It's Only Paranoia If They're Not Out To Get You


elisabeth_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title It's Only Paranoia If They're Not Out To Get You
Synopsis Teo finally visits.
Date Sep 4, 2009

Elisabeth's Apartment

When she opens the door to him, Elisabeth studies him for a long moment. She is silent as she steps back, offering him entry into her sanctuary without words. She locks the door behind him, and he can immediately see the differences to the door's security. 'They' are not getting through that door without, as Alec put it, a Howitzer. She turns to lean her back against the door, the crossbar locked in place, and crosses her arms in front of her. She certainly looks far different than the last time Teo saw her. Her blue eyes are shuttered, her emotions held at bay by sheer force of will. When she finally speaks, she says softly, "Thank you." It may not be exactly what he was expecting.

No. Then again, he's Teodoro Laudani: 'Thank you' is never what he really expects, short of walking little old ladies across an intersection, which he's done progressively less and less of over these past few months.

He stands there woodenly in her tiny, apartment-scaled foyer, his shoulders bound up into stiff lines inside their jacket as if he were wearing a straightjacket, his feet rooted onto the varnished wood of the floor and hands hanging uselessly at his sides. It's taken him a long time to get here. Almost exactly a week from the day she finally left the safehouse, her body restored to some shaking semblence of health, and God knows where he'd been since; no phonecalls, no letters, no severed mouse left at her door.

His eyes close and open again. "Leonard says I'm being selfish," he says, presently, "when I talk about locking Ph — you — all out of… things. He said —" Vagueness heaps upon vagueness. He lapses into another quaver-beat's silence, his lips tensing momentarily white, and then his tone takes the lilt of quotation: "'to make sure we aren't flawed vessels now, who will fall apart under pressure.' I feel like either I'm missing something, or he is."

Elisabeth considers and comments quietly, "It is selfish. The same kind of selfishness that you once condemned both Conrad and Norton for, really." Because isn't he the same man who was pissed that those two men were treating Elisabeth like a child, trying to keep her out 'for her own good'? Yes… and no. And she understands both sides of that kind of selfishness. "I'm definitely a flawed vessel. But I'm still standing. And I'm still fighting. So… do you think I'm going to fall apart under the pressure?"

"They have stories about this sort of thing." Teo's eyes shift away abruptly, evasive in a way that implies things in addition to weakness, if not the absence of weakness in and of itself. She's still here. Living in this apartment, like she is meant to be in a decade's time from now. It is incredible, illogical, impossible. He is turning it into a joke, almost, stirring whimsy into the massed, cold concrete gravity of the circumstances, the events it's framed in. "Spellcraft through words.

"It's like laying down charms, self-fulfilling prophesies, or just putting your mouth where you'd laid your money down. If you say you don't, you won't. Is that how it works?"

"Don't play around, Teo," Elisabeth says quietly, firmly. "Say what you mean and mean what you say if you're going to stand here tonight. Do I look to you like I need, want, or deserve to be sidelined on more than a temporary basis?" She shoves herself off the door and starts to skirt around him, then stops when she gets abreast of him and turns to face him. She's within arm's reach, though her arms still wrap around herself in a protective gesture, as she looks up into his face. She's not a short woman, but it's in times like now, when she actually gets into his face, that he might remember that she's also not a tall woman. There's a full half a foot between his face and hers — a height difference that right now can be intimidating as hell. And he can see the struggle in her expression when she forces herself to stay right there in his space. She whispers to him, "If you want to bench me because I gave them the safehouse, then you say it to my face. If you want to bench me because I'm useless to you right now, then you say it to my face. If you want to bench me out of some sense of misguided guilt or desire to protect me? You go fuck yourself."

She lets the bald words stand between them, searching his face. And then she adds quietly, "If I'm not going to let them take the power away from me, what the fuck makes you think I'm going to let you have it? I'm down, Teo… I'm… broken. In ways I'm not even sure I understand yet. But there is no way in fucking HELL that I am out of this fight."

It galls Teo, a little, that she's already got him aaall worked out. If he wanted to sideline her because she had given up the safehouse, he should've shot himself in the head. If she was useless right now, that was an admission she'd made herself. There's nothing he can say to that, not really, and she knows it.

