Fake Dating Trope


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Scene Title Fake Dating Trope
Synopsis A game of gay chicken during an extracurricular investigation ends with the discovery of a corpse. Multiple boners die. It's bad news.
Date November 6, 2018


Manhattan's getting pretty fucking cold, brutal edges of winter digging in through autumn's muggy veil. But it's nothing you haven't seen before, if you've had other years here, and by now, the Ghost is an old hand that's mapped the city a few times over. A few lifetimes over. It's kind of sad how some of his favorite bars in the old world don't exist here.

But he's found new bars. And sometimes he prefers the versions of people here to the ones that he knew before, at least in some small, vague way.

He sits down on the stool next to Felix, peanuts crunching under his shoes. "Grimy in here," he observes, unkindly. "Buy you a drink?"

It's Saturday evening, after all. While Wolfhound is rarely if ever entirely off-duty, Felix wouldn't be here if he was legally on the job. There's rain pattering outside, droplets of it drying on the edge of the Ghost's coat. He smiles at the older man, his architecturally perfect jaw bending brightly around two rows of perfect teeth.

He’d not be here, down in the wreckage of his former home, if he were. Rochester’s home base now, that spartan little room in Wolfhound’s compound. But sometimes the old ghosts are calling, and sometimes melancholy is a lure. You have to acknowledge what you’ve lost, genuflect to the old life.

So he’s in a bar he’d never’ve dared to drink in all those years ago. Lost most of the aura of being John Law that’d’ve given him away. Just his middle-aged self, a little lost in a daydream over what looks to be a mostly melted to water Jack and Coke. The greeting has him looking up from his reverie, and smiling in genuine welcome.

“I suppose it is,” he allows, looking around himself, faintly surprised, as if he’d forgotten the time and the place and the circumstances. “But the booze is good and the glasses are clean enough. Sure. If you’ll let me stand you one later.”

"You're such a good guy," the Ghost answers, amiably. "No wonder you've been married before." It sounds douchey when Ghost says it, but it would probably be a bit douchey from anyone. He looks across the bar and flags down the barman for drinks. Another one for Felix of whatever Felix is having, or whatever Felix usually has, or whatever Felix is about to order right now, and then a Manhattan because— of course.

"How's it going? They have you training the kids, doing paperwork, or out on the field lately?"

Shop talk. But the Ghost has done nothing if not dedicated too much to his career, and h glances over at Felix with what seems to be genuine interest warm in his clean-shaven face. He lays money on the counter without having apparently reached for his wallet.

It conjures up another of those uncertain looks. Maybe it’s letting the old cop’s mask erode or that injury that left the seam of scarring twisting like a vine along his skull, but he’s lost a lot of the old reserve. Or maybe just that it’s Teo, and Teo gets a bye - no point in trying to play it close to the vest with someone who once knew you in the biblical sense . “I was never married,” he says, after a beat, offering the correction almost tentatively. Looking guilelessly into Teo’s face. Surely Teo remembers what an asshole he was to those foolish enough to get involved with him.

“Little field work. Training and paperwork mostly.” He’s having a Jack and Coke, apparently, or at least, that’s the order. More quietly yet, he says, “Rumor says that in the next year or so, they’re gonna try and start rebuilding the NYPD. I’m hoping to sign on and help with that, if it proves true.” Ah, Felix. No matter how far afield he’s roamed: FBI, FRONTLINE, wanderings in the desert, and now Wolfhound, some part of his heart is still infatuated with his first love. There’s a shamefaced smile at that, curling the broad mouth. He knows how ridiculous he sounds.

“What about you? What’re you up to?” He takes a swig of the nearly watered down drink, but doesn’t flinch. As if determined to finish that one, even with another coming.

"Yes you were," Teodoro answers, with a great deal of certainty. He remembers it. Perhaps even being a little resentful. But Felix had been happy, and he'd been happy for him, once upon another reality, right up until the Ghost had decided to jeopardize that entire timeline with the possibility of a blackout disruption of all reality continuity as he jumped ship.

