Private Practice


bella_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Private Practice
Synopsis Teo goes to see a shrink about the identity issues he has been having lately. Bella gets an unprecedented Evolved psychiatric specimen dropped in her lap. Everything evens out perfect in the Company and Phoenix agents' respective creepy little worlds.
Date July 30, 2009

Somewhere On Manhattan — Psychiatrist's Office

The doctor is in.

When the primary (read: not Company secured) landline rang, Bella just stared at it for a good three rings. She's never heard it jangle before. In fact, she's never had any non-Company client since taking this little studio apartment, and it took all her verve and personal charm not to sound somewhat flustered with the caller. It became a little easier when she noticed signs that this was likely the client's first time with a psychiatrist as well. She scrambled to make sure her employers knew not to call during the assigned time, and set about to seem like a normal, private practice shrink. Kitchenette spotless, a professional skirt, blouse and blazer ensemble, the air conditioner humming serenely away, occasionally burbling its protest of the humidity outside. There's even a small dish of breathmints on the counter, just by the door. Bella perches, feeling not entirely like a girl on a first date. Time for a new experience.

Technically, the last time Teodoro Laudani saw a psychiatrist was when he was seventeen. He'd killed a beautiful girl by accident, using a tesseract yawning out of his little brother's torso as a conduit for a bullet almost rightfully intended for him. Those circumstances, the secrecy that had encumbered his sessions then, seem relatively straightforward compared to the ones that place his running shoes on Doctor Sheridan's carpet now.

He's left a dirt smudge on the gray. He'd apologize for that, if he weren't too nervous to notice. After casing a place for three hours, such details begin to fur and distort. She's a redhead. That was the first thing he noticed off her background check, and it's the first thing he registers about her in the flesh. He closes and opens his eyes across the top of the counter. He does not take candy from the stranger. Her first client, as it were—

Could comfortably be described as a shabby sophisticante. Was, once. There's a peacoat only about ten degrees too warm for the weather, with a paint scuff on the elbow, jeans, his head in an inscrutable buzzcut, knuckles riddled with calluses, a book's rectangled shape visibly bulking out the recess of his breast pocket, all other armaments hidden. He's young enough for his mother to still address him by boy. "Hello," he says. "Doctor Sheridan?"

Or he's the errant nephew of a fallen movie star and the son of a nebbish banker, who went around and butchered enough meth heads recently that he has a couple wads lying around. Balkan millionaire's whelp seems slightly more probable.

"Thanks." Teo is squinting around the furniture trial the way a gorilla would approach a colored block task, not ostensibly aware of the larger motives behind the physical objects and the projected agenda, or not particularly concerned by it. Buxom armchair, pretentious European chez. Armchair, chez. He would honestly prefer to sit on the floor, which probably accounts for the uncertain meander of his gait in the gulf of floor between the two options, but in the end, he sides with Freud.

Albeit somewhat awkwardly, touching it first with his hands as if to aim into the frame, planting his butt as he would on a park bench. A pale eye swivels across the wall, marks the distinct absence of a secretary, blinks back the recollection of the neighborhood. Pleasantly inquisitive, he asks: "'S business slow 'cause you advertise to mutants?"

"An apt conclusion," Bella says, taking her appointed seat, perched right at the edge, legs crossing neatly, "I feel like I make it up karmically, since Evolved suffer from unique personal troubles, and I think it's good to have someone who's focused on their interests," her smile becomes maybe a touch sly, though personably so, like a fox playing at a fox, "Which brings me to my first question, Brandon. Was it my targeted advertising that caught your interest?" Is 'mutant' self deprecation, she wants to know.

Yes. No. Kind of? Consternation notches Teo's— pardon, Brandon's face between his eyebrows, not the dismay of a disconcerted housecat when confronted with the henhouse's bloody assailant but a thoughtful sort of expression, more canine than anything else. "Sort of," he hedges, straightening slightly on the awkward axis of his slouch. "I mean— uhh.

"I've. Uhh." They probably drop babies on their heads in the Balkans, too. He raises a blunt-fingered hand to the back of his head and grates the bristly velvet of his scalp there, rueful in a way he'd only let himself be if Doctor Sheridan were precisely that shade of sly and pristine. "I had trouble with the Evolved.

"It got pretty bad, and then it got psychological— telepaths have that habit, you know? And there are all kinds of fucked up repercussions—" It probably wouldn't hurt to start at the beginning.

"I've worked with telepaths before. It's a frightening thing, not being able to really hide anything from someone," Bella says, "But tell me about your experience. And be frank! I've seen quite a lot myself. I worked exclusively Evolved-involved cases after the Bomb, so don't pull and punches," she smiles, pretty white teeth shining above her lower lip, "I'm tougher than I look."

