Dead Man's Banquet


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Scene Title Dead Man's Banquet
Synopsis Felix has a nightmare. The creature that intervenes isn't the likeliest savior, but he picks a shape and a line that's always worked with Fel and is bound to for a long time hence.
Date June 1, 2009


Perhaps it's the disease, perhaps it's the cure. Perhaps it's all the frustration he can't deal with in his waking life. But Felix's dreams…..they're intensely vivid. Some recur, more often than others.

In the first warm hours after sinking into sleep, there's a pleasant one, if strangely melancholy. A picnic in Central Park, on one of those rare perfect days when the clouds are like little lambs grazing a blue meadow. Only, it's with a pair of people he's never met in this life. A black-haired, green-eyed woman reclines gracefully on a plaid blanket, eating strawberries from a bowl, as a little girl, blue-eyed, but clearly bearing the stamp of her mother, plays with a little EVE doll, making the stuffed robot dip and soar as she does in the film. There's peace, and contentment, and a terrible inchoate longing.

And it's followed, as ever, by a dream that has awful familiarity of an old scar. A great hall, with pillars rising up into shadowed obscurity, lit only by the light of candles on the table, sconces on the wall. Mirrors between the piers reflect each other, sending lines of candles flickering into infinity. In the center of the hall is a long table of dark wood, polished to a mirror shine, and arrayed as if for a formal banquet. All seats are taken but one, and the guests are a strange, polyglot assortment. Young, old, women and men, all the races and classes of New York City. The one common factor is that they are all dead, and bear the marks of their death. The young prostitute strangled, the nylon that served as her garrote still bound around her throat. The child beaten to death by an abusive stepfather, half of her face a ruin, like a shattered porcelain cherub. The middle-aged cop, shot during a routine traffic stop, his silver badge with a neat, smoking hole right in its center. Felix is there, standing behind the one empty chair, refusing to draw it out and sit, as the dead all look at him with eyes empty of everything save mute accusation, and his tongue is frozen behind the palisades of his jaw.

When it changes, at first, it is neither subtle nor particularly striking.

There is a click. Quiet, expelled out into the silence like a mundane sort of accident, the jiggled impact of varnished wood meeting varnish stone. It is the sound of the chair — Felix's chair — rocking over on its left legs, the ghastly spectacle of an inanimate thing apeing the living, learning to walk.

Doesn't make it far, though. Halfway back into its downward swing, it scoots out backward, quick and clumsily, shot out as if kicked from underneath. The corner of its back bounces off the shoulder of the suicided prima ballerina who sits adjacent, jostling the razored ruins of her slender arms. The seat knocks into Felix's knees and hurdles to a halt there, settling seesaw with a rattle.

There's a frame shift, a wrinkle in reality before it smooths out with a new pattern. No glow of light or trick of shadow to herald the change, and all of the furniture, the revenant patronage, remain exactly where they are, unimpressed and unperplexed. Still, Felix knows something is different now. This is not how he goes. He had long since memorized all of his scars.

There is an improbable calla lily growing out of the chair. Just one: it's white.

……..what on earth? Fel is literally taken aback. He takes a rocking pace back, as if expecting the flower to perhaps explode, or speak prophecy. He's still mute, uncertain. But after a moment's hesitation and a sweeping glance around the undead company assembled, as if one of them might in turn speak, offer an explanation, he bends to pick it up, twirl it delicately between two fingers, frowning.

To pick the flower, one must break the stalk. Which Felix does, snaps it with a crisp report of severing fibers and splitting skin. The lily stands in Felix's hand after that, its broken stem jutting out of the flat of the seat and into empty air. The thick, creamy pursing of ivory petals holds against the centrifugal force of Felix's bit of brandishing.

By the time he straightens, the ballerina's arm has healed and there is a nickel-sized circle of clean, freshly hairy skin grown in underneath the punctured silver of the badge that the lawman across the table is wearing. They're still dead, of course. No gleam of renewed mucus glistening on their eyes, ghastly stillness staying its sick weight against the decayed dullness of their various skins and manikin limbs. There are other ripples. Before and after it. A change in the tensure of the dream's weave, malleability filtered into the quality of air and light.

