The Scab Is A Traitor



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Scene Title The Scab Is A Traitor
Synopsis Felix is being hunted, and he thinks that's the worst of it: because he's a freak.
Date December 2, 2009


He's stable enough to be moved to a bed at the Spektors' at least. But that means that now Fel is taking up an actual bed in one of the mens' bedrooms. Sorry, Teo. Or Ethan. Or Francois. Though Fel'd not be very sorry about Ethan. He's still painfully weak and unable to walk, and at the moment, he's disposed on his borrowed bed like a corpse displayed on his catafalque, with only the informal splay of one hand curled loosely on his chest and the other at his side to prove that he's not posed for burial rather than recovery. He's deeply unconscious, and dreaming.

In contrast to the utter passivity of his body, his dreamlife is frenetic. It's that primeval forest that seems to figure so often in his internal landscape, he is wounded in the leg, though not as badly as he was in waking life, and limping down a snowcovered path towards some illusory safety. It's a moonlit night, as it always seems to be…..and there are rustlings among the pine branches. Something is pursuing him, though whether it's human or animal or some nightmare conflation of the two isn't yet clear. For while the followers' eyes glint green like beasts, there's the click and rattle of firearms among the susurrus.

Something lands on Felix's head. It moves quick, if not quicker than the speedster himself, soundless, seamless, unseen, and most importantly: unannounced. Like a drop of rain. Or a bird dropping, perhaps, but so it turns out it isn't any swab of fecal matter launched out of the back of an impertinent and genre-defiant dreamworld avian, but a dreamworld avian in and of itself.

Cheep. Claws touch Felix's scalp, a gentle nub and rub against the grain of dainty points, a palpitation of short wings flared once. The tiny creature turns his head, peers back over one smooth shoulder and into the limitless depth of forest behind, quirking it shead one way, hitching its hollow-boned body the other as the Russian's fleeing step bounces and jerks in the saccadic rhythm of panicky retreat.

This is a fairytale, or one of its darker echoes. So Fel accepts this new messenger with seamless ease, reaching up to move it to hand or shoulder, whichever it prefers. His breath comes in gusts visible and shimmering, and there are dark spots to mark his trail, a morse code of hemoglobin left behind for those pursuers to track. "Help," he says, simply, holding the bird up before him, the monosyllable wrung out in a bark of pain.

The bird is unperturbed by the fact that it is now traveling backward, at a breakneck pace, held out in the hands of a cripple being pursued by a terrible monster whose eyes he can see from over the bob and thrash of his carrier's shoulder. The bird lifts his chest, straightening its tiny spine, tailfeathers spreading silky over the tips of Felix's finger in preparation for flight. He's blue, through and through, from the fluff of his belly to the clasp of pinions at his sides, and even the eyes through which he stares at Felix, then the monster, then at Felix again. His bill opens around a single bright note of agreement.

Like a tongue of gas flame, he takes off, circles a wild halo around the Russian's head before hurtling off into the stark grille of tree trunks. Left. Left, through a kaleidoscope blur of oblique shadows and skeletal vegetable remains. He's better than your ordinary bird: for every single beat of his wings, there are three of Felix's staggered steps.

More than one, like a pack of wolves behind, though they neither howl nor bay. Now and then there's a sound that might be a word in some barbarous tongue, the crunch of boots or paws on snow. Fel hurries after him, hand clamped over the wound, proceeding at a comical and frantic hobble, face a white smear in the bird's wake.

In the forest, there's a castle or a ruin thereof. Stone, moss hanging off it like an old man's beard, drawbridge up front and a scummy moat encircling. The front entrance, unbarred, has had its stone somehow wrought not into a great rectangled frame or even a decorated round-shouldered portal, but the shape a huge fish. Mouth open, eyes formed by insert windows that retain their age-caked glass. The gate is like incisored teeth and the green-manged bridge, its tongue. The bird flits ahead, and lands its tiny feet on the post halfway across the diseased water. There's barely enough naked water between algal blooms below to hold a fragment of the creature's reflection.

Good enough. It'll have to be sanctuary enough. Fel hurries towards that gaping maw without either a glance back or a moment's hesitation. "Thank you," he says, as he comes up within range of the bird's perch.

Such ugly things Felix keeps rattling around discarded in his subconscious. The bird tweets a bright You're welcome, lifts off in another blur of wings. It isn't until its feet and the petrified metal separate that the first crack snakes away from underneath the sloppy pounding of Felix's limp. Races backward, burps a cloud of frosted dust toward the evening sky, and doesn't stop until it's zagged all the way up to meet the first daggered foot of the enemy treading to follow.

