The Parting Glass


alexander_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title The Parting Glass
Synopsis The world is about to end. Not circumstances under which you're allowed to leave a friendship fucked up beyond recognition. Teo brings his manners and a syringe of better health. Alexander makes impossible inquiries and breakfast.
Date January 28, 2009

Confucius Plaza — Abby and Alexander's Apartment

It's the morning of the last day. The cool, gray hours before dawn. There's oatmeal cooking on the stove of the little kitchen. Al is at the table, cloth spread out on it, patiently cleaning and reassembling his pistol. Today of all days, everything has to work. He looks weary, blue shadows around the pale eyes, mouth thinned out into that grim line.

Teo was here only a few hours ago. Not that few. Long ago enough to fit in a tumble and a few hours' sleep, stop by a safehouse and grab a few syringes from one visibly exhausted molecular replicator. Told her to get some rest. He doesn't feel like he needs any more, nerves enough to burn, and pushed further forward by the cold hands of half a dozen fleeting recollections.

Among them, promising Sonny this wasn't what he'd do unless he was preparing to die.

It isn't as dramatic as that, though. There's a syringe to deliver, the vague promise he'd made in parting. His key grates the doorknob and the bump of an elbow lets him into the apartment. His face is ruddy from cold and he smells of somebody's soap. "Al? Abby?"

Alexander looks up calmly from his work, expression softening from that harsh reserve into something more welcoming. "T," he says, quietly, splaying his fingers over the tabletop as he rises. "Hey. You doin' okay? Whatcha need? If you're hungry, I'm about to have breakfast."

The vague promise he'd made in parting was that one. "Breakfast," Teo repeats, intelligently, crossing the floor on a cadence of rough shoes that turns into muffled nothing as soon as he kicks them off. "'N' this," he segues gracelessly. "There's antidote.

"For the Shanti virus. Jennifer managed to generate enough to cover everybody going in." Gloved fingers fumble around the clear plastic tube, plunger, capped needle, intervals precisely printed with the volume of its contents. He puts it on the table next to the gun before he notices a gun is there. Winds up staring down at the configuration of items as if it's funny.

"Bacon, oatmeal, coffee. Got some sausage in the freezer if you want me to make up some for you," Al says, quietly. He lifts the syringe up to eye it in the light of an entering sunbeam. "Amazing," he says. "This is a dose for me?" He looks past it to Teo, warily. "You taken one yourself?"

Teo will get the sausage. Not a euphemism for anything. He doesn't say so, merely turns toward the freezer, yanking it open with a hiss of pressurization and a cold breath of artificial frost. He'll grow out of the compunction to infringe all over his former housemates' hospitality someday. He might. "Si, it's for you." Some segregated component of his brain wonders at that: that Alexander would think to ask. He answers easily, turning back with the package of sausage swinging from hand. "Not yet. Don't worry. I gave Abby hers, too."

"Good. She's one of the most valuable of us," Al says, matter of factly, as he rises to pour the coffee. Weak, by Italian standards, but black as Volken's heart. "You've got one for you, right?" he says, arching a coppery brow as he eyes Teo again.

Ice-rimmed plastic breaks easily under Teo's teeth, and he casts meat down into the plate with a rattle of crystallized protein before the lot goes into the microwave to thaw. Beep. He's either studying the slow rotation of cooking contents inside the dim window or Alexander's reflection on it. "I've got one for me.

"You don't…" have to worry, he doesn't bother repeating. He swings one leg up, seats himself on the counter, shoulders fitting underneath the cabinets. Studying his — friend's complexion, he is oddly compelled to complete the truth: "I don't want to use it, though."

Al….grits his teeth. But only for a moment. And there's no traceof irritation in his voice when he asks, simply, "Why? Why not? Teo, angel, do you have a death wish, or somethin'? Because seriously, you make me wonder. What's wrong with you that you can't ever settle? I been meanin' to ask you….why'd you get involved with PHOENIX to begin with. You ain't Evolved, you ain't American, you ain't got a dog in this fight." He sets the mugs on the table, scoops oatmeal into a bowl, adds brown sugar.

If there was ever a time for impossible questions, now would be it. Armageddon's sunup, Pila squeaking to consciousness suspended in the living room. Teo's toes squirm inside the weave of cotton and elastic and he watches them squirm.