Or otherwise, maybe, she wouldn't be up in his face, her fair-skinned face all fierce with conviction, bright hair in its bind and brows slicing shadow in above the blue-irised ferocity of her regard. His face is stiff, woodenly rather than stonily, his jaws in a grit and spine in flattened, planar geometry. "I take your point," he finally concedes, hoarsely, with about as much ready ease as an avalanche trying to grind its way uphill, "but Trask and Wozniak didn't see what I did, did they?"

Now it is she who averts her eyes, dropping them down and to the right as if she's ashamed. "No… they didn't see me break and tell them where to find I don't even know how many innocent people in some vain hope that they might not kill me," she replies quietly. She closes her eyes, the lids no impediment to the tears that flood them. "Did you… watch? When they shot me?"

Her mind gives her a vivid flash of a moment. The smell of urine and blood, the feel of slick fluids on the floor beneath her. The realization — the somehow calm acceptance — that they were not going to find her. The click of the hammer echoes through her head and she can't stop a faint whimper that she struggles to contain. That memory is probably one of the more vibrantly three-dimensional ones in her head.

It could not possibly be more obvious than the nose on Adrian Brody's face, though, that she doesn't have anything to be ashamed of. Even if there's a certain — arguably temporary — lack of movie stars in her apartment room for available comparison to her plight in the foyer. Teo opens his mouth to say something but no words come out, bottlenecked somewhere in the strangled-chicken sensation of rue and melancholy.

He stares at her. Then at the wall past her head. Up at the ceiling, before he scrubs a rough palm down over his eyes. "Yes," he finally admits, roughly, as if the affirmitive tastes bad somehow or the vowels hurt against his teeth. "Yes, I was there. I was trying to —" his arm falls, straightens, jounces in its joint with a flick of exasperation. He scrubs his fingers down in the inside of his elbow and swallows, once. "But I get it, too." He's missing sentences between these sentences, or that's what it feels like.

Something about pain seems too universal to require elegantly infrastructured words.

She flinches when he says yes. He could… see. What they'd done. What she did. And what it finally took to break her to that point. She isn't sure how long he was there. She only knows the shame that he saw. Elisabeth turns to step away from him, walking slowly — almost shuffling — to the breakfast bar's counter where a bottle of wine sits with a half-full glass. She starts to pick it up, aborts to the move once, and then retrieves the glass and downs the contents in a single swallow … wishing that it were something harder. She swore to herself — two glasses a night. That is it. She will not sink into a bottle to hide from this, dammit. She won't. Elisabeth never looks back at him. She merely asks quietly, "How many people died that night?"

"Didn't memorize the figures. Don't recommend you to, either. I'm not — sure how that'd do good for anybody's dignity sanity. Dead or living." Teo still hasn't come in further than the foyer, and that probably isn't because of any dissuasion from the woman's sudden inability to look at him. His back meets the door, with enough weight offset from his feet to whuff a faint impact out from between door and frame. Watches her move between the tall green bottle and the glasses with their glister on the counter. "Hana told me not to look back.

"Be more edifying advice if the cunts weren't still out there. With Felix, the Whitney girl, and who the fuck knows who else."

Sucking a deep breath, Elisabeth nods slightly. Don't look back. Wish that advice were as easily followed as stated. She turns to look at Teo and demands gently of him, "So…. did you come to see if I was mentally retarded… or to…. just check up….?" She's uncertain at this point, with his own reactions, where they stand. And it shows in the way she looks at him — as if she expects that somehow he's come to try to cut ties altogether. Though it's the last thing in the world she really wants from the man. "I'm … pretending I'm okay a lot," she admits softly. "Hoping that if I pretend long enough, it'll make it true." She pauses. "It won't. And I've got messages in a couple places to get some help," she tells him quietly. "So I'm going to be okay in spite of those fuckers." She can't touch the subject of Felix… it's too close to home.

