Our New World Order


francois_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

And also:

emily_icon.gif raul_icon.gif

Scene Title Our New World Order
Synopsis Francois and Teodoro loudly follow some relationship advice. Innocent bystanders and acquaintances alike are the real victims.
Date May 9, 2019

NYC Safezone, Sheepshead Bay: 43rd St. Sports Bar and Grill

"I haven't seen mine either," Teo says. "But it's a complicated custody situation."

This is what happens, when you are a temporal psychic hybrid Evolved person. Even if Teo wasn't talking to a former Loyalist with a carefully curated representation of who he really is, he'd have a hard time explaining it. But it's nice to pretend it's just, 'a complicated custody situation' with the normal implications, rather than there being actually three of him, his hangups besides. "He's in New York and his mom is seeing someone. I try not to confuse him. I can't imagine what it's like to be a kid right now, but I think that's a very American way to think; when I was in primary school, we had refugees from Yugoslavia join us in Sicily. Some had problems, but so did I. Kids are fuckin' resilient."

Teo is on his sixth beer, and he's forgotten to check the time for about half an hour— which puts him safely fifteen minutes late to meet his husband for dinner. To be fair, this bar is darkly lit, and the apartment is right across the street. Raul is good company, besides; it's so often that the people Teo is comfortable talking to make it feel like they're talking about nothing. And that's how he can get himself to talk about anything, these days.

He hasn't talked about Walter in months.

And credit to the establishment, the 43rd St. Sports Bar and Grill is a good place for that. Worn from use rather than beaten from war, or at least doing a good job with pretend. The tinted glass in front is always clean, the floor swept of peanut shells, but the smell of leather its own organic comfort from the booths, the bartenders inobtrusive, good TVs with solid reception. It draws its clientele primarily from the working class as well as the older students who have sought to complete their education at the nearby college, some common ground to be found outside the theme of picking up after the war-time ruin.

"Mm. It seems like they usually are." Complicated custody situations. Raul's certainly heard enough personal stories over the years, spanning the gamut from resigned gripes to bitter complaints. In comparison, his situation is simple, even comfortable — not least because it's held constant for going on fourteen years. There never was any question about custody of Daniel, and the tethers of extended family kept them in mutual orbit even when Army life intervened.

Raul leans back on his side of the booth while he mulls over his friend's second set of statements, one hand idly holding the beer he's been nursing along. It's only his third. "So, you're saying you've been assimilated. Parenting like Americans do," he clarifies with a quirk of a smile, before taking a drink. Worry and distance.

"I wrote Daniel letters while he was growing up. Still do," Raul adds, lifting the beer bottle slightly to emphasize that statement, "just not as often." He glances up towards one of the screens, not really seeing it. "I'm not part of his life the way I once imagined, but we communicate."

There's an abbreviated laugh from Teo for that— Americanized. Absolutely. It's been so long since he went home to Sicily that 'home' isn't Sicily anymore at all. It would have been easier in Sicily. Illegitimate children are hardly seen as 'illegitimate' at all; so mainstream that Hollywood knocked off movies knocked off a very well-known Broadway musical about an Italian mother who did not know which of three lovers had fathered her daughter. (Mama Mia, here we go again.)

Here, it's exponentially more awkward. Social context, even if Delilah would never say a word against him. (Let's be real, if the invisible, possibly imaginary forces that act on Teo's behavior were actually invisible to him, and he knew they were imaginary, he'd be a much more functional human being.) (But also there are, for some reason, three of him.)

"He still in the city?" Teo asks. He leans his elbow on the table, back turning further toward the doorway. His spine pops audible under the worn fabric of his sweater. "Do you write to him about 'how to be a man,’ or you tell him about your day?" Forty seven drawer pulls and several dozen yards of copper piping. Teo doesn't know what the kids are into these days; every other person he knows grew up to be a ninja.

"He's still in Rochester," Raul replies; an affirmation in spirit, but there's more out there than just this city. It's also not true that Raul hasn't seen his son these many years, but that correction remains too pedantic to waste conversational camaraderie on. Wanders too far afield into the subject of extended families and social networks (not the cyberspace kind), things that the Sicilian would relate to but that are apparently not part of his own present experience.

The answer to what do you write about is postponed by expedient of imbibing alcohol, an unhurried lift and tip of bottle that dwells on the beer rather longer than its vintage deserves. "It's a dialogue," Raul finally says as he lowers the dark glass vessel. Which is to say, his son does write back.

"So, no." Nothing so simple as a daily report, nor pedantic delivery of life lessons that may or may not apply to anyone with different perspective — especially one belonging to a different generation. "He's finishing high school this year," Raul elaborates, implying associated subjects of college, employment, and other decisions pertaining to incipient adulthood.

Which presumably do not encompass the vocation of ninjahood, just by dint of statistics.

NYC Safezone, Sheepshead Bay: Epstein-Laudani Apartment

19: 02

19: 05
I'm outside

19: 16

Francois is now faced with two choices: masochistically just wait on the stoop of this apartment forever, with or without an increasing amount of text messages accumulating in Teodoro's phone, or. Or, contemplating the fact there is a light on within the building he has finished his cigarette outside of, solve the mystery himself. Maybe it's the sheer amount of unknowns he has to contend with at any given time of the day that compels him into the latter. It could really be anything, from phones being switched off or left on silent or maybe Teodoro accidentally strangled himself with the wire of his hairdryer and someone should be here to deal with that when the police arrive.

He stows his phone into jacket pocket, moves up the steps and knocks on the door, expression schooled into polite neutrality.

And he cleans up nicely, by the by. Clean shaven, and wearing a suit jacket of dusty grey over black, top buttons undone into casual enough affect. Dressier than normal, maybe, but not too much so — you'd likely have to go all the way to Yamagato territory for a venue with a dresscode. Francois checks himself of anxious energy by the time he is hearing footsteps — ones too light to be Teo's characteristic heavy-footed bounding.

The only reason that Emily opens the door is because the man on the other side of the peephole looks more like he's got the wrong house rather than someone looking to cause any trouble. Or at least, that's the way she rationalizes it when she takes the risk of twisting the deadbolt and drawing the door open without being armed. A blonde shock of hair much lighter than expected and about half a head shorter than usual becomes visible around the door, accompanied by wary, ice-colored eyes not unlike Teo's in some respects. Yet for all that might be occasionally similar in their demeanor, Emily Epstein is very clearly not the person Francois had been anticipating.

"Sorry, are you looking for someone?" the teen asks through the half-opened door, still ready to slam it if she has to. For now, there's naught visible to her save for her floating head.


Francois tips his head a little, an unobtrusive attempt to get a better view of the young woman at the door. He remains standing where he is, politely a few feet back from the door, heels a scant inch from the first stone step. "I am," he says. "Is Teodoro home? We were supposed to meet out front, but." He is not here! says an understated hand-shrug. His affect is apologetic, largely, for disturbing her — but not surprised to see her, for all that they've never met.

And maybe a little curious. What does a grown man tell his teenage roommate about his spouse, one wonders. "My name is Francois — you are Emily, right?"

It's a good thing he went with those words in that particular order. Hearing her name from a stranger without knowing his relation to Teo would merit a doorslam to the face. There's a wondering look that comes over her at hearing he was supposed to be meeting Teo, because Teo already left with the person he was meeting, and that was some time ago.

Her look changes again when he introduces himself as Francois, and not the expected Raul. Her brow starts to knit, and she stands up a little straighter.

The answer to Francois' internal question, though it is hardly apparent yet, is little to nothing. Emily looks him up and down, takes in the state of his dress, the state of his hair, the state of himself, and she starts to wonder. "Yes," she answers cautiously about herself. She's taking some time to think about his name.

