Nose Dive


francois_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Nose Dive
Synopsis Nothing to see here, just two adults having a mature conversation about the state of their marriage.
Date March 24, 2019

Catskill Mountains, New York

Francois makes it there without incident. Only one near incident, which could have been a fun story, that time he drove a borrowed four-wheel into a lake and the ice cracked and he almost died. Just a swerve, corrected by doing nothing, ice-slick road gliding beneath him until inertia spent itself. Hardly noteworthy.

And then he continued, slower than before.

Roads became almost indistinguishable from the terrain they carved through, snow and mud and earth all spattering up behind the wheels and along the deep blue paint work. It is by no means a relaxing ride, lacquering on another coating of tension he didn't quite need. Beside him is a messenger back, with a freshly printed copy of a book he could have couriered, and tucked beneath, a paper bag with a fine bottle of red wine. Other belongings, too. A cellphone, a wallet, with a driver's license that says Francis Allen.

His arrival is marked by the laboured growl of an engine, the silence that comes after, and the gunshot-like slam of a door. Bag over one shoulder and bagged wine in both hands, Francois picks his way through the sparse patches of snow, the sucking mud. Nicely dressed — nice coat, nice gloves, nice scarf. Nice boots, too, probably, but in his effort to go from car to pathway, they're muddied up to the ankles.

By the time Francois makes it up the driveway (shoveled), Teodoro has the door peeked open for him. It is basically impossible to make it within a half-mile of the front door, especially, without being seen. It's very wide open up here, a beautiful vantage. Also highly tactical, if there is any paranoia in your mind, and Teo has plenty of that.

He'd have the door open wider in greeting, but it's fucking cold out. Teo himself is not too far into the house after that, doing a lightning round of oh my god my husband is coming back, now, he didn't say anything, I mean the house is fine but why did I get so much space if I was going to be living alone this long, it would have been to much for even the two of us, and I don't want him to know I've been working on the dining table instead of entertaining some non existent guests! type of cleaning. Books in one corner. The box of parts back under the— on top of the refrigerator. There weren't any stains or anything, anyway; he shoves a handful of blotched old newspaper in the trash can, and kicks the under-sink cabinet shut just in time to look like he was just putting on coffee.

It's fucking cold out. Coffee would be the thing to do.

"Hi," he says. He lets go of the coffee pot, which was the thing to do, and definitelyyy the only thing he was last minute doing before Francois' face met the porch light. He comes over to help with Francois' things and give cheek kisses. He is wearing flannel and trousers and slippers (with which he skirts Francois' boots) and his wedding band. "You're— is this some French holiday I don't know about?"

"Non. Must there be one?" Francois says, but he's saying it as he pats his hands on Teo's shoulders, grips, pulls him into (or himself into) an embrace that pivots them both around. He smells of a familiar cologne masking exertion and a minor road trip, and black coffee, and only just now, snow and earth. This last thing, he takes care not to track inside, the worst of it stamped out along with the cold outside, and now boots are shucked once wine and bag have been transposed to Teo's hands.

He straightens. "But I did have an excuse. Are you— If you are busy, I can be quick."

It's not actually a sex joke, though he might not mind if Teo took it as one. Much less than he would at Teo answering seriously, honestly.

Ah, the conversation rocks before it's even launched. Teodoro peeks at the wine, and he's adjusting his grip on the bag. Unthinkingly he starts to answer, "Oh I'm not busy, I just thought," you might be staying, and unthinkingly he stops when it probably would have best to continue. He isn't really sure what to say, because all prospective forks in the road seem to end at old debates that have proved fruitless in the past. He's not going back to the city. Francois won't stop fighting. Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah.

He stops. He reverses his scruffy head through the brisk air, which is warming up again now that the door is closed, and he plants a kiss on Francois' cheek.

"I'm not busy," he finishes, properly. Teo still thinks that something bad happened, probably. But his little drones have been walking around. He'd have heard if Hana fucking died, or something. Colette. Would he have? There are, admittedly, downsides to not going back to the city, which he revisits more often than he wants to admit; the antidote for which are activities marginally more like Francois' ~fight~ than he wants to say. It's lucky, probably, that Francois hadn't come a few days earlier, when he'd been running a whole thing of squash over West.

He installs the bag respectfully in the bedroom. On his way back, he pushes box o' parts a little further, discreetly, into a bookshelf, knees the drift of a fern frond lower down over it. "Hey." He's turning up the radiator, which is excusable only when he isn't alone in here. "Do you want to take a shower before you get turnt with your spouse on a farm?"

"I don't know what that means," is blithe, funny, because Francois is actually not that bad at context cues with how the kids talk these days. He's skated through a lot of different decades in a lot of different countries, and increasingly numerous American cities. "I think I'm clean enough — I left the worst of it outside." Mud, he means. His socks are clean, 30% fluffy, cuffs of his jeans only a little damp. One leg kicked over the other where he's installed himself in the corner of a couch.

Maybe something bad did happen. You wouldn't know, really, except that if it was something that Teodoro might directly need to know, Francois would likely have dropped that news before all the fucking around with banter. But this doesn't mean something bad didn't happen, something his mind is desperately trying to squirrel away from.

But it's not why he's here. "You remember the book? I settled on a title."