It's true: if it was any closer to home, they'd have a crippled and denuded Russian be trussed up on a mound of his own waste right here in the living room. That's all Teo is going to say about him, Whitney, or the rest of Humanis First!'s considerable victim base, for now. For now, he's bound by something better than duty to nod his head, stare at his feet, and stifle a spate of idiot laughter at that question. "See if you were going to throw some shoes at my head, I guess," he answers, after a moment. "In a way, I guess Ghost — that other-me, folded under pressure in 2011. Kept fighting, but he'd— cracked.

"I don't know what I'd been expecting. Maybe whiskey 'stead of chardonnay, and… I didn't bring Kleenex." This revelation contuses his shoulders into a bristling shrug. He can't tell if she's crying anymore from here, but she had been before and he only now remembers failing, then. "I think pretending helps. What—" he turns one shoe up, flattens it out on the floor again. "What kind of help?"

Elisabeth considers her response to his words, taking the moment to pick up a tissue and mops up those tears. There've been so many of them that she keeps tissues all over the place right now. "If I let Jack and Jim and Johnny come out of the cupboard, I might never climb out of the bottle. And that's a way that they keep control anyway. Just like… the panic attacks. And the hypervigilance — I can't even say it's paranoia, cuz it's not paranoia when they're out to get you." She pauses. "I'm a hostage negotiator, Teo…. or I was for a long time. I can catalog for you each and every response that I'm having, and it still amounts to one thing. I need a shrink. A good one. And the one I used to see is dead. And I can't use the one the PD offers due to the nature of what I might say. Abby's given me the name of hers, and … someone else gave me the name of one. Abby's specializes in Evo PTSD. This other one, Sheridan, I don't know her specialty, but I believe she may be better suited to … certain aspects of cop life. And maybe certain aspects of my life. I don't know. I want to meet her, though." She shrugs. "And Cat knows a telepath, I put the word out that I wanted to talk to her. And Abby… said she might know someone else. So.. we'll see." She smiles a little. "I'm not blind to just how fucked up I am. I can't even sleep in the dark," she admits softly.

"Heard of Sheridan," Teo says, after a stilted moment's silence, which he spends moving into the apartment, finally. He almost reaches for a tissue himself, but decides that blowing his nose under the circumstances would be inappropriate. His hand ends up in an empty curl on top of the sanded granite and he peers at his deformed reflection on the varnish absently. His eyes look like pits in the paler relief of his face. "Met her once or twice.

"'Bout so tall," hangs his fingers below his chin, an inch or two shorter than Elisabeth. "Redhead, smart as fuck— you can tell just by listening to her. I get the sense she's good at what she does, I think, but there's something a little— off about her, when we met. Or she just passes skepticism off as indifference, somehow." That's either too vague to be useful or not vague enough. He leans onto his elbow and peers sidelong up at the woman's profile. "I don't know how much you'd want to tell her about what really happened. Where'd you hear of her?"

Elisabeth's chin lifts and she slides the box of tissue nearer to him. "Agent Denton," she replies quietly. "She's treating Colby Martinez — the cop who killed the Evo kid who killed her wife? Ariel Martinez was… a friend of mine. And for a while, my confidante. Back when." She shrugs a little. "Abby's suggesting her Dr. Yee, who she was seeing before Ariel. I'm … somewhat leery of Sheridan myself. She came recommended by the Company man, after all," she says wryly. "Can't believe Colby's working for the fucking DHS."

And Teo can barely believe that the Company's recommending a shrink, his shrink, albeit of only one session thus far, who— and the Department of Homeland Security— w— his eyes go large in his head, though he fortunately remembers to keep breathing. Paranoia crowds close in his mind. He curls his fingers downward on the counter-top, watches them gradiate to anemic white under the healthy flat of pink. "Well," he says, after a rough moment. "Fuck.

"—The Company, eh?" He drags the heel of his hand down his jaw, pries a coarse sound of friction into the air. "S'pose if Len Denton wanted you, you'd be out of a job already at the very fucking least. No point not using the resources as long as they're available to you."

It's only paranoia if they're not out to get you. Remember that. Elisabeth isn't blind to his reaction and she watches him carefully, even going so far as to step back warily. In spite of the fact that she knows he would never react physically, she can't help the movement — he looks angry, and her reaction is immediately one of retreat. "Is that… your honest opinion? You look… kind of freaked," she tells him quietly. "Len Denton's flying under the radar trying to find the fuckers who held me. Somehow… in spite of his job, I really do think he's one of the good guys. Of course… we all know my judgment in people can be suspect at times."

