Unmasked

Participants:

sal_icon.gif teo2_icon.gif

Also featuring:
ghost2_icon.gif

Scene Title Unmasked
Synopsis Sal has a bone to pick with the evil bastard impersonating his boyfriend.
Date June 12, 2009

Staten Island — Inland


It's some sign of trust whenever Ghost uses his cellphone to conduct business. To Hana, anyway. He finishes rattling off numbers and steps out from underneath the bus stop shelter as the bookie's confirmation comes to him in a chainsmoker's voice. How far the mighty have fallen, Teo is telling him, when prescience into the bright and terrible future is exploited for fucking sports gambling. Ghost doesn't answer.

He'd done a little research before shooting the bird lady in the head precisely because of this sort of thing, and now that he has a paycheck to multiply, he's doing it. Grazie, Pascal. Buona notte. He closes his phone between forefinger and palm.

The hiss of passing cars plumb a brief grimace into his aquiline features with a reek of exhaust, splash him with colorful lights; paper adverts stapled up on the lamp post flutter at him coyly. He reaches back to pull the hoodie up over his head, furtive the way a terrorist— anti-terror operative— common criminal ought to be. His array of black garments is not as complete as it is in 2019 yet, so he's taken to the ratty-cuffed jeans and hoodie that his younger incarnation took to easier. It's fine. He's off-duty.

Huddling his shoulders inside his jacket and his hands inside his pockets, Ghost walks himself toward the bar.

It was by coincidence that Sal managed to spot Teo at all, or the man wearing Teo. He's no tracker, no stealth expert, but he knows the shape of his lover anywhere.

The moment he spots this doppelganger of a man, his stomach feels like he ate a rock. He remains stock still, bent around the corner of a building. And there, lingering in the shadows, he waits until the other man enters the bar.

Then, something like a plan takes shape, twists in a pained mind, self-centered and currently reckless. He glances back towards the Rookery, pulls up his own hood and makes changes to his features. The face he chooses to approach his usurped lover is a strange hybrid of Staten lowlife and GQ man. He's not trying to draw Teo, precisely. Just not be so objectionable that Teo won't talk to him. If this is Teo. If this doppelganger is doing more than usurping him and some kind of strange…merger has taken place.

It takes a little subtle tweaking, and only as the plan starts to formulate does Sal realize he's been putting this all together in the back of his head for days and didn't realize it.

When he pulls the hood back, he's about ten years older, but aged well, with dark, ruffled hair, broad shoulders and pale eyes. He's one part handsome, one part weathered Staten thug, with weather-beaten skin, a rough bit of stubble and hair that desperately needs a brush. The broken nose he sports for real adds a touch of authenticity. Too scraggly for one to imagine the vain Mayor's son to ever purposefully don.

He doesn't head to the bar, rather back and down a narrow alley, to a dealer of illegal goods. A fair bit of money is exchanged and the doc tucks something into the folds of his jacket. Then he makes his way towards the bar and inward, pulling out a cigarette as he moves. Last Teo knew, he didn't smoke. Stress brings back old habits.

The lump of cellphone is jammed into his pocket in a brusque motion of hand that pays little attention to the already scratched and worn surface of the electronic device. He thumps across the floor, roping his shoulders back hard enough that he can hear his spine crick in his inner-ear. In some morbid coincidence, when he thinks to send a quick psychic scan of the locale, he notices absolutely nothing out of the ordinary despite that his mind slides seamlessly through the locus of Sal's perception or his dealer's. Two men speak. Unalarmed, he rolls back into his own body, settles neatly on the stool.

Deckard almost shot me here once, Teo is observing. Weeks in, and the voice of his mind still remains a blustery drone, inelegant and uncouth, difficult to read tone and emotional coloring. He hated it when Miles hijacked his body, and that was the other time he almost fucking shot me. Why do you think he's ever going to help you again?

Same reason he helped with Eileen. Because I want to save the world. It's what he wants. It's what you want.

Teo could retort to that in any number of ways. Demand more, point out Ghost's startling deficiency at anticipating any of his other desires, but he doesn't. It's true. He wants Eileen out of there. Now. Since last week.

