An Unabridged Edition


francois_icon.gif teo3_icon.gif

Scene Title An Unabridged Edition
Synopsis Dinner as promised takes place while New York hosts a gala somewhere else.
Date February 22, 1010

Upper East Side: Sol Noches

Somewhere between classily nichey and extravagant, the restaurant is an exercise in ambience. There are elderberry flowers in the cup beside the wrought iron condiments holder, inexpensive but cultural. Breadcrumbs dry slowly in the blotchy patterns made out of olive oil and vinegar, foie gras streaked on the plate rim nearby. They managed to get most of the way through a stew and Asado barbecue of poultry before an emergency abort into candied milk and chocolate while they still had room between that and the red muscat and white something-else. On Francois' suggestion, of course. Despite that Teo had chosen the venue, most of it was.


Should a spectator be watching from just such an angle, they make an limerickally sweet and normal couple. This illusion would no doubt also be reinforced somewhat by the setting— tastefully deficient lighting— and the quality of the red wine that Sol Noches serves in addition to a faintly haut cuisine interpretation of Argentina's otherwise simple cuisine. By the cast of spiral-wicked candles and dimmed pewter lamps, gun bulges and keloid-mounded leers and mangled earlobes are harder to see or easier to overlook. Yellow incandescence flatters fair skin and Aryan bone structure, and long shadows make regional poetry out of twitches and touches that might otherwise have looked — nervous.

Two men. Well, New York City is a modern city: the hypothetical spectator does not doubt this happens all the time.

And how comfortably intimate. That the younger one had dragged his chair around from the far side of the table to sit beside his partner, their heads bent close now, shiny laughter in their eyes staring up at their immaculate view of the great mural painted on the wood panels. It's a map, and nothing short of epically proportioned. A description of historical spice routes and wine territory done up in calligraphed borders, curlicued mint-colored seas, an elaborate compass rose as big as a wheel of cheese. It's a beautiful piece of work and known to many who have reviewed the restaurant.

Serves as an easy locus of conversation, an anchor to greater depths than facetious small talk. Their talk is tasteful as anything; about travel, to more countries than the average person will ever go in their entire lives. There are a hundred other places Teo wants to see, and dozens of those Francois has been. Stories. Questions— how many the Sicilian has to ask. At some point in the debacle of the rogue crocodile and the silk floss tree, Teo's hand made it all the way over into the near pocket of the older man's trousers and it's been fixed there since, audaciously casual, and probably sweaty. It probably would have all come off a little more natural and spontaneous if— you know.

Teo hadn't forgotten it was Lent until last minute. Mostly weird considering the preorder. He's barely drunk at all: a tactical error that would have meant likely death had this been a consideration of elements for a wet operation on the field, but here it's done nothing worse than give his happiness a weird desperation. "I won't get jealous," he says, first, in a tone that resembles A Promise. (The spectator would find this sweet too.) "What did you write to him besides Adios?"

Francois has his hands to himself. To be specific, one is spidered on over a fat wine glass, good for reds, the dregs of which gather opaquely at the bottom like a very perfectly cut jewel. It's his good hand, all long fingers where they should be, unscarred, the kind of hand you'd trust to be at the end of a surgeon's arm — no chance of wavering or hesitation. The other one, the one we don't talk about, is tucked against the table and partially behind the other. It's moderately acceptable to have elbows on the table when you're being cosy.

"I wouldn't want you to get jealous," he agrees, kind of, a smile going with it. He's had a bit to drink, and this is nice. Dinner, that is, and watching Teo as keenly as the enigmatic spectator. There's a subtle shininess to the shirt beneath a matte jacket — it shows he cares — and also in his eyes from around halfway through his second glass. "Perhaps I also wrote au revoir."

His attention crawls back up the map — a thing he can appreciate and admire, having dried his hands on enough gas station folded up district maps to fill the glove boxes of two lifetimes — even as his words divert. "But I thought I was supposed to get to know you, mon ami. Where did you go? Ten years up from now, where did you go before you came back?"

