Olive Branch


munin_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Olive Branch
Synopsis Teo gives it one more go; this time, he gets some results.
Date December 10, 2008

A Ferrymen Safehouse

In the Mediterranean, sunrises are worth getting up to see. Copper and red. Teo likes red. He isn't thinking about the dreary ash-colored one that should be taking the skies over Manhattan in just an hour. He thinks, instead, of the girl sleeping in the cot on the other side of the door. Knows she'd give anything to see the sky, even if it does look like porridge out the wrong end of a dog.

Alexander had departed a few hours ago, leaving a few unsettling notions and the fragrance of cloves lingering in the air underneath the derelict psychiatric facility. Teo had stopped actually watching her awhile ago, perturbed by the figure he cut. Even if there was no one but God to watch, and that despite that his preferred incarnation understood the stakes, that things need to be done. Things that need to be done. That phrase may be applied too liberally these days, between kidnapping, butter knives, and telekinetic torture.

Her sub is being kept at body temperature inside his coat, now unzipped, no longer buttoned around the bruises that bar his throat. He waits for her to wake up, listening for the erratic tik tik of meltwater dripping off the edge of the sleeve he'd caught himself with slipping on ice outside the mouth of the subway entrance.

Inside the holding cell, the sound of Munin's bare feet scraping against the concrete underfoot whispers through the gap beneath the door and drifts up to Teo's ears. It may not be what he's listening for, but he'll hear it just the same, followed by the sloshing of water as she goes through the motions of the morning routine she's come to know during this past week. Assuming she realizes it's morning at all. With no clock and no windows through which to observe the rise and fall of the sun, she probably doesn't know what time it is — only that her body is saturated with sleep and needs to get up and move around for a few hours before she feels comfortable laying her head down again.

Startled by the noise, however slight, Teo instinctively puts his head nearer. Bumps metal plate on wooden bar, not loud enough to hear through glass, cobweb's, and a floor's worth of distance, but loud enough inside his own head. He makes a face and puts his eye closer to the edge of the corner of the window. Pauses long enough to rap his knuckles on the surface. The metal channels sound, rak rak rak, up and down the contours. Seven seconds should be enough time for her to get her shirt back over her head, if she had started peeling it off; he counts them off in his mind before putting his face near the glass. His breath fogs it.

Munin rises from her crouch beside the bucket and glances toward the window, fully expecting to find either Teo or Alexander there. When it's the former instead of the latter, she visibly relaxes and rolls the sleeves of her oversized shirt all the way up to her shoulders so her long, skinny arms are left bare. Not only is she less likely to catch the fabric on something should this visit end in a struggle, it also gives the wounds on her wrists a chance to breathe. What she really needs is a roll of gauze and some antibiotic ointment, but she's in no position to ask for either; she did plunge a knife into his stomach, after all. "You can come in," she murmurs softly, just loud enough for her voice to carry, as if she had any say in the matter.

What Brian really should have been doing was bringing her exactly those items — as asked, but the Sicilian fails to be clear on what happened in the hours between dragging one clone and his boy out of her room and the recentmost one when he'd clattered back in again. It's dim here, but he can see enough to tell that her arms haven't improved for pharmeceutical treatment. And she can see he's looking, a moment before he turns his head to call something down the hallway— Going in, and the lock clicks open with a deft rotation of steel mechanics.

Shuts it behind him, and glances through the stale air once. His coloring has evened out since her handiwork, give or take a picturesque bruise. He starts to volunteer a greeting, characteristically Sicilian, before realizing he's lost track of the time of day; his teeth meet again with a quiet click, awkward with the sense that he's looming. It's hard to help, with him having almost a foot on her.

"Here," he offers, instead. A sandwich: steak and avocado; a box drink: milk. He stretches out almost his full arm's length to make the offering. "I heard you like avocadoes," he captions, a little lamely.

It's a hell of a lot better than the breakfast bar he offered her the last time he was here, and Munin accepts the food with a gracious nod of her dark-haired head before she retreats back to the cot and takes a seat on its edge. Despite the lack of medical treatment she's received, she doesn't appear nearly as sickly as she did a few days ago — the purple bruising on her face has faded a shade or two, though it's likely the pain has since intensified. Injuries like hers tend to get worse before they get better whether or not they appear to be approving from a physical standpoint.

Her nose, on the other hand, isn't ever going to be as straight as it used to be.

Avocados? Brian. Of course. "For a secret organization," she remarks idly, peeling the paper away from the sandwich the same way she might pull at the layers of an onion, "some of your people are pretty loose-lipped."