And now he's here. Felix seems happy enough; working for law enforcement might be a reasonable facsimile of happiness. Teo isn't very resentful of him these days. Maybe that's what it comes down to; contentment is relative, and this timeline seems to be even parts growing pains and miserable strife. He fits here better than he ever had in the Bright Future. And so he is perfectly sincere, when he says, "I've heard those rumors too, and I think that'd be a good move for you. You planning to ride the desk, or are you still fighting the tide?"

He accepts his drink when it's made up and gives it an impromptu smack against Felix's glass, with no particular toast in mind. He knows Felix asked him a question, but he makes no move to answer immediately.

There’s that bemused lift of lips and brows. “No,” he says, again, gently. “Never married. Lived with Leland a little while. That was it. And I don’t think a resurgent NYPD will be able to afford to let me ride a desk, not for years. It won’t be like it was when I was a young man. It’ll be pretty Wild West, I imagine.” Imagine with satisfaction, by the look in the pale eyes. Another spin on the dancefloor with Death in another of her forms, another episode in that long and absurdly fruitless courtship.

He wobbles his almost empty glass from side to side, making the last chip of ice chime against it. “They’ll probably have me training, mostly. I can’t imagine I won’t be an instructor. But….that’s a far cry from getting buried under paperwork. I haven’t yet talked to anyone really involved directly.” Fel shrugs, lazily. “I don’t know how many old NYPD are left, honestly. But I’m betting it’s not enough to turn me away, even if it was someone who hated me back when. I was a good cop,” he says. Ah, there it is, the glint of that old arrogance, not entirely burnished away by time and tide and wear.

Then his new drink arrives, and he clinks it against Teo’s in turn. “Za vas,” he says, lifting it to the blond next to him, before taking a sizable slug.

"Yes you were," Teodoro answers, with a great deal of certainty. He remembers it. Perhaps even being a little resentful. But Felix had been happy, and he'd been happy for him, once upon another reality, right up until the Ghost had decided to jeopardize that entire timeline with the possibility of a blackout disruption of all reality continuity as he jumped ship.

And now he's here. Felix seems happy enough; working for law enforcement might be a reasonable facsimile of happiness. Teo isn't very resentful of him these days. Maybe that's what it comes down to; contentment is relative, and this timeline seems to be even parts growing pains and miserable strife. He fits here better than he ever had in the Bright Future. And so he is perfectly sincere, when he says, "I've heard those rumors too, and I think that'd be a good move for you. You planning to ride the desk like you ought to be, your age, or are you still fighting the tide?"

He accepts his drink when it's made up and gives it an impromptu smack against Felix's glass.

"Either way. To your return."

“To my possible return,” he agrees, qualifying it, carefully. Teo gets a sidelong, almost wary look. How much is the Sicilian taking the piss? Whatever skills imparted by the Department and the Bureau, it’s been long and long since he felt sure of any read where Teo is concerned.

“You think I was married, eh? Where and when and to whom? Rob died seventeen years ago, and we sure weren’t married. Same sex marriage wasn’t legal then. Same for when I briefly lived with Lee….and Lee checked out before the war. There was Liz, but Liz….she’s gone,” His voice is wistful, gentle, without that cynical tone. “And she was in love with someone else. We were lovers, sure, but ….that was really just kind of a sideshow to us being friends.”

Then his gaze takes on a strange, clouded quality, and it’s aimed more at the bottles ranked on the way behind the bar like glass soldiers. “You don’t mean those dreams I used to have, about having a Russian wife and a little daughter?” There is a timeline where that happened, one long since diverged from the sheaf of apocalypses they live and work in. Another bright future, Fel married to a beautiful, black haired former gymnast, and with a daughter whose power was to magnify other Evolved into the kind of titans that Marvel comics used to extol.

The Ghost contradicts that easily. "I know you were married." He had experienced quite a lot of head trauma during that time in his life, during that period, what with gradually developing himself into some kind of flippy ninja murderer, but he is confident about that understanding. "Different timeline. I'm not the same big blond baby you knew. I have ten years on that one." He thinks Felix remembers, but also that Felix forgot. The degree of surreality involved with timeline jumpers is not helped by the fact that Teodoro had never been a straightforward person to know, and their Biblical understanding of one another was further fraught by differences in political affiliations. It's strange and confusing. He empathizes.

