Tipped Scales


gabriel_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Tipped Scales
Synopsis Gabriel decides to fight on the side of good for a change. He and Teo talk plans over fried food. The world might not be totally doomed after all.
Date March 29, 2009


Though it's less than two miles square, Chinatown is home to some quarter of a million residents. Cramped, ancient tenements are the norm, though the fourty-four story Confucious Plaza standing at the corner of Bowery and Division does boast luxurious accommodations by comparison. Mulberry Street, Canal Street, and East Broadway are home to streetside green grocers and fishmongers, and Canal Street also boasts an impressive array of Chinese jewelry shops.

There is a skewed diamond-shaped window through the clouds overhead. The sky beyond it looks a velvet shade of black, insofar as that it isn't a consistent color or blackness actual. Stars in flecks and twinkling, eddied dribs, some remote dust skein or undulation of humidity reflecting the yellow light of street lamps back on him.

Teodoro is loitering, as a twenty-six-year-old between jobs in Manhattan Island is wont to do at an hour when those with families are doing things with their families; enough to warrant him given a subtle, subconsciously enforced berth from other pedestrians, though there's time yet before curfew comes bristling rifles and iron jaws. He doesn't look as disreputable as he actually is, at least. His hoodie says COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY on the front. Or used to, before repeated washing peeled the first two letters off.

That store sells Asian crafts materials — origami paper and small porcelain beads shaped to look like extremely cheerful, anthropomorphasized onions. Adjacent, dried mushrooms and herbs and maybe even knock-off rhino cartlidge await in dusty cupboards and clear plastic packaging.

This store, however, does tattoos. Through the dim plateglass and the clouded condensation of his own breath, he studies the pinned photographs and ink scrawls on the walls inside. Girls with full sleeves of vines growing up their arms, tribal barbs framing some Nordic man's eyes. Tramp stamps. Women's, mostly, and a wider margin of flesh available for perusal than the tattoos themselves strictly require for display. Somebody knows how — and what — to advertise.

Teo is thinking about getting another one. Vaguely. Maybe after Moab is over, though that would imply Moab begs commemoration and makes no sense, in light of the recently-averted viral apocalypse. If it isn't one fucking thing, it's another.

The sky is being ambiguous. Cloud cover is heavy like it could downpour at any moment with silver sheets of water, but it doesn't, just pendulums over head and roils with more movement than those of us on earth are able to see. Save for that one patch of sky. The hour could be a testament as to how difficult it was to find Teodoro Laudani. Someone talented individuals can do it in an instant, but Gabriel is, while talented, not that talented. There are millions of people in this city, even as wrecked as it is, and there's only so much bird eyes can take in, and so many bird eyes for the taking.

But he does, in the end. All roads lead to, maybe.

People pass Teo by and keep an adequate and polite distance, so maybe he'll note when the dark, larger form of a grown man passes by close enough for fabric of jackets and coats to brush together for a moment, a subtle invasion of space that is both felt and briefly seen in a blurry way in the window.

Also the smell of fried food, and a distinct crunch around the time Gabriel's come to a halt just beyond Teo's left shoulder, opaque reflection in the glass briefly showing all the information needed - pale skin, unshaven jaw, the definite stroke of an eyebrow.

A large hand offers out the opened cardboard take out box. "Egg roll?"

To Teo's credit, he doesn't jump, clawing into the air with an ecstatic feline yowl and flutter away in a downy-brained terror, only to be snared by a telekinetic hook and a whole other package of animal metaphors. No. He leans to the left, eyes pinched narrow, and starts to go for a completely pointless gun. Never gets there, of course. Egg rolls never did a thing to him.

And if Gabriel Gray wants to— well. A .45 isn't going to make a hole big enough to take out a miasma of acrimonious black soul-gas, or so goes the popular theory. Somewhat less popular, the fact that Teodoro's supposed to be keeping the peace with the erstwhile serial killer, anyway. And dying right now would be terribly inconvenient, even by his admittedly skewed ledger of things.