It's an odd name. Infrequently heard. Very fucking French. "Like the guy from the book?" she asks about himself, because this is apparently necessary to know. Except in the book, Francois Allegre died or something. She's not really read it, herself.

“And no, Teo stepped out with a friend of his or something,” Emily adds, because she’s not trying to hold the guy hostage on her porch.

The guy from the book only kind of smiles blandly at an answer that is less than ideal. Francois can see the wheels turning in her brain, and his own calculations are clicking along too. He is not inept at navigating tricky social circumstances — the delivery of his information upon greeting had been by design, most assuredly, to avoid door slams — but this one is particularly strange.

Which is irritating, because it doesn't have to be, Teodoro Laudani.

"Like the guy he's married to," he corrects, as for her game of association, adopting her verbiage. Selling the idea that this is a normal interaction to be having, or at least, that it is equally inconvenient for him as it could be for her. His accent is a strange mingle of his native French and generia Americana, European cadence and familiar vowels. "It is nice to meet you — I apologise, for interrupting your evening. We were meant to meet at 7 — I've tried his phone. Is he nearby?"

Perhaps he is nearby! Francois' query is hooked quizzical, like perhaps he is mistaken where he was meant to be.

Like the guy he's ma— oh shit.

Emily feels like had she ever heard this piece of information before, she wouldn't have forgotten it. After all, Francois is a rather unique name. As stated.

As stated, this is Teo's husband.

“Nice to meet you,” she replies in a slow deadpan, her poker face holding after a small slip in her initial surprise. She's looking him over, a million and a half questions about his person and how he came to be here, on her porch of all places, going unspoken only because she's fairly certain Francois seems like a charming person and they could end up chatting a while. Also, because he's not here to entertain questions, he's here to see Teo.

Also because, of the very few things she's been told about the mystery husband, she's been told he's an adulterer.

“He is nearby,” she clarifies after a beat, because she's decided she's not getting in the middle of this any more than she already is. “He's at a bar,” is an initially unhelpful response, until she lifts a slender arm into view, revealing she is in fact a whole person and not just a floating head unintentionally gatekeeping access to his husband.

Emily points diagonal to the townhome, to a neon Yeungling sign hanging in an otherwise darkened window across the street. “That bar.”

And then she closes the door without another word.

NYC Safezone, Sheepshead Bay: 43rd St. Sports Bar and Grill

Yeah what kind of weirdo is vocationally a ninja, never mind raises his son to be one? Teo's eyes go out of focus for an instant, then back. High school. That's exciting. But so will be middle school, which is the next hurdle for Walter, and one that Teodoro seems to be on the verge of missing out on despite this tipsy overture at giving a shit.

"Congratulations. Graduation's—" —it's already April, isn't it? Teo clumsily counts through semesters, his best understanding of American academics. He did not go to high school here, but he did attend college, and has absorbed some understanding through osmosis. And he made the drive to Rochester not long ago, himself. Kindly ignore the circumstances under which he had. "—soon. You gonna go to see him walk across the stage?" The moment after he says it, Teo suspects that is probably—- insulting somehow. Like he should have assumed that Raul would. Will. Only that could as easily backfire.

Thank goodness Teo's had one beer too many to dissolve into a pointless internal chaos about offending somebody with social mores when he's already tacitly lying to Raul on a persistent basis. That would be a complete waste of sentiment, and there's already enough stupidity coming up here in the near future. "When my parents came to mine, I think they spent the whole time praying I wouldn't do something to get myself retrospectively expelled."

Raul can't help but smile as Teo works through orienting himself in time, a lopsided quirk of lips that ascribes more to inebriation than cultural infamiliarity. Even though they were just approaching that gap from different direction, it's easy to forget — easy to assume at visceral level the equivalence of fundamental pillars, like education. "My mother's beside herself," he remarks dryly.

Where Teo's process hitches over potential social gaffe, Raul proceeds to breeze right past it, taking a nonchalant sip of his now nearly-empty beer. "I will. I'd never hear the end of it otherwise." Wouldn't dream of missing it, really, not after all the years and milestones and moments he's been absent from already, but there's a limit to the number of sentimental moments a single conversation merits. If one is abiding by unwritten social norms, at least.

Teo's final admission is met with a muted snort. "Somehow, that doesn't surprise me one bit."

At that, Teo grins; rueful, but in an easy way. Easy mode is pleasant. Easy mode requires staying light on the details for the sentimental moments missed as a parent. It would feel excessive, even to his habit of ruminative self-flagellation, to go on and on chronicling his own deficits in parenting. Hell, there are three of him, and even added together, they haven't done well. Easy mode means leaving out the disaster of his relationship with his brother, the irreparable rift of secrecy it opened with his parents.

Teodoro is now twenty minutes late to meet his husband. Daylight gets weird when the seasons are transitioning, okay. (No, it's not okay.)

"Graduation gift?" Teo says. "I've heard that a first car is traditional, but I think that's probably out-of-date now."

Something about war, the wreckage of economy. It's as common for younger people to drive early, these days, especially when they have to contribute to the household and help fend for the family, as it is for families in general to be too cash-poor to afford to own private transportation vehicles. But gasoline prices aren't as bad in Rochester. Observe: how Teo thinks about this and entirely misses the association with his husband, who is bearing down on them as we speak.

Bearing down in an almost unbreaking trajectory, even. Francois had only contemplated the closed door for a few moments, benign smile absolutely disappearing, before pivoting and moving in a calm, straight line from stoop to bar, across the road, up under the glow of neon, the heel of his palm connecting with force against the door to shove it aside, momentum unbreaking.

It only takes a moment to lock onto the familiar sight of the back of an off-blonde head, allowing the bee line to continue, the latest chill evening wind that wends through the open door sealed off as it swings shut into its frame.

From here, Raul will see him first, an unknown figure in nice shoes, nice clothes, all in a palette of charcoal and dust, moving with purpose towards their booth. Navigated low tables, servers, patrons has slowed Francois' roll ever so, allowing for a more casual affect when he manifests nearby. Maybe Teo will have a second to anticipate the hand reaching down into the booth to land on his shoulder in a greeting that is both Friendly, not to mention Familiar.

"Ça va?"

Raul can't help but scoff at the proposition of first car as graduation gift. Traditional in economic circles with more money than sense, perhaps — that level of society where what you can buy and show off matters most of all. And in the levels that imitate them.

A first car might be aspirational, there's something to be said for that.

Whatever he might say, though, dies before Raul can do more than begin to open his mouth. His attention goes past Teo to the man bearing down on their table with clearly deliberate intent. That intent doesn't feel adversarial — not as might, say, some drunk looking for a brawl — but it makes his skin prickle for reasons Raul can't quite put a finger on, and he sets the last remnants of his beer definitively aside.

"Speaking of expelled…?" It's only mostly facetious.

Since this man he hasn't seen before in his life seems to have business with Teo, and he has the sudden albeit subliminal sense that he's somehow the one interrupting, Raul lets the other guy field the greeting.

Mostly facetious. Dangerously relevant. "Huh?" Teo has no idea right now. He is looking at his employer's handsome face for a moment, and then the next, he hears his husband's voice. His eyebrows go up, surprise. He takes his elbows off the bar-top, not entirely like a chastised child reminded of proper table manners, and twists around to confirm he is not hallucinating.

"Francois," Teodoro says, with no trace of either irony or irritation. "You're early."

This is extremely inaccurate. Teo is now verging into the territory of half an hour late with his estranged husband, and also completely unaware of it. He is peripherally clock that Francois looks very nice, and also quite over-dressed for this particular establishment, conveniently (inconveniently) forgetting that he was supposed to leave here in time to take a shower and make himself presentable, too, whatever that means when your life the past five years has been farming clothes and farming budget. Teo, like Raul, is still covered lightly in the fawn-colored dust of the day. Surely that does not make this situation more awkward. Teo is unaware that this situation is awkward at all.