He all but slides in like he's finishing a run in baseball, hurling himself into the dark confines of the castle's jaws without a moment's regard for what might be lurking within. The beasts behind him are stymied, at least for the moment - at least, there are no splashes of things hurling themselves into the grimy depths.

The bird casts itself down. Drops, this time, onto Felix's shoulder, wings pressed back and thumb-sized head tipping erratically to and fro as it looks back at the creatures crowding the other end of the bridge. As before, the speedster's lopsided gait does little to unseat the bird's perch, even as the courtyard breathes out before him. Caved in stairwells lead into doorless archways, the sprawl of a downed chandelier on the floor inside like a slovenly old woman with her skirts in disarray.

Nothing, for a prolonged moment. Only the bird and his tiny wingbeat punctuations under his earlobe, sidling uneasily up and down the line of Felix's shoulder. He beeps once before quieting by stuffing his beak into the side of the Russian's head, soothing either anxiety or excitement down like a child forced to physically hold his jaws shut with his fingers.

Seconds pass, and Felix's dotted blood scabs from crimson to black seeping into the cold-dehydrated stone below him. From far away and high above, you'd be able to see that it wasn't a uniform igneous gray, or even a pattern repeated throughout the paving, but a circular calendar. No sun dial, crop calendar, or record of moon change, here, though a few of the sleek illustrations show rounded, organic forms and a steady progression of phases that do, from a distance, remind of either symbols or iconographs. A closer look intimates that it is actually a depiction of human embryogenesis.

There's movement in a second story window.

He can run no further, but instead, trying to keep from obscuring the pattern of paving. "Forgive me for disturbing you, but….but ….they were pursuing me," he calls, in a voice made faint by exhaustion. The movement has him turning, stumbling, and then seeking somewhere on this floor for a seat. A bench, a chair, even a cold hearth. He sidles around the fallen chandelier, though a mis-step sends a lustre skittering over the floor like a crystal mouse.

The bench that arrives into Felix's view is matched with a harpsichord that remains intact, despite being a homogenous shade of chalky gray from lid to denuded keys, and legs. The Russian's voice dissipates without an echo, but the bird's follow-up queries ping off lacquered ceilings, mirrors, inlays, and overturned chamberpots. Nothing ascribes itself to any particular time period.

Particularly not the stranger, when he finally comes, stumping along the floor. There are rags tied up around his feet and a swollen boxiness to their shape, reminiscent of a vagrant despite that the dust on his coat evidences he's been here a very long time. Woolly hair hangs over his lined brow and under his nose, pitting his eyes in shadow and obscuring the unlikely pink of his mouth. He stops in the doorway and stares. Downward, at first, following the streaky patter of blood, connecting the dots until—

Fel half-collapses on the bench, making those little thready hissing sounds of pain, like a kettle coming on to the boil. But the presence of another human has him looking up, nervously. «Old father, forgive me for intruding, please,» he begs, in that clipped and lisping Muscovite Russian. He pulls off his scarf, presses it against the wound as hard as he can.

The old man doesn't answer, though he does dare to stilt a few strides closer. His head tilts, hoarfrost locks in a scratchy drift down his cheeks. He taller than Felix himself, and the curl of his shoulders implies a frame that would have massed to something intimidating in its prime. After a long moment, he swings a glance out of the hall through which Felix had come, over the courtyard and into the wilderness. The rumbling rasp and whine of lupine monsters winches his head to a sour tilt, and then there's something distinctly accusatory about the pale stare he returns to the man.

Fel half-collapses on the bench, making those little thready hissing sounds of pain, like a kettle coming on to the boil. But the presence of another human has him looking up, nervously. «Old father, forgive me for intruding, please,» he begs, in that clipped and lisping Muscovite Russian. He pulls off his scarf, presses it against the wound as hard as he can.

The old man doesn't answer, though he does dare to stilt a few strides closer. His head tilts, hoarfrost locks in a scratchy drift down his cheeks. He taller than Felix himself, and the curl of his shoulders implies a frame that would have massed to something intimidating in its prime. After a long moment, he swings a glance out of the hall through which Felix had come, over the courtyard and into the wilderness. The rumbling rasp and whine of lupine monsters winches his head to a sour tilt, and then there's something distinctly accusatory about the pale stare he returns to the man.