That phrase, 'honest opinion,' seems somewhat ironic if not actually oxymoronic in some derannnnged sense that is giving Teo a headache that hurts inside his face. His gaze flicks up, sidelong, startled and then belatedly sheepish when he sees her reaction wrinkle through her figure in his peripheral. "No— I'm fine," he offers, lamely, one hand coming up then falling down again, a gesture that's meant to be of reassurance or some form of take-back imploding and wilting away like a punctured balloon. "It's fine.

"I'm just surprised. I've a friend who's seeing her and I didn't — know that she was…" in league with laboratory science evils who wipe their asses with civil rights at their leisure— "Everyone's careful who they talk to these days anyway.

"I've just been… spending too much time with Hana." Paranoia and hyper-vigilance blur their lines before a certain point. He finds himself stugging, failing, against the fog of sleep-deprivation and forgetfulness to determine what he'd said to her, about going after the Founders. Something retardedly absurd, he thinks. 'Hunting trip.' How transparent was that? Less transparent, God willing, than it feels now. "It's my honest opinion. Might be better to do phone therapy or have someone drop you off or— some shit, because… because I don't like the idea of the Company potentially having a day's notice on your exact location and an hour or two's time accounted for on a quiet, private location whenever you go in, but—

"That aside." Constipated jumble of words, worries, wankery. It's only paranoia if they aren't out to get you, but Phoenix and the Company are enemies in a tradition that's as old as bigots and mutants. Teo heaves a sigh out, with enough force to shift both shoulders. "Good to know he's on Humanis First!, this time."

Elisabeth's eye on Teo don't miss much in spite of her own exhaustion. She'd apologize for the reaction but she can't right now. "Phone therapy's an option, I guess. Or having her meet me somewhere other than her office and not giving her the location until 30 minutes beforehand… when I'm already on-site or something." Again… it's only paranoia if they're not out to get you. "We apparently know several someones utilizing her services — Magnes Varlane and Minea Dahl make three that I know personally." In addition to Colby Martinez. Elisabeth shoves a hand through her hair and says quietly, "I need to ask you something… and I don't know if you've already done it or if you… can't for some reason." She pauses and says quietly, "I remember… that you were in my head. I remember … talking to you. The safehouse conversation. Some of what I said to you is really fuzzy," she admits quietly. "Teo… I know that I asked you to go. And you just told me you didn't. Did you… stay with me the entire time, or did you jump?" Her jaw clenches. "Did you… see who they were?" Because she never did.

Mmmore awkward silence weighs in, down on them like a hundred pounds of concrete mix, doomed to crush or kill or merely bury the moment in motionless stasis. And then Teo blinks. "Emile Danko and his little troupe of ex-military queers who fucked up in Angola and got it all over the civilians there. I don't remember a lot of their personal details or anything, but they made a sporadic few months' worth of headlines in 2012 and I felt obliged to keep up with the trials, at the very least. They got them. Trials— not that Arthur Petrelli was going to let them live. Hell of a media circus, though. Guillotined heads on YouTube parodies, effigies burned at Republican shindigs—

"I can't remember all of their names and details, but," there you have it, and there it is: memories that Teodoro Laudani should have no access to, a future he never should have experienced, and a soul that should not be chambered in the body that's waiting an arm's length away from her now. He keeps his face still and watches hers.

It shouldn't have come as any kind of surprise. Really. The knowledge… the name… hit her like a ton of bricks. Her knees actually give out and she grabs the counter on the way down, knocking the wineglass to the floor with a crash of shattering glass. Elisabeth doesn't even notice; her behind hits the floor and her arms wrap around herself protectively on sob that she tries to stifle as she curls into a tiny little ball and rocks there. The confirmation that the man was involved would have been all she was really looking for… the torture techniques and the drugs pretty much gave that away. To learn that The Fucker himself shot her in the head? Now her nightmares will have a new dimension…. but maybe, just maybe… it'll give her the chance to see them coming.