His nostrils flare subtly over the rising redolence of fried protein and salt, residual oil. After a rather awkwardly stretched-out moment spent studying the configuration of Gabriel's large hands, Teo then closes his eyes, then opens them again. First, he answers aloud: "Yes." Second, he moves to take one, slowly. You know. Without— making— any— sudden— movements.

By the time the snack is in Teo's gloriously unwashed hand, there's a disheveled half a smile on, deep at the corners and rounded, as if it had been worn into his face. "Good evening."

"It's not bad." Egg roll and/or evening. Both. Gabriel's offer of the container withdraws once Teo takes one, finishing off his own half-bite before he's pushing the lid closed, moving that step close enough so that he's standing side-by-side the Italian, gaze lifting now to take in the photographs of displayed flesh and ink. Head tilts to the side, line of sight landing and resting on the pictures of a coiling Chinese dragon on a woman's thigh, the corner of his mouth lifting a little for no reason Teo will know.

He's certainly not unfamiliar with these places. Live with Gillian for a while and you learn not to be, either through experience or stories. Gabriel has been treated to both. "Tattoos take on strange meanings when you don't remember why you have them," he says, looking from the dragon tattoo and towards a piece of paper tacked to the inside of the window, displaying Chinese letters and their supposed meanings. Love. Fortune. Health.

"You'd think it would be pointless if there's no memory attached, but in reality it's just another reminder." Casual conversation? Maybe makes things less clandestine, ignoring unexpected arrivals and stalking. "I hope you don't mind that I chose to find you before you decided to find me. I have a feeling time is pressing."

It isn't so bad. Could be better. It's cold. Teo is rarely not cold until the middle of April, granted. Spring: where the fuck is spring? He's promised to walk in Central Park with Delilah. Helena will be back in charge by then. Palling around with Gabriel will be somebody else's baggage and ostentatious moral indiscretion. He stops thinking about April before he forgets—

"Tuesday," he says, simply, by way of affirmitive. Time is pressing.

A shadow shifts above his eyes as Teo pulls the thin skin of his lids back, stretching the shape of his face out of their chill-stiffened configuration. "I wouldn't think so," he answers belatedly, temporally disjointed, though the swivel of his eyes back through the plateglass indicate what he means to address. "But I'm pretty fucking vain." The end of the egg roll goes into his teeth, shunted all the way back to his molars.

He bites down. There's a splitting, cracking of the bubbled yellow skin, a miniaturized geyser of meat and vegetable fluid jumping out. He covers his mouth for politeness' sake and looks at Gabriel Gray with the expectation of a blank teleprompter.

"Vanity…" The tilt to his head is gone, and Gabriel lets out a sigh enough to steam the window just a little bit. "Then you might want to get something more temporary. Everything stops being pretty, eventually."

The container is opened again, risking the food inside to get cold once more as he dips his hand in to retrieve one of the two remaining rolls, extracting one and biting it into with a noisy crunch, using the back of his hand to wipe away traces of grease and pastry crumb, stepping back away from the ink shop's window.

Looking at Teo, now, and his prompting expression. "I talked to Gillian." Just as he said he would. A studious, hard look that's quick to fade, the twitch of one eyebrow going up as if to say: you win. Gabriel hadn't gone the surgeon's route in try to extract the truth from Gillian, if she's in this thanks to Phoenix's fancier words. Hacked and slashed, found nothing.

"Tuesday. How are we getting to Utah?"

The line of Teo's shoulders bends around a V, pulling the muscles of his back into double length somewhere in the recesses of his onion layer of winter clothes. It is kind of like a humorous shrug, except for the certain strained twitch of discomfort to it. There is a scab healing on the back of his hand. For all that, though, he's in health even better than his spirits.

There is an optimistic note to him saying: "Teleporters. Same way out, except there will be an interval of air transport — plane — between the prison and that." There's only so much the teleporters can do with fighter jets shitting missiles everywhere, after all.