Ffff. "A PARIAH operative came into the store I was working at looking for demolitions materials. I helped her because I didn't want her to kill me and the cash register girl. And then I joined Phoenix because it was the right thing to do, and now I have friends there. I'm ordinary," he says, either to differentiate that from a death wish or to allot them the same category. "We ignore problems until they're right in front of us.

"Arguably better than telekinetically whaling on things because I'm pissed off after the government fucked me," he points out, lightly.

"Arguably," Al concedes, with a flash of bitter amusement. "I just…." He trails off, apparently unable to explain. Takes the sausage from Teo and heads for the stove. "Sit," he says, "Eat. Oatmeal's ready, not bad considering." Apparently fear doesn't stop his appetite. "You didn't answer my first question," he says, between sips of his coffee, firing up the stove.

Explaining is hard. Teo knows like twenty languages and still fails to make himself understood in any way that might salve the existential disconcertment of fucking around alone out here.

As obedient this morning as he has been all the evenings he's provided Zippos and carried pints before, he hops off the counter, drops himself into the chair at the table, dragging socked heels across the floor. He his share of oatmeal toward him and spoons condiments in.

"I don't remember your first question," he replies. "And I like winning arguments, so thanks." Fear doesn't diminish Teo's capacity for humor, apparently. Merely makes his punchlines worse. He sits his jaw on his fist and squints into the lumpy topography of his bowl.

"I asked you what it is in you that don't ever let you be content. It's like you got a permanent burr under your saddle," Al explains, as the smell of frying pork begins to perfume the kitchen air. The cat comes over to twine hopefully around Al's ankles, and he tosses her a tidbit with a deft flick of his fingers. His hair is still sleep tousled, what little there is of it.

Despite that the mixture has already cool, Teo pointlessly stirs his spoon through oatmeal parts and dissolving sugar. He angles a glance down his arm at the feline, watching her white fangs carve into the oily lump of protein in great, craving swipes of incisors. "I've lived in Manhattan for almost ten years, give or take a little travel. I don't know what you mean." Though there's a lift at the end of that sentence, an uneven tilt to his tone, that betrays the suspicion that it does mean something. Sugar into the coffee.

Alexander says, bluntly, "You don't ever let yourself rest. Ever be happy. Not really. It's like you're running," There's the sizzle of fat, as the meat cooks. "I don't know how better to say it."

"You say that as if being happy is easy," Teo points out, sounding slightly annoyed. Cheap silverware scrapes cheap porcelain. "Or accomplishes anything. How many happy people do you know?" Deflection. He's gotten better at it since taking up Aikido, inculcating muscle memory into mental.

Either that, or that's just embarrassing, shallowly concealing a dozen other accusations and descriptive terms. Skank, white knight, general purpose tool. None of them better than the other. "I guess I'm still sorry about Gia. Or bored."

Alexander blows out a slow breath through his nostrils, that equine gesture, and shakes his head. "Atonement, huh?" he murmurs, deftly flipping the finished sausage into a plate. "Here," he says, jerking his head at it, even as he makes the next round."

Three rough-edged fingers grasp the rim of the plate, and Teo eases his chair back upright with the next part of his meal in hand. "I don't know why everybody uses that term. You make three. Maybe you're all atoning for something; I'm just trying to grow the fuck up." With limited success, he'd be the first to admit it. He squints one lucent blue eye over his shoulder, then glances down again. "Can I ask you one way too fucking awkward question, then?"

"Since we're being honest, sure, why not?" The points of his shoulders are clearly visible under the white t-shirt he wears, as he shrugs, wearily. "Shoot." He passes over a plate, glancing back.

Teo lowers his head to steer his fork around sausage, his knuckles denting into the cheek he's propped up on it. "Why would you lie about loving somebody? You're not like…" my mother; Lucrezia; any given woman I've ever fucked; me. "That. Usually. I think."

"Because I was confused, and uncertain. I love you a lot. But it wavers between wanting you as a lover and wanting you as my brother. I know it's moot, but it confuses me, too. Still," Al says, line of his back stiff with the awkwardness of it. He's feigning great absorption in the process of making up more sausage, not looking back.

You can never have enough brothers when you're in the middle of fighting a war. Or at the end, as the case may be. It's okay, even if it isn't great; bounces off Teo's emotional armor, leaves a dent at best. And even if it isn't great, Teo is pretty used to things not being that.

