Second Life


emily_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Second Life
Synopsis Two white people spend a day in their second shot at life answering important questions, about if this fruit look like a butt, whether old associates are really dead, and how friendship is magic.
Date April 17, 2019

NY Safe Zone: Sheepshead Bay

Sheepshead Bay is what remains of a once-thriving residential and industrial neighborhood. Rows of abandoned warehouses and factories spill out from the coast where derelict docks have been repurposed into shipping and immigration sites for the Safe Zone. The residential buildings of Sheepshead Bay are still in staggering decay, with collapsed apartments and long-dormant structures awaiting re-habitation once it can finally be confirmed they aren't safety hazards. In time, Sheepshead Bay could become a thriving port, but the process of growth and reclamation in the Safe Zone is a slow one. In the shadows of these once-proud buildings, smugglers and thieves alike lurk in the empty shells of abandoned buildings alongside packs of wild dogs.

By now, they have both properly moved in. Teodoro has yet to acquire a sword for decoration or practical use, but he has started to skirt the stage of apathy where he stops questioning the pros and cons of that decision, and focuses full-time on being unhappy.

But not that unhappy. They have wi-fi, spare lightbulbs, and frozen vegetables in the refrigerator, she has introduced him very rudimentarily to some kind of game that involves the classic characters from whom he and his brother got their middle names (because their parents were assholes) (Mario and Luigi) (I kid you not), as well as a short blonde elf and a variety of colorful small, round, Japanese monsters. Teo isn't totally sure yet, but he suspects it's actually good for him to live with someone else. Before Emily had brought her stuff, he had already noticed that there was a cold, clockwork sameness to his poor sleep, disintegrating books, desultory E-mails to Francois, and beeline pathways from gym to bar to corner store back home. Every single day. Even with his questionable bias, Teo could acknowledge that it hadn't looked like the healthiest thing ever…

"Do you think this looks like a butt?"

They're shopping for ceviche ingredients, which is their most ambitious joint dinner endeavor yet. (It makes sense— they have had one joint dinner endeavor so far, last week, and it was: burgers.) Teo is holding a mutant lemon.

He has been glancing furtively around for the past ten minutes since they got to this supermarket, but thanks to his melancholy brain fog, he wasn't sure why, until he caught his own reflection on the freezer window a second ago. Now he's like oh. “And I have to talk to you about something," he adds, twisting his head around, looking for her over fragrant mountains of produce. "Emily?"

Emily could not care less if a lemon looked like a butt, merely if it would do the job of providing all the citrus juice it needed to. On the other side of the produce mountain, she's bent at the waist, sifting through limes in diminishing shades of green, biting her tongue about how expensive this all is. She'd agreed to try the new, more extravagant thing before thinking about how much a single meal would end up running them.

At the time, it had seemed like a good excuse to branch out gastronomically and get to know Teo better at the same time.

"About what?" she asks without looking up from the pile of limes, trying to locate the largest one she can. Emily's not so much as distracted as she is determined on her current task. These things were per unit rather than per ounce. She's being very choosy. "Fair warning — if this isn't a big deal and you've used the words 'I have to talk to you about something', you're ruining credibility for the heaviest generic conversation starter one can have in their back pocket, and I may not take you seriously the next time you use it. So keep that in mind." Hardly a beat later, she presses on, asking lightly, "But what's up?"

It's true, the destruction of the United States economy has done nothing to improve the cost-of-living balance between the rich and poor, and Teo would care a lot about it if he weren't currently battling some feelings of paranoia. He stops glancing at the doorway, opting instead to abandon the butt lemon with his less butt-shaped siblings. He edges around to look at what she's poking through. Maybe they should switch from ceviche. Maybe there is no shame in baking brownies out of a box. Maybe he should blow his I have to talk to you on regular conversation material. Maybe—

"I have an evil twin."

Maybe Teodoro Laudani will just say that, as he peers down at the tiny lime in her tiny hand. How is she so tiny? Maybe he should be recruiting her into protein shakes and lifting. Avi is a big dude. What the fuck. He suspects there's a story there; he has noticed she has even fewer photos of herself, her loved ones, up on the walls, her dresser, than even he does.

And Teo has very little, you know: one Pinteresty, oblique photo of himself and Francois with backs turned, tuxed up, at the City Clerk's Office on the day of their wedding; the underside of a boat and two pairs of legs in blue water, taken by Abigail from the shore, from when he had been trying to teach Alexander to sail; one of Francois, face downturned to sip at the perfect heart in his cappuccino, the long hair and angle rendering his pale cheeks nearly unrecognizable; a smoky, grainy shot of Eve singing, distorted by the mic's bulbous shape and deep blacklight shadows. It's a carefully curated selection in case ninjas break in. You wouldn't be able to tell anybody is anybody, even if you knew them. But he keeps them in order to remember.

