eileen_icon.gif teo3_icon.gif

Scene Title Stop
Synopsis A reflection of what's been both lost and gained, Teodoro shares a cigarette with Eileen aboard the USS George Washington.
Date January 17, 2009

USS George Washington

McMurdo seems interchangeable with any other chunk of pitted pewter rock and white ice on Antarctica except for the spit of civilian anchored off its shore. Sea's black, sky's ash; two colors and two halves of the hemisphere having resumed their proper colors after the cataclysmic offenses to physics produced by Cardinal's last act finally faded away. As such, topside of the USS George Washington is not the best place to go about one's escapism or one's business, now that the world is saved at the awful cost of so many lives.

Nevertheless, that's where Teo's voice comes to nettle at the back of Eileen's head, intersecting with the steady course her small boots were taking her along, up either to the medbay or one of the makeshift dorm versions thereof. Like a bird's: "Eileen. Hey. Ssst.

"Psst. Eileen."

It's impossible to tell the time of day here. It's always day. The greatest facsimile of night-time available is either in locked rooms— too few of which there are to spare— or the space underneath an access ship ladder, whose narrow bars and slats delete enough segments out of the cold and sterile glare to hide Teodoro's head in a thorough dousing of ink. The ragged outgrowth of his hair blends almost seamlessly with the ruff of his parka and his eyes squint like burns above his cigarette and between the rungs, trying to pick the pale point of her chin out of her silhouette. Even bound up in woolly socks and ice-pick soles, he could recognize her footsteps.

Eileen's dark-haired head turns, exposing to Teo her face's familiar profile defined by the curve of her jaw — delicate, like a swallow's angular wing. If he hadn't recognized her footsteps, he might have been able to pick her out based on her size alone. There aren't many women aboard the Washington that have Eileen's build, and those who do are easily identified by the drab uniforms they wear. The Briton, in contrast, is dressed in civilian clothes that include a heavy winter jacket, a dark gray sweater, skirt and long, charcoal-coloured stockings that end in a pair of unremarkable black flats that were designed with utility in mind.

She'd been on her way back to her quarters for the first time since touching back down at McMurdo, but whatever she'd been intending to do there — eat, sleep, grieve — apparently isn't as important as what she's discovered under the ladder. A glance tipped over her shoulder ensures that the only company she has is Teo, and wordlessly she steps up to his hiding place, gloved fingers looped around one of the ladder's middle rungs.

Pale eyes seek out pale eyes; politely, she does not allow her gaze to linger at the corner of the Sicilian's mouth. "Teodoro."

Fancifully, one might have supposed Teo might not notice or mind, but that might be giving him too much credit. Well. When the larger things in life go awry, one can hardly take pleasure in being reminded of the smaller. In any case, he doesn't notice her careful courtesy, and that's probably a little better than gratitude.

"You look nice," he says, blinking. It seems appropos of nothing, random, out of the blue— possibly inappropriate, but only because it's sincere. Teo cants his head, puts the good side of his face out into the oblique bleaching of sunlight. They are all wearing dark clothes, which is a little bit like mourning gear; you don't go out on missions to saaaave the world in red. The converse of that is there's no real transition when the dust settles on corpses.

"You look like you remember me," he adds. Possibly more salient, or at least something to get out of the way. He's sitting on a coiled pile of heavy rope that seems to have petrified into a fixed tower, possibly inspiring the Sicilian to join it in hopes of doing the same.

Eileen moves around the side of the ladder, ducks under a length of steel piping and joins Teo behind it in a crouch. Slender arms encircle her legs below the knee, perhaps for warmth, more likely to spare her posture the excess awkwardness. The sun's rays streaming into their hideaway between the slats creates a striped pattern that cuts a path across her back that alternates between light and shadow, illuminating the fibers of her hair and sweater where the glow hits them.

To anyone passing by, they appear as two hunched animals in a failing menagerie, separated from the flow of human traffic by metal bars and casual indifference. They aren't even interesting enough to stop and look at. If their situation was different, she might ask him who told him that she didn't. Remember him. As it is, she has a fairly good idea already and spares him that specific query. Instead she asks, gesturing to the cigarette in his mouth with her left hand, "Do you have another one of those?"

Layabouts! the marines must think. Good-for-nothing sluggards. Europeans. Does anyone use the word 'sluggard' anymore? Teodoro's English vocabulary still fits clumsy, sometimes, and he is not the best person to be making pretend scripts for the marines that troop to and fro about their day's routine and logistical duties. He doesn't understand how they work, and he is reluctant to acknowledge that they probably understand all too well.

