Lazarus As A Girl


eileen2_icon.gif ghost_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Lazarus As A Girl
Synopsis Is British, slender, brunette, moonlights as a guardian angel for old friends in a desperate hour of need. (Continues from here.)
Date March 25, 2019

NYC Safezone: Bay Ridge

The pistol goes off.

Ghost knows because he hears it, and because its muzzle leaves a physical impression on his jawline two and half inches below his ear in the form of a hot gunpowder burn. Later, he’ll have plenty of time to inspect its irregular margins in the bathroom mirror and approximate just how close he (maybe) came to having his brains blown out his nose — but right now, it’s impossible for him to focus on anything except for the shrill ringing sound pinballing around the insides of his skull.

When it begins to subside and he can see beyond the white noise fuzzing his vision, the next thing to capture his attention is the tangle of limbs and teeth knotted on the pavement directly to his left.

Eileen Ruskin straddles his counterpart’s hips, both her hands digging fingers into his dominant wrist as she wrests one arm above his head and attempts to pin the other beneath her knee. She’s barking something at him that sounds like it might be along the lines of What the fuck is wrong with you?

Ghost’s tinnitus makes it impossible for him to be sure.

Woongwroongwroongwoong, sounds wobble inside the ghost's head. This would be a great time for Ghost to jump out of his own skull and into somebody else's, enjoy himself a brief vacation from the worst of the lurching grossness. Unfortunately, the negation gas remains brutally effective despite being a few years past its production date. He's stuck. He turtles rather inelegantly by the alley wall, his fingers slipping over discolored bricks in a vague formulation of a plan to stand up someday.

In the meantime, the other Teo is under attack as well. Later on, he will also find a way to blame this on New York City.

"Get off me," Teo complains. "He's a shitlord, you just don't," and then he says, "Eileen?"

Abruptly, Teo stops trying to work his wrist free of her little hands, or to squeeze his other arm out from under her knee. Instead, he peel his head up off the pavement, extending his neck as far as a (relatively) biologically normal person is physically capable of doing so, shoulders bending from the effort. Sucking in a beery breath, he tries to get a proper look at her face. Heart-shaped, pale, punctuated by enormous eyes and bad words in a British accent, ill humor focused unmistakably on his recent decisions. Everything about this situation is recognizable. And for once, even though it's taking place in New York City, it's not automatically about New York City.

Teo stills. Eileen does too.

She’s not yet ready to relinquish her grip on his wrist or her position atop him, which she reaffirms by squeezing her thighs together in case he should decide to start squirming again. It’s a slow, deliberate application of pressure that mirrors the message communicated by those enormous eyes of hers: Don’t move.

Were they always blue?

Teo’s memory hiccups, snagging on this particular detail. He recalls seafoam green, maybe overcast gray on similarly cloudy days. Never blue.

“Teo,” she says again, because he probably lost her first invocation of his name somewhere in the scuffle. Much gentler now: “Let go of the gun.”

Less unwilling than you might expect, Teo lets go of the gun. It clacks against the pavement. He even pushes it further away by folding and unfolding his fingers, sliding it off a couple inches from his grasp. Her eyes are the wrong color, he realizes in a weird, dislocated way, like you might notice a shoe is chafing your foot only after half an hour because your socks were thick enough. Alcohol and unhappiness produce quite the insulation. But she remains tiny, and furious with him.

"Testa di cazzo," emerges from behind them, grunted, somewhat louder than intended. That would be the ghost, who is still mostly deaf. Now, he's picking up his own gun off the ground where Teo left it. Unsteadily, he unsafeties it. He, too, is furious with his counterpart, though not nearly as inebriated or impulsive. He isn't pointing the gun yet, not while he's still on his knees and she's on top of the other Teo; he is a great believer in accuracy and proper gun handling. He's using the wall to keep himself upright, and trying not to remember all the health safety warnings that n-gas used to come packaged with. The last thing he needs is to find a new body to inhabit because of cataracts or neuropathy.

In the background, the mustard-colored toxin itself is gently floating off toward the sky, the cannister spent, soon harmless.

"You look pretty," Teo says, even though he doesn't actually believe she would care about anything like that, including to wear cosmetic contacts.

“You smell drunk,” Eileen counters, although it isn’t clear whether this is a joke or a real reprimand. Her attention darts from the man beneath her to the one gradually hauling himself to his feet like the world’s surliest newborn fawn. She holds out a hand — a gloved hand, Teo notices — and splays her fingers, imploring Ghost to keep his weapon lax at his side.

