Where Do We Go...


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Scene Title Where Do We Go…
Synopsis …from here? Cat and Teo discuss actions and reasons for them.
Date January 2, 2008

New York Public Library

Once upon a time, the New York Public Library was one of the most important libraries in America. The system, of which this branch was the center, was among the foremost lending libraries /and/ research libraries in the world.

The bomb changed that, as it changed so much else.

By virtue of distance, the library building was not demolished entirely, like so many others north of it; however, the walls on its northern side have been badly damaged, and their stability is suspect. The interior is a shambles, tattered books strewn about the chambers and halls, many shelves pulled over. Some have even been pulled apart; piles of char in some corners suggest some of their pieces, as well as some of the books, have been used to fuel fires for people who sought shelter here in the past.

In the two years since the bomb, the library — despite being one of the icons of New York City — has been left to decay. The wind whistles through shattered windows, broken by either the blast-front or subsequent vandals, carrying dust and debris in with it. Rats, cats, and stray dogs often seek shelter within its walls, especially on cold nights. Between the fear of radiation and the lack of funds, recovery of the library is on indefinite hiatus; this place, too, has been forgotten.

It's become a pattern with her since the abduction and her release from the hands of Ethan. The apartment they shared is compromised in that they were abducted from there, and even if it were strategically safe to return and live there again, the problem of the memories would still be present. Of sleeping in that bed alone, seeing places where Dani had been… It's her apartment on paper, but doesn't feel like it was hers alone, ever. She'd only had the place a week or so when she was joined.

So on the morning of January 2, 2009, Cat rises in yet another upscale hotel room. She dresses casually and starts the day.

By ten in the morning she's at the headquarters, having eaten and settled on activities to keep her busy in body and mind. The room she uses here has a light on inside it; her guitar case, backpack, and a few pieces of luggage are just inside the doorway. Cat herself is in a pair of sweats and a sports bra, her hair tied back into a ponytail.

The archery target is in use against the far wall. It has an enlarged printed image of Ethan tacked onto it, and a few arrows sticking out of the face. She notches in another, draws back the bow until her hand touches the corner of her mouth and stands still, her breath held…

There's a footfall in the hallway, a roving shadow, some stranger trailing nicotine smoke from his lips, his hair a mess of browns and highlights and no evidence of sleep, recent or coming, in the oblique lines and bold angles of his features. Teo went three days without smoking, a little bit of self-deprivation to offset the indulgence of the bit before, figured he was allowed now, after the incredible aggravations that have landed Abby in the hospital and the difficult news that comes with revisiting romances that never actually took off, the exertion of learning a new martial art.

He's been looking for Catherine for all of ten minutes. Figured he'd find her here, or call her if he didn't. His success surprises him because he doesn't particularly expect things to be easy anymore, these days. There's a blink of bright eyes and then he quiets himself, long limbs straightening, his shoulders finding a square. He ought to let her concentrate.

The arrow flies from her bow as he stands in the doorway and watches, not breaking her concentration. She watches it fly the short distance to the target and embeds itself in the Ethan photo's right eye. Cat is motionless for a stretched out moment, studying where it hit, then she turns partway to draw another missile and load it. The movement brings him to her attention, and a slow breath is taken. Her expression remains calm, focused. When she speaks, it isn't in English. "Teo,"she begins, "good morning. It's good to see you. You've been well?

Not really. Sulking over New Year's helped a little; nothing like a little rest and recharge to put a crazy Italian boy's perspective back where it should be. He takes a drag off his cigarette before reaching up to take the cancer stick down, flick ash away with the force of a scar-notched finger. "Been worse, thank you." There's no surprise in either his face or his voice when he returns the greeting in kind, but a measure of delight discernible in the corners of his eyes, the crook of his mouth. "Your accent is good.

"Do you have time to talk business?" The second query comes with more than a little rue; no social visit, regretfully. Worse because the last time he had seen her, she was at the Cathedral, a silent wreck of grief. "I can wait until you're done training." His features still as he lifts his gaze to the perforated photograph in the wall, identical to the one that he had seen furbishing Phoenix's files. Homeland Security's.