Not for the first time, Teo wonders what Emily remembers. But he just shared that he has an 'evil twin,' so he notes, "And that's only slightly an exaggeration. We should talk about it. And maybe switch to pho." They can still use limes for pho.

Emily's shoulders drop an inch, her head tilting to the side as she just looks at him. God, Teo. She'd been joking, mostly, about making sure he was being serious — but no, once again, he'd gone completely overboard.

She does a half-shake of her head as she puts the lime in her hand back down. "The fuck, Teo." she breathes, brow furrowing at him. He's worse at conversational bridges than she is, and she feels like that's a feat. Emily draws in a long breath to steady herself and looks back down at the pile of limes for only a moment before picking two up at random and shoving them in the little plastic baggy in her other hand. "Okay, you've got a fucking evil twin." The bag is twisted off aggressively, tossed into the basket hanging off of her arm. "You said you'd let me know if there's bullshit— so that's…"

Encouraging? Something. It's something. She doesn't have a lot of patience for this right now. They were supposed to just be grocery shopping.

She doesn't know how to cook pho either.

"All right, we're apparently talking about it in public at the grocery, now." Emily decides, shooting a look back up at him. She keeps her voice as even as she can, relatively low to not attract attention, but the glare alone speaks loudly enough how disgruntled she is. "So, go on."

Scolded by an indignant nineteen-year-old, Teodoro does his best to bear himself with aplomb, a little contrite, carefully containing any collateral amusement he might experience. It helps that he's ten years her senior and a bit of a giant and knows how to cook pho, I guess. (It's just soup in noodles, with other stuff. The lime is for flavor.) Also that her bad mood looks like spun sugar spelling out a curse word, but he knows better than to say that. "It's not that big a deal," he says, as if evil twins occur on a frequent basis. "Three percent of births are twins."

Just not evil ones? Probably at least fifty percent of the three percent are evil, though. Statistics. Human nature.

"He looks like me, maybe—" a little bigger than he is, Teo realizes, but then he decides against saying that. Just enough concern with machismo to refuse to acknowledge his wicked analogue is more buff. Machismo is not supposed to be constructive, okay. "Usually clean-shaven. I think his hair is a little longer. I don't believe he would try to hurt you, I'd just— avoid him if I were you." He pilfers an onion from the adjacent box. For pho purposes. Also a few stalks of spring onion, in rapid succession, bagged, basketed. He keeps his voice down too, but not conspiratorially. "I'm not planning to shave off my beard anytime soon. But we could invent some additional contingencies."

The trivia does little to alleviate her mood, and Emily keeps a level stare on Teo out of the corner of her eye. It's more severe that way. "Well, I imagine he'd look like a brother, if not identical to you," she points out helpfully. The whole twin thing and all.

As he helps the grocery-gathering along bag by bag, it works as a salve. She might not have a clue what other things they need to pick up now, but at least he's not expecting her to know automatically, not creating a situation where she needs to take a moment to awkwardly try and google recipes before he realizes she has no idea what goes into pho. That potential stressor eliminated, she lets out a slow sigh, glancing back his way.

"Okay," she concedes. "Like what? Secret phrases? Making you demonstrate you know the difference between the decoy cereal and the actual one?"

She's still not happy about that, but she's over it enough to make a joke out of it.

That's a good idea actually, Teo thinks, completely without irony. He remembers the other day.

Teo, why is there a gun in the cereal?

That's the decoy cereal, Emily.

Oh wait, she's still mad about that. Teo glances back, assuring himself he is not about to crash into someone, before sliding a step away from the mountainous boxes of fruit, back into the aisle. They need broth, oil, seasoning for the broth, some meat. Were he to be entirely honest, he would say he has little going for him these days, but he does know how to shop for 1) cereal and 2) dinner ingredients, a minimal advantage of being in his thirties instead of nineteen-years-old. (Probably not a good tradeoff for the kind of paranoia and life experience that leads to his current circumstances.) (Later, he'll miss being nineteen again.)

"We're very identical, actually. And hey, do you know how to—" Teo's strides are short, so that the aggrieved girl and her expensive limes can catch up easy enough. "Use what's in the decoy cereal?" What do SESA interns learn, these days. His tone is carefully neutral; he had meant it, when he apologized for keeping firearms in the house without her knowledge. He knows that was very bad. This is what Teodoro Laudani's contrition looks like. (Slappable, maybe.)

Slappable, maybe, but earnest. He was at least attempting to make up for the shock of finding something that could kill her in her breakfast when she was barely awake and not remotely prepared for it. (She'd not needed coffee, after that, at least.)

"I…" Emily pauses as they turn down another aisle, her brow twitching as she tries not to look too concerned about the question. Her friends gave her shit constantly, after all, about 'not knowing' anything about guns. She still sounds disgruntled as she admits, "I could probably use a few pointers on care. I also haven't been shooting in a while."

She thought Julie would disapprove.

"So if you have any time," is all she says, letting him fill in just how much effort he wants to put into that on his own. She's not expecting much, but then again, Teo was just full of little surprises.