It's true, Francois would probably have shared bad news by now. It would have to be fairly specific bad news, of a specific nature, for him to not have shared. Teodoro consults his imagination with regard to what type of bad news might incite such a delay. Maybe: it's not that bad. Wolfhound is being disbanded! Desk jobs for everyone. Francois is up for a telecommute! Hana has taken up knitting, it's very disturbing. Maybe: it's really bad. The world ends tomorrow; best we only talk about it when it's time to fuel some passionate lovemaking.

He's seen too many things, maybe. Somehow still not enough. Some type of analogue for Francois' persistently lax grasp on contemporary lexicons, which does earn the Frenchman a brief, bemused look.

"Here," he says, passing Francois a fuzzy blanket for couch purposes. And also, "Tell me the title."

He bustles back toward the kitchen, an ordinary kind of busywork, in order to get the wineglasses. The glassware has stems and everything; an innocuous post-war luxury, possibly even a romantic gesture, if you consider that Teodoro used to really get hammered on beer and hard liquor, mostly. He'll BRB.

There is a strangeness here that Francois cannot help but notice. Non, not notice: hyper-fixate. The bustle of Teo moving to put his things away, get him a blanket, disappear into the kitchen for wine even as the scent of freshly made coffee wafts about the house. Like Francois is a stone whose impact has caused ripples in an otherwise tranquil lake. Or, more simply, his status as guest, in need of hosting, when they are

you know.

He folds the blanket a little, hands idle. "By the Victors," he offers, voice lifted so as to best have it follow Teo to the kitchen. "My editor said I needed to make a decision if I am to publish, which— " Needled italics, beckoning attention. Once he has it, he says, "It has been."

Hence wine, hence presence. His smile is there, a little more crooked and so a little more impulsive over practiced. "I brought you a copy. Just don't Google any reviews, s'il vous plait"

If they did this every night, it'd be an ordinary ritual. The familiar and regular rhythm of the chop on the surface of the stream. Teodoro doesn't notice that it's not that. Also, he really needs a drink right now, for some reason that he can't put his finger on. He brings out two glasses, the corkscrew, and Francois' gift wine. (Is it a gift, when your husband brings it home?) (Yes, right? It's obviously yes.) (Obviously.)

Bwoongk. Teo uncorks the wine and pours it out immediately because whatever, it can breathe in the glass, right? How does wine, even.

And then Teo has run out of things to do. So he sits down and thinks about what he thinks. "Why did you call it that?" is the question he arrives to first. He leans back in the couch and looks at Francois. The previous owner of this house had left a book on couples therapy in here, one of several that Teodoro has systematically consumed, and it had said that offering your partner a blanket on the couch might constitute a 'bid,' any attempt to elicit attention, affirmation, and positive connection. He decides that Francois folding it around constitutes acceptance, and he smiles a little.

"It's a little fuckin' self-deprecating, don't you think?" Teo scoots down, legs sprawling, and stares at Francois' face. He won't read the reviews.

"Yes," Francois says, a smile coming through. He leans, then, to collect his wine glass, although doesn't drink from it yet. "Or— is it? It doesn't cover Kazimir Volken's failure, but it is written with the knowledge that they eventuate. This is my story and not his. Which is why I called it that."

So, cheers. He offers out his glass for the purpose of striking it with Teo's.

Conceding, as he does so, "But the book is, perhaps, a little. I am counterbalancing having written one at all, perhaps." Teo is right there and Francois distinctly recalls more familiarities — doggish headbutts from Teo, the way they'd rested their arms on the couch back, overlapping, and all at once he realises he didn't really want to talk about his book, show off about it, attempt to glean some sense of validation from praise or admiring noises or polite queries around royalties or signings or if he included x passage after all or.

Any of it. He says, "Do you remember the house we had? Abby is back in New York City and has one so much like it."

Maybe nothing bad happened after all. Teodoro circles back to his worry, and then its opposite.

We all have our milieu of freakishly mundane complaints. Delayed print run. Francois is just humbly fearful of fame! He found out that Teodoro has been watching him through tiny robots, and was concerned, but not offended. (Freakish, probably not mundane.) It takes more than a few years on a farm to break one of hypervigilance, apparently. He toasts to Francois' victory, clink, both in literary publication and in having survived against one of the greatest evils they have ever known. That's enough of a reason to come home. Or to the homestead that your spouse, for reasons you have not shared but generally expressed respect for, has lived in without you.

"Maybe I'll go back with you," Teo suggests, warming to the sense of everythingisfine.jpg. "We can have a party with Abby and everyone else who knows. Celebrate your work. I'm not making a big deal out of it," he preempts rather automatically, stuffing more wine in his face. "It is a big deal." He's not in a rush to get drunk, but it's good wine, and he's preempting a silly spill that might naturally arise from his tendency toward excessive motor activity. (He thinks it's good wine.) (He doesn't know a loooot about wine.) (It tastes good. Is how you tell it's good wine. Right?)

"Brownstone. Big kitchen. What does she do now?" Teo sinks further on the couch. Far enough that it's surely becoming uncomfortable, phase one of the eventual slug slough. Onto the floor, which would be his usual, or maybe instead: closer to his husband. "I kept thinking she was going to take her dad back to Canada."

"She works at Elmhurst," Francois says, in the wake of his own mouthful of wine. "Four year contract as a nurse practitioner. I couldn't work around how to ask why she was back without it sounding like I disapproved."

Which he didn't, obviously, but it doesn't feel self-evident — the cause for her return, that is, its timing. Her husband died a long time ago. The war ended a long time ago. He's looking at Teo before he can get too inside his own head, and it's not an unfamiliar look — appreciative without getting too personal, maybe disapproving for his posture a little, and fond. And sad, for it. So he drinks more wine — he tends to polish off a full glass of red in three goes.