"But don't ask too many questions." Partly, this is because he kind of forgot. (But also partly his player OOCly forgot.) "All I remember is, you and Lee were happy together. I jeopardized that, actually." It's more than he usually shares about the Bright Future. It benefits no one to know that they had lived in some form of paradise; that the Ghost had known all of the oracles, the future-tellers of his timeline had seen only crackling blackness beyond his decision to hijack that alternate future and come to this one. He'd killed friends to do it. "But I'm sure it turned out fine." He's lying. He's telling the truth. Sometimes, not even he knows. But Tamara had thought, in =spite of the looming darkness, that it would be fine. Sometimes he tells himself that he would have chosen differently, if she had not offered this reassurance.

He drinks his drink. "What do you think about your dream? Or my tall tales. Not so unlikely, I'm sure."

"So you're not one of the ones from….this time, this here. Not one of the ones I knew. You knew this other me," He's come to accept that idea, that alternate histories lie next each other like the warp threads of a cloth….and that there are those who can follow the weft, from main thread to main thread. "So the version of me you knew was married…."

The idea bears turning over, accompanied by small swigs of booze. Fel's always been one to nurse a drink when he wasn't en route to being blitzed….that's a metabolism that can burn it out in moments, if need drives. "Huh," he says….and doesn't ask questions. "What do I think? I dunno. Maybe my mind's just….spinning out the things it thought I would have by this age," he says, musingly. "I believe you. I know it's all strange and getting stranger yet. I remember there is or was- were- more than one of you in just this timestream.

He turns and looks at Ghost, really looks at him. Not a boozy leer, but with something of that old cop's look in his eyes. Trying to divine what he can. "Yeah," he agrees. "You're older than he'd be." Then he snorts a laugh, one jolt of the diaphragm. "You get more beautiful as you age. That's not fuckin' fair," he laments.

Teo always used to think it was an English as Second Language thing, how Felix throws the word 'beautiful' around. He used to think— he'd been ESL himself, after all— that he ought to correct the older man, remind him that 'handsome' is the word that Americans use, when their subject is a man. Men are handsome. Sometimes, boys are cute. The Americans are different from many languages that Teodoro Laudani has studied around the world, somehow more sensitive to oversensitivity. In Hebrew, you would say beautiful job. French is gendered in such a way that such accidents are grammatically impossible.

Americans would get the wrong idea. But the Ghost looks at his old friend, and feels no urge to correct him now. Beautiful. Why not? Sylar himself built this body for him.

"Blagodaryu vas." Thank you, in the Russian. "But we're both white guys, you know. People think the same about you. You've never really had trouble. Don't pretend to be jealous." He knocks the peak of Felix's knee with his own and smiles at him, his teeth showing white in the dim light of the dive bar.

Another snort from Felix, that almost equine comment, one of those gestures that's universal across the timelines. "Enh," he says, with a shrug. "I've done all right. Certainly better than I ever deserved. Jealous, no. Envious, maybe."

ESL perhaps. Sometimes his mastery deserts him - especially in anger. Those who infuriate him do occasionally get lashed with a stream of prison-yard Russian, event yet, when he left it for good three decades ago. "Not the same," Still looking at Ghost, though now it's more thoughtful, a little wistful. Does he get sentimental, when there's enough liquor in him? Cheerful and sharp, in the past, rather than weepy or angry, at least…..though sometimes it drops him in the valley between peaks of coherence.

The younger man— he's still that, actually, even if you add ten years to his timeline— looks skeptical. One dense eyebrow goes up on his forehead, curious now. Maybe also still a little bit poking fun, but he needs to get the bottom of this. Is Felix the Russian hitting on him? Sub-question, in earnest? Is he simply paying a friendly compliment, as old friends are wont? Does he actually have a self-esteem problem, despite being PBed by Guy Pearce? Inquisitive young (ish) Italians must find out. "What's the difference?