At some point during this exchange, it’s occurred to her that she doesn’t know how to tell them apart. When she’s reasonably certain nobody is about to be shot, she releases Teo’s wrist so she can brace her dominant hand against the inside of her leg, levering herself back to her feet.

Her head is tipped at a curiously feline angle. If she had a cat’s ears, they’d probably be pricked, listening for the distant wail of military sirens.

None come. Is it too much to hope the shot was mistaken for the sound of an engine backfiring?

“All that work and effort to give you both your own bodies, and now you’re trying to kill each other.”

Ghost leans his elbow on the wall and rubs his fist in his ear. Between polysubstances and the dissipating tinnitus, his balance is well fucked; his hearing, apparently, not much better. "HE'S TRYING TO STEAL MY BODY?" the body thief asks a little too loudly, managing somehow to sound sincerely indignant about this. (As Teos go, he's the best at hypocrisy.)

"I am drunk," the other Teo admits, sitting up slowly. "You know it's his fault. All of it." A beat. Okay, not even Teodoro can really stand by that argument convincingly; a lot of things have gone wrong in the United States, and no single jackwad can take credit for all of it. "I mean— not what happened to you. I'm just saying, my fuckups are probably because of him." Observing Eileen's horse whisperer hands and cat-eared vigilance, he retrieves his pistol very slowly as well, and puts it back on safety. Stuffs it into the holster at the small of his back, and then showing his hands, spread out like starfish in the dark.

"I WASN'T AVOIDING YOU," the ghost adds, getting two feet under himself now. (He drove to Oregon to avoid her, actually. Killed some people, stole some stuff.)

"He's so stupid," Teo complains, looking at Eileen with entreaty. Surely she agrees! And he would benefit from her validation. He doesn't understand how she's alive now, or what she remembers, or why she should have any love for either of them, but that is arguably a function of his being a hot mess right now more than anything. Her gloved hands and wrong eyes punctuate a riddle he hasn't even begun to answer yet, as he starts to try and get upright, too. "I wasn't really going to. I mean, not really."

Ghost adds, "What?”

Eileen is beginning to formulate some informed opinions about which one of them is which. Choosing a favourite is a little like having to choose a favourite child or sibling, except that she only has one brother that she knows of (Nick) and one son (Astor) — so maybe this comparison doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

She squints at Teo as he rises, clasping his forearm to help steady him. But also: To make sure he doesn’t go anywhere once he’s found his footing.

This one is the one married to Francois, she thinks. Her gaze dips down to the appropriate finger on the appropriate hand, searching for the glint of a wedding band.

Regardless of what she does or does not find there, she steers her eyes back in Ghost’s direction. She caught that part about not avoiding her, but the thinning of her mouth suggests she doesn’t entirely believe him.

Or blame him. If she’s being honest, she avoided herself too.

“Do you mind if we move this indoors?” she asks the open air. “Yamagato may or may not have a warrant out for my arrest. So.”

Winner winner chicken dinner, the one that Eileen looks at has a ring on his finger. Two of them, actually. One for engagement, one for marriage, a practice that he followed Francois' lead on years ago and managed to maintain despite working grimily with his hands a lot up in the Catskills. The Teo who is married to Francois (for some reason) gets to his feet with her help.

Fwap. Ghost punches his counterpart in the face right around then. Not— hard as he could have, but he does. However impractical the concept of revenge is, under the circumstances, Ghost's own murder victims standing nearby with her eyes of a terrifying color, there's always something to be said for ego.

The married Teo doesn't fall down, at least. He just stumbles, swears, fails to fight back, which he would deny has anything to do with believing he deserves it, but by now, Eileen has met enough Teos to be familiar with his convoluted personal language surrounding self-loathing. He doesn't grab onto her for balance, in any case. With both of the Teos upright and looking at her, the similarity is eerie— but there are convenient differences in grooming. The ghost, for example, seems to be compensating for his higher-average age by staying clean-shaven.

"I have a key for a place down the street," Ghost says, his eyes focusing on Eileen's. He has blue ones too, but that's— different in a way that he chooses not to seek elucidation on, right this moment. He's still rocking on his feet, distrusting his ability to stay conscious. Not wanting to take a nap near a man who recently tried to kill him, or a woman who should've. "Are you sure you don't have shit to steal, people to kill, at some point tonight?"