On a good day. "Impossible," he says, only in a French accent. "I wrote under a false name, remember. I must maintain the mystery."

"Not to everyone," Teo scoffs, his breath fogging his wine glass. Things are almost definitely fine. "You tell people you trust." You told me, he doesn't add, because he doesn't have to. "Come on. Private function, some shit. You can't tell me that a celebration— the ritual of it, wouldn't have 'narrative value.'"

He smushes more wine into his face, pensive, but not really. They don't hAVE to have a party, it's just hard to imagine it could backfire. Easy payoff. They don't have a lot of that these days.

Even if the war ended a long time ago.

Teo's glass is a few sips from empty now, himself, but he's slowing down so as not to waste the experience, or suggest that the experience is wasted on him. It is, after all, a gift from his husband. "A nurse. Trust Abigail to come up with something as fucking noble as that, with everything she's gone through." He puffs a sigh, failing entirely to sound resentful. Somehow, in the course of walking his elbows up the back of the sofa to straighten himself up, he collapses a few degrees sideways, unmistakably in Francois' direction.

Alcohol is not required to get Teodoro Laudani to wonder how soon he's getting laid. But it certainly doesn't hurt.

"We should get her a housewarming gift," he proposes. "Copy of By the Victors, and a lumbar pillow that looks exactly like your face."

"She has a copy," Francois says, languid, Tolerant with a capital T. "And we're having a private function now."

Unfinished, the glass is set down on the table, and he scoots in a little closer. If they were about to fuck, he would not be shy about it — he would take Teo's stupid face in his hands and draw himself in and hope that Teo can manage the immediate fall out of momentum, gravity, knees. It's been like that, sometimes, on the days he made it up here and decided that the effort was worth something pleasant rather than, say, more yelling.

He doesn't want to yell but he can feel that same restlessness, clawing around inside, wanting something to sink sharp bits into. "You should go back with me," Francois says. "You should come back to the city. See what you miss, being here."

Teodoro's grin is immediately stupid, boyish, bigger on his face than any display of teeth for the past few minutes. (Longer than that, probably.)

"You mean 'what you miss, being there.'" That is probably not what Francois means. But even while Teo doesn't want to fight now, spoil a rare moment that's fine, he has no particular plans to throw the ongoing argument during distraction. That's to say that he is distracted though, since things are fine apart from the ongoing argument. And he likes that. 'Private function,' even if he technically said it first; it's hot when Francois does, a French feline quality to the rrrr. Teo finishes his wine in one last sip, before smugly surrendering cup beside its twin, marked by Francois' mouth.

"She doesn't have your face to sit on, though."

Retracting from the coffee table, Teo reaches over one big paw. Goes low, snagging Francois' far knee, so that he can effectively capture both knees. He tugs Francois' legs up to swivel over his own lap, then pulling him near, with all the easy strength of an actual fucking farmer, these days. The couch is leather. Less friction, better smell, vintage, easier to clean after. "Hi. Make any new friends, or just kicking back with old ones?"

Imagine this, only without any problems. Trust them to find an ease in spite of those problems. Francois' hand kind of comically pats down on the back of the couch behind Teo as he is swivelled and tugged, and then all the rest that goes with it: a skipped heart beat, pumping warmer blood in his veins on the next one as if to make up for the fault. All he can hear is his own heart beat.

He complained, once, that he prefers having sex in the city, instead of the silent countryside, which led to an explanation about more television he missed in the interval of time he didn't exist for. More arguments, stumbling before they can settle in.

Make any new friends? Jesus Christ.

"Right now?" is very sassy, his other hand finding a place on Teo's wrist. "You tell me."

I'm trying to get you to shut me up with a kiss, Teo tries to communicate with his eyes, but— it's fine that that doesn't work, or at least not yet. We all must play our games, in those times of luxury that we can afford to play games. He passes his thumb over the peak of Francois' knee, then finds the inseam of his trouser leg with it, flattens his hand down the inside of his thigh and goes u-up, up into the warmth of his body. For better or worse, they've never had much of a problem with this aspect of marital life.

"My guess is yes," Teo says, leaning over his husband. "I know when you're large, in charge, and Hana's your boss," Hana who we universally acknowledge is not exactly 'an extrovert,' "you're going to have to do that a lot." He grins completely benignly while fiddling around with Francois' groin, and then the hem of his sweater. THINK ABOUT HOW FUN FUNEMPLOYMENT WOULD BE. Here, everything is fine. Here, where questions about new friends are soon to be followed by other good-humored drudgery.

He flips up the hem of Francois' garment to peek at his navel, and the state of the old man's paramilitary ground troops elite abdominal muscles. "Eating well? Getting enough sleep?"

Maybe if Teo had kissed him first, things would go differently.

But probably not.

Francois drags himself backwards and away, briefly planting a foot on the inner of Teo's knee as leverage to do so, an impatient breath huffed out of his lungs with the movement of it. Disengaged, Francois can put his feet back on the ground, but he doesn't concede the couch to Teo — not when he can simply reach for his glass and the bottle of wine and top himself back up, which is maybe a bad idea.

He might be driving soon, but he wouldn't mind becoming Teo's problem instead. "Sorry," he says, shortly, as he sets the wine bottle down with a clink. "I don't want to do that now. I'm talking to you seriously. Do you remember our house? Brownstone, big kitchen."