He doesn't say anything; merely watches, blankly, as Ghost crosses the age-scarred floorboards and slings his denim-bound legs onto a stool. The bartender is difficult for the set of cheap red hair-dye and lovehandles that he'd spoken to before. This woman is thinner, though the same cake of foundation tars her skin, the orange of an artificial tan tamed down a few flaming degrees by the cooler ambience of the establishment, its sparse lightbulbs. Ghost goes with tequila, is rewarded with a glass encrusted with salt and, likely, other things.


Staten Island — A Shitty Bar


Once he's through the door, Sal adopts a shuffle, an unsteady gait and a lack of straight lines that would indicate a man already in his cups. He falls back, draws himself into the character he's playing. It feels…well, it's a relief, frankly. When things hurt, it's a fantasy for some to be anyone but themselves. For him, it's easily a reality.

Although it would be far easier were it not for the man seated at the bar. A man that doesn't recognize him or know the hurts he's caused. He pauses for a moment, unsure of his own strength. The hand goes to the small bundle in his jacket, then falls, once he's confirmed it's there still.
Then he moves to the bar and drops on the stool next to Teo. It's not suspiciously deliberate given the lack of stools that are in one piece and look like they could hold the weight of a full-grown man. He coughs once, then leans elbows on the bar. "Beer." One word. No politeness. That was a habit that was rather hard to break. But Staten has the way of rubbing the sheen off a man.

Thudding elbows elicit a sidelong glance, though the ghost had probably noticed him a little bit earlier than that. The door has his peripheral, but it's a peripheral that he is accustomed to watchguarding with a little subterfuge and a little more creative maneuvering through the secondhand vantage point of the bartender's eyes. The woman looks up, naturally. Studied Sal's face, frame, the bulge of his wallet (which looks a little like she's studying the bulge of something else, but just a little), and it was then that the Ghost studied him too.

No weight of a gun hangs off this stranger's shoulders, no strap of a knife sheathe laced on anywhere that skin might register feedback. Unwise, if not particularly unusual for an inhabitant or reveller on Staten Island. Being here is not, as a general rule, wise. "All right, signor?" Ghost asks with mannered concern, cocking his head. Stubble darkens his jaw raggedly, though Teo never lets it get anything mangey, and it isn't now; accentuates the angular contours of his features, and that's all.

Like you give a fuck. Teo answers, either suspicious of the intruder's intent (he is always suspicious of the ghost's intent) or merely defaulting to rancid ill humor. Always a delight.

Sal answers that question with a disjounted laugh. Shit. Why is he using Italian if he's not Teo? Not a good sign. "Yeah. Yeah I'm peachy." Somehow the New York boy managed to conjure up some flavour of Southern drawl. "I just drink to pass the time away." Another brief cough and he pulls the beer towards him once it comes. He forces himself not to worry about the weird blotch on one side of the glass, or the scratches the doc knows are harbouring bacteria. He drinks the beer anyway.

Piss poor. And to think this same man used to drink glasses of wine worth fifty bucks or more on a regular basis. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. He doesn't quite trust himself for eye contact yet, but given he's playing at being drunk, that's not particularly unusual.

"You're a bad liar." There's something wholesomely benign about the smile that the ghost stretches his mouth around. He drops his eyes and it's nothing coy, skates his eyes down the scudded surface of the bar and onto the peeling wall. The broken mirror that backs the bar shows him his face split into two mismatched halves, the left seized up slightly, larger and inched higher than the left.

When he turns his head, his left eye glints monstrously large, the pale, crystalline rind of his iris luminous despite the shortage of light.

There's a faint exhale, thinned by the cut of not-quite-immaculate, if white teeth. Accepting another shot of tequila, Ghost is left to slick lime across his teeth and wrap his tongue around the sour pucker of it. Hooding his eyes, he offers the 'tender a reflexive smile when she soaks terrycloth in the nearby sink. It's warm enough to be reassuring.

"That was sarcasm, not a lie, sport." Sal flashes a crooked grin, eyes half-lidded, body half-slouched. "But for givin' a damn to even ask? Howsabout I buy you a drink? You're in luck seeing as I just got paid today. And I'm a piss-poor manager of money."

He shifts his hips upwards and tugs out his wallet, then opens it to reveal a cluster of bills. Mostly small denominations, but there are a lot of them. "Plus, in this day and age, you gotta reward kindness when you get it, am I right? What're you drinking? Tequila? Brave. Brave."

It's a good mask. Sal's actually surprising himself at how easy it seems to come. He just imagines someone he's known and tries to act like them. Makes him wonder how much else he's been acting without realizing it.