Boy. Teo really needs to… learn how to —

— build a rocket and then a cheese house on the moon, because nothing in this world does what he wants it to. His eyes go big in his head, and quick as a singed cat, he capers over to the woman's side. Looks alarmed, pale underneath his tan, his eyes large now from something that can't readily be mistaken for anger. There is a Kleenex box tumbling weightlessly into his hand, in a moment, and he dredges up a scrap of delicate pastel, perfumed paper between forefinger and thumb, which tears it despite that he's trying not to, anyway. He's mumbling something under his breath, and of course he's sorry. The corner of the tissue trails her cheek before a heavy round tear darks it down.

A shaking hand goes to her forehead as she cries, and Elisabeth doesn't realize the silly Italian boy caper-dance that he's doing right in front of her at first. Only when he touches her face with the tissue does she finally look up at him. And somewhere lost between tears and memories of another time she absolutely imploded on him, she dredges up …. well, not a smile. More like a grimace of sorrow. "I'm so sorry," she chokes out. With her free hand, she reaches up and takes the tissue from him, her hand convulsively clenching around it and his hand. "I need you… to have someone… help you make a sketch or picture… of the others. I don't… have names. Except the man Doug… I never saw…." She bites her lip. "And I wouldn't know them if they walked up to me on the street, Teo." And that, right there, has to be the source of one of her biggest terrors.

"I'll try," Teo allows, finally. Cracked, but comprehensible. Lost as he is to the saline blur of her tears, it's difficult to tell what facial expression he has on right now, or even what he's doing with his hands — apart from pat her chin and cheek with the wadded flat of tissue, absorbent, the movement of his fretting unceasing, the contrast in every italicized circumstance to the fingers he has locked up between the digits of her other hand. "I'm— pretty fucking bad with Ghost's ability. Lot of distortion. And I don't think I'd be the most reliable witness to that account under any circumstance, but I can try."

Elisabeth nodnodnods a bit. She reaches for his hand to stop the nervous patting. "I'm okay," she says to him softly. "I'm okay, Teo. Stop." She sucks in a deep breath and finally uncurls a little. "I just… it was a shock to hear you say it out loud. All this time and we've all been… assuming that he's probably been behind it, but…." She trails off. "And they've got Felix. And I feel … so goddamn guilty for … wishing that…. he wasn't so goddamn tough." Because it means he's in their hands longer. She shakes her head, reaching to take a handful of tissue from the box Teo's still holding, and she blows out a breath. "Yeah… basket case. I'm sorry."

'Don't be sorry.' He's saying those words too often, lately, but it does them no indignity to be so oft-repeated. His finger fold over the tissue as if they were made of no greater substance than that, and his face goes still, constrained behind the sculpted dimensions of his own skin and bone. "You can't be okay and a basket case at the same time," he adds, then, unhelpfully, either because her grimaces of misery are better than the limpid scowl of her sobbing or— because— it's true.

He doesn't know what he could say to make this situation worse, anyway. Myth Busters say that when you leave the bull in the china shop, it doesn't hurt a damn thing, after all. He tries not to think about Felix. Inevitably, that means he thinks about Felix, and there's another shade of anemic underneath his skin, then, a coarse sigh. "I'll talk to Len. See what I can do about sketches, and getting the fucking Russian back." Words like throwing candy at a wound. It isn't salt, but she knows as well as he does, it doesn't help: he and Hana had barely gotten to her body in time, and he'd been on her trail in three minutes since she'd been beaten down and taken away.

Maybe he's right…. but Elisabeth offers him the faintest of smiles. She's apparently not the only one who's got a relationship with Len Denton — Teo's on first name basis with the man? But she leaves that aside to talk to him about the big picture. "You - he… the older you. Came back to this time in the hopes of changing the world. And we did that…. maybe by sheer stupid luck, but I guess that's how most things actually happen, Teo." Her tone is gentle, and she doesn't let go of his hand, making him meet her shadowed blue eyes. "None of us are going to come out of this unscathed. Because changing one thing is never just about the one thing you changed. It changes everything. It's why the reality of time travel is so terrifying."

