Mot Juste


francois_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Mot Juste
Synopsis After a run in with the Wolf, Teo catches up with Francois in time to soothe tempers and injured pride, or at least, make sure the secret doesn't spread further than it already has.
Date December 12, 2009

Russia, Ryazan

When you made co-leader of an ideological terrorist organization at twenty-six years of age without a bachelor's degree or property worth more than five hundred dollars to one's name, one tends to live by a lot of platitudes. Drama lends itself to memorable turns of phrase. This isn't to say that there has or ever will be such a thing as a terrorist organization without an ideology, or ideology without drama, but it's odd. Though Phoenix is half a world away, the phrase jumps out in Teo's mind, here, trudging to the desolate fringe of Ryazan at Francois' heels, as it did when he herded cats in the winter between 2008 and '09.

Lead, follow, or get the fuck out of the way.

He is most definitely following, at the moment. Walking along behind another guy. One would imagine he has, also, technically got the fuck out of the way, assuming he was in it to begin with— and Teodoro very rarely is not. At the very least, it seems unlikely that Francois is going to be seeking the Sicilian for instruction or advisement any time soon.

Night's claim over the city's idling commercial district seems only marginally cooler than the resolute block of Francois' back turned and kept steadfastly against him, and the walk to the apartment complex has the quality of warped and Escher-like eternity to it that comes from retracing a not-quite-familiar path. Sleep deprivation's catching up too. The younger man's spiky-haired head has sunk progressively deeper and deeper into the upturned trough of his coat collar, his breath funnelled up and filtering warm against the planes of his face as he does. It occurs to him, unhelpfully, that he hadn't gotten around to thanking Francois for assimilating Abby into the new real estate plan.

"I thought I'd tell you after he began to pick up intel, or vice versa. All of you, I mean. Any of you. Like maybe— I don't fucking know. Aberrancies in behavior would… stick out less when new discoveries came up, or at least— further from the point of Ethan's first contact with Zhukovsky, and— we could use them while they were using us." It doesn't sound completely unreasonable in Teodoro's own ears, but then again, they've long since grown numb and sore from the chill; he can't say he entirely trusts them.

"Are you okay?"

Francois isn't moving very fast, both knees twinging at each step if lacking in any swell thanks to the bitter cold — it won't require running to keep at his heels, but there is a steady, determined progression to his gait. He's walked through Russian forests with more injuries than these. Uphill, both ways. Kids these days, they don't even know. Needless to say, he doesn't slow down when Teo finally speaks up from his trudge somewhere behind him, the Frenchman's lips curling back to bare his teeth at nothing in particular, shoulders huddled under his jacket and hands tucked beneath it.

Burning resentment, sore pride, embarrassment, run off anger and adrenalised violence burn bright enough to keep him warm, too many emotions for an old guy to have to put up with. "Yes." No French, English sounding sharp and dishonest on Francois' tongue as he moves.

No, he's not okay. Teo can see it from here, a slight head toss designed to shift hair off his forehead and express some amount of dismay. He speaks, still, trusting the wind blowing past and through him to catch and toss his words back. "He killed Catherine's lover. Abigail doesn't trust him. He went by Fenrir, once, and killed his own men as well as hunted my kind as though they were dogs. You both expected there would be no question as to his loyalty to us should it be discovered from someone else, that he had dealings with Grigori?

"Did you expect none of us to find out? Or to simply do nothing?"

This is one of those 'do you think this dress makes me look fat' questions. No right answer, and unlikely to repair the damage to a relationship that's already a little bit strained from other things. The Sicilian's throat moves, its apple scraping a gulp against the fabric of his outer-garment.

"The former," Teo answers, after a pause that seems to be weighted down at the feet with stone and string, and bound for a bottomless depth of water. "I don't know how Professor Dreyfus knew that. He said he wasn't in contact— he didn't tell Zhukovsky know where the information on Munin's detonation came from.

"I know the timing's really fucking shitty," he hastens to elaborate, "but Ethan didn't have to tell you anything just now, but he chose not to deny everything. And he thinks Zhukovsky's been surveilling us at the Spektors', mole or no mole, and I don't know how much even he trusts Holden. Ethan doesn't care about money. He's doing this for a girl who talks to birds.

"He isn't the same man Volken called Fenrir. No one— not Abigail, Liz, Cat, Felix or I have to understand or trust him to know that much. Are you going to tell them?" The curiosity in his voice isn't quite feeble, but something else about the register of Teodoro's voice is. He compresses his fingers inside his pockets until he can feel the subtle ridges of healed breaks through the skin gloving his fingers.

