Our Lady Of The Capricious


eileen_icon.gif lucrezia_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Our Lady Of The Capricious
Synopsis It isn't gossip if it is between family, and it promptly transmutes to something else when an erstwhile ally — enemy? — literally bursts out of the boudoir door.
Date January 19, 2009

The Ritz Carlton: Lucrezia's Royal Suite

Between dinner-time and club-time, there is a knock on her suite room door. Lucrezia remembers the one. Drub-drub-drub. Thrice. Noisy: the closed fist or empty palm that went through half a dozen dead or frightened moths before she could teach him to offer perch or shelter without fucking up entirely. She might hear the frictionless crawl of fingernails dragged down the surface of the varnished wood next, quieter, half in subconscious entreaty and half out of physical laziness. Doubtless, she hears the thump as his forehead, armored by surgical steel, falls against the frame. Her boy leans there and puts his mouth close to the gap between doorjambs.

"«Let me in.»"

This has not been the best of days, to say the least. The previous evening, while she was out scheming less than salaciously in the arms of her sacerdote, someone was here on a mission to fuck up any hope of her getting back what essentially amounts to a five-figure security deposit paid to the order of the Ritz-Carlton Central Park hotel. Then again, this is probably the price you (literally) pay for playing left hand to the Devil. Some people might call them dues. Lucrezia stands with her back to the wall like a lazy sentinel next to the door in the suite's foyer. "«What do you want?»" she wonders, sounding wounded. It's a pretty safe bet that she's putting on a pout, too, even if for no one else's benefit than the bees quietly cramming themselves between the cracks of the nearby closet.

In his perception of things, Teo doesn't have a lot to gamble with. "«I made a mistake.»" He should probably stick to games with safer odds. Probably. Instead, he's left dangling his toe into the gap between the threads of the spider's web, wings drooping in sharp-edged gossamer with the breadth of his shoulders underneath layers of cotton and canvas.

His toe chugs fretfully against the smooth fibers of the hallway carpet that has quagmired his shoes practically up to the ankle. Scuff, scuff. He breathes in and out. He can tell where she is, how she feels, picture what she looks like against the carved mirror inlaid against the wall, back to back with herself, when he ought to be guarding that part of her. Despite the number and variety of his apologies every day, few of them are ever short of heartfelt, and he had meant it when he had given his regret days ago. For being away and apart. For leaving her alone, even if he knew, obscurely, that she — like him — takes well enough to love without companionship. "«I want to make things right.»"

The door to the suite swings open and, sure enough, there she is — beautiful and terrible as she ever was — clad just as much in caution as she is in cashmere. She hesitates before backing away and allowing her beloved nephew entrance into her disrupted den if iniquity. Of course, she's had the chance to tidy things up since Sylamir — er, Kazilar… whomever came to call. Lucrezia's gaze can hardly be considered welcoming but there is something undeniably comforting (or, maybe, comforted) when she deigns to lay dark eyes on the face of her repentant nephew.

She taught Teo his repentant face. He comes in with it seated firmly on the front of his head. Takes of his shoes in silence that might be meek, shrugs off his jacket, skidding it down off the rough grain of his sweater. The sleeves invert and hang a halt on his wrists; he yanks his hands free in expedient motions, simultaneously sheds his shoes, a kick and scuffle, every motion brisk and minimalistic, mannered in a way at odds with the low table he had sent across the room. When he meets her eyes — really meets her eyes, it's with that same ridiculous candor. Not even the bees are so earnest.

He has his hands behind his back, laced underneath the saddle of his jacket. He steps forward as if to the lip of the recital stage. Leans forward, slow precision, turning his nose into her cheek to rest his lips on the corner of her mouth. For all its freeze-framed pandemonium, the trashed out room might— oh. He doesn't deign to care yet.