Which has the younger Russian looking decidedly hangdog. He is no Ivan Tsarevich, off to make his fortune. Not even one of the soldiers of the Motherland. «I don't know what they are,» he says, shrinking apologetically. Like that might make it better?

At least, it's not going to do the situation any harm. The closer he steps, the stronger the old man smells. Not dirty, but pungent like monsoon weather and broken loam. From across the room, his clothes looked brown, but nearer they look like an aged or soiled red and the fibrous drag of his beard seems to flow directly into the coarse weave of its fabric. Between layers of mopstring hair, his skin is startlingly youthful. Smooth; no lines crosshatching the space around his eyes.

He glances at the harpsichord for a moment, checking that its velour coat of dust was disturbed, before craning his head down to study the wound squelching under Felix's hands. The bird cheeps, sidling to and fro along the Russian's shoulder thrice, spinning a few haphazard circles.

Not life threatening, not even crippling. Painful and likely to drain his energy, oh, yes. Nothing else has been touched, apparently. His breath is ragged, but out of the cold and away from his pursuers, he's starting to regain both color and breath.

"«You did something bad, didn't you?»" The old man— starik, as they say in Russian, drops into a crouch, suddenly, as if he were stooping down to speak to a child. Of course, Felix is no child. Too tall, even seated. It's the old man who looks up, at both the Russian on the bench and the bird on his shoulder. All the same, there's the distinct sense that Felix is the one being humored, at his sufferance. His eyes are nearly on level with the bleeding wound now.

"«No, old father. I…I mean, I don't think. I can't remember,»" he confesses, miserably. "«I mean, yes, I've sinned in my life, but I don't think anything to earn this….»" Though even as he speaks, he knows that he's not telling the truth, and yet isn't. It's not what he's done that has the hounds baying outside. It's what he is.

The starik might have heard that. His head jerks a fractioned degree to the right, and the pupil in his near eye expands, its circumferance rolling out almost to eat up the glacial rim of his iris. Speculative. He exhales through his long nose. "«What are you?»" he asks. His voice sounds like stones shifting downhill. "«What are you that's so important, if it doesn't change what you do, but brings them?»" Quick as a snakebite, his arm springs up, jerks a pointing finger out of the ruptured doorway.

Fel's own eyes are wide, guileless, pale as glacier ice, pupils pinned. "« A freak,»" he admits, without hesitation. "«I didn't seek it, but I am.»" There's that blunt pragmatism in his tone - now is not the time to cavil or deny. "«They want to take me and tear me open. Finger my gears as if I were a -watch-,»" There's the shakiness of terror in his voice.

Is that so? The woodsman doesn't ask aloud, but his gaze holds long enough to serve as prying, fastened onto Felix's face as tangibly as rain to a stone.

After a moment, he pulls his arm back, moves to scoop the bird out from under Felix's jawline. This, he manages to do without intimating even the slightest contact between his thin, dirt-colored fingers and the younger man's skin. When he withdraws his arm, the bird is gone from sight, blocked out whole by a squared fist and the ragged fabric of his sleeve. Used to be red.

"«Why doesn't your kind protect you?»"

"«There's not the unity there might be. And even if there were, even with what we can do, there aren't enough of us,»" Fel says, simply, holding out a hand as if to keep him from taking the bird. Though he doesn't touch in turn, either. He's shivering now, despite being out of the wind.

Skepticism marks the old man's face. He stands, one hand still clasped over the bird. The other closes on the harpsichord's lid, pushes it up, drags out the propping stick, hauls it wide and there isn't the faintest sound of protest, not from hinges too old to be able to do but barely hold themselves in brittle alignment. Inside, the naked guts of the harpsichord are almost bloodily visceral in their color, still the rich champaigne of wood and horse-hair strings.

The dust doesn't move, but for a mote.

"«Or maybe it's because you're dressed in wolf's fur. You hunt what you stink of. Is it a disguise?»" He shoves the bird into his lapel and withdraws a match from its ragged recesses instead. Strikes it on the instrument's edge. There's a shock of reeking sulfur and then the hissing incandescence.

He looks down at himself, as if that might be literal, not metaphorical - pale nails hooked into dark claws, silvery fur sprouting on the wiry forearms. "«What?»" he asks, numbed into stupidity. The flare of light makes him blink as the flame is turned by the droplets on his glasses into a thousand spangles of light. "«I am as you see…..»"