Five words that form something of a gauntlet. Teo forgets to fidget with his hands, merely interlaces them there, hanging off the perpendicular incline of his knees where he settled his elbows down in some effort to appear relaxed. "A'right," he says, pulling a little face, a moment too late to sync as a joking concession to the psychiatrist's naaagging. "A'right, all right. Uhm.

"I was attacked."

It's a good place to start, but a bad place to finish. The silence that dams in here holds the wrong water, gurgles unsteadily. Abruptly self-conscious, Teo's fingers jack-knife close around one another, tightening where they're interlocked. "Sor—t of.

"Mind-controlled. By an entity of vicious character, who proceeded to make enemies out of everybody who'd ever been my friend. Then more shit happened," nowhere elaborated, "and one big aneurysm later, I have memories from both the nice kid who this body—" indicated with a splay of long hands, "belongs to and the crazy asshole who'd come in after. Half the people I know think I'm one, the rest assume the other, and I think I'm lying to both, but I'm not sure what that means. Didn't feel like I owned any of it all 'til just the other day, when this friend I knew asked me to go hunting—"

Awful choice of euphemisms. Not quite a euphemism. Teo refrains, somehow, from an exaggerated wince. "—and I said yes. Half the time I say 'I,' I'm not completely sure what I fucking mean." He finishes with his teeth meeting in a quiet click, draws himself upright, a little like a schoolboy behind his desk. Pen poised for note-taking. This would be the part where she explains to him that this is perfectly normal.

It is all Bella can do not to start salivating. It's actually beyond her not to grab her pad and pen, and she does, immediately scribbling as Teo continues. Only years of training allow her expression of professional, empathic yet reserved, interest to remain on her face. She wants to grin. This is just gold. This is a career maker of a case study. A non-Evolved fusing with an Evolved consciousness?

Inappropriate glee contained, she nods, indicating her careful attention. "Who were you before? Both of you? Can you remember two distinct histories?" She wants to ask more questions, but the poor man can only answer one at a time.

Fortunately for everyone involved, Teo is too busy wallowing around in the muddy slough of his own thoughts for the moment to notice any minute signs of crazy doctor lady containing her squeals at the availability of psychic vivisection. Sad violins. He stops looking at the carpeted floor at the second question of the barrage, glances up. His brows peak in the middle, considering.

"Two distinct histories." It isn't exactly the truth, and therein lies the rub: the knot of his particular little problem is a whole lot about where those histories intersect— but that would be pretty fucking hard to explain, so Teo doesn't. "Yeah." Merely nods, leans back abruptly, the transition into being comfortable as abrupt as the slap of a switch.

He sits back against the heels of his hands, his shoulders pushing up under his ears, then a quizzical shift of brows. "Even opinions about each others', and I have my thoughts on theirs. Have you— you know. Ever…" he weaves his head side to side, like balancing a weight on a scale, "run into a problem like this before?"

A few more quick notes. Bella looks up at Teo, head tilting very slightly. "Like this? Yes. But only superficially. You are experiencing a genuine identity fusion. The good news is that your brain is more or less designed to handle this sort of thing," she sets her pad in her lap, going into 'explanation mode', freeing her hands for vaguely illustrative gesticulations.

"The mind isn't a sort of courtroom, where all the different senses 'evidence' is brought before a central judge that's 'you'. If that were the case, there wouldn't be this fusion. There'd be a fight, and a victor, the loser either disappearing or becoming a hitch-hiker. The mind works like, well," she smiles, "Like a folk song. Lots of versions of the same thing. Some have extra verses, some are in a different key, some are arranged for this or that instrument. But at any given point in time, there's more of one version than the others, and that gets mistaken for the 'right' version."

"So right now you have mixed two big file cabinets of conscious and unconscious states, not all of which are necessarily closely related, leading to this disorienting 'there is no single me' experience, that's already true just more /obviously/ true in your case," she brushes a bit of hair behind her ear, a strand that came loose during one of her more energetic motions, "Your brain can and will reorganized its contents. The tricky part, the part I can help with, is figuring out which new organization will make you happiest."

"There's nothing obvious about that," the boy answers, either annoyed or merely abrupt with objection. "I mean, the first guy has parents out there, and a brother. The other guy— doesn't have anybody left, it's why he went…" Teo walks his hand through the air, charting the course of a runner through flames, a TV show off a shark's fin, a mad dog into a wolf trap.

"And they were both miserable fucks anyway. I feel like I should start over, except— I mean that was my plan," he clarifies, stiltedly, dropping his hand again to lean on. He pushes a sigh out of his lungs so hard that the fold of his sturdy jacket caves in a visible inch. "But suddenly I'm going hunting. Animals make horrible sounds when they die."

