Ordinary World


devon2_icon.gif emily_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Ordinary World
Synopsis Uncomfortable topics are touched upon. And Teo lurks nearby.
Date April 22, 2019

Sheepshead Bay - The Laudani/Epstein Townhome.

April 22, 6:49 pm
Yeah, bus is running behind. I’m on my way now.

When isn’t the bus running behind? It’s a question of the ages that Devon poses to his reflection in the window after sending his reply. The mostly empty vehicle rattles and bumps along but, like the translucent visage that stares back at him, there are no answers in the jolting-jarring ride.

His focus slides beyond the window to the buildings in their various stages of reconstruction. He can still remember the way things looked before the fighting broke out, before the the chaos erupted. It’s still a strange thing to see, even after the handful of years that have passed since the civil war. The city has come a long way from where it began, but there’s still a long way to go before it’s near to its former glory. Who knows if that will ever happen.

Those melancholy thoughts break off as the next stop is announced. Dev looks toward the front of the bus, then raises a hand to pull the cord. His other curls more tightly around the strap of a messenger bag that’s seen better days, which hangs from his shoulder. And as the bus eases into the stop, he stands to disembark and make the short walk to Emily’s apartment.

Laudani/Epstein Townhome

NE Sheepshead Bay

April 22, 2019, 7:21 pm

Devon’s knuckles tap against the door to the townhome before his feet have even made it fully onto the stoop. He’s still a little late, even though he tried to make up some of the wasted time by jogging some of the way. A deep breath is pulled in and held for a second once his feet have caught up to the rest of him — still a bit winded from the run — then slowly lets it out. He shifts the bag on his shoulder, adjusting the strap needlessly, then digs into his pocket to check his phone for messages.

The door opens when knocked, and one Teodoro Laudani appears. He's the same height as Devon, but older, a slightly heavier build, with a beard, and a fearsome reputation that has technically crossed multiverses, but

right now, he just looks like a slightly drunk-hungover thirty-something-year-old unemployed dude who is overdue for a cathartic cry, wearing a drab grey sweater, barefoot, clutching a mug of coffee. He squints at Devon for a long moment without saying anything, studying the younger man's clean-shaven face as if trying systematically to match this personage to his memory banks. Blond as wheat, check. Long, dopey nose, check. Lips like a cushion pouf, and those droopy eyes designed to look harmless in a way that may or may not mean douchebag camouflage.

Well, Emily likes him, and Teo isn't one to stand in the way of true love just because he's no good at it himself.

Emitting a grunt, Teodoro shuffles himself to one side of the door, leaving no more than a: bigger gap, by way of invitation for Devon to come in. It's clear enough.

When Teo moves aside, he reveals the frame of one Emily Epstein, pausing midstep on the stair in her descent. She'd missed being first to the door by nature of being an entire floor away when she'd heard the knock. She now regards the walking hangover with narrowed, disapproving eyes before she rushing down the last few steps.

"Devon," she greets him with that quiet utterance. Her gaze shifts hard to the side up toward the man in the doorway. "Teo," is more warning than acknowledgement of his presence, her look lingering before she turns back toward Devon, beckoning him in with a wave of her hand. Her weight shifts, like she might show some sign of awkwardness she's working through, but her expression remains deadpan. She's the one who suggested they come here, after all, at least in front of Teo, she has to own it.

"It's a little more put together than the last time you were here. We can sit wherever's comfortable." They have a mostly-fully-decorated dining and living room now.

A single brow ticks upward, not when Teo opens the door — seeing the epitome of sadness standing in the doorway produces the start of a hello. That eyebrow actually raises when the older man begins scrutinizing. There’s a weighing quality in that questioning look, likely learned when he was cutting his teeth with the Chessmen and then later practiced and perfected since the early days of the war.

As the space for him to enter is made, he makes a point to not look at Teo but starts to step forward to enter the house. There’s no particular worry about it. He was invited whether or not the other man likes it.

Still better to move before a certain mind changes and the door is slammed closed before he can get inside.

Looking up to Emily’s voice, Devon smiles at her. “Hey,” he calls back. A look slants at Teo, finally, as he makes it all the way over the threshold. “Can’t wait to see what’s different,” he goes on, finally granting the older man a half grin. He turns back to Emily and lifts a single-shoulder shrug. “Maybe the living room?”

Teo shuts the door once the younger man has fully entered. He finishes about half of his coffee in one swallow, and then locks up behind Devon, after jabbing a slightly squinty stare around outside. WAS HE FOLLOWED? What monsters follow Wolfhound operatives to their girlfriends' homes? Has the demilitarization, desk job phase started to kick off already? Is Teodoro paranoid? Probably. Moving from the country doesn't help, and there's a long history of statistics and basic population density logic to support the costs of city amenities.

But he resists the urge to use his power to scan around, and that's— something. Instead, he pads past the springtime melody of young love happening in duet form over here, and back into the kitchen, where he was apparently making: a salad in leonine proportions, with a massive quantity of chickpeas, beets, grilled chicken (still grilling), and peppers, a veritable fortune in groceries thanks to Teo's rural tastes. The other half of his coffee disappears to him on his way to the sink, putting the mug down in it.

Teo never would have slammed the door. He's a freedom-fighting farmer yachting enthusiast. Very righteous kind of people. Emily's warning does receive a discreet wink, though; yes, yes. I know.

"I'm almost done," Teodoro says, grabbing his spatula to manage the poultry. "I'll fuck off upstairs in a minute. Feel free to help yourself to the whisky." He does not actually say this to portray himself as a piteous lonely bear, that's just the sitcom side-effect of being on the verge of divorce when Demily is fresh in bloom. And it's courteous to give couples their space.

"Fuck off wherever you want to, we'll be around." Emily is not going to let him get away with sulking, or saying anything remotely like it. She gives him a small, unapologetic shrug before she heads around the corner into the living room, flicking on the overhead lamp to round out the lighting in the room.

A long gray couch that looks to be the most likely place to sit hugs the corner, one side of it only half-backed. Folded quilts hang over the taller side, throw pillows askew on the cushions from the last time she'd had on the TV. It looks IKEA-fresh, where the rest of the room is a best-effort collection gathered from local thrift, some additions nicer than others. The worn, wood-embellished armchair near the sofa tries and fails to match just about anything else in the room, for example. There's strings of fairy lights hanging from the ceiling, too, because she's always wanted to try some of those, and received no argument from Teo by nature of not having asked his opinion. A side table serves as a perch for a fern that will probably die from over/underwatering caused by a mix of over and undercommunication between the townhome's roommates.

