Hot Toddy


emily_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Hot Toddy
Synopsis After a terrible day, Teo offers to fix Emily a drink.
Date November 15, 2019

Laudani-Epstein Townhome, Sheepshead Bay

"Hey, Kettle." Emily murmurs at the black kitten as he greets her by the door. She's exhausted, shutting and locking both deadbolt behind her slowly but with purpose against the evening dark. As soon as that's done, she hooks a toe around the heel of her boot, awkwardly trying to get them off as hands-free as possible. It's not possible, though, she realizes with a wince, and carefully bends while moving her head as little as possible. Kettle mews again and she just sighs, glancing at him and trying to ignore the fresh bandage pasted over the left side of her neck.

"I know," she mutters to the cat, throwing her boots beside the door. After, she unbuttons the creme-colored peacoat she's been wearing since the turn of the season, unfastening it one brown knob at a time. When she pulls it off to hang it on the hook by the door, she can't help but notice the bloodied partial handprints on the shoulder and arm of it, not to mention the stain to the neck and lapel. "Shit." Emily murmurs, waffling with the coat in her hand. Hang it up… or…?

It drops to the ground in a heap by her boots, and she stands there for a moment without moving. Her throat works in silence.

"Hey, Teo?" Emily lifts her head slightly as she calls out, eyes still on the jacket. "You home?"

This is fine, everything's fine. She's just going to go make herself a cup of coffee, and… well, maybe not coffee. Maybe she'll invite herself to Teo's stash of alcohol instead. She exhales short but deep, turning away from the coat to head for the kitchen in her socks.

Teo is currently studying. And ageing, he's discovered. He feels like his mind has declined somewhat since his years at Columbia, during his twenties, and it has been the subject of some aggravation for him — but a lot more fun to attribute blame to there, than, say, dwelling on the possibility his ongoing marital conflict needs resolution. Or that he should stop drinking so much.

(He's begun to cut back, a little. He's not incapable of perceiving causation, okay.)

He is currently grinding his way through some local, contemporary statutes on drone camera recording technology, which make him feel self-conscious for reasons. Second cup of coffee since six PM, his scruffy jaw on his fist and his head bent low over the laptop on the dining table; one earphone in, blaring an old ditty from Sicily. His eyes are getting worse, too, he's thinking. Fan-fucking-tastic. No wonder his husband doesn't want him anymoh, is that Emily?

"Yeah. What's up?" Teo scrapes back his chair, rising, initially just glad for the excuse to get to get the fuck up from studying. But somewhere between his first step and his second step, he casually, a little invasively, but not unkindly, dips a psychic toe into her head. A habitual check, reassuring himself that it is indeed, Emily, that she is only tired and…

"What's on your neck?" is something he should probably wait to ask until after he actually lays eyes on her. Instead, the question emerges before he does. Precedes him into the kitchen, as he comes prowling, his tired eyes nonetheless sharpening in the cool light.

God damn it.

Emily is looking his way before he even enters the kitchen, hyperaware that he knew without even seeing her. Did he notice when she passed the study dining room? Did he rudely peek in? Or worse, did he just somehow know instinctively? Whatever the case, it only add a gasoline and kindling to a paranoia not yet set aflame.

No, that will come Monday. Or maybe tomorrow, if she's particularly unlucky.

Teo can see what Emily herself currently can't, that there's a stained corner of her shirt's collar. It's something she's forgotten about since bundling up to come home. She weighs for a moment giving an answer slightly less than true— weighs it against Teo's ability to know, and her own inability to keep from providing tells in her current state. She sits for that short period in silence, then squares herself just so to prepare herself— maybe prepare him for the type of answer she has to give.

"A bandage. Covering stitches. From a knife wound." Each line delivered without emphasis, bullet points on a casual list of ways her day had gone wrong. This is fine, Teo. "I went to Julie's immediately, and she—" A small wince can't be avoided, remembering that searing pain. Her hand comes to the side of her neck involuntarily. "She cleaned it, put me back together." Her gaze is slightly off from his now, growing distant. "I'll go to the station in the morning," she promises to an unanswered question. "Report what happened."

Which she's not explained. Emily looks back at Teo across the counter, hand still hanging off the side of her neck— which is smarting, but no worse than it had been before. It slides down, shoulder groaning at her from the hit it had taken earlier and the soreness it invokes. Her eyes sting at the corners despite attempts to keep them clear. "I was jumped leaving campus," she explains calmly, voice steady. "Some— dumb kids, angry with SESA."