Creature of habit, Teo takes up his spot on the floor. Looks at her nose, and squelches down the urge to run his finger down the kinked line of his own out of physical sympathy. "Some of us have a bad habit of learning from their mistakes, and not a lot else," he answers. It takes him thinking time to say anything else, despite that he'd thought of little more besides over the past hours.

Despite everything he had done, places he'd gone, people he'd had to speak to, all of it, he was picking his way through the innumerable abstractions piled up on either end of the balancing scale that holds its fulcrum exactly here. Dark little slip of a girl in the big white cage of a madhouse. Or maybe it doesn't matter; maybe they've already lost, knowing what they wouldn't do means that they can't.

He'd said that to Alexander, earlier. 'It's too late, anyway.' "How about you? Aim higher, next time? Might've widened your window of opportunity." Wonderfully, there's real humor in the query as he intones it; the casual morbidity of a dirt-cheeked man-child squatting at the muddy bottom of a foxhole. He isn't hard to mistake for a grunt. Thinks it says something of her, that that was one error she hadn't made.

In contrast, there's very little mirth in the way Munin watches him from her seat on the cot. As usual, she peels back the bread to ensure the sandwich is indeed a sandwich and not just a covert way to get rid of her now that Phoenix knows she isn't going to cooperate as they'd originally anticipated. This time, rather than pick out the pieces of avocado, she goes for the steak first, using her fingers to tear the strips into smaller bite-sized pieces which she then pops into her mouth and chews down to pulp before swallowing.

"The last time you were here, you started to say something." The avocados are next, eaten whole with very little chewing required. Instead, she elects to use her tongue to flatten them out against the roof of her mouth, enjoying the buttery texture as much as the taste. This is the first real food she's had in days — it's taking a lot of effort not to just wolf it down, handful after handful.

The sub is longer than her face is tall. Teo gathers he should have gotten another. His features flatten when she begins to speak, of last time instead of the disastrous visit before; somehow, the one where he wasn't lanced through the gut by a knife that required a Hell of a lot of enthusiasm with the shoving-through is the more serious of two situations.

That may be part of his derangement, along with a certain incapacity to condone punishing somebody he kidnapped for getting blood out of him from any moralistic standpoint. He presses his knuckles to his other palm, and feels heat there that can't be attributed to fever or good health.

"Si," he says, after a moment. Then, staring down the teetering precipice of negotiative logic, and the alarmingly small number of alternatives and inducements he has to work with, he says anyway: "They're coming for you. Probably shouldn't tell you that, but you should know. Ethan's made contact and he's collecting heads—" fingers, same thing, "for every minute we don't give you back. Time pressure's on.

"For us to make something of this— of your being here, before you're gone." He doesn't add a threat to his tone of voice. Figures there's already one there, tacit, lurking in his words. Then, "You weren't lying about Volken. He's a Hell of a man." Stress on the name: he's well-aware she could have, did, lie about any number of other discomfitting things.

Munin places what's left of the sandwich in her lap, pausing to lick the excess juice and smears of avocado off her fingertips. "I don't want to talk about Volken," she says. "Ethan. The others. You said you'd give them up if it meant leaving the long-term project to burn." Teo's words have stuck with her for days, but now is the first time she feels she has enough pluck to confront him about them.

The sandwich and the paper are set aside, left to start spoiling in the cool, damp air of the psychiatric facility. There's not much heat down here, but the blanket she wears draped across her shoulders protects her from the chill — if gets the opportunity to look back on this someday in the future, she can at least say they took appropriate measures to ensure she didn't accidentally freeze to death. "I don't know what the long-term project is yet, but if you give me your word that the people I care about won't be harmed — I can help."

Faint though visible, Teo recedes behind his eyes: not retreating, but thinking. He appreciates her pluck, bears no rancor for the audacity. They would have had to get here eventually, and it's good that she's thought about it. Enough to step right in, even after news of Ethan— though her utter lack of reaction to that and her earlier statement combine to make him wonder what the fuck else Brian's been up to. "Don't get me wrong, signorina. We'll defend ourselves if we have to, but if there's a line between keeping people alive and taking the killing blow, that line won't be crossed. Ever.

"We have to talk about Volken," he contradicts, after a moment, without added heat or volume to his tone when he says it. "I need to know things about him to protect my people. What he looks like, whether he's Evolved."

