of that, lately. Appearances of clarity. The pupils constrict in Teo's blue eye, juddering, and its neighbor. He blinks thrice, recognition sets in, enough self-consciousness that he raises his sleeve to wipe at the ragged hole in his mouth, matted with pink saliva, by now, and an errant twinkle of sharded glass.

"I'm here," he croaks. His knee twitches, peaking briefly behind Francois' sprawl. He coughs wetly. There is one small but discrete clot on his sleeve: of blood. There is a lagging silence, one that would have been filled with an explanation or an excuse, either constructive or facetious. Neither happens. "I'm here."

Francois nods, for all that the answer does not wipe prying concern from his expression, desolate worry that could also manifest in unshed tears. Remain a dignified— ish— kind of unblinking glassy, and his grip on Teo's head loosens, softens. "Bien." A hand conforms to a gentle hold at the nape of Teo's neck, the other clasp at his jaw relaxing to sweep a thumb in an abstractly needy carress down the bristled slope. "Me too."

His heart is still going like the clappers in his chest, having a hard time wrestling it down to something normal. His hands are steady, lacking tremors, and he can— probably ask what happened later. For now, Francois goes to loop his arms properly around Teo, tug him in to list into the embrace. Presses a kiss to Teo's temple but only on the way to tucking his chin upon the crown of the younger man's skull, a forcible, latching hold as if maybe the only thing to warding away the hallucinations slowly driving his lover insane is his tangible, corporeal presence. Can't imagine how real it might have been, Eileen's fingernails digging into Teo's throat.

—But Francois is due explanation. And some things need to be said even though they're awful to say, and maybe the Frenchman would rather not hear them. It took Teo one and a half extra lifetimes, a few experiences of murder going both ways, and enough intimate personal tragedy to fill Letters to the Editor and the advice columns of a monthly magazine for years, but after all that, he understands a little bit about being honest with the one you're with.

"I killed my friend again.

"I shouldn't—" 'Have to carry this,' was the ending he was going to attach to that sentence, but it stalls out on him, for once. That default lunge toward exculpation, as hard-wired to his personality as misappropriated guilt and hitting things with his hands. This is not a normal day, however, and his hands are clutching, his guilt arguably appropriate, his clinch with his boyfriend in the tub lacking in hot water and gratuitous nudity. He thinks he can see a curving eggshell fragment of Eileen's skull laying glossily on the corner of the sink, past the blurry horizon of Francois' chest. His ragged head hangs limp. "I think I bit the thermometer in half."

"You didn't do anything again," is mumbled into off-blonde hair, hands kneading a little where they've found a grip on the Sicilian into stalemate clutch in the porcelain tub. "Save for what you nearly did to yourself. Teo." Air catches in his chest, eases out as if forced, before Francois is easing up only so that he can look at Teo's mouth. The swoop of scarring crawling up Teo's cheek is nothing he's not used to and has stopped getting his automatic attention from a few months ago, but it's where bright red wells to the surface.

And not searching out blue eyes, as earnestly as he'd done, near demanded, just prior. "I can stitch this, if needed. You did not happen to get your temperature, then," is almost a joke. A helpless one. As if to make himself feel better, Francois presses a hand to Teo's forehead, without rooming with clutch of his other arm around shoulders.

The temperature check is relevant, however irreverent the accompanying verbal caption happens to be. Teo's forehead is damp and too hot, but it's hard to tell whether that's because of the jackhammers and choking furnace he has for his pulse or because a conniving 'flu virus is wreaking havoc on his immune system and core temperature. His leg hitches awkwardly along the edge of the tub, cuddling Francois closer, in this absurd parody of a honeymoon jacuzzi or koala friendship. He almost wishes he had a headache.

It is faint reassurance to him, that the Frenchman doesn't suddenly look at him with blue eyes and a voice like masticated gravel. "I don't know if I need stitches," he says, his voice shrunken down to about a quarter of normal, despite its strangely even register. "Do I?" His bearded jaw wobbles slightly as he opens his mouth, turns his head aside. There's a nick in his gums, welling on repeat if nothing worthy of stitches, a sparking constellation of three diminutive glass fragmens laying within a fold of glossy flesh.

Francois inspects. Kisses next to Teo's mouth, cautiously away from old scar and fresh injury. "Non, only tweezers." Part of him really wants them out of this awful room, but most of him is content in this cosy little tangle, the protective, possessive angle of his leg stapling Teo down, everything within reach of his hands and nothing bad immediately happening. Plus, moving is an awkward process, but he starts it anyway, hands gripping the edges of porcelain as he retracts, winds up kneeling to Teo's left, hands out to help him up.

"Je t'aime." It bears saying. In case it was forgotten somewhere between the split second Teo had a gun pointed no where interesting, and then the muzzle close to making burn marks and bullet holes in his head. A glance up to his eyes again, as if to check that that was okay to say, in between getting them both to stand.

Maybe this is not the time, Francois! But maybe it is. Saying it at different times would make it mean different things, and it just takes Teo a few seconds, as he extricates himself stiffly from the impromptu tub-side cuddle-pile, to decide that this is not some kind of ridiculous and poorly-timed test measuring various elements like love-for-other versus self-loathing or verbalization versus anguish festering in secret. He immediately feels bad that he'd even thought—

"My head isn't on right," he says. "But not the one-night-stand kind. There's a few things that I know are true rather'n just— believing them. And you're—" A half-beat, a crease of self-recrimination. "Tu anche." His socks reach tile gingerly, toes curling against the emanation of porcelain cold. Unsteady, sloshy, but Teo makes it upright and manages to stay there long enough to fall into step behind the Frenchman. Only to pause. Cast around, uncertainly, feeling too light and too warm in ways that have nothing to do with sickness or exertion.