Teo 'wins.' There ought to be confetti, or something. He's getting America's Most Wanted to walk into a Federal Penitentiary with a ragtag pack of baby terrorists and others who would sooner decapitate him. That took some doing, right? All that 'letting his women convince him.' Exhausting, really. Crunch crunch. The egg roll is finished with the brutal expediency of the starving college student that he is cleverly disguised as.

It's not unlike some of the Vanguard plans. Elias's skill was all kinds of handy, dragging the NYC branch of more genocidal terrorists towards useful corners of America, materialising in at the nick of time before vanishing away again once more. Wu-Long, too, to a far more limited, local degree. Certainly not all the way to Utah. Still, it'll be just like old times - the notion doesn't even get a flicker of response from Gabriel.

At least this time, he knows he's getting used. And he knows what there is to gain. The word 'plane' gets a cynical eyebrow raise, but there's truly no reason for Teo to lie about something like this. And if it gets shot out of the sky, well - been there, done that.

No t-shirt, though. "Do you have any plans?" Practical questions. Plans to adhere to, or maybe even avoid. They can complicate things, they can always go wrong, and then you're trapped, because no one really has faith in the contingencies. Gabriel has a plan, and it's a very simple one.

"We come for them at yard-time. About 1500." Fifteen-hundred. It's less embarrassing than saying 'three o' clock.' Teo's eyes turn back to the tattooist's parlor. His eyes aren't good enough to see the images on the lowest part of the furthest side. He scrapes his fingers clean between each other, before stepping back from the glass.

"Flashbangs and explosive charges smuggled in will take care of the walls at the entrance points— I'll get you the photography within the next few hours. Green-level is ground floor, where most of the inmates are kept, including ours. Underneath that is Yellow level, then Orange, lowest is Red, in order of ascending security proportional to how dangerous the prisoners are. Peter's on Red. That's where you, Hiro, and Gillian will be going. I don't know exactly what the security is like down there; only that it's probably worse than Green-level's four-inch steel walls, electronic locks and double doors. The rest of us will be upstairs, if all goes according to plan.

"Not that it will," Teo adds, in his most amiably blank tone of voice. He angles a gaze at the sign parlor's sign overhead, stark and boldly lettered, easily readable even in the nocturnal deficiency of light.

"Eileen and a telecommunications expert will be doing most of the surveillance and relaying radio feed between us. There's an emergency response team that consists of at least one speedster, one electromagnetic energy manipulator, somebody with superstrength, and a fourth. They'll probably be gunning for you, Hiro and Gillian more than the rest of us." His eyes thin, mirthlessly, a smile that doesn't reach his mouth for all that it would have been sincere. He's fighting down the urge to smoke.

Nothing wrong with analogue time references, not when you're talking to a watchmaker. Gabriel stands still and quiet, arms at his side with the mostly empty takeout container dangling from one hand, studying Teo as much as he's listening to him.

It's a good amount of gathered intelligence, a good show of resources. It's still a suicide mission, if you believe in things like, and there's tension around his eyes at the mention that he'd going to be working alongside Hiro Nakamura. That should be interesting, for lack of a better word. But then there's the information on the response team, and an eyebrow lifts. "Oh, they sound fun."

All the same, he nods. "Three o'clock." See? It manages not to sound silly coming from Gabriel, at least. "That sounds more like geography than plans. What's going to stop them shooting your flyaway plane out of the sky? This is the government, they have planes too."

"The best fighter pilot in the world — in a really good plane with really big guns, and the telecommunications expert in question. Technopath," Teo adjusts, abruptly, remembering that such terminology would not be beyond the other man's recollection after he trips over only an eight of a beat's hesitation. He folds his grease-slicked fingers into his pockets. "The one we refused to exchange for Danielle.