One of the other Teo's eyes gets smaller, as he looks between them. Che cosa?

Teo might not clutch at her, but he also doesn’t have to. Eileen’s hand doesn’t leave his arm, even as he’s reeling. Even as its opposite cracks an open palm across Ghost’s mouth with enough force to split open his lower lip on the edge of his teeth.

She waits until after he’s asked his question, of course. She can blame her reaction on that.

“Fuck you,” she says, but her words lack both heat and energy: a strange juxtaposition with the momentum behind the slap. The hand that struck him reverses, held out in the space between them. The key, per favore.

If she had any lingering doubts as to their identities, the presence of Teo’s wedding band has dispersed them into nothing.

“It’s still early.”

A joke. Or a threat. Enough time has passed in the intervening years since Eileen and Ghost last saw one another that it isn’t clear which this is. While she might not be smiling, there’s a flicker of something wry behind her eyes, and in the emboldened way she holds her shoulders post-slap.

Aaaa Ghost's beautiful, clean-shaven face. Blood beads on his lower lip, starts promptly to leak into the spaces between his teeth, awkwardly emphasizing the gaps of his otherwise architecturally perfect smile. For a long moment, he lets his head stay where she turned it with the force from her slap.

Then Ghost points his face back into the conversation, juts his jaw at his bearded twin. "You're supposed to hit her next," he says, pointing hazily between the three of them. The gesture is a good camouflage for how closely he's studying Eileen. This is his least favorite game of do I know she knows? Does she know I know she knows. What does she know? "We're going in a circle. You see? Maybe a knee in the groin." He's still just holding his gun out, muzzle down.

Teo, who is trying to save up unnecessary, petty retorts for future conversations with his husband, just rolls his eyes. He hopes that wherever they're going, there's more alcohol there. That would be ideal.

Keys jingle merrily in the dark. Ghost disconnects one from a ring. It's small and brass and fits neatly into her hand. "Terrace Penthouse, 12th floor," he says. "Door code is 5279. Housekeeping comes around noon tomorrow, and the owner in two days. I'm sure she'd appreciate it if you avoided bringing over your slapstick convoy of pilfering old men." He's going to stand here and watch them leave, if possible; a small price to pay if she wants to whack him again. Pride, you know. He wouldn't want them to see him tripping around unable to feel his feet.

"Gabriel isn't that old," Teo mutters. And— and sometimes, there's only one of him.

This isn’t the appropriate time for Eileen to confess that Gabriel isn’t presently in the picture, but if Ghost is paying attention — and he is — he’ll catch the microscopic twitch that betrays her. Her hand closes around the key, which she tucks away into her coat with the swiftness of a practiced pickpocket.

In spite of everything, she’s wrestling the impulse to hug him. Fortunately (for Ghost), she shows more restraint now than she did a few moments ago. “Thank you,” she offers in lieu of an embrace, if only because she knows that if Teo can track him down, then so can she.

This conversation isn’t over. As they like to say in the boardroom: She’s putting a pin in it.

“You don’t have to worry about Ramirez,” she adds, “or Emile.” Because Danko is still sometimes difficult for her to speak in certain company. “Just this one.”

Teodoro, she means.

“Let’s go, love.”

Ghost looks at her and smiles. There are many memorable novels— generally written by men— that talk about how you only really get to know someone once you've killed them. In a sense, the ghost feels closer to Eileen than anyone else in the world. Don't tell Eve; she'll get mad. He may have received the hug without having been dispatched.

"No, you don't have to worry about me anymore," Teo tells the ghost, falling into step with the tiny woman. He adds, "Whore," for good measure.

The ghost makes an appropriately disgusted sound, and sets his back against the brick wall all casual like. Gunslinger in a saloon. Batman awaiting his next prey. Tranquilized assassin wondering if he can break into a U-Haul in time to take a direly-needed nap. But he collects up the reassurances he has been given, rerunning them through his mind like a paranoiac, checking for tells. It's then that he marks the timing on Eileen's little twitch, and he cuts a look after her small figure, getting smaller, wishing he had his powers. They might not work— Goddamn telepaths, you know?— but he'd pay to see, if her heart had clenched, if her teeth are still tight.

When the fuck is she from? As different as the Teos are, both of them are wondering the same thing.

"You never lose your accent," Teo says. The one that's walking with her now, bearded and boozy. "Not even when you die."

“I always liked yours,” Eileen confesses. “Southern Italy: endless sunshine and buoyant Mediterranean breezes. The way you talk has a special rhythm.”