"Thank you, Teo," she replies, with a ghost of a smile showing at his compliment of her accent as the bow is set down and her attention focuses on him. "It's not dissimilar from French and Spanish, which I already spoke. Some things might be confusing to you, because colloquialisms don't always show in books to learn from. It's all literal, there could be double entendres I don't know I'm saying." A brief grin follows that acknowledgement. //"And I do. I've got a few questions, and I'm wondering if you do also."

She reaches for a hooded sweatshirt, a plain blue one, and holds it ready to slide overhead. It can get cold quickly when not physically active here, and there's the issue of being in a man's presence in just a bra, whether it's for sports or not.

Prudery sticks to Teo like cheap face-paint. Sometimes he remembers to turn away, occasionally he even blushes; other times, he only retroactively realizes that he should have, and ends up in this oddly wholehearted fluster, a mumbled apology, the deference of averted eyes, turned head, one long hand bounced up to shadow his eyes. Woman in state of partial undress. Inappropriate, despite that he's seen worse, and the damage — if any — has already been done. It will take him as long as it takes her to get her clothes on for him to recover, likely. His field of vision cleared, he clears his throat. "Go ahead and ask yours first?"

"Why is Eileen Ruskin so angry?"Cat asks, as the garment is lifted and slipped over her head. She chuckles at his turning away, slightly. "You don't have to hide your face, Teo. It showed less than at a beach in warm weather. Especially what I know of many European beaches. I was being active, now I'm not, so I cover up. No major issue." But that's a digression. "Eileen says she knows exactly what they're up to, but still she objects that we dare to not just lie down and die, that we took her information and tried to forestall the attack on our next President? Is she naive, and just claiming to know the fully story?"

There is little chance of Teo turning back around before the sweater's on, but once it is, he checks out if his peripheral then rotates again with a huff. By then, his cigarette is back in his lips and little better than a stump of a filter. He steps sideways through the empty room, parks his shoulder against the wall to lift his boot off the floor, puts the remains of his cigarette out on the damp and ridged sole.

When he answers, it's in English, Italian foregone in favor of ease of communication — slang and all. "I don't know. But I can guess, and figure it has something to do with the fact she thinks she got her ass kicked out of Ethan's club because Phoenix showed up knowing at Rickham's assassination a week after kidnapping her. What we probably should've done is stayed hid, disguised, had one person take one shot over Rickham's head, get his security detail on alert. Save his life. Hindsight. It doesn't matter.

"She might also have taken exception to your tone, if you were speaking to her the way you're speaking of her now, or the way you wrote down those notes.

"We appear to have blown our informant's cover, signorina. It's a tactical loss. We didn't make too much effort to protect her when we went to action. That might have worked out for us in the end, but she isn't one of us." He has all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but there is no aggression or malice in his voice, face as he says this, a quiet clarity — or something that looks like it. Stretching an arm out to his right, he drops the spent smoke down the rusted maw of a garbage receptacle. Blankly, "I guess she might also be upset we almost killed the people she loves."

She listens quietly as he speaks, and calls the memory of her conversation with Eileen into memory.

As Eileen's eyes sweep the street in search of the voice's source, her gaze skims over Dantes and does not linger. She's no Flint Deckard, and does not recognize the undercover Fed for who he really is. It takes a moment or two, but she eventually picks out Cat's black-swathed shape amongst the shadows, and slowly a frown begins to creep across her lips, so pale that they appear only a shade or two pinker than the rest of her skin. "What do you want?" Although softly-spoken, the question is pointed almost accusatory.

"I hoped we could talk," Cat replies quietly. Her eyes rest on the younger one, she seems perhaps a bit puzzled by the frown and accusatory tone, but takes it into stride. Her face, being looked at, shows the traces of loss she can't always manage to hide. There's just the briefest of glances at the area around her to determine if anyone is close by.

Dantes doesn't really dare loiter. Not close. But his pace as he resumes walking is aimless and slow, as if contemplating the various restaurants here and there.

There's a slight curl of Eileen's upper lip, exposing a pearly sliver of tooth before she catches herself and smooths her expression back out into something more neutral. "I don't think we have anything to say to each other," she responds, tone even in spite of the fury she can feel bubbling up in her blood. "And even if we did, your people have proven I can trust you about as far as I can spit."