Like the false back she'd discovered in her bathroom mirror.

It did not conceal a camera to spy on her, but it had concealed another fucking gun.

Obscurely, Teo wonders if he had been wrong about the contents of her little purse when she had come into the apartment for the first time. Somehow, he does not think so. It's not that unusual, for young people in the United States now to get licensed up, trained, and still feel like the piece of cold metal on their person speaks a different language. Not worrisome enough to feel like a problem, day-to-day, but if push came to shove, fear would multiply fast.

"I have a little bit of an excess of time."

This is not an exaggeration, given Teo's main purpose of business in New York City is to wait and see when his husband is going to divorce him. It's fine. (It's not, really.) (But at the very least, she is a welcome distraction.) "We can go to the range next week, between your classes." In the back of his head, he starts to budget in the costs of said range and winces internally. God. Living in the city has always been a nightmare, but it's a special one now, in this day and age. Refusing to let murder training trump good nutrition, though, Teo angles them down the 'foreign foods' aisle. "What do you do at your internship? I'm not saying, 'what do you even do,' in absence of marksmanship training. I'm interested in your interest."

Teodoro actually thinks it's good that SESA interns aren't all shipped off to bury lead in carbon paper. His own '''''internships''''' in an alternate universe were profoundly weird for converse reasons, and he doesn't think his evil twin is better for it.

Hah. Teo thinks she has any kind of formal training. Or licensure.

She'd laugh just as awkwardly and maybe even out loud if he'd said as much. And then wonder if he'd approve or disapprove of how she obtained the gun.

Emily only shakes her head to herself when he exaggerates how small the opening in his schedule, adjusting the basket on her arm. "Sure," she agrees absently, "Pretty sure that should work." She has no idea what that cost might run, but she'll curse up a storm about it when she learns. As for the internship and her assumed interest in it, the question actually makes her take pause, trailing behind him in a prolonged lapse of speech that outs itself as being very obviously unplanned given her overall stance and how she comes to awkwardly rub at the back of her neck.

"I don't know," she starts lamely, focusing on the actual rather than her interest in it. "We've been doing a lot of mundane things. You know, running files. Getting to appreciate and participate the bureaucracy of things." Something she sounds utterly enthused about. (Not.)

"If I'm lucky, someone I know who works there taps me and other interns soon to help him look over case files instead of just deliver them. If not, there's supposedly possible fieldwork coming up, but I'm not even sure what that would all entail." Her eyes narrow skeptically at the idea of it. "Likely something low-effort, low-impact. Observation at most, most likely." Though with Squeaks especially, if there's anything to actively investigate and ask questions about, she'll dive right in unasked. She lets out a faint laugh under her breath at that thought.

"Honestly, though, I only agreed to do it because they're paying my tuition as a part of the internship offer." Emily finally admits. At least, it's why she first agreed, anyway. "The letter showed up a little … unexpectedly. I'd never have thought about pursuing that on my own, and was resistant to it, but—"

"But it has been nice, I guess — to see they do more than just send me mail once a quarter asking me if I need to update my registration card yet." There's a drollness to that, a piece of mail clearly detested. Not yet, SESA. "If it were an email, I'd have just hit the unsubscribe button and been done with it already." A beat elapses before she adds off-handedly with a forced brightness, "You know, the spring edition of it's sure to hit the mailbox soon. April, and all."

Odd feeling pops like soda in Teo's chest. Ohhhh. He suddenly realizes that his assessment of her had been wrong. It isn't Avi's brutal legacy encoded in her genes, or the war having wounded its way into the soul core of all youths in America. She's— well, it's probably Avi or his acquaintances or his enemies placing calls, pulling strings to either assuage guilt or make some nightmare conspiracy for her life, but

it's probably going to be fine. Suddenly, Teo isn't sure if he should be telling her how to shoot a gun. But she has one. Should she have one? He isn't her dad. But ruined innocence! But he isn't her dad. But her dad does not seem very present, but that's not his business, probably, except that he already wants to do some digging—

"I think being a civil servant is a cool job," is what Teo says first, though, suddenly keen on this government job now that he has a sense that Emily isn't determined to grow into combat boots, kevlar, and her very own parachute. "Once you get past the coffee running. Refine laws and policies, make sure services that keep people alive run smooth." That is, he realizes dimly, kind of what one of the other Teos is doing in Sicily right now. You know, the Teo that he has forgotten completely to mention during this conversation, because surely, Sicily is irrelevant. "But I know the desk isn't for everybody. Or not that desk."

In fact this has been the basis of some discussion with Francois. Argument. Whatever. 'Discussion.'

"Do you know what you want to be instead?" He takes some broth off the next shelf. "I mean, if you're gonna unsubscribe, someday."