"I imagine you heard about that shit closer to when it actually happened." His jaws grate slightly with something that isn't chagrin, an almost idle noise in the bottom of Gabriel's hearing, curiously at odds with the commonplace, automatic rack-a-rack-a bleat of his accelerated heartbeat. Somewhere below their feet and a few hundred feet off, there is a train rolling, too, the mechanics of metal alloy seemingly more complex to the man's ears than the inimitably subtle chemistries that make Teodoro go.

"You mind me asking what tipped the scale, signor?" He turns slightly, his feet squaring on the pavement. No further illusion that the shop that caters to his vanity is more important than the serial killer who has offered an allegiance to save his people.

Gabriel could tell Teo about the lack of weight on the other side of the scale, but that's neither here nor there. His gaze unfocuses a little, considering the question and not for the first time - he's asked himself the same thing. But after being unable to put to words the revelation of his conversation with Gillian, the drunken exhaustion of losing control and the mirror metaphors Teo had fed him, he's unsure he can do it here on this side walk either.

So he's not about to try. He picks out the last egg roll. Doesn't offer it, it is the last one and who knows, maybe he even paid for the meal. A swift, tearing bite, and he shrugs, casual as you please. "You were right," he says, mouth partially full, bringing up his hand to cover his mouth for a moment, swallow, and Teo is rewarded with a somewhat wolfish smile. "I like breaking things."

The last bite is downed, the container crumpled a little, just enough to give it some heft so he can toss it towards the nearest trash can, where it lands atop more crumpled containers. "I can get to Peter, I don't know how much more time I'll have apart from that. What he does from there will be your problem. I'm leaving, either way, before they decide to burn the place to the ground when they realise we're winning."

That would be the plan. Teo politely stands there and acknowledges both that the serial-killer's newly turned leaf is showing a color and structure that looks almost exactly like the other one and that he is going to be left without anything more to eat in this exchange in a silence as diplomatic as the Sicilian is otherwise reputed to be while speaking. "Gillian will ask him to come out. I'm guessing Helena won't leave without him, either.

"If the women can't sway him, nothing I can do or say will."

That doesn't sound sexist, hopefully. Teodoro is fairly well-acquainted with the fact that beautiful women tend to be the better format for entreaties and inspiration, if the recipient man in question has never been much one for bromantic comraderie. Neither the former nurse nor the former watchmaker were that sort. No offense to them; not everybody can or should be friends. Or interested in anal sex.

"My aunt's in there too. Lucrezia Bennati. I haven't told Phoenix about her yet, but I should. I will." The progression of those thoughts— and the distinct lack of any, the almost absent quality to Teo's tone indicate something amiss with the young man himself, if likely nothing interesting to Gabriel himself. No doubt, it isn't difficult to ascertain why he would rather avoid questions, given Phoenix's existing propensity to round on their former Vanguard allies.

He shades a pallid eye toward the older man, before wrinkling it with a brief blink at some inoffensively furtive pedestrian skirting their chunk of sidewalk. She is small, round, middle-aged, bearing a shopping bag full of organic groceries. "But we'll be getting her out too. Don't be surprised."

The name draws several blinks from Gabriel, now looking at Teo in an unguarded moment of open surprise. Lucrezia, the Vanguard's spy, the queen bee who had trapped Eileen in a room of luxury and threat of allergy. Yeah, he knows her, of course he knows her, and he didn't know she was Teo's aunt. It's a small fucking world, apparently, and he's not sure, at first, how to feel about breaking this woman free.

Nothing, it seems. The surprise wears off. Whatever. Gabriel's task is pretty simple and he's going to keep to it. In all fairness, there are things that are more breakable and potentially more satisfying to break than a maximum security jail full of people he doesn't trust. If the new leaf looks very much like the old one, then add a vein of stupidity if that truly is his motivation.

"I'll try not to be. Does Eileen know?"

"Si. They were on good terms," Teo says, with a quaver-beat's pause that indicates that, yes, he is at least dimly aware of the strange, strange circumstances on which the two creature telepaths had met and parted.