Where's his g—?

The mirror of the medicine cabinet snicks shut. Francois is taking Teo's hand, other gripping onto shining silver and fuzzy white in plastic, and gently guiding him for the door. Teo's gun is lying in two pieces on tile and porcelain, and neither of which the Frenchman desires to pay any attention to, neither pistol nor clip — broken tile and a bullet hole in the ceiling are similarly dismissed. Those are things he can clean up later. There are things he needs to clean up now.

He's probably quiet, now, out of fear — also query, sending a look back at Teo as if inviting him to talk. As much as he can with glass in his mouth, which Francois is trying not to encourage, but c'est la vie. They can't protect each other from everything, a fact that increases in its obviousness day to day.

Strangely, Teodoro's first instinct is to go to sleep. Other people are up all night agonizing when under this much stress or anxiety, but Teo is programmed to go to sleep, practically speaking, to boost his immune system, and then revisit the situation 'tomorrow.' The fact he isn't alone, that he is answerable to the one who lives with him and is wont to save his life from— himself, at irregularly-scheduled intervals.

The hallway walls don't seem to be breathing, which is encouraging. He tries to make himself think in words, but it doesn't work very well. Winds up reaching with his hand instead, grasping at Francois' left one, calluses clamping up greedy and clumsy-knuckled around the edge of scar-skewed palm. "I nearly did it because I thought I was going to do something worse, for a second there. I don'— it felt r— I fought it, 'ntil then. I'm sorry; I know that doesn't make it better, but I did— I tried to stop hi—" Him.

Nothing he could say could really make the situation worse, Teo realizes, more terrifying. He stops looking at his lover, after a moment. Looks downward, instead, floorboards beneath his socks, before shifting a few degrees sideways to examine whatever Francois is shod in. The light still isn't falling right inside the house. "There's something really wrong with me."

Francois shoulders into the frame of the doorway, sets his back there, coaxing Teo to stand with him as he talks, stumbles, stammers. They've been in this spot before — half-conversation with someone on their way in and someone on their way out, or a pitstop of making out, maybe, until a collapse some few feet away into the bed. "Your temperature is up," he denies, gently, backs of his fingers finding the higher slope of Teo's cheek, constrastly cool to damp, hot skin.

"You're sick. You— " And he stalls out, now, breaking gaze to study feet. His are clad in boots gone damp from the snow outside, looking harsh and clunky next to Teo's modestly socked ones. Him. Tried to stop him. These other people that his boyfriend used to be or will be, that Francois never met.

What did he ever do to them. Except love this one. "Maybe you should consider Coler-Goldwater. Downtown hospital is not too far away either. What would you want to do?"

"Wait," Teo decides, after a long moment. "Here."

There's a tired and tentative optimism in his face when he looks at Francois. Glass in his scar-twisted mouth, something humbled in the shape of his lean shoulders. He insisted on running around armed for so long, to do every little thing. It had seemed like madness long before he started seeing shit that made him want to blow his brains out into chunky red and gristle-mottled spatter across the bathroom wall. Never mind what a pain in the ass it had been, scrubbing Francois' blood out of the caulking and the mortar the other week.

The distance between them is restrained to the width of the doorframe. A clever move, on the Frenchman's part. Teo looks pale despite the heat stifling in the small gaps between Francois' fingers, and the ragged cut of his hair and beard makes pale into haggard. The concession is slow, but fails to sound grudging, this once: "'F that's okay."

A sound at the back of his throat is meant to pass for permission granted or agreement. Francois' hand drops away, lacking the energy to argue — with Teo or the part of him that does want Teo to wait, here, specifically in Francois' line of sight. "Oui. I won't go anywhere." Not that Teo specifically asked whether he was planning on it, but like an I love you, Francois does not think it can go amiss, even if it did a little before. He nudges his weight off the door frame, reaches past Teo's shoulder to feel the wall of the bedroom until the tips of fingers encounter the lightswitch.

Instantaneous light is cue for Francois to tilt his head in a gesture for Teo to go on, sit down. Get this part done and other necessities and sleep for 'tomorrow'.

Teo would bet he could beat up a security and steal his sidearm, anyway. He has money he could lay on that bet, and a lively imagination for how that would go, in the hospital ward, but that would be making light as much as it would be depicting an inconceivably awful, worst case scenario. Bombastic boy braggadocio aside, the joke would've been that it isn't a joke, if this was the time for making jokes.

Teo sits on the bed instead of falling on it. Peels his socks off, one by one, forefinger hooked and thumb pressed over. He is thinking about how he'd wanted the upper floor all done up with traps in case Delilah wanted to stay over, with the baby. But Delilah shouldn't stay over. Not with the baby. Not now. The socks are slow balling up in Teo's hand, and when he pitches them overarm at the laundry basket in the corner of the room, he misses.

Really they should probably have done this in the bathroom, where the light is harsher, brighter, but, you know. What can Francois say, except that he craved a change of scenery? He hasn't even taken off his wintercoat since hearing the echoes of a one-sided scuffle above his head, but he does now, letting it flop over the back of a chair where it's usually meant to be hung up next to the door. The holster goes next, one of Teo's borrowed pistols, sealing both it and leather into the drawer of the window-side writing desk — where it doesn't usually go, but.

Anyway. He hasn't had to pick glass out of anyone at home, yet, and no one requires particular eyebrow maintenance, so he's pulling plastic and cardboard off the tweezery tool he spirited out of the medicine cabinet, moving towards where Teo is sitting and lingering there with some amount of awkwardness, because English is difficult even when it's not your second language. Oh well. "Open wide," he requests.

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