"Old," is the first word that springs to mind when Munin pictures Volken in her head. She closes her eyes, mentally sharpening the image she has of him. Her thoughts are still a little fuzzy, but they aren't so fuzzy that she can't remember simple things like a name — or, in this case, a face. "Silver hair. Blue eyes. Carries a cane with a wolf's head handle." That was the easy part. What comes next is considerably more difficult. She swallows, tongue darting out to wet her lips. "He's Evolved— I. I don't know how to explain what he does. When he touches you, it's like— siphoning. It was all over the news."

He's tired, so it takes Teo a moment. After that moment, he abruptly feels very much awake; what color had been left in his face drains out and the pensive furrow in his brow bleaches out like the bone just started to show through. He's never been very good at hiding what he was feeling unless he was actually lying. Shocked, his pupils stand out against his irises like ink bottomed out in the weaker density of water. No doubt, he knows exactly what she is describing. Gone cold, his throat doesn't move until he remembers to breathe.

Fucking Cameron.

"Okay," he says, two syllables clear despite the crackle of his voicebox and fuzz that concussion may render everything as it crosses the threshold of her perception. "I give you my word. Just one more thing I need to ask you. But you weren't easy to find: not even for us, and that's only a little bit flattering ourselves. I need an address." His stare is steady, as if his heartbeat had never done different. "Ethan's home. I won't insult you by elaborating why." Braced for it: refusal.

"You knocked me out, tossed me into the trunk of your car — I have a broken nose, I can't think clearly anymore, and it's been so long since I saw the sky I don't even know what day it is. I trust you enough to tell you everything I know about Volken. Ethan's off-limits. You've given me no reason to believe you won't renege on your end of the bargain." Munin watches Teo steadily, unflinching. Even though she isn't entirely lucid, her head injury isn't so bad that she doesn't pick up on his sudden change in demeanor. "For all I know," she says, "you plan on tossing a grenade through his window and keeping me down here forever. I'm sorry."

It doesn't cut when it comes. Teo understands, however unhelpful that understanding is. He's sorry, too: doesn't say so, because he hasn't given up. Can't. He needs something more if he's going to be able to leverage this tenuous relationship in the face of all of Phoenix's horror and skepticism, those who think the abduction was a complete mistake, and those who think it should have ended with 'Eileen's hollow-cheeked head rammed on top of a pike.

"You stabbed me," he answers, just as quietly. "The men you're trying to protect have slaughtered one hundred children whose stupid heads I was trying to drill fucking French into. Volken murdered one of mine before. All you've given me is what you aren't afraid to lose; I'm betting against ridiculous odds that Ethan isn't going to take everything else I have. Everything there is. That Volken is the target, that the plan is bigger than New York.

"What will it take? Tell me there's something I can give you." Impossible situations every day. Wearily, he hates to have dragged this girl into one, even if his blood is still drying on her hands. He can't fathom the place she is in or where she's been, what it was like cohabiting with creatures he has difficulty recognizing for more than their tactical value.

"There's nothing you can give me that could possibly equal what I'm afraid you might take away." At least she's being honest. "If Ethan's collecting heads, you're running out of time — you don't have much of a choice but to trust me. Either you do what he says, and I help you make sure the transition goes smoothly, or he picks the lot of you off one by one at fifty yards with a rifle." Munin isn't going to budge, not on this point. She might not be fiercely loyal, but she is fiercely protective. "Ethan isn't going to take everything you have unless you make him angry. He likes being in control. If he says he'll leave your people alone after this, then he will. If only so he has something to hold over your heads."

On some level, Teo appreciates the personality profile that he is being given. Insofar as it may or may not be consistent with the psychological profile of somebody who nukes babies as a matter of practical accomplishment of some goal or other. His expression transitions slightly, through too many conflicting emotions to filter out any specific one with any sort of accuracy. "There are other options. None of them were my idea, but I think there's a reasonable chance it'd wind up with everybody fucked really early. HomeSec came up.

"I don't know if you've heard, but their history with Evolved captives exceeds my vocabulary for disgusting threats.

"Ethan didn't drop Washington Irving high school through the lawn because he was angry, Eileen. Shit. If you thought people would stop dying on Volken's behalf the moment you go home, we wouldn't be having this conversation." He isn't digging in because it's fun; that much is evident, the way his eyes flick across the ceiling, searching for some other option. One from the column that isn't headed by everybody fucked really early.

"What makes you think we don't have people working with HomeSec?" The question isn't meant to be mocking. There's very little emotion behind it; her voice is cool, crisp, very matter-of-fact despite a slight tremor at its edges. "You're making a lot of assumptions, Teo. Assumptions about who's responsible for what, and why. Ethan didn't drop Washington Irving high school through the lawn. Kazimir Volken did when he put him in charge of scaring the city shitless. It worked, too. You're running around in circles like a chicken with its head cut off, kicking and lunging and spewing at everything that moves. I'm sorry I stabbed you. I'm sorry innocent people have died. I'm sorry I won't give you Ethan's address because I can see the desperation in your eyes. You've shown me what you're capable of. As the Americans say, 'no dice'."