He sticks a cigarette at her; one he had pulled out from behind his ear. "I had quit. Threw my pack out," Teodoro says. "Funny story." He doesn't elaborate, of course; he's in no kind of mood for funny stories. Down here, he looks a blond tiger, illuminated here and striped here. He has escaped Antarctica almost entirely unscathed. At worst, his knuckles are cold-chapped and red, but steady as a rock as he hands over the goods. When he digs up his lighter, his grip is solid around its smaller shape. Flame tassels up at the white end of the stick. He is going to wait until she's had her first drag before asking: 'And Gabe?'

Cigarette balanced in cradle of the v-shape created by her fore and middle fingers just above the second knuckle, Eileen leans in and feels the heat wafting off the flame in waves that tickle the sensitive, weather-beaten skin of her face mottled rosy pink. Her lips move around its filter, drawing in air and setting its tip ablaze with gently flickering orange light. It fills the space between them in the absence of words, and as she sucks back her first mouthful of bitter smoke, she removes the cigarette from her lips and looks down at it with a bowed head, curls of dark hair laid across her face and obscuring its expression from view.

When her eyes flick back up to Teo, there's a rueful smile shaping her mouth. "Thanks," she says, tendrils of silver escaping between her teeth and the small, perfectly round cavities of her nostrils. The back of her sleeve grazes her nose. "I thought I did, too."

Funny stories. Teodoro does actually remember feeling a certain level of alarm regarding the young woman's nicotine habit, once upon a time, but he can't remember if it was prior to basement abductions or after the last apocalypse, or after the government hired her for anti-Vanguard wet-ops but before she started working at the children's hospital. He isn't about to object now, naturally.

He doesn't know what kind of shape he'd be in without cigarettes right now, but he figures it would involve somewhat less socially acceptable forms of self-medication. Exhaling another ectoplasmic huff of gray, he glances sidelong at her, palpitates his attention down at the bolts securing the ladder to floor, and up again. Of course she remembers Gabriel. "Come on," he says, straightening his back suddenly. "We'll have a competition. Biggest mistakes since Operation Apollo started. I fucked a French guy who'd die in an icefield ditch full of radioactive waste.

"Ostensibly to get him away from my best friend's girl. You?"

Eileen considers the challenge over another drag from the cigarette, eyes raised skyward even though there's not much to see except a steel bulkhead and the oversized rivets holding it in place. She catches her lower lip between her teeth and pinches it in thought before her gaze levels out again, searching his face. Of course she remembers Gabe, and in spite of her evasive snaking, she remembers Teo too. Once he broke her nose. Another time he told her he loved her. What comes before and after is still in the process of developing like film soaking in a bath of chemicals in a dimly lit room. Some memories are already hanging up to dry. Others have yet to be removed from the camera and cracked from their casing.

There's a protracted pause followed by a breathy hint of laughter entirely without mirth. Okay, she'll play this game. Biggest mistakes. "I told Gabriel to leave me."

A dark brow pries itself up out of alignment at the top of Teodoro's face, as if he is very reluctantly, seriously considering relinquishing victory to the Englishwoman. "If he's dead, you win," he says, after a protracted moment. The menagerie beasts breathe the stale air from each others' lungs and twitch tail-tips otherwise too enervated to manifest the more impassioned heights of feline sentiment. Though, she did laugh. "Otherwise, I think it's a draw. I don't have anything better than the last time I put my thing in—" Teo's lips draw a paler line across his face.

The Sicilian folds an arm over his knee, and taps ash out on the top of his boot. Grayish white streaks insulated leather. He closes his eyes. Squeezes, and reopens them again. "Not to make light," he says. He flattens his thumb on the tiny wheel of his lighter, turning his nail briefly white, before tucking it into his jacket. "But I wouldn't assume he listened, exactly."

"There is no if." Eileen hasn't accumulated enough ash to dispose of it, but even as she speaks the paper is burning, peeling slowly away at a smoky creep. "I was there. Danko shot him twice." She presses her two fingers together, cigarette pinched between them, and touches their tips to her chest above her heart and several inches to the right. Here and here. "He bled out while I tried to drive him off. No pulse. No breath. And even if by some miracle I was wrong, we brought several thousand tonnes of broken concrete and twisted steel down on top of his head. Gabriel, Francois, Richard, Rico — they're all dead."

Kazimir is probably deserving of a mention as well, but if there's anyone she can safely harbour a secret hope for, it's her dziadzio. He's never been alive the whole time she's known him.

