Surprising Old Friends


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Scene Title Surprising Old Friends
Synopsis Elisabeth Harrison is the last person that Teodoro Laudani ever expected to see buying coffee as if she never left.
Date March 20, 2019

Red Hook Market

The Red Hook Market resides within the gutted shell of Textile Factory 17, a turn-of-the-century mill building that once served as the headquarters of New York's FRONTLINE civil defense organization. Miraculously, the building survived the civil war largely unscathed except for the total collateral loss of its electronics to the EMP that ravaged Manhattan. When the building was reclaimed by Gilbert Tucker in late 2015, it was remodeled with the intention of turning it into a central community hub for the entirety of the Safe Zone. Today, the multiple above-ground buildings serve as meeting halls, council chambers, offices, and storage rooms for the Safe Zone Cooperative. The basement levels, a labyrinthine maze of brick corridors, vaulted storage spaces, and small nooks, have become the sprawling home of the Red Hook Market, an open-air bazaar with free admittance to every Safe Zone resident. The market features pop-up vendor stalls, a single bar called the Red Hook Tavern, and food vendor stalls.

Teodoro has been drinking and driving a lot, lately. No, that sounds bad. He has been drinking a lot, and when he is sober, he has been driving a lot. Moving is a notoriously involved and frustrating process, even when you don't have traumatic associations with the new residence you're taking up. The fact that Evolved people have superpowers and the United States of America is in recovery from a Civil War in no way invalidates the problematic nature of mundane problems like this.

When you are drinking and separately driving a lot, there is one magical cure for the ills that come from both: coffee.

There is still such thing as Yelp, even if the company headquarters moved to Canada. Teo found this place on Yelp. In a different era, the 4.5 star rating would have ruined it, deluging the local sanctity with inconsiderate tourists looking for that cozy feel, that veneer of authenticity, as if authenticity is something you can paint on and lacquer. Facetuned selfies, souvenir cups. This place would have been coasting downhill in 2008. But it's 2019, and in the face of tenuous economics and creature comforts hard to come by for us locals, this coffee is exactly what it should be.

And still underwhelming. Because Teodoro Laudani hates everything anymore.

He's nursing his cup at one of the small tables by the window, his calloused fingers wrapped around the plastic (reusable), staring out the smeary window like the impending spring-time owes him money. He'll have to go back to the farmstead again today, bring back more of his shit. He isn't looking forward to it.

The blonde who comes in from outside is apparently a regular, given the wave she tosses to a couple of people. Eleanor's coffee stand is legendary, and yet she manages her line of customers with an efficiency of a kindly drill sergeant — all sweet smiles and fast motion. It's not until the blonde turns away from the counter carrying a cup of the life-affirming caffeine that her face comes into Teodoro's line of sight. And it's the face of a dead woman.

There are deeper lines in her features, her expression still as watchful and wary as the last time he saw her. She wears a pair of scuffed-up cargo pants with a long-sleeved blouse, her blonde hair caught up into an incongruously bouncy ponytail. Unmistakeably Elisabeth Harrison.

She sips from her cup and starts toward the far side of the room, giving him a few extra moments to reconcile what he's seeing with what he knows. She died in Alaska when they took the Institute down, November 8, 2011.

Teodoro sips his coffee and then stops breathing. It's bad timing, as far as the respiration goes; he'd just exhaled in order to drink, and a burning pang starts up in the right half of his chest. He stares at the specter in silence, initially. While he has come to realize that he is not in prime shape, with his mental health, actively hallucinating dead people on an austere coffee shop morning is a sign of decided degradation.

It is a little weird, though, that Eleanor is talking to his hallucination. Giving her change for her coffee order. Bidding her a good day, and warning her about the black ice threat on the intersection between Lavender and 13th. It seems like an unusual degree of detail to share with an imaginary person, and an unusually mundane set of details for imaginary people to be sharing. Teo's heart accomplishes some kind of strange, painful gymnastic in his chest. Of all people, he knows that there are non-psychiatric explanations for seeing things that don't belong.

Teo stares at her. It can't be helped, or not without explicit intent to lie.


This is either the most dangerous or the safest way to talk to the hallucinatory resurrected person who might be from another timeline. With your telepathy.

It's a voice … in her head… that is not Kaylee, and it's not Remi. And it's not the horrifying THING that came through the portal with her. It's a voice she hasn't heard in many years now, and even his mental voice has always held that somewhat desultory tone when he speaks, whether it's English or Italian.The change in her hand tinkles to the ground. The coffee almost follows it, but that would be sacrilege.

"Teo," she breathes. Blue eyes flicker across patrons at high speed as she whips around seeking him. He was not, in fact, hallucinating madly. It is the supposed-to-have-been-dead former teacher, former cop, former everything known as Elisabeth Harrison.

