Hypocrisy And Hardballs


toussaint_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title Hypocrisy and Hardballs
Synopsis Agent Toussaint makes a visit to deliver sympathetically worded inquiries regarding the incident in early July. Zachery reacts poorly.
Date September 6, 2020

Raytech NYCSZ Branch Office

The knock on the door of Zachery’s office isn’t a surprise. He’d gotten a call from the lobby to let him know a governmental agent was on his way to meet with him, escorted by security.

Agent Toussaint waits with his hands in the pockets of a long gray cashmere coat — the weather’s a little too warm yet for such a thing, but the man wearing it shows no sign of being overheated. Of course, the temperature within Raytech’s walls is cooler than the balmy day outside.

The agent casts a glance over his shoulder at the security guard who waits with him, giving him a nod. “Appreciate the personal treatment, sir,” Toussaint says in an accent tinged with the deep south.

It isn't often Zachery is in what he's claimed as his office, and in truth, when the door opens, the small space barely reads as one for all of the spare equipment that's been hauled in there on shelves and into corners. Still, it has a desk and two rolling chairs on either side, so it will suffice.

Zachery wastes no time in darting a glance from visitor to guard, before stepping back and aside to make way, his back forced straight under his lab coat and his head high. His face, well - not necessarily welcoming with how keenly he's already watching Toussaint, but surely a member of the government must be used to this.

And, well. Some people might just be a little on edge when they're told security is coming down, accompanied by a government agent or no. "Dr. Zachery Miller," he offers, along with a hand.

The security guard nods, moving a bit down the hall, where they’ll be ready to escort the man back to the lobby after the appointment, unless the doctor wants to do so himself.

“Agent Toussaint,” the man says with a smile that helps to soften the intensity of his eyes a little. He takes the hand in his own in a firm shake, before heading to the seat. “May I?” he asks, but he does, whether he’s offered permission or not.

“I’m here for what you might consider a wellness visit, though I’m no doctor, of course. The questions may seem a bit random, but it’s to help us understand just what happened to you in the incident in July. Do you mind if I record the conversation? It’s just for accuracy’s sake. I’m sure you can appreciate that, in your line of work,” the young man says. “We can start with some easy questions, ease into things. Have you been sleeping well, eating well, since the accident?”

As if in purposeful contrast to the efficiency shown, Zachery stays where he is, makes no attempt to close the door, and watches Agent Toussaint proceed the same way one might observe an animal sniffing around where it shouldn't be. Complete with a wary eye for when it might decide to piss in a corner.

His words are clipped when he finally starts moving toward the other side of the desk and answers, "I very much doubt that's relevant, don't you?" Maybe he assumes yes, because he follows his question up with a quick addition of: "Also, you called it an incident - then an accident. I feel like we can both agree that intervention of some sort was an important aspect here."

He sits, his eyebrows raised expectantly as he levels a stare over the haphazard collection of paper atop the desk and into Toussaint's face, adopting a forced smile.

Toussaint dips his head in a small bow of concession. “I apologize for my imprecise diction. I suppose I consider incident to be the entire situation, and accident to be the plane crash itself, but you’re right. I have heard that law enforcement is increasingly using the word collision when it comes to car accidents because accident has an implication of no-fault, which isn’t always the case.” He taps his phone to start the recording, not having been given a negative. “In this case, I would imagine the crash itself was an accident, but it’s possible I’m wrong.”

He waves a hand, as if to clear the air between them. “Have you experienced anything strange at all, or something maybe that happens once in a while normally happening more frequently to you than before? Deja vu or a song stuck in your head… seeing a person you know that you know, but not being able to place their name or how you know them?”

Something overly attentive remains within Zachery as he listens, in the angling of his head while his gaze stays unwaveringly ahead of him. Save, that is, for a flick of a glance toward the phone. His smile proves itself mostly a thing of idle manners, and it fades as soon as he decides it's no longer necessary. He opens his mouth to answer but hesitates, sinking back into his seat as he considers what's been asked of him. Lines draw a little deeper across his brow.

"… Nno, not quite completely mad yet," he answers after a moment, the words dragged out with audible puzzlement before he asks somewhat more crisply, "Sorry, Agent Toussaint, was it - what branch of the government are you from?"

Toussaint’s brows lift and he holds up his hands in a placating gesture. “No, no. You misunderstand,” he says with a shake of his head to emphasize his words. “I’m not suggesting at all that you’re insane. We all experience those things from time to time, and considering the world we live in, with people with myriad abilities, some of those phenomena are more explainable than they have ever been in the history of, well, humanity.”