Teo is not above looking annoyed for a moment. He grasps Francois' shinbone, mostly to steady the other man and ensure he won't go overboard in the course of his retreat. "Yes," he says, "I remember." The farmhouse has a pretty big kitchen too! How much time does he spend in there, he doesn't know. Why is Francois rejecting his flirtations is another, arguably more pressing question, but before he embarks on that investigation he's going to sit on the floor.

Thud. Much better. Teo unfolds one long leg out under the coffee table, and hooks his arm back over the couch's leather seat. He winds his scruffy head around sideways, scratching his beard as he watches the Frenchman bolt more wine. This is a serious question about large cooking spaces and previous rental properties. It takes all of his couples conflict self-help reading for Teodoro to resist the urge to turn this into some kind of idiotic joke, about house husbands, about home-cooked meals, about whether or not Francois is dodging the question.

"I'm listening," he says. Teo also uses his willpower to not add, 'seriously.' But he is listening seriously.

"You hid a shotgun on a wire in the ceiling, once," may be an oversimplification of a long-ago booby trap, but is close enough, "to protect us from home invaders. Malevolent Russians, untrustworthy g-men, whatever."

This last word goes a little muffled as Francois brings up his glass to sip from, brow furrowed and not smoothing. "We cooked for one another, took turns dying in our bedroom or bleeding into the bathtub. We split the newspaper between us in the morning. Had arguments about what we would turn that spare room on the second floor into." And other sundry memories, rattling too easily out of him, as if they were a handful of loose change he'd been carrying around for no reason.

He's barely talking to Teo, too, looking instead at his wine glass or the grain of the table or up at where the far wall meets the ceiling, but now he looks down where his husband is sitting on the floor. "It fucking kills me," he says, not angrily, but matter-of-fact and quiet, which is also how he tends to do anger anymore, "that you do not know if I am eating well, getting enough sleep. That I don't know either, of you."

So it is Teo's third guess then, that was correct. Fourth? Sometimes the bad thing that happened is the bad thing that is happening, in perpetuity. Yes, they've been living apart. This long-distance version of their marriage, mutual in only the worst way. But he'd been willing to get along, you know. For this visit. Because winter is cold, the roads are treacherous, and he felt good about the squashes he had delivered, as much as he is capable of feeling good about anything.

But fine. Teodoro decides to let it sting. The sexual rejection, the mounting affront.

No answer out loud, not right away. The smile thins on Teo's face like he whetted it into something sharp. "Are you under the fucking impression that we didn't have to talk when we lived in the same place?" he asks, pulling his arm off the couch, turning to glare up at Francois, who isn't even bothering to look at him. "Like there weren't days I ate shit, or nights that I slept like shit, and you didn't hear about it? What, rigging the door to kill men, nearly getting killed ourselves, that's your marital virtue of choice now?" He's not shouting, but nor is Teo quiet. He has never been categorically quiet. Living on a farm, alone, has not changed that in any fundamental way; he was a bachelor terrorist without roommates for many years before he met Francois, after all.

"You're trying to make me feel bad for asking you how it's going. Perfect. Maybe you should grab a spoon and eat my entire ass." Teo slams his palm down on top of the coffee table, with enough force that the glasses stutter. He uses it to get up. (Other things he is not reliably: non-confrontational, diplomatic in his choice of language, happy.)

Oh good — here was Francois concerned that he wouldn't get to be the mature one.

He doesn't move as Teo moves, holding his glass and looking distinctly unimpressed with the shiver that runs through the table under hand slams, at flares of anger, and crude language. He also doesn't look happy about getting what he wanted, easing back into the couch with an arm folded defensive across his midsection. "Sometimes we left notes in the foyer about what was being ordered in, if we didn't feel like cooking," he continues. "We talked, Teo, but we also knew. And shared things."

Because they were together. It's a painfully simple equation. They were together and now they aren't and he's sad about it and bored of Teo's attempts to pretend everything is fine. Fuck!

Is what he doesn't say out loud, because he's the mature one currently.

"I'm not making you feel bad," he utters, a little sharper. "It is already there."

Later, maybe Teo will appreciate the irony that his bar for things being not fine was stuck somewhere between murder and imminent apocalypse, despite his decision to move into the boondocks and inherit some goats.

Currently, Teo appreciates zero irony.

"Fantastic. Now you're invalidating the fact I was happy to see you." That is not actually sex reference, despite Teo's recent relocation of aggravation onto that particular topic. No, actually, it is also a sex reference. It is mult-tasking to multiple domains. "Writing notes, sharing 'things.' 'Knowing.' Are you really going to argue that shit happens automatically when two people live together?" He has to step over-around Francois' legs to get back to the kitchen— that would cause the glasses to do more than tremble, but he manages to look irritable when he does it.

"Yeah. I hate the distance." Teo hates a lot of things. There's a compendium that lives in a different set of parentheses, and includes (passive-aggressive comments from his husband). He tramples into the kitchen, turns on the faucet. "But that's a bad excuse for your present time, in-person bullshit, Francois."

Francois adjusts his legs to make Teo's passage easier as a matter of human instinct, but that doesn't mean he's thrilled about it, sitting sullen in place with his glass of wine and wishing he'd brought at least one packet of cigarettes with him. He watches Teo go, strategy and insight and reflective angst all taking a back seat as his lizard marriage brain starts making objections like: don't say my name like that! why are you doing the dishes! what is wrong with you!