The room is home to two bookshelves, the one standing next to the television stacked with a decade's worth of videogames. The other shelf is only half-unpacked from a box that sits by its side, the return-address pasted on the side a Kansas City listing. Books and other momentos sit within. One possible cause for distraction from getting the box taken care of can be seen on the storage chest of a coffee table — an abandoned copy of The Giver sits with the TV remote shoved in it as a pageholder.

A glance is given to it, hand balling by her side and tapping against her thigh before Emily decides to just leave it as it is. She should have thought about that beforehand. And besides, it's not like they were going to be channel-surfing shortly, anyway; the remote was definitely fine where it was. "Make yourself comfortable wherever," she indicates, her voice lacking the confidence she'd hoped to lift it with. This was her test-run at having guests over, and Emily firmly was counting Devon's assistance in moving in as … not counting at all, at least in that regard.

She swipes her Playstation controller off the couch and nudges it onto the coffee table before she leans back into her seat, grabbing one of the throws and immediately setting in her lap. Taking up her own instruction to get comfy was more a defense mechanism than a genuine attempt at relaxing, letting her fidget with the seam of the pillow. She looks at the bag by Devon's side for a moment longer than necessary before she glances back up at him himself. "So what's up?"

“Smells good,” Devon calls in passing. There's no need to be rude, even if he's on the receiving end of a stink-eye, and it's a flaw in his nature to at least be on amicable terms. Who knows, maybe it will become an actual friendship one day. In the future.

His head cranes after Teo’s departure into the kitchen, taking in the scenery while following Emily into the living room. There he spends a moment appreciating the decor, even the mismatched chair. “Well, I thought… there's some things you probably want to know.” Things that had been hinted at since they really began talking but were often danced around.

Taking the bag off his shoulder, Dev sits beside Emily on the couch. He stares ahead for a moment, giving the impression of trying to organize his thoughts. He ends up grinning and huffing a quiet laugh at himself. “And I'm not sure where to even begin. I'm so used to not talking about it…” as he trails off, he looks up at her and shrugs an apology.

Oh. Emily's posture slopes and she settles into the couch. She pulls her legs up with her, turning to face him while she uses the arm of the couch as a backrest. After she pulls her limbs together so she's sitting cross-legged with the pillow in her lap, she still looks off, thoughtful about it.

Did she really want to know?

She can practically feel Teo listening from the other room, somehow. He's either judging the interaction or encouraging it or something, she figures, but that's his own problem. Hers is that she has to figure out what she wants to ask him.

"Okay." Emily finally says. She's still not looking quite at him, not able to do so yet. But it sounds like he needs a place to start. "What were the Chessmen? It's how you met Richard, right? Maybe Liz, too." She doesn't know why her extrapolations matter, but she says them anyway. "When Richard tried to get your attention on the beach, he called you by a chess piece rather than your name."

She starts to look back his way out of habit, buf her gaze darts away again. "It wasn't the Ferry," Emily adds, because she's sure that was an important distinction to note. They might have worked together at points, maybe even similar goals in the end, but they were … different, distinct things, she thinks.

“Code name.” More or less. Devon sets the bag on the floor beside his feet then folds his arms across his chest. “Richard ran a security firm, sort of a cover operation. Underneath was Endgame. Like the chess reference, it’s the endgame that matters. Members of the organization were given roles based off their skills in relation to chess pieces. Thus.” He tips his head forward as a vague motion toward himself “Red Knight.”

He angles a look at Emily before continuing. “Endgame was similar to Ferry. We had a lot of the same goals and beliefs, but Endgame was more proactive. When playing chess, you need to anticipate your opponent’s next moves in order to make your own effective, which is a lot of what we did.” He pauses, then adds, “We still refer to each other as the Chessmen. It’s… what we were for a long time.”

It’s strange to hear himself talk about it so plainly. For so long the topics were avoided, even among those who’d been part of the organization. But he presses on after giving himself a chance to collect his thoughts and address the third point.

“I met Liz before I met Richard. I… had learned I had information and connections that she’d find useful.” Devon looks down as he talks, brows furrowing. “Humanis First had infiltrated a lot of the top administration. They’d… somehow devised a plan to trap people on Roosevelt Island, which is where a majority of the evolved population lived. Sort of a precursor to the ghettos that started being built. Like Eltingville Blocks. So they created the Dome, this invisible barrier thing. It was like being inside a giant sphere…”

Teo ain't dropping no eves, Mr. Gandalf. JK jk, he's dropping a few eves, but the chicken is cooking rather loudly, thanks to the involvement of animal fat and heat. If he really wanted to drop eves, he'd use his powers. As it is, all he catches is some intermittent Ferry, Richard, Liz. Spheres! 'Code name.' Teodoro tries to remember if he had a codename, but all he can think of is when Christian called him 'Einliter,' which sounds dope as fuck unless you speak German and realize the readiest translation is 'one liter.' Teo does speak German— he'd thought it was a bit of an injoke.

They should have used call signs, he decides. It would have made the history books sound cooler, but instead, he's doomed to exist as a common American mispronunciation until forgotten.

Teo wonders a little, at Emily's decision to allow him to stay. That she had clearly invited Devon with the expectation he would be around. It seems like a private conversation. But there she is, nineteen-years-old, wearing her defiance like a Snuggie no matter what the circumstances— if it's cooking foreign food, signing leases, weighing her roommate's time-traveling doppelganger, permitting said roommate to stay for conversations about her kind-of-boyfriend's 'code name.' Do 'Snuggies' predate these two? Probably. Her defiance Snuggie seems to weather all temperatures and conditions, even those under which typically most people would observe nothing to defy.

In general, Teodoro tries to mind his own business these days— to avoid psychoanalyzing people, even. But old habits die hard, and Ghost's utilitarian attitude toward his environment isn't gone from him entirely. This Teo's slightly kinder, gentler approach merely means that he allows for the possibility he'll learn things he has no interest in using against anyone. If Emily weren't Emily, he'd guess she didn't feel safe alone with Devon.

Because Emily is Emily, Teo guesses that it's less about being alone with Devon, and more about what insisting on being alone would represent. She does not, in general, seem like a girl who is particularly gifted with generosity about being vulnerable with other people. A lot of people are like that, after seeing some shit; trauma has a tendency to take away our gifts, make us careful with them. Teo turns off the stove and calls out:

"You guys want coffee?"