Oh. Surprise registers on Teo's face, a dim and pleasant sort, diluting like blood in water. That is: pinkly. Oh, Francois remembered.

How— unfortunate?

All right, All right. Not to be dramatic. The hand he installed inside Francois' pocket tightens marginally, loosens again, reassuring him that he did not become paralyzed at some point in the interim. Teo feels that he has had to make great conscious efforts to remain still enough to pass for sane, this past hour or so, and his extremities had gone slightly fuzzy as a result. Going without smokes, sober, and venturing away from totally casual sex also is an undertaking. He blinks his eyes out of their hooded stare, shifts them obligingly toward the map intricately brushed out on the wall.

"Israel," he says, finding it on the map. The hand he lifts is not nearly as smooth-textured or immaculately colored, scarred here, a mild bruise healing on the round bone of his wrist, but Teo's point is still deft. That tiny wedge of a country, between Jordan and Egypt. From a distance and in cursive, its name has a pretty origami symmetry to it. "Mostly the capital. Tel Aviv. Hunting Palestinian terrorists, mostly, with a woman— Hana Gitelman, one of the Ferrymen founders, the telecommunications backbone before you arrived. I don't know how much you've heard about that territorial conflict.

"But we still had Palestinians suicide-bombing train stations and subway routes by 20-18, or stuffing dead cats with plastique. And that's how Hana's mother died, so— I guess it was as much vengeance as justice. It went on years before and after the war between the Evolved and non-Evolved was won. And that," Teo makes an absurd throwing-star motion of his hand. Either that, or he is demonstrating the whoop-ksssh motion of having been 'totally whipped' by this Hana character.

Or hailing the waiter, already. Teo's tone is wry: "Is when I became a ninja."

If you do it again, can I come?, even facetious, already sounds strangely weighted in Francois' head, and leaves it there. He listens; he tracks his focus where pointed, over patchwork countries in browns and greens, all of which are aged. Muses that maybe this was uncharted territory Teo could use a map for, too, and he smiles at that gesture, more or less incomprehensible save for the fact that Francois' seen a lot of '70s ninja movies within the same decade.

Decides, actually, that exploration is fun too. "I was never in the military properly," he decides to state, shifting his attention from Teo and towards his empty glass. "Unless you can be a soldier without a uniform. I was a part of the Resistance, or the Forces Francaises Libres. The free French. Men— women, too— who would not surrender after our country did. I did see some battlefields, however, when Normandy was invaded, and I was arrested not so long after — I did not get to see the battle itself.

"The early days were quieter. Secret newspapers. Meeting places, and one was to walk alone instead of in groups, and never the same way twice. It was so long ago that I forget why I was so adament. I don't recall knowing very much apart from what I was told. I think I was young, and I can't say I got to become a ninja. I missed the end of the war."

"You snuck up and jumped on Ethan Holden's shiny bald pate," Teo observes, after a moment. "Correct me if I'm wrong. That's like a ninja." Flattery! And though he isn't much of an artist or an aesthetic on other levels, it was not haphazardly applied. It's as true and appropriate as the kiss he'd delivered to Francois' bicep once upon a squeaky Moscowan cot had been.

Teo floats an errant glance over the great ragged country bridging the roof of Europe and China for a moment, his eyebrows digging a faint groove downward. Fucking Russians. He has to expend a little bit of conscious effort to drag his attention away, down to the chocolate streaks in the small, gladiola-shaped bowl that dessert had been served in. He nabs at the spoon to claw out another fraction of an ounce, rolled up on the silver rim. Puts it upside-down in his mouth, closer to his good side than his bad.

"You know," and then Teo blanks, briefly. Surprised, to think: "I've never been arrested before. Or in the military properly."