"There's antipathy, or at least disagreement between your two selves," Bella says, stating the obvious in that terribly therapeutic way, "The real work will have to be consolidating them. That will be your 'start over'. You can view it as something of an opportunity. Most people get one life, live with the consequences. You, we hope, can pick and choose the best parts of two lives," she arches a brow, "However miserable they both have been," a pause, "Is it the hunting that made you decide to seek this sort of help?" she asks.

No. Yes? Maybe, but if they make a subject of the hunting, they might—

—wind up discussing the pending assassination of the Company's founders and—

"No," Teo settles on, finally, with an air of important decision. "I guess not. Made a good excuse though, y'know?" His left brow swoops down slightly, making a comically uneven squint out of chalk blue eyes, implying the inobvious in that half-heartedly evasive way. "If you shuffle those words around a little it's like you're ofering a life without consequences."

He tries not to sound altogether hopeful about that.

Bella gives a tiny shrug, "I am not someone who feels fit to judge what people deserve for their actions. It's my business to make you happy, or at least happier. Unless of course you don't want to be happier, though that would make you the rare soul that admits it," she taps the pen gently against her pad, in a steady beat, "In any case, it's up to you what baggage you want to hold onto, and what you'll decide to haul around with you." But back to her previous question. "What made you decide to see me? Any particular event that made you decide 'enough is enough'?"

Breathing, lips sealed, and then a shrug that looks like admission. It isn't exactly a shrug. Teo just wads himself down in the chez another inch, like burrowing. Stares down at the point of his left boot toe, momentarily turned up for inspection. "I told one of the people the kid used to know about my— uhh. New problem.

"Told him because he was the only one who tried to do fucking anything to help when the kid was caged up in his own body. Anyway— he didn't like it, but I was glad he didn't. I don't know how to deal with everybody else, but I know I'm gonna have to. Soon." There's a quaver-beat's silence, a stewing sort; Teo coming swiftly to terms with the fact that that still explains nothing. He tacks on the proper explanation in a tone of a footnote, awkwardly off-hand: "He threatened to shoot me."

Another beat, fuller this time, and Teo grates his molars around further clarification. "He really did try, before the merge." And this, the one friend that 'Brandon' saw most worthy to harbor this bizarre revelation: the one who'd hate it.

And what sort of friends shoot other friends? Maybe a Balkan blood feud. Bella juggles her options. To press on the point of violence, who knows - even crime, might bear fruit, but it might for very simple reasons make him clam up. "I think," she begins, "It will help to give names to these two 'selves'. It's actually not good in the long term, since we're aiming for a fusion, but for now, for /me/, I'd like to understand the distinctions so we can do a better job of breaking them down when the time comes." She takes a deep inhale, then exhale, as if about to set forth on a journey, a new leg of this trip, "This friend, the one who wanted to help the non-evolved you while the evolved you was squatting if I understand what you're telling me, this friend became violent when you told him the two you's had become one? Why do you imagine he reacted that way?"

"The Evolved one was an asshole," Teo responds brightly. "And my friend loves freedom even more than strippers. We could call them 'Good' and 'Evil.'" He's being facetious. That's a waste of money, maybe also a waste of time. Realizing this, he dips his head in apology, but fails entirely to find any names worth assigning. 'A' and 'B?' What—

Even the facetious isn't above investigation. "I've a question, then, if you're really positing these two selves as opposites," Bella says, "Individually, would each member of this particular mental Odd Couple prefer the other one kicked to the metaphysical curb? Precisely /how/ hostile is each side towards the other?" She points at him with the end of her pen, "And /name/ them," she insists, "Something neutral, and non-smart alecky. Charming crudeness, cute as it may be, isn't going to play here."

There goes his other suggestion. Teo steers his gaze back down to his shoe, which hasn't changed appearance very dramatically since the last time he looked at it, and proves largely uninspiring. "The older one will be John and the younger one will be Ian," he suggests, finally, putting old aliases out there, underhand, however banal and interchangeable they are. "They didn't really hate each other, if that's what you mean.

"Ian kind of understood John — I guess? But then, Ian was always getting that empathy shit on everybody else. 'S why he wound up with the kinds of friends previously described. John totally fuckin' ruined his life, though. Mine. I mean, between the gunshot threats and — Ian's boyfriend dumped him while all this was happening," and here, a note of distinct complaint, before a tightening of teeth, that particular subject dismissed.

"If they did more stuff the same way, I think I'd know what to do more of the time."