The interjection from the other room is heard, a beat elapsing.

"At this fucking hour?" Emily raises her voice to reply, brow furrowed. She's still trying to process what's being said. So, she closes her eyes and shrugs tepidly. "We'll take some coffee, sure." she supposes, still just as loudly.

When that's done, all she can do is brush her thumb over the side of the throw pillow, turning back to Devon and looking at him for the first time. Studying him, trying to piece together what she's been told with what she intuits. "You went to Liz, because you believed it all was wrong." comes from her much more softly, seeking some kind of confirmation. After that, her tone curbs more to the careful side. "I heard about the Dome, but… we got lucky to avoid all that."

Emily lets out a long, slow breath, mustering courage. "What did you do?" she dares to ask. "With them?"

The interruption is a welcomed one, even if the offer is a little strange. But then, coffee is the fuel Devon has run on for years, believing there’s never a wrong hour for it.

“Sure,” he hears himself reply, close on Emily’s acceptance of it also. It takes him a moment to pick up the story. Even now, it’s a thing that still haunts him, and talking about it is never easy. “I went to Liz because I was on the inside.” Of the Dome, he means. “It was… It became Lord of the Flies, us versus them. Humanis First staged attacks and executions…” He trails off there and shakes his head. “About a month after it came down, I crossed paths with Liz. At that point, she was running from the government, labeled a terrorist, for trying to expose not just what was happening, but that the orders were coming from deep within the government.”

A look angles itself to Emily, to see if she’s following still. “I had testimony about the purpose of the Dome. I had names… Michael Valentin, Odessa Price.” There were others, but those two stand out sharply even now. “I knew it was information Liz could use and… I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I was brought to the safehouse — the Brickfront — and started moving in ways that a lot of them couldn’t. I wasn’t on any radars.” The last comes as an afterthought, a decision to explain, he wasn’t important enough to watch but had access to gain information.

“Then.” He takes a breath, exhales it slowly. “I met with Valentin one night. It… didn’t go as planned. And it marked me as a terrorist. Endgame, the Chessmen, became my family.” He’d told Emily he’d been involved since he was sixteen.

Teo shuffles around some more. At a distance, they can hear the muffled thump and movement of cabinets, china moving around, not the wizbit, just dishware. In the meantime, Teo is admittedly

kind of douchily

peeking into Devon's head, because the conversation is getting interesting. Something. He pauses after starting the coffee, makes sure he isn't going to drop anything while he's hanging inside Devon's head, in time to catch terrorist. Well. That would be some of the bullshit Emily was referring to, surely; that which he had been 'keeping to himself,' per her earlier narrative. Très intéressant. "I'm making decaf," he calls out. "Or 'fucking decaf,' as Epsteins may say." There is a noisome clacking of a one-course snack plus beverages meeting a dinner tray.

Maybe Emily will regret not directing her roommate away, sooner than later. But what would a sitcom be, without self-invitations, and also minor regrets? Teo times his next peek into Devon's head, with the intention of catching some detail as to what 'didn't go as planned,' to check if his hands have started to sweat, if his heart twists in his chest. And also some intention of studying Emily's face through the boy's eyes. Even without the emotional load of thoughts, sentimentality, he's curious as to what Emily's poker face looks like— or if Devon has earned enough of her confidence that she wouldn't armor herself against him.

What Teo should be thinking, is that if young people who've been through so much can bring themselves to be honest and transparent with each other and even around him, he should probably get the guts to try. But he's too busy spying to learn object lessons right now, sorry. Carry on.

What Teo spies on is the young Epstein looking actively away from the body he's snooping inside, her eyes on the pillow she fidgets with. Though despite that, the micro-expressions she goes through are entirely unguarded. She lets out a long-suffering snort of breath when Teo calls out, it seeming as though she might mutter some reply she's too occupied to actually shout and derail her conversation with. But she doesn't even make it that far.

Emily glances up at Devon out of the corner of her eye, head still tilted toward the pillow. His youth is something that's not forgotten as she considers his recollection of the events, a flicker of concern in her gaze before she smooths it over quickly, adopting something more thoughtful instead. "And that's how it started?" she asks, a hint of incredulity in her tone. She closes her eyes briefly, head shaking. Her voice lowers, asking again, "What did you do for the Chessmen?"

She might as well be asking what exactly happens with Wolfhound, but that one's a little too close to home, still. There's a certain amount of distance, things she'd rather just leave as assumptions rather than actually hear of. After all, it's one thing to suspect someone you know and care about has probably killed someone or worse over the course of their life — it's an entire other thing to hear them confess it, and a third altogether knowing that there is no cushion of time to obscure it with.

Decaf. Devon slants a look in the direction of the kitchen. “Is he serious,” he asides quietly instead of answering Emily’s question. “That’s not coffee, that’s just dirty water.” His arms unfold and he rubs his face with his hands. Fucking decaf would be his sentiments as well, but he’s polite enough to keep the words to himself.

“Pretty much,” he says through his hands. Fingers stretch and he pushes them through his hair. “Mostly I was eyes and ears. I worked at Studio K and had a lot of contacts, I was relatively unknown for a while. Made collecting intel easier.” Letting his hands drop to his lap, he looks over at Emily. One shoulder shrugs, raising just far enough to be noticeable.

“Most of it’s in the transcripts from the Albany Trials.” Which are public record. “I don’t know what’s been redacted, if anything. Never looked at them.” Dev watches Emily for a moment longer, as though he might be considering adding more. But he decides to give what he’s already shared a chance to sink in. His gaze shifts to the side, then settles on his hands.

Fortunately for everybody, they do not actually own any decaffeinated coffee because that would be completely absurd. That sound of brewing, spluttersplutter, splort, that weird gross sound, that is definitely a hundred percent normal coffee flowing into the pot. Teo waits until it's finished before he picks it up and transfers the whole thing onto the dinner tray, along with the rest of all the items he's taking out into the living room. He didn't make too much, there won’t be anything to heat up.

And in this fashion, he finally arrives. No longer dropping eaves, only present, wondering what a cue to leave would even look like considering all of Emily's Emilying. On the tray, he has a fairly large bowl of salad— more chickpeas, greens, et cetera weren't hard to add and there was plenty of chicken, and now smaller bowls too, in case the younger people want some. He has supposed that the normal thing to do, under these decidedly abnormal circumstances, is to try to be a good host. There's a plastic bottle of creamer and some sugar, too.