For her part, she's solemn. There's some traces of anger in her eyes, but it's muted. She speaks and looks generally calm, Cat's voice kept quiet to avoid being overheard by anyone in the area. "You helped. despite your ordeal," she answers. "In doing that, we see you can be trusted, by others beyond those you met. Did something happen, beyond the ordeal, to make you feel this way?" To some degree Cat expects hostility from her, she was abducted, but cooperated afterward. And she has all her digits, at least apparently.

Her nature isn't violent, but everyone even the smallest, most timid, mousiest of girls like Eileen have a breaking point where their composure cracks and splinters, falling away in pieces to reveal the uglier thing beneath. There's no audible snapping sound when it happens the only warning that Cat receives is the pop-pop-pop of Eileen's knuckles as she balls her right hand into a fist and and swings it at the other woman's face. It isn't her first time throwing a punch, but she's no experienced brawler either; as lithe as she is, her movements are slow, clumsy, weighed down by her heavy woolen coat and the stiffness in her joints.

She sees the fist coming, and easily sidesteps the clumsiness of that blow, but doesn't move to throw one of her own. Cat instead, somberly, just looks at the angered girl. The voice, as before, is kept at a volume for Eileen alone to hear. "I've got no fight with you," she offers, "you're not the one who took her away forever. Whatever has you so angry, was it just that you were with them for that time?" Clearly she doesn't seem to have full information.

"I wasn't harsh with her at all," Cat replies. "I'd hoped to speak with her calmly, came across her unexpectedly outside Piccoli's. It's true, perhaps, other tactics may have been used, but we operated at a disadvantage, and our approach was correct, when it turned out Sylar had borrowed the appearance of someone close to Mr. Rickham." But, then, she's also a bit incredulous. "People she loves? I… She loves people who are trying to kill her just for how she was born." Her eyes close and her head shakes.

By now, Teo can recognizes the fugue state of Cat's rewinding through her memory. "Expecting there to be clever reasons for love kind of implies love is reasonable. Expecting Eileen to be fucking happy we cost her both her place in her family and her position as a mole is… too much, I think. I don't know what she's thinking, either. Not really. I'm just— extrapolating. We lost an asset, but she isn't dead.

"She might be soon, if she's still…" his expression changes distinctly, blanching. "Maybe they love her. Our approach was not necessarily correct. If we'd got his security detail on the defensive, the Volken's men might have aborted or been forced to act fast. Sylar probably wouldn't have cost Rickham as much blood as he did, and Connie, Al, and Trask wouldn't have, either. At the very least, more effort to conceal or disguise ourselves probably would've been smart for those of us who lead public lives.

"We were lucky. I don't mind being lucky, but I think at some point, it's not going to be good enough.

"I don't really need to hear anybody defend the work we've done. Our intentions are good. I'm proud of our intentions. But we fuck up, and I mind that. I have enough space in my little head for those two feelings to happen at the same time. I'm sorry she was angry with you," he adds, after a moment, a frown twitching the line of his jaw. He knows that must have been hard to take, after all that the Vanguard did to Catherine.

"I don't know how they spotted us," Cat replies simply. "But somehow they did. What I know is Stormy called out the location of a shooter, and I asked if she needed assistance, so I made my way to her, and found her there with Doctor Ray. Then there was fire being taken from the Deveaux building, and it progressed from there. Conrad, I think, tried to shake the whole thing down on them." And she's digressing again. A slow breath is taken, then released, as she turns back to the subject of Eileen.

"The Ferry has assets, there's a doctor who does plastic surgery by hand. He can change her appearance, help her not be spotted by the Vanguard. But she won't even stand still long enough to hear it out. In the end, Teo, her own choices form what happens with her next." Her eyes close and hands clench into fists. "She stands there calling me frigid bitch and criticizes us for acting against Ethan the Sadist. I told her I had no fight with her, she wasn't the one who did it. And she didn't even have the decency to acknowledge what happened… She can grow up and get a brain, or go rot in hell with the rest of them."

Some moments are spent bringing her temper back into control. "Enough about her," Cat asserts when her eyes reopen and the hands have relaxed. "You wanted to talk business."