At the mouth of the alley, she looks to the left, then to the right. No sign of the military police. Her arm links with Teo’s, and the pair sets off for the ghost’s safehouse. There’s nothing remarkable or memorable about them; if asked, those they pass on the street will recall an attractive young couple, but none of the details that might positively identify them. The woman: small and dark-haired. The man: tall and lean with an easy gait. Both were dressed appropriately for the weather, and spoke in quiet voices that expressed affection. They could have been lovers, or they might only be friends.

It doesn’t seem to matter which.

“How is Francois?” she asks him when they’re out of his counterpart’s earshot.

Teo squints blurrily into the dark. The people on the street may think that the woman deserved someone better than an oaf blundering around tipsy, with a recent fight darkening a blotch on his jaw. But at least he walks straight, keeps his arm snug around hers. "I have an accent?" he mumbles. "I don't have an accent. That's not true." Everyone has an accent, Teo. The wind pats him on the head, consoling, and he remembers who he's with again.

In time for him to hear her question, properly. Oh no.

He glances down sidelong at her for a moment, questioning. It's probably lucky they're talking now instead of a year ago, with the story of her, a same-face interloper, already faded into 2018. Details unconfirmed, distorted from a mixture of grieving incredulity and tactical caution. Previously, he had near to dismissed than reports that had sounded more like rumors, disclosed to him by the husband in question, and from whom he had tacitly discouraged more updates. That had felt crazy. But as of ten minutes ago, she's 1) here now and 2) the sane one, he guesses. (Danko? Ramirez? What.)

He should wonder why she saved him, but that would feel intentionally obtuse.

"Not good," Teo says. "We're having an argument." '''Argument.''' "He's upset with his job, me, and probably also typos in his book. You haven't seen him?" He isn't sure how to follow up with this train of thought. It's the problem, you see, about sharing mutual friends with your cheating ex; it would be complicated even if said friend had never been a nominal supervillain who may have time-traveled, died, come back to life, etc. Loyalty is a tall order these days.

“I haven’t seen him.”

In person, anyway. Eileen’s birds have certainly snatched glimpses of the Frenchman in Rochester on cloudy days when she thought she could get away with peeking in on Nathalie — and Avi, who is more of a conundrum on how to handle than anyone.

Teo is marginally easier, it turns out. If neither of them brings up the whole nominal supervillain thing, she can almost pretend that many of the events of the last decade never transpired.

In many ways, that might be nice. So she does. Pretend. And she makes it easy for him while she’s at it. The smell of floral perfume and stale cigarette smoke clinging to her clothes, skin, and hair triggers old memories. She’s twenty-two again; he’s twenty-six. If Teo is fighting with Francois, then chances are Gabriel is fighting with Eileen.

She can empathize, surely.

“Why are you angry?”

Why are her eyes blue? Teo wonders. Why are her eyes blue. Why are her eyes blue. His tipsy mind manages to keep a grip on this thought right up until she produces her followup question, and then it slides through his fingers like sand. Why are you angry?

He hasn't told anyone about it. There is no version of the story that exists entirely at Francois' expense, or even without nauseating levels of humiliation. Not one. It's not a practical kind of problem. Teo has tried to think about it in terms of— other analogues, people who lose their jobs and lie to their spouses, people who gamble and lie to their spouses. Addictions, expensive hobbies, annoying habits they can't discuss. He's been thinking about other problems that might come close, despite also trying his hardest not to think about it at all.

When Teo was twenty-six, he and Francois weren't married yet. He thinks: that would have helped, too. What an asshole, but maybe I'll forgive him after we take some time to ourselves. How do you take time apart in a marriage when time apart was one of the largest, if not the only reason he cheated?

"I don't know how to talk about it," Teo says, eventually. "Maybe when we get into the suite, I can try to perform a fucking mime." He doesn't try to reassure her, to say: I'm not mad at you. Her trick works well enough; at twenty-six, he never would have bothered.

“Oh, charades.”

Eileen doesn’t seem like the sort of person who would enjoy that game, but her sympathy for Teo’s situation tempers any sarcasm that might otherwise cut through.

“I’ll do my best,” she says, “only I was never any good at that sort of thing. Maybe we’ll get lucky and discover your doppelganger keeps a well-stocked bar. We can drink ourselves sick until your tongue loosens up.”

Alcohol sometimes has that effect.