He sniffs at his breakfast, once, an audible whuff to disturb the sizzling eddy of food fragrance in the air, and watches that cat walk across the room. "That's good enough for me," he decides, quietly. Confusion. Brotherhood. Both; either. He can pretend to settle long enough to make it true.

Done. Al turns off the blue flame, sets the empty pan to cool by the sink before he washes it, serves up the lastof the sausage, and sits down across from Teo to eye him. He shrugs again. "I make do with what I can," he says, not entirely sequitur.

"Seems to have worked out for you," Teo says, glancing over the top of his fist and around the apartment's recesses. "Clean house, fulfilling work, all your own teeth. Seems like good stuff to come back to, but not a bad place in your life to leave at if you can't." As perspectives go, this one isn't exactly spun sugar, but he imagines that would be too hard to swallow, anyway. He snags his coffee mug.

"It's been loss after loss," Al says. His tone invites no pity - there are no tears standing gleaming at the edge of those translucent lids. "My family, one by one. My home. My city, my job. I'm tired of losing. We win or die, this time. I'm glad it's that final," he says, even as he cuts the sausage into neat bites, and devours them one by one. No lack of appetite, or he has no trouble forcing himself to eat, having been hungry and without so many times. "I ain't had a real home since I was fifteen."

A gesture of greased fork around at nothing in particular. Everything. "Not a real home?" Teodoro inquires, something disbelieving about the crook of his brow. There are dishes in the cupboards, pets breathing the air. Why not?

"Never had anywhere I could settle for a real long time. Had no family, no lover, no one to be with. I was homeless a lot, ever since my last relative died," Al says, as he wolfs down his breakfast.

"This place doesn't count because you haven't spent enough time here," Teo recognizes, after a protracted moment. His meal is practically done, himself. Dregs of oatmeal, a thin film of residual coffee filming the bottom of his mug. "I think the first real conversation we ever had was about how much you loved Manhattan. I thought that meant like home." Personally, he hates being on the island. Everything about it: the weather, the gray cancerous quality of the water, the jagged skyline.

Alexander nods to that, as he dispatches his oatmeal. Doesn't like it as much - Al always prefers salty to sweet. "The city at large, yeah. It hurts me to see what's been done to it, though. And the actual placed I lived was near ground zero. Whomever did that killed my family."

Wintry blue eyes narrow into a squint, squeeze a blink out from across the stretch of table. Teo has never liked it when his friend gets this way or similar. All… old. Dysfunction aside, sometimes he thinks, maybe, the truth could be as simple and artless as the fact that Teodoro would rather die young and hungry than settle. "I didn't know that. I'm glad you weren't home at the time.

"I don't think I'd still be in Phoenix if you weren't. Or anything." A beat's pause; a wry scowl. "Not that that would necessarily be worse. 'M sorry." His expression clears. He nudges his empty bowl away with a long finger, settles bkac. "About your family." He's been sorry before, but it's worth committing time to. Regret.

Alexander eyes Teo rather sharply. "What? Why's that?" he wonders, rising to pour himself some orange juice. "That cause is way bigger than me." He settles back down on the chair, hooks an ankle around the chromed leg of the table.

"I'd probably be dead," Teo replies easily, retreating from the barbed glance with a slight duck of his head, sheepish. He's no soldier. Was far less of one, this time last year. "It's good you're here. I don't like the idea of that very much."

Alexander chuckles. "I don't know about that. But I don't much like that thought, either. Don't get dead today. Don't even get seriously hurt."

Good to see him laugh again even if it's as morbid as that, though the morbidity does give him pause, brief, a scowl wracking brief through the lines of his features. Death, Hell. They perturb him so. "Okay," Teo answers, glibe as your average idiot. "Prometto. You too, all right?" He gathers his bowl, plate, mug once Alexander's close enough to finishing his meal that it isn't a dick thing to do. At the sink, he turns the faucet on; begins to scrub up, sponge, detergent, complying with some tacit contract of dining in. One cooks, the other cleans. "And are you going to take the fucking antidote, or what?"

He'd almost forgotten it was there atall. Al turns to peer at it, bemused. "Sure," he says, quietly. "I….can you inject it? I don't know how, to be honest. Do I gotta do something special to deal with it?"