"I gave as good as I got, Teo." Clearly, this is important to know.

Teo stops walking once he reaches the kitchen, mostly because he realizes it would be Problematic to fly across the room to a girl half his age and size. And manhandle her into exposing her personal medical injuries after she was recently

attacked by hateful thugs. Apparently.

He does not move or say anything for a couple seconds. It kind of looks like the wheels are turning inside of his head, processing and reprocessing the information that she just told him. Whatever tension happens to be building inside of him drives the cat across the room, meowing warily, but the reality is that he isn't doing much. "You got multiple children in their necks with a knife?" he asks, not trying to be pedantic. "Did you get them in any of their jugular arteries? Or did you thoughtfully spare their lives by half an inch, like that person—"

— he gestures at her neck, apparently. Her head area. "Did for you?" He's not mad at her. Teo is trying not to seem as if he's mad at her, because he's not. But he is mad, in this formless way that rotates in on itself, like a tornado or a hurricane, a victim of its own physics.

Teo isn't trying to be pedantic, nor is he trying to be funny, but Emily is having to swallow back an involuntary laugh regardless. "No," she explains, looking off from him now. "But one was maced to the face, he might've had his shoulder dislocated. The other— beat with his own baseball bat. Badly. Probably cracked a rib, if not worse. Zachery said internal bleeding," whoever that is, because she's never mentioned him before. "and that's sort of his thing to know about, but, he might've only said that to scare them, because that's when the girl came up with the knife and got me by surprise."

Emily tapers off with a guilty look, realizing maybe, given that last bit, things weren't as even in blows as she'd described. Her eyes half-lid, gaze dropping near her feet. She places her hand on the counter, the coolness a distraction however small or temporary.

"Didn't have a knife," she adds absently. "Didn't have my gun. I'd just left campus. I never—" Her eyelids flutter, fighting down frustration at herself. "Never carry on campus."

Her hand curls on the counter, half-forming into a fist. "I don't know," Emily mutters about it all. A moment later she sighs hard. "Of all the fucking reasons to get jumped, Teo."

Of all the fucking reasons to get jumped. Teo watches her as she describes the damage she had dealt out, and he does feel something like pride unfurl in his chest, a flower trying to grow out of stone.

This is a whole half of why he was fighting with Francois about the Wolfhound gig anyway, probably. The thrill of adrenaline, the joy of triumph. Even the pleasure of growing aptitude, skill in combat. Easy to forget how close you can come to dying on a hill, until someone on your side nearly does.

"I'm glad you got 'em back," he says, after a long moment. After all, Teo is not mad at her. He doesn't want her to think that he is. Nobody should have to or be allowed to carry firearms on a school campus. They might be post-war, but he still believes that. That'll be the ever-loving liberal in him. His mind is heavy with unarticulated thoughts. Thoughts that he thinks better than to tell her, sentimental drivel, mostly. But he's not ignoring her.

What a comment to make, young lady. Teo drags himself upright, pushing off the wooden frame he was leaning against. "What 'reason' are you talking about?"

Emily rocks back onto her heels hard, the points of her knuckles digging into the countertop. "It— it was the fucking SESA internship. One of them was this girl I had class with in the spring; she knows I work with them. It's what the boy shouted. 'This is what you get for working with them.'" She remembers to breathe, and it comes sharp. "I don't think she even knew I'm registered. She and her friends were just looking for somewhere to swing, mad at the world, and it— just…"

Her mouth hardens into an uneven line, stuck between a grimace and a forced smile. "I was there, I guess. Like it wasn't any bullshit over my dad, it wasn't any bullshit over me in particular, they were just … mad at and wanted to lash out at whatever they could that supports the SLC-E." She looks back at him, and it's clear she's not sure the lack of them knowing her own status was an advantage or not. Would it have made things better? Worse? "That helps people like you and me."

Her expression starts to fold in on itself, the knit of her brow inversing in a sudden pass of guilt. "And I used my ability, to try and talk them down. I'm not sure it helped, but I felt what she felt, that girl with the knife— and I didn't know I could do that," Her voice picks up in pitch, the guilt turning into something else entirely. "and I don't even know if I did, if it's just all in my head and I'm trying to make sense out of something that doesn't make sense and I just…"

Emily trails off, failing to find a satisfying end to that. Her breath leaves her again in a thin note, her eyes sharpening. She refuses to cry. Instead, she wills stillness into her voice and supposes, "I need a drink."