So Teo waves his big paws from their booth. "Come meet Raul. Raul, this is my — Francois." It has the potential to be cute. 'My Francois.' Maybe Francois will cooperate and believe it so. "Francois, this is the one I told you about. He runs his own business now, construction salvage."

Francois realises in this moment that he is very angry at Teodoro for this infraction, and he only knows it when it runs up against Teodoro's blankly unapologetic affect, the stumble over 'my'.

You wouldn't know it, to look at him, even as Raul has already picked up on some weird energy of the kind Francois can't quite check. That hand on Teo's shoulder remains where it landed as he pivots his attention to Teo's Raul, and has the wherewithal to look apologetic as he says, "Hallo. I didn't mean to interrupt, only Teo's roommate said I could find him here. He is late.

"You were late," down to Teo, correcting claims as to Francois being early. There is a minor fork in the crossroads, here, and it is impulse alone that changes the shape of his hand on Teo's shoulder so as to push in a way that encourages him to give up some space, so that Francois can sit down too. In the real world, this seems a continuation of Friendly and Familiar, but in the little alternate universe that is the awkward shitshow of their relationship!! this is a little new. Francois' been deferential of Teo's space, where accidental impositions have been felt intensely, regretted.

But he's here now, sliding Teo's beer back in front of him. "That's a good business for this city," he says, vis-a-vis scrap and salvage. "Were you talking shop?"

You were late does a lot to explain the single-mindedness with which the newcomer beelined towards their table. So too does the inherent possessiveness of my Francois from the other side. Being able to fit this encounter into a ready mold does a lot to leach the uncertainty of it from Raul's perspective, as does Francois' evident willingness to be magnanimous and join the conversation his delinquent SO was waylaid by… as interpreted by one on the outside.

There's also the fact that Raul can't help but smirk at the further evidence of Teo's unmoored-ness in time. Now gets stretched rather then when applied to cover a span of some two years. But he can't very well throw stones; there's a good decade of his own life that blurs together quite nicely, unless he makes the effort to diagram it all out.

"Nice to meet you," is what he ultimately says, affable for the added company. It's not his relationship courting a shoal this eve. "School, actually," Raul continues, retrieving the remnants of his beer. "Graduation, gifts in recognition of. Well, Teo was," he adds dismissively, to forestall any thought that he'd asked for suggestions.

No suggestions were solicited, Teo agrees, nodding his head. He hadn't been offering suggestions, really, having estimated Raul's financial situation, believing it to be comparable to his own. But he was curious, and a little reminiscent, unable to quite remember how his parents had actually celebrated his own graduation. It had been subdued, he's sure, still in range of the shadow cast by Gia's death. Romero hadn't come. In other words, Teo has no idea how bad his husband's mood is at the moment. He forgives the brief intrusion into his personal space, distractedly. Busy slapping his hands over his jacket, trying to find his cellphone.

Is he really late?

He really is late.

Oh shit, Teodoro observes, looking at his phone; the time in four digits, the texts threaded together in unread notifications, which he's not going to read right now, obviously, because that would be silly. He is really fucking late, actually. "Oh, shit," is as far as he manages to get with retroactively verbalizing his feelings on the matter, before the unstopping flow of conversation pulls him back down-river to the actual present topic, which was. Right. (WHAT SHOALS?) "Yeah. Raul has a son, too. Daniel. Ten years older than Walter. I should solicit distance parenting tips." A moment's pause.

"And I'm just now appreciating that your kid writes back letters, instead of texting." Teo is old-fashioned enough to be impressed. This may explain why he wound up marrying an eighty-year-old man. This definitely does not explain his spectacular failure of emotional comprehension right now.

There might be a subtle delight in being righteously cross about something in any ongoing conflict in which the tangible damage has been by your hands, but whatever shine Francois might have enjoyed about being the most on time person between them is immediately dulled. He's not sure why. The topic catches him off guard, the polite interest written into his expression briefly flickering with that surprise, a frown, and he looks downish and acrossish to capture Teo's profile in his periphery.

He finds his voice in time to quip, "Well, Walter is young still. Still time, to encourage good habits." There's an alternate universe where he is saying this, fond and earnest. In this universe, maybe Francois is also dressed for the bar instead of a dinner they may or may not go to, is into his third glass of house red, sneaking the occasional touch of knuckles to the edge of Teo's knee beneath the table.

The right thing to say siphons in from that universe and into this one, leaving Francois' mouth with convincing affect but to him tastes ashy and insincere.

Raul nods agreement to Francois' quip, tipping his bottle in the other man's direction, a metaphorical point awarded. "Could give it a try," he says to Teo. "Might even go somewhere." And then he tips the bottle back, finishing off the last mouthful of liquid within.

The conversational affect around the table might be cordial and casual, something that bodes well for the relationship in Raul's unsolicited and unspoken opinion, but it is also dogged by a discomfited understone. The awkward knowledge that there were plans interrupted by his presence, however inadvertently, leaves Raul feeling a definite third wheel — also, he infers, inadvertent in its way. But still.

"Well. I'll leave you to your evening," Raul adds as he slides out of his side of the booth, fishing enough cash from a pocket to cover his tab. "Glad to meet you," he says to Francois, sincere if perhaps a bit repetitive and formulaic. "Teo, I'll be seeing you around, I'm sure."

"Te veo mañana," Teo says, waving at his boss cheerfully. It must be nice to not be too tipsy to observe problematic energies churning through a social interaction, but Teodoro has excuses. It's been a long day. It's been a long month. It's been a long few years. Actually, as soon as Raul's long gait has taken him out of earshot, the Sicilian man is taking out his own wallet.

"Isn't he nice?" Teo asks, counting out enough bills to cover his own part. "I mean we had some ideological differences, obviously. But if we're coming together to rebuild this fucking country for our kids, that's gotta be a good thing." That's enough money, he decides. He flattens his hand on it and pushes it across to rest near Raul's generous offering, snapping his wallet shut. he stuffs it back in his pocket and turns to look at Francois again. If you ask him, Francois looks fine. Not less fine than before, anyway. (Francois has not been 'fine' in some time, Teo knows, but what does that mean for tonight, anyhow?)

Unthinkingly, Teo does not touch Francois to urge him back up to his feet. He avoids it, in an automatic kind of way. He nods at the door with benign indifference. "Let's go. Let's go eat."

"Au revoir," to Raul. Francois isn't gracious enough in this moment to feel even dimly appreciative for the man's ability to read a room and response to said room. Maybe he will later.

For now, there is Teodoro, whom Francois is good at reading. He is, in general, good at reading people. Intuition, maybe. Nuance and undercurrents and tone. He knows Teo is drunk, actually, not just drinking, and he detects that absence of contact as something thoughtless and habitual. He is slightly too sensitive to what feels like brusque directive, a lurch into the next obligation. His heart hurts because he knows he's about to fuck up their evening—

"I'm not hungry."

— but to his credit, Teo fucked it first.

Francois takes a hold of the edge of the table to lever himself out, unable to look at Teo this closely. His hands operate on automatic to adjust the sit of his jacket as he goes, and he even smiles at another patron of the bar as she almost collides into him. He is on his way out, anyway.

He's not sure where he's going after that.

Okay, Teo thinks, sliding out of the booth. Ooookaaaaaaaay. Something is wrong. His husband is angry at him. Some more. His mind slides around and makes figure-eights in the ice as he walks along behind Francois, dimly clocking that his husband is probably trying to get away from him, but not entirely certain enough, or about how he feels about that, to let him actually accomplish this. He puts his hands in his pockets, and manages to catch the door before it swings shut on him with the point of his elbow.

