More Than the United States


tasha_icon.gif vincent_icon.gif

Scene Title More Than the United States
Synopsis Personal relationships are strained when Vincent asks Tasha to put national security ahead of her heart.
Date November 11, 2017

Brooks Residence

Left to his own devices with a drink in one hand and a great fluffy dog at the other, Vincent eventually made his way from the kitchen to the living room, where he found a place to sit. Slouched back low with his sleeves rolled, coat and jacket laid out next to him, he’s still hemmed up in the plaid of his vest, thumbing out a reply to an email one-handed on his phone. He types slowly — lets autocomplete do the heavy lifting. Backspaces often, readers low on his nose.

The glass he has at his knee is empty save for a few slivers of ice.

“What’s a polite way to tell a diplomat to go fuck themselves,” he asks Misty.

He looks relaxed.

Outside, there’s a great black SUV parked at the opposite curb, armored hull and tinted windows a blight on anotherwise picturesque neighborhood. Whatever sunlight there is left to filter down the street gleams harsh off of fresh wax and polished chrome.

It’s a little early for Tasha to be home — not that Vincent knows that. In the crook of one arm, she carries a paper sack full of groceries as she walks from the corner market. The car catches her attention and she takes a breath, letting it out in a shaky sigh that floats up like cigarette smoke in the chilly autumn evening.

The door rattles as she lets herself in, moving through the short entryway to the kitchen, and peering through doorways to the living room to find Vincent. “Dad,” she says, the single word tinged with both worry and relief at once. There’s no surprise.

The bag and her keys are abandoned on the counter and she hurries through the space of the kitchen and dining room toward him. He can see on her face that she hasn’t slept enough, fear and exhaustion darkening the space under her eyes, making her olive complexion a little too pale to be healthy. Some of that comes from the hard work she does every day, but most of it has to do with the events of the past few days.

Forewarned by the rattle at the door, Vincent has time to put himself up onto his feet to greet her.

He looks better today than he has — which is to say, he has slept, no more worn down than he ever is, these days. Shaved down clean behind his ears, posture upright despite the empty glass he has in his hand, phone and glasses tucked away in turn.


That she looks like hell shouldn’t surprise him, displeasure tightened up at the back of his neck in the first moment he takes her in. Already, there’s exasperation lukewarm behind the tar black of his eyes, the worst of it vented in the press of a slow breath before he moves to meet her with the offer of a hug. Free arm out, the other occupied with setting his glass down without knocking it over.

“Tamara’s here somewhere. I think I gave her a headache.”

Her hug is a full one, both arms sliding around him and he even gets a quick kiss on the cheek. She steps out of it and dips to pet Misty, who’s risen to her feet to greet Tasha as well; it’s easier to look at the fluffy dog than to see that exasperation in her father’s face.

She knows he knows, and the anxiety of what he’s here to say about it manifests in the way her brows draw together, in the way she steps back and looks at his glass rather than at him. His words make her smirk, though, and she looks back to meet his eyes.

“You have that effect on people,” Tasha quips wryly, before moving to sit on the corner of the couch closest to the chair he was sitting in, curling her feet up beneath her.

“Have you seen her? Is she okay?” she suddenly asks, rather than pretend to care about small talk. That he’s here isn’t coincidence, not with his job title these days.

Vincent hugs both of his arms around her in turn, scratchy at the chin, solid under crisp creases and rolled cuffs. A bind and quick release — familial and maybe even warm, in his way — more comfortable for his BAC, and the intervening years where they haven’t always been sending each other direct to voicemail.

No argument for his proclivity for causing headaches — just an unappreciative glance sidelong, as they separate and he turns to sink himself back into his seat.

As if she hasn’t caused plenty of her own.

There’s tolerance to his impatience that’s equal parts cheated by near death and earned through accomplishment, while she settles in. His eyes are dark as they’ve ever been, but he’s mellowed, in the last decade (further still in the last thirty minutes) aquiline intensity blunted down into something manageable.