The man's features are still, stiff with the weight of some terrible sympathy. Teo doesn't like doing this. It's unimaginable to him, having to ask a grieving woman to see subtleties and acknowledge the shades of gray, to attempt different perspectives or admit to her own limitations. He doesn't have to imagine it, though. He's doing it as they speak. If wishes were horses, his job replacement would be approaching on a saddle and at a gallop. Instead, he's left in a gray room, watching and listening as emotion and logic boil with equal ferocity in Catherine, the lines of his shoulder, jaw, eyes tightening fractionally with every word that passes her lips.

When it's his turn to talk, he doesn't know what to say for a protracted moment. His gaze drops to the floor, then lifts again with difficulty that implies something like a staggering weight. "Eileen is part of the business I wanted to discuss," he admits. Coughs into his fist, once, a spate of searching or merely clearing his throat. Straightening, "You seem to expect trust from a little girl we've kidnapped, beaten, and turned into a fugitive from terrorists, never mind the fucking cops.

"Your notes didn't indicate you informed Agent Parkman that Eileen isn't a valid target for Homeland Security. Your notes also read a little— colored. And it looks like criticism at Phoenix's overall planning and performance, sound-blasts, bleeding in the subway, and weather-witching, all of it— gets to you personally. This isn't— an accusation, but I am questioning the way you've been handling things recently.

"Forgive me if that sounds harsh. Am I wrong?" Hands curl inside his sleeves and he watches her face out of eyes that have the color of daylight but none of the distance of the sky.

It may be just what she needs, to have an opposing viewpoint to hers expressed rationally in the terms Teo uses, to challenge her, rather than leave her to stew over information on her own at such a time. Cat stares at him for long silent seconds, her brain in high gear to consider her state of mind and emotion. The eyes are harsh at first, as if disbelieving he would challenge her judgment, but it soon settles to calm.

A short time beyond that, she begins to speak solemnly. "Expectation, I admit, from her is not the most reasonable course. I don't know what her life has been like. I can't imagine it's been an easy life, however, and her experiences may work against rationality. I would hope, however, that as she was reached enough to assist us, after being abducted and held, she would realize we are not the people she's been with. She was not mutilated for amusement, and she did not have someone close to her held for trade against impossible demands, which we knew could never be met."

Her eyes remain focused on him, a hand held up to ask she be heard out as she continues, to cover each point. "I would hope she would realize the stakes of all this: that to hold back any information from us, for any reason whatsoever, endangers our lives, the lives of billions around the world, and her own life, and act accordingly. I would hope she realizes that failure to do so makes her complicit in the genocide, because she's helping it happen through silence, and have enough conscience to not take that course. That she would realize we face a kill or be killed situation, and must play hardball in return, because the Vanguard does."

She's still speaking, her eyes watching his face for signs of impatience with hearing her out point by point, but still she goes on. She has to hope, just as she speaks of hoping for things from Eileen Ruskin, he will listen and engage in rational discussion, if not understand and agree. "Her decisions are colored by personal experience, just as my opinions are by my grief and guilt, my rage, and my desire to see the whole thing brought down. This is why doctors avoid operating on family members. Why judges recuse themselves from cases where they have conflicts. Objectivity is at risk. Sadly, I can't recuse myself here. If I did, would anyone organize information and analyze it at all?"

She draws in and lets out another slow breath, then goes on. "My hope was to speak with her rationally, as I tried to do, I kept my temper in check and spoke calmly with her, just as I am now, and bring her around to that point of view. The potential for it is there, at the very least. She did give us information. I understand I can't make her stay and listen long enough, however, and I admit frustration with that fact is in play when I speak of her.

Now she seems, at last, to be nearing a conclusion. "My notes are colored. I welcome conflicting opinions to contrast them with. And no, my notes don't indicate I informed Agent Parkman she isn't a target for Homeland Security, because I didn't. She knows several of the principles in this whole matter, and likely has data she hasn't shared."

"Because she has this data, she is of interest. Things she knows may be things that must be learned to succeed in the whole affair. Her one life, however much we want to see it not at risk, is less important than the whole picture. My life is less important than the whole picture. Getting revenge on Ethan is less important than the whole picture. Dani's life was less important than not giving up Wireless. It's why she's dead, as much as I hate myself for it being true, and may never be able to completely let go of guilt despite her forgiveness. Eileen Ruskin isn't me, and I can't expect her to be like me. I can only hope."