He chooses one that sounds at least a little reasonable and says, "Stop telling me what I am doing, firstly."

Guilting, invalidating, arguing. He rises to his feet too, now, moving so as not to be hemmed in by couch and table, wine glass still in hand, spidered over it. He doesn't follow Teo to the kitchen, but projects his voice. "I am complaining. And why shouldn't I, when I hate the distance too. You're going to be angry with me for that, of all things, just because this— " A gesture. A century of practice sees all wine staying within the glass. This. "Isn't good enough. But seems to be fine for you."

"Oh it's not," says Teo, who isn't washing the dishes at all, not even a little bit. He's actually filling a mug for Francois, apparently. There's a Britta filter fixed to the faucet so it's safe to drink. "I guess I thought about complaining about it the next time I saw you, but I figured it might not feel like the right time to go through that shit again." The water runs down cold and clear, and it's nearly at it's brim.

There is also something unmistakably sarcastic about the fact that he is no longer telling Francois what he's doing. Or pretending things are 'fine.' He turns back to the doorway to find his husband there, lurking, and waving his hands around from over a glass of wine. Teo aims the mug of water into that gesticulating hand, shoving it there for Francois to keep. Because,

"You should drink this on your way home." Two glasses of wine is still two glasses of wine. "Don't come back unless you plan to stay." Which would constitute a resolution to the complaint, you see, but Teodoro is (sarcastically) putting enough faith in Francois that his husband will figure that part out. If they have moved past the coping and acceptance phase, Teo is totally one-hundred percent on-board, pointing a pistol at the metaphorical engine driver's head so that he does not dare stop driving, because there is no going back or slowing down, never mind reversing into the valley of fine.

Francois does the math. X amount of seconds to travel from the living room to the kitchen, from sitting to standing, from the synaptic interspace forming the thought that he should sarcastically get a glass of water to win the conversation with. Francois steps back from Teo, the wine glass at his side and the mug of water left behind in Teo's hand.

(Francois does not entertain the thought of throwing its contents in Teo's face. This isn't fun, for him, and does not relish the drama.)

"Do you mean," he says, "just get on with the fucking, next time?"

Probably that's not what it means, but it meant that a few minutes ago, and the solution that Francois participate in Little House on The Prairie to be happily married is also too unfair to settle in his mind. There is something maddening about this. He wants to translate Teo's anger into passion, but it's not working.

The look that Teo gives his husband is brief, but expresses some idea along the lines of: No. At least they're in mutual agreement about how sex is no longer sexy. Teo puts the mug of water on the window sill, the one by the door, and then walks back through the house to retrieve Francois' bag. Later, he imagines, he'll have space and time to process the embarrassment of having your husband drive a bottle of wine up three hours of bad road expressly to complain about your lifestyle, after his invisible countdown on small talk runs out. Fortunately, living alone on a wintry hill, there's never an audience to one's embarrassment.

Thump. That would be Francois' bag sitting next to the door. While Teodoro doesn't particularly love the drama either, he is determined to rise to the occasion. The same principle that once applied to football fighting now applies to marriage; Teodoro Laudani is always a good place to look for a fight. While the glass of water had constituted sarcastic commentary about Francois' whine-wine, the invitation to leave is entirely earnest. "Feel free to E-mail me the rest," he says, unaware of what other invisible countdowns/subjects are pending. "I'm going to take a shower." Possibly Teodoro Laudani is not as good a place to look for a fight as he used to be, however, as the next thought that occurs to him is that the shower would afford him an opportunity to cry.


But whatever. Teo might not take that opportunity. Just because an opportunity exists does not mean one has to take it. He is impossibly tired; before he moved out here, he had heard that living rural and animal husbandry required getting up incredibly early, but he hadn't understood why until Lila Cuthbert asked him to look after their dairy cow. Teo goes to get his pajamas.

Did he drive three hours up the road to complain? If asked ten minutes ago, Francois would have said about how he brought a copy of the book with him, because he wanted Teo to read the acknowledgment inside. Talk in quiet tones about recent deaths, speak a little more sarcastically about the sheer amount of money the government has paid Wolfhound out for its services, invite him to better look at his new car in the morning. He wanted to drink the whole bottle of the nice merlot he brought with him, and then maybe whatever beer was lying around, and fall asleep in a drunken post-coital haze, and there was nothing Teo did that prevented them from doing that.

But then he'd also have to ignore the simmering anxiety he'd felt along that same three hours for more than just invisible ice, and the sourness of Teo's smiling avoidance. Francois is quiet while he thinks of these things and listens to Teo's footfalls as he gets his bag, the one with the book in it, and his extra set of clothing, and dumps it by the door.

Fiery anger has tempered into unease. It's not the first time Teo has thrown him out, but it's been a hot minute.

"Wait— "

He goes to catch Teo's arm.

Oh my fucking God, Teo thinks, looking at the hand on his arm. In retrospect, it was probably inconsiderate to have sex before taking a shower. He'd spent some time with the goats. But they have graduated to that stage of marital dissatisfaction where being genuinely as well as figuratively/crassly happy to see one's partner is now automatically classified as 'pretending things are fine,' so at least they didn't have to cross that bridge.

There are probably bits of goat poo on my sweater, Teo doesn't want to say. Like where your hand is. And also, I don't want to keep talking about this. Literally we could do it over E-mail. Bullet point formatting would make it easier to review.