Hrraaghghhgh, is what Teo thinks next. And hghgngnnngh. And hhhhhh. "Francois," he calls out.

Teo makes himself walk faster. It is both difficult and not difficult when you've had a bit to drink. Teo isn't particularly uncoordinated right now, mind you, he is just in that slow ramp-up stage, like when a rollercoaster is taking you up on the slow incline, trying to convince himself to care properly when he is hungry. "Francois," he says again, once he's caught up. "I'm sorry I was late. I lost track of time." Is Francois walking fast, or is Teo walking slow? He matches his husband's stride. "You sure you're not hungry?"

Francois is not walking very fast at all, not fully in the flight of his feelings to flee, but there is a certain energy to his pace all the same in which he does not slow to help Teodoro along. Expensive shoes make neater thumps against the sidewalk than the softer impacts of Teo's workboots. He avoids where rainwater has gathered in impacted sidewalk that no one's seen fit to fix.

"Non," he says. Which could mean he is not sure if he is hungry, but the snap in his tone indicates that that is not quite his meaning. 'His husband is angry at him. Some more.' This isn't a bad read, necessarily.

Except Francois would say that Teo's husband is upset, but become angrier about it. It's a fine, yet important to distinction. Qu'est-ce que c'est. He has picked a direction at random.

"I lost my appetite, somewhere in the half an hour I was waiting," Francois says. Teo has said his apologies, but there is a difference — another distinction — between being late and whatever the fuck that was back there. "And having to ask your teenage roommate where you'd gone because you didn't care to look at your cellphone, and then finding you drunk and— " And what? He's still figuring out the fine points. How to say it.

He says, instead, "You are right, he seems really nice."

"I'm not drunk," protests Teo, drunkenly, and stung. Teodoro is… he is tipsy, maybe. It's just a few beers on an empty stomach. He drinks a lot more than this, normally. He wouldn't want to drive right now, but he's fine, as opposed to drunk-drunk. Inwardly, he reviews his behaviors of the past fifteen minutes, exasperated and defensive, wondering what he could have done to embarrass his famous Wolfhound leader author historical celebrity husband in the course of sitting at the bar and talking to Raul.

Raul who, being an acquaintance, certainly has no elaborate expectations for Teo's behavior anyway. It's not like Liz, or Eileen, or Felix, or the rest of superheroes incorporated. Sure, Raul was clearly a 'better' kid than Teo was, growing up, and that's rippled to striking differences in adulthood (only Teo was: a terrorist), but. He doesn't mind if Teo swears too much, or talks loudly, or smokes, or has two more beers. He was from the Army. How can that poss—?

"My phone on silent because I was at work," Teo adds, slowly, mentally picking his way further back than the last fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes. One hour. "Nobody can hear their ringtones under all that fuckin' noise, and we stash them so they don't get dropped or smashed with how much we've all gotta move around. I just forgot to put the sound back on after I got it back." After he finishes reciting the normal personal cellphone procedure on a deconstruction site to his husband, he does realize it sounds painfully like a series of excuses, which it is, sort of, but. It feels like Francois is hinting something, when he says that Raul is 'nice.' That is a hint. Teo flips over the adjacent thoughts like he's playing Pairs, in search of matching information.

"Are you fucked off because he was a loyalist?"

Emily had been mad about that too, Teo knows. He tries to arrange his thoughts into the contrition that had smoothed matters over with the young girl, but the cards are jumbled and fuzzy and somehow don't quite seem like they will fit.

This last thing is what stops Francois — the excuses from before seemed to have urged him along faster, even, knowing how unsatisfactory they were going to be even before leaving Teodoro's mouth. But now he stops, a half-pivot, sole scraping on pavement as he turns to look at Teo. What he hates about this is the kind of shadow such spectACular obtuseness seems to cast over his own problems.

It makes them small and obscure, suddenly, because if Teodoro can't see them, are they even big enough to notice. Smaller and obscurer for the fact that Francois is still trying to figure them out himself. It had been, for a moment, that Raul was a good looking man. And then it had not been that at all, because it was never going to be, really.

"Non," he says again. Less of an edge. "But that is very good irony."

Can he really stand here and do this again? This thing where he must explain things to Teodoro, and every fight they have is just Francois explaining things until he is sick of the sound of his own voice, and it doesn't do anything. No, he cannot, he decides, and he lifts his hands to pat them down on Teo's shoulders. (Something about when someone else is drunk, it's just as easy to want for your own inhibitions as though you're the one who's been drinking.)

"Forget it, okay? I'll call," at some point, when he has inoculated himself against this latest thing. Maybe they'll be so fucking immune to each other by the end of this they'll either lose the will to keep fighting or just not care anymore. That is an awfully sad thought. Bye, bonsoir, Francois is leaving, hands lifting off of Teo's shoulders to continue his aimless march down the street.

What is even haaappening? Que se passe-t-il? Cosa succede? Qué esta pasando? Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Teo turns the clue upside-down, right side-up again. He tries to recall if today was an anniversary? Does Wolfhound have an important, dangerous Ultimate (big U) mission coming up? Should he check his phone? The window for intervention is closing; Francois is walking away. The lubricated wheels in Teo's head click fiercely before finally arriving at…


Teo makes himself run a few steps. Finally, he overcomes the invisible forcefield surrounding his husband's body, grabbing the other man's arm. "Are you jealous?" He means to ask this as a 'normal' question, one you would ask for 'normal' purposes, to get more information, deepen a line of inquiry. But for some reason, it comes out as: ARE YOU JEALOUS? and the two pedestrians coming down the sidewalk the other way look at them. Teo's voice is unexpectedly loud, even for him. He's getting mad, probably, because

well, what the fuck. The are you kidding me? undertone has already emerged out of Teo's mouth even before the thought occurs to him. Insulted. Somehow, they have made it to the section of street across from the apartment, the one Teo shares with Emily. He doesn't let go of Francois' arm; he yanks at his husband to cross the street, focusing on this activity and not getting hit by traffic, which is quite possibly the only reason he doesn't continue to shout thoughts at the tops of his lungs.

Not very used to being grabbed in the context of his current life, Francois is effectively stopped, defensiveness caught up from bent elbow to bridled shoulder. Indignant, for a second, before he is

well, wordless, in the immediate. He wants to say no, of course not, because it's true, but it also doesn't feel completely true. Much like how Teo's question, volume dialled up into accusation, sounds both true and not, something wrong. Francois has felt jealousy before, many times, including in the context of Teo. This hurts worse. Or differently? "It is not— "

But here they go, across the street, Francois resigning his smooth, righteous exit, believing he is being quite generous in this moment for not breaking out of a drunk idiot's grip with a ninja flip.

Once they hit the opposite curb, he does steal back his arm (unlike a ninja; more like a regular person, all anger and rustling of fine fabric). Resumes, more of an italicised hiss than capslock cruise control; "It is not like that." Fuck.

Teo lets go of his husband and manages to combine this maneuver into throwing up his hands in frustration. His dusty arms fall again, remaining outside Francois' (metaphorical) forcefield. Now they're standing in front of the narrow building that he rents with Emily, just outside the small gate, as the evening begins to dim the lights overhead. Compared to the stretch of sidewalk across the street, this is not a spectacular improvement on the matter of: privacy.

But for once, Teodoro does not care.