Something like imprisonment. Some sort of affection. The two women had had at least one friend in common, triangled by a strain of jealousy. Freedom had been granted, at some point,, without enough reluctance to be worth mentioning to him. When Gabriel looked surprise, Teodoro had merely gone all serious, grim the way a young hero gets when he is ready for his close-up, panned in so you can see straight through the lucent quartz depth of his irises, the delivery of a breathless monologue.

None forthcoming.

They don't seem much alike, do they? The dark Lady Bennati, who needs be nowhere elaborated, and Phoenix's hapless, off-blond leader with the glue coming loose on his school sweater. They share social grace and a language. A tendency to wreak havoc on the American government. Teo swivels an eye skyward. The window of clear sky has moved on. "There will be basic body armor and a radio for you. Would you like anything else?"

Well that's good. Almost sweet. Then again, applying a ruthless killer to a problem and letting him be taken down for a lack of body armor isn't tactically sound. It's hard not to apply all of this with broad brush strokes of cynicism, especially after Vanguard, but again - at least Gabriel has the comfort of knowing.

"No. I'll have everything I need. All you have to worry about is your own people." Both a comfort and a critique, but a lazily made one. Still, the statement serves as more of a reassurance than a cheap shot at Phoenix's competence - they're proving to be not half bad, all things considered, like data. More planning than Gabriel typically give things. "Tell me where we're meeting when you get me those photographs and I'll be there."

Half a step away from the Italian, the sole of his boot scraping pavement. Despite the public nature of the place, his face is changing - not into the bony-cheeked teenager Teo is used to, but some other guy. Second-nature, Gabriel doesn't seem to mind when his voice changes too, dark eyes shifting to paler green when he darts a glance around the street in preparation to go. "I'll try not to miss the obligatory peptalk."

For an idealistic superhero, Teo— well, doesn't have superpowers, and kind of sucks at applying the rosy palette to situations sometimes. He is lucky that most of the people he meets are such jaded cynics that what paranoid optimism he does offer is refreshingly retarded.

He is not looking forward to that whole thing with the obligatory peptalk, though, and there's a grimace that makes him look like a four-year-old confronted with cough syrup. Maybe he should write something. Or get somebody else to write something. Or get Kinson to say something—

Teo is kind of staring when the other man starts to reshape his face. He angles his eyes away the next instant, remembering— quite irrelevantly— that Salvatore doesn't like being gawked at while he shifts. Also, that it isn't practical. There is the public nature of the place. Despite Gabriel's bravado, Teodoro falls most easily into the habit of practical caution and cooperative support. Applying a ruthless killer to a problem and letting him be derailed by the indigenous tribe or their desperately underequipped law enforcement isn't tactically sound, either.

"A presto." A beat, in which Teo is probably internally verifying the sincerity of his sentiment before he templates words onto it: "Good to have you back." He tosses up a wave, reflected translucently in the facade of the tattoo parlor.

The man Gabriel turns into is the one who would wake up with a headache and partially naked on the road somewhere in Ohio with his car stolen a few weeks back. A lighter shade of brown hair, cat-green eyes, not entirely unattractive - dazzling smile, in fact. We're all vain creatures, in the end - but he also fills out Gabriel's clothes and shoes accurately, which had been the point before, too. Matching taste in cars, also.

One far less prominent eyebrow raises up at Teo's finishing sentiment, a light snort. Not entirely cynical. Amused. That this attitude carries on from when Gabriel was calling himself Tavisha, likely an attitude than kept Teodoro alive. It's in that moment that he thinks to look down, to regard Teo's hands - specifically, the one he had gripped to bring a girl back to life.

Gaze flicks back up. "It's good to be back," he agrees, before he's turning up the collar of his coat, stuffing hands into his pockets, and resuming his walk down the street the way he had been going - as if this had been some sort of random meeting after all, or so the imaginary people they're both paranoid of watching from across the street might conclude.

<date>: previous log
<date>: next log
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License