Emily's footsteps behind him stutter again at the question. As much as she tries to mask her reaction, that much goes visible. What did she want to be when she grows up — a simple question very hard to answer before, and it still was now. "I…" she starts before she bite it back, trailing off into thought. Until recently, her horizons were much smaller. Daring to keep up with a consistent school schedule across town had been a big enough adventure for her. Imagining the SESA internship on top of that… she can't. She knows she'd have made it work somehow — made accommodations for bad days, for relapses — but even now, so soon after, she can't—

"Listen, Teo, you're not getting off that easy." Emily fires back his way drily, a look leveled along with it. "We were supposed to be talking about you. Evil twin, right?" She's all business right now, steering the conversation away from herself. "Only difference you pointed out was hair. Hair changes. What about scars? Ones you have that he doesn't? Vice versa? Give me something more to work with here."

"And no," she adds afterward, lest he accuse her of just trying to avoid talking about herself, (which she was), "I don't know what I want to be. I've got at least the next three years to figure that out."

Teo makes a little face. He stoops to snag a small bottle of chicken bouillon cubes off the shelf, tosses it in with the rest of the contents of the cart. There's a fair bit now, though not nearly as generous as pre-war groceries would have been, and likely to be as expensive. But it's fine. Teo has started looking for work. And Emily needs to pack on a few dozen more pounds, if you ask him. (Nobody did, but he's a big tall educated white man, he is going to have his Opinions.)

(And his Evil Twins.)

"I haven't seen him naked," Teo says, with that 'ewww' undertone that most people have when they talk about a gross sibling. "I dunno what scars he's got. He looked— fine, last time I saw him. Not like there was anything new on his face or his hands…" A beat. "He probably has more tattoos than me," he adds, slowly, suddenly considering what the financial differential means for more than food expenses. The Ghost makes Wolfhound money, which is, especially compared to the rest of his mundanes these days— pretty fucking good money. And Teo has always had a penchant for ink. "Which could show up when the weather gets warmer.

"I have one here." He pauses pushing the cart long enough to clap himself on one bicep. "And here." Other bicep. GIRL I HAVE FORGOTTEN WHAT TATTOOS I HAVE TEO and am having to look it up. "A couple of others but you usually can't see them. I'll show you my arms later, when I won't get chased out of here with a broom for creeping on a SESA intern. What did you want to be when you grew up, ten years ago?"

Sudden twist. Teo glances at said SESA intern, innocuously.

A grown-ass man just cringed before her about the cooties of seeing someone naked. Teo has immediately lost credibility points. Furthermore, he has this sort of reaction about a (supposed) twin. Something about that sort of reaction is off.

Emily smells bullshit somewhere in this.

The only bullshit she immediately knows to jump to is that his twin is actually from a different reality and now there's an awkward 'one cannot live while the other survives' thing (possibly involving fighting for control over the better body between them). Or more precisely, just bullshit involving personages from other realities. She doesn't even bother with a more realistic example like 'they were raised separately for reasons' anymore.

"Okay," she starts, a whole octave more terse than before, "first of all—" A hand is lifted only so she can wave it with exasperation. "Just pick a tattoo you're like sure he wouldn't have and tell me where that one is, or just show me your most recent one or something. I don't need to see your tramp stamp, Teo, or anything that you can't show off without removing clothes."

"Second of all," she continues just as fiercely, somehow intense without having to bother raising her voice. "The fuck do you mean you've not seen him naked? Most twins are, like, bonded stronger than regular siblings, and most parents are fans of killing two birds with one stone when it comes to bathing their kids. There has to have been, at some fucking point, a time in your life when that must've…"

Emily just rolls her eyes rather than justifying herself, rounding back on him after she tosses in a six-pack of cinnamon applesauce into her basket, because they were splurging at this point anyway and fuck it if she didn't have something enjoyable to snack on it turned out she hated pho. "So I'm honestly torn between thinking this is some joke, or that something particularly fucked up is going on there." It's a toss-up, truly.

"And ten fucking years ago, by the way," she concludes flatly, "the only thing I wanted to be when I grew up was alive. Because right about then, that wasn't a fucking certainty for me."

(Oh, look. It's therapy now.) Her eyes narrow at something past him, rather than at him, realizing she'd not really brought up her condition previously. Great. Her gaze refocused on him sharply, practically shouting with her eyes to remind him but this isn't about her before she moves past him to head for check-out.

Hmm. Emily's bullshit-dar is remarkably well-informed, and Teo would know that if she was actually talking about reality-twins out loud. Unfortunately, he doesn't, so he just listens to her — hiss and spit and exclaim without raising her voice, an impressive cascade of complaints, most of which are legitimate, followed by an intimidating exeunt toward the cash register. Teo tracks what she's saying pretty well, despite the fact that she's saying a lot, breathing, somehow, in between sentences.