The last drops of wine are slid down the side of the glass, sipped, before it's set aside so that he can cradle his chin in that hand, head angled so as to look at his dinner date beside him, a crinkle of a smile at flattery and then a raised eyebrow at the revelation that comes after. "It is not something I recommend doing," Francois says, voice deliberately bland. "I recall it being uncomfortable, although less so, in America. Padded corners and regulations, probably boring. Wallowed in long years of relative peace, although that has changed since the early nineties. I read things. This city is a sore point.

"Still." There aren't camps. Not yet anyway. The deterioration of free America is heavy duty subject matter for dinner.

At some stage, Francois' hand comes to place above Teo's knee, clasp felt enough that it's certainly not random, but light, unobstrusive, thumb brushing along where he can feel the curve of a kneecap. "Tell me what happened after you became a ninja."

Pity that sex isn't an instantly available retreat in a restaurant like this. Teo would know what to do with the hand on his knee, otherwise, or have a better answer than cotton wool on his tongue and a weird self-consciousness that the heart pricking the scarred side of his mouth is candle-light or the eyes of adjacently tabled strangers, rather than embarrassment or the wine flushing Francois' ear.

He pushes Moab Fed Pen to the back of his mind, lets the spoon slide out of his hand and hit the bottom of the cup, its thin sheen of dulce de leche. "I don't know," is a stupid and adolescent way to start, and accompanied by a stupid adolescent half-grin. Yes, he knows, he knows; he'd pitched a great screaming fit about Francois' lack of interest before, and it isn't right that he should be sidling out now. He straightens his face. "I— uh. I think I stopped growing.

"Not just vertically. Ecumenically. Spiritually? I was fucking pissed off all the time, even when I was having a good day. Worse than this," he adds, perhaps a little defensively. "I stopped making new friends and reading books I hadn't before. Each time we went for another raid, lunch, or long fucking afternoon surveilling out of a car with the Mossad guys, I wondered less and less which ones I'd save if I had to choose. Or which ones would save me. It was very slow, after I became a ninja.

"I'm better now." Teo's eyes go round and briefly white-rimmed in their sockets, self-deprecating, a parody of furtiveness, except that the joke is that it isn't really a joke. He thinks that must sound a little bit creepy, even after you've been hunting Volken awhile. He thinks that isn't the story Abigail would tell.

He nods once, with a smile that shares the joke that isn't one. It's not the laughing kind of smile — Francois knows how that is, to a degree, and maybe Teo read it in a journal of his at some stage. Resignation and detachment, except maybe the Frenchman had clung to enough of himself to want to write about it at all, nevermind relevant records of Kazimir Volken's movements in South America before he left both that and Francois behind for— Africa, if Francois can recall correctly.

And its countries that he's never visited, for all that he could little the map like a galaxy of locations he has seen. He's not sure he wants to ask more about the time Teo describes, and is not sure Teo wants to describe it in more depth than he has. The hand on his knee isn't moving, and minute ministrations don't stop.

"It must feel good," he says, instead. "To regain a decade. And your gift? When did that happen?" Now he's doing it on purpose, a telling glimmer in green eyes that Francois might know is there as he directs a look past Teo's shoulder, hiding, expression otherwise innocent of humour.

Dear diary. Tonight, I sneezed, at Fat Man exploded in a twenty kilometer mushroom cloud inside my pants, is what a typical Teo entry would look like. I do not know how to write diaries and suddenly the idea of posterity is very embarrassing. I do not think I should be encouraged to try normal social rituals. I wasn't good at them when I was sixteen or at thirty-six; I don't see that practicing at twenty-seven is going to produce better results than frustration. Various kinds of frustration.

Teodoro is given to understand that he is the sort of prat who would leave his diary lying around particularly for people to read, though. As it were. Inside Francois' pocket, his thumb nail digs into the knuckle of his forefinger, grating nearly against the bone for a moment before he decides to slip it out. He leans the heel of his hand at the edge of Francois' chair, instead. Less touching, abruptly, inoffensively, without meaning, just— less.