When her gaze collides with his, he can see the moment that shock turns to wonder turns to an upsurge of emotion. So many memories of this man, is it strange that the one that sticks out for a moment is one of the first… #BFA877|"He was looking, and he does like you, signorina."## So young in so many ways, both of them standing outside the Nite Owl that night so long ago. Before Washington Irving, before the Vanguard, before all of it. For a moment she wavers, and then she's moving toward him to stop just outside arm's length as if uncertain whether to engulf him in a hug or not.

"You," she chokes out with a smile threatening to become far more than just a bit teary-eyed, "are a sight for sore eyes, Laudani."

Teo gets up, a little unsteady from the past few days he's had, and surprise, and fatigue, and for a fourth reason that he is not sure exactly what it is, but one might as well call love. He rounds the table, coffee abandoned. He wraps her up in his arms.

If you want to know the truth, Teo isn't her Teo; not the first one, anyway. The one that told her who was looking, who insisted she follow her own destiny into the maw of a growing war. That boy is somewhere else. This one feels like he's stealing a little something from his counterpart, but he does gladly. She is slight in his arms. Resurrection has treated her well. No loss of muscle tone or pretty blond hair. She smells like a good dream in a good dream, an impressionistic sort of warmth, cane sugar, coffee. A good surprise; you'd have to wake to it twice to fully appreciate it.

Teo's brain is extraordinarily tired lately. It might be three times for him. Four. He squeezes her around the elbows a little too tight, to reassure himself that her bones are made of bone, and not of moths and dissipating secrets. But she's real. He lets go of her.

"I'm old news," he tells her. "This? This." Teo's grip is light on her wrist, her other elbow, carefully skirting the coffee. But holding her at length, as of her body itself is an impossible gown; it is. He blinks hard, but his eyes are shiny anyway. "This I need to hear a fucking explanation for, Liz."

(He speaks less Italian than he used to. He jokes about it sometimes, with Francois, back when he was telling jokes; everyone he knows speaks more Italian to him now than he does.)

Careful to not spill the coffee onto him as he hugs her, Elisabeth wraps her arms around his waist and holds him as tightly in return. All in all, the years have been hard on everyone. And when he draws back and tests out her reality again, she laughs a bit damply.

Stepping sideways to set her cup on his table, her attention never leaves his face. The original Teo was gone long before she 'died,' the man before her — she assumes the same one that accompanied her through some of the most hellish times of her life back then. Although Delilah did say there were three of them. Still, her affection isn't limited to just one of them — Especially these days, her distinctions are complicated.

"Well… you know how things are with people like us," she quips, although perhaps there's a lot more truth to it than a casual listener would realize. The subtle one-way bubble of sound negation slips into place even as she talks — we can hear all of them but they can't hear us. "People eat nukes and explode into tatters of shadow but survive, people appear from alternate futures trying to change things, people get sucked into black holes and reappear a few years later… we live in the fucking Twilight Zone. Nothing should surprise you anymore, Teo."

She reaches up and cradles his cheek gently, blue eyes having been taking in his own appearance and demeanor. She doesn't like what she sees — he's too frazzled, too … well, to be honest, she sees PTSD in the mirror most days, and he looks like he's wearing a great many days in his features. Gesturing toward the table, she offers gently, "God, it's good to see you."

"It's good to see you too," says Teo, who lacks originality in things like this. She's not wrong; he should be more used to it. But how do you mourn deaths that don't stay? When do stop hoping? How many people do you spare that hope for? These are the kinds of questions that put Teo ill at ease in this city, among other ones. He glances around through the sound wall, as if remembering now, suddenly, that they are not alone. Nobody's staring though; it's early enough in rebuilding New York City that glad reunions are nearly commonplace.

"Actually— do you wanna take a walk?"

The normalcy of this is jarring for him, you see. And the familiarity, and the differences, and a half-dozen other factors that he observes then loses the moment they cross his mind, which is why he hasn't explained it to Francois, which is probably why they're in this shit.

But at least Teodoro doesn't have post-traumatic stress disorder, though. Not by a long shot. "I know you're using Conrad's old trick." Conrad. That's a memory from another fucking time, for sure. He thinks it was Conrad who taught him first about the kind of stolen car he should favor. Volkswagen. A grin surfaces briefly on Teo's face before falling back into the dark; he stoops to grab his coffee. "I want to hear your story." At the doorway, there's a woman bringing in two shouting kids. Teo pretends not to see, glancing through the other tables, preferring to take the long way through the room.

"Sure," Elisabeth readily acquiesces to taking a walk instead of sitting. If there's one thing she understands, it's a need to keep moving. She does shoot him a grin when he raises that name. "I am," she admits. "It's one of the most versatile and useful things he ever taught me to do with my ability."