Her tongue runs across her front teeth, gathering saliva and the sweet taint of burnt tobacco. It's unladylike to spit, but she doesn't particularly care. Turns her head, lets a wad go. "He used to warn me that if I kept pushing, one day he'd be gone. He was right."

Too many injuries, too many falling objects. Teo finds himself agreeing, however unwillingly. If his abilities didn't protect him, Gabriel was undoubtedly finished; no human strength could have conquered that mess, and past the forcefields, phasing, experiments with lifeforce absorption, energy forms, and uncommon strength of character, he was nothing if not human. Nor were any of the other three.

Fucking Danko. Teo's teeth show bone white for a moment— all of them, not merely the keloid-ruched gash in the side of his face. Settles his features back into a fair semblence of neutrality, the next moment, watching the bullets' flight paths pointed by her skinny scrimshaw digits. He hadn't seen Gabriel, with the ground turned up, catwalks warping and popping like the filaments inside the overcharged glassbulbs, snow traveling upward as much as down.

"You didn't tell him to get shot, you went to him," he says, latching onto inspiration. He grips his cigarette between ring finger and middle, jabs at the patchy monochrome ugliness of the sky. "You didn't come to motherfucking Antarctica on purpose, either. There was no pushing."

"He came to me on the boat," Eileen says, "before Madagascar, before he found out what they did to my head. Told me we could leave. Just the two of us — that we could go anywhere." The clop of booted footsteps passes the ladder, and through the slats four uniformed legs clip briskly by. She turns her head to regard them, waiting for the trotting sound to dissipate. When it does, she lets her hand drop from her chest and hang loose at her side as smoke continues to waft up from the tip of the cigarette in slow undulations.

"It's hard not to turn this into my fault, but— I know he wasn't there at the end because of me. He was there because he knew we needed his help, and that made me want him— even more." Eileen rotates the cigarette between her fingers in quiet contemplation. "I don't remember a lot about what happened after the Narrows fell. I still don't understand how things could have changed so much between us. That should make this easier. It doesn't."

So much marching. There is probably flake-form penguin shit gathering in their hair from the walking. Obscurely, Teo hopes that they are going to return the birds to their rightful home first. Less obscurely, he fancies he understands. "To the best of my recollection, you're the kind of person who trends toward certainty beyond all shadow of doubt that your relationship is fucked, won't be strong enough to hold together under all…" There's a vague illustration of smoke woven in the air. Nuclear apocalypses. Stony shadows. The percussive indifference of military jackboots. "All the shit. So having known someone you could've loved — leaves you with what you know and what you never will and both are all backwards.

"Or maybe it was inevitable. Or Gabe— Gabriel," Teodoro corrects himself, remembering an uplifted eyebrow once. On a pier, "was just really cool." He thins his eyes at this final adjective, draws it out around the contours of a smoke ring that leans to the left slightly, floats through a few fjords of shadow before breaking against the cabin wall. "You win," he says, suddenly looking at her. His lips are so thinned they almost blend with the sheared-rubber edges of the wound in his cheek. He bends his elbow into a nudge at her knee. "You win the prize, signorina."

"I was going to take him up on his offer." Eileen raises the cigarette to her lips and purses her mouth around it. "London. Amsterdam. Moscow. All the places I've been. Fuck the scholarship. Fuck the one bedroom and the money and the paperwork. Kazimir used to put us on merchant ships. Fishing boats. You don't need a passport to cross borders."

She presses back against the elbow at her knee. "What prize do I win, stronzo?" There's nothing malicious about her tone when she says it; obvious affection for the man sitting across from her bleeds through into her voice and makes it warble. "Everyone's lost something in this. The people we killed — they had families, too. Somewhere, someone's waiting for somebody they love to call. A lot of phones stopped ringing last night."

Teo didn't get an offer from his kamikaze superhero man. Well: not one that involved other countries or was formatted in verbalized words, anyway. Not one that he interpreted in a timely manner, either, and he examines his misfortune with a distant sort of wryness. Still, she wins. Because her mistakes were the greatest, her loss the most inherently pathetic, and she is one of the favorites of this arbiter who doesn't know 'all those other people' anyway. The wives of murderers, sires of monsters, children of walk-outs, no-shows, and absentees. Pronouncing judgment is inevitable, but at least Teo has little pretension about the legitimacy of his standards. He didn't bring tasers to Antarctica.