That many words require a lot of time. The Sicilian's features don't change much as he listens except in fractional shifts to acknowledge this remark or that. Danielle still makes him feel like a world-class asshole. Ethan's name inspires hate; nothing as intimate as that which Cat harbors, but ugly enough not to be confused with the nobler principles he'd mentioned earlier. Whatever inherent impatience might normally be excused by his heritage or testosterone fails to spark over the course of her statement, many that there are. "I wish Eileen Ruskin hadn't been a rude little bitch to you. Honestly. It — bears saying.

"I don't think she's thinking straight. Lived with homocidal fucking lunatics that long, maybe running from them now, has no damn reason to think we can help. You know you're not infallible. You know Phoenix isn't. You know Homeland Security could turn on us. They aren't even really with us now. Somewhere in Nevada, their knock-off Auschwitz is still grinding away, experiments, not even missing a fucking beat even while they send their boys in uniform to fucking smile at us and take down Volken. This isn't even a fucking truce.

"Throwing little girls under the bus isn't big picture, signorina. This isn't about being too soft, or hard enough, or being willing to make sacrifices. This is about judgment calls. You were the wrong person to speak with Eileen Ruskin. HomeSec's white room is the wrong tool to get her to talk. And she's just the one girl who spat. It wasn't your call to make, and you made the wrong one. The fact Eileen's fucking up too doesn't change that.

"If you can't find a grain of truth in any of that, th…" he exhales, cutting air out sharp between his teeth, bitter as broken glass. He glances toward a blocked window, then back. Smiles, weakly. "Then this conversation gets shittier."

Her words in response are quietly spoken. "She threw herself under the bus, Teo, and if you can't admit that, then there's little else to say about her. She chose to turn away, she's choosing to withhold information that several billion lives depend upon. I didn't go looking for her, when you bring judgment into it. I was going to Piccoli's for food, and saw her there. She asked what I wanted, without me even having spoken to her, and I told her the truth. That I hoped she and I could talk. There was no way to know in advance she'd react like that. If I had, I doubt I'd have wasted time trying. Whether or not you say I was the right person to speak with her, I was the one who had the opportunity. Would you have had me not take it?" Her brows lift, she visibly wonders how he'll answer that. "That's how it happens, Teo. You know this, you said taking Eileen was your idea, and you were right to do it. I wouldn't have advised you to move any other way."

She closes her eyes and takes in a slow breath, letting it out that same way again. "Regarding Homeland Security, I'm not stupid. I know they can't be trusted. Even if Parkman can, he's just one guy in the machine. The only real solution to holding them straight and narrow is having proof and exposing all their operations to the public eye. I'd be opposed to making any deal with them on general principle. I know all the precedents."

"People take strategies to deal with one thing, compromising their principles, it rarely turns out well. Usually it means having to handle another problem as a result. The best example is Soviet Russia. Leaders made nice with Stalin to keep him from making a separate peace with Hitler, and as a result the Iron Curtain grew. The US dealt with assholes in the Middle East, kept them afloat, because they were anti-communist. The result is now we have radicals who call themselves Islamic and hate us.

"Dealing with HomeSec will haunt us. But the stark reality is if we don't, we won't be alive to be haunted."

"She turned you down, Cat. Not Phoenix." Teo's head tilts on its axis, listing against the straight lines of his shoulders, half the perk of an inquisitive bird and partially the fatigue of a young man who's wrought a little too much havoc on his biological clock. His eyes follow the lift of her brow, the care with which she exercises her control, and appreciates that even as he hates asking her to do it. "She didn't turn away from a billion lives, she ran away from you. Brian and I have seen her since. No time to talk, but she didn't spit or run. Dealing with HomeSec is something we have to do. Letting them fuck up our operations because you made an assumption about how to deal with Eileen isn't.

"You had an opportunity, and I'm glad you took it. But you didn't walk away from that experience realizing you need to step back. You came back home, and you were pissed off, frustrated, or otherwise short-sighted enough to tell HomeSec only enough about her to make them see fit to torture her for information. Maybe she'd talk about Volken; maybe about us. Does that make sense?" Seeing no particular need to eviscerate Homeland Security or its parallels in history, he leaves that for now. His interest lies with the pragmatic, a problem at a time, and the first one Catherine needs to tackle with the rest of Phoenix is Kazimir Volken's styling apocalypse.