There's a long pause as Elisabeth searches his face, and she says gently, "The consequences that come from changing that one thing… are not things that lie on only one person's choices. Folks came back from 2019 with information. Believing that …. that way lies danger for all. And we who listened, we who chose to act on the information brought back, we who chose to believe …. we each have a role to play in both the blame and the … " She shrugs. "Glory's the wrong word. But regardless of outcome, we each have a role, Teo. I'm not going to say you can't fix the world, because by God, we all wouldn't have done what we've done if we didn't believe that. But you cannot fix it alone. And you cannot blame yourself for what happens." She squeezes his hand. "My choice to go with you. My choice to fight Humanis First by desseminating information and names and faces to anyone who would listen — cop, Company, criminal. My choice to continue fighting… not in spite of what I've suffered. But because of it. So no one else has to live it."

But people have, are, and will live it, and there's a cackling bitch in the back of Teo's head who knows it, and always has. Ghost hadn't come back here to change the world; he'd come back here to change fourteen lives, though he'd known that the cost might be hundreds more, and pain, misery, regret, on the behalves of all of those who would have been willing to make that sacrifice, the arrogance bedrocked in indifference, and sociopathy that had driven some dear friends of hers to genuinely hate the man.

He blinks at her and wonders how she doesn't think to be afraid of the half that remains. "I am responsible for the results of the actions I take," he says, finally. Rough fingers close up around the tissue, and with a wiry flick of his wrist he sends it slapping down into the trash can opposite the stretch of floor, where it topples in wetly over the litter of a dozen brittle mummifications of its ancestors. "But I understand that you are all responsible for yours, just as Helena is for hers, and we all have our duties to the kingdom, justice, and each other. I do understand.

"I'm not —" a pale eye flinches to meet hers, wavers, holds. "I'm not… him, either."

Elisabeth 's smile is sad. "No…. you're someone in between a mass murdering psychopath who was godfather to my son in the insane future and the silly little Italian-boy English teacher I knew a year ago," she tells him softly. And then she leans forward and kisses him on the cheek. "And you're my friend," she whispers simply in his ear. When she leans back to look at him, she cradles his cheek. "No matter what he became as a result of the life that doens't happen now… he's a part of you. You're no better or worse than anyone else, Teo; we've all got dark places. And I love you. Because of them and in spite of them."

"And: this is the part where we break open the chick flicks and cry into a tub of Dryer's. Something with chocolate in it," Teo's grousing softly in her ear like a recalcitrant pup, of some between-age where his nose and his butt have stretched out around the proper proportions but his feet still look too big for him, the brindle of his fur not yet massed out around the bulk and muscle of adulthood. Half-trained. He flips an ear over and lolls his tongue, pants companionably on her shoulder, or the most human equivalent thereof.

He sniffs. Glances down, a moment, then up again. Brushes stringy yellow hair back from her face. It's wet, like he remembers it was sliding gnarled against Hana's arm, but it's hard to think of that, now, with her eyes open and her clothes smelling of whatever tiny token scent she'd daubed on this morning, steeling herself to stick to routine. He kisses his thumb, and then maps that, too, against her cheek. "You can't fool me, signorina.

"There are people who are worse and people who are better. Just 'cause you're one of the latter doesn't mean you get free tickets for all your friends."

She laughs at him. True laughter is coming a little easier lately, though she still looks beyond exhausted. Elisabeth says, "Hey… when little gay Italian drama queen time-traveling hybrid boys come in here all crazed with worry over finding my mostly dead body in the harbor…. I gotta do something to make them realize there's a killer in all of us who choose." Her tone is light, but those eyes are oh-so-dark. "Now that you know I'm still in the game, basket case or not… you let me know when you need me."

Contemplation lasts out the duration of a long, patient sigh, and the only reason Teo doesn't roll his eyes is because she just underwent torture or — whatever. Gay drama queen. Of all the insolent idiot token insults. He doesn't want to say 'Yes' just for that, but he's somewhat morally and logically obliged to do so. He'd been set up underneath a sadist's knife, once before. Not a lifetime that her Teo might remember, but as long as she's pretending he's close enough, he'll value that experience, make it relevant because he can. And should.

"I just really fucking hope it isn't anytime soon," he grumbles, finally, and concedes her a hug.

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