"I make a good wingman. I could help you out in here tonight." He makes a show of looking around, a furtive look left and right at the available selection here tonight. There are some decent-looking people. Even the TV extras in this town look pretty good.

"No, thanks," Fel says, affably. "I'm not on the prowl." He doesn't clarify beyond that. "If you are, well, don't let me tie you up too long." A way to let Teo politely disengage, if he really is on the hunt. "I've always understood it to be…..jealous is like 'you having what you have prevents me from having it'. As in 'I'm jealous you married that beautiful girl, I was in love with her myself.' While envious is just….wanting to have something like it. 'You have a beautiful wife. I wish I had a beautiful wife, too'." He spreads his hands - no gleam of a ring. Not jewelry. "I could be wrong, though. Sometimes, even now, English doesn't mean what I think it means."

Is he making a pass? Hard to tell, hard to read. He seems pleased enough that Ghost is there….but there doesn't seem to be any presumption that Ghost is there for *him*, in particular.

That seems like a reasonable distinction. "I like it," the Ghost decides, after a moment. "So I was envious of your marriage when I was in my mid-thirties, but jealous of Leland in my twenties." He's— definitely making fun then, laughter crinkling up his pale eyes. But there's no cruelty in it. A little flattery, while he pokes around to get that flash of uncertainty back into Felix's gaunt face. "And now I'm jealous and envious of others, and find solace in the good work of Wolfhound. Why not?"

Maybe he should be on the prowl. Felix reminds him so. He seems to entertain it for a split-second, another glance around, but changes his mind the next breath, finishing his drink. He pushes the empty glass across the counter. (Joke's on you, Felix! He's here for you. Mostly.) (Ninjas multi-task.) "Do you want to do some work tonight, Ivanov?"

Fel just looks both bemused and amused. "I see," he says, gently. Still gazing at Ghost, like he's got no idea what to do….but looking at Ghost while he ponders it is pleasant enough. "Why not, indeed," he says. Finally, a new round for him, too. "What kindof work are you thinking?" That's an out of left field question. "I've had enough that I'm probably not up for anything terribly precise or awfully important or dangerous. So what exactly are you proposing?"

The Ghost shifts his eyes to follow the bartender away. Then back to Felix. "A little espionage," he says. "I've been keeping an eye on the billiards place next door. People of interest meeting in there. Could just be a little weed and oxy, but when you have a telepath on your tail, I figure something's up." Not official Wolfhound business, then. He sits back slightly on his stool, rolling his shoulders with the muscular grace of a panther rising out of its coil. "Just watch the place for a few minutes. I'll buy you some french fries. Maybe a piece of pie. You could use a little meat on your bones, old man."

No need for anything precise or important or dangerous, then. But the outline of the Ghost's jacket shows he's armed, and maybe that's meant more as reassurance as he gives Felix's arm a friendly whack. He's already standing up, an expectant look on his face. For many years now, the Ghost hasn't — blinked enough. It makes it a little eerie, when he's watching you.

No pretense at consideration, this time. No playing coy. Wolfhound's all very well, but this is like the old days as a cop. "Fair enough," he says. Tab and tip are left on the bar, the drink abandoned without a backwards glance.

He's in his habitual plain civilian gear, that careless veteran look - canvas army parka, its insignia picked off, dark t-shirt, fatigue pants. Armed? Of course, the usual pistol riding at the back of his hip, some blocky piece of German engineering all purpose and no grace. "Telepath?" he asks, idly. The old gleam in his eyes, the tautness coming in to his posture. Less leonine grace than a lupine thinness, old dog gone feral.

No pretense at consideration, this time. No playing coy. Wolfhound's all very well, but this is like the old days as a cop. "Fair enough," he says. Tab and tip are left on the bar, the drink abandoned without a backwards glance.

He's in his habitual plain civilian gear, that careless veteran look - canvas army parka, its insignia picked off, dark t-shirt, fatigue pants. Armed? Of course, the usual pistol riding at the back of his hip, some blocky piece of German engineering all purpose and no grace. "Telepath?" he asks, idly. The old gleam in his eyes, the tautness coming in to his posture. Less leonine grace than a lupine thinness, old dog gone feral.