“Did you know that yours is the only wedding I’ve ever been to?” she asks as if changing the subject, except that she’s not. “I remember thinking how difficult marriage must be, but that you both looked very handsome. Well-suited for each other, too: like two great black swans. All power and elegance and teeth.”

Somewhere above her slender shoulder, stale and tired, Teo releases a grunt into the cold air: "Swans don't have teeth." Being a bitch about things, in general. Still not at her. But about his marriage, certainly, which makes him defiant and zoologically incorrect.

He's not that drunk, really. Plenty of room in his belly for more alcohol. It occurs to him that the ghost had implied that neither the apartment nor its contents specifically belong to him, but Teo doesn't care enough for his analogue's paramours to keep their grubby mitts off it. "I remember that day." He's following, mostly. The conversation, and the sharp clip of her tiny feet. "I didn't know it was your first one."

Seems like a waste. He doesn't say it out loud. There's a pettiness threshold that he won't move until he's imbibed more alcohol.

"But you're talking about the wedding and the marriage as if they're the same thing. The same— difficulty level. Do swans mate for life?" It's difficult for Teo to pick apart analogies when they aren't animals domesticated commonly for agriculture. He gives up, but leans a little nearer, his bearded face snuffling curiously around the top of her head. What shampoos and perfumes do blue-eyed Eileens wear? "And are you asking me questions so you don't have to answer any?"

Eileen disagrees. About the teeth.

She does not say so. “Swans do mate for life,” she affirms instead, “and you’re right. I’m being very unfair.” His nose’s proximity to her hair causes her to tilt her face up in response. Too late. He catches the floral notes of her perfume and the milky botanicals he remembers her washing with years ago. There’s also the familiar smell of tobacco and cigarette smoke lifting off her skin, which has its own woodsy scent.

No: pine needles.

Wherever she’s been staying, it isn’t in the city.

Or what’s left of the city. Teo can classify it however he likes.

“If you have a question you’d like to ask me,” she says, “then you should ask, before I change my mind and decide to dance around it again.”

Teo suspects he sounded more critical than he meant to, even with his frustration directed elsewhere. He tries to focus. It's really Eileen, of course. It's very difficult for people to change the way that they smell, which is inextricably linked to not only grooming, but diet, and the subtle, secret salts of parentage, genetics.

Maybe there's a traveling superpower energy matrix out there that changes the way people smell instead of fucking up the color of their irises. That'd be a trip.

"Are you here to live, or are you here on a mission?" It's endemic to the conflict that Teo is having with his husband that, by default, those two options seem diametrically opposed, mutually exclusive. Intellectually, he knows that's not the case. And if anyone is a stellar example of how ideology and the ordinary rhythms of life might match beats, it would be Eileen Ruskin, raised by a megalomaniac, leader of Ferrymen, sometimes mother, sometimes murder victim, frequent enough murderer. Wisteria, vanilla husk and white amber under the burnt edge of cigarettes. No sulfur, no decay.

"I don't want to know what it is, if you're on some low tempo deployment from— wherever." Whenever, Teo means. "I just want to know—" —where you've been. What you regret. How you've changed. Why now? "-—what exfil's gonna mean, I guess."

Translation: If you're staying, is what Teo means. Grief should be an orderly process, you see. One must make plans, and Teo is painstaking about keeping his ghosts.

“I know what restless spirits feel like,” she says, “condemned to haunt a world that doesn’t belong to them anymore, even though they have nowhere else to go.”

Translation: I’m staying.

“I died. Things got worse, then they got better. I wasn’t there for any of it. All the horrors I spent those years trying to prepare the Ferry for. It’s hypocritical, really, when you stop to think about it.”

And she has. Thought about it. She’s thinking about it right now if this line of conversation is indicative of her current mental state — of the things that haunt ghosts.

“I’d like to be a part of your life. Francois’ too, if you’ll both let me.”

This reassures Teo. She says she's staying. Quite possibly, she's lying about something, as this narrative entirely fails to account for Dankos and Ramirezes and burglaries and stuff, but. whatever. Teo is all about that 'have poorly concealed manly emotions first' life. What comes later is anyone's guess.

"You'll have to ask him about what he wants. He fucked other people, so he and me're still spending time apart."

