Martini Hour


carol_icon.gif vincent_icon.gif

Scene Title Martini Hour
Synopsis Vincent visits with the First Lady to discuss the state of the nation.
Date May 27, 2018

Capitol Manor

You could pretend that this place is simply one beautiful house of many, with its cosy forest line hugging the boundaries of grey brick, the sight of glistening lake through the trees of cedar, walnut, pine. But only as long as you stop catching sight of security instalments — cameras, men, sensors — or patrols in the form of the occasional passing of a helicopter, a boat skimming the lake.

All the same. It's springtime in Missouri, and it's already warm enough to feel like summer. There are flowers, and new leaves as bright as cut jade, and birds, and insects already beginning to chirp in the brush, fooling Vincent Lazzaro into imagining a more remote getaway than a gated community within the affluent fringes of Kansas City as he steps out of the car. It's a short walk up the curved driveway towards the building that houses the President of the United States.

But he isn't visiting Raymond — at least not today.

Inside, classic elegance and warm colours at least ring a little of the old expectations of a presidential home, as much a residence as it is a site of work and presentation. Carol is easy to find, poised in a sitting room with beaming sunlight through the rows of narrow windows, overlooking garden, trees, and the silver glitter of a private lake beyond. A different woman than the creature rescued from a steel coffin and clinging IV lines, and has been for quite some time — greying-blonde given to silver swoops, fine and understated clothing, the only jewelry on her being stud earrings and her wedding ring.

She also looks ungentle, even just sitting by the sun and reading something that looks dry, printed on loose leaf paper secured with paper clips, pen in hand. But as she lifts her head, there's an easy smile that crinkles the corners of her eyes, abandoning her task in favour of greeting him halfway.

"Save me," she says, hands out with the expectation that he will oblige her by coming within range so that they can find his shoulders, "from reading one more of these things. Any longer and I'm going to make us bankrupt by saying yes to everything."

A quick glance at the spread of pages on the table make putting two and two together easy — contestable funding applications of various quality await her signature.

Even here, in the warm decor and sunlight of Capitol Manor, Vincent is hard-pressed to manage anything brighter than a crooked pull at the corner of his mouth once he’s allowed into the heart of the lion’s den, in all of its glory. And all of its paperwork.

But for a man who doesn’t like to be touched, he’s glad to meet her halfway, hands braced easy to her waist beneath her grip on his shoulders. Steadying as if to hold her in place while he checks that she hasn’t succumbed to the pressure of being able to say yes. She’s keen enough to pick out his searching for finer cracks along the way, black eyes obsidian sharp beneath easy warmth.

He’s in blue — tie clipped, creases flawless despite the hour. It’s late in the day, for business. Trim, greying stubble expertly shaded.

“As long as you’re the one who has to explain what happened,” he says.

Long live the king.

Carol narrows her eyes in a mock consideration for this proposal, before her expression eases again, and she bestows him with an airy kiss to the cheek before releasing him from embrace. "I suppose you must do enough of that on your own time," she relents, turning back towards the table without yet sitting back down. Tidying, instead, the stacks of applications, so that they can find somewhere a little less like only business, and that she doesn't lose her place when she inevitably goes back to it.

Saying yes is the easy part of what constitutes her job. It's all the no she has to decide between, worthy charitable pursuits looking for what little money can be allocated — research scholarships, city beautification, relief efforts, film festivals, soup kitchens. Seeds, to fling across the barren fields of America, to see what grows.

She removes her reading glasses, and gestures towards a more comfortable set up near the windows. "Can I get you anything?" she asks, and glances at her watch. Is it martini hour yet?

Too real conveyed at a glance for all the explaining he’s had to do in the last however many years, Vincent circles her table tidying to see himself over to the comfortable setup in question. The couch he drops down onto the far side of is a good one — comfortable and fabulous — his one knee already hiked over the other, shoulders slouched wide against the back.

He makes himself at home as any other pet let in from the backyard. Sheer mental exhaustion is as good as pregaming, for that, no watch glance required. It is martini hour, or he wouldn’t be here.

“I’ll have what you’re having.”

Carol returns, hardly a minute later, with two glasses of something clear and full of ice, one of which she hands to Vincent without further explanation before taking a seat by the window, cater-corner. Natural poise meets casual recline, ice rattling in her glass as she sets it down on the small, flower-bearing table adjacent to them both. Her shoes are flat, and her wardrobe about as comfortable as it is elegant, dressed for a day of working from home, over satellites, attending to the occasional assistant and secretary and security officer.

Top shelf vodka, sparkling water, ice. Something to contend with what Carol considers to be the undue warmth of the outside, and what she can read from the fine cracks formed in Vincent's aura.

"The flight, uneventful." She links her hands together, fingers ticking off the small talk topics she could ask about and is instead covering herself. "The drive, more traffic than expected. New York, humid. The family— " No, she's got nothing. Smile a little crooked, she asks, "How is Tasha?"

“Thank you,” says Vincent, upon receipt. “I love your shoes.”