He leans back, folding his hands in front of him on the desk. “Would you say your personality has altered in any way — do you find yourself more or less inclined toward anger or even violence? To others or yourself? More or less inclined toward anything, really, that you wouldn’t chalk up directly to the incident or its consequences?”

But that leaves a question unanswered. It furrows Zachery's brow further. "No," he answers again, more firmly this time, teeth still bared at the end of the word. "No violence, no more anger than usual. Just good old alcoholism and a current state of gutted helplessness that I feel quite fittingly follows confusion of this scope. Not to mention the - loss."

The hitch that interrupts his sentence one word before its completion has him exhale sharply. "But you know what? You're right. You're completely right. About me understanding in my line of work." Somewhat abruptly, he kicks a sole out against the inside of his desk, pushing himself into a lean off to the side and snatching something small off of a shelf within arm's reach. It's his own phone, unlocked by the swipe of a pattern across the screen, and summarily slid out onto the desk in front of him with a timer running and a red button at the bottom.

He looks back up again. "Go on, then. What else, Agent Toussaint?"

Toussaint watches as his own ploys are used against him, it would seem, and he smiles, another bow of concession. “I am sorry about your loss,” he says, voice solemn. “I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like for you, Dr. Miller, and I don’t pretend to.”

He leans forward, arms on the desk folding across one another.

“I’m not the enemy. We’re trying to figure out what happened as well. Who or what is behind it, the source of what you call intervention. The best way we can do that is by checking in with you, comparing the data, seeing if we can find patterns among what seem like random blots and splashes, so to speak,” he murmurs, southern drawl sweet and slow as molasses. “More than that, we want to make sure you are well. Or I should say, as well as can be, given the circumstances. So… increased drinking, feeling of helplessness, completely understandable reaction to the trauma you’ve experienced. Would you say there’s anything that is not a completely understandable reaction? Anything you’re at a loss to rationalize?”

"No." Zachery says again, defiance still in the way he's seated but no longer in his voice. "Everything has been… normal. Work, eat, sleep, that sort of thing."

His monocular gaze drifts off to the side in idle recall, only to result in him slowly shaking his head when his attention lands once more on Toussaint. "I'm not well, but I'm functional. I'm able to focus on my duties here and take care of myself. Not much has changed but the tension of it all, like a guitar that badly needs its strings replaced but still plays just as it should." He clears his throat, jaw momentarily setting as if he's aware he's starting to stray from the point too much for comfort. "Listen, it's entirely possible that you are doing your job perfectly, and I just hate the way it's done. But for all a promise is worth - I am well enough. Many people go through much worse than I did every single day, mystery airplane crash or no."

Emotional distancing from the issue aside, that does remind him to pry, just a little, "And yet. You're here." His fingers rap a quick pattern onto the desk before he leans back. "Still arguing it might not have been who but a what that caused what happened."

Toussaint leans back, his intense gaze a little more intent as he listens to Zachery speak. He nods once or twice, to confirm his understanding. A small but sympathetic-seeming smile tics up at the analogy, and he nods again, before glancing down at the assertion made at the end of the monologue.

“That’s rather poetic, the guitar thing. Fraught, maybe is a word I might use, but you have a way with words I don’t. Clearly, or maybe you wouldn’t hate the way I do things.” He smiles in a self-deprecating way, before shaking his head. “I am not arguing it was a what — I did say who or/ what, and that’s different. Obviously there was a who. That does not preclude there being a what.”

Toussaint sighs. “Now I sound like Dr. Seuss or Abbott and Costello. Who’s on first?” He sits forward again. “Let me just ask this, then, because I understand I’m irritating, and I apologize for that. My ex would agree with you, I’m sure.” Another bright smile follows, before he gestures to Zach. “If you were checking in with people who have suffered what you have, what would you ask them?”

There is a brief narrowing of Zachery's eyes, slightly more over the acrylic imposter than the other. Still, maybe he knows he's being pedantic, because he, too, sighs. The end of his exhale leaves him a little sharper, suspiciously sounds like amusement hiding just under the surface.

"I don't know," he grates, his own unease with uncertainty having him roll a shoulder back as he steadies his voice. "I probably wouldn't want to talk to them - because I'd assume they'd probably be like me. A pain in your ass."

He pauses for a few beats, then adds with idle thought knitting his brow anew, "I don't think I ever aim to compromise on an uncomfortable topic for long, at least not willingly. So I think if I had to, absolutely had to, I'd skip the 'how are you' and go for the hardballs." His eyebrows twitch upward at this, eye contact maintained.
Toussaint’s smile grows a little wider, and he dips his head slightly. “Self awareness is a state of being most people never reach. Congratulations,” he says, dark eyes sparkling just a little.