Two pale and perfect hands draw up from her sides as Lucrezia lightly lays her palms against a pair of cheeks that she has thus clutched from the very first day they were ever beheld outside of the womb. She clings to him with a delicate strength. She is nothing so much as cut glass in lieu of diamonds. Costume jewelry. Faking it all the way. Only an expert eye would ever be any the wiser.

"«What do you have to say for yourself?»" she murmurs against his cheek, hardly more than whispering.

"«I'm sorry.»" Teo's eyelids blink guppy kisses on the edge of her face. He smells of recent soap underneath a patina of diesel and bitter urban cold. He straightens slightly. Failing to free himself of the manicured parentheses of her hands, he stares at her out from between them, all over heartfelt, down to the dull ache of shame that keeps his face in contrition, rolling, pounding, a little nauseating, a kicked tooth. No expert could tell different; he's nothing as prepossessing as diamonds. "«I would have been good if I wasn't angry. I wouldn't have been angry if I didn't care. I'll find a better way to do it next time. I promise."»

Though the gesture may seem superficial and small, Lucrezia knows that Teo's contrition is genuine; that he has finally found the words for apology speaks volumes and she knows his heart laid bare when she hears it. Her grasp remains gentle on his cheeks while she considers him thoughtfully — his eyes, his mouth, his soul reflected in his face — even as she withdraws and forced to extend her arms out entirely from her body until, at last, she lets her fingers fall away. "«Come in. Sit. Tell me what it is that is really bothering you,»" she says in her retreat, gesturing to the tidied up living space. You'd never know a teapot tempest had paid a visit not too long ago; everything looks the same and yet… different. Oddly misplaced.

The boy — man, sorry — steps after her. His shoulders go up as he walks, automatic, inadvertent, brief, huddling against the cold and unfamiliarity of the room even as he presses deeper into it. A swing of his arm, and Teo slings his jacket into a slithery heap of canvas on the armchair. Himself, he sits on the couch. A decision in arrangement that the vast majority of those who know him would find unusual, but not to fear: it's only a matter of moments and invitation before he misappropriates proper seating posture in favor of an arrogant and presumptuous sprawl, wherever Lucrezia would have him, if as much has been forgiven as he hopes. "«Lots of things.

"«Nothing important,»" he adds, idiotically: lipservice machismo she's long since come to expect of him. "«Everything has been fucking weird since terrorists blew up the school I was teaching in. I was freaking out for a week. I'm angry whenever I'm not. I think— I fell for Alexander. I've met people who think I'm important to them. I do stupid things. More than before,»" he clarifies ignobly, his expression somewhere between pensive and downcast.

The fine line that divides the literal difference between the closeness of family and the proximity thereof has long since been blurred into obscurity for Lucrezia and her best birthday present ever…. ahem — Teo. As such, they both share a penchant for sprawling and, unlike their last visit, neither appears particularly concerned with remaining safely outside of the other's personal space. In fact, Lucrezia all but draws the much younger man's head into her lap so that she might be more readily allowed access to his scalp; the tactile contact between them she insists on maintaining may possibly serve as some sort of subconscious or psychic leash — affect foretold through fingertips against familiar skin, echoes of a most pleasant past that they both shared.

"«Oh… I see. I see now,»" she says soothingly. "«You should have said something sooner, sweetheart.»" About what, specifically, she doesn't say. It is what it is. "«Still haven't found what you're looking for, hm? That's always been so hard for people like you and me. We're aimless muses… ever seeking our own stages… ever playing parts on someone else's…»"

He's armed. The spider says so, walking along the round heel where it pushes out the elastic of his sock on frail filament legs. The tiny arachnid can see it, the gun holstered to his calf. It isn't the only one he has. And he either thinks better or doesn't know well enough to turn any weapon on the leash that keeps him in Lucrezia's hand, accepting that as easily as she had the artless weave of string around her hand days ago. "«Maybe,»" he says, as ambiguous in his answer as she was in hers. His head turns slightly under her fingers, her fingernails easing along with the grain of his hair, enough to elicit a sigh, subtle as it is tactless.