Wait. Wait. She—

Teo puts out his hand and catches the edge of her basket, which he recognizes an instant later is very presumptuous. He lets go. But he is probably like seven times stronger than her, so the effect has probably registered profoundly by then. This isn't something he thinks he should be talking to her about in the checkout line. "Come on, man," he says, "logically, most scars occur to maladjusted young men after they've stopped taking baths with their siblings. And obviously— he has tattoos I don't have, not the other way around, and obviously there's some more shit going on there that I haven't gotten around to explaining," and would prefer to not have to explain, but probably will, but

"Are you okay right now?" Teodoro intercepts her gaze somewhat with his head, which is not quite seven times bigger than hers, but still pretty large. He ducks it down so she has to look him in his eyes, which are very blue and earnestly concerned with her well-being. "You don't— I know you don't have to tell me anything you don't want to. I'm just worried."

Teo has a feeling she wasn't on the brink of death due to chronic malnutrition from an overconsumption of such products as cinnamon applesauce, even if she is very tiny-looking.

When Teo tries for that split second to detain her, Emily turns back to him, her look a laser-filled dare to keep on as he is. It persists for a moment after he lets go, and she shifts past him to navigate them to self-checkout instead. More space to breathe, for one. A narrow checkout lane would be downright claustrophobic at the moment. Not to mention, there's a pseudo-sense of privacy with the one-at-a-time approach applied to the little kiosks.

His explanation about baths — plausible. The one about the tattoos — less. She's back on the conspiracy path again, where everything about this person is the same but also not.

"He's not really your twin, is he? Not really," she mutters while stabbing the kiosk screen to let it know she's taken how many limes she has. "He's not from here at all." is added as she drops the small bundle on the scanner so it can be weighed to determine if she's lying egregiously about her take.

Emily purposely avoids saying the words (the AU words and the AR words) out loud because they're like to turn heads, on top of making her feel more crazy than she already does for having casually dropped that in conversation. Hell, the implication was enough.

When she turns to grab another item from her basket and Teo is right there and eye-level, a startled note escapes her before she can stop it. She lets out a long exhale after that, shooing him aside so she can scan some other sundry. "Give me any more jumpscares like that and I won't be." she grumbles at him without looking at him at first.

Emily does turn back to him a moment later to just as earnestly stress to him, "I'm fine." with a lift of her brow and everything to show her sincerity. Blue-eyed stare against blue-eyed-stare, it's hers that breaks first. She has to finish scanning, it's her excuse.

"I saw a healer in December," she explains belatedly, after she's paid from her little wallet and is scooping plastic bags onto her forearms so Teo can start his half. "So if I'm lucky, maybe she didn't just heal the MS, maybe I never have to worry about cancer again, either. It's stupid and unlikely and not nearly as exciting as your doppelganger situation, but there you have it." Emily speaks lightly, unaffectedly about the whole thing now that it's out, but regards him warily out of the corner of her eye as she stands aside.

She's not good at sharing, and remains cautiously on-guard for the reason why she never does: the follow-ups.

It's none of his business, but Teo is relieved. Relieved like there aren't words for, because that would be an awkward thing to say to a young woman you only met a few weeks ago, who's fought chronic conditions and life-threatening illness on her own, for so long. Great gaseous sighs from a near-stranger would trivialize it, so he just says, "Okay. I'm glad to hear that."

All the old members of Phoenix, Vanguard, whatever, used to be like this; like he used to be, how he still is to some small extent. Tinkerers, soldiers, adventurers, meddlers. Were she not seen to already, he probably would have interfered. Knowing it was none of his business, and still. Knowing there are illnesses everywhere, cities, countries over, and she's no different— and still. What is his business of course—

—her other question. It takes him a moment to recalibrate, multi-tasking absent-mindedly, beeping the package of noodles onto the laser panel. "You're right. He came here ten years ago. Hey. Emily." Broth boops across the laser next. Boop, boop. "How do you know about this? People like him."

His voice is lower now. Discreet. And, invisible to her eye, he takes a quick psychic dash around the room, leapfrogging hastily through the nearest minds. No one looking at them, no one monitoring surveillance devices.

He's relieved? No, she's relieved. He's not rounded on her, looked at her differently, just accepted it and moved on.

Maybe her anxiety level will lower over the course of the day, (but not likely) and she'll let her guard down that he won't ask (accidentally) stupid or rude questions, but that doesn't mean she can't be relieved and still on-guard at the same time.

Emily lets out an unsteady breath she didn't realize she was holding as he casually moves on to the rest of it. A short snort of a chuckle escapes her because she just can't help it. "Because half the time, it feels like you can't walk down any given street in New York without running into one," she quips airily, scrubbing the side of her face with one hand as she glances at the stranger nearest them. Her voice lowers a half-shade more. "I've met a few people," she explains. "And when those visions hit everyone, when the auroras came… I had a few of those, too. All different places. All different mes."

There's a moment of pause, a hesitation to bring it up. She does anyway, voice low. "You know there's more now, right? A group of people — January. Elisabeth Harrison and Magnes Varlane and … others." is how she chooses to refer to the rest of the reality-travelers, rather than list the ones she'd figured out by name.