"They never are, are they? The same men." Cryptic snideness. There was probably worse things in Teo's dialogue that Francois could pick at and deliver back with all the European primness in the world, but doesn't. He listened throughout, as much as Francois would have otherwise convinced himself he didn't have the patience to do. But he does slow down, however, whether because he's tired and aching or delivering some small mercy to Teo, there's no physical indication — but slows, approaching a desolate urban corner.

Tastes the winter bite at his lips, dried blood and skin gone parched from the wind, and scrubs feeling back into his face with his hands. "I don't know," he admits, with plain honesty, coming to a halt enough to glance back at Teo. "Probably not."

Hardware store to their right, a hollow-eyed bakery to their left. Teo scuffs to a stop next to him. Despite the sporadic punctuation of sodium street lamps, the whites of his eyes still show blue when he scrolls them sideways to study the old man's battered face. Ethan probably still hits like Fenrir. Probably. Possibly excepting the fact that Francois' head is still attached to its stem.

He noticed that Francois was rather delicate about— not taking his head off, in turn, and exploits that infinitessimal leeway given by very bravely nnnot retreating. "Okay," he answers, presently. That seems like a safe answer. Too early, yet, to volunteer further insight or ask about the timeframe on the metaphorical potential bomb drop. Too late in the evening to discuss the more literal one looming up in the weeks ahead. A line pleats itself in between his eyebrows. "Is your face going to be okay?"

If there's the urge to turn and deliver a blow to Teo's uninjured face, so that they could match, it manifests as restraint. As Teo pulls up next to him, the look in Francois' glance towards him is highly discouraging, his expression drawn with whatever repression is going on with him, face mottled red where Ethan's fist had connected. On its way to turning uglier colours than that, and Francois lifts a hand to brush fingertips against tenderised skin, the corner of his mouth, inspecting the tips of his fingers.

"I got him first. He did not see me coming - I climbed a balcony and jumped on him and made his head bleed." Sniff. Francois' hand drops again, inside of his mouth inspected only with his tongue for a moment before he adds, "It isn't bad.

"I can't work like this," said the diva before she stamped on back to her trailer. Or just a weary ex-immortal, shoulders slack beneath his jacket and turning that injury into a look leveled across at Teo. "Operating on my own for so long, I don't have to worry about keeping things from myself. Holden said he said nothing because we would make a mistake - is that what you believe of me?" he asks, a question sounding more like a demand.

To have ambushed the Wolf is an admirable feat, and one that Teo gifts with an expression that says, Dude, nice. Given Ethan is, indeed, as notoriously talented with atrocity as Francois had mentioned, there isn't even a little bit exaggeration to the compliment. Still relatively facetious. Facetiousness fades away from his features the next moment, when the question's put to him.

Swung in his face like the clout of a blow he had honestly been expecting. Wouldn't have resented. Would perhaps have preferred to this line of questioning: bruises have an equalizing quality to them, mindless football barbarism and the dignity of martial arts had that much in common. "I don't know," he answers, after a long moment, opting for honest brutality, this time, finally. Teo's breath fogs a slow sigh. "I don't know what would tip them off. If Elisabeth had afforded him too much politeness or Abby too much kindness, that might be a mistake to tip him off. I would've expected Holden to believe it would be a mistake to tell me. He doesn't know me very well. I don't know you very well.

"The precog who asked me to come here put the fucking viral equivalent of Munin in Volken's hands, once, and I can't begin to understand why she did that, never mind why she tagged me. I know that isn't really an answer, but—

"But I think you're doing just fine," and Teodoro's voice is firm, in saying so. "You keep Abigail sane. Liz and Felix trust you like they can't Holden, Kershner or I. You brought half our intel.

"And peas," he duly recalls. "Do you want some peas?" Teo asks, a little lamely, turning his eyes around an arc, speculating. The immediate street volunteers no supermarket. A liquor store, a church, a deli, bankrupt salon with its windows blinded with duct-taped cardboard.

"I would prefer to hit you in the mouth," is spoken casually, matter-of-fact, Francois putting his arms around himself, ribs joining in on the 'bruises dealt by Ethan Holden' silent chorus of aches. He's too tired, too, to comb through the compliments and separate truth and flattery, just accepts the words for what they are - words. Nice ones.

He's pretty sure it's a lie, that they would trust him more than Laudani. Francois' eyes go a little crescent in the effort to smile. "Don't be charming. It is unfair, when I am angry." Another touch to his own mouth, lingering ache grating at his nerves. It's a foreign thing, for as much as he's endured injury before. In this instances, and ones like it, there would be none of it left to worry about.