Awh, that's sweet. Strangely so. Ghost considers this in silence for a moment that is horizontally compressed into something passable as casual. Then, "Yeah. Whatever you're having." He grins briefly, a slight show of teeth, before straightening slightly and swiveling his knees around so that he can square his posture facing the other man. The physicality of the motion, heels swinging, makes him look younger. Perhaps painfully so for Sal, who was until only a few weeks ago, accustomed to having his lover rabbit around like idiot, pick him up from the floor, and fail utterly at ninja-flips when trying to find his feet.

Even without the sophistication of tone, Teo's mental register is querulous. What's up? They both regard Sal through pale eyes. Y— my— the heartbeat's going funny.

It bothers Ghost that that might very well be true, but he doesn't answer. Instead, he's dipping into Sal's perceptions again, checking this time not for snatches of conversation or the dig and pull of weapons underneath his clothes, but at the stranger's sense of smell. The wobble of his eyelids and tilt of his balance imply there should be reek lingering in the back of his throat, poison having long cottoned the buds of his tongue. He's looking for that, even as he thumbs the hood of his head. "Sarcasm doesn't suit you either."

A lot of things are painful. for Sal. Especially sitting two feet from someone who feels like he's lost to him. "Well what does/ suit me then, hmm? Straightforward, from-the-hip honesty? All stereotypical-like?" He flashes another grin and orders a beer from the lady. As he does, he slips a little something procured from his reach into his pocket and drops it into the beer. It's not the stealthiest of movements, but it's a dark bar and he's supposed to be drunk. So clumsy fingers aren't that suspicious.

People who designed roofies are bastards. They are inconspicuous, dissolve fast and leave no taste. Which is exactly why he was able to procure a packet in an alley not too far from here.

"There you go, pal. See? Bein' nice pays off sometimes. Cheers." He lifts his own glass up into a salute and swallows.

There may be no taste of drunk it in the back of his mouth, but who's to say it's alcohol that's making him act that way? He could have taken something. Could be why he's acting so happy.

You don't get to survive doing the things that Ghost has occupied his years with without a certain level of paranoia, and you don't befriend John Logan without expecting to adopt a few new enemies. Not that he hadn't had enough of those to start with.

The drunkard isn't a drunkard, but he's looks like emotional roadkill and is being generous. Hard times call for erratic behavior and bad decisions, but that would be precisely the reason one remains wary around people who have fallen upon hard times, and consistently suspicious behavior only reduces the proper suspicion so far. The ghost's vigilance extends to Sal's hands as the beer is dragged closer, its surface rippling with the reverberations of drag.

He's dully surprised, if not especially moved.

Teo, of course, doesn't notice a damn thing. What are you looking at? Like a child thrashing against his seatbelt in the backseat, twitching and clicking and craning his head. Why are we looking at his hands? There's something wrong with your skin —seizing a shudder, prickling gooseflesh, suspicion, visceral horror and a wry sense of knowing. You're smiling. Whwhy— Teo. Ghost— why are you smiling?

Ghost is smiling, but not with his mouth. Pallid eyes swivel upward at Sal's face, creased without crows'-toes at the corners, and the ghost's expression is different now, something worn and fungally aged about this misuse of Teodoro Laudani's youthful features, or that might just be his hair cropped down almost to the level of his skull, a perversion of the wise old man on the rocking chair. Of all the questions he could ask, the ghost chooses to ask this one:

"You ever been raped?"

It's to Sonny's credit that he manages to keep his cool when that question is asked. He knows, of course, that he's been caught. And denying it? Well. That would probably be fairly smart. But he only managed to keep up this facade because he believed it was working. But now?

Slowly, he lowers the beer and sets it down. And he looks into Teo's - not Teo's - eyes, and searches the face there. He sees that difference, the difference that others missed as this man plays at being his Teo.

"Yes."

And then all pretense of being drunk is dropped, or slow. His movements are fast, years of Aikido training snatching wrist and twisting it in such a way that any movement would cause bone to crack.

Then his other hand snaps up to curve around his neck, to push and to plant an image he held carefully in his head, and to shove it onto this man. If he's not Teo, then he doesn't get to look like Teo.

He would have preferred to do this quietly, out of sight, without witnesses, but suddenly he's desperate.