Even though Teodoro would bet cash money that drinking it black is the preference of both this fledgling ninja confessing his involvement in violent historical US political events, and his bonny young companion, who for some reason has not clocked that involvement in violent historical US political events is adequate excuse for undisguised concern.

But we all have our chosen disguises, Teo supposes. He sits down and starts shoveling salad into his bowl, first, and then into his face, second. Well into his thirties, Teo still has a fantastic metabolism and somehow, in the course of spying, he has become extremely hungry.

He pauses between mouthfuls to say, "It's not decaf," helpfully, before words are replaced with chicken. He wonders if Emily has a better shot with a Wolfhound operative than he has had, and comes to no clear resolution before deciding they really should work on her marksmanship. Romance tends to find a confluence with other genres, in this city.

"He's not serious," Emily reassures Devon in a low, knowing voice when he asks the question. "He likes living." A one-sided grin curls over her almost despite itself, its mood torn between being belatedly sheepish at her own overconfident comment, and amused at how frazzled he becomes at the thought of possibly being exposed to decaf. It's a short-lived moment.

At some point during the explanation about Devon's role, she nods once, almost attentively. Somewhere right after intel is brought up, the word aloud. A distance comes to her gaze again and she looks down at the pillow in her lap with more interest than before, adjusting it. He goes on to mention Albany, which shouldn't be a big deal at all — Julie had also testified there — but her head dips again. Uncomfortably, Emily draws in a breath to speak but is spared actually having to when Teo walks in, his tray clattering on the large coffee table. Immediately, she's turning to fix herself a cup.

Given she's trying to find something to do with her hands, she in fact takes a generous pour of the flavored creamer. It's a special occasion for her to reach for it. She only dresses her coffee to be polite to a host offering drink condiments, or when she's nervous. Neither nuance might immediately be obvious, save for the still-distant expression she wears.

"I've—" she starts to say, realizing the conversation is on the verge of lapsing longer than a few seconds. "Never looked deeply into the transcripts myself. Just saw headlines from the proceedings as they came out." The contribution is half-hearted, brow furrowing as she realizes it. "I've thought about it — going to look through them, but I've never gotten up the gall for it. Ended up reading Wolves of Valhalla last fall instead." Her head cants to the side slightly, eyes sharpening on a half-remembered thing before she muses, "There's that companion book that's out for it now, too. Victors, or something."

The relief is real when it’s confirmed by both parties that it’s real coffee and not that garbage that poses as it. The only thing worse than decaf would be that instant mix. That’s a swill that makes toilet water taste like the finest Whiskey. And there was a time when a younger Devon would have taken his cream an sugar with a splash of coffee. Now the stuff he makes himself could be used to degrease engines. Teo would have himself a pretty penny for being correct when the mug the younger man pours for himself is straight black brew.

He takes a swallow, letting the bitterness and heat be a balm to the haunting memories.

By the Victors.” He’s familiar with the title at least. “Haven’t read either of them, but I hear they’re good. Not sure I’d recommend anything from the Albany Trials. It’s…” Heavy. Horrible. Nightmarish. “What I experienced was barely a drop in the ocean of what was going on, and what’d been going on for decades.” And there’s thousands of pages of records.

He draws another mouthful of coffee, then looks at Teo to nod his thanks. Delayed, but not forgotten. Dev glances at Emily, for just a second, and with a slight quirk of a grin he settles for looking into his mug.

Mmm. Why do all things Francois always follow Teo around? He wonders. He doesn't appreciate it. He sits back in his seat and starts to chew through his salad, but then he feels bad all of a sudden. He had spent probably a solid half-hour trashing out By the Victors to a complete stranger, just a few weeks ago. Now intelligent young people are expressing an interest in the subject matter, he could represent.

"It's a good book. But hard to read. There's a section with torture. And at a few points, Allegre gives up on the hunt because Volken's influence seems fucking insurmountable. Just for a short while."

He stretches his socked feet out on the floor and glances at Devon, managing to look casual about it, as if he isn't assessing this young man who's chosen a life like his husband's. Teo is very good, in general, at looking casual about all kinds of things. At some point, lying went from a necessity to something dangerously approaching a habit. Most days, at least they're little white things, or constructive. Postponing disclosure your nineteen-year-old girl roommate, for example, that you have two timey-wimey clones, seems less bad when you already told her you were a former terrorist. But more and more these days, Teo lies about the subtler things, stealing from himself small coins in veracity that ultimately steal away from who he is.

Like: what Teodoro cares about, why he is sad, that he is sad. The many fears housed in his heart, the emasculating embarrassment of that. A hundred regrets, at least four or five of real personal significance; a strange aversion to any kind of interaction you can't predict. And intimacy is the least predictable of all. Studying the little blond shitlord here, he imagines it's a gift that Devon retains, to come toward his loved ones with a hand at least half-open; grudgingly, he supposes Francois is still sort of that way, too. But the life is squeezing it out of him, slowly. Jobs like that, they teach you to live alone so that you can die together.

Abruptly, Teo hopes that that doesn't happen to Devon. Even if the kid is, doubtless and by necessity, omitting any number of facts right now— his silences, his hands, they speak volumes. Small displays of vulnerability. Somehow, Devon manages to make it look dignified.

"Hey," Teodoro says. "Don't answer if you don't want to, obviously I'm just some asshole." He waves his fork around. Fortunately, no chickpeas wind up jettisoned into the living space. "But why are you part of Wolfhound now? It sounds like you've seen enough."

"It's not meant to be a happy read regardless," Emily points out to the comments that it's hard to read. "Wolves wasn't exactly smiles and rainbows either, much as the author tried to pump up what…" The comment goes unfinished, tapered off with a silent sigh. She lets her head cant to the side, trying to figure out something else to say. She really has no closeness with the topic herself, thinking it has nothing to do with those closest to her, and especially has no idea the guy in the book is a Wolfhound agent. So, it's a bit of a struggle for her.

Teo, thankfully, has his moment of interjection, and Emily glances sidelong at him over it. The some asshole comment in particular does a lot to distance himself from the conversation rather than acknowledge he's at least somewhat a part of it by nature of not having been shooed off. As for the question he asks, though, Emily can only slowly blink, turning back toward Devon with the action.

It's a good question, and one they'd briefly touched on before. Instead of diverting the topic, she waits to see what Devon's answer might be. Which way it might lean, if things have changed since that last touch.