"Ian understan— understood John," Bella repeats slowly, "But John has still managed to make Ian's life very fucking difficult. What, according to Ian, are John's reasons? The ones he understands, that is. Is there anything about John he also admires, would like to emulate, despite their differences? And vis versa?" She chuckles, "I'm sorry if that's a lot of questions. Take them as they come, but try and cover them all."

That is a lot of questions. Teo's eyebrows incline on his forehead, two dark marks more like graphite accents drawn on than a proper face without caricature. Thinking, he puffs out a sigh, cheeks going round as dandelion clocks. "Things happened to John that he was worried were going to happen the exact same way to the people around Ian. They had some of the same— enemies, I guess?

"Sorry 'bout the lack of specifics," he shoehorns in, a little foolishly, nonplussed. Still, he's here for a reason, isn't he? You can trust shrinks with all kinds of shit; without said specifics, no one's under any particular obligation to call the cops.

LITTLE DOES TEO KNOW, the cops would be the least of his troubles, with Isabella Sheridan. Until she sends out across the Bat phone, however, Teo is left to steep in his own introspections, as ordered. "I guess that he liked John was smart. Capable. But not a lot else, I think. If anything, he pitied the guy."

"I get the sense I'm treading dark waters with you, and I appreciate whatever protection you're not telling me specifics affords you," Bella says, dipping her head, "And I won't tell you I can take care of myself, since I have nothing close to a guarantee that I /would/ be able to." She gives a small sigh, "At least you're handsomer than Tony Soprano." Of course she watches HBO. She also listens to NPR.
"Perhaps Ian can view John less as a cautionary tale, and more as a guide or ally. Less prediction, more lesson. And John can treat Ian like a proper second chance. But neither should pity the other," she gives a dry 'heh', "That would lead to a new definition of 'low self esteem'."

Vanity had always taken to Teo with quick and gratifying affection— before. He receives the compliment with the sort of grace you'd take a backhanded one, a wry twist to his mouth, a fractioned edge of teeth. Thanks? Yeah, I guess I'm not faaat. "I was attacked," he repeats. "And I'm also the guy who did it. It's a pretty awkward dichotomy to have to straddle."

That's all Teo says for a protracted moment, taking out time in the currency of silence to study the words Bella serves up on her paper pad. They are convincing. Optimistic, the way Teodoro Laudani is supposed to be. He could hold them up to her lamp's light and watch them insist on transparency. "Okay," he says, finally. "I think they could have lived with that."

"And can you?" Bella asks, "Two roommates can survive each other since they each have their own space, but doing the same thing with your mind, even if it is possible, would be very dangerous." She sets her pad aside for the moment, some marker of something; progress? Hard to say. "I've another question, by the way. Does any part of you have access to whatever talent John possessed?" Whoops, maybe a bad choice of words 'possessed'. But too late now.

WHOOPS. Though the question itself is honestly more the concern than a sloppy choice of words. Every Evolved between the East Coast and… and— the other side of the East Coast knows — or worse, suspects that there's dodgy shit going on with public perceptions and government handling of the unregistered gifted. Teo peers at Bella with uncertainty for a quaver-beat, before casting it out the window.

"Yeah. John was better, though. By a long shot."

"Do you think your talent could be useful in consolidating your parts?" Bella asks, "I ask this as a naieve question. I don't know anything about your trait, John's trait. But most Evolved feel a considerable amount of their identity is bound up in that trait… so it is something to consider carefully." She shifts in her seat, drawing herself up some, "I think we've made good progress today, Brandon. But I would like you to see me again, if you feel this was even slightly helpful. I do believe I can assist you. At the very least I'm someone neutral to speak to, something that, if I was listening to you correctly, I glean you're having trouble finding. And, as a show of faith, I'd like to make this first session pro bono. Honestly, I'm astounded at your courage."

It's Ghost's inculcated paranoia speaking up, no doubt, that the compliment Bella pins on his shirt makes Teo wonder what else he ought to've been afraid of.

After a moment, he dismisses this as silly excess. Gives himself a little shake at the shoulders, and starts to get himself up onto his feet, accepting this salutation and the shiny coupon that comes with it. "I'll think about that," he offers, a shy shadow behind his eyes. He offers a long hand to shake. "The— superpower. The show of faith, I'm going to accept at face value."

Bella gets to her feet and takes Teo's hand, shaking firmly, her slim digits showing no fear despite the fact they're surrounded by superior forces. She meets his pale eyes, her smile determined, as if to say 'you're coming back, dammit'… but politely. Sort of. "Please do," she says, then adds, "You can always think of it as charity. As you can see… not many visitors!" She withdraws from his hand, "Be safe, Brandon. You have my number, if you need to talk any time. Being my client means all the perks. Benefits of private practice!"

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