"«Or I get bored too fucking quickly. There's always something new to try and push. I'm not a good actor,»" he remembers, a little pointlessly. He doesn't remember entirely accurately: he can lie, he merely forgets to, the harborer of some great morbid Catholic guilt. His thumb nail and the crook of his forefinger find the inseam of her jeans where it curls down from her knee to calf. "«Romero still hates me.»"

Lucrezia has never really been a creature of fear in the face of any man, real or imagined, though she has certainly tasted apprehension just as readily as affection and known the carnal curves of doubt just as surely as she has ridden confidence raw. "«Your brother…»" Yes. Let's leave the metaphors behind for a moment and start with something clinical and concrete. "«…will come around eventually. Grief is a hard thing to bear, darling, and he never did share our capricious heart for things.»" The tone of her voice suggests that, contrary to her chosen terminology, that's actually a bad thing. Or, at the very least, unfavorable enough to be pitied. "«Give him time… give him time.»"

Long fingers curl and collapse against the nape of her nephew's neck and Lucrezia wonders while winding one leg up and over his, "«You want I should stop fucking your friend…?»" Somehow in their native tongue it doesn't sound nearly so vulgar as it would to American ears. Scopare. As if she were teaching Alexander arithmetic or doing something else utterly mundane…

Maybe it is that. Mundane. Sex is a strange beast where they come from. Not Europe, and not exactly healthy, either, maybe. Teo's always walked that fine line between acknowledging cardinal sins and dismissing their dismal vulgarity as glorified biological functions. He exhales through a thumb pressed to the roof of his mouth, hnnh, an idle, skeptical thinking sound. He doesn't really believe that. That time heals such wounds. Felix Ivanov told him otherwise, and Romero Laudani has practically sworn. His leg shifts fractionally, almost unthinkingly: takes the hard-edged bulge of the holstered .9 out of range that his aunt might accidentally touch it.

And be — frightened? Teo doesn't know, isn't even aware he's doing it, not really. Compartmentalization has become second nature to him. "«No.

"«I kind of want my friend to stop fucking you.»" His hair grates audibly against the luxurious fabric of her sweater and he scrolls his eyes up to see her, as if eye contact would make the distinction clear. It's different, her stopping and Al choosing to. "«But a little less every day. It'll go away. He's kind of an asshole, anyway,»" and there's an unmistakable edge of amusement in Teo saying so. Fades to sobriety with a blink of hopelessly blue eyes, one of several colors he inherited from his father. "«Don't hurt him?»"

"«Hurt him?»" she asks with brows raised, brown eyes lovingly afixed on blue while wandering digits detour daintily around an earlobe and then stroll lazily over the stubbled avenue of jaw to chin before drawing down and underneath to trace the line of Teo's throat all the way south until it disappears beneath jersey cotton. "Cucciolo mio… «between you and me, I think he's rather enjoys being hurt…»"

Teo frowns. The train of his thought is self-evidently a million miles away, ripping through tumbleweeds and crossing rivers on skinny bridges hundreds of stories above the level of stones and cackling black water. The part of him that remains answers the prick of fingers with the peculiarly frail geometry of gooseflesh and puts on that artless facial expressions, glares at the ceiling past Lucrezia's painted profile. "«You know what I mean. He's my best friend, auntie.»" His head rolls on her lap, stare averting — almost sullenly, and his heartbeat pulses her enameled fingernails with a steady tick-tock. The spider steps off the fabric of his sock and onto the couch.