“Shouldn’t I get to decide if you’re being an asshole?” Devon slants a look at the older man without turning his head. A brow ticks upward to emphasise the sarcasm of his question. “I mean, we’ve met and all.” But never really talked beyond general pleasantries in the form of vaguely judging looks. Like a couple of strange cats in an unfamiliar territory.

“It’s on the table.” His future with Wolfhound, he means. “I haven’t been to Rochester since getting back from California a few weeks ago. I’m off active duty right now anyway so…” So. He shrugs, just one shoulder lifting with the motion.

A look goes to Emily, lingering for a long moment and maybe having some answer for her, an answer he’s not yet aware of. “I haven’t decided anything yet,” is what he admits, in contrast to the thoughtful nature of his expression. “I’m not sure what I’d do if I left Wolfhound, but also…” Devon’s brows furrow for a second. He’s not sure he wants to go back to soldiering.

SEE FRANCOIS, EVEN THE TINY BLOND FOR WHOM WAR AND DUBIOUS CODE NAMES IS ALL HE'S EVER KNOWN WANts to leave. Okay no Teo is fine. And eating a salad. And trying not to recommend that Devon move to the country and raise goats, even though baby goats are extremely cute and Emily would benefit from hugging one. "I think you get to decide if I'm an asshole at any point along our acquaintance," Teo says, not unkindly.

Sometimes such revelations occur later in your relationship, like after seven years of marriage.

"I'm sure Rick would give you a job," Teo says. "Cardin—?" He's still hungover. What do people call Richard now? Was the cute birb name merely inferior, redacted for tactical reasons, or too cute? This is what happens. "You could be on the cutting edge of technology, save the world on the weekend." Is that what people actually do at Raytech? Teo thinks so. He got a lot of popup ads for TV bathtubs, which look 1) dope as fuck and 2) difficult to install in the Catskill Mountains. "But you know that." You have to see better than a normal person, to land hits, to hit your mark with a gun. And Devon seems to have no trouble recognizing those who love him best. "I mean, when you talk about what you've been through, survival and family, a lot of that is what happened to you. You know? External forces. But that's the how." He pulls up another forkful of chickpeas. "There's other whys. Drives and shit, what you believe in. They can tell you something about your next move, maybe."

It'll probably be wuv, Teo thinks. But Teo always bets on wuv, himself. And also evenly-cooked chicken breast. Previously: justice. He's beginning to slouch in his seat— a lifelong idiosyncrasy of his; he always ends up sitting on the floor. He glances at Emily's narrow face, as solemn and secret and fine in its bones as the edge of a waning moon. She fails utterly to map onto the disjointed pieces he knows about her father.

"Really thought you were just into smiles and rainbows. My bad." Teo winks.

Emily's expression is passive as Devon seems to search for his answer in her. She's not looking to be the one driving that decision, and tries hard to not appear as though she's for one side of it or another. It's difficult, when he's looking at her the way he's looking at her, but she's also been working on her poker face. Texting under the table at meetings, eavesdropping on things she probably shouldn't … it's a slowly-forming habit.

She blinks twice, rapidly, when Teo calls Richard multiple names back-to-back and sounds like he's about to belch in the process. Gross, Teo. But he did have good advice, somewhere underneath that and his tuned-in aloofness, so she keeps her opinion about his fumble to herself. Telling Devon to follow his gut was surprisingly, almost suspiciously, well-placed advice. Was he trying to make up for the asshole comment, now? Or did he know something she didn't.

The answer was probably, but she wastes no time wondering about it. Mostly because he's gone back to sarcasm next, and she's obligated to give him a long-suffering glance. It's contractual, almost. Teo makes a comment at her expense, Emily is 50% or more obligated to react to it as dramatically as possible. She at least doesn't sneer at it, or bring up that he's hungover at seven o'clock at night.

But they have guests, after all. So.

"I'm sure Raytech would be happy to have you. Probably. You've got the in there, if you could stand being in close proximity with being around the same people who brought you in to all that while you're in the process of trying to get out." If that's what he decided to do. "There's other companies. Other jobs. A whole country full of them — or at least half of one." The Dead Zone sort of didn't count?

Emily glances back Devon's way, reinforcing mildly, "Or you see what the fuck happens with Wolfhound, now. Now that Albany 2.0 is done…"

Whatever she was going to say, as confident as it was, suddenly tapers away as she encounters a mental obstacle. It was well over half a sentence away, but it stops her in her tracks regardless. Trying to recover as quickly as possible, she merely lifts her shoulders in a casual shrug, feigning like the statement was meant to end there.

“Richard Ray,” Devon supplies. He’s not sure exactly when the shift from Cardinal to Ray happened. At the time, in the circles he was running in, name changes were just a thing taken in stride, accepted usually without much question. He drains half his coffee while listening to, and thinking about, Teo’s statement. Other why’s. There’s been plenty of them, and he’s seen the world change while facing one of those why’s head on.

Those reasons are mostly gone now.


“Raytech’d take me.” He knows they would, even if he weren’t considered family by half the people who work in the upper echelon. It’s not nepotism if you’re not related by blood, is it? “Yamagato might accept me. There’s finishing college.” Options, plenty of them. And no reason to not consider juggling more than one, now that the contracts have been met.

“And there’s whatever happens with Wolfhound.” That’s included with a nod. And an uncertain tone.

He gives his mug a slight swirl, setting the liquid to spinning inside briefly. Nervous habits, there’s a lot of them and the stress of the last month — last two months really, if you want to include the time when Emily had stopped talking to him — has them manifesting occasionally. Frequently. Whatever. Devon looks over at the slowly melting Teo, but it’s Em who gets the question of, “Albany 2.0?”

If it's acceptable to start drinking at five, that's two whole hours to develop a hangover. And also Teo is a mess, it's true.

Pieces of lettuce and chickpeas pop between his molars as Teo mechanically makes his way through his salad now, his attention half-turned inward, half his mind still following the conversation. Emily looks tense. Emily accidentally said a thing. It's probably about her dad, but he has no doubt that she is perfectly capable of having more than one emotionally activating problem at a time. He doesn't turn his eyes to look at Devon's reaction, but he does engage in the dubious act of peeking into the younger man's senses again for a moment. Nothing in Devon's body suggests anything that is not already present in his voice, the way he looks at the girl. It is very sweet. (But they all start out that way.)