"2016. I think. Maybe '15. Arthur Petrelli developed a drug that could induce abilities, and I managed to corner a dose. Because—" Did he leave this part out, earlier? The knee under Francois' hand bumps up and down once, jiggling in a way that means nervy bad luck in superstitions around the world. "I was a hero. Famously. Has its perks."

"Then we have something in common." Easy to assume heroism being what, and Francois iiis possibly proud enough to make that call and without irony, too. He's been called it before and by people who like him less, although isn't that what dinner is about? Exploration of liking? His hand moves after Teo's bounces that leg, as if taking it as a cue along with Sicily's own retraction, laying that hand back against the table and folding over it with the other, spine straighter and out of that comfortable slouch. "Being given a gift, I mean, instead of only having it."

That too. He studies blue eyes for a moment, and then dregs of chocolate in glass. There's an easy question, here, practically arranged for him, about Teo's famous heroism or possibly who's Arthur Petrelli? but there's some kind of delay going on, and then he falls off script. Not overtly, at first. "Did it change you?" This is where he waits for an answer, but—

"I don't know if mine did. It's very possible it shaped me, shaped Abby — we were only children. I compared it to the way it affected Deckard and I wonder if receiving Volken's changed me. It doesn't excuse my behaviour." His chin tips up a little, but at least he's looking at Teo now. "But it had been a long time that I felt or thought that way."

Waffling around towards some sort of apology, or unpracticed explanation. Wine intake has already made pink his ears— or ear— and the back of his neck, and his fingernails nudge restlessly at the sit of his empty wine glass. If there's a conclusion, maybe that was it.

Oh. Teo's eyes close and open again. He does have to consciously dismiss the vanity that he was about to acknowledge, amusedly on Francois' part. Not the heroism. The ability. More importantly, of being given one, instead of only having it. He opens his mouth to say 'No,' then again to say 'Yes,' but settles on neither answer, his teeth hewing empty air for a long moment. He used to believe in teleology— the strings of fate, as it were. Later in force and cosmic relevance of human will.

That's neither a yes nor a no. That isn't even current. "Future-me was less concerned about losing his body after he got his," he says, finally. His eye swings at Francois' emptied wineglass, perhaps to distract itself from the retreat of Francois' hand, and he finds himself picking up the bottle perched past the bread basket to refill. "But future-me was kind of a nihilistic and Godless psycho anyway. A little? It did but— it could have changed him more. I think he—

"I think it changed me and it changed him in different ways," he says, finally, in a revv of speaking velocity, blustering through the way someone does when they suspect what they are sounding is going to be dismissed as tritely diplomatic. "And not a hundred fucking years with the same hat trick would have made the same magician out of us. I was terrified of losing my body.

"Fucking terrified. And I think— that's why I maybe give too much of a fuck about how this thing looks." A thumb hooks into the ragged edge of Teo's mouth, where the beard leaves off. "The Godless psycho would've laughed off this little scratch. It's not as simple as 'for better' or 'worse.' Well, not to me."

It's a strange form of exculpation if it is one. At the very least, it's no more damning than sympathy. Teo lets go of the bottle, finally, lets its meniscus squirm back to a stable level, silhouetted in olive-colored glass. He studies the map for another instant, as if trying to guess the answer to his own coming question. "When was the last time you'd felt like that?"

Francois shakes his head, but it's in agreement. No, it's not about better and worse. Not even the parasitic powers of Kazimir Volken and his own really made such a design, although it's easy to sketch it. He drags his attention away from Teo's face, and curls his fingers around the wine glass, lifting it up to sip from in moderation as his gaze flicks up over to study the map too. Land is history, horizontal as opposed to the vertical chronology of time. He points.