Are they new? He prompts with his brows and a point with the stem of his glass, while he works a short swallow cold past his teeth.

It’s very difficult to discern if he actually cares. He probably doesn’t, certain beats of smalltalk finally baked into the core of his being. Very possibly by Carol Preager herself. The flight was uneventful, and the traffic more than expected.

“Hopelessly in love with a timebomb masquerading as a bounty hunter.” The bleed of relief off his having said so is brutal, tension released with a breath he’s been holding for some five or six months. His dark eyes unfocus away — not quite rolling on their way into hazier middle-distance. God, he’s glad she asked. He lifts his glass.

“She’s available if you’d like to adopt her.”

Carol raises an eyebrow, some easy mingling of sympathy and amusement in her eyes, which doesn't prevent her from raising her glass, one manicured finger extended past it to point at him. "That's one charity case," she says, "I will say 'no' to."

She sips ice-cold vodka, twinkling, and keeps it in hand when she's done.

"What's she ticking her way towards, Vincent?"

“It’s hard to quantify.”

Truly, it is, in the context of post-war and — coverup. Allowances made that probably shouldn’t have been.

“I’d say tragedy but we’re already there.” Innocent men dead, families disrupted and all of that. Caught in the crossfire. Arguably, for a good cause: even now, while he sits here with his phone off, Jason Pierce is squeezed for information down to the last neuron. He sets the foot of his glass to his knee.

“Headlines. Scandal. Early retirement — for both of us,” he qualifies, deadpan. “I’d asked them to stay away from each other.” Told them to, really.

“It’s all so dramatic.”

Carol gives the kind of ironic one-shouldered shrug to the mention of headlines and scandal that one gives when one's livelihood, more so than her husband's, is almost exclusively dependent on the contents of headlines, the absence and exploitation of scandal. No big deal, really, except how much of it is. How the closer you are to the great structures that hold the United States together, the easier it is to see how damn fragile it all is.

She smiles with her eyes at this last point. "What a luxury," she says, of youths and their drama. "To be dramatic. I remember when my mother almost cried when I told her I was engaged. Not Raymond, she must have thought. Not some penniless lifetime academic on his third scholarship. That felt dramatic. Romantic."

But he didn't come here for her to miss his point.

"The rules are different now, than they used to be."

Vincent watches her reminisce at a remove, bleak affection for her recollection of those dire straits contained in silence, and an idle scuff of his thumb tracing under the bristle around his jaw, all the way back to his ear. The challenges of higher academia vs established affluence. Good story, Mrs. P. Very relatable.

His refusal to overlay this over anything Joanna’s parents may or may not have said in a similar context is definitely a conscious decision.

“So you’re telling me I should relax.”

Clarification comes late, once she’s circled back to rules. And how they’re different, now. Presumably because America is different, now — scars still raw and bloody. He’s considering it — disagreement kept on ice, pending her supporting argument.

“I’ve never been dramatic,” he adds, absolute security punctuated by a drink.

Carol raises her eyebrows as if she doesn't all the way believe this last thing, for all that the evidence of it sits before her, from the serious silver peppered in around the grain, down to the lines an iron pressed into his slacks. Like maybe she's seen him be dramatic, once, potentially when he didn't know he was being watched.

Rather than refute this point, she says; "Who said anything about relaxing?"

Maybe he could stand to relax, but she's not sure that ought to be the take away, here. "We relax, we become complacent, we think that if we walk away from this, the world will be as we left it, and that's just not true. I know you know that as well as anyone, and better than most."

Vincent betrays himself with a crook at the corner of his mouth when her brows go up in his periphery. Self-deprecation etches familiar lines in at the corners of his eyes, and digs in furrows around his mouth — a little bleak, in the knit of his brow and the tuck of his chin once he’s caught.

“That isn’t really what I meant,” he says, more on topic. “I take it he told you.”

He rolls his heel under his ankle, tips his glass and watches ice slide over itself.

“My last best chance for complacency was taken from me by a time traveling dream gypsy.”

"Lucky me," Carol says, dry and sharp, smile small.

She sets her vodka down. Martini time is, if not over, perhaps paused. "It would be a mistake," she says, deliberate and considered, "to imagine that your stepping aside in the hopes of protecting the integrity of this administration would not also potentially threaten it in the ways you hope to avoid. It would be an act of complacency, Vincent, to imagine that the risks of your appointment and your associations outweigh the good you can do."

Carol holds up her hands, showing her palms. Just saying.

"And I know I certainly feel better about being a Missouran with the knowledge that you must suffer it out with me." White picket fences and all.

There’s no immediate counterpoint — evidence of his actually listening. And actually considering.

He hasn’t set his glass down. It’s something for him to look at while he isn’t looking at her.

“It feels dangerous,” is what he decides, at length. More than just a risk. He doesn’t elaborate, wear and tear frank in a look sidelong before he tips the glass back to polish it off. Tension knotted up behind his jaw bristles and smoothes around a swallow. Barely there.