She's still calm, even quieter now, when she speaks. "Where do we go from here?" Cat asks. "There's still work to do. What are your thoughts? The only person doing analyses is me. Having Debater aboard changes that, she and I can hash things out together and drag each other into rationality if we're going off the rails. You're an academic too, Teo. I… when I was adding in things Wireless gave us, and speculating on historical precedents, parallels with Nazis and our current situation, I could sense her disinterest. I stopped floating my thoughts."

The systematic shrinking of the woman's voice might as well be the contraction of razor edges stabbing Teo in the conscience; he lets out slow breath, his gaze momentarily restless, feeling a little raw. "From here, I'd like you to be more careful about what you communicate, with whom, and why.

"You have a lot of gifts up there, bella," he lifts a hand briefly, a finger angling up to indicate her generously tressed head from a little ways across the room. "For memory, for forging connections. I think sometimes you get wrapped up in that. Some walls are better left standing, and sometimes letting shit go so somebody else can try and earn their keep could do. The analyses you've done so far has been invaluable. Onesto. Me? I'm nothing of the kind.

"There's all kind of shit coming up." Which is expert terrorist lingo for — exactly what it sounds like. "Edward and Wireless getting battle plans. Means Hel's going to start with war rooms. You'll be needed." It doesn't escape his notice that she hadn't answered him with either a Yes or a No. Some part of him hopes that, if she had felt strongly of the latter, she would have had no compunctions about saying so. "And if you could note to Parkman about Eileen's relationship with us, ask him to stand down.

There's only one other thing." Which he might save for next year, perhaps. He'd rather talk about de Lentini, who might well have invented the sonnet; complain about verb patterns, or recommend something about tortellini. She looks troubled enough.

"I will prepare a communication for Agent Parkman regarding Eileen, which you will see before it's sent to him, so you know the exact content." This is stated in that same quiet voice; her asking where to go from here leaves it open as to whether or not she agrees with his positions.

It could be she's simply accepting direction and choosing not to belabor a point he doesn't get. "Analyses need to be read and commmented on. When I left things open, as questions, no one undertook to answer the questions. You might have spoken up, as could anyone else, on what I'd hoped others would get without my needing to suggest it; that with Mr. Rickham's visit coming, and an operation in the city aimed at spreading discord, instability, that they would try to assassinate him was obvious. We might have planned our actions days in advance."

Gently, Teo answers, "Your notices on Rickham hadn't made the rounds. Eileen's note was the first I'd heard of it, and I couldn't even make it across town in time to be at the assassination. Shit happens. If you'd known he was going to be attacked, we would have been planning our actions days in advance. As for comments — Cat, one conversation and you gave our informant to HomeSec, instead of letting one of the others try t— fuck. Fuck me.

"Mi dispiace, I'm sorry. Truly." When he exhales this time, it plumbs the depth of his lung far enough that he feels the edge of his membrane burn slightly for it. "Hindsight. I'm sorry I haven't spoken to you more. Maybe less of this would've happened if…" I could look at you without thinking about Danielle, he thinks but doesn't say. He squeezes an eye-blink out, inhales with an unsteady rattle. "I'll be better about that."

It's all taken with a slow nod, Cat states no opinion on his words. Her reasons for doing so are her own, Teo will believe what he will. "There will be strategy sessions and the like, this goes without saying. You said there was one other thing?" Her eyes rest on his face, and the expression there seems numb, wearied, as if she'd been struck to the core.

Always, Teo copes with the probability of being wrong far better than he does the conviction of being right. The latter seems to be fraught with the certainty of comitting error in blind, heedless, righteous ignorance. He can't remember how he used to be, months ago. Lonelier, better off; fewer decisions to make, lower stakes should he have fucked up. He questions how little he questions himself often.

Other times, it's the old days: and he simply questions himself. For a protracted moment, it seems as if he's going to let her question dangle into silence, perhaps brush it off. It's nothing. Not important. She's going to hate him. His throat moves slightly and his breathing stays even as geometry. His gaze scales a crack on the wall behind the Englishman's mutilated photograph, before making its way back to her. "Did you ever give Danielle information about Ethan, his men, or anything else that might have led them to you?"

"If I did," she replies, "no one could punish me worse for that than I would myself. Do you believe I did?" Cat's words are quietly and calmly spoken, she watches his face for the answer. It's a thing she will neither confirm nor deny.