Inside the starik's jacket, the blue bird is a bulge tweeting irritable objection. Ensconsed as he is, however, the tiny avian is left little recourse except to yell, and go unceremoniously ignored by the man who carries him.

Turning pins, strings, bridge— the instrument burns. Heat wafts up, huddles in the room, blankets Felix at the bench. Tilted at its angle, the lifted casement offers some protection against the thin trickle of smoke. Acid yellow light makes haggard detail of the stranger's face, though much of it remains obscured by the unbelievable thickness of beard and coarse mane; in better lighting, their texture is clumpy as a carpet, shows no roots into his flesh, seems peculiarly artificial against his skin.

He blinks, as if contemplating Felix's meaning, giving thought before he ascribes words to what he sees, and when he does, it's in a halting guess: "…Alone."

There's no self-pity in the Russian's face at that comment. "«Yes,»" he says, simply. The warmth - it has him leaning in like a sunflower inclining itself to follows the light of the day. "«Thank you,»" he adds, taking off his glasses to peer at the light. "«Ash on an old man's sleeve - Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.»" It neither rhymes nor scans in Russian as it does in English - Eliot sounds like the natterings of the unhinged.

The gratitude is dismissed with a wave of the old man's black-rimmed hand, though the gesture stops, mid-air, lulls a moment; he frowns, glances down at the insistent squirm in his jacket, as if seriously considering smiting it silent. Fortunately for the tiny creature, he does not. The poem does not surprise him, and he doesn't balk at the waxy pungency of scorching keratin. "«The only part of you that doesn't smell like wolf is the blood.

"«You stink,»" he clarifies, presently. The hermit's next breath catches in his throat, scrapes uncomfortably over vocal chords, worn or rusty from disuse. His shoulders hook forward, scarecrow standing murderously protective over his peculiar field. Slower, then, "«You have 'freak' blood on you. Maybe you're not alone. Maybe you're with them.»"

It's not parsing, really, it isn't. "«I have it one me because I am one, and I'm bleeding?»" He offers, like he's not entirely sure he's understood any of what was just said. "«I am alone, save for Sasha there,»" he nods towards the tiny hillock that is presumably the bird. "«I don't know why I should smell like them, unless I escaped from them…..»" He bares his teeth in a shiver.

"«Or you're a traitor,»" the old man answers, readily. "«In a wolf's fur. There are many kinds of freaks, and there are many kinds of wolves.

"«Freaks will come for freaks. Wolves hunt with wolves. But you're alone.»" Evidently disgruntled by his own assessment, the man begins to stilt backward, his lumpy-shod feet making long, eerily graceful strides despite his subtly hobbled balance. It isn't immediately obvious, whether he's trying to get a better look at Felix, or if there is fear involved. "«What did you do?»"

He bares his teeth, unthinkingly, an expression made more lupine by the length of his jaw, the starkness of his face. "«Was a fox trying to hunt with the hounds, maybe,»" He says, and is startled into an unpleasant stillness by it, Narcisuss arguing with his own bleared reflection.

Maybe it's the teeth, or the sharp relief that that rictus throws the rest of Felix's face into: recognition finally slits into focus, hits the old man's features like a drenching bucket of blood, blacking out the bright light of his eyes the instant before a coruscating glitter seeps in. The old man sobs. Only, there's something wrong with his voice when he does, insofar as the blistered damage wrought by thirst and age has abruptly healed itself by then, no longer the rasp and croak, but a boy's wail.

"I kn-knew it. You killed him.

"Then you stole his glasses. You did it: you did it. You killed Joe." A small hand spasms a white-knuckled grasp onto the beard, rends it free. It comes unstuck easy as a cheap costume, perhaps because it is. Divulges a child's jaw smooth as a strip of shorn lambskin, then he's turning, lurching steps like hurdles. Kicks a stray crystal out of his way, goes skidding wildly past the chandelier's main carcass for the doorway, his stained coattails whipping panicky with his strides.

Fel should've seen past it long ago, were his senses not blurred by exhaustion and fear. But he's left gaping at the abrupt transformation, staggered and apologetic. "Oh, man," He says, replying in English. "No, no, no. I didn't kill anyone named Joe. These're my glasses, they were made for me," he says, frantically.

The passerine twists, scrabbles claws on shirt buttons and presses its wings against the oppressive closure of coat lining, the smell of frankincense and dyed color of saints, but to no avail. The wild arpeggios and shrieks of his warnings go unheeded. The boy runs.