“See,” he sets the glass aside with exaggerated care, lest he put her fancy Missourian furniture at risk, “now the truth comes out.”

She smiles rather than laughs at this last thing, white teeth and eye wrinkles, and lets an amiable silence settle in place. It's probable that Carol cannot wave away all of Vincent's concerns, or even argue them away, and she knows that. They exist, spectres in the shadows, and that silence turns thoughtful. Pared down—

"Raymond needs you," she says, as gentle as she is direct, looking across at him. "And we need Raymond."

Until the next administration comes along, and all they can do is leave the country in better shape than they found it.

Vincent looks back at her, murky neutrality guarded by starched lines and sharp creases. The shadow of his beard has more natural prickle to it at this hour, inexorable, creeping evidence of his humanity. There’s less still he can do for the jut of his ears, the muppety hood of his brow.

“I think I’m having a panic attack.”

The realization takes him by surprise. He tells her in much the same tone he’d normally reserve for the smalltalk they breezed by earlier — a little flat, in the confidence of the presidential sitting room. Or whatever the fuck.

“May I have another drink, please.”

For a moment, Carol seems taken aback by this comment — in a mild enough way, and only for a moment. The days spent immediately after her retrieval from Institute hands had been some of the lowest she'd ever experienced, personally, enough that her recollection of that time is lost in a fog. Only that Vincent was there, more constantly than anyone else.

She gets up and she gets them both a second round.

And when she returns, she says, "For the record," sitting down, more companionably beside him on the couch, knees neatly together, poise naturally dainty, "I suggested just offering you a raise."

A held breath let off at a shivery press, Vincent reaches a little glassy-eyed to take the glass as offered.

“Thank you.”

He drinks, and nods, too, appreciative of the consideration. A raise, sure.

“That’s all I was really after.” That’s what this was really about. He braces a hand at her knee without looking, deadpan reassurance at odds with prim and proper next to him. “It might be worth waiting to make sure the entire world isn’t going to burn down in the next few months, first.”

Remembering how to breathe is an ongoing process, his lapels puffed under the line of his teeth.

“I had a friend stop by,” he says, apropos nothing. “She wants to meet you.”

Carol's hand finds a place to lie on Vincent's back between his shoulderblades, pressure light but there, much like her compassion.

"I think the world is a little more resilient, these days," she assures, even if it's of the realm of opinion, from her view of the country from this heartland. Even if that resilience comes in the form of scar tissue. Carol sips her drink, and then swivels a glance side-along at this new diversion.

The pause is suspicious in affect, which is not altogether very flattering for Vincent personally, even if it comes with a subtle smile nested in the corner of her mouth. "What kind of friend?" she asks, over her drink.

The world might be more resilient, but so too are the conduit-hosting undead Vanguard members pouring in across time and space. There are robots and fugitives and everyone from the Ferry is in rehab, now, or ought to be.

Lazzaro tilts slowly forward under her touch — elbows set to his knees, left hand recalled to fall loose between them. Bolstered. Or at least steadied, in spite of her suspicion. Already, that same hand is finding its way back to his brow.

“It was Eve Mas.”

His voice is muffled behind the block of his palm.

“Don’t worry. I’ve already made arrangements.”


I mean.

"Oh?" is Carol trying again, the corner of her mouth remaining upturned as she lifts her chin, an easy twinkle of humour caught in her eye. "Eve Mas. I can't say I've had the pleasure, in person." But naturally, the prophetess's reputation has a way of preceding her, even if it comes predominantly through memes, nowadays.

The hand at Vincent's back pat-pats, before lifting away, moving to retake her seat comfortably across from him. "I see I'm going to have to adjust the clearance on my calendar, again. Speaking of arrangements, are you staying for dinner?"

Pat pat.

“No,” says Vincent. “No.” No, he is not staying for dinner. “I can’t, I have — “ an excuse.

Literally any excuse.

An event, an appointment, an early meeting. A date. There is no plausible lie, for this audience. Not a single one. He still has his face covered, the stem of his glass slanted through the fingers of his far hand.

“Yeah,” he says. “I can stay.”


No mercy.

A little mercy, maybe, as Carol tips her head to one side to consider him, hand fitted beneath her chin, conversation lapsing into a speculative silence filled with birds in the trees on the other side of clear pane glass, and the occasional hum of a helicopter over head. She lifts her glass to her mouth and finishing off her helping of ice cold vodka. And stands.

"No politics invited," is a late addition, the kind of pledge and promise that sounds like she's been enforcing it for decades. "Finish your drink and try to relax, Vincent. I won't tell anybody, if you do."

“Easier said than done.”

But he will try, effort guaranteed without commitment to success. The vodka is helping, certainly, to loosen the tension wired up the backs of his hands and in his neck.

He sits back from the crutch of his own palm after a while, silence let to settle in for the time it’s taken him to collect himself. She won’t tell anyone. Good. Great. Birds chirp. Wind rustles in the leaves and the light dapples with them, solid evidence of a world that’s still turning outside.

“Christ.” He sips.

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