Eileen really can't take much more of this. Apart from what little she was able to glean from an Italian dictionary she picked up when she first met Amato, she doesn't understand a word Teo and Lucrezia are saying in the other room — for all she knows, the pair could be discussing the swiftest way to decimate her allies and she'd never be the wiser. She's been sitting with her back to the bedroom door, listening to the murmured sounds of their conversation through the wall for the past few minutes, growing more and more restless with every hushed whisper that drifts through the suite. Her fingertips dance nervously against the inside of her thigh, drumming, drumming…

The secret Spider Queen easily allows her dark eyes to stray from one favored pet to the next — the tiny spider scuttling up and over the far arm of the overstuffed couch is eyed no less affectionately. While Teo makes guesses about what might be found on the other side of the ceiling, Lucrezia considers the closed door of her borrowed boudoir. "«And you love him,»" she says with a soft and subtle sarcasm, exploring fingers falling dead against the chest of the man laid out in her lap. It's only after she makes this statement that she allows her gaze to return to him and make a thoughtful study of every flaw and feature found on his face as if trying to determine whose secret kiss might be hidden in the corner of his mouth.

Callused fingers tighten on the zag of creases inside Lucrezia's knee, the bite of denim's thick weave reassuringly solid to Teo, in a place that seems to consist entirely of silk and poisoned milk. It doesn't take Teo much time to get obstinate. Same when he was eleven. He hadn't wanted to go to Shanghai with her nearly so badly until his father said he couldn't; was too young to know what the term Triad meant or entailed, infatuated himself with the morbid delights of porcine blood pudding and eating off spears. He meets her gaze. "«I'm not screaming or wringing my hands as much as you did for Cyrano,»" he points out, flatly. He'll regret that in a second: speaking ill of someone he resented.

…and someone she loved. Her retribution for bitter words is delivered swift and unflinchingly and for only the fourth time in Teo's life is he hailed so harshly by Lucrezia's open palm. Discipline well-deserved. "You know better," she spits out in ugly English with the young man's chin still clutched captive between her fingers, forcing him to remain eye-to-eye with her while color floods into her cheeks and summarily drains out of her heated gaze.

The staccato crack of Lucrezia's hand meeting Teo's face jerks Eileen fully upright, and in her haste she bumps the back of her head against the door behind her with a resounding thump. English, she's speaking English! Up on her knees now, one hand grasping the door handle, the other steadying her weight against the adjacent wall, Eileen presses her ear against the crack between the door itself and its wooden frame. It isn't wide enough of a gap for her to peer through, but Lucrezia's words are easier to hear when they aren't as muffled.

If he didn't have his aunt right up in his face, no doubt Teo's scintillating terrorist sense would have picked up his eavesdropper's misstep. Instead, he finds himself snared by a spidering of fingers that feel like barb carapace, the way her nails are cut, his breath rebounding off Lucrezia's furious visage, close-up, sharp-focus, sickening high-contrast, and back onto the hot red mark spreading over his own skin. It doesn't hurt any less now than it did then.

"So do you." It's stupid, and he knows it's stupid even before he says it, but it's said with conviction. His hand meets her wrist without strength, despite that his eyes fill with pain.

And temper. Teo hates being picked at as much as he hates being looked at any kind of closely and, occasionally, he even remembers this with her. "This isn't the time to be pretending we're the respectable deprived."

Indecision is an ugly thing. Eileen should have confronted Teo the moment she heard him set foot in the suite. Instead, she's spent her time hiding behind a closed door, crippled by the sting of a betrayal that might not even be a betrayal at all — if it isn't, and Teo is unaware of where she perceives Lucrezia's loyalties to truly lie, then he at least deserves to know.

The door opens and Eileen's figure appears in its frame, swathed in a fresh set of clothes that are perhaps just a little too large for her skinny build. Her expression is guarded, belying very little of what she might be thinking, or why she's even here. Rather than say anything, she fixes Teo and his aunt with a reproachful look, gray-green eyes bright but solemn, hazy with a curious mix of emotions, none of them particularly nice.

Well. This is just… awkward. Eileen's abrupt arrival has certainly done little to assuage the heavy tension now hung in the air and, if possible, things have become even more intense. So intense, in fact, that the whole suite seems to have come alive with a barely audible buzz. Lucrezia casts a very slow and careful look over to the bedroom door and then gaunt girl who just emerged from it. There's a question on the tip of her tongue but it doesn't come. Instead, she just… stares.