"Some fucking shit it is," she murmurs tiredly.

"Yeah, I saw Liz was back," Teo says, slowly, mostly to himself. "Unbelievable." What is New York City anymore. This is why we should all be trying to relive our own versions of contemporay Little House on the Prairie, and it's annoying that the Francoises of the world refuse to get it. He pays for his own share of the groceries— more than hers, but then, he's the adult, who was technically employed full-time, albeit at not a very high-paying job until just recently. (Whatever, maybe his husband owes him grocery money for infidelity. Is that how it works.)

He picks up the paper bag and moves aside, making enough space for her small frame so that he can fall into step along-side her. Teo runs another quick check, that no one's proper listening, then starts for the doorway, pausing to allow a rivulet of foot traffic slide by, shopping carts a-clanking. There's an odd, staggered instant, where Teo thinks about at least offering to carry Emily's bag, but out of respect, he doesn't.

"You're right, he's one of them. The other me, I mean. But it's more complicated than that." Teo is good at not looking furtive when he's being furtive. He is checking again, even as they step out into the brisk, early springtime sunshine. "I have a lot of his memories. There was some telepathy clusterfuck, after he came here. We're pretty different now, though." A beat. He shifts the bag's ponderous weight in his hand, tense, but not yet agitated. It's certainly better than he knows, especially after his brief experiment in fisticuffs with the ghost. Not his finest, most morally upright moment, for all that he tends to criticize his analogue.

"You're taking this in stride, more or less," Teo observes. Then, "It's not that Devon kid who introduces you to these— fuckin'. Anomalies, is it?"

Emily waits for him to finish grabbing his own shit, taking a moment to do some people-watching. (No, Teo. Francois does not owe you infidelity money.) She adjusts the wrap of the plastic bag around her hand as they head for the door, reminding herself for the umpteenth time she's got to remember to start bringing those reusable bags.

She shares none of Teo's (sometimes) quiet disdain for New York, and probably never will. It was her chosen home, the place she'd argued her way to get back to, and the place she had fought to — and was succeeding in making a life for herself. Herself. Not because anyone told her to. (Nevermind the new living situation was a result of badgering by her mother, and the internship that was paying for school definitely had something to do with her father.)

Once they're outside, it's easier for her to notice how he stays just as tense as he'd been inside. She's currently chalking it up to the conversation topic rather than his perpetual state of hypervigilance. After all, she doesn't know him that well yet, for all they're learning about each other. "Telepathy clusterfuck? That must have fucking sucked." With her limited context, she figures something happened that caused them to all be very similar for a moment. They shared memories, after all.

"That's— that's interesting though. That you're all different now. Three different yous, and they're all different." Three?

Emily looks back his way with a small shrug. "The— three mes that I saw, there was a lot similar between us." she explains. Her expression darkens when he asks if it's Devon's fault she's not spazzing about all this. "No," Emily scoffs, then her voice settles to something more mild. "Like I said, it just happens. And I don't know what I'd call it all either, for what it's worth."

There's a beat, then she scoffs again, looking at where they're walking. "Devon and I worked very hard to keep our own separate bullshits firmly separate and unspoken of for as long as possible. He was understanding and respectful about it — the one you'd be better worried about is Joe." A thought which makes her snort. Because it was true, Joe running his mouth had inadvertently introduced her to a few interesting things.

For some reason, it's funny that she says so: that the telepathy cluster had 'sucked.' It's rather sweet. "It did," Teo agrees, mildly surprised, for some reason. He's gotten into a bad habit of not saying out loud when things suck. But he is conveniently blind to the connection between that silence and the horrific breakdown of his marriage, so — moving along. "Three of me." Absurd. "I’m over it, personally."

But now

Now, she is sharing more boy names, patching together a narrative that jumps from handsome kid to handsome kid, time-travelers in the middle, a familiarity with mentalism, and apparently other 'bullshit.' There was a time when the young people of New York mostly had to deal with 'bullshit' along the lines of sugaring and rising Metro fare prices, less so psychic phenomena. Or dating paramilitary operatives. Are they dating? Is she dating two? There are certainly worse ways to live life once you've survived cancer, Teo can see. Why shouldn't the next Bachelorette be Emily Epstein? He would watch that show.

Nor would nepotism— or having an actually supportive parent— strike Teo as sins, but his bar is rather high these days. "Okay," he says. "I'm only asking because you mentioned them, but if you'd rather not because it’s 'too early' or whatever, I can drop it. But there's Joe, there's Devon. Devon is Wolfhound, presumed—" another hypervigilant instant of casting around, it's fine, it's fine, "as having a unique medical condition," AKA dead, "until recently. Blond, helped you move in. Has bullshit that doesn't spill over. Joe? Is?"