Teo finishes his salad. He could probably take more, since the kids aren't having any, but he ends up rattling the empty bowl onto the coffee table with an air of finality. Finally, he moves to sit on the floor, crossing his legs.

"I don't know what that is either," Teo supplies, helpfully. Albany 2.0. A metaphorical analogy? It is entirely possible he should talk to Francois more about his job, but that is definitely a hundred percent too sore a subject to bring up right now.

When not one of them, but both of them profess to not hearing about the second set of Albany Trials, Emily looks mostly at Teo with a judgmental really? Such a comment continues to go unspoken as she turns back to Devon. "The people you guys, Wolfhound, arrested … there were a number of them. They reconvened the Albany Trials to put them to justice." She pulls the coffee cup to herself, thumb pinching the teaspoon against the side of the mug to keep it from flipping away. The cup is very carefully settled on the pillow in her lap, hands curved around its warmth. "With the smaller crowd," at least compared to list of accused at the first trials, "There were a lot of life sentences, instead of executions or people getting off scot-fucking-free."

Nevermind her father was one of those people.

"Kyla Renautus, Bruce Maddox, Odessa Price…" She shifts her weight as she recites the names, her brow furrowing at the last. She'd paid heavy attention to the news, mostly the written word published online. The last one, though: "She wasn't a Wolfhound capture. She turned herself in after helping SESA with…" Emily glances between the two with a timid shrug suddenly, how she does whenever a sensitive matter is brought up. "I think probably with the shit with the… —in January? I don't know, they sort of brought it up a few times, and then Richard was there, so I just figure."

Alternate reality bullshit and enabling the return of Elisabeth Harrison and Magnes Varlane remains unsaid. "—Anyway, there was some upset because she got a life sentence with a possibility of it being commuted. The rest of them weren't as … I don't know, dramatic as that." Emily lets out a long breath after, punctuating it by taking a drink of her doctored-up coffee.

Only then does she turn to peer at Teo, a bit suspiciously. "When's the last time you've paid attention to the news? Are you even keeping track of who's running for President right now?" The question is more earnest than judgemental, despite the phrasing… and tone, possibly. Maybe it's not something he gives a shit about — maybe he can't even vote, former terrorist and legally-complicated-existence of a person he is. But it'll be her first presidential election she can vote in, and she is engaged with the political rhetoric that's been flying around since the congressional elections last year.

To be fair, there have been a lot of happenings that Devon had missed. Not just current events, or the struggle to catch up to past ones. A peculiar void exists in his memory and understanding of time, where nearly three months has been spliced out. It’s usually not an issue, until things like a reconvening of the Trials is brought up. That has his interest more than the coffee in his hands and Emily has his full, analytical attention.

“Odessa Price.” There’s an edge to his tone. And some connection to that name that gives it some unpleasantness. In the interest of not dragging out more of his own past, he only rolls his eyes. Because of course they would commute Odessa Price’s sentence. Never mind the fact that she aligned herself with Humanis First and aided in the murder of innocent people.

Irritation is drowned in coffee without any sweetener. There’s something cathartic about the bitterness of the brew matching the bitterness of reality. Dev lowers his mug, considering briefly the hospitality and possible rudeness if he helped himself to another, then leans forward to set the mug on the tray instead.

Teo admires his roommate for her degree of political engagement. And despite how often her questions and sentences and grunts have a bit of a bite to them, he does take her question as earnest at first pass. It's actually an odd thing to remember, hearkening back to conversations with his husband years ago.

"I'm not an American citizen," Teo says, as if just remembering; which he did. He had been about to file the paperwork like four times, never ended up doing it. He'd been adrift in a boiling sea of bad excuses, always new waves to fight through. Government slowdowns— never mind that every 'war hero' was a walking special exception. Lost mail— never mind Francois had literally put the documents in his hand, and then drove back to Rochester empty-handed when he could have left with a signature. Part of him thought he might leave the country, like one of the other Teos did. Part of him felt like he already had, living in the gentle green, rolling land, far away from the city's conveniences and also its inconveniences.

'War hero.' In general, that phrase makes Teo want to roll his eyes so far back in his head he'll short the nerves and never have to see it again. But here he is now, automatically leaning over to get more salad. He telegraphs his intention to pour Devon more coffee too, but there's a question in the way he lifts his eyebrows— only if Devon wants.

Odessa. Teo distinctly remembers her walking on him trying to treat his then-boyfriend, and Devon's current commander, 'right' in the gay fuckin' sense. This is probably not the caliber of sordid, dramatic memories that the young people are thinking about. Odessa was prone to changing sides. In the lexicon of contemporary morality, that made her bad. At least unuseful, because she was unreliable. But Teo comes from a time when her treachery had served, and so he'd iced her injured hand and persuaded her to turn on his enemies, grateful that she'd had her own lines she wouldn't cross. She had refused to kidnap a child.

Maybe shit like that is exactly why this new world belongs to the young. Who see right and wrong so clearly. Maybe shit like that is exactly why Teo shouldn't vote.

"Institutions like Wolfhound will always be needed," is what Teo decides to say, in the end. Connecting back to Emily's earlier train of thought. Part of his ongoing negotiations with Francois' life; a dialogue he's having with himself, as much as with Devon and Emily. "But I guess it'll change. Could be in the same direction as you want to take, or different. Evolved rights is always a good cause, when you are one. But you could start a podcast, instead."

The fact that Devon has a reaction to that name perhaps shouldn't be surprising, given the woman's apparent prolific involvement in heinous events — and yet it is, and Emily catches herself looking at him for a long moment as he works through how he feels about the news. Teo's confession about his citizenship is the only thing that draws her attention away, her brow popping up in a silent, rhetorical 'oh really' sort of reply.

She thinks about it for a moment. "You should get that taken care of before you get your divorce finalized," Emily advises Teodoro mildly, lifting her cup up to take a long sip from it. It wasn't any of her business, but he really ought to. He didn't seem like the type of person who would deal well with being told to leave the country.

Her look flattens and she looks off with a deadened stare at the suggestion Devon should start a podcast, apparently finding that to be a wholly inadvisable idea of a career path. Given the coffee has cooled considerably, she drowns any other comment she might want to make deeply in the cup, draining a considerable amount of what's left — which was a decent amount, given she'd added more liquid into her drink.

What were they supposed to be talking about again? The past. Right.