More words than she's strung together in awhile. More apologies, too. Teo dislikes apologies; gentle palms in place of empty hands or closed fists, but no less empty or closed. He doesn't take the question for mockery, having seen what hers looks like before. "Nothing," he answers, with enough rue to make it believable; that he hadn't thought of that, before. "On the other hand, there's no reason for you to think we haven't sunk that low, either." Nor is that retort deception, though he would rather not have to elaborate, given he doesn't know the details of Wireless' relationship with that nameless lawman's inbox.

His fingers tighten, flex loose, thoughtfully. "Not everything," he says, a moment likely too belated for Eileen to track it back to the sentence he was responding to, likely, until he says: "Not a chicken, either. Wrong bird." Phoenix; the corner of his mouth curls briefly, mirthlessly, before flattening coldly at the way she dismisses the responsibility placed on the hand that set off the bomb, excused by orders.

Desperation cedes, momentarily, to his temper. Practicality wins in the end. "You either trust us to give you back and not to murder your friend, or you don't. If you don't, this discussion is utterly fucking pointless: you can't know we wouldn't kill them if it came to a fight, and I'll have to assume you plan to arm them in any way possible to do us the same way. They'll let you talk to him, eventually. Hear his voice, set up an exchange day. How about then?" His hand loosens and he lets his arm fall over his knee.

"I trust you to give me back," Munin clarifies, "I don't trust you not to murder my friend." Utterly fucking pointless is an adequate summary — their conversation keeps looping back around on itself like a tail-devouring snake. Ouroboros. Her upper lip lifts into a silent sneer, though this ire isn't directed at Teo so much as it is his idealism and stubborn nature. "If you don't cock up the exchange, I'll set up a drop box and leave its address with the management at the cafe where we first met. Any information I'm given that I think can benefit your organization without jeopardizing the lives of my family will turn up there in an unmarked envelope. Whether or not you want to open it is your call. That's as much of a compromise as I'm willing to make."

It would probably disturb Teo's shit if he knew that she viewed him and his idealism and stubbornness as separate entities. He would prefer to think they're part of him. Inextricable, immutable, and that he's perfectly incapable of learning better. Conveniently, he forgets that it would be more of a process of unlearning than the other thing; that he isn't now what he was before, and won't be by the time the new year rolls around.

"That's not a compromise," he observes, a little drolly. "That's a plan contingent on shit that hasn't been accomplished. Your trust also contingent. Evidently, my word doesn't mean fuck-all so we should probably stop bullshitting around otherwise." Or at least bullshit that it's bullshit; endless coils, the possibility of lethal poison suspect in every prickle.

Hearing something, faint, he drops his head forward an inch or three and angles a glance back out the door's little square window, eliciting a faint squeak of his shoes on the linoleum. He flexes his fingers. "His name, then. Please, signorina. All of their names. What they do, how. So we know what we're dealing with if they should come — or if you should bring them to us, if not how to get to them."

There is no real note of finality to Teo's voice; the angles of his face stay contracted around the same methodical steel as they have for the past— how long has it been? Oddly disjunct with the easy, accentless fluency of his voice. For all that he mentioned time-pressure, he's content to pretend they have time.

Names are something that Munin can give. Between them, Ethan, Elias, Wu-Long and the others have enough aliases to populate the bleachers at a college basketball game. "Ethan isn't Evolved," she says, voice coming out in a thin wisp after a long, uncertain pause that seems to stretch on longer than it actually does. "I don't know who he'll bring for backup. He usually has a teleporter with him — Eli, from Chicago. Used to be a hitman with the Linderman Group before Petrelli blew Midtown into the stratosphere. Brian's met Wu-Long firsthand and is intimately familiar with what he can do. Talk to him. Amato can read you like an open book if you let him anywhere near your hair or skin. He's Italian, like you. Tall. Blond."

"Full names, signorina," Teo requests quietly, his spine loosening to let fall his shoulders against the wall, their muscle and cloth bulk squaring to sharper angles as if there's anything in the plaster to make himself comfortable against. And though there's likely no need to explain — she's a bright enough girl, even with ten types of shit knocked out of the frail bowl of her head, he does: "Like to see where they came from."