He's apparently okay with it, for there's no peep of protest nor attempt to disengage from that arm. Indeed, he leans in for a moment, out in the chill, the old unconscious tropism. Whatever variant he's next to, Teo remains Teo, in the cop's squirrelly psyche.

Content to be herded to the corner of the bar, and settling there. This time it's only ginger ale, rather than real beer, for him. And an order of little doughy pizza knots. The warmth and the noise…..he doesn't metaphorically pin his ears back. Instead, Fel's looking around with interest, curiosity.

As promised, the Ghost goes ahead and pays for Felix's food. The bartender immediately gets the wrong idea, which is to say, she immediately gets the idea that Teo had evidently intended her to have. While he can't very well keep his amoeba-like grip on his companion once they've sat down around the counter, he nonetheless doesn't break contact entirely, propping a foot up on the rung of Felix's chair, leaning in close. Possibly showing off the fragrance of his aftershave. HE PICKS GOOD AFTERSHAVES. Okay. Autumnal, rummy.

"Behind me," he says. "Six fifteen. But don't stare; I'm gonna watch them through your eyes. Just look at me, all right? You remember how this works?"

He means: Do you remember how my powers work? While the Ghost is no telepath, there has always been a strange psychic component to his ability— where he can sit inside the mind of another person, privvy only to their sensory input, no access at all to their thoughts. In this case, it's probably not the most absolutely strictly necessary use of his abilities, but with a telepath afoot, presumably, you can't be too cautious. Presumably. He's using Felix to watch through the corner of his eye. And in the meantime

In the meantime, yes. Felix is supposed to enjoy his pizza, to stay undercover, to avoid making waves. Possibly also to challenge this plan. The Ghost is smiling again— he half expects it.

The Russian's remarkably passive about it. But then, hasn't Teo nearly always been able to sway Fel to his wishes, when he really tries? There's an unthinking flare of nostrils at that scent, hound-like, indeed.

A beat or two before he replies, pasting on an automatic smile meant to fool any onlookers. Let them think he's gazing, besotted, into the Ghost's eyes. "Sure," he says, softly. "I remember some." Privy to Fel's gaze, only idly taking in the person behind Teo, no hard stares. Conscious of Fel's consciousness of him - that warmth, the scent, weaving in and out of the aromas of food and drink…..and that magnetic urge to lean in on Teo, get closer. The faint scrape of hunger - the food wasn't ordered merely as distraction. Pressure-consciousness of the gun at the back of his hip, the thread of adrenaline almost always in his bloodstream.

It's subtle, but the Ghost becomes unfocused as he slips into Felix's mind. The steady sniper fixation of his stare slides ever so off-center. Someone else might mistake it for the dreamy gaze of someone badly in love. "It might help if you talk to me," the Ghost adds, helpfully, definitely still making fun, but still helpful. It's not like he'll be able to hear, and Felix might well remember that as well. But all the same— it certainly helps passers-by if they aren't staring in absolute silence for a prolonged period of time.

It's clear the Ghost has done this before. He remembers to do the little things that keep his outward appearance looking as natural as possible. He shifts the leg near Felix, rememebers to (blindly) touch the older man on the wrist, adjust his thumb (blindly) over the flat of his pulse, blindly blindly, but with an impression of certain affection. He seems intent. (He is.)

Idle chatter from Fel, much of it reiterated from the bar. A good-natured monologue on the changes in New York, what Florida was like. Books he's tracked down - he's got a hoarder's instinct for them, even yet, like a prospector seining through ashes and dirt for lost gems.

The pulse is a double drum, beneath Teo's thumb and palpable in his own body. Poised at the right distance, resisting the temptation to lean in, the glow of liquor a flush on his skin and an ember in his belly, if not quite the blue-white fire that vodka kindles. There's the dart of Fel's gaze, skipping from Teo to those beyond and behind him, occasionally around the bar at large. It takes him a moment to notice the food, when it's finally brought.