"I thought you wanted to fucking 'talk about things,'" Teo says. "Guess what, Francois, you don't get to selectively shit that argument on my lap whenever you don't feel like telling me what the fuck is up." He is doing slightly better at modulating his voice for the present time; a condition of his existence that seems bound to change at any instant, but he is already riding high on inevitability tonight. (And beer.) (The people across the road are glad the quarrelling couple are no longer there.) "This is Goddamn exhausting. I have to keep your secret from all our fuckin' friends, but I kick back with mine, you're a sulky bitch. What the Hell?"

What was inevitable, for Teo, was the fracking pressure mounting under the excess of what feels like unique hypocrisy. Liz had had a point, of course; some injustices can't be righted, and whether or not that is something he'll be able to accept is a separate, equally shouty question. But almost separate from the surety of this crumbling sinkhole is the house of cards that Francois seems to insist must be built on it first.

If anyone were to be hypothetically tallying a point system throughout the ongoing troubles that is the Allegre-Laudani marital union, let the jury note that only Teo has done namecalling.

But Francois has certainly been called worse in his life, and probably in this moment objects more to sulky than expletives, some minor muscle in his jaw ticking tense as he doesn't improve matters in wintry stare down across the few feet of distance between them. Part of him recognises Teodoro's point, is the thing. Another part of him still stands by the desire to stop issuing complaint after complaint, and yet here he is, saying—

"When was the last time we spoke about Walter?"

and there is just the vaguest hint of upset silvering his tone, emphasised by slightly stilted English. His eyeline has fallen no higher than Teo's mouth, and stays low. "Or— 'ideology', or really, fucking anything of consequence before it becomes this," a gesture of both hands, fingers clawed, the universal sign of being driven mad.

Teo's left eyebrow goes up. If he were sober, both of them would have gone up. But for him, inhibitions are useful for things like, suppressing undeliberated sarcasm during serious conversations. Fortunately, he's



"Really," Teodoro starts, slowly. His molars are pressing together and the world is sliding into focus with Francois in the middle of vignette lighting. "Really. You're going to compare me making small-talk at a bar about my kid and the Second Civil War, to what's going between you and me? You want to be the guy I lie to, about being Evolved, at a fucking sports bar? Not the one I'm royally fucking pissed at for cheating on me? Are you serious? Is that real?" Teo should get all the points, he is completely certain. Vote for Italy, where we tell people they are being assholes when they are being assholes, instead of politely stipulating demands for honest emotional sharing and ethical leniency before having apologized.

Also admittedly, Teo is beginning to sound more like, ARE YOU SERIOUS? IS THAT REAL? Pedestrians are walking faster. The tiny grocer across the street has peeping eyes in the plateglass window behind the stenciled Food Market sign.

"And don't think I'm not answering your fucking question." FUUUCKING. QUESTION. Teo veers away, suddenly and inexplicably feeling too hot despite the chill of the coming darkness. He makes it one (1) step toward the apartment before twisting around to face Francois again, his jaw set so hard it's pinching white at the corners. "This is a dramatic pause so maybe for once this year you'll really think about whether you want to know the answers you keep asking for."



Francois is reasonably certain he's not meant to be answering any of those questions, in contrast, while also badly wanting to. Better instincts kick in — maybe, arguably — and he keeps his mouth closed. Not just closed, but in a tight, grim line, still mostly watching things like Teo's hands, his mouth, and then the turn of his shoulders as he starts to walk away and

over here, Francois feels a dim, nauseous lurch at the idea of being ditched on the sidewalk in this moment, and like maybe he would give chase

and it doesn't quite ease when Teodoro turns back to him. This last thing manages to strike steel on rock, spark a little anger, all light and no heat. He meets Teo's eyes then, chin lifting. "What the fuck else could I want," is much quieter.

Irrationally, it feels like a taunt. Teo stares at his husband's lack of imagination, which feels malicious, somehow, in a way that far transcends his own confusion about why apologizing for being thirty minutes late hadn't been enough. This doesn't mean he stops being angry, though. Teo is perfecting his practice of being angry and incredulous at the same time.






"ON ME."

As a general rule, Teodoro is good at inhabiting his own body, his own feelings. You could chalk it up to being Sicilian. You could even say it was his actual SLC-Expressive superpower. You might say he gave away the choice; his body was a gift bestowed by an unlikely progenitor, because he had refused to keep his other. But you could also note that Teo's other superpower is to go away from himself, sometimes psychically and at others emotionally. Tonight, he doesn't cry. The words toll in his head like objective fact. He hears himself say them, just as the ghost had watched Eileen bleed into the black recesses of her own hair, and a younger, kinder version of himself had nonetheless performed confusion over his brother's sobbing shoulders.

Teo knows he is being loud. He continues to be loud. Sorry, Emily.

"Because I wasn't there for you, because of the job you want to do, because you want to protect people like me, because you love me. Which is why you want to protect me, which is why you do this job, which is why you need me to start. being. fucking 'supportive,' which is why you cheated on me. I would love to get with the program and make breaking the cycle easier for you, but I need to have a quick aneurysm." Teo has to pause to suck in air from all these run-on sentences. Obscurely, he realizes that he is very hangry, but this fails utterly to account for the well-worn neurotic track of this rhetoric. Maybe he will have an aneurysm.

That sure is the answer Francois expected.

Kind of. It's a lot louder, of course, and it is very childish to want to cry just because someone is being loud at you, but he does finding himself having to steel against it, the hysterical rise of eye-watering frustration and also, let's just say it, the distinct experience of having your basest, latest sin screamed out onto a not nearly empty enough street. He can feel blood rush to his face, a little.

Eyes bright, mouth still mean. "No. I cheated on you because you left me," is getting loud now, too. Francois is not actually a very loud person, quelle surprise, but the whipcrack of his tone still carries, the kind of lashing out that something injured does when feeling cornered. "You fucking LEFT me. And I didn't even know it until it was too fucking late and I was in love with you still and you—

"This isn't about Wolfhound or the farm, but about what you do. You wanted to leave the fucking war behind," oops, he is crying, at some stage that started happening, "and left me behind with it."

What is this? Teo wonders, mildly inebriated. He remembers he had cried on the bridge when his husband had requested an exemption from consequences. Now his husband is crying because? Because. (Francois' argument, that Teo had left him, is a hard sell to Teo, who has been actively resisting the urge to: impulsively leave him for two months.)

Wait. Waaait.

Teo stares at Francois, whose face has become as difficult to read as written word language, when drunk slightly intoxicated. Was that past tense, with 'was in love?' Maybe Francois wants him to leave? Maybe this is about the prenup. You know, the one they didn't sign. Now that Francois has money. No, no. That would, somehow, be even stupider than this fucking conversation.

I didn't know he was gay, says one Food Market clerk to his companion, peering across the street. I thought he was a creep dating that young lady.

I knew he was gay, responds the girl stocking the shelves. She balances a cabbage in her hand. But I thought it was the other blond kid that keeps going by their apartment.

You know, that other guy out there right now looks more gay, the clerk says, shading his eyes.

The stocker frowns at him. Dude, she says, following his gaze. You can't say shit like that. It's 2019. That's just a nice coat on a sad man.

Also, Teo doesn't like the absolutely unmistakably crystal clear deductively incontrovertible implication that all of the pride Francois had recently expressed for his decision to leave the war had been a lie. But what else is new? This sudden craving for nachos? Teo decides he is less of a coward than Francois, even if he went away to a farm. He doesn't turn away just because his husband is crying.


That's fine that Teodoro doesn't turn his back on Francois, because Francois kind of does — he lets the worst of this latest shouting strike across his shoulders as he walks a tight circle on the sidewalk, trying to will his composure back into place. One of their older jokes: Francois' need to control things he could not, of being punctual, of being in good possession of his feelings and also the way other people are feeling. Old joke, because he got a little less like that, over time.