And it's his face. 8( "Ah, c'est des conneries. Failing an eye for an eye, I could do with ice, oui."

There's some of that around, which the Sicilian recognizes upon casting about their immediate vicinity. Ice. Not that Teo's really going to just scoop it up out of the clotted gutters and compact it between his hands to apply to the older man's beleaguered maw, of course, that would be gross and unkind. More frequently these days, he tries for kindness and relative hygiene. The charm part is kind of by accident, tucked in under the corner like the smile that crooks his mouth. "Well.

"There's a liquor store." He raises an arm to point a forefinger aligned to point across the street's two wide lanes. A truck coughs past, removes itself from the trajectory of his gesture within time to make his target evident. Only a number or two down.

Teo isn't long squaring his hand back in his pocket. Catching up with Francois and Ethan had taken precedent over finding gloves when he careened out of the house earlier in the evening. "So we could pick up some ice, or a fight," he says, weighing both options equally pragmatic, gracefully welcome in the register of his voice. He hikes both eyebrows. "Either one would work. I'll pay."

Teo's words are light, but somewhere along the way, they're heard heavier. Eyes hooded for the time it takes for him to study Teo's feet, Francois drags his gaze upwards, a calculating slowness that takes its time to get to the other man's face. He's considering it. Honest to goodness weighing up the pros and cons between curling up and healing the old fashioned way, and dealing out the hurts he had so badly wanted to inflict on Ethan before he'd been locked down with a gun at his chest and the threat of death, and the even likelier one of immense pain.

"Will you," is asked without a question in his voice, a huff of a chuckle that curls steam out from his mouth in a formless cloud quick to disappear. Gropes around somewhere for all that anger he had in him, and it's not a reassurance that he can't find it. He smiles again; rueful, somehow. "I am old."

Too old. Too tired. Boots scuff pavement as he turns on heels, to move for the liquor store.

Snarled fingers catch Francois' hand, then, both their rights, and however much of that other night can be accounted for by coincidence or qualities outside of the Frenchman's person, there's nothing inadvertent about his grip, a coarsely callused thumb settled in the smooth notch between knuckles that haven't yet been retaught to hold a scar. For all that he despises to feel cold and avoids the chill, The Sicilian's palm is warm with a self-combusting metabolism. So much the stereotype.

Wait. Teo doesn't translate the request to speech, but it carries through anyway, a request, though it's gently disguised as feline self-entitlement with the tug he insists on afterward. He steps backward. Boot heel frays a pointillist's flecking of snow up against the base of the wall.

Given the assumption that the Frenchman is following— and Teo does rather gratuitously make this assumption— Francois is privvy to his own reflection in the hardware store's crosshatch-barricaded glass, dim and desaturated in the evening. Traffic is spare, both pedestrian and automotive, the neighborhood's frosted facades bleak with conspiracy. Either this seedy reassurance or his regularly-programmed need to be liked emboldens Teo, strikes an idiot spark in his ba-by blues, lays an optimistic smile in the corner of his mouth. He draws Francois in, pulls their handclasp up.

Over his head, until his arm is bent flat against the glass and his head haloed by it, healing shoulder and long back pinned up against storefront with as much force that Francois deigns to give him. He pillows an ear into his bicep. Blinks in the dark, more hopeful than expectant.

Warm hand grasps one with less reliable circulation, long fingers cool to tangle with, and the only resistance Teo gets is token curiousity and hesitation before Francois easily drifts after him as if caught in a current. There's that same puzzled not by rights confused look in green eyes by the time Teo is backed against glass, but it only lasts for so long. Arms drawn up to create that arc, and Francois switches the grip enough to lace fingers together before his palm presses against Teo's with as much weight as he pleases.

Around the same time a kiss makes its union, warm and inviting and with more aggression than the playful in-the-dark one that tasted of wine over copper. It's been a very long time since Francois has fallen into such a thing and pondered if it's a strength or a weakness. Right now it's a little painful, thanks for nothing Holden!!, but ultimately worth it.

His other hand comes to grip onto the other man's coat, hangs there, asymmetrical in that it clings when the other demands. It's the young that make you feel old, but it works differently sometimes too.

Sometimes body language is pretty easy to decipher. For instance! From the moment Francois switches his hand from the loose snare to interpolate their digits, Teo knows, he won, he won, he won~ and it's probably nothing to write home about, and nothing that Francois would like him to crow about, if any of his incarnations would ever grow out of the tacit, cultural and religious homophobia inculcated in his childhood.