"Kaluga." Useless to try and pinpoint somewhere specific without a laser dot, when it comes to the sprawling, foresty mass that is Russia. "If we are, oui, talking of the last time. The late fourties, only a handful of years. It was like flesh, blood, my own beliefs and thoughts were— thin." His mouth quirks in an apologetic smile, tik-tiking his fingernails against the glass. "Thin, around my power. I was its legs and hands, its eyes. I laid my paths and chose who to heal and not, I earned money, I ate and bathed, but I did not feel like a person. In this time, I made no friends."

Another sip of wine, before he sets the glass back down — tilts his body enough that his shoulder can press to Teo's, shared warmth for the sake of it. In black Russian forests and glaring Antarctic deserts, there's no such thing as too much warmth. "And I did not try to make friends in Mexico," he finishes, with a smile at his eyes, rueful. "As well as feeling like my time was stolen. I'm better now." He manages not to facetiously mimic wide eyes, but does steer them towards Teo's at a glance.

The bump of Francois' shoulder does what it's intended to, this time, touch that reassures rather than disconcerting. Though maybe Francois had meant to unsettle him before. Maybe. As he tips his head close to the Frenchman's shoulder, and follows the point of his finger with the careful trajectory of his eyes, Teodoro's features are in a pensively watchful cast. The fact that both the healing ability and the destructive one had reduced Francois to strangely lifeless, mechanical purposes is an uneasy parallel to draw.

Teo has always felt too much, almost incurably 'like himself' for any such ideas to do more than inspire the unease of confronting something totally alien. Sympathy, at best; empathy remains unavailable. Sympathy's good enough, probably.

He blinks at Russia's sprawling shape, doesn't quite locate Kaluga but he is already imagining a bleaker, less urbanized Ryazan anyway. The snow and other, more esoteric discomforts riming one's skin and turning brittle in one's breath. Feeling the weight of Francois' eyes on the side of his face, he meets the older man's gaze after a moment. Hmmm. It would appear that Francois is making fun of him. Typical. "Now your beliefs and thoughts are fat, robust and playing in the sun," Teo says, in his best narrator's voice. "Truth, beauty, freedom?"

And it appears Teo is making fun back. Skin already a little pink goes pinker, but there's no particularly indication of offense otherwise, smile going a little crooked and green eyes focusing on Teo's for a moment. From the usual contours towards the wicked hook of his scar. He'd probably be touching if he wasn't more or less convinced it would have the Sicilian reeling back or uncomfortable, and he keeps his hands linked where he's rested them upon the table.

He smiles, a little, by the time green eyes meander back to blue, chin lifting a little. "I know," Francois says, voice light. "You story is not nearly as predictable as mine."

A soft nudge at the shoulder, a breath of a chuckle, before he juts his chin towards the map. "It is near Moscow. Or a long way from Moscow, especially on foot, in the snow. Uphill. You shouldn't let it bother you." That's a different conversation, looking back at Teo now — at this range, eyes are like dinner plates, and voices can be whispers. "It would take more than that— " your scar, says the slight nod— "to ruin you. Something soul deep."

Teo is an expert at being difficult, apparently: he even gets in his own way. His clothes feel slightly too warm and he doesn't know if nicotine withdrawal or a banging desire for alcohol can account for it. Hey, that was a nice thing for Francois to say. Really— nice. He is glad that Francois hasn't met the ghost before. His fingers walk mantid-legged along the edge of the Frenchman's chair again, scale up the seam of his trousers. Not for the first time, he notices that the shirt is shiny and carefully immaculate of crumbs.

"That's not what I meant," he says, insistent and unsettled. "Your story isn't predictable. Predictable is fucking up, getting shot, and dying in the mud." There's an awkward beat's pause, and the smells of melted candlewax and a roast being wheeled past fills Teo's nostrils. He realizes that that is something the former soldier actually— almost did do, in Louisiana, so he does clarify, then, not with undue haste but a sidelong look: "Predictable is giving up. The decline that ends in nadir. Mediocrity. Not getting better.