For better or worse, Felix's nightmare grows lucid.

"It took me a year to figure out that this wasn't inhered proof that you were a righteous man," the lily remarks, abruptly, capitulating to the wil o' wisp of the agent's expectation. "Not that there's anything wrong with being afraid to die."

When in doubt, be honest. As much as you can. "I don't understand," Felix says, simply, with the air of a plea. "Iam not a righteous man. I have never been," There's the heady scent of a lily's bloom in the air, over the fading stink of blood and rot. "What is this? Who are you?" And why am I talking to a flower. His grip has tightened on the stem, convulsive, far more than the brittle strength of cellulose can bear.

It begins to crack; to break, because Felix wants it to. The strength of the man's hand reverberates through stem and trembles in the welled petals.

"Humility is so boring," the flower announces, drolly, and that's all it has time to say before it gives up to the crush of Felix's grip with a little squeak. Stalk pulped into lumps that fit the row of Felix's fingers, bleeding moisture onto his skin. It hangs loose from his hand, bowed under its own injured weight, dangling like a butchered limb.

Conversation picks up from the other end of the table. One ambiguously familiar face in a tapering sea of horrifically recognizable corpses. "I'm a dream walker. Among other things. It's very sad: I have the highest degree of influence over nightmares, more than anything else, and even then my only real talent is making them worse."

His lover, but never really his beloved. Not that there wasn't affection and attachment and loyalty, for all of that. Which is why the appearance of Teo in his dreams….Fel pales. There he is, at the other end of the table, pale. And bloodied all over the chest. Multiple gunshot wounds. Perhaps this is how Felix's subconscious expects that the Phoenix leader will depart this life. But the Teo he knew was never a psychic. Never a hint, in all this time. But nor has he ever seen any hint of the reverse. He'd just sort of assumed. It leaves him stammering, even as he lays the broken blossom down with reverence and apology. "Why are you here?"

The truth— or the most recent facsimile thereof, involved fewer bullet holes and more— getting, uh, hit by a car. Teo looks down at himself, moving opaque, dead-fish eyes across the spectacle of his riddled chest and chunked gore.

He puts his hand on it: the tailpipe-sized perforation on the left of his chest. It comes away sticky and vivid, leaves stain and excess when he scissors his fingers across one another. "I'm not sure," he admits. "I think I just missed you, so it was the likeliest place to go. You know, once when I was here before, you just had my throat open.

"Another time, you had me drowned. I always make this one worse. I'm sorry," he says, pre-emptively, glancing down at the offerings of the dinner table.

"You never toldme you could do this," Fel's tone lacks accusation. It's more simply amazed, really. "Is it new? How many times have you…." Somehow, even though he'll lie under Teo, submit without protest, this particular form of intimacy makes him profoundly uneasy. Like a deformity has been exposed against his will. "You're not really dead, though."

Apparently, someone missed out on the memos. Or Felix's asleep-self is not too well-connected with his awake-self, which is possible, sometimes even probable; moreso for a gentleman with his clinical disposition than with most people, even. Teo stoops his head sideways slightly. "That's because I couldn't. It isn't new, exactly. It's complicated.

"I'm surprised Myron isn't at the table, but I guess mostly you don't bring people you know." Teo reaches over to grab the wineglass, study the red in it. Watches as it degenerates into black under his scrutiny, though the wilting patina left in its backslosh is briefly purple before thinning to nothing. He lifts it up to his face; peers at Felix through the distortion of doubled glass curvature. "In a way, you're worse than I am. The New York you're trying to save is the most triple-damned idealization I've ever seen."

"The formula. You took it, didn't you?" Felix knows about it, oh, yes. "I'm not done with Myron's case." Not quite defensive. "These….." He gives the assembled company, their eightball hemhorrages, their livid pallor and the bruising of settling blood, an apologetic look. "Cases I couldn't solve or clear. I know who killed Myron. And I have hopes he'll be brought in."