“Yes,” he says, in factual answer to her first question, and “physically.” In careful, still more factual answer to her second.

They’re both older, too.

That helps.

“How much do you already know?”

Tasha watches him a beat or two before she speaks, looking for those tells she knows and maybe those she doesn’t, for anything in his body language that might give away more than she knows.

“She called. She told me what happened and that she’s in trouble,” she says, her voice wavering a little, heralding the shine that springs to her eyes that he’s all too familiar with. Hopefully she doesn’t cry so easily in her job as a lawyer — is perhaps a thought he’s had about his emotional daughter.

“She meant well,” Tasha adds, after a moment — defensively, as if she thinks makes any sort of difference when it comes to crime and punishment. It might mean something when it comes to her father’s opinion. “It was Avi.

As if that too could exonerate a person. In her heart, it seems to. But her heart isn’t the law.

He’s unhappy.

Liquor might have knocked the sharp edges off, but there’s only so much it can do to relieve the gravity of the situation, bitten down into his bones as it is alongside pins and screws. There’s a forbidding darkness that settles in behind his eyes while he listens — more void than presence. An absence of feeling, or its deliberate removal..

Either way, it’s grim. Blacker than black, sooty with undertones of anger that he can’t quite separate himself from. Still an ape at heart himself, despite every effort.

“Would that be your legal defense?”

He’s not angry at her, really. He just doesn’t spare the rod, direct riposte deadpan in spite of the tell-tale gleam in her eyes.

“I need to know what she told you about what happened.”

She rolls her eyes at the question — it might be part quip or it might be part jab; she isn’t really sure until she examines his expression, seeing those hard lines of his face and that anger in eyes and posture. Her jaw sets, and she tips her head, her own dark eyes narrowing as she meets his gaze head-on.

The moment is a touch too long, too long to be good, anyway.


The denial is flat. There’s nothing that follows — no apology, no explanation, no epilogue to explain the answer. He knows all of the legal reasons she might spout off for the refusal; he certainly knows the more personal ones. Her breath halts for a moment, held, as she waits for his anger. The tears are gone, at least; her gaze on his face is resolute and steady. She’s both a Renard and a Lazzaro, and it shows.

Holy shit.

For a long beat, it’s like he’s staring down a mirror, giving rise to an existential kind of spatio temporal displacement. Some terrible cosmic realization that his daughter is his daughter. Like the day the tiger cub you adopted two years ago realizes it’s a tiger and tries to eat you.

Dread conspires with pride to drop his jaw open, just a little, with rum on the assist.

“Okay,” is what he decides to say, in place of the default, excuse me? He’s still simmering in a toxic muddle of anger, resignation and is this really happening now, all controlled down to a look, and a barely-there tip of his chin.

“You do realize that I already know what happened.”

There’s a half second there where she almost folds. But then he accepts it and she remembers how to breathe.

“Obviously,” is Tasha’s response to his next comment, but at least it comes without an eye roll. “What are you drinking?” is her own question, before she gets up off the couch, reaching for his glass, and moving through the dining room to the kitchen. A bottle of red wine is taken from the cupboard for herself, followed by a wine glass from their space in the tidy kitchen (no doubt it’s Tamara who keeps it that way).

“I know you know. But I don’t know what she told you, and it’s not my place to tell you,” she adds, tone a little apologetic, voice just loud enough to carry through the room between them, but not to where Tamara sleeps. “I don’t want our conversations to end up public record.”

She fills her wine glass and refills his drink, before returning, handing him the glass and leaning against the arm of the couch. “I’m scared,” she admits.

“I didn’t come here to interrogate you.” And frankly, he’s a little indignant about the implication that he would, hands opened in a plea for rationality as he turns in his seat to follow her progress for the kitchen.

He doesn’t have to answer her, about what he’s drinking — which is great, because he doesn’t. The bottle of rum is still out on the counter, with an open soda can nearby.