She hears that tone. That oh, you mentioned another member of the opposite sex, you must be dating and I need clarification about that fact voice. Her look flattens further than it did after he creatively evaded saying the words 'presumed dead' — and that was only seconds prior. Emily has gone from amused to unamused to very unamused in a short period of time. "For fuck's sake, Teo, stay in one lane. Joe is a friend, a classmate, very — 'anomaly'-adjacent, as you put it. We were talking about about anomaly bullshit," not whatever the heck things had suddenly drifted toward, "So I brought him up." It was a joke! A backfired one, possibly.

At least the sun made it warm today. If they had to have this talk in the snow, it would have been miserable. "He was one of the—" here comes another term Emily doesn't say frequently, and although she knows it's an accurate one, it still feels odd to her, "Lighthouse Kids. Too friendly, thinks too highly of everyone he meets, doesn't shut up even when he's eating…"

Emily walks for several paces before she tacks on, "He's a good friend, despite all his faults," disgruntled as she might sound. Another few paces before she mutters, "A lot of our conversations tend to end with me walking away because he gets to be too much to deal with." There's an awkwardness to that, tone shifting as she realizes aloud the faults it highlights in them both.

Perfect time for her to slant her gaze back his way. "I have several friends, Teo. Not all of them are girls. So just … pack away whatever little 'oh, who's that?' snark you have going on over there." She's far more judgmental than he is about her supposed Bachelorette situation.

"Why would you think I'm 'snarking' you?" Teo ask, with quote marks fitted neatly on either side of the word, a wry tone to match the curl at the corner of his mouth. He glances down at her, the stern level of her eyebrows. "You remind me of Australian tourists that used to come through Palermo. No one can ever be earnest about saying anything." It's pleasant, that his mind goes back to a time before the chaos of Evolved politics in his life, though. Most of his flashbacks since his 20s haven't managed to plumb that far back.

"I'm sorry I assumed a boy would want to date you. Not snark," Teo notes, because he can already feel the rising tide of her skepticism, "I'd've wondered the same about a girl. But if you don't care about that, or you don't like the idea, or you don't like to talk about it, I get it." Does he actually get it? Kind of. Teodoro is like, thirty percent #woke now. He did a lot of reading while he was in the mountains, which did a little to assuage his weird, fractious, Catholicized relationship with his own sexuality. He knows there are people who are asexual, aromantic, and there other prefixes, like demi-, and besides, that it's normative to care less about sex or romantic relationships than he did at her age.

He remembers being angry when he was nineteen-years-old, too. Also quite sarcastic, and inclined to believe others were as well, now that he remembers.

Maybe it's a nineteen-year-old thing? Teo prefers not to think so. Every child must be unique, and Emily's low-key insistence on her own mundanity is just the bare beginning of that portrait. "I have friends who're girls and boys, too. Good ones. With faults. Who are a lot to deal with." Emily reminds him— of— something he can't put his finger on, now. It tugs at the back of his mind. (Later he will realize: it's the fact he should remember his friends more often.) "Is he there when you need him?" (And that: he needs them.)

Is he talking about Devon or Joe at this point? Lips part to either answer or ask her question, and she gapes for a moment in that hesitation. Finally, she frowns, realizing the answer is the same either way. "Yes," she answers, somewhat disgruntled. Was she, for either of them? She'd like to think so, but she knows she can be emotionally unavailable more often than she is. Son of a bitch. Why were her friends even friends with her? Joe insisted she was a 'good person', whatever that meant, but she's really pressed to wonder now.

Her mood remains little improved as she ponders his passing, possibly-sarcastic sorry about dating material. Fuck being woke, it wasn't like she had the experience to know which kind of -sexual she was to begin with. Hadn't had enough time, enough energy to consider which prefix applied to her. Devon only got 'in' by sheer persistence, and their relationship was defined more by their avoidance of talking about themselves in great detail (save for explosive outbursts) (usually Emily's) and keeping each other almost always at a distance.

So maybe she was a demi.

"You were just prying to pry, Teo, and I was giving you shit for it." Emily belatedly explains when he equates her to a haughty tourist irritated that the land they're visiting talks back. As for friends who are a lot to deal with, though, she can't help but have her mood improve slightly. "You know, I feel like I have a slightly better deal, at least. When it comes to difficult friends."

She glances sidelong his way, shifting the bags hanging from her hands. "Joe's probably still a lot easier to deal with than Eve is, for example." Emily lets out a small, involuntary shudder as she looks forward again. "God, Eve's a fucking nightmare."

"Disagree," Teo responds, a grin flashing over his face— he has very nice teeth for a farmer who periodically smokes. (He uses whitening strips.) "I was prying to get to know you better." He doesn't say any more of it, having already offered her an out, and seen her regroup on the subject. It is reassuring to her that she seems to hold her friends in high esteem; that she took the question seriously at all, and had something of a positive answer to it. Singular experiences like hers can be alienating, he knows. It took him a long time to come back to people, after he got Romero's girlfriend killed.

And still he has no insight, but it's fine. The neurons are firing. He will eventually make that connection.