Did he? Teo smiles with his eyes, a sharpening at the corners. Took it. That could mean anything. One of the meanings is try. "If it makes you feel better, you won't see some of these faces here next year. Probably." Sitting back against his chair, he carries the glass through empty air over the floor, tilts it. The liquid pools out, streaks down over the rim, falls in a thin, eddying stream toward the floor.

And doesn't stop flowing, improbable though it is, the pool spreading on the hall's stone floor. "Edward?" he asks, absently.

"Edward Ray, yes," Felix says. And then stops. "Are you really Teodoro? Someone wearing his face, instead. How do you know that?" There's a sense of him trying to wall Teo out….but curiosity makes those barriers far more porous than they should be. It lacks a certain force of will. He takes a step back, away from that spreading pool.

The sheen of liquid widens, imperfectly round, lapping up thinly against the soles of his shoes and the legs of his chair. Black eddies circle the neighboring chair, stain into the pant cuffs of the skinny, ragged man with scorched welts in the pits of his skull instead of eyes. "Really am. Inexactly. I like you more than he does. It's my curse. You asked me to look after Myron, didn't you?

"I'm sorry I failed." Even if he's only a thing wearing Teodoro's face, he has Teodoro's most important face down: his rueful one, and it's there graven into chalky necrotic flesh, extra lines sketched in around his eyes, a tragic tug to his mouth and something round in his shoulders.

Oh, slow loris face. "I'm confused. You are Teo, but you're not?" Fel ventures. And he has that sheeny tightness to his face that betrays fear and unease like a mask of tragedy, for all its immobility. One knows the Russian at all, he's somewhat less than inscrutable, for any value of the word. "I did." He scan the table, like the detective might be the late come skeleton at this particular macabre feast. "What do you mean, like me more than he does?"

Black wine licks the toe of Felix's shoe. Retaining its liquid reflectivity, it mirrors the hallway back on itself in darkened crystal clarity. Several details are lost. The table reflected bears no cloth, and the Russian's face there is more stoic than the one he wears above. "I like you more than he does. I— that isn't exactly true, I guess.

"I'm in love with you," he confesses, a little bit more secretively than the way confessions are supposed to be made, some sweet-tempered treachery hidden in the corner of his mouth. The slow loris is, for a moment, gone. "I should probably get out of here before your reapers come. I can wake you up too, if you want. It's up to you, and I'd understand if you didn't.

"I know you keep this one for a reason."

And Fel's face is fraught, despairing. "I…..don't know what to say," The narrow shoulders droop, an admission of defeat. "The Teo I know can barely stand me. Love me? Are you just some figment of my imagination?"

There's an absurd snort of laughter. Teo picks his feet up out of the growing spill of wine tar. He does not lay down the glass. "No, amore. 'M pretty sure that wouldn't be me. I don't mind," he adds, in case Felix is worried about his feelings or something. He perches his heels on the edge of his chair, so much the uncouth patron in the row of severely postured cohorts. "Well, not unless I think about it too much.

"But hey, you know what that's like. I like being your friend."

"Why would you love me? I'm an asshole, even my coworkers can barely stand me. I thought what we had…..was something like an agreement for mutual use." Someone hand that man his Asshole Merit Badge. "I mean….I don't know what I mean." The mirrors between the stone piers ripple like pondwater. One of them, off to Teo's left, has become a door into another stone chamber, lit by the same dim candlelight. There is the shift and clinch of two bodies beyond the arch, the same two, in a far less civilized and far more ancient exchange. Whether it's pleasure or pain involved, Teo seems to be in control there.

That isn't exactly how the ghost remembers it, but he is understandably biased. Unrequited love— or some convoluted agonized mess of a simalucrum of it, worse still for the parts that were reciprocated— rarely leaves a man feeling his power over a situation. He studies the building's wing with quirked interest.