Being left alone in the living room gives him time to close his eyes and tuck his jaw to his collar, breath drawn in sharp through his nose, held, and released slow through his teeth. By the time she’s back, he’s composed as if she never left, right hand ready to accept the drink she’s brought for him, brow still at the same hard furrow.

“I know,” he tells her. “And I know you love her.

“But this is bigger than all of us.”

If she’s going to stand, so will he, vest bunched at his middle. He doesn’t tug it down.

“I cannot hold my position in good faith and have a daughter-in-law who storms federal facilities at the same time.”

When her father stands, Tasha’s eyes drop, as if the surface of the ruby liquid in her glass is suddenly fascinating. Her cheeks flush a little, perhaps in a touch of shame at the indignant hue in his voice. She lifts the glass to take a sip, still not lifting her eyes to his face while she mulls over his words and the taste of her wine. Finally dark eyes rise to meet his darker eyes.

“You say it like it’s ongoing, a hobby or something. I’m pretty sure it was a one-time thing, yeah?” Tasha sighs, reaching up to push a lock of dark hair behind her ear. The fierceness of a few moments before fades and she simply looks weary, tired, and vulnerable.

“She overreacted. She shouldn’t have gone. I know this. She knows this. Maybe Epstein’s punishment was a bit of an overreaction too, especially given what he’s been through,” Tasha says, setting the wine down so she can cross her arms. “Do you know what they’re planning to charge her with?”

“You say it like she got a DWI.”

Exasperation wears thin over deeper and darker fears, his free hand opened out again, begging her to listen to herself.

“She killed people on a hunch.” It’s important to him that he assert that truth point blank, dropped between them like a lead blanket over the protest of any buts. “A lot of them.”

Now it’s his turn to laser through her for cues, clues — any indication that she understands the significance of the crime that was committed. He’s pressing in without having taken a step, drink lifted and sipped — finally — to soothe the hackling prickle of his posture. His spine has gone stock stiff, voice tempered down shy of disturbing Tamara’s misery time.

“While under contract by the government. Really, by me. You don’t get a freebie for that. If this was 2009, I would have already resigned.

“And no,” he adds. “I don’t.”

Her eyes drop again, and she swallows, audibly, like she has to force the muscles of her throat to work, to swallow back the protests or questions or defenses that come to her tongue.

A less perceptive person might miss the barely visible trembling of her lips and of her hands, where the fingers dig into the sleeves of her sweater, folded as her arms are. The serious nature of Colette’s crime is all too real.

“She fucked up.” The words are blunt and dull. “I don’t expect her to get a pass on it. And I’m sorry it looks bad for you.” Her voice is quiet, barely more than a whisper now, which makes it easier to control the tremors that threaten to crack the words. “I have a friend I might ask to take her case, if he’s willing. If there’s a case.” When it comes to crimes against the government, she fears there’s no guarantee Colette will ever make it to a trail — as much as she wants to believe in the new and improved US Government.

“Colette needs help.” Really and truly, although it’d be easy to mistake the flat of his affect for sarcasm, for someone less versed in pissing him off. Any derision on the subject is directed inward. He knows. He knew it before. Now this is happening. He shouldn’t be angry with her but he is — he’s resigned to that too.

“Look at me. I’m having this conversation with you because I love you,” he says, “and I trust you. This isn’t a lecture.”

Despite all evidence to the contrary. He lets that settle. The ice melting in his glass settles also. Clink.

“If,” a heavy if, with heavy invisible italics, “there is truth to what Colette has reported, then we have a serious problem.” All of it is true. It’s shadowed in around his eyes, in the bristle of his beard, and the boot black of his regard for her. “I need to be in a position to do something about it.

“I can’t do that if my integrity is compromised. Or the country has cause to believe that it is.”

The emotions play out over her face like a movie with no surprises. Worry, love, fear, anger. Her eyes lift to his face when he asks, and she swallows again, before lifting a hand to scrub over her face, then leaving it there, knuckles against her lips, as if that might keep them from trembling when she speaks.