She picks up her own coffee and follows him out the side exit where they don't have to interact with anyone coming in the front door. She sips from it as they reach the sidewalk, and then slips her free hand into the crook of his elbow so that they can walk along arm in arm. Blowing out a long, slow sigh, she says softly, "It's a long story. Magnes's black hole shunted us… other places instead of other times." Given what he's already experienced, it's not like she's really breaking her own agreements — no one who's not in the know can be spoken to. But… they just never had a clue who was already in the know. "I spent a few months in a place where we never stopped the Virus. And five years in a place where Pinehearst never fell. Almost gave up on going home until yet another fucking catastrophe hit, then rounded up my posse and my daughter and off into the wild black starry yonder again. Thrown in a few months each in a couple of other places, and finally at the beginning of this year, we landed home." She looks up and shrugs just a little. She's sort of teasing him. The tone she tells it in is as casual as can be — this is all normal. We're all fine here, just fine.

"That's… the broad strokes at least. You're free to pick and choose one of those strands to pull on if you intend to ask questions, but…. I warn you that it's sort of like having to unravel a snarled ball of yarn." The grin is a little cheeky there now, because well. Her life is a science fiction novel — no rational person should believe anything she says.

She is OBviously trying to trick Teo, who knows that this is not normal. Discontentment spreads like a weed through his ribs, cramping his heart and his lungs. But at least they're walking. The sun beats down on them, trying to make them warm through their thick winter clothes; trying to insist that there are still good things in this city. Begrudgingly, Teo has to acknowledge— it's better that Elisabeth Harrison is alive than dead. A good thing.

And she has been on such adventures, Teo understands. He makes his mind focus. It takes somewhat more effort than it used to, but she has offered a remarkable array of strands for him to pull on. She makes it easy, which he appreciates, as he thinks coffee seems to do very little to cut through his haze. "'A place where we never stopped the Virus,'" he repeats. "You mean— a timeline where we failed. Where you got a daughter, and a posse. I'd like to know…" Logistics? Critical events, failures, battles, politics. The ex-terrorist assassin time-traveling ninja part of him thinks these things are important, but the farmer pushes back.

"More about these people," Teo finishes, leading her out into the corridor. Banishing the civilian family who they'd passed by from his mind; trying not to feel edgy at the thought Elisabeth has a child now. "I don't remember you having a 'posse.' Isn't that the word they used in the Wild West? For gunslingers."

The long story aspect has to be cut down for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that for some of the multitude of questions that she can feel pass through his head — the logistics ones that she herself would and did delve into in each place she landed — there are no useful answers she can give. And yes, they really are all cowboys, as he once lamented while yodeling in her audio cortex.

"Well, I didn't have one until the first place we landed," Elisabeth agrees mildly. "All in all, I landed in … three places where we failed at various points over those years. One place we failed to stop the Virus. One place where our own people landed in 2019 during the Moab incident only I landed before that. One place where the explosion in Alaska in 2011 changed the Institute's takeover to happen much earlier and the world was a hellhole of robots like in the fucking Terminator. The last place we landed … Midtown never happened, knowledge of Evos didn't get public, and the Virus, and Pinehearst, and the Institute never came into being. However the bomb under the ice cap happened in 2010 and the world was under water."

She gives him some time to assimilate that information because she knows that his own experiences with at least a couple of those timelines — and his alternate selves — will create a dissonance that he'll need to work through.

Mm. Plot. Teodoro is allergic to plot these days, kind of. But he listens because Elisabeth wants to talk about it, and you don't refuse to listen when a woman has gone timeline-hopping, acquired a child, visited other apocalypses in those intervening years; especially not when it is someone you unequivocally love. And despite everything, he does tend to love without equivocation, even now. Teodoro knows he should be more curious, at the very least about what happened to the other hims. It might be a symptom of his burnout; there's always so many other hims. He's over it. He's over them. He's over knowing that every timeline that ends has twelve replacements.

But he nods slowly, choosing to tread the deep water of her strange story, rather than try to climb out. Teo's eyes move restlessly over the broken crowd of milling Red Market patrons as he thinks. He's leading her outside, to the sunshine, as he takes sporadic sips of his coffee.

"Don't tell me you picked up friends from these other worlds," Teo says, in the end. "More of the future kids?" Oh God. She doesn't mean that she acquired another Walter. Surely. "What do you got, a new best friend? Husband? Wife." He can't be the primary queer in any given conversation, surely.

Elisabeth chuckles. "Actually…. I did," she admits. "Don't freak out if you see Isabelle Ashford floating around. I… have no idea what relationship you might have with any of the others who came with me." She sips from her cup then tips her chin toward the sunshine as they move. "We brought a number of refugees with us." Because of course she did.