"Liar!" It's embarrassingly pubescent, the shriek, or would have been embarrassing if the boy had enough of his wits about him to remember to insist he was a young man. "I've been looking for him!"

Dwindles to a silhouette, small feet rapping on stone, then wood. He is blind from tears. Mad from panic, perhaps; he shoots out of the fish's mouth, and the shoddy twist of his wig careens backward, tumbles into the slime slick surface of the diseased moat for drowning. His sprint rattles the drawbridge at its rivets, widening the razor-lipped cracks that had been there before, loosing a sheaf of splitting dust into the air and a chalky avalanche of broken crumbs into the water beneath. The wolves lift their heads.

Oh, god, no. He'd better not flee right into those clawed hands. Fel rouses himself from his freeze of startlement, flings himself after the boy, heedless of his wound. It can wait. "No. No. Don't go out there, they'll take you," he says, hands outstretched, trying to capture the child before he can rush to what would surely be his doom.

Even with a hole in his leg, Felix Ivanov is a speedster— and the child is not. The adrenalized pulse of movement brings the Russian even with his quarry, even as it shunts a sticky spurt of blood out of the wound, too. The child almost does a double-take, eyes popping in his skull; he doesn't notice the appetite of green eyes and clawed tread at the end of the bridge, certainly doesn't notice when the cunning predators pull back into the wood, to watch.

Too busy being caught up in Felix's hooked fingers, his wheeling dervish of mottled rags ripping loose first before his arm is caught in a bunch of thrashing elbow. He's screaming. Almost incoherently, though Joe's name is something in there, furious. Where another child might have delivered a plea for his life, he insists he won't let Felix take his.

There's that manic strength in him, thin and weakened as he might be, and Fel hauls the child bodily back into the shelter of the strange castle, his heart a purring thrum in his ribcage, too fast to even distinguish individual beats. His leg's sodden with blood again, wet warmth between them. "I am not going to hurt you," he grits out, between clenched teeth. "They most certainly will."

"You took his glasses!" Joe's glasses had been thicker-framed, huge nerdy hipster things that made an owlet out of his thin, solemn face, but the child is sure of it. And his ill temper is compounded, further disconcerted by the staining sick of Felix's injury, mottling the fabrics wrapped around his foot, streaking his hands. Instead of lashing out again, however, he winds up contracting, bracing himself, going still as a bowstring, hands pulled in and feet hurdling awkwardly one after another. He fetches a glance over his shoulder, wiping a dirty palm across his teary eye, an afterthought. Sees no wolves.

He shuts the door behind them, impatiently shoving it with a foot, like a housewife dragging in an errant cat. "I did -not-," he insists. "These are mine, they always have been. There'd be no use stealing glasses from someone, prescriptions are made custom. He drops back into the bench by the smouldering klavier, tries to bring breathing and heartrate down, even as he feebly staunches the wound with his discarded scarf.

A somewhat squashed blue bird finally surmounts various physical obstacles and comes out of the boy's shirt collar. If 'shirt' is the word for the inscrutable garment that lies between jacket and other snarled and looped hems. One black sloe eye blinks out, then a rasping flare of stubby pinions. The boy doesn't notice, crawling away as soon as he's released, to seat himself at the base of the wall, sour-faced and sniffling skepticism.

"Who are you, what's your name?" Fel demands, tone made brusque and breathless by pain, even as he squints past the smoke and the firelight to him. He holds out a hand to the bird, as if it were some bizarre sort of falconry.

Flight proves challenging to sustain when one is still decompressing. The bird's initial jump-off crashes into the floor, thready nails clicking and wings flitting discomfitted so close to the floor. A hop-skip, and then he finally pushes off the floor with enough lift to complete the meander to Felix's wrist, landing there the distribution of weight of a handful of candy.

Boy proves equally disgruntled. Scowling after the bird with the distracted resentment one owes a minor traitor. There is a pause for choreography. "Simon. I live here."

Leonard's breath comes in shudders. "Well, Simon. I am Felix, son of Nikolai. I'm sorry to have come crashing in here like that, but ….I couldn't help it," he says, drooping. "Is Sasha there your friend?" he adds, lifting the bird.