“There’s no ‘if.’ She wouldn’t lie. She doesn’t always think and,” her brows draw together in that trademark Lazzaro scowl, “you’re right, she needs help, to not… to not fly off and do dumb things without telling people, without asking for help.”

Her mouth pulls downward and she takes in a short gasp of air just shy of a sob. It hurts, like a betrayal of trust, that Colette did this. That goes unsaid. Again also goes unsaid.

“I need to be in a position to help her, too,” Tasha adds in a smaller voice.

“If there is no ‘if,’” says Vincent, “we have the added problem of her feeling like she was justified in her actions to contend with. And I really do mean ‘we.’” Professionally and personally. Christ, what a mess — every tremor and near sob compounded in with the rest of the pressure already packed behind his breastbone.

“I’ve already told her to stay away from you.”

Very FYI, delivered with all the delicacy of a dropped sack of groceries despite emotion wracking its way out through Tasha’s best effort at composure. There’s a hint of apology in a show of is lower teeth — not for the measure itself, but for the Shakespearean show of torment it immediately invoked from Colette.

“I made it clear I wasn’t asking.”

She can imagine how that went over. It’s hard to say whether or not what he’s doing now constitutes an ask or a tell, haggard intensity reined in by restraint and by rum.

He’d make a case for this meeting being more informative than imperative.

At his first words, Tasha’s face contorts as the tears make their way through that thin facade she’s trying to keep together. She nods in agreement — it’s a problem. Colette has a problem, and they need to help her with it.

But then he delivers that matter-of-fact blow; she probably knew it was coming, truly, but it’s still a surprise, like the cheapest jump scare in a horror movie. She sucks in a sharp breath through her teeth and shakes her head, her hair sticking to her wet cheeks until she pushes it away with an angry hand.

Dad.” Her tearful eyes narrow on his and her more feminine, delicate version of the Lazzaro scowl glares back at him. “I can’t help her if I can’t see her, and you know she’ll listen to me. Get therapy, I don’t know. Do something to… to stop living like she’s got a death wish.”

The words are angry and thick with tears, and she shakes her head. “I can’t turn my back on her.”


“One, you’ve seen her for the last eight years and she didn’t slow down to consult with you.” Maybe it’s been nine years, now. Ten? Longer than he was ever married, or close to it “Two, therapy is one of the conditions for her remaining in Wolfhound custody.”

He doesn’t physically pull into himself — his reaction is subtler than that: a gradual withdrawal of empathy from the surface, the heat of his frustration listing into disappointment before it gives over to something stale. Low energy. A living form letter. Simultaneously easier and less comfortable a state for him to exist in. Pride goes out the door with patience — there’s a shabbier slant to his shoulders, a lean for him to set his glass aside that never straightens all the way back out.

He doesn’t need anymore to drink.

“I love you both, but please try to understand that I have an entire country to worry about.” Please. He’s past boring into her, that one last request posed on the level. “Under the circumstances I don’t think I’m being unreasonable.”

How easy it is to return to past roles. In some ways, it’s easier — comfortable and familiar. In others, it’s like she’s wearing a too-small jacket from her childhood, ill-fitting and restricting.

Her hand comes to her temple to rub away the tension that seems to collect there, fingers on the scar that’s covered by her dark hair.

“How long?” is the first question, followed by, “Can I call her, Skype, whatever they’ll let her do?” Something less public than a visit that the media might pick up on. Leave it to Tasha to start negotiating the terms of this sentence.

At least it’s a compromise, even if it breaks her heart to even consider it. Another tear rolls down her cheek, but at least she’s stopped trembling.

“If you rate the spiritual agony of your estrangement over the preservation of my influence over national security. And if you can convince Gitelman to cover your tracks.”

He’s sure as hell not going to do it for her, one last brackish side eye cast her way as he reaches in past his lapel, only to discover he isn’t wearing his jacket. He looks aside, and down.

It takes him a moment past that to reach for the coat and jacket paired up over the chair behind him. He picks up his empty glass, also.

“I don’t know how long.”