But only a little less. It doesn't give him superpowers to prevent his feelings overflowing from his eyeballs or his breathing drag shallow from his lungs, but it does make him really wish that wasn't happening. Drowning on the sidewalk, while the sun is still sinking.

He wants to confront Teodoro again. Like: did you hear what I just said? That you committed infidelity first, actually. That you cheated me out of something before I did it worse. That each and every time I found myself with someone else, I waited to feel something — contentment, or anger, or, you know, guilt. But there was nothing. Like I'd done something that mattered to no one at all, like I mattered to no one at all.

Instead, he yells, "I know."


Hands go up, almost like surrender. "I know," Francois says again, quieter. Those hands come together. "Please, I know."

"I. DON'T. THINK YOUUU DOOO," Teo retorts. He would say more, illuminate every defensive corner of Francois' mind thus shared, but something stops him. Habit. Low levels of alcohol influence. He has always been better committed to fighting on behalf of others than for himself. Maybe someday, he will see the payoff in talking about his feelings, but so far he has mostly discovered that 1) he is not drunk enough to ask, Are you actually retarded? How can you run Wolfhound if you can't figure this out by yourself? and 2) Francois is capable of crying.

Whatever. Liz thinks this was necessary. Maybe Francois will E-mail him a thank you tomorrow.

"You keep acting like you wouldn't have done it if it weren't fucking justified," Teo says, in a marginally less amplified voice. "If that's true, then what you see here is the new fucking constitution, Francois. Our new world order." He throws his hands out, gesturing at the world at large with its gawking neighborhood grocery employees and evening class college students trying to circumnavigate this drama. There is, unfortunately, still quite a lot of daylight. Sunset isn't until eight o' clock, and it's an hour for all the light to go. "You fucked at least three people. Three. And I know that because if it was just, one. You would have said, 'one.' If it had been two, you would have said 'two.'

"Am I wrong?"

This part is definitely bad. Teo had not yet figured out how to revisit and analyze that particular memory without crying about it in his private time, the grey hours of insomnia or intrusive thoughts at lunch, from which he would have to excuse himself from the workmen. For all that he doesn't know who Francois at all anymore, it seems, he knows — people pretty well. How they talk when they don't want to lie, but aren't yet comfortable with the truth. Three fucking people. Teo has tried to put it aside, telling himself that it didn't matter how many, he would have been angry with one. Two.

He has tried to convince himself that what mattered was why Francois had done it, how being with them was better than being with only him, that there was no difference between Francois choosing this once and not thrice. Of course Teo could see it; it's like he can make up half-lies for Raul about his child, but hates to expose the painful deficiencies of his own 'parenting' to his own husband. It's not the same thing, with a stranger.

But of course unfortunately, with sex, it's close enough. Francois still put his tongue in their mouths when he believed they were beautiful, removed their underwear, touched their hips and their buttocks with the same automatic habits and functional preferences with which he used to handle Teo, maybe after having removed his wedding ring so that it wouldn't glint in his peripheral vision when his fingers flexed, and he pretended not to be gratified when they smiled and came, or maybe Francois didn't bother to pretend, being characteristically generous in bed even when he is tired from working long days at Wolfhound, experienced enough in his eighty odd years with all of mankind's biological classics to seem sweeter than most random assholes about it even when he leans closer without particular intent, just to hear you over background noise, or knuckles your hair back just to see your eyes

which Teo knows quite a lot about because Teo is, you know. His husband.

But Teo doesn't cry this time. Alcohol is so useful. There are no downsides to alcohol.

Control feels like something Francois is completely incapable of handling. Not control over himself, really — that ship has sailed, between hoarse, raised voice and tears — but of the— something. The conversation, on a micro level, and the framing of reality, on a macro level. It's like trying to haul on a rope to stop something from tipping over, but that something is actually a skyscraper, and all that will happen if he tries is get the skin ripped from his palms or his whole self flung off the solid ground entirely, to land hard and badly.

Later, he might reflect that that's been what's been broken all along, but for now, he's pretty sure he's panicking. Silently, on the inside, but still panicking.

Which is super dignified when you're an 80-year-old war hero concentration camp survivor mercenary author.

But that's what this feels like, anyway, with stalled out thought process and his heart and lungs snared together with razor wire. This is not in any way how he imagined any of this occurring when he'd so foolishly bemoaned to Elisabeth that he just wanted a fight and forgiveness, already — not the least of which the fucking setting, in which he is steadfast ignoring any shadow of a stranger that comes near them, or takes obvious care to avoid them. There is a helpless twinge to his brow when Teo is sarcastic about how he wouldn't have fucked three strangers without justification— because— he wouldn't have. Without justification. He's sure of it. And he's sure it matters. Right?

But the repetitive arguments — both the ones he has said to Teo and the ones he has said to himself — have evaporated. He's been asked a question, though.

"No," he says. He brings up his hand to wipe his face, a furious, matter-of-fact movement. "It was three."

Teo's thoughts go around in his head like the tiny bubbles in fizzy water. He thinks a lot of things that he doesn't end up saying, mostly because he forgets the last one as soon as he's onto the next. He almost but doesn't say, 'Great, I'm glad you didn't go to four.' And also, 'I don't know why you're the one looking so uncomfortable, I live on this fucking block and these are my neighbors.' 'According to Elisabeth Harrison, we will start to feel better somewhere between seven days and seven years.'

Admittedly, Teodoro had not believed her. But he is accustomed to leaps of faith, which is why among other things, they aren't currently divorced.

(Teo is also prone to resignation, which may also provide a second explanation.)

"Where did you even find those people? Who were they?" Teo's voice sounds angry but not as loud now.

No longer chest-deep and resounding, no auditorium voice accidentally spilled into open air. It is either bad or predictable timing, that now that his feelings are less publicly threatening, a window opens two buildings down and two stories up and a woman shouts at them to shut up. But Teodoro ignores her, feeling the fizz swirl in his head to a mathematically explicable pattern. He doesn't want to know. But he is going to know. He didn't want to have this conversation, but they were always going to have it, right? He had always known it would do no good, to vivisect Francois' deficiencies and magnify the double-bind of his own humiliation in the process, but since when did that changed anything?

They're heroes. Foresight is the bane of them getting anything done.

Teo stares grimly at his husband's wet face. He wonders if he is supposed to remind Francois that Elisabeth had doubted too, during the corresponding chapter in her own contentious love story, whether or not it would be all right. No. She'll do it later. That's not his job anymore; he gets to appreciate instead, bitterly, that his husband seemed to pay very little attention to anybody's story but his own.

"No one," is probably not a good thing to say, but it leaves Francois' mouth regardless. "Just— "

Frustration is once again beginning to mount, a building rhythm beneath the chaos, and stupidly, it has as much to do with where and when they are as it does the fact the conversation is racing ahead of him. The urge to tell Teo everything he wants (or doesn't want, but needs) wars with the desire to do that in a circumstance of his choosing — and not just because he is really that selfish, but he imagines it a mercy for Teo too.

"Teo," he says, in an effort to break the momentum, the landslide of his own composure. It follows an uncertain glance at the front of the building they are standing beneath, unable to think through the white noise of his own brain whether its dimensions are appropriate for them to have this conversation inside of, if he would be invited in. His apartment is in Williamsburg. Would they last the drive?

He doesn't know, but he says, voice still rough, "We should go somewhere to talk properly."

The expression on Teo's face is very dour, uncharitably, Really now? at the notion that Francois had fucked three no ones. Even though he knows that's not what Francois had meant, obviously. Francois is obviously freaking out, which very much feels like a thoughtlessly tardy reaction to a self-created (catalyzed, whatever) disaster that he started two months ago.

