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Scene Title Susceptibility
Synopsis Even when Ghost doesn't look like Teodoro Laudani, Hana treats him with the same regard. It turns out that Hana is also susceptible to tricks learned ten years from now, and Ghost isn't quite as impervious as he thinks he is, either.
Date June 14, 2009

Primatech Paper Facility

Night. The camera system concealed in the metaphorical turrets and battlements of Hana's stronghold shades its vision to monochrome, grainy but sharp, blinking the malevolent eye of its 'On' LED down across the deserted floor and derelict furnishings, tracking the slow swing of shadows first cast by the progress of the sun across the sky, and second by the emergence of judiciously spare electric light. At one point, there is a mouse.

Later, there is a stranger. He is older than Hana by the distinction of graven lines below his eyes and around his jaw, carries a scalp of hair as black as hers, his features in angular definition but strictly Caucasian, failing to convey even a hint of the Mediterranean ancestry that had mingled Teodoro's shape and complexion, once.

Yet his height is familiar, the gait and imperfect balance of a lifelong athlete only now and recently finding his stubby wings as a martial artist. The circuit he takes around the edge of the front desk— always the left, despite that the right connects to a symmetrical staircase and the same eventual concatenation of hallways. Familiar, also, the keycard that flits up out of his pocket in the clinch of his fingers; after all, Hana had encoded and fabricated it for him.

Still, she doesn't have to let the doors open. Probably wouldn't have if he hadn't sought out one lens of her electronic eye and, a gesture as familiar as it is facetiously ridiculous, he waves. Always, it means Hello. Nice to see you; and, I didn't forget.

She doesn't have to let him enter — and she does. The concatenation of telltale mannerisms and a message overheard not so long ago leave no doubt as to who, despite the unfamiliar face the camera observes. The door unlocks automatically, the snick of an electronically withdrawn bolt perfectly familiar in its timing and intonation.

She's in the gym. She usually is. Dressed down, Hana's workout clothes are as plain and unassuming as ever, important for their function rather than their appearance. Familiar in type, their shades of gray; possibly in specifics, but it's hard to tell since most of them look the same. Hana's wardrobe is most predictable when she's just being Hana.

The Israeli woman moves through an Aikido kata with the fluidity of long practice; interspersing comments to her visitor, upon his arrival in the gym, doesn't perturb the motions at all. "Not only are you bound and determined to run afoul of everyone," Hana remarks, "but you can't seem to just leave it at that, can you?"

Yanked backward off his arms, Teo's jacket slithers against his shirt, buttons and zipper clicking and rasping until it lands on the floor. The webbing of the holster unslings backward off his shoulders second, hits the bench in a solid clunk and thump of weighty composite before leather ropes down and lands, flattening, above it. "People run afoul of each other," he answers, and his voice is different too. "Even if I was your Teo—

"I'd either have too many friends trying to kill each other or a mix of those and enemies trying to kill me. I swear, sometimes it's like there are all of seventy people in New York City." The last word is furred by the distortion of cloth pulling over his head, his shirt coming loose.

Instantly, it's evident that Salvatore had been as thorough as he could given he had had but a split second to disrupt his target's shape. The tattoos that once encircled and laddered Teo's biceps are blanked out, and a twisted seam of brackish scar tissue heaves out above the collar line of his wifebeater where the eagle once mapped his shoulder blade. When the ghost's head pops back out into view, he blinks baby blues and ditches the overlaying garment onto the bench, too.

He kicks his shoes off, one by one, turning to watch Hana's lean arms and unerring feet trace steel geometry through the empty air. He doesn't sound repentant, exactly, but at least interested when he asks: "What did I do now?"

Hana concludes her exercise, straightening up, drawing her feet back together and turning to face her… guest. One dark brow arches. "And — what exact situation would you say you're in right now?" Friends and enemies trying to kill me seems to just about sum things up, the way Hana sees it.

"I could give you a list," she remarks, dry reply. "There's not much point." He knows everything he's done, or he should. She shifts position, feet sliding to the side, one step forward. Familiar stance, relaxed, easy; waiting for the mirrored counterpart on the other side, the partner.

"He called you a monster," the technopath states, tone obliquely neutral. "Dark and sadistic. Is that what you see in the mirror?"

"Friends and enemies trying to kill me," Teo— Ghost answers, without sparing overmuch effort in the way of making sad faces. The connections between body and mind feel oddly brittle right now, and he obscurely wishes that he could attribute this entirely to the rotation he had tried out a few hours ago. He can't. It's been a rough week at work. "I'm saying: my situation hasn't changed that much."

Bare feet dimple the mats as he alights on the padded fabric, places himself on the opposite edge of the defined rectangle from where his mentor stands. Feet and shoulders fall neatly into stance, his balance distributed a fractional majority backward, defensive. He looks Hana in the eye for a brief moment, before refocusing away, to the broader picture of lines and spring-trap joints. "No. I see me." Sounds a little like a joke, given the ongoing hostage situation here. It isn't one. Ghost fills his lungs, relaxes into his stance. "Secretly blond, impervious to schadenfreude. Meddling.

"Sal?" he asks, after another beat, despite that Ghost must know who 'he' is, by now.

She doesn't dignify the question with its obvious answer; he's already solved it himself, after all. "Impervious is a strong word," Hana remarks, before her form blurs into motion, half seen, half anticipated. As easily as if it were her Teo across the mat, this evening any one of their irregular but nonetheless frequent practices, workouts, lessons.