"I am not your tesoro," he says through gritted teeth with nearly wild eyes as he morphs the man's features away from Teodoro Laudani, into a stranger to match the stranger at the controls of his lover's body.

Confusion unravels through the mind of the child barricaded up inside the ghost's head— Rape? He was going to— was he putting something in the beer? Why—? but it gutters out, hacks loud, escalates into a shout of fear because someone is lunging at him, and it's a third of a second before the sensation of his skin twisting and muscle flattening stomps Teodoro with sudden recognition. Recognition that had dawned on the ghost long seconds ago, an association quick and seamlessly natural after the notion of date rape.

Theirs is a complex relationship.

Clattering and scrape of chair legs ends with Ghost standing three feet back from where he had sat before, a different profile sported by the man now reflected in the ruined glass behind the bar. Older.

Same height, pale eyes. Darker hair, a peculiar slant to the tattoo behind his neck that promises further change elsewhere. Pain reverberates in Sonny's elbow where Krav Maga and Aikido had interfaced with concussive impact. There is a gun in his hand in a sudden snatch, where almost any other man would be smoothing panicky fingers over their own face, to reassure or horrify themselves.

In a perhaps unexpected change of direction, he is pointing the gun at the bartender's face. An unexpected change of affairs that pins her back to the shelves, jerks her hands up and her mascara-wreathed eyes wide, pupils in bloom, breath sucking in so hard, jangling, that her ever rib juts out like a piano key through the thin mesh of her top. This isn't the first time she's ever faced down the barrel of a gun in Staten Island, but it's one of the stranger circumstances, to be sure, and it's just as fucking terrifying.

The ghost doesn't even look at her. "Abby said you were in a bad way." His voice is different. Same register, but distinguished faintly by age.

Sal has learned many things from Teodoro Laudani - not all of them good. One of which is to lead with your heart and to not let recklessness and no clear way out stop you from charging in headlong.

Hey, it seems to work. Mostly.

"You stay the fuck away from her," he grits, all traces of faux Southern drawl dumped in the blink of an eye. His arm might hurt, but anger and adrenaline allow him to ignore it for the moment.
He stares daggers at the man in front of him. So much easier to do now that he doesn't look anything like Teo. "What are you going to do? Shoot her if I don't turn you back?" He thinks he is spot on. And, in a moment that will make him sick later to think of it, he doesn't really care. "You don't get to look like him. You don't get to fuck with his friends. You don't get to ruin his life. I may not be able to do anything about getting him back, but I won't let you fuck up his memory. He's a good man. You're a goddamn monster." There's more hate in words than the doc's ever uttered at anyone. His words are almost gutteral. It's hard to imagine him being this angry with a face framed in curls. But the eyes, now that he's stopped trying to be someone else, are a familar shade if not a familiar shape of glaring blue.

Monster, Sala says, and he honestly doesn't know the half of it. "No," he answers, his voice stable in a way that the mangled knot of thoughts rattling piecemeal through his skull is not. Teo's fear and anger are stumped and clumsied by the look on Sonny's face. He's never seen that before. Ghost can't remember when, but he thinks— at some point, he had. "Seems like a pretty fucking bad idea to let you get your hands on me again, doesn't it?

"I'm going to threaten to shoot her until you drink that beer you bought me.

"I'm sorry."

How odd this voice sounds, but still: the words, the sentiment behind them, the twist to his register and the fractional degree that his eyes shade downward at the second syllable is strangefamiliar. Distantly, he observes to Teodoro that he doesn't know what to do, and that this isn't the first time; that Sonny has that effect on him, and You wouldn't believe how often I don't have a plan. Spitting, Teo tells him to shut up. Shut up or— I don't know, fuck. Look what you've done to him. Look what you did. Sonny—

And then Teo says, Lie to him. Ghost roils, surprised and skeptical. He won't believe me. Teo says, Do it. Both Sicilians stare at the doctor from over the barrel of the weapon.

Sal lets out a loose, fractured chuckle. "Why, so you can chain me, lock me away, toss me in the fucking river with rocks tied to my ankles? No. If you want to kill me, you're going to have to do it while you look me in the eye." He stretches himself to his full height and stares him down. Somewhere along the line, Sonny Bianco grew a pair. So much easier now, to stare him down. Beneath the fear, the anger, some knot in his stomach has released. A stranger's face to match a stranger's actions.