The furthest conceivable thing from Dionysian delight, the wine continues to flow.

Dimly, he becomes aware that he is beginning to think he shouldn't have come here. It was painful enough, giving Felix up once. He decides not to continue down that course of thought: it is making the lights flicker.

"C'mere." He raises his other hand, holds it out. His fingers, splayed in proffer, throw a fan-shaped silhouette across the onyx glimmer of the blackness eating the floor out from underfoot. Naturally, he still has his feet on the furniture. "Don't worry. Never bit if you didn't wnat me to, did I?" Salvatore would probably advise otherwise, based on Teo's newfound capacity to interpret love with remorseless brutality, but Salvatore isn't here now. There's only a hand.

There's no way to come to him without setting foot in that obsidian mirror. But Fel, intemperate as ever, does not hesitate, comes to Teo, putting out a hand as he does. The images in the anteroom - it is as if the lights come up on one film as another fades, and one sidelong glance has Felix blushing. But he affects to ignore his id on display - if this is a true dreamwalker, he's seen far more lurid arrangements of the Russian's inner fantasies than this.

Long fingers close with origami precision around Felix's hand, enfold the round bones of his knuckles and steepling thumb against the oblique line of metacarpals. His hand is warm. Tangible, recognizable, strangely solid in unceremonial defiance of the resistance that the other man's mind had offered the intruder, though that's fading now, Teo can tell.

This is as new to him as it is familiar. He'd never been able to pull Felix out of this nightmare before, but there's a first for everything. Sex has always provided a kinder alternative to other things, for both of them.

Abruptly, he drops the glass. Hauls Felix in, suddenly, a jack-knife snap of his arms in, jerking the Russian close so quick the glass shatters on the floor after, sprinkling the flawed mirror with piecemeal fragments, razor-edged glitter. Felix winds up in a scissor-straddled heap on his lap, caught up in an almost adorable parody of the last time they'd actually had sex in this parody, only there's no slick mess at the join of their bodies, only sleeved arms wrapping close around his waist, a fond nose suddenly burrowing puppyish against his face.

"I love you for all the reasons you want to be loved. Even the most improbably realistic ones," he gruffs up the clean incline of Felix's shaven cheek.

It should be obscene. Given a few layers less clothing and a fraction of an inch less in space, well, it would be. But Fel's caught, surprise momentarily stopping his breath. He's rigid in shock, before he relaxes into the awkward embrace, breath almost a sob in confusion. Eventually, as if it might come with some sort of risk, he puts his arms around Teo's shoulders. "I wish this were real," he says, confiding to the dark. "This is the weirdest version of this dream I've ever had. Can we be somewhere else?" He trusts Teo, or whatever walks in his dreams, to deal with it.

No you don't. A faint huff of laughter eddies around the crook of Felix's jaw, but Ghost doesn't bother teasing him about the clumsiness of that concatenation of sentences. That would be awful. If Felix wished this— the watching corpses, the broken lily, the drowning wine and the slow spin of archways— was real. It's worse, maybe, that Felix trusts him to change this dream.

Honestly, he should not. Fortunate, that this creature knows it, and is benign enough in his sentiment regarding Felix to gentle advise otherwise, even as he grazes a precariously sharp row of teeth over the velvet flesh of the— ostensibly older man's earlobe. "Mi dispiace, amore," he says, humorously conspiriatorial, kind of kind, "but I don't really exist outside of nightmares. It's my curse.

"But you can do it. Want it enough— you can have whomever, wherever you want." Sounds like a promise. It isn't one. Teo's shoulders recurve in Felix's hands, and the Russian's own unrequired love finds a mirror of disturbing clarity in his steadfastly wistful regard.