"I really need to take a shower," Teo offers instead, and then, to make sure that Francois doesn't mistake this again for deceptive pretense about his negative feelings/state of marital dissatisfaction, he says, "Fuck off." He wags his arm to budge his husband's grip, trying to remember where his pajamas are. How much more is there to say? If he had wanted to move back to the city, he would have. If he wants to again, he will. Outlook not so good. And where are his pajamas. And since when did trying to make the best of a shitty situation make him a liar? And where — oh on the floor.

I'm listening, Teo had said, T-minus 10 seconds before going through the motions that would see this reunion cut unceremoniously short. Never mind unease — it's still there, sure, but anger was never gone, now briefly doubling Francois' vision at the injustice!! of his own begging hand grasping Teo's sleeve, at continued rejection, at his refusal to just


for any length of time. Francois has walked out of a lot of things, in his long life — insert jokes about trails of broken hearts and children out of wedlock, but it wasn't really ever as formulaic as that. It was a lot like this, actually, or sometimes just oblivion. He was never good enough to just stop himself from falling in love with people. He does let go of Teo's arm, anyway, expression injured.

Walking away right now might be nice. Indulgent. The lonely road, the silence. He doesn't, yet, caught between the equally powerful compulsions to abandon this as a lost cause as well as not to be told what to do, but he does make a gesture, one of dismissal, as he turns his back in a restless step away: go, then.

So Teo goes, then. He finds his pajamas on the floor, carries them into the bathroom. Shuts the door and locks it. He really does not understand why Francois wants to go over the exact same shit again, and spends a full minute repeating the aggravated thought to himself as he strips off his clothes and surreptitiously sniffs his sleeve for goat smell. No, it's microscopic bits, if any.

It's not until the water hits his back that he circles around, inevitably, to the logical reasons why Francois would want to go over the same shit again. Of course he's not happy. Of course. Francois Allegre has led a life worth writing home about; indeed, he's written to the whole world about it, and is likely to turn a profit off the story. Formerly immortal, an international hunter of villains, protector of the innocent. Befitting a man of that caliber, he married an inconceivable psychic hybrid between a time-traveling ninja and an idealistic terrorist. They fought a war together. In its aftermath, the rebuilding, it's not Francois who is veering from the unspoken contract of their marriage. Sure, he's picked up another gun. He's signed up for government wet ops.

But Teo had married him knowing that was his character, his history, his plan. It's why his own arguments for why Francois should stay here have always been rather light on the descriptive consequences of Francois' lifestyle. He already knows.

If either of them has been a shocking disappointment, it isn't Francois.

This thought is not an unusual shower-time companion for Teodoro, and he resigns himself to it for the nth time. He wonders— again, not for the first time— whether or not he should bring up divorce. And he thinks again, not for the first time, that he loves Francois too painfully much to actually suggest it. Even now. Better for Francois to bring up the subject. (He probably cries a little while this is happening, but he has to wash microscopic goat poop off his face, so no one can tell; not even himself.) (Therefore it must be very little that he cries, if at all.) Anyway, he is even more tired by the time he walks out of the shower, drafting a text in his head.

Instead of leaving, Francois listens to the water run through the pipes, and looks around in the privacy of having been left alone. It's not bad, this life Teo has made for himself. It's a hell of a lot homelier and comfortable than the Bunker, with its austere brutalist architecture, concrete and glass and metal and tastefully modern lighting plans. He wanders, near-empty glass still negligently in hand, rounds back to his bag to pick it up.

Sets it down again, in a slightly more dignified slump by the door. Not trusting his chances of staying, even as he does just that.

By the time the water has stopped running, Francois has finished his glass, rinsed it, set it upside down, muscled the cork back into the narrow mouth of the wine bottle, and then put it into the fridge for someone to enjoy it before it turns flatly sour. By the time Teo is opening the bathroom door and emerging, he will find Francois Still Here, Guiltily, stepping out of the kitchen and sinking into a lean at the doorway of it.

This is familiar. The silence after the noise. Sometimes it's icy, sometimes less so. Francois is quiet, hands in pockets, testing the temperature before he breathes more words into it.

Teo estimates that they can repeat this argument at approximately this rate of deterioration, six to ten more times before someone really has to talk about divorce. He's not sure, though. His parents are Catholic; they frankly, don't believe in divorce, short of a woman getting hit, and that is not a problem this particular union is likely to have. (If that's also problematic, well, the list was long to begin with.) He stares at Francois a moment, vaguely surprised that the Frenchman didn't leave. Generously, he increases the estimate to ten to fifteen.

Teo can't think of anything to say that would sound both considerate and assertive, so he rubs the towel on his head for a few more seconds in search of inspiration. The muffled scuffing sound penetrates through his tired skull.

"Let's talk at the table." There. There are even chairs which he will sit on like a normal person. It's a little formal, Teo realizes, but if they're going to review everything that is wrong, the presentation might as well be that.


Okay, sure.

Francois moves for the table. There's a cowardly part of him that wants to just lay on apologies like daisies and go back to the equilibrium that he'd so violently rejected, but it's fleeting at best. He sits down, dragging hair back off his face, briefly showing that one ear with the old bite taken out of it, scar tissue like lace over the ragged edge. Hands whole, though, for a long time, laying flat on the table. Engagement ring, wedding band, tik against the wood.

Talking. Like married people do, when they have problems about their marriage.