So, "You win," he insists again, bumping her knee with his elbow right back, even as he squishes his cigarette out underneath his boot. Releasing its saliva-rimed filter, he makes a drumroll out of his forefingers and the slats of his lap. Babump-tishhhh. She'll like the prize. It's a good one.

"You, Eileen Emila Ruskin, have won the opportunity to stop." Teodoro flips his drumsticks expertly, points at her like Johnny Bravo though he doesn't watch Cartoon Network, or boogie, and therefore doesn't actually know it. His grin holds for a moment before lapsing into a smile; a stupid parody of nothing, he pulls his hands back, sets the protruding digits against his face, ruined cheek and whole, as if doing is darnedest to prop up the corners again. Or invite her to spare him a little bit optimism.

Eileen flicks the edge of her thumb against the side of her cigarette. Enough ash has built up at its tip to flake off like discoloured chips of snow. The repentant smile making a mockery of her own mouth wavers, but Teo won't be able to tell whether or not it fades into something more genuine. She's leaning forward to claim the space between them, brushing her cheek against his as she lifts her chin and whispers hoarsely into his ear.

"A foolish man tells a woman to stop talking," she says, "but a wise man tells her that her mouth is extremely beautiful when her lips are closed. I won't." She kisses his jaw, then — the kind of fondness and warmth one imagines she usually reserves for Ethan. Gabriel, Kazimir, her idealized image of Wu-Long, and all the others who are also gone. "The Ferry can still use me. There were people in my life who I want to know again."

He's far too whatever on cigarettes and whatever to stiffen at the token of affection, though maybe forty-three minutes ago there would have been withdrawal, his shoulders seesawing up and down one by one for a moment, either cuddling or squirming like a whining tot. Teo's face falls slightly, but not really.

She's pretty up close too. Teo pulls the fingers down from his face, folding scar-notched knuckles into nervous repose on his knees. When he slides his boot away, its treads have bored silky holes into the thin distribution of ashes. "Are you going to think less of me if I go buy new pencils and notebooks and apples for my professor's desk? I won't be mad if you think less of me," he adds. He lifts a hand, hooks lazy fingers on the nearest ladder rung, unmindful of dirt or of being trodded on.

"I'll get you an argyle sweater vest and a pair of chunky black reading glasses," Eileen promises, drawing back, one small hand braced against the floor with fingers splayed as she rises from her crouch. "The girls in the front row will find excuses to stay after class and ask you questions about tomorrow's homework." That's probably a no. "Whatever you want to do with your life, Teodoro," she says. "All I'm asking is that you stay in mine."

She exhales a plume of thinning smoke aimed at the empty air. "I'm glad the old me was able to call you a friend. I'd still like to."

That doesn't sound so bad. Not so much to ask. Well if he haaas to. "You couldn't get away if you had a crowbar and a scathing Cockney remark about my codependent tendencies," he answers. His fingers tighten, knuckles peaking through the back of his hand. A single arm is enough to haul him easily to his feet, pulling his knees up before tipping them down ungainlily toward the floor.

There's stiffness in the contraction of thighs and calves from sitting on his rope nest too long, but it is beneath him to make a fuss about it. Teodoro's frame is built on measurements that require he seat himself if he's going to remain under the ladder with any kind of comfort, so he steps out, shedding his piano-key stripes in favor of the wan wash of polar sunlight. He entirely neglects to notice the flattened smoke. "We're standing up," he observes. We.

There's a sooty albatross wheeling circles in the slate gray sky, its dark plumage allowing its shape to blend in with the gloom. It's the sort of thing you'd only notice if you were looking for it — and Eileen is. She follows Teo out of the steel grotto and lifts her eyes, one hand angled across her face, the other clasped at her hip, arm bent. The distant cry of gulls battling each other for scraps of fish on the shores of McMurdo sound are carried on the wind. Antarctica is as much a wasteland as the unstable terrain of her life and relationships, but life persists even here.

It only makes sense that they should, too. "Did you want to get something to eat?" she asks. "The galley's putting out."

"Si," without hesitation, despite that cigarettes counteract the normal effects of appetite quick enough. Cafeteria sounds good, despite that there will be people there; the kind that isn't in-transit. Possibly even existing acquaintances. Teo's eyes go crescent-shaped with a smile that he doesn't enforce around his mouth.

Were her Wu-Long here, romanticized or merely as romantic as usual, he'd select a few oranges to sacrifice for the dead. Lacking such a pronounced culture of food for the dead, the two cultural Christians are left to impart whatever dignity they can in quiet conversation, token affection, and really awful jokes. He doesn't look up at the albatross' cry; merely offers a hand, upturned.

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