A mangled knot if instincts and reactions storms through Teo's head, too many, too various, too quick for any single one to configure his features into any dominant sentiment that either woman could translate with accuracy. Except, one might take a wild guess at, surprise. Caught in his aunt's hand, his face had twisted a fraction to find the figure framed in the doorway and, absurdly, the tension in his supine body directed, livewire with intensity enough to burn, relaxes fractionally the instant he realizes that this isn't some rumpled and sex-stained swain tumbled out of bed at some ridiculous accusation of domestic violence.

His eyes swivel up to Lucrezia. Back again.

And the hand about her wrist pries himself free, with a long breath and a slow blink of eyes. Then, oddly, as if his voice were the wrong shape for the throat it emerges from or the memories behind it sought and failed to find footing in troubled memory: "What did you do to her face?"

Her face. One hand drifts up, fingertips brushing the surface of the bandage that covers the desiccated flesh beneath it, dead skin sloughing off from withered sinews of muscle attached the delicate curve of an ivory-white jaw. Eileen, assuming they all live through this, is going to need to sit down with Abigail Beauchamp sometime in the near future if she ever wants to be comfortable looking in a mirror again.

She looks to Lucrezia, pallid and expectant. The question Teo asked wasn't the one she'd been anticipating, but she's interested to hear the answer nonetheless. Yes, Lucrezia, what did you do?

"That," says Lucrezia plainly. "…was not my doing." Oh well. The damage is done. Instead of curling her fingers into a fist and hurling curses at the intruder, she makes a deft gesture to a nearby chair and bids Eileen closer with a flick of the wrist and a nod of the chin. "Teo… I'd like you to meet Mun—" No, no. Not any more. "—mm, Eileen. Eileen, this is Teo." A beat. "My nephew." There. That wasn't so bad. Lucrezia seemingly hasn't got a clue in the world that these two have ever met before, let alone had any sort of interaction that might have involved a blade and a good deal of someone's blood being spilt, else— er, well, else things wouldn't be nearly this cordial… would they??

The mistress of spindly-legged things disentangles herself from her beloved boy-kin and slinks off into the kitchen in a brief fit of hospitality. "Can I get either of you something to drink?" What neither of them might readily be able to tell is that she's concealing more of a smirk the further she lurks from their newly assembled company. Perhaps they'll be in a vicious hurry to get reacquainted while her back is literally turned. One can only hope…

Predictably, Teo doesn't really understand. In her public capacity, Eileen is a busker. In her private capacity, she is a terrorist. Neither of those two categories of persona fit in — this place, with zia Lucrezia and the crystal glasses, the refrigerator full of luxurious eat and drink marked up to twice their original price or equivalent of every ounce of blood you could wring from his body. Summarily abandoned by his loved one and left to face one who had been his enemy, he proceeds to stare. Denial makes very little noise.

So, too, does fear.

The color of Eileen's eyes are familiar. That expression too. "What would you like me to do, signorina?" he asks, presently, locating the words somewhere in the pit of his stomach. He is nothing if not cordial, always. And as deliberately vague as a terrorist is wont to be. His socked feet sit quiescent and cotton-white in a meadow of carpet fibers. The mark on his cheek sharpens, darkens, not the red of a bruise.

Eileen's footsteps make no sound on the carpet as she slowly, gradually closes the distance between herself and the chair. Her strides are slow and measured, the movements of a caged animal to whom pacing is second nature. Lucrezia just might get her wish. She takes a seat in the chair, sinking down deep into the cushions, her shape dwarfed by the size of the plush furniture. "We've met," she tells Lucrezia without directing so much as a glance in the other direction. Her gaze remains fixed on Teo, predatory in its intensity. "How's your lawyer-friend doing, Mr. Laudani? Last I heard, she was still struggling to come to terms with her— loss."