When he takes a break from staring at Ghost's handsome mug, Felix sees a young man. Rich— the kind of rich that knows how to go incognito, a fine black coat, maybe McQueen, boots with real chinchilla cuffing them. He's white, with the curliest hair, black-rimmed glasses— somewhere in his early twenties, probably. On first pass, you might not notice, but a couple minutes spent identify the details of his grooming and it's clear enough that this child comes from serious money. He's drinking a glass of house wine that evidently was not to his liking.

He keeps looking around. Nervous, no doubt, as he waits for whomever he's waiting for. Glances at Felix just briefly, but moves past looking at him.

"Bored, hm?" Ghost asks, suddenly present again. Though Felix had dared to take a direct look, obviously nothing came of it— nothing's happened yet, so there's no ninja reprimand from the Sicilian. instead, he thieves a slice of pepperoni up and stuffs it in his own mouth. His fingers tighten fractionally on Felix's arm. "I don't blame you. How long do you want to wait for? Thirty?"

Fel's nothing remarkable these days, just another bit of social flotsam left drifting in the wake of the war. Nothing to draw the eye.

The tightening of that grip on his arm makes Fel blink, look into Teo's eyes again, inquiringly. "No, not bored. Wait tonight? Uh," A little moue, a turn of the hand, in lieu of a shrug. He can be very Russian in the minimalism of his gestures, expression - the tighter, less demonstrative body language of his hometown - especially when he's been distracted.

"Before you have to go back home," the Ghost clarifies. 'Home.' He means Wolfhound headquarters, the bunker. "I'm assuming you need to get up early, go through your paces." It's the dubious luxury of being a contractor, outside the more rigid structure of the paramilitary organization and their rigorous codes of conduct. The Ghost is always careful not to break Hana's rules out of respect that you might as well call love, but fewer of them apply to him.

He slides out of focus again. Just for a moment. Checking the boy is still alone. Then back.

"It's already been forty-five minutes." He had, apparently, been watching the kid even while he and Felix were drinking in the other bar. Or maybe for longer, even. Felix might deduce that he'd actually left this minor side project in order to look in on the Russian, sitting alone in the neighboring dive and nursing his liquor.

"I'm off tomorrow," he says, calmly. "Or I'd not've been drinking at all. I'm in no hurry to head back. I'm a big boy, I can stay out as late as I want." The old curling grin, self-mocking, on the border of a sneer. Why would he be? That lonely bed in the dorm is not calling, not with any insistence.

He cuts his eyes to the kid for a brief instant. "I'm not distracting you, am I? From what you need to do?" He snags another piece, chews deliberately. Never enough food for him - he does need meat on his bones, indeed.

It's a good question. Teo grins at the older man, his eyes focusing right on him, for the instant briefly he snaps briefly back into the near-trance. But then he's back again, dabbing Felix's mouth with the corner of a beige napkin. The bartender definitely thinks they're being adorable. "I don't need to do anything," he reminds. It's not a mission, after all. But he smiles because Fewix is being considewate and that's pretty nice. "Maybe a little. But you're also helping." He folds the soiled corner of the napkin and tucks it under Felix's plate. His clean-shaven jaw bends around a smile that looks, for an instant, boyish and bright.

Behind him, someone's joining the rich kid at his table.

A man. Short-shaven hair, a beaten brown coat. The kid checks his watch, which is— probably kind of a mistake, considering that even from afar, Felix might guess that that's a nice watch, he's flashing around. He says something that Felix likely can't read out of his lips unless he stares direct.

"That's me, always helpful," Fel deadpans. Permitting Teo wiping at his mouth without jerking his head away. Mellowed in his age….or just less uptight period. Still smiling fondly, he says, lower, "That kid is fucking begging to be mugged. I'm half-tempted to do it myself just to teach him a lesson." Then he laughs at himself, not so much as if he'd made a wonderful joke, more that he's realized how absurd he sounds. "Jesus. I don't know if that was the cop talking, or the kid with the Communist education. It's amazing what bubbles up from childhood. I find myself counting things in Russian, not even thinking about it."