"You knew Eve?" Teo cocks his head, studying the ever frank look on her face in some surprise, followed pretty fucking quick by a blight of grief. Possibly he should be offended, that she's being spoken of in such terms, considering, but — well. Eve was always unapologetically Eve, and Teo is disinclined to seek or make apologies on her behalf.

He turns his scruffy head, looking down the street. Their home isn't too far, just a few blocks of dodging college students and other pedestrians. "They told me she died. She was the last person I saw in the city, last time I was just visiting." Death has followed Teodoro for as long as he remembers being any version of himself; his voice is even when he talks about her, conversational, but there's a certain weight to it. "She was a lot. Pretty high bar for annoying, with most people. Not surprised Joe couldn't beat her in that race."

Teo's surprise, and then the falling of his expression, his voice, take Emily by surprise in return. She blinks, recoiling back when she realizes. Wait—

Eve hadn't told her fucking bartender she was alive, and she didn't tell her friends??

A long stream of swears threaten to sally forth from Emily as that revelation is had, especially when she sees the way the light in his eyes change. He was fucking grieving for someone who—

"—'s not dead," comes from Emily, abrupt and only half a sound. She has to get it out as quickly as possible before Teo's sadness bowls her over with how subtle yet plain it is, and the words don't form exactly right. "Eve's alive, Teo. Swear on my fucking life. Something happened to her, but she's … well, alive. I don't know what the fuck else is going on, though."

There's a beat that passes as she quickly decides what order to share events in. "She was there on the beach when we found Devon washed up on shore, though she bailed before long." Another beat. "And before that, I saw her …" Emily's tone takes an awkward slant to it, brow starting to furrow. It's almost too much for her to say, but she does it anyway, muttered almost unintelligibly: "explode from a cloud, naked, on horseback."

Holy shit revelations, they hit Teo like someone had punched him. More surprise. His feet slowly lose momentum, until his brisk walk has slowed to a crawl and then a stop. He should probably be mad at Eve too, but Emily will learn this with time; he's bad at being mad at people. Bad at acknowledging it, expressing it, putting it into a proper grave. Much like Eve herself, one supposes. Most of the time, it does no visible harm.

Other times, it's visible at least. Suddenly, the Sicilian man is sticking his arms out at her. "I'm going to hug you," he says. "Unless you look super fucking awkward about it."

Somehow, the whole explode naked on horseback part gets swept entirely aside! For one thing, Teodoro Laudani does know Eve, and what she's like. Jumping on people, stabbing them. All the slaps and innuendo pointed in wrong directions. Ludicrous behavior is par for the course, if she's alive. And she is. Teo believes Emily instantly. It's a foregone conclusion that she lies about other things, generally by omission, repression— but not about something like this. No matter how frustrating the former oracle might be, or how irritating he's been in the past, either.

It's New York City. There are as many miracles that take place here as crimes. It's always good news or tragedy. And for a moment, Teodoro actually forgets that he hates this place, forgetting about nearly anything else at all, looming affectionately in the small girl's direction.

Teo really looks like he could use that hug, Emily thinks to herself.

Too bad Emily is more often than not liable to just stand there like a dead fish when someone (save for a very small circle of someones) when someone attempts to hug her. She's not entirely sure if that qualifies as looking 'super fucking awkward' about it, but

Teo really does look like he needs that hug.

She has a feeling she's getting one whether she wants it or not, honestly. So Emily slows her pace until it's matched his (stopped), and turns his way, arms still covered in plastic bags. It makes it a little difficult to lift them, Teo. She glances at his arms, even more filled with bags, and decides to do the right thing here. She initiates the hug, awkward as it might be. Her arms remain more or less out by her side and she does little more than hunch her shoulders into him.

He can extract from that whatever he wants about her, and he likely will.

"Everybody deserves a bit of good news," Emily says, only because she means it. "I'm glad I could give that to you."

This is a nice hug, Teo observes. Even without cooperation from her arms, which he is filing away for analysis at a later time. She's so tiny. Above average for a woman in the United States of America, granted, but horizontally very small. He does a both arms hug, despite being belabored by shopping bags; something cold nests on her hip for a moment. There are worse things than being a sucker for kindness; there are worse things than needing a hug, too, though Teo would probably still be mildly mortified to know it had been obvious.

After a huggably appropriate length of time, Teo lets her go.

"Appreciate it." Teo turns back the way they had been going, starts to walk again. HIS EYES FEEL SLIGHTLY MORE DAmp than before but no one will ever know, he will die before anyone ever knows. And it's effectively gone from him the next instant; in the spotty foot traffic swinging by them, people see a young man with an easy smile, in a fair mood, beside a young woman who probably should have been offered help carrying her bags, judgy judgy, people are judgy. But in the moment, there's nothing sinister about this particular subterfuge. He's merely grateful. Catholics aren't good at only guilt. "Hey— if you ever need someone to talk to, yourself. I can do that. And I can keep a secret."

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