Having placed Eileen in a cage once before, Teo is vaguely familiar with that cast to her face, the sharpened arcs she moves within. It's different here, of course. She's— better off, seeks no comfort physical or verbal, her voice isn't as thick, and there's something other than simple fear pooling the pupils within those lambent viridian irises. His own features are schooled into a strange approximation of stoicity and caution, all over straight lines below the strandy shadow of his hair. We've met. What does that mean? No gratitude for Lucrezia's probable charity, no plea nor straightforward request for— walking shoes, medical supplies.

"Grieving," he finally cedes, a fraction of a second of lag measured into each odd syllable, as if he's lost his fluent grip on English. "She isn't enjoying having to smile and keep her mouth shut while her associates play phone tag with the asshole responsible, but she is a professional. If she couldn't deal with criminals…" he doesn't finish that sentence, so utterly at a loss; searches her face for some response, reaction.

"Have you?" comes Lucrezia's intrigued but seemingly belated response as she rounds her way out of the pantry alcove and moves through the shadows that darken the wall of the dining room and eventually lead her direct into the lounge. Her right hand hosts a long-stemmed glass of something sanguine and undoubtedly expensive but it's carelessly clutched, as if she couldn't possibly be bothered to worry about what should happen if she accidentally dropped it and painted fresh stains over plush carpet or comfortable chaise.

Once she's reclaimed her seat, she remains ever so close to Teo, but allows the young man his personal space, if only for the sake of Eileen's eyes. It's a decidedly false image she's projecting on all sides, though she can't help but let her eyes betray her curiousity as she bounces a look between the two other occupants of the room, desperate to discover which of them will crack under the pressure of revelation first.

"She isn't the only one." Then, for clarification's sake, "Grieving. We play the roles we're given." At this, Eileen's eyes dart toward Lucrezia, and the expression darkens further, growing stormy. "Sometimes, you don't have any other choice but to pretend." So many things she wants to say, though all of them hinge on Teo's allegiance and the shape it takes — right now, it's still a big fat question mark. With his aunt in the room, she has to choose her words very carefully in case her suspicions prove to be incorrect. "Do you remember the boy I introduced you to in Central Park?" she asks. "The discussion we had about—" There's a short pause, a hitch in Eileen's breath that accompanies her voice thinning out, throat constricting with emotion. "Changing faces?"

Maybe if he just scratches his crotch and cuts loose with a big fart, the women will burst into silvery tittering and admit that it's all a ridiculous prank and there is a camera installed in a pinhole at the edge of that mirror.

No? Okay.

And Teo goes cold. He heard of this. King of the world. It hadn't taken him long to deduce the true identity behind the blond boy who had accompanied Eileen to the park. He is staring at Eileen like she has grown an extra head, incapable even of slapping on a smile and a momentary glance of politeness for Lucrezia. Family; whom he loves. "I'm sorry," he manages. He means, for her grief. "Yes, I remember. Or a change of heart, as I saw it." He'd done no such thing. It just sounds less absurd. Changing faces. "I know you were close. Did he hurt you?"

Ill-content to solely sit by and sip her wine while the younger generation does their very best to engage in coded conversation, Lucrezia reaches over to a high side table and retrieves her silver smoker's case. She toys with it for a few moments between long and perfectly manicured fingers before finally conceding to crack it open and retrieve from within a plainly-papered but sweetly-scented cigarette. A small, thin lighter, too, is carefully withdrawn from within and she makes an elaborate production of perching the clove-flavoured cancer stick between her pouting lips before scorching the end of it and stoking the ember with a languid inhale of poison breath.

She sits silently, smokes, sips, and listens. It's what she's best at; she makes it look so pretty.

"No." The amount of effort it takes Eileen to swallow bulges in her throat. "But somebody hurt him. I've done everything I can, Teo." Teo. Not Mr. Laudani. Whatever test she wove into their last exchange has been passed, her fears dissolved. The only member of Vanguard in the room is sitting beside him, cocooned in silvery tendrils of sweet smelling smoke and her own perfume.