Glancing down at his hands, Toussaint turns a plain silver ring on his right pinky for a moment. “I’ll remember that next time I come to see you, then. Skip the small talk. Jump right in the deep end. Right then.”

He leans back forward again, his meeting that unwavering eye contact. “Have you had any thoughts of self harm or any thoughts of harming others, aside from the nebulous who that might have done this, because that would be understandable.” His smile tics up again slightly. “Also probably besides me, which might also be understandable, but I’d like to know anyway so I can exit swiftly if it is the case.”

Zachery settles into his seat, the walls he's put up apparently deemed sufficient for the moment. Even if something that's said still pulls at a corner of his mouth before silence falls over the room so he can think over the last few months.

The bit about more visits is glossed over. Maybe assumed.

"None of the above, I don't—… Mh." Zachery interrupts himself, leveling a dry stare into the agent's face before flicking a glance down over his coat. The underlying keenness stays, but doubt riddles his words when he speaks up again, lifting his tone while something a little more spirited adds to the rhythm of his cadence. "Agent Toussaint." It's the most casual he's sounded so far. "Have you ever just wanted to walk into a fully crowded bar and just sock the biggest person in there right in his face? Just an absolute brick shithouse, if you will. Just to see the end of it."

Toussaint’s brows lift at the question, and he tips his head slightly. “So yes to both, then,” is murmured, and not quite a question.

“That is, unless that was either just curiosity about my behaviors, but I don’t think so,” he adds a moment later, folding his hands on the desk surface. “To answer your question, not for a long time. And for what it’s worth, I eventually forgave myself so the need to punish myself lessened, I suppose.”

He juts his chin in Zachery’s direction. “Not that I’m saying that sort of self-destructive urge stems from the same source or even feeling that mine did.”

Hands unfolding, he gestures to Zach with one of them. “Have you? Actually started a bar brawl? Just to ‘see the end of it.’”

Returned is the tension in Zachery's posture, and the feigned friendliness of a forced smile. As he listens to Toussaint speak, he folds his arms over his chest and his attention flicks downward toward his phone still on the desk.

His words are clipped, as if through an affectation fueled by wariness and thinly veiled frustration. "Speaking as an ex-convict who gets the shit kicked out of him enough as it without direct provocation, and who and is currently talking to someone who has largely failed to identify themselves other than 'from the government'—"

He meets the agent's gaze again, jaw setting as he draws a new breath before answering, for the fourth time, "No." His own smile widens, too quickly. "I wouldn't dream of it."

The false smile and comment draw an outright chuckle from Toussaint.

“It’s a strange question to ask if you haven’t dreamed of it, Dr. Miller,” he says, tone and expression skeptical but amused. “For your sake, though, I do hope that you don’t follow through with it. While I’m sure you can hold your own, bar brawls are rarely fair, and I feel life has been unfair enough to you, don’t you?”

He reaches for the phone, picking it up but not yet tapping the red button to stop the recording. “I feel perhaps I’ve found the end of your patience and the end of my time. If you wish to have more specifics to talk about next time, maybe consider keeping a mood journal. There’s some really great apps for it these days.”

Whatever the dynamic of this conversation appears to be, Zachery doesn't like it, this much is evident in the way his expression pulls back to neutral with a clearing of his throat. He fails to answer the question about fairness, his head dipping before he forces it back up again along with his metaphorical walls. The notion of apps has him willing away an eye roll, but only just.

A search Toussaint's face follows, Zachery's head angled just slightly to recenter the visitor in his limited vision before asking, "Why should there be a next time?" Something has drained the combative undertones from his voice, leaving a much more reluctantly presented despondency. "My regular level of bad social skills aside, I am adjusting — shouldn't you be looking more directly into why our brains are fucked, or our blood—" He stops himself, then stresses, "We should be dead."

Toussaint smiles, the epitome of politeness, as he rises. “I’m not a scientist,” he says matter-of-factly. “That work is being done and by more agencies than we probably know, rest assured.”

He steps forward to offer a hand for a farewell handshake. “I do hope there is a next time, as I foresee us doing these check ins so long as you are still adjusting and capable of answering questions. The alternative would be unfortunate, and I’ve quite enjoyed meeting you,” he says. “I’m sorry it was under such difficult circumstances for you, and hope that things do improve — as much as they can. I understand some things aren’t going to get better.”

He turns to open the door. “For that, I’m truly sorry,” he adds, over his shoulder.

"Yeah." Zachery picks up his phone to stop his own recording. If the feeling of enjoyment is mutual or even remotely believed, he does not elect to show it, immediately busying himself with scrolling through his contact list as if Toussaint had already left.

His last few words are cold, grated bluntly without so much as a glance upward. "It's been a fucking time."

In other words, get out.

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