His answer takes its time coming; his expression, turned inward, reflects that this is because he has to think about it, though that aches a little. "I don't know," Teo answers, at last. "I almost hope so. To stop wondering." He almost said, To understand, but he isn't that stupid. He couldn't possibly. "I care about keeping people safe, not punishment." It is a terrible explanation but it's the only one he has.

It's a loaded question in ways he can't know: how Cat kept Peter's secret and didn't tell Dani, the best friend she'd had since manifestation, who had so recently become more, and nearly lost her over it. To answer his question, to give any kind of explanation means betraying that along with it. Peter being in prison means it may be out already, others may know, but it isn't publicly announced, and so the only person she intends to speak of it with is Stormy.

The voice is somber when she speaks, hushed and hurt. "If that were true, it would mean the person I trusted most in the world acted on such information without telling me, got caught doing so, and paid for it with her life, and I would bear the guilt of having told her, reinforced by having to accept that she was doomed when I was released and she wasn't."

She can't even say she should have been left to die along with her, that Helena was wrong to make the trade, because she gave her word not to disagree with her outside private conversations.

"You'll believe what you will, Teo. Whether I did or not doesn't make her any less dead, and it doesn't get me her remains to lay to rest."

Everything looks less irretrievably broken when you aren't asking questions about it. Teo gets a little better at secrets every month. He fights the urge to close his eyes or put his hands on his head, sit down or make a joke, or something equally inappropriate. It was a question you would answer unless the answer is Yes. It's a question that deserves a straight answer for as many reasons practical as cathartic.

If he were more of the man he ought to be, Teo might demand one. Instead, he takes her tone, her string of broken hypothetical could bes as more than enough of one, her way of telling the truth though she might have her reasons for being unable to commit to a simple monosyllable. His voice is a little rough: "I'm going to stop wondering so much. I guess." He carves his thumb down his forefinger, reminding himself of his hands, the round patches of calluses, fingerprints, the tiny scar wicked into the heel of his palm.

Other people get lonelier every year. "Is there anything I can do for you?" Obscurely, he expects to be asked to leave.

"I'm sometimes not as strong as I'd like to be," Cat quietly reflects. "I'd like to bear her loss and have no one know I'm grieving, for it all to be private. The one person I would let see me like that is gone. I don't have her to go to anymore, so it's come out at random. You've seen me in action, focused and calm when it was crucial, while others eject their lunch. In captivity I was like that, expecting to die, prepared for it. It was the cost of the life I've chosen."

"I knew it was a risk going in. Free now, without her, it's all broken. I don't have your trust, that's been made clear. All that will be from here is criticism. I want to honor her wishes, to find someone else and live well, I hope I can. But I doubt. How can I, when I have to possibly keep secrets from anyone I let that close. You won't even let me have the dignity of bearing burdens alone. I can't trust anyone to get that close, because I did. And she died. I told her things. I never expected she'd look into them without telling me, but she must have."

Cat picks up the guitar case and backpack. "The question again is where we go from here."

Teo lets himself move, finally. Crosses his arms, cloth and limb pretzelling over his chest, fists tucked into his elbows and shoulders squaring. For most people, it's a posture of self-reinforcement, steeling or comforting oneself in a time of algid discomfort. For him, it's something to do. "Some things heal, signorina. Trust. Other things barely deserve injury at all. God knows I've made more mistakes. I think they were worse." His tone gets choppy; he breathes in, out, watches her gather her things. "Maybe that's idiot vanity. I want to think— I'm a huge fan of thinking the criticism part is over, bella. All there should be from here is…"

He doesn't know. He's only a boy with a temporary job that goes in aggressive contradiction to his nature, or at least the nature he wants to have. He'd offer to leave, but that would be self-aggrandizing. "It's not the same," he says. "I have to get close to watch your back. You have to be close to watch mine."

She sets the guitar case and the backpack down, turning to rest eyes on the man again. "What goes on from here is what we make it be, Teo." Cat takes a few steps toward the door, having apparently decided to leave her gear in the room and maybe return to it later. "Helena and others may be awake by now. Claude too."

January 2nd: Knowledge is Power
January 2nd: Helena in Hang-Over Land
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