"As long as I'm here," Eileen says, "it's out of my hands." It's the closest she's come to implicating Lucrezia in all of this, and judging by the way her hands ball into fists, slender arms rigid with frustration, she isn't going to go much further. "I'm sorry."

If Teo frowned any harder, he would break something. Were it not for one Abigail Beauchamp's semi-constant corrections to his physical wellbeing, compassion and concern probably would have worn fifty years into his face by now, more and worse damage than the sun's pernicious eye or the abrasion of sea spray ever could have been. The void zones of unknown variables seems only to expand with every new line that Eileen adds; the shapes outlined highlight the amount of canvas that remains blank as bleached bones.

Two seconds, and he arrives at the important conclusion, never as stupid as he thinks he is and a quick learner, if not a particularly thorough one. It occurs to him that this isn't the charade to be played before a civilian, but an—

Impossible. "Lucia?" he says, suddenly. Only remembers to turn his head after he's addressed her, a temporary failure of manners, framed by a brief dip of his gaze into his never-ending well of remorse. When his eyes lift, however, they hold bright and steady, as constant as his affection has ever been for her, through all the coffee tables he has ever delivered through her doors or kisses to her cheeks. And with that same peculiarly intellectual, hypothetical curiosity of the child who had asked how to impress an Austrian girl, what was worth killing for, or why she had chosen blue, of all colors, for his sky—

"«Why would you ever lie to me?»"

Lucia. Born from other lips, once licked or twice kissed, it might have been music. Romantic. Sweet. A warmer and more melted rendering of her diminutive name meant to disclose in the spiraling lobe of her ear just how much more affection she’d earned in the heart of the speaker. But, from Teo, no… it was the inverse. A warning. Formal. And his philosophy, too, hinted subtly at something soon to be lost if she did not mind the line carefully.

She drew in a mouthful of malevolent smoke, mulling it ruefully and letting it linger in the wells of her nostrils before exhaling with a dragon’s sigh. At last, she renders her reply: "«To keep you safe.»" Brown bedroom eyes slide easily over to settle with certainty on the face of her beloved boy-become-a-man. "«Because I love you.»" This wasn’t the same sort of confession that Teo and his various misbegotten lovers had all been teasing and toying with on the tips of each other’s tongues — no, this was genuine sentiment; not a notion, not a wager. Familial, yes, but no less profoundly powerful in its statement.

And like most things, it sounds better in Italian. God knows what the wrong answer to Teo's question would have been. Could possibly have been. There is a certain inherent self-contradiction and failure in asking anybody why they would lie to you, presuming upon the premise of honesty at a time when one has already begun to suspect that those striated-umber irises and immaculately sculpted brows are not the windows to the soul but empty fronts.

And his eyes, too, shut inward.

Often, Teodoro trusts too many and too easily. With surprising frequency, he trusts the right ones. The world has yet to see him throw a grenade through the window of a Vanguard member's humble abode, even if it isn't characterized by anything like humility. So it goes.

The only way it really could. "«She's one of mine,»" he answers, eventually, rising to his feet, indicating the bird-boned sylph of a girl with his head. "«Not like you, but mine all the same. If not blood or flesh, then her health,»" with a half-hearted curl of mirth there, as if to pre-empt the coy question, the wry tease that would be the easiest thing to fall back on here, in the ludicrous uncertainty of this troubled moment. He kisses his thumb, brushes his aunt's chin with it and, no less audacious in his affection, he reaches to take her cigarette away. "«I'll come back.»" To take it away with him.

In parting, Eileen is privvy to reassurance from the most underqualified man on Earth. "She'll keep you safe." Monosyllables, toneless. His feet are uncharacteristically quiet on the carpet, as is the drag and snag of rough fingers on the sleeve of his jacket in passing.

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