It's the seat next to him that he invites Teo to sit at by hooking his ankle around the leg of the chair and nudging it out. Not so formal, maybe. "I think I'm in a crisis," is meant to be a little funny while also being a little honest. "But I wasn't the first one."

Teodoro stares at the other man for a long moment. He resists the urge to give immediate feedback; credit to the shower, he has calmed down to the extent that he isn't shouting swear words across the house anymore. He files the notion away for later. If there are complaints, accusations, or criticism on the main program for the evening, he'd really prefer not to prologue it with low-balled self-disclosures and cute jokes. ApPArently, he doesn't know how to respond to that correctly.


Teo pulls the towel off his head and continues to stare. He has the nagging feeling that thinking about divorce in the shower has diverted its fate in its direction. His estimate drops to five, then two, then what if it's now? Cheating a little, maybe, he dips into his power; he sits in Francois' head for a split-second. Just long enough to feel the L-shaped crook of his foot around the chair leg, the tension locked up in his muscles, the emphasized contact point between symbolic rings and table top. It's oak, you know. Something Teo learned how to restore by himself, imperfectly but in earnest, while he was teaching himself to be back in his own body.

Promptly, Teo goes back to himself, feeling guilty for yet one more thing. His hair sticks up funny on his head, still damp. He realizes he probably should have squeezed Francois' arm, but the moment has passed. He waits.

Francois is not going to take that as wholesale agreement, but Teo is listening, and not yelling at him, and Francois can tell there is effort, there. He does withdraw his hands, a little, tangling his own fingers together.

As Teo's awareness trails out of Francois' physical form, there isn't much more data to collect. No fresh injuries, no new scar tissue. Maybe the knee, again, but they'd talked about it already in anecdote form about a physiotherapist working the elasticity of his kneecap while he lay on his side, feeling a little like an old dog withstanding the confusing ministrations of a vet. Anyway, Francois can't notice, and doesn't comment on it. If heartache is physical, that's there too.


"By that I mean," Francois says, "I'm sorry."

His voice catches, which is embarrassing for him personally, and there is a physical nature to his inward retreat with his posture straightening and a look aside. The stilted pause is about getting his voice back in order, and it's even again when he speaks. "About this evening. I haven't been happy — I don't have anyone else to say that to. I."

This conversation feels like when he was driving, earlier, and the wheels started sliding on the ice. In French, suddenly; "Have been with other people since we last were together," the words coming out like he has finally located his line in a script. Muscles don't relax. "Sometimes. Before we fly out, usually." He stops, there, the brakes kicking in, a pause.

Initially, Teo's mind goes blank. It doesn't stay that way for long, which is a curse of personality and character, probably. Not even his depressive retreat from the world had featured as much inactivity as it could have. He had retreated to one of the most physically arduous jobs in the country. Somehow, he had not imagined, but one tends not to.

The funny thing is— and Teo remembers this clearly and without complication, as it long predates the wonky action-adventure dimension-hopping bifurcation of his lifetimes, he had cheated when he was younger. He distinctly remembers his mother's frustration with that behavior, how she had tried to rig it to karmic comeuppance, in her effort to get him to stop. He remembers how helplessly she had loved him anyway, and his father, and his girlfriend. Girlfriends. It's not that infidelity was invented after he got married himself, obviously. It's not new. The humiliation is. One of your classic, Oh, that's what it feels like moments.


Abruptly, the past ten minutes exist in hindsight reframed, somehow, with even deeper insult, somehow. Did Francois drive a bottle of wine over three hours of bad road in order to set up this information with a series of complaints about his lifestyle? Justification, maybe? Unconscious or entirely planned? That is, somehow, actually worse than the original scenario he'd pictured. Somehow, the content of the confession itself becomes too painful to look at directly, so Teo zooms out, studies the minutes that had gone before, how Francois looks after. There was no version of this situation where he would emerge with his dignity intact, he realizes. He should have probably said more stupid things than Grab a spoon.

Maybe Teo can figure out how to time-travel to five years from now when he is less surprised. Or backward, and tell himself not to get married. There could be four Teos. That would solve— something. What do people usually say in these situations? Francois was right; they are no good at normal conversations. He's probably supposed to ask how many times, how many people, whether or not Francois has feelings for them. Whether they were men or women, or not either of those things. (In one of the novels he finished last month, the confessor gets shot.)

"I have not had any affairs," is something Teo thinks to say, ultimately, in the French as well. His face is very still.

Maybe he should have planned this, been more strategic, instead of tricking himself into this position. Maybe he should have emailed — he's good at writing, you know. Francois can tell this isn't going well, but isn't sure what this going well would even look like. Ridiculously, he feels his own anger start to climb back up the insides of his ribcage, again, but denies it the ability to catch. Just because Teo is sitting there silently, his face very still, and reporting in robotic French of his own record doesn't mean— what?

That he's not hurting? Is hurting what Francois wants?

A minute ago, maybe.

He nods. Great. Bien.

"I would be angry if you had," he says, after some time has past. Going with stupid honesty for now. "They are mistakes. Consciously made. They are for the times I can't stand my own company, and you may as well have taken up farming on the moon."

New plan: let's go make out on the sofa.

I didn't move to the moon, Teo thinks to say but again does not, because I wanted to stay in driving distance.