There are a lot of things Munin could say. Go fuck yourself is the first thing that pops into her head, and she has to purse her lips and bite her tongue to keep it from slipping out. She exhales shakily through her nostrils, calming herself. What she eventually settles on is a very soft, very succinct: "No."

Genuine curiosity dawns on Teo's face, though he isn't as tactless as to sit forward and stare. And something akin to surprise. "Why not?"

"This is me offering you an olive branch," Munin murmurs thickly. "Don't you get greedy and fucking snap it off."

For a long while, Teo sits with nothing on his mouth or on his face. Wondering. Their breathing strains through the otherwise limpid air; foolishly, he forgets even to look irritated. There's another query on the brink of verbalization, and she can probably hear it coming, an echo of the preceding one she had found so offensive but contracted, this time, around the bird-boned girl herself. You'd have to be more of an idiot than the Sicilian she's speaking to, not to realize there are secrets. None of them professional.

Implicitly irrelevant. When he finally speaks, his question is almost as she might have predicted, though inspired by a different sentiment altogether. He prologues it with an apologetic dip of his head. "Mi diaspace." And then, "Is your first name really Eileen?"

There's a short beat. Munin stares at the top of Teo's head as he bows it, pale eyes growing dark with some foreboding emotion or another. Of course she hesitates. This is the man she almost killed. The man who would have killed her, if Brian hadn't intervened. "Yes," she says, leaning forward. Then, as a gesture of goodwill, a showing of sincerity, "My surname is Ruskin."

Some faint shift in the edges of Teo's eyes implies that he thinks something of it, that she finds her own name less of a sacrifice than any one of her cohorts— bar Kazimir Volken. It is dangerously like empathy. He doesn't volunteer his own; she knows where he's worked, Ethan had him followed home once, his public identity easily fished out of any of a hundred ordinary records. To Teo's credit, he doesn't whip out his cellphone and text her name to the first computer grunt on his address book.

He realizes that it isn't merely a show of sincerity due to the sacrifice of the information, but a concession made after all the feeling that had stormed through the stupefying green of her eyes. "Why Bambino's?" he asks, finally. "Can't you get a bird to fly notes somewhere?" It wouldn't make things that much harder to track, but a little.

"Sylar took my ability." As to how he managed such a thing without slicing off the top of her skull first, Munin does not elaborate. "Peter Petrelli, too. If I used my birds, there would always be a chance one of them might intercept my messages. I assumed that wasn't a risk you're willing to take." Her voice doesn't lilt upward at the end of her sentence to indicate she's asking a question. The quizzical yet somehow solemn expression on her face does this for her instead: was she mistaken?

No. Teo doesn't need to answer that one, not even with a gesture for politeness' sake. He's puzzled, no question of that. Can't get his brain around the probability that this is some sort of trap. He's met his quota for second-guessing himself and suspecting her today. The rest is with God's mercy, Hana's trigger-finger, Alexander's restraint, Helena's calm, Conrad's goodness, Elisabeth's savvy, Cat's courage, and Danielle — he's never even met Danielle and he's gambling with her life, hoping the pieces will fall in their favor.

"I'll come back. Bring more food," he rasps, "clothes, something for your arms." He hasn't asked about them, or tried to connect the lines there with the hole she'd put in his belly. It isn't time. Nor to mention the biochemistry and hazardous waste equipment that have shown up on Volken's receipts. Maybe after the first walk he makes from the drop-box that he manages to complete without catching some extravagant strain of death. He needs the wall to get up. "Anything else?"

"No." It's said in the same gentle tone as before, just as quiet, just as insistent, just as concise. Munin rests her arms on the bony sticks that are her bare legs. "Thank you."

Sincerity lends the answer an automated feel. "You're welcome, signorina." Teo leans his weight on the door handle and pries it open without concealing the effort that requires as much as he probably should. It starts falling back onto him before he steps through; bounces off his shoe, held steadfast by a momentary backward shift of his weight, a glance over his shoulder. Callused fingertips fall on the narrow ledge of the door's tiny, oblong window. "I'm sorry," the bullfrog reciprocates. Late, though without reluctance. "About the ugliness."

Munin neither accepts nor rejects the apology. She hasn't decided which she wants to do yet. As she lowers her head, she raises her hands, tangles her fingers in her hair and closes her eyes, elbows propped up on her knees. No verbal response is given this time; none is necessary.

He'll forget to pray tonigh— this morning; Teo always forgets when he's very tired. He lowers his eyes and closes the door.

December 10th: Ongoing Negotiations
December 10th: Thirty Minutes or Less
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