"I'm bad at 'should's," he eventually manages to crawl around to, his palm fostering a patch of warmth atop Francois' thigh. "And I'm very vain. Maybe that means my soul is shadow." A beat. "I didn't think you believed in souls."

Francois' eyebrows go up, initially, at Teo's description of what makes a predictable story, but good humoured. Forgiving, in the face of correction, and he shrugs a little. Apart from that one shimmer of protest, he doesn't, and takes another sip of wine and watching more the play of rich red liquid as he does so, staring down the long bridge of his nose. That last comment gets a soft chuckle mid-sip, a smile that says fair enough as he sets down the glass once more.

"My beliefs are fairly convenient depending on who I am trying to make feel better," he admits, with a brighter smile that shows teeth. "But the idea is honest enough, je promets. I like the way you look."

Which isn't the same as liking the scar, and so he certainly sounds sincere, and meets Teo's eyes to say it and everything. His hand— the one with bent knuckles that twinge every time he makes a fist— finds itself settling on the back of the other man's, fingernails grazing along the back of Teo's own.

And then the hero moves in for the kiss! except that Teo doesn't. It feels like the time, framed that perfectly, timed just right, in sequence to the great crescendo from the strings section, fruit ripe for the plucking and the invisible spectator is getting ripped right off having paid extravagantly for the seat that they are only using the very edge of, but he stalls oddly. Feels his skin prickle with inane delight at the delicate point-friction of Francois' nails.

Score one for Sicily. His date is tipsy, and looking at him— like that. You know the look. Adorable like a note slid between classroom desks: This is the list of people who aren't sitting close enough to me, then your name on it. Warm enough to make the moon sweat and reassuring enough that maybe Teo's hand isn't beading perspiration, anymore. Subtract one for failure to launch, though. Christ. He used to be good at this. In 1999, and then in 2011. He had dates. He had a boat named after Abigail. No scar on his face, back then, but the weight of the ragged keloid diminishes gradually under Francois' attention.

"'S that mean this is going okay?" he asks, from very close by.

It would be pretty girly, Francois determines after careful analysis, to complain about how he's the one always doing the kissing. It's also not entirely true, but feels very true, suddenly. But quickly decides it doesn't annoy him, not when he remembers bleating no, no, no's when he was ready to leave Teo to get baked in a keyless car on a Mexican desert highway. His smile fixes, then gentles into sincerity again. "Oui," is the simplest (slightly inaccurate) answer — it doesn't mean this is going okay.

But it is going okay. He's tipping forward only before he thinks that maybe Teo doesn't want to, in public, but too late now! There isn't enough space between them for subtlety, and so Francois kisses him, bumping noses, tasting of much more wine than Teo does but one can probably guess that Francois doesn't do too much more tipsy than he does sober, kissing boys included.

His fingers slip in between Teo's, though doesn't squeeze. Imperfection can be felt — a seaming scar interrupting skin, the hitch in the pattern of digits that don't quite slip in a perfect puzzle together, crooked as if broken. Seems only fair. To whom, Francois isn't sure.

In its own obscure way, this is better or closer to perfect than the lusty games of grab-ass and humid indolence that had characterized Teo's teenaged years or the reliable comfort of domestic stagnation in Darien, Georgia. Something he either missed out on or simply misses without remembering when the last time was. Maybe he's never actually been here before. It's possible. Familiarity and recognition aren't always the consequence of tangible reality or logic or anything. La Rochefoucauld said that no one would ever fall in love if they hadn't read about it first, and Teo has read a whole lot of books.

It's a nice kiss, if 'nice' is the correct adjective for kissing Francois after half a bottle of wine. He remembers to close his eyes, and everything. Francois' lips are like pillows. Dyed through with wine, heated through by the skin contact with a fever patient too far into delirium to care about spilling or stains or social propriety. Heh heh. "Um," he says, after it's over. His fingers squeeze, perhaps too tight a moment before the irregularities of bone knit and scar tissue remind him that Francois is probably only so anesthetized by alcohol. Looser. "Are you full?"