"No." A beat. "Sasha's a girl's name. Nikolai doesn't sound like a bitch," Simon adds, his lip curling in adolescent hauteur. He looks up. Despite the sanguine incandescence of firelight, his eyes are pale as ice, and his complexion not far behind. It's difficult to tell what color his hair is, between the peppering of dust, clot of soil and errant pinestraw strand here or there. His gaze shifts to accusatory at Felix's leg, next. "You tricked me into helping you."

"Where I come from, Sasha is not a woman's name. It's a nickname for Alexander. And in the story of Peter and the Wolf, Sasha is a bird who helps Peter," Fel explains, propping himself wearily against the wall, and then deciding better and slipping down to curl half on one side. "And Nikolai is most certainly not. Nor did I trick you. I came at his guiding - had no idea you were here."

A small hand fists on either of Simon's lapels, pulls them up around his ears. He scrunches down, his knees drawn up. "You said you were a freak, but you didn't say you hunt freaks. You said the wolves were evil, but you didn't say you did evil things with them. Now you're making excuses. And you're wearing Joe's glasses, but your name's Felix. Sasha should've left you." He closes his eyes against the invasive vividness of firelight and blood, and turns his face silently to the other wall.

His face is strained, impatient. "I don't hunt freaks. I don't hunt with these wolves. And these are my glasses. Come look at them, you'll see," he says, finally simply lying down on the floor, wrapped in his coat.

"Then you're lying now or you were lying before." Despite the audible defiance in the boy's voice, he's crawling closer, acquiescing to the old Russian's offer. Blunt boot toes scratching dusty stone, a slither of fabric under the susurrus of steady flame. His face cranes into view over Felix's, after a moment, caution stiff in the frowning parenthetical of his mouth, hollowing the hauteur of cheekbones. Scrutiny and thought turn his face grimmer still.

His breath smells of raspberries, and not merely the kind one blows when in a facetious kind of mood. Pooling in slow viscosity, Felix's blood neither disconcerts nor draws him.

"I was a cop," he explains, heavily. "These aren't police. These are something else. They aren't out for criminals, they're out for anyone like me…." He's curled on his side, trying to keep from hyperventilating, slow his breath into something other than that hare's flutter.

Too weak for further physical assaults, Felix is a less intimidating spectacle now. The boy folds his arms on his knees and rests his chin on his latticed wrists, knees bunched up under a gargoyle's stance, spine bent laboriously over a segment of a circle. His pupils seem unsteadily in their wan, white-blue discuses. "Pigs and wolves just trying to make a living, huh?

"That's a good excuse. Job. I hate cops. You hurt people worse'n they deserve, so now you're all alone, vecchio. Maybe they'd leave me alone if I gave you to them. Let you segaiolo sort it between yourselves. I'm more of a criminal than a freak, anyway." He levels a challenging stare at the bird perched on Felix's breast, and gets a territorial puff of breastfeathers in response. He creases his nose with distaste.

"Lucky you," says Felix, drily. "And maybe they would. At least wait until I've bled out and can't feel it," he adds. He doesn't argue his relative righteousness. There are pigs worthy of that epithet out here. "Teo," he says, suddenly. "I know you."

The teenager's face goes blank. For a moment, it looks like he might go as low as to deny his name when caught red-handed, but he grimaces instead, hunting his gaze restlessly across the room. Past the bench's thin legs, the harpsichord's broader appendages. Into the next room, the one out of which he'd come in costume. Its columned bookshelves, a monochromed rainbow of leather-bound spines. A library, if one that bears little resemblance to the one in that the boys had found in the world at the end of the flood.

"Well, Joe," he says, instead, stiffly. "I know you, too. Thought I did, anyway. I thought you fucking died."

Fel admits, without hesitation, "I did. But I got better." He motions at his wound. "For all the good it did me," he adds, tone sour.

"So you got old and evil," Teo observes, wiping his tear-stained cheek on his sleeve. "I got a castle for us, but now you're two things that don't belong and I have to feed your corpse to wolves. You've fucked up my plan, vecchio, and now I'm alone too." Resentment makes a petulant pout out of the Sicilian's lower lip, and he darts a look at the door, furtive.

"I'm not evil. And not all -that- old," Fel says, plaintively. "But in God's name, just let me rest, please? Just for a little, and then I'll go." One way or another, clearly.

If Teo's tiny, conceited maladjusted version has a preference as to which way Felix goes, he doesn't let it on. Instead, he heaves out an irritable sigh, apparently discontent with Felix's answer. Glances up at the smoke the harpsichored is hurling