Coffee is definitely and always accepted. There isn’t a time in recent memory where coffee has ever actually been turned down, and Devon leans so he can turn his mug and indicate as much. “I can’t imagine having anything worth podcasting.” State secrets, lamentations of adolescence, rehashing the same accounts he’s already shared tonight and others in greater detail. No one wants to hear it, and he definitely doesn’t care to share it with the world. That’s what the Albany Trials were for.

And actually, he’s relieved for the segue into the political arena. Even if he doesn’t engage it takes the pressure off. Those scars can get covered up and ignored for the rest of time. “I know a lawyer if you need someone to translate legalese,” he offers. “Not sure… what exactly Pops’ specialty is, but…” But he has no good reason to offer, other than it seemed like the thing to do at the time.

After a beat, he sits back again. Without the mug, but it’s alright. He’ll pick it up again sooner or later. And without anything more to add. Politics and current events have only ever been filled with conspiracy in his circles. Devon lifts a shoulder, sort of dismissing the whole whatsit that brought him over — not that he needed a reason, but having one was helpful. In his mind anyway. He drifts a glance toward Emily.

Then to the book on the coffee table.

"I would listen to your podcast," says Teo, loyally. He is not always the most sensical friend to have, but he rarely runs a deficit for caring about the endeavors, even if it's about something as silly as hypothetical podcasts. By now, he's also chomping his way through his second serving of salad. The noise of cronching inside his head somehow drowns out the quiet a little; he's perhaps the last to catch on to the silence that has descended upon them. He is also older, though, and accustomed to his own company especially in the past three to four years, so.


Should he help? Reframe. Try to help. It is a chronic condition of Teo's existential experience lately, that he does not know whether he should try to help or if it would ultimately be worse than better for him to try. A pattern that operates on all levels for him, from trying to ask his husband how his week is going, to obtaining American citizenship (which he acknowledged, to Emily, with a nod), to engaging in heroic operations to, Googling whether the company he buys his protein powder from has scandals. Sometimes, sleeping seems like the only risk-free idea. He continues to soak in the silence for a moment, before deciding that probably the noise of his eating is actually making things weirder, so—

"Did you guys meet doing some kind of regular civilian meetcute, or was it some of this. Special ops, politics, and shit?" Teo isn't asking just to ask. It seems like a logical inquiry, when boy with codenames and paramilitary training comes over to disclose the history he doesn't want to podcast about to a girl attending undergraduate college courses in her second bid at life. There's gotta be a story; one hopes, an easy one to tell.

Speaking of Googling, Emily is leaning to one hip and pulling her phone from her back pocket. "Um," is what she says to fill the silence, because she's not even sure where to start with that. Does she start with the first time? Or the second? More importantly, she needs to look up that phrase. Was that some sort of dating app? Was Teo trying to sound hip?

"He tried to mitigate the walking catastrophe that was a drunk Lucille Ryans," she explains absently, not looking up from her screen. Typing with one hand impedes her speed greatly, the other still occupied by her drink. "And then defuse a perfectly sober one. So it was … sort of …"

Oh my god, that's what a meet-cute is???

"Teo," she chastises him harshly, color coming to her cheeks as she looks back up. The flare of her temper is brief, fueled by embarrassment, and quick to expire. Emily attempts to recover, even though she's already beyond that point. She stammers for a moment, finally forcing out, "Perfectly civilian bullshit, yes. Both times involved someone fucking with my wheelchair." She glances back at Devon for just a moment before turning back to Teo. She's more incensed with him at his cute comment, after all, even though she's not incensed at all.

It's a term Devon isn't familiar with, so when Emily pulls out her phone to look it up he invites himself to lean over enough to look also. “She's a walking disaster all the time.” He's bold to point that out, but likely he's known Lucille long enough to have that opinion. Likely anyone who's known the Ryans girl for any length of time might agree. “But she means well.” Usually. He thinks.

A grin is chased by an amused chuckle. The first happens when he sees the definition, the latter from Emily's reaction. It's an accurate description. His eyes tick up to meet Emily’s, good humor still evident, and he bumps his shoulder into hers.

“Purely civilian,” he confirms. Dev looks over at Teo. “And a rocky beginning.” Not unlike a lot of romcom movies. that meet-cute definition is on point. At least it's close enough that he's still not taking offense to it. “Just so we're clear, there was no wheelchair fuckery from me.” Just a lot of awkward attempts at gaining her attention.

That is a very good clarification from the young beau, as no one wants to hear a story of a meetcute where boy met girl while fucking with her wheelchair. It's not hard for Teo to picture what happened: Devon would have defended her, of course. Appropriately, because it was the right thing to do. But also because he was into her obviously. (That was separately, the correct decision to make.) "Never had a doubt," Teo reassures Devon.

He does not regret using the word meetcute at all, really. Look at Emily now. So common to see her irritated, but so rarely in defense of a genuine positive sentiment. Letting yourself be happy is hard, he is aware; that she's getting this close means a lot. He glances down at his empty bowl, thinking he should go wash it, get ready for whatever he was going to do tonight. Something involving either programming or drinking. Sleeping? Sounds elusive, but it always is; Teodoro has to try, anyway.

"Okay. I'm gonna clean up here. Sounds like you guys have some combination of the future and the past," possibly big F and big P, "to talk about," Teo says. He grabs his bowl, fork. The remaining serving, untouched by the younger ones. "Should I leave the coffee?"

"There was definitely …" Emily starts in a growl, rueful as she peers over the top of invisible spectacles at Devon, head bowed in skepticism. She remembers the event quite differently. It's rude to try and stand directly in the path of someone in a wheelchair. Granted, she would have rolled over his foot had he actually been able to edge out in front of her, but still.

She doesn't finish the statement, finally lifting her head in a silent release of the topic. Thinking back on that moment and how she felt about him then, how she feels about him now, and how she felt about him after they first started talking…

Something slides in her expression, thoughtfulness entering her gaze.

"Definitely leave the coffee," she says in a tone that indeed implies Big F and Big P discussions. The teenager leans to the side to set away her own cup for the time being, turning back to Devon, body instead of just torso. "Night, Teo." she says without looking his way.

Adjusting the lay of her arms, she lets her knuckles rest on the back of the pillow in her cross-legged lap. Her fingers splay in a silent invitation for Devon to let his hand find hers, if he so desires. Emily leaves her gaze on his, quiet.