Francois' hand only stays lax and tolerant, a distant twinge he can stand for the sake of. Dinner. He draws back enough so that no one has to cross eyes to look at the other, although as far as he's concerned, the restaurant has mainly been this immediate space of a three foot radius for the last forty minutes approximately. Now, he can hear it, the continual clink-clink of people finishing meals, some people beginning a late supper, and a wine bottle standing on each linen-clothed table reflecting fire in their curved faces.

He turns Teo's hand to rest them palm to palm. "Mm," he confirms, and casts a smile. "Thank you." His back straightens all the more, though he hardly needs to duck to meet Teo's eyes; his hand perches on the back of his own seat, gives a meerkattish peek around the room as if to familiarise himself with it, before he's getting to his feet, and his hand drags Teo's with it partially.

Time to piss out maybe twenty-five dollars worth of wine, though probably a noble investment all the same. ('Noble.') "I like to quit while ahead also," he says, hand scuffing over dirty blonde hair that is less bristly than he more distinctly remembers it being, then moving at only a slight weave for the bathroom over yonder.

"Non problema," is Teo's answer, stock, but sincere. He is dragged to his feet too, not bodily, but out of some dweeby puppish instinct to follow when praised then tugged, but he stops his feet after a few seconds and follows with his eyes. Hrm. Hmmmm. While Francois bobs off toward the bathroom, he is fishing his wallet out, flagging down a waiter, and trying to avoid eye-contact with the other patrons, who may or may not care about looking at the gay Sicilian anyway.

By the time the Frenchman is out again, their server has been tipped and the two fine European gentlemen who have been the subject of so much amorphous curiosity and spectatorship throughout the evening are at the stage of coats and graceful departures, two elegantly-cut figures moving in tandem over carpet and toward the door for destinations uncharted by cartographic painters.

Outside, it's so cold even the wind seems to have fallen dead to the tarmac.

It's going to snow soon, probably. Traffic moving slowly against the approach of curfew, the street lights empty of flies or of preciptation. Further away, four or five blocks and closer to the hubbubing heart of the city, there's a gala going on, the kind that is so famous and important that anybody who doesn't actually care about the distinction between being a someone and a no one does not know about it at all. Teo got Abby her dress. That's the long and short of his involvement there.

He wound up holding Francois' hand again, some point between the Sol Noches' windowed doors and this particular slab of pavement. The ridiculous warmth of his metabolism is still tangible despite the intervening layer of his glove. "Suppose I should drop you off home," he says, in a voice that's half mumble and half laugh. His scarf is blue and wadded up chubbily under his bearded chin. "Hail you a cab. Thank you for coming out tonight. Say: we should do it again some time."

"Is that how it goes?" is a bright query, one hand in Teo's and the other tucked under his own coat like he might pull a gun, but no, Francois has his fingers hooked around the edge of his dinner jacket, warm there against his ribcage and under thick wool than his pocket. The other buttons are done up, but at least there's no wind tonight to guard against. Insidious cold instead creeps up through the soles of sensible shoes, settles like lead on their shoulders, prickles skin.

Somehow more civil than the Russian winter, though, and Francois' seen a few. The ear with its knitted scar tissue stings a little in this air. "The first part would be awkward — I am still not sure where I live. But I could do this again."

Cab flow is. Thhhat-a-way, a choppy river of lights. Teo turns his head on its axis. By now, his hair is lengthy enough that not even the affectionate disruption of a certain Frenchman's certain gimpy hand has any visible lingering effect. Off-blond strands fall roughly flat, flop around a little when he spins his gourd around on his neck to squint, stifle the suspicion that Francois is making fun of him. Or is that merely playing along?

Being a ninja, he is rather prone to suspicions of large and unwieldy variety. "Old Lucy's," he suggests, after a moment. The air hurts his lungs and drives him a half-step closer, peering at Francois' face for any sign of other things to suspect, and sitting heavily on an obscure urge to laugh. That would probably hurt his lungs more. "For the while."