Way better than getting punched in the face, though. He probably likes this one a little better than he had the one in Katarina's foyer, but he doesn't think he'd really trade or anything. He's had a considerable amount of practice figuring out how to breathe and kiss around a split lip and fractured nose, before, but admittedly is more accustomed to being on the opposite end of the exchange. Does his best, answering pressure in careful fractions, contact divided into and returned in discrete kisses nudged and pulled through the frame of Francois' lips. Still, it isn't long before the long cartlidge of his own prodigious nose bending arrhythmically against the incline of Francois' cheek and his head lifts itself off the frost-rimed glass, perhaps excused by the weight on his coat lapel.

The back of his hair already damp and dusted white with ice. A scurf of crystals that is going to fall into the collar of his jacket and crabwalk some horribly goosefleshy incident down his spine, but cold is decidedly easier to conquer with someone's large hands there to warm one's loneliness. There's probably a dozen turns of phrase to describe precisely that in every language between desert and pole, and it requires no excuse though it provides a poor one for one or two other things Teodoro is steadfastly ignoring.

Multiple presses, aggressive grazes and gentler retractions until there's none left and it all grinds to a halt like a good dream. Francois' head ducks and he finds himself huddling against Teo whether against the cold or whatever else, the slope from brow to the end of his nose angling into the warmth of the man's neck, just beneath his jaw, releases that raised hand so that his can snag on another piece of coat for the moment. His breath curls warm against skin as he rests there.

Probably, Francois has already gotten it out of his system a long time ago — thrown punches in response to such attention. Or not. He has very little normal, to be ignorantly callous, going on. He stopped aging, once, and he also never married.

He doesn't stay there for very long, wise enough not to make this uncomfortable. Francois' head lifts, a half-smile traded up at Teo before he's pushing away, grip loosening if not automatically falling. "I won't make you promise me you'll tell me everything from now on," he says, voice huskier than it was before as much as conversation has nothing to do with kissing. "But I won't promise I will like it either."

Without actual coitus or a closer facsimile of it anywhere involved, having somebody huffing and blowing air into your ear isn't terribly sexy, so Teo has to remind himself to lift his head and put his offending beezer up into the generous thatching of Francois' hair, breathing in Spektor house shampoo and the salt or mineral residue from a day at work. Francois has really great hair, for an old guy. And his breath tickles where it funnels into his coat collar.

Teo doesn't move his arm for awhile. Lets it hang over the roof of his head, his fingers open like an overturned turtle, grossly helpless on the side of the road. Or on the hardware store's front window. There is going to be a Sicilian-shaped print on the frost to greet some proprietor unless the evening covers it up with the cold.

Little pleasures aren't entirely quashed by brief reminders. Teo listens to the ones that Francois dispenses as he peels himself off the hardware store, acknowledging them with a wiggle of white fingers, shaking himself loose like a wolf, palming his hair clean(er) again before he unwinds his stiffening shoulder back into its default, relaxed square. He decides that the old man looks mollified enough that a more exaggeratedly elaborate humility isn't necessary.

Teo says, "I know," instead. Remains cooperative to the hold on his coat, placing his hands in his pockets. "I'll try not to fuck it up."

Francois lets his fingers uncurl, then curl again where they're clasped, like a cat kneading speculatively as this answer is listened to, acknowledged. He knows brief temptation to dust clean frost off Teo's shoulder, but for a backstabbing fascist Italian, he's gotten enough affection. What had Dreyfus said? Quicker than the French can say we surrender? The thought makes Francois smile enough to show teeth before he can think to frown. Fff—

He releases Teo's coat along with a small shove, hands loose enough for it to mean nothing but dismissal. "Allons-y."

Whok. :D Teo needs a few seconds to clear the dweeby elation off his face, too. Contrition's summoned up from somewhere that…

Isn't fake, actually. Quick, almost furtively, he hazards a closer glance at Francois' eyes to reassure himself that he didn't inadvertently stir the coals. Or the muck. Or the water around the boat. Didn't stir any dubious mediums. Okay: brava. Swaying back onto the center of his balance, he seals his lips around a more appropriately-proportioned smile and starts his feet at the crosswalk, moving toward the liquor store and the siren's call of social responsibility. Banshee's shriek.

The least he can do is assist in the numbing of Francois' nose. Be an unhappy thing, if it got in the way. "Comme vous voulez," he obliges, this time.

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