That makes the Ghost smile more. More unlike Felix, he thinks, to be quite so unguarded. Sometimes Felix would tell stories about his boyhood, with Russia, climbing rocks with the exes, drinking bad coffee, fulfilling any number of police stereotypes, the kind of small-talk that affords a modest level of real vulnerability, never over the line into actually inappropriate. But to joke about mugging a kid— that's actually fucking inappropriate. The Ghost thinks it's funny. He's terrible, though. It does not bode well for Felix's sense of humor anymore.

The next instant, Teo's eyes go out of focus again. He slips his fingers over the knuckle of Felix's hand, absent-mindedly, playing with the with the subtle hills of metacarpals and the arteries weaving over them without properly being able to feel any of it. He's fully preoccupied now, watching the rich boy and his new friend. The faintest black smudge shifts across the corner of Felix's periphery— something being transferred at the table. "Don't look," the Ghost warns, knowing the reflex. He leans fractionally closer for the effect, ducking his head to the side so that he can get a clearer look out of the corner of Felix's eye. His breath tickles the tip of Felix's chin. He's so close that the neon limns his eyelashes.

He doesn't feel it. But he feels Fel's reaction to those brushing fingers. The fractional shiver, the serried ranks of goosebumps marching over his skin, not entirely to be blamed on the chill draft from a door left open a fraction too long. Obediently, Fel smiles, as if Teo'd just made a joke. "I can barely see anything past you," he notes, sotto voce. Like a candle between two mirrors, someone else's reaction attenuated at one remove. The scent of that aftershave, rich and surprisingly sweet.

Fel angles his head, just a bit, so it looks more like a whispered conversation. He's gone off kilter, the old straight arrow bent, if not to unrecognizability. Police dog to junkyard dog, law and order left shattered behind on the trail. Maybe his fanboying over the incipient NYPD is less a reaching for old laurels than a last grasp at redemption.

"Duffel bag," the Ghost whispers, after a long moment. "Probably not full of dildoes." He watches through the older man's eyes a moment longer— long enough that Felix can pick up one shape leaving the table; the older man. Duffel bag in hand now, as he walks past Felix and Teodoro. He reeks of cigarettes.

And then, abruptly, Teo is back again. Blinking across at Felix from a distance of no more than eight inches.

Yeah, he'd felt that shiver. Intrigues never got to be this extravagantly gay back when Felix was a cop, he's pretty sure. You have to get to a certain level of clearance and jaded predatory overconfidence to start fucking around on the job this way, even if the risk is mediated by the Ghost's host of excuses. Not a mission. Probably nothing. He was just taking a walk. His friend wants to mug the kid for his watch. So many excuses.

"Which one do you think I should tail?" he asks, companionably. "The kid or brown coat."

"The kid," he says, without hesitation. "The kid's a rube. No tradecraft, he'll give it away without meaning to." Withdrawing, a little. You can't hover at that distance long without it needing either a kiss or obvious conspiracy. He flicks at the emptied plate with a fingertip. "I feel an urge for a cigarette, how 'bout you? You want me to go after the other guy?" Can Fel be stealthy, as well as swift.

There's a beat's pause. The Ghost checking one way then the other. Then recentering again, blinking to find Felix further away than he was a moment ago. A smile pinches the corners of his eyes. Obligingly, he releases Felix's arm, leaving a sanguine afterimage of his hand cooling through Felix's clothing. He goes for his wallet instead. Paying for his date's hilariously shitty psuedo-Italian dinner. "Sure," he says at an ordinary volume. "Text me."

Then he kisses Felix on the cheek, just because. The next moment, he shifts in his stool, leaning back, pleasant farewells. "Buona notte."

By the time Felix looks back, the Ghost is affecting interest in his phone. Very classic OkCupid millenial shit. (He totally knows Felix looks back, okay. Don't even worry about it.)

Outside, the wind snaps a sharp, cold contrast to the friendly warmth inside the billiards snack place. By then, the man is already halfway down the block, moving briskly, his hands hidden deep in his pockets and head bowed against the elements, partly, but partly also— he's trying to be a little bit incognito. The duffel bag is snug under one arm, the strap over the shoulder of his tattered coat. He doesn't look behind him, but he does make a sharp left seconds after Felix clocks him, moving swiftly into the dark.