Francois is nice, he'd never make fun, except when he does and often. Not now, particularly. In better spirits than he's been in a while, wine aside. His arm feels warm against Teo's and very normal. "For the while," he agrees. At least when the prospect of going to Staten Island doesn't seem so arduous and dreary as a nighttime boat ride in icy weather. "But in that case, perhaps you should ride with me, unless you have found somewhere else to be." It's half invitation and half—

Honest curiousity. There was a long period of no talking, for a while, and then dinner which focused on Europe and South America rather than the particulars of New York City neighbourhoods. For all that he touched questions in what feel like significant points into Teo's life, past and future, the present is murky. It's murky for him too.

And that was just the abridged version, too. Of both their stories. Teo's lips go into two straight lines, either grim or merely trying not to smile. Sometimes, uncertainty of happiness is preferable to the smarting certainty of its absence, demons personal or monsters under the bed. For a temporary measure of time, they have effectively exorcised and bodily slain all of theirs. In time for Lent. If his religion didn't belligerently argue the distinctions of gender, he would almost think this was just rewards.

One good evening. "Okay," he says, after a moment. "Si. Oui. You're right. Sec." He picks up Francois' hand, puckers it a kiss that doesn't quite connect with the older man's knuckles because he's in a rush: then comes the release, a ridiculously juvenile windmilling of arms, a slippery scurry of rough-soled boots against flattened snow and pewter-colored frost. Beelining for the street, the beetle-yellow car crawling blithely along the cold asphalt. "Cab!" As if he's going to chase the thing down on foot.

He doesn't have to, of course. It's slowing already, with a slight jiggle of wheels against suspension, the driver's hirsute jowls set in a sloppy hybrid of a smile and a sneer. Teo cracks the door open and looks back at the street like a terrier proudly presenting the vole ever, his breath columning translucent out of his mouth.

Francois' fingers get an inch from snagging onto Teo's coat, like a parent grabbing onto a child who's about to run into traffic. Laughing when he does it, however, so that makes it different, and only patiently following to make sure his dinner date doesn't get hit by the car he's trying to flag down. Looked back at, he presses his hands together as if in prayer, except the tips of his fingers point to Teo instead of heaven.

They open out like a book, offering praise; "C'est tres bien, Sicily." Steps down off the curb to reach past Teo and open the door the rest of the way. "What was that thing Elisabeth said in Ryazan — age before beauty?" Which is his cue to get inside, sliding into the backseat and offering a very American sounding, "good evening," to the driver, which, chalk it up to instinct. He tries to sound like a yankee at Staten Island's docks too, with mixed results.

Foreigners. Foreign queers, probably. The driver can tell, by the how closely the younger one lumps into the seat beside the older, and that they do not separate even after the door is hauled shut against the brutal onslaught of the weather and Lucy's address is volunteered, quick.

And then the indignation in Teo's voice: "Wait. What." A slice of sudden profile in the rearview mirror, eyes narrowed above something that must be a smile, close to the other. Everything — very close. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Fortunately, Old Lucy's is close as well. Enough bills exchange hands, handed across the shoulder of the front seat. Accepted with a grunt that does not precisely resemble gratitude, but Teo doesn't care even if he does notice. Not principled enough to feel righteous, nor humble enough to give a fuck when he's this close to getting his dick wet. If you'll pardon his French. He gets out first, heel sidewindering against ice, and when he holds onto the door for balance it's a little like he's holding the door open.

They take their show onto the street, Francois not bothering to give the taxi driver much more acknowledgment than polite swiftness and a closed door. Too busy getting his hands tangled in scarf, and he belatedly gives an answer, a dismissive and unimpressive, "Nothing bad," before he kisses him in a way that's a lot like Ryazan, reeling him (down and) in.

He was calling him pretty, but this translates to that well enough anyway.

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