“Good seeing you again,” Dev offers to Teo with a brief look in that direction. And he means it, even if it was a little awkward having the older man around. It was awkward, but that's the way of things. And Teo isn't so terrible, just odd. A little bit. And broody. And he joked about serving decaf. It all basically sums up to not yet being sure about this roommate that Emily's got now. Who even makes decaf coffee anyway? It's sorcery of the worst kind.

He looks over when Emily sets her mug down and turns toward him. A brow ticks up slightly, and he scoots closer, turns so he's facing her.

“I'm sorry I made a bad first impression,” he says as he fits his hand to hers. He half smiles when he says it too, knowing it's an apology he's made a few times. Knowing things would be very different now had things gone a different way.

Emily shrugs, shaking her head. At first, the apology goes right over her head. "Didn't seem to go that poorly to me," she replies right away, brushing her thumb over the back of his hand. "I'm pretty sure if it went bad, he'd have told you to your face."

Then it hits her, he's not talking about things with Teo just now. Her posture shifts, gaze darting up as she realizes it. Oh. Right, he's talking about their own first meeting. She half-grimaces, half-smiles as her gaze lowers again, eyes on their hands. For a moment she just sits there, contemplating something about the nature of it until it's broken by firmly squeezing his hand in hers. "Dev," she starts, her brow furrowing before she chances a look up at him.

"Are you still sure about all of this? About us?" Emily asks carefully. She leaves her hand around his, an assurance she's not trying to draw away by asking. "I know we just talked about all we did, it's just…" she trails off, voice soft. Her head starts to tilt in the beginning of a shake, and she tries to find words that sum up her feelings without making herself sound foolish. None come.

They've both lead such different lives, and they were both shit at opening up to each other. What if by doing so they ended up realizing how vast a canyon laid between them in their experiences and outlooks and they ended up… worse for it?

Emily draws a quick smile, grasp firming around Devon's again. "You sure you won't get bored of me?" she teases him.

“Yes.” Devon interjects his answer with quiet conviction, as soon as Emily's question about them is formed. He gives his head a slight shake, with every intention of reiterating their conversation just weeks ago, expressing those feelings he'd only really spelled out in words to Avi, but desperately tried to show in action to Emily. But he chooses to hold off further interruption.

As Emily continues, he looks down at their hands. He'd decided it was important that she knew a bit about him, how he's gotten to the point he's at, no matter how little he'd actually wanted to talk about it.

Bridges can always be built, or paths created. Things weren't made impossible just because they came from different backgrounds. It would take work, yes, but they've already taken the first step.

Tightening his hand around Emily's, Dev pulls her closer. “Never,” he answers. She may be teasing, and it draws a slight smile, but he makes a promise with that word. “I want there to be an us. You and me. Not just the having fun and hanging out, but through the bad and mediocre times.” He pauses, but only to take a breath. His gaze on her is searching while the words continue, voice quiet and tone earnest. “I want you to never feel bad for calling me at two in the morning because you just want to talk. Or feel like you can't ask me to come over even when I'm in Rochester, because I would for you. I care about you more than anything, and I'd do anything for you.”

The two of them were anything but fair-weather-only, given the rocky start to their relationship to begin with, but to hear Devon say it makes it sound so serious. So real.

Emily bristles, but only because she appreciates what he's said.

It takes her a moment to meet his gaze, as weighted as it is, but she gives a slight, almost timid nod. "You know the same goes, too, right?" She was firmly on-board for this whole Kaylee visit thing. "No matter what we find, I'll be there." Emily scoots to help enable herself being pulled closer, anticipating he'll want to do something like draw his arms around her shoulders before long. It'd give them both reassurance as well as comfort, after all.

"Though," she says with a faint smile, "We could stand to have more ordinary days, too." Again with the teasing that's really just a guise for earnestness. "Days where the most we've got to worry about is just… I don't know, worrying it'll rain on us while we're out. Trying to plan making meals around the power outages," Her gaze wanders away to the black screen hanging on the wall and she adds, "What movie to watch."

Her expression is softer as she turns back to him, a note of hope in her voice as she asks, "Do you want to stay over for a while?"

“Yeah,” is a soft spoken yet sincere confirmation. Dev smiles slightly when Emily looks up and nods. There's something comforting, secure, in hearing her tell him the same. He doesn't know what the next weeks or months will turn up. The business with what they've found about his disappearance is an unpleasant weight. Even with knowing everyone that's supportive and working to find answers, it's different with her, a difference he can't fully explain.

He reaches for her, to pull her into a brief hug. Actions are louder than words, after all, and anything he could say wouldn't suffice.

He sits back after a moment, gaze resting on their hands. “I'm all for ordinary, too.” A hint of amusement is carried in his tone as he muses at the idea of ordinary. It'll contrast with the strange and uncomfortable but in a good way. A counterweight. “As for movies, I've got a collection of 80’s and 90’s classics. We'd never grow bored.”

He still sounds amused, maybe even teasing, but Emily's seen part of his collection already. Maybe he isn't teasing.

A thumb brushes against the back of her hand, and he looks up at the question. Devon studies her expression for a moment. Briefly, he argues with himself; it's getting late, Emily has classes or internship tomorrow. “Yeah, I’d like that,” he answers instead of giving into caution.

Her return of the embrace is small, hands low on his back while mostly just laying her head on his shoulder. Emily isn't able to conjure any words to acknowledge his action, merely slips her hand back firmly in his and gives him a thin smile. "You know," she teases in return, bumping her elbow against him as she turns toward the table. "We've got the internet now." Her free hand reaches to the controller stuck in the book, gaze flitting to the page number as she wrangles it free, slipping her grip on it to jam the power button down while she pulls her arm back to herself.

If consideration of her morning schedule is even a thing that happens for her, it's promptly ignored as she settles into the couch, streaming service pulling up on the television screen as it flares to life. Emily shifts in her seat, releasing Devon's hand so she can more comfortably turn to face the screen … and lean into him at the same time, her head resting on his shoulder and arm curling around his while she continues to hold the remote and scroll.

To her, it doesn't matter if they end up finding something to put on right away or not. It's the being together that matters.

In the meantime, Teo's footfalls sound on the staircase again. He's rambling around, getting his coat, checking his wallet, audible rather than loud. The building is old, after all, despite its renovations. He's a passing shadow in the periphery of their vision as he goes by, saying lightly, "Hey, I'm gonna run to the store," and the bar, obviously, "do you guys need —"

and something about that quality of quiet makes him think: they don't. They have everything he needs. So he amends instead,

"Text me if you need anything." The door opens, and then he's gone.

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