Fel comes out at an aimless amble, patting himself down for a pack of cigarettes. He does have one - so much for giving up old vices. Time to remember what he learned from the Bureau about tailing, though counter-intel was never his field. But this one isn't about the pounce and the capture, not yet. Letting the mouse lead the way back to the hole, if there is one.

Odd to think of, that he might be a threat, himself. Here's hoping his prey is oblivious….and that it won't be a long trail to follow. It is cold out, after all.

Good fortune: it's not a long trail. Not to start, anyway.

Around the corner and another four, five blocks down, then a car pulls up beside Felix's mark, heading the other way. Silver Honda, one of those models that dates back before the civil war; no bumper stickers, distinguishing marks of any kind, and the driver is hard to make out with the harsh glare of its headlights going through. The window rolls down, and they make a second exchange— the duffel bag pushed through the gap. The gentleman in the brown coat receives a brown paper bag for his trouble, and Felix can see his head bob in thanks. No one else along the block seems to make much of it; there are a half-dozen people around, maybe, variously fumbling with umbrellas, closing up other late night shopfronts, too far away to make many details of one another.

The car pulls away from the curve. The man in the brown coat stuffs his new package in under his arm and darts a look around, furtive, but considerably more discreet than the boy had been back at the billiards place.

And then— like a minnow darting for deeper water, he scatters up into the steps of the dilapidated old building the Honda had met him by. In the meantime, the silver car keeps rolling comfortably onward. Its windows are tinted, Felix notices. Vermont plates.

More important now to keep from breaking cover - they can come back for details later. So Felix wanders on, down the street, fooling with cigarette and lighter, like he can't get the former look. Only one he has does he start fooling with his own phone. 'Got an address for you. Our friend dropped off that package he needed to get delivered. Got something of his own in return. Delivery car was a silver Honda, Vermont plates.' No pictures of either, that'd be too obvious. 'Still waiting on your friend to leave?'

As Felix draws even with the building where his mark had ducked into, he notices something odd, probably.

There isn't really a door. Well, there was at some point, two doors. But one has since gone missing, leaving a gap-toothed yawn in the front of it. As he sends out his texts, he notices scattered leavings here or there. The glint of needles. Further along, around the corner of the structure, amid a huddle of garbage, some tubing peeks out, pale as entrails in the half-dark. There's a vague shadow moving on the second floor, neither fast nor furtive; someone lurching by.

In Felix's phone, there's no reply. Not immediately, anyway. Hard to know if that's the Ghost being— ghosty, unavailable to check his phone, or something else.

Impulse says go barging in like an idiot dog. Experience says….circle the building, see if there's anything else to be seen. Phone muted and dimmed, lest a ringtone give him away. And once he's round the corner, he continues on along to circle back, but through alleys and yards, making no more pretense of a casual stroll.

As Felix makes his way around, the building remains quiet. He steps over garbage, managing to avoid upsetting any of the cans or ruined clothes lying around. Back in the era of the Bomb, the years that followed, they called places like these— crack houses, trap houses, drug dens. Such words have fallen out of use a little, since the war and the shift of national focus, not to mention the fact that Evolved-related substance abuse has been a much more exciting subject for the media. But there are always drugs. And there will always be people who use them.

He can make out two, three people toward the back. A woman sitting by a window, two men talking— arguing?— up on the second floor. The sound of sex, arrhythmic but repetitive, filtering into the night air.

Then a scream.

Whatever happens, it's enough to send a couple of the users running out of the front. A few more stumbling after that, just sober enough to maneuver. Shouts fill the air— dismay. He's seizing. What the fuck? The cops are coming. The cops aren't coming, or not how they expect; no one calls, or at least, certainly not before Felix jumps the open first floor window, gun out, makes his way through a handful of slow-waking, confused bodies. He finds his man right then, in the second room he looks into.

Brown coat off, a needle in his arm. Haemorrhaging at his eyes, foam seeping out of the corner of his mouth.

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