"Si, of course. Just need a few minutes," the back of Teo's head assures the older man cheerfully. It doesn't take him long before his eating utensils are deprived of grease, salt, and crumbs, and put up pristine in the small rack Abigail installed to the right of the sink.

He towels his hands dry and comes loping back, past the corner of the table he had sat at, snagging the syringe mid-stride. Aikido hasn't taken that deeply: as usual, he doesn't bother to make himself small, every arc of motion vested with more energy and distance than they absolutely require. He kicks a chair out for himself, a rattle of hollow plastic on tile, and drops himself down with a warm hand out, upturned, as expectant as he is unassuming.

Alexander puts his hand in Teo's trustingly. It's warm, dry, callused on the fingers. He watches the Sicilian with patient expectation, though he glances away after a little. Squeamish about needles, really.

That's — kind of hilarious. Explains the absence of tattoos, kind of. Teo's cheek twitches dangerously, but he manages not to laugh, ask, or do something else equally inappropriate. Instead, he scales the length of Al's arm with his gaze, finding the dim green line underlying, before he reaches down to flick the tender skin with a few small, sharp strikes of forefinger, traps the selected vein under his thumb.

He tips back to grab a pink box of Kleenex.

And that's about it for ceremony and precautions, both. Ben would knee him, probably. There's only a hard pinch, and the drug sinks out from under the plunger and into Alexander's blood, and then there's tissue pressed to the tiny wound.

Al has scars enough, they can count as tribal decoration. Though Sonny's work has smoothed an soothed so they are ghosts of their former selves - pale lines like mother of pearl. He doesn't flinch when the needle sinks in, but he does look away, fixing his gaze on the pigeons on the rooftop next door.

The empty syringe hits the table-top, useless, and Teo keeps pressure on the wadded tissue with his thumb to stem the flow of blood.

He keeps his hand firmly laced there, around Alexander's arm, waiting for the injury to stop oozing. Eventually, he remembers to get self-conscious; the approximate second their skin temperature begins to match and he forgets what he's doing. "Quit glaring death at the little birds and hold this, amico?"

Al's eyes narrow. One pigeon topples, suddenly boneless, to slide down the shingles and vanish into the alley below. Fuck you, Eileen. Fuck you very much. "Sure," he says, laying his hand over the tissue, and looking back and up to Teo.

"A man is judged by how he treats lesser creatures," Teo says quietly, taking his hands back. He rises to clear away the needle and all the junk Al left from eating, dropping the first in the trash can, the rest back in the sink. The walk across the kitchen is enough time for him to second-guess his words; he rarely needs more than that, after all, and remonstrance never comes easy to him. "Thanks for breakfast."

Alexander's face doesn't waver - there's that inexorable chill in his face that leaves him less human than a marble bust, and about as pale. He merely nods. "You're welcome."

And then—

He's finished. Digging gloves out of his pocket, scraping the line of his jaw with blunt fingernails. He hasn't shaven since late yesterday. The incipient bristle snags, rasps. "When are you heading out?" he asks.

"Few hours. About Ten thirty, I'm thinkin'. You?" He wonders, with a tilt of his head.

A shrug seesaws through Teo's shoulders, right then left. "Sooner than that. Have to in— maybe two. I don't knkow. Maybe I should fuck off out of here now, before I accidentally pick a fight or something. You know?" He makes a face, mostly at himself; stoops his head to glance along the floor.

Alexander says, slowly, grudgingly, "Be careful. I love you. I'll never forgive you if you die on me."

"I don't think that's true," Teo answers, wryly, lifting his rumpled head. Hell feels peculiarly far away. "Your average turnaround time when I piss you off real bad is about forty-eight hours. I'd give it a week, and you can turn the third room into a pilates studio." The jokes keep getting worse; he smooths his expression out, fighting down the jangle of nerves and shapeless desperation that threaten to make his face more raw than anything Alexander has to see right now.

Like Lucrezia, he has a weakness for those three words. They might be more compelling than the sentiment itself, for some arcane reason. "Love you too. Ciao, bello." He waves a glove, swivels out the door.

"Vaya con dios, T," says Al, watching him go with his heart in his throat. He's no psychic, no precog. But somehow, he's all too aware it'll be a long ways down a dark road before he sees that face again.

January 28th: Ship Of Death
January 28th: I've Been Preparing For Days
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