"Let's see… no husband, no wife. Sorry about that. A nearly 7-year-old MiniMe." She starts to tell him about Walter and then simply swallows those words. There is no point to handing him grief. He knows what his son is able to do — if adult Walter landed, he'll find his way here when he can. "I have no idea what to really tell you," she admits. "The years haven't been so different than what you lived, just different in the details, I guess. Vanguard, war, fuckers trying to kill us and us trying to get home." There's a faint shrug. How do you explain seven years of traveling?

You explain it exactly like that, Teo thinks, looking at her. A bullet list. A few details, big name factions. People— oh, he knows that name. Isabelle Ashford. That's a blast from the past, if anything was. A blast from someone else's past. He is getting blasted a lot, these days. Worse things. People could stay dead without deserving it.

If Teodoro were gifted with wisdom and self-knowledge, he would ask her to tell him any story from the past seven years that she was grateful for. Some moment, some lesson, some meaning she made that convinced her that there are still beautiful things in the world worth staying for. But unfortunately, he's a gigantic idiot, so he just says,

"I'm probably gonna be moving to the Safe Zone for a little while. April some time. If you get a sitter, you should come over some time." Don't mind him trying to avoid meeting the baby there. He has an endless supply of issues. "You can tell me more about some of those worlds. The Flood one sounds fucking Biblical." Teo's interest in this matter is not entirely manufactured, actually. The more he gives in to miserable resignation that he owes it to Francois to sit there and watch their marriage rot in disappointment, the more he can see why the adventures of people like Elisabeth Harrison are important to this world. The sort of glory and heroism that characterizes Francois, too, and every other person Teo has ever loved.

There's an instant of hesitation.

And then Teo does it. He does that— old thing that he used to do. Slower, and more hesitantly, but he puts his fingers on his own mouth, a kiss to the back of his knuckles, and then he reaches over to touch her cheek. "I'm glad you're home. I hope you get to rest up, before you're back in the fray."

She tips her face into the touch, as easily as breathing. There's a long moment when her eyes are closed that both of them can almost believe that there aren't seven years of various forms of hell between their last meeting and this. She reaches up her free hand to catch the one he stroked down her cheek and her lashes rise so she can look up at him.

"Is it stupid? That I worry about the idea that … just all of us being in one place again is somehow a challenge to universe to throw shit at us?" she asks him a wistful voice. She wishes the question didn't have the ring of truth to it. Shaking her head a little, she adds, "I'm sorry. Even voicing that thought brings a level of paranoia that I'm trying desperately to break." The admission comes with a rueful smile.

"I would love to see you. As often as you like. When you get settled someplace, let me know, okay? I'm staying in RayTech's corporate housing." Because of course she is.

That gesture was almost always some kind of a hello or a good-bye from Teo, and it feels that way now. But he smiles at her, and he nods, all of which constitutes a promise they will meet again, and he means it— for all that the differences between the path he has chosen, and the one that she remains faithful to, have never felt so clear as in the morning light. Maybe it's because she's a woman, too. Not to fall too eagerly into simple stereotypes, but she's gentler than Francois; he feels like less of a disappointment.

And so before he goes, he has to squint at her, and laughter flash briefly through his teeth. "You and the little red bird?"

Cardinal, Teo means. She's staying at RayTech's corporate housing. He follows well enough to know that, to guess at what that means, and to hope that that means she has a shot at happiness here in this world, between the shootouts and other inevitable shit to come.

Elisabeth smiles at him. He's never been a disappointment to her — just her friend, trusted and always welcome. She can tell there is much going on behind his eyes, but she also feels a little strange prying and trying to get him to talk just now. There are years between them where she doesn't know what he's faced… and perhaps he'll tell her. But it's likely not right now. She squeezes the hand she's holding, a silent reassurance that despite the years, she is here if he wants to talk.

His teasing query brings a soft chuckle and since they're splitting up here for now, she releases his hand and steps back. They'll see one another soon, and for an answer she winks at him and borrows a phrase from a favorite book. "Always."

Always. Teo thinks that sounds lovely. And also it sounds completely foreign to him right now, she might as well be speaking Aramaic, which is one of those relatively few languages that has no command of because it's dead. Always. That probably came up in their wedding vows months ago—

—ugh. Well, Teo's still happy for her, which means that his smile isn't a lie as he lifts his coffee cup in farewell. Squeezes her hand, takes a step back. The sea wind sings through her hair, the morning sun makes her cheeks wan, and she looks even more fleeting, more impressionistic than a beautiful woman who comes back from the dead already would. His relationship with reality feels loose when he's in the city; a vague part of him wonders if he'll come to RayTech and find that she was never here after all.

"I'll see you soon, Liz," Teo calls back. "And tell Magnes to keep his dirty holes to himself."

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