This is a lead. That is a fucking lead. Teodoro registers this in his brain, which snaps at it like a steel trap crushes the leg of something that entered unbidden. But he keeps his features schooled, not wanting… not wanting lots of things. To worry Emily, to take over where the cops might well have it.

Or, you know. To trigger some unthinking, unconscious use of her ability. Talk him out of something. Or perhaps worse, if her words now are to be taken at face-value, to talk her into something else.

"Hot toddy?" he asks.

It is a very American thing to drink, but combines multiple ingredients that he has seen her ingest enthusiastically before, and she is nothing if not American — in the best possible way. He roves across the room to start putting the kettle on. When his lumbering gait takes him in proximity to the girl, he reaches over to give her little shoulder a gentle push, directing her toward either their dining table or their couch. He will be making the beverages. Be they tea or hard liquor. "Pretty stupid move, on her part. Was she disguised, or something?"

Emily doesn’t have an answer at first, but lets herself be nudged out of the way. “No,” she answers distractedly. Maybe it was another stupid move on their part? “Alissa— it started when she tried to talk me into going off with them alone. I didn’t. So…” Maybe it wasn’t a stupid move on their part. She works to assign blame categorize it all, shaking her head as she comes away from the counter onto so she can linger a few feet away from him. She never makes it as far as the table or the couch.

Words fail to come for some time, though, thoughts so loud they drown out the need for speech. Her neck hurts. Her head hurts. Her heart hurts.

“It could have gone a lot worse.” she acknowledges in a small voice. “If I’d been alone. If you hadn’t shown me how to look after myself. It’s— it’s stupid, but that’s the thing I keep coming back to. It could have gone so much worse.”

"That's a very positive reframe," says the Teodoro Laudani who is the least good at positive reframes in the local universe. But he's making up a hot toddy and it's going to be delicious and strong, and not really a replacement for legal justice against the perpetrators of hate crime, but you know. If something's gotta happen before that, it might as well be this.

He also drags a blanket off the couch. One of those fleecey ones, dove grey, from where some guest or other had crashed for a night on their premises. Or else from when Teo's best not-quite-divorced impression was super alone and giving himself hugs.

It drapes onto Emily's shoulders, warm and light. Teo sits down near her, waiting for the kettle to start its bubbly gurgly song. Rewind, he tells himself. They have positive ID. Those shitty kids know the hammer of justice is coming, but that's not a rabbit hole to chase that shit down. Emily had said something a moment ago, and his anger pushed him away from it, but here is the opportunity to ask:

"What did she feel?"

Emily doesn't realize how numb she's growing to her surroundings until she blinks and Teo has both left and come back, the soft touch of the blanket likely the only one that wouldn't make her jump from her skin. She accepts its warm embrace, using her hand as a pin to affix it around her shoulders. She sweeps the rest of it around herself to not trip on it or otherwise lose its use while she sits down on the kitchen tile. Sitting in a pool of fleece in the middle of the kitchen feels infinitely less abnormal when Teo sits next to her.

She shakes her head at his question for any number of reasons. "Angry. Bitter." sound so obvious, like it discredits her. "Unfair. She felt something that had happened to someone she loved was unfair, and it was focused on a thing that she decided was me. She was mad at SESA, and I felt it, and I knew it wasn't my emotions— so I tried to reason with her. I told her what she was angry at wasn't me. I think it would have worked, but after Zachery kept beating on that kid with a baseball bat, she just— snapped."

The words break momentarily so Emily can release a steady exhale. "I looked into her eyes and I knew she'd changed her mind, even if she'd been convinced a moment ago that I wasn't her enemy. Things had changed, and she didn't feel the least bit guilty about it. It—"

Her gaze flickers, the feeling that's tripping her up sucking her down momentarily. "I don't know, Teo. It felt cold, like the knife." Her fingers dig into the warmth of the blanket to counter it. She closes her eyes and leans to the side, her shoulder colliding with his.

Abruptly, she doesn't want to talk about it anymore. She takes in a breath, shaking her head like she's shaking off the topic, and she both ignores and tries to mind what that movement does to her stitches. "When I was talking to Julie," Emily segues. "I asked her what was wrong. Why she'd been so distant since I moved. I didn't know you knew her sister, Liette."

Teodoro's brain slowly munches through the information, by which I mean it chews very rapidly through, fast-forward imagery of a termite rupturing a house, worms spoiling a carcass. It's a lot of information, but the emotion moving abreast to his aggravation is unmistakably

relief. Actually.