Teo's followup thoughts scatter like pigeons. He has no desire to track any single one of them. He pulls the towel off his neck, then rubs his face with his hand, spreading his eyebrows under a thumb. The time has now passed that it would be appropriate to punch Francois too, he thinks. He would have to yell something, or have something to yell, at least, if he were to do it now. He remembers how those little girls had cried at him. He had gotten slapped, justly deserved, always within the first few minutes of disclosure. At the time, they had had no reason to inquire what gender the person was that he'd cheated with. Times have changed.

"Give me your keys," Teodoro says instead. "For the car." He puts out his hand, palm up. Not as forcefully as he probably should, to get what he wants; he is half-here, half somewhere else, floundering in the kind of disembodied, preoccupied daze that he moved out here to cure himself of, anger going up and down in his guts like puke.

If Teo had said that, then he'd have a fight on his hands.

As it is, he asks for Francois' car keys instead, and Francois' jaw clenches under the irritation of running into another differently formed brick wall. Or not brick: iron, confusion eroding any chance of getting a foothold. This doesn't seem fair, after having exposed his belly, his throat, but maybe confessions of infidelity make things not fair quick. He seems to shake his head.

It's not a no, because he then lists aside so he can access the keys in his pocket, watching Teo. Click-tik. Here it is, the little metal key, the electronic counterpart like a shiny black jewel. Sometimes, you can tell a car is nice from the keys. A four-wheel drive was the first thing he burned his recent fortune on. Because his husband lives on a farm.

He puts it in his hand. Now what happens.

Teo takes the keys, is what happens. Then he gets up. He retrieves his wallet and his own keys from the kitchen drawer, and he stuffs it in his pocket. He puts on his boots— not the goat shit ones— very quickly, but not so quickly that Francois can't see that something is in progress that he may want to think about interrupting, but possibly not enough time to decide how to interrupt, before he's opening the front door. It's fucking cold, a whuff of air that hurts Teo's hands. Despite that, he makes a fist around the keys, wheels it back, and pitches them overhand into the snow-clumped stretch of outdoors.

They disappear accordingly.

Teo skips his own coat in favor of grabbing Francois' bag. Soon, he will question later the obvious mistake of embarking on the next few hours— or days, as it may turn out to be— with nothing to wear except for his cheating husband's clothes, which smell like his cheating husband, probably also feature his cheating husband's registered murder weapons, which will remind him of why his cheating husband cheated, and his book, and his toothbrush, and your usual travel bag of other otherwise innocuous objects that now constitute a horrifying reminder of at least some of what he is currently fleeing from. He is going to his truck now! Au revoir.



Francois doesn't move from his chair, mostly watching all of this happen with the patience of someone who is borderline intrigued on where it's going to end, where is Teo going, only moving by the time the door slams shut. Did he just throw his keys into a field of goat shit and snow. Teo is definitely leaving and he is doing so before Francois can construct the reasoning around why his cheating on strangers in Rochester is either Teo's fault, or no one's fault.

For the best, maybe.

He makes for the door, yanking it back open and flinching at the sudden gust of cold he is greeted with, a far cry from the cosy corner of the sofa, and warm hands. He doesn't follow, just stands in the door and calls out, "Teo," in a tonally familiar bark, although it's been a while since they've had a rapport where exasperation has taken the limelight of negative emotions they might express at one another. What the fuck.

"What?" Teo actually has the gall to answer. He pulls open the door of his truck, which is enormous and silver and secondhand and representative of problematic oil economics in the USA before all the other economics caught up with being this bad, and he climbs into it. There's an extra coat in there, anyway, and he gives in to physical discomfort enough to pull it on, once has the door shut and he's confident that Francois is not in pursuit. Then he grinds in the key, turns on the engine. The headlights go on, sweeping the dark as he reverses.

Funnily enough, living out here with snow and unploughed roads has made Teo a better driver. He reverses neatly down the driveway, turning onto the road without slowing. He puts the truck back into drive, and makes it about three feet forward, before changing his mind.

Teodoro rolls down the window. A pistol in his hand now, fished out of the glove compartment. He sights out of the truck, at Francois' new car and its four wheel drive. BANGgg. It's so empty out here, in this part of the hills, that the noise rolls recursive like cinematic thunder, catching echoes off of shallow gullies and the Wilkersons' horse field. But nobody dies, because that isn't generally what farmers use guns for out here. Granted, Teo's usage now is a little off the path, too. A hole in Francois' front right tire, which is deflating cartoonishly in the dark. You know. On the off-chance Francois was going to be hasty about locating his keys, once he determined that animal husbandry did not occur in this immediate vicinity. There's no goat shit on the front lawn, actually. When you farm, you quickly learn what the thinking is behind usage of earth, dedicated land, fencing off animals, etc.

(There might be some wild deer shit.)

Squeeeeek. Teo shuts the window, and drives.

Francois has never actually wanted to kill Teo before, so this is a new experience of a hot white three second flash of impotent rage after the last gunshot echoes have faded and he realises — again, ever on a delay — what just happened.

"Stronzo," is what actually comes out of his mouth, even though the Italian isn't present to hear it, spoken as he hits the doorframe with the side of his fist and watches tail lights vanish down the unlit rural road. It's only when Teo and his truck are completely shrouded in darkness that it occurs to him he does not know when Teo will be back. Or what he's supposed to be doing.

Rage cascades off into something more bleak as he shuts the door behind him, and, confronted with the empty house, his throat finally closes up which could have been useful at any time prior to now, to strangle himself from saying the wrong things. Or any of the things.

He sits at the front door, his back to it, until his bones demand he do something else.

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