Real enough - the grind of Teo's bones beneath his weight, the warmth of breath that has goosebumps prickling over his skin, same as it always did. He buries his face in the curve of Teo's neck for a moment, as if shutting out what's around them. It works. There's a moment of gray fogginess, the unavenged dead blurring as if seen through clouded tears. And then they're in a spare little bedroom, hardly large enough for the dresser and the single bed it holds. Beyond the window, snow is falling, huge, silent flakes…..but there's enough light to catch and gleam off the onion domes visible in the distance, beyond the gray roofs. Teo's seated on the edge of the bed, and after a moment's careful shifting, so now is Fel. The Fel in the dream is curiously unlined, without the graven marks of strain and watchfulness. He blinks at the view beyond the window. "Home," he says, sounding entirely bemused.

The ghost doesn't really exist outside of nightmares. That might be why he had gone to Israel with Hana, forsaken his son, murdered his friend, dumped his body in bloody pieces across Gabriel's lap, and hitchhiked on a telekinetic to return to 2009. He has no real place in a future that bright.

He doesn't really have a place here, either, and already the weave of his manifest doll is giving way to the images, textures, recollections, preferences— the dream that Felix would rather have of him. Only a few strings remain in the puppeteer's fingers. Maybe two. Three. Just enough that the half-helix stays branded on the base of his neck, and the doll smiles when he does, sidelong at Felix, then at the window.

Clarity presides in the air. Threatens to purge him from it. In the other quarter of Felix's mind, waves of mirror-black fluid crash inward, implode, ripple, flatten, fade out with the dead men's banquet.

"Little Odessa," he recognizes. Then, a little ironically, "I shot you just over there."

Fel listens for a moment. Not to the the impossible soundof snowflakes falling, but for the sounds of the busy apartment building beyond. "Yes, you did," he says, smiling at Teo sidelong. "When I was Dantes." The facechange, it makes it all better, right? And then that predatory light comes into his eyes, and he's reaching for Teo for something far less noble for comfort. It's only a dream, after all. Lee won't have him, the real Teo is estranged, but perhaps this dream figure will be willing.

This dream figure is, as promised, whatever Felix wants him to be, a distinct — if only temporary — triumph of desire over darkness, which makes sense: that's always how it's been between them.

Though he extricates himself carefully from the tapestry of Felix's sleeping psyche, the resemblence that the lingering creature bears to the ghost remains striking for a time. Pale eyes brightened by serrated appetite dip closer, as ruthless as the restraint that he's had to show for years that only he has experienced. Hard hands hike the Russian's hips, shove him down and push his knees up, creak the bedsprings as they lay him down in a wrinkle-rippled puddle of childhood bedspread.

Watching, invisible, in quiescent and silent third person, Ghost counts the seconds before he morphs into Leland. Looks out at Little Odessa, and wonders whether his physical body and his earlier self— the one Teo owns, the real Teo estranged and momentarily abandoned inside of it— is dreaming of blood or of bedrooms, and whether that would be easier to bear than this.

It isn't Teo that changes…..but Felix. There are moments where it isn't a cop on the cusp of bitter middle age beneath him, but a punkish teenage boy, complete with earrings in his ears, and none of the scars of his later years. He's the one who yields, with his usual shameless eagerness, wrapping his legs around Teo's waist.

That's odd. Amusing. Mollifying. Disturbing, a little: reminds the ghost— Teo— that he's actually a year older than Felix Ivanov in the year 2009, and feeling his age, its lack of real anchor or effect on his capacity to do kamikaze for honor, duty, hate, and the other thing. The struggle to recapture one's youth is only about as old as the invention of old age, but for all that, it's timeless and universal and pathetic. He's tried this before. It had been 2019. He had not asked Alexander to stay.

But the severed puppet decides he likes the studs in Felix's ears and, charmed, makes a incisored check of the man-child's mouth and look-see if there are any other pips of jewelry sequestered in the moist pocket there, cards the crazy colors of his dyed hair with long fingers and deigns to mutter some article of reassurance or filth in his ear as he brusquely treks his hand South down a starchy Oxford shirt, outstripping the point where the saber scar zags, meanders, loses momentum and fades flat into skin.

And Felix feels better. After a moment, the ghost does too.

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