—would apparently be the part that comes next, abruptly, reciprocating unhappy truths. By now, they are at the apartment. Teo looks at the doors, which are plateglass, dark and heavy gloss; the concierge, in his smart gold-braided cap and uniform, is ignoring them in such a way that suggests they're both in fact being watched carefully, if discreetly, as they stand together over the number pad on the door. Teo studies her reflection in the glass and fails utterly to consider how weird it must be for him to appear Pretty beardy when the ghost may well have presented himself clean-shaven three days ago.

"But he'll probably say yes," Teo says to her tiny reflection, which still wears the palette of piano keys, black and white.

Suddenly, he is twenty five again, taking her hostage after her long day of busking, violin and all.

Suddenly, he is thirty seven. A maligning and murderous time-traveler extraordinaire, face shifted, warning a younger iteration of the slight, dark woman who he had killed in his own timeline of new danger, here in hers.

Suddenly, Teo is twenty eight and a psychically-fused half of a lifetime besides, and looking at her across the breadth of the car, wondering what it is her earrings are made of, where they pendulum against the luminous column of her neck, on the morning of his wedding. It had been one of maybe four fleeting instants that he had not been in a livid fucking panic, his mind ricocheting off logistical minutiae and unmanifested doom. "He was writing again," he says. "You're one of his angels."

Teo doesn't actually say it out loud. You were always one of mine. It's not what Catholics believe, but he fucked that up a long time ago.

“So I read.”

Eileen has a copy of the book, just as she has a copy of Wolves of Valhalla and most other pieces of literature of great personal importance to her, regardless of their content. Francois’ forward is perhaps the kindest thing anyone has written about her in the intervening years; her only complaint, if she paused to think about it, is that her name isn’t attached.

Eileen Ruskin’s loyalties remain a controversial and divisive subject almost a decade after she died on Pollepel Island.

Anyway. Fuck what other people think. In this moment at least, the only person whose opinion matters is the man standing beside her — figuratively and literally — as she presses the numbers 5279 on the keypad, in that order.

A low, droning buzz crackled out over the security system’s speaker ushers them into the lobby. She asks: “Are you taking space because you need it, or because you want to punish him?”

No judgment. She’s been guilty of the latter on many occasions where Gabriel Gray is concerned.

The door releases with a flat, buzz chime, and the concierge immediately loses interest. Teo's facial hair does not get a look, which might be true for any number of reasons. Did Ghost glue fur onto his face for something? Teo doesn't care. He's busy laughing, but just briefly, breathy and under his bad beer breath. Ah, Gableen. Everybody's favorite ship.

"Are we saying those two things are mutually exclusive?" Teo asks, stumping across the lobby. "Entire systems of government have been founded on less than the logical and emotional need to punish people, separation being pretty fucking 'lite,' as that goes. They say that's what anger is: the need for shit to be fair."

The marble floor has seams of something that look like gold, highly polish enough that they look like sepia versions of themselves immortalized in glassy gloss and mineral permanence. Whoever lives here is fucking ridiculous, in a time like this. The elevator doors are very pretty, transparent except for the brushed steel frame. Very modern. He can't believe she's alive. It seems as unbelievable, as physically impossible, as absolutely surreal as Francois' infidelity. It seems to turn in a different universe. Tomorrow, he'll wake up mildly hungover, and he will be young again. Naive enough to believe that grief was simple, an unending ritual for the dead that you practice for more and more people every year.

Tomorrow, both miracles will be undone, and he'll regret being glad, or he'll be glad he regrets.

But tonight, it's late and there's supposed to be alcohol upstairs. So Teo asks, "What would you have done? If it were Gabe."

In the end, he doesn't proper hear her answer. It's a conversation better served by privacy, and when they reach the luxurious interior of the apartment upstairs, he beelines for the scotch and that's all she wrote.

It's not all that Eileen says, of course. Tomorrow, he'll awaken with a pounding headache and a dim recollection of her voice suspended in the air like the motion of ripples breaking through water. He'll remember her having advised, in regret and concern, her small hand on the blanket spread over his shoulder. He'll remember the shape of Gabriel's name on her lips, something that isn't regret dark in her eyes. He will heave himself upright, to find a jug of water waiting expectantly beside a full glass, a blisterpack of Panadol that must have been imported, and no sign of Eileen.

Then Teo will think he dreamed it or was visited by ghosts. At least, until he checks his phone and finds friendly death threats from one of your less spiritual specters, crediting his survival to a woman who left nothing behind except for the after-impression of her favorite soap and the sourer note of cordite smudged invisibly off her tiny sleeve, from a hug that he hopes that he left her.

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