Don’t,” comes out a little sharper than she intends, and Tasha swallows to temper the next words that come out, “make it sound like I’m being selfish for wanting to talk to her. Please? I’m not saying my feelings are more important than national security. But she’s in a bad, dark place and not to be able to help…”

She closes her eyes and takes a breath. “You don’t have to go. There’s pasta in the fridge I can heat up for you. You need to eat,” she murmurs, resignation in tone and posture.

“I can ask Hana,” is a small concession, though she avoids his eyes as she pushes off from her perch to move toward the kitchen again.

“I’m choosing to believe you appreciate the scope of what’s at stake but you’re making it very difficult for me, Natasha.”

He’s a neutral buffer to the rise of an edge in her voice, brief as it is, pushed deeper still into a placating state of can’t even. Just as long as she knows.

“I don’t want you to be a robot, but I do want you to be wise.”

Somehow, with both of his hands occupied, Vincent has managed to knock a single cigarette loose from a box in his coat and turn the end up to his lip. From Tasha’s perspective, it just kind of appears during one of her glances away, efficiency nigh on sleight of hand. Decades of practice and a deep and sudden need for nicotine — his last few words are muffled by the filter:

“I’m cutting carbs.”

She’s already opening the refrigerator when he speaks, and Tasha lets the metal door shield her expression from his view, so he can’t see her close her eyes and sigh, nor the eye roll that follows.

The pasta was meant as a truce.

She lets the door thud shut and turns to lean against it. “I’m trying. I’m sorry if it’s difficult for you.” Her words are sharp, echoing his in tone in a way that’s not meant to be flattering to him and isn’t very flattering to her.

Her fingers go back to curl in that spot at her temple, a nervous tic she’s picked up since her injury, a tell that might let her courtroom opponents know she’s frustrated, once she has more cases behind her. It’s also an indication that Tamara isn’t the only one he’s given a headache.

“I’m going to bed. If you need the couch, there’s a blanket in the closet,” she says, voice tired and resigned. “And smoke outside if you’re going to smoke.”

Vincent’s followed her into the kitchen by the time the refrigerator door is being closed, used glass steered to the sink for him to dump out a few sad splinters of ice, coat and jacket humped over the crook of his arm.

“Is that what I sound like?” asked with exaggerated concern (and no lilt), he twists enough to furrow his brow back at her over his shoulder.while he scrubs and rinses. One-handed, for the most part — going through the motions until he sets the glass aside and bumps the faucet to a stop.

“I can’t stay here.”

He’s more serious there, still speaking around the jut of an unlit cigarette. Respecting that wish.

“I’m glad I got to see you.”

Her eyes drop and she studies the toes of her shoes for a moment, brows drawn together in a frown.

“I’m sorry things are complicated,” Tasha says quietly — another concession of sorts, though like a true lawyer, she takes no blame for any of those complications. “For the record, I am angry at Cole. This,” she gestures to herself, the area between herself and Vincent, “Isn’t because I agree with her. But it also goes against my entire being to just abandon her when she’s obviously…”

She doesn’t finish the thought but shakes her head, looking back at him a little helplessly. “I love you.” The non sequitur isn’t an altogether strange one — since her close call with death a few years back, she’s made a habit of saying the words more often to those in her circle. “I won’t do anything without Hana’s okay. Okay?”

Hands toweled dry, Vincent turns back to face her across the kitchen. There’s still something missing in him when he does — a spark gone out, furnace heat extinguished, soul covered over and closed away. The sort of thing it takes an absence to notice, which his eyes were already black, and the intensity of his stare already hard to endure directly.

“You’ll have to take my word for it when I say I know you wouldn’t support a snap decision to rain hellfire down on a federal prison.”

It hasn’t taken his sense of humor with it, wry as he pulls the cigarette from his mouth to rest it behind his ear instead. He’s still in there, but very much ready for bed himself.

“I love you too. More than the United States.”

No pressure.

He churns away into vapor, and there’s a last buzz of hollow, otherworldly command as he goes:

“Call your Grandma.”

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