Teo does not want to go far. For one thing, he might start to sober up, and he does not know what he wants to do without his best friend beer. His brain pendulums slowly between available options. Go inside, but there is An Emily. Go up to the roof, but there are neighboring buildings taller than theirs. Go to the 'back' of the apartment building, but that is just another front, one more street, albeit slightly smaller and quieter than this one. Maybe they could both fit into Teo's bathroom, which would create a sound barrier of two doors and a staircase from his roommate and Francois could wipe his face with two-ply toilet paper.

"I'm fine here," is the conclusion that Teo arrives at, after a long time.

There is a moment that could be construed as tense if Francois had been less damp than he is now, looking across at Teo as if trying to divine some kind of malicious intent before he abandons that search because. Who cares if there is, honestly.

It's not like Francois is going to walk away now.

There is a minute kind of head bobble, like an okay then as he draws in a deep breath, forces his brain back to those three particular incidences, the filter that Teo's question creates. Who were they. How did he find them. Decent questions, really, borderline philosophical.

"They were strangers," he says, finally, voice clamped against feeling, and so wound up tight for it in his throat. That he sounds a little like he is answering as if held at gunpoint is probably a coincidence, although he's certainly had that experience several times in his life. He's been forced to say harder truths, he's sure. "Still are strangers, I've not seen them since. It was in bars, places like that."

Francois pauses, uncertain of what he's supposed to offer up freely, what he has to be asked. He chooses to add, "I didn't go out intent on seeking them. I went out a lot generally, just to. Be somewhere."

Teo's eyes don't move from his husband's face as he listens without comment. At least this part of the conversation is far quieter than what had taken place before. It's like the tide eroding a sand castle. Apart from the dingus two buildings down, and Emily, and possibly the market workers across the street, the majority of witnesses to their earlier shouting match have disappeared out of sight, out of mind, and the process is mutual.

It's like a metaphor for the people that Francois fucked, do you get it.

"What were their fucking names?" Teodoro notices his own temper flare again after he said it, but the line is too brief and deeply subsumed by his new air of robotic interrogation to get capslock treatment. "When?" He has attempted these mathematics on his own, but even when sober, it had been difficult to make the calculations. Francois had indicated that between the last time they'd met and his disclosure, all three episodes of glamorous extramarital hero fucking had occurred, but even in his most meticulous mental accounting, he had not been able to bring himself to examine old text message timestamps or reread E-mails to construct the evidence.

Throughout the years, Teo had visited Francois a handful of times in Rochester. They had gone to a handful of bars a handful of times in Rochester. Details smear together. There was one place where Francois had enjoyed drinking malbec, turned to him subtly at eleven o' clock at night once, whispered conspiratorially that it was probably bootlegged. Teo had liked the scent of the gel-based serum in his hair. He wonders if that bar had been rendered too special to sully with one-night stands; he wonders if it would be better or worse, if it hadn't.

It's a sudden and queasy pinch, in Teo's stomach, to realize only now belatedly that that probably mattered less than whether or not other Wolfhound operatives might frequent the establishment. There are five Ws to ask about; he doesn't get any further through them.

The crying has dried up, mostly, good news. Francois is still distinctly aware that he probably looks like a fucking mess — as he certainly feels like one — and that he wouldn't mind starting again, somewhere private, but the urge has been replaced with a vaguely ill feeling. When vague answers aren't cutting it anymore. He can imagine nightmare scenarios, listing off each act, what he'd enjoyed, what he hadn't, what was different, and irrationally, sharing their names feels equally as obscene.

He knows it's not. He closes his eyes briefly at sign of temper flare.

"Naomi," he says. "We met in May, last year."

He doesn't remember, or isn't remembering, what he'd told Teo already of timescales. That it had been that long.

"There was another— another woman, in June. We did not trade names."

Because he'd been very fucking drunk but had looted his own memories so thoroughly that he's pretty sure they just had skipped that whole piece of interaction entirely. Francois isn't looking at Teo. His eyes dart up to a streetlamp, which has flickered on early. He brings the back of his hand up, knuckles touching to where skin of his face still itches from damp.

"And Loren, in January."

Segments of time click into place in Teo's head.

May 2018. June 2018. By then, it had been months since Teodoro had visited Rochester, surely, or that Francois had come up; it had been a particularly bad winter and on the mountains especially, gasoline more expensive than ever, country roads eaten by black ice then floods. That spring that ensued had marked Eileen's alleged resurrection, as well as latter redrafts of Victors, which had been Francois' choice of topics to share during their phonecalls through to the summer. Teo had been careful not to tell too many boring stories about livestock. He remembers that. He remembers suspecting nothing, of being a total fucking fool.

The long break between nameless woman number two and 'Loren' seems to mean something. With effort, Teodoro focuses his entire ever so slightly intoxicated mind on this gap, so that he does not have to think about how his husband had last been in someone else's arms four months ago, while he had been buying seed for lentils and spinach, following a townwide initiative to focus on specific crops, balancing those concerns out with small-scale logistics, big-picture biodiversity. He had thought it had been interesting, how contemporary farmers in the wake of civil war had switched fluidly from micro to macro. And in that time, Francois had been fucking someone else, after taking a six-month break.

Teo closes his eyes. Squeezes. Reopens again. Micro to macro. Micro to macro. He makes himself FfFFFFOooocouuuuus.

Unfortunately, the lens and aperture on Teo's brain is broken. Somehow, what comes out of Teo's mouth is still just, idiotically and as puerile as anything he could have invented, in his blankest possible tone of voice: "Which one of you did the fucking?"

Nightmare scenario: initiate. Or. 'Continue', let's be honest.

Francois almost laughs, but he is much too far away from doing that for it to happen for real — he just feels it as a vaguely hysterical flutter in his gut. An eyebrow raise, anyway, staring down the barrel of Teo standing there and glaring at him, somehow in the throes of this very personal conversation all at once feeling like a stranger to him.

The thing he'd been crying about, obviously, was about feeling like he'd been left empty-handed, but it's been several minutes since that outburst, that argument fallen and trampled underfoot. Maybe if he knew about Teo's inner heroic parallels about humbly tilling the land while his vagabond husband was busy being a slut, he'd pick it up again.

Or say: fuck you.

It's on the tip of his tongue to say, and Teo can kind of see it, like a glint of steel turning in the light. He thinks a little of that night, too. He'd been as drunk as the other man, but said other man had more confident hands, a quickly developed habit (or maybe, a long established habit, predating Francois) of walking with his hand on Francois' shoulder, and the other on his chest. How it had been surreal and charming, to be talked to as someone much younger than he is, to be interrupted, to be expected to do more listening to whiskey-tinged wisdom than imparting it.

That glint of steel abates, dulls. He says, in his own blankest possible voice, "He did," and then stares at Teo as if to ask if he's very pleased with himself.

Teo is not pleased with himself. But that seems plainly to be his husband's fault too, for leading this charge with 'might as well get it out now!!!!!!' as the rallying cry. He doesn't know why it hurts his feelings Some More, to know there had been a man, and Francois had spread his legs for him. Teodoro resents this marital obligation to have feelings to hurt. When is Francois going to divorce him? He wills the Frenchman's mouth to form the words, pretending for a moment, that people

a. don't break things that they want to fix, or
b. are willing to pay the price to fix it, or
c. accept it cannot be.

This is a stupid game. Teo should stop playing it. People will always find a way to be stupid; it's one of the ghost's basic tenets for living among them. On the upside, Teodoro isn't hungry anymore. Eating something feels like: yet another obligation. He breaks eye-contact first, rubbing his face with his hands vigorously enough that it pinks his cheeks.