The opening is familiar, the follow-through logical, attacks taken where opportunity allows but never with true intent to harm. It's only sparring; he still has a bye, there. But as each move builds upon those before, a pattern emerges; his body is ten years behind what he's used to, but Hana is also ten years behind the mentor, accomplice, friend Ghost once knew — the one who taught him everything she had to teach.

Between the two, the playing field levels.

Ten years ago, time seemed to move faster. By the time the light and sight of the attack finishes processes through the circuitry of this brain, he would have been moving already, in 2019, as if his neurons had been individually gift-wrapped in cotton and his balance secured by buttered mopstring. It would have been better than he'd learned his lesson here, on the blue mats and the relative safety of the training arena, rather the butt of an enemy's combat carbine and an unfortunate coincidence of plastique explosives.

Still, better late than never. He doesn't attempt to be theatrical, avoids underestimating his enemy, this time. Having started out on the defensive, he rebuffs the initial strike and the follow-through, snaps hands close on her arm and torques his marred torso along an arc that is brutally mathematical in measure and formation, aiming to reverse the force of her velocity back on itself and flip over the fulcrum of his hip. Only, she's quicker now, more agile, and the callused soles of her feet seem to skin the fluorescence off the presiding light.

She'd taught him Aikido and Krav Maga, to start with; experience and long acquaintance wore off the plastic veneer and textbook programming of kata, solidified a core of austere violence, the actual art of it in its undecorated effectivity. Each strike is received by an equally pristine technique, connections made here and then there with a guttering stumble, a breath, an instant's recalibrating to her intimately familiar style, recoveries taken in as quick as a hand of playing cards. Stop. Start.

Catch yourself, start again. Impervious is a strong word. Too strong— but mentor and student, two dislocated strangers in time, friends make a good show of it, in this exercise of martial combat, neither affected nor entirely unrestrained.

It's been a long time since she sparred with an equal; not since Hana severed all ties with past trainers, since she found herself a lioness with a pride of wolves and foxes for her company — similar, and yet unlike. She didn't truly expect Teo to match her; he never did before. Maybe there is something to this 'future' story.

Hana doesn't think quite that deliberate a thought in the midst of their match, of course; no such time is afforded her in the rapid-fire contest of actions and reactions. She doesn't let him toss her to the mat the first time, but the change in paradigm makes its presence felt as they continue; a trick Gitelman doesn't yet know to counter slips past, and reaction simply isn't enough.

In short order, Hana finds herself regarding the mat from very close distance indeed, the ceiling a few feet farther away than usual.

In another second, a faltering half-step, Ghost's head blocks out the light. Sal's handiwork was good: the face that peers down at her bears little resemblence to the one that should have been there— but even the plastic surgeon functions within limitations.

Still, and always, there is a hint of dim puppy to the stoop of his brow and peering regard, even as he offers the woman a hand, his incandescent metabolism providing familiar warmth even if the rough and size of Teo's grip has been recontoured. Squarer palm, longer fingers. His preference for warmth leaves enough of a pallor standing on his skin that her recent bruise of impact shows faint on his forearm.

Appropos of nothing— or everything, he inquires, "Heard anything about the negation neurotoxin production lately?"

Dark, narrowed eyes look up at the no-longer-Sicilian face; Hana accepts his hand, the proffered anchor by which to haul herself back upright. No doubt to insist they go through what he did again — some things don't change. But she doesn't quite yet. "Nothing notable," the technopath replies. "Why do you ask?"

"Arthur Petrelli." Ghost's answer is simple as sincerity ought to be. He steels his foot on the floor, doesn't twist or coddle in assisting Hana's way back up onto her feet; for the main part, he gives her the bulwark of his frame for her to boost herself up against, and nothing more. "He's out of fucking control. Manslaughtered Peter, according to Gabriel—

"Who can no longer beat him in single combat, not with the catalogue of abilities he has now." The ghost doesn't know for sure how much she had heard of the old tyrant and the widowered monster in times back then, but that had certainly been different. When Gabriel had been a walking nuclear bomb, among other things. Rehabilitated— and grieving, though doubtless the details of that remain obscured to the other time-travelers.

The Israeli nods but once; makes sense, the need to dose Arthur with suppressant. "It is as it has been. Production's low; they haven't managed to hit mass yet. I guess it's a complicated neurotoxin." Hana sets her feet, brings up her hands. "Still sent mostly to holding facilities and agents. Though it's funny how a vial goes missing every so often.

"Show me again."

'Funny.' Arthur won't think so in a little bit, no doubt. The corners of Ghost's eyes sharpen slightly, lining crow's feet in. Impervious was too strong a word. He wouldn't mind if Arthur

Anyway. Anyway: complying with Hana's instruction is as easy as riding a bike, even if the principle is sort of upended on itself this time. He shows her again: describes the sweep of her kick with the gesture of a hand before he stoops, catches hold of a knee and the point of a hip, spins the captured axle of balance. It's a later chapter of study than practical violence or available exchanges had ever required Hana to employ as of 2009, but the principle is stirringly familiar, the motion consistent with what she knows of the discipline despite having terminated her study beforehand.

"The government is coming to Staten soon," he adds, no less conversationally. He has no doubt that she knew. "Will you be finding yourself a new den?"

She analyzes the moves, tucks them away in her mind; for perusal, dissection, practice. Next time, he won't catch her off-guard — not, at least, with the same maneuver. If she didn't expect Ghost to have others — well, she wouldn't be Hana Gitelman.

"I don't need to," the woman answers. "There are several places, if it comes to that." Along with records, false identities; the government is fairly easily dodged, with a few precautions, alert senses, and the ability to hijack computers. It's the part that isn't the government she needs to watch out for. But all of that is concern for later.

Right now, she's going to put him on the floor.

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