That's better than he had hoped, possibly because Teodoro Laudani is bad at hope anymore. It's been a long time since he had to infiltrate the traffic camera system around the university. Maybe it speaks poorly to his retired terrorist skills, that he doesn't honestly know if they still work. Who is 'Zachery.' Does he know Zachery? The name brings him nothing in his mental Rolodex, but Emily speaks with familiarity that makes him believe there's another viable witness, then.

Teodoro would like to say something reassuring, but instead she says another name. Two. His mental Rolodex trips forward, an unexpected jolt. Everybody in this city knows each other. He should have figured, probably.

Instead, Teo gets up and pours out the tea and adds a shockingly modest quantity of bourbon, then honey. There's a lemon-shaped bottle of lemon juice in the fridge, too, and he takes that out, in absence of fresh lemons. This isn't the post-war era for purism, let's be real.

Thok. He sets down the hot cup by her and then sits down next to her with one of his own. His does not actually have more bourbon than hers, because: he values clarity of mind, at the moment. "Not well," he said. "But I did."

Well, “She thought the world of you,” Emily says, lift to the lilt of her voice. It slips to something mellowed in the next beat. “But she was a child, too. And kids think the world of people until they know better.” Her hand slips around the side of the mug, hooking her whole hand through the ear of it, popping her knuckles just barely through while her palm hugs the ceramic. There’s something soothing about it, even without having taken a drink.

She pauses in lifting the mug, the scent of it under her nose and the lip of it almost to her own. “—I don’t mean that like…” she struggles to voice it, brow ticking toward a furrow. “I just mean that… don’t… feel bad if you felt you didn’t know her that well.”

Eyes down on the warm drink, she settles it against the curve of her chin, breathing it in. (Is it too warm to drink yet?) “The two of them, though,” she murmurs wearily. “I didn’t know they shared that much, but Julie said she— felt what Liette felt. Through their ability, I guess. So it’s hard on her— hard, because Liette’s gone, because her ability’s pretty much gone, and…” She loses sight of why sharing this, especially now, has relevance, and has to veer abruptly back to the point. The about-face is performed quickly, with an abrupt: “It’s why she’s not come by to visit us before.” before she finally takes a sip of the warm mix.

It tastes more of tea and honey and lemon than it does stink of the bourbon, so once she’s validated it is in fact not too hot to drink, she takes another, longer sip. Her thumb brushes the side of her mug as she sets it down in her lap, just in time for Kettle to saunter into the kitchen. There’s a sitting party and he wasn’t invited? Rude. How else is he supposed to crawl into laps uninvited?

“Thank you for the drink,” says Emily, even as she has to lift it out of the way so the leggy once-kitten can wade his way over the blanket she’s wrapped in and begin plotting his way underneath it. His nose dips, sniffing at her as much as he is at it. “Better than me walking off with an entire bottle of something by myself, that’s for sure.”

For all that Teodoro Laudani has an amazing psychic gift, the ability to journey between people and sometimes even worlds, he does not have a particular gift for understanding people. Not as a telepath. And his intuition tends to be hit or miss; possibly something to do with the fact that he's a couple shades of sociopath.

But he gives it his best shot.

"You don't regret being who you are, and what you are, even if hateful little fucks are gonna come for you. You wouldn't give it up if you could."

Teo isn't always sure he feels that way, himself. But he wasn't born with his ability. And maybe it'd be different, if he had been like Liette and Julie; if his power was like theirs. But he doubts it. He has a different relationship with his ability, with being an SLC-Expressive person on this Earth. It's not part of him the way it is Emily.

"You're welcome," Teo says. "And if you think she'll come now, let's have Julie over some time. We don't even have to drink."

Emily's immediate plans to sequester herself in her room derailed by the kitten taking roost in her lap (because she's not allowed to go anywhere now, those are most certainly the rules), she's still in one spot when Teo throws his best hatchet of an attempt to understand just what she's trying to convey. Everything she's been through today, she takes it for what it is: an attempt at all, instead of a subaudible grumble, maybe a half-assed excuse, and a saunter on out of the room to avoid the awkward minefield she'd set before him.

Like other men she knows would. Man, in particular.

He stays, including staying his panic and his anger, and she takes that for what it is— and finds it comforting. Her shoulders settle, fingers curling around her mug in a futile attempt to warm a chill-less numb out of them.

"I'd like that," she murmurs, even knowing the chances of it happening are slim.

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