He's tasted nihilism, these last few weeks. He sees now why Teo clung to it. When emotional pain tingles at you, when regret and self-doubt creep in, a punch to the face or a bullet wound is catharsis. It makes the internal pain physical, something to deal with, some tangible evidence of hurt, instead of vague emotional distress.

"I've done what I came to do. I'll come for you when I know how to get you out of there. I'm not here to lock you up in chains and drag you to a cell. Not yet." A threat, yes. One that anyone who kows Sonny wouldn't think he was capable of following through on. Then again, few people would imagine he was capable of doing what he just did.

Do it, Teo snaps. Don't tell me you can't. And get the fuck out of here; you've done enough.

It's a little bit sad, but mostly realistic, that he means to run. Even now, when the ghost's heart hammering uneven behind their breastbone and uncharacteristic hesitation tolled out in the verbiage of his mind, Teo knows better than to think that Ghost is just going to leave.

The ghost exhales through his teeth and answers, Christ.

"I just wanted to get the Formula. The plastique explosives, and the Formula— a few— tactical alliances," the words are haphazardly chosen, not quite wincing. "That's all. I spent a few weeks spying, and all the bloodshed I've done— it's no one you know; no one important. I never touched you or anybody Teo cares about, and I mean you no harm. Salv— Sal." The gun doesn't move. This frightens the bartender. She, too, is no one important. "I swear."

"You used him. Used the trust he's earned, used the people who care about him for your own fucking games. You could have just walked in there and taken what you needed when I wasn't there. Instead you decided to taunt me, use what you know about me to fuck with me. And to do the same for his friends." Sal keeps his eyes on the man he sees as a stranger. "I know you're good at sweet words. I know you're good at…telling people what they want to hear." There's a hitch in his voice at that, but he manages to regain his bravado after a swallow and a few furious blinks.

"I'm not going to listen, and now no one else will, either. There was some reason you chose him. And now you can't use him anymore." A tiny, splintered smile twitches at his lips. "Now leave. I won't stop you."

Gloomily, Ghost conclude: Told you so.

You've made a mistake, Teo answers.

"The place was always guarded, and you never left. You don't— have to turn me back. I don't expect you to turn me back. I probably shouldn't even want you to turn me back, with the assload of enemies I've made. But you should believe me, because I'd only lie about this if I wasn't a monster, and you couldn't handle the pathos if I wasn't, but I guess it's almost too late for that already. You're already banking on the assumption that I don't want to hurt you."

Ghost sounds faintly exasperated at something. Everything. All of the nuts and crippled clockwork and seizuring lights of this situation. Oh, yeah? What, letting him get close? Letting him go?

You mentioned the Formula and the explosives. She's seen your face, and you'd told her your name. If she talks— Arthur's going to find them. You made a fucking mistake, you careless idiot son of a bitch. You're not supposed to make mistakes.

Cold water shock needles down his spine like unprovoked rain, realization, retroactive, splintering the permeating haze of his uncertainty. He's made a mistake, and Phoenix, Sal himself, are deeper still in danger for it. Barely, Ghost's jaw twitches; his new one. He pulls his forefinger, and the bullet lances the bartender through the heart. He turns sharply on a boot and bolts across the floor, shoulder slamming door, his gait the lunging, ground-eating stride of a wolf during famine.

"You've already hurt me, violated me in ways sicker than throwing a punch. Whoever the fuck you are. Why would I bank on you not? You've shown yourself capable of some pretty fucked up things. What would you say if I told you I did this and didn't — " And then the shot rings out, sharp and startling. It interrupts Sal's passionate speech.

For a moment, he is still. Then he's leaping over the side of the bar, fumbling for the woman, for her wound, to touch bare skin and to transfer the shot to a less critical area. An arm, somewhere away from a major artery. But he can't move the bullet if it's lodged in her chest, if it didn't exit out the other side. But it's too late. The woman's death happened a split-second after the bullet pierced her. Someone like this doppelganger doesn't miss a kill shot at point blank range.

Guilt waves over him at first, but the doctor clings to the power villification of this man in Teo's body and shifts the blame moments later.

The scene is starting to draw attention, and even on Staten, there are people who will take revenge for this sort of thing. So the doctor slips out a back way, onto the street, shifts his features again and then moves in a way he hopes to god is in the opposite direction from the ghost that haunts his lover.


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