After that's done, Teo's lips have pressed themselves together. His breathing has gone funny, quickened and uneven, jumping on the toes of his heartbeat which has accelerated as well, despite the sedating and euphoric effects of alcohol. The day at the farmhouse is breaching the separation of time and invading the present once again. He can't believe this is happening, this can't be happening, this isn't happening. WHAT WEIRD KINKS WERE INVOLVED. How about he not yell that into the street, which has finally sunken into a deep electric blue, the shadow of the planet cast mercifully over their spontaneous street production.

Teo says, "Where?" He means to add, specifically, but his throat closes.

Francois watches Teo react, and he feels something like: why does that matter? Something like insult. It sours quickly, curdling into something else — it's shame, probably, but he resists naming it to himself, like something too hot to pick up, too bright to look at. He looks at Teo instead and that flash of indignation is gone.

Steel is gone too. There is the ridiculous urge, in spite of the churn of uneasy feeling, to breach the space between them and put his arms around Teodoro, but common sense stops him from doing that — you probably don't get to offer easy comfort after inflicting damage.

He's trying to come up with the verbal equivalent when Teodoro asks this next question, Francois going still. Where, like. Where did they have sex, or. No, that sounds even more ludicrous than inquiry into the particular configurations of the act. There's a pause in which he is trying to divine why these questions, before deciding he cannot — that whatever information it might take for Teodoro to eventually come to peace with it, then, well.

"Rochester," he says, but supplies, "The gallery space, on Anderson, I don't remember what it is called. Um. Then in June, I think it was the Foxglove." Or did he leave it and go to the place across the street, where it is quieter? Whatever. He absolutely doesn't want to stand here and fumble around his memories, around the particulars, when perhaps all Teodoro needs is, you know. The gist. He is talking to the centre of Teo's chest. "And in January, Hawthorn Lounge."

And then eye line back up. Trying to gauge, better, what is happening across from him, now that the noise and bluster of anger has ebbed.

It's like the Law of Conversation. Energy can never be created or destroyed, it can only transform. Behold: Francois is no longer angry.

Suddenly Teo is uncontrollably extremely impossibly angry.

It happens unexpectedly, while the grocery stocker is flattening out the cardboard boxes across the street. And the neighbor down the block has switched from complaining about the queers downstairs to prophesizing bitterly about what is going to happen on the nine o' clock news about to start, with the state of the United States of America. Birds are pooping in their roosts, the temperature is falling in parallel slope with the declining light. And Teo loses his train of thought, which had been something about evaluating the good vs bad that Francois wasn't cruising in one set location of preference. For absolutely no good reason, he gets stuck on the art gallery. Ten minutes ago, Francois had said 'bars, places like that.'

Bars. Places like that. Art gallery. One year ago. Three times. Justified. Bottomed. Bars. Places like that. Art gallery. Art gallery.

Art gallery.

You were supposed to love me.

Teo's white face turns red as a fire engine. Then he twists around on his heel and punches the mailbox. The first time hurts a lot; WRANG. The second time hurts less: WRANG. The third, the neck underneath the box snaps, its metal tongue flops open, and colorful semi-gloss spam mail flies out as the decapitated receptacle pitches heavily toward the earth. (Sorry, Emily.) Unmistakably ugly, the kind of precursor to domestic violence — no, actual domestic violence, the threat, the destruction of property with physical violence. (Sorry, Emily.) But it's instinct; to turn back and stare into Francois' eyes afterward, as if to say, In my mind, that was your stupid fucking head.

"Please help yourself to a giant dinner serving of fuck off forever, on me," Teo says. He throws up both his arms, and steps back into the sidewalk.

Francois jumps. It is uncharacteristic of him, especially when he can see it kind of coming, the winding up of violence in the split second before Teodoro turns away from him. Maybe it's just the sound, louder than expected. Maybe it's his nerves, frazzled.

There'd been a time apart from now where he would be — cold, probably. Unwilling to entertain these theatrics. He might tell Teodoro that he had best grow the fuck up immediately, decline to make sure he didn't accrue any abrasions of consequence, or maybe just walk away without saying anything at all and let that do all the talking for him. Maybe if he was in control at all, he would do these things. (Maybe if they didn't live in a reality where Teodoro could shoot out the tire in his car and he wouldn't complain because he deserved it, he would do these things.)

Anyway. There are a lot of things that would be different than they are right now. Different ways of behaving.

One consistency: Francois is very bad at obeying directives to fuck off, apparently, because he doesn't. That panic creeps back in at the word forever, and he takes a step forward, and then another. He used to be able to heal things with his hands, dying things, twisted things. It's not really this impulse that drives him to reach out for Teo, but he might think about it later, when it doesn't work.

"I'm sorry," he says, a little urgently, like there is a closing window of time, like that matters more than finding a circumstance appropriate enough for its delivery. Hands find rough, dusty jacket fabric. "If I could undo it, I would — I didn't— I'm sorry I hurt you."

Francois is aware he has run through like five different subtly contradictory emotions in the past two minutes, thank you. He feels appropriately deranged about it.

In the meantime, Teodoro is blessed with a cohesive and predictable set of emotions, even if their expression is badly exaggerated, violent, unproductively sarcastic. Sad, mad, disbelieving, mad, sad, his own version of the unending chain that he had scolded Francois for following around in idiotic circles, but intercut with periods of numb indifference.

(Teodoro would like to be numb right now.)

But no, we are back to incredulity, as we swat at the obstructive inconvenience Francois' grabby hands in the midst of our dramatic getaway, an anticlimactic presentation to a long-awaited moment. Really? Really? How many times does Teo have to think to himself, 'REALLY????' where his husband's behavior is concerned. Number one, people are probably trying to call the police and then realizing, for the nth time since they began their residence in Manhattan, that there are: no more police in New York City. Number two, the apology comes two months, four months, eleven months, one year too late, depending on when you started to count from. Elisabeth's timeline for emotional processing fails utterly to account for these loops and bizarre contingencies, even considering she had somehow managed to to trip through a black hole, fall down a rocky slope of increasingly divergent and independently traumatic alternate universes, and land seven years into the future.

Number three is what Teodoro had to do to get the apology, obviously, but he can't think anymore. (The alcohol is finally hitting his system. In ten more minutes, he will actually be drunk.)

Teo's last shove manages to thwap off-angle on Francois' wrist, swinging the nice sleeve of Francois' nice jacket away. He coughs out something that might be basta, or enough in Italian, or it might be a like-sounding noun in English, or he might have just coughed, because his throat tastes slimy and foul. Anyway: he's leaving.

Well that was a mistake.

And Francois is appropriately mortified about it by the time hands have been successfully swatted away and Teo is leaving. He stands there for a few seconds, mind racing backwards in time to consider what just happened. How it happened. What the fuck is wrong with him, for getting angry about Teo being late to dinner, and then for handling it in that way, for reacting so badly to the things he was saying to that man in the bar, for the dreadful mismanagement of the fall out. Whatever problems they'd had — and he knows they were real, and not all of his fault — do not in some way make better the fact that he.

That he.

None of this is a revelation, of course. Remorse, guilt, those things are not strangers, but seemed to never show up at the right time, never willing to enter the discourse, too cowardly to actually confront their reasons for being. Right here and now, of course, the register of his thoughts are not this complicated. He is thinking: you're a fucking idiot, and now you both know it. Only idiots spend two months demanding their spouse love them better after you cheat on them.

Or worse things do that, with worse epithets. He'll come up with some. For now, Francois falls back, without further option of what to do next. The night is very young — the blue of evening is not yet ripened, and only a sparse amount of stars poke through the atmosphere. He doesn't think to call for a private car, or locate the bus stop, but begins a two and a half hour march back to his borough of choice, grim and silent and ordinary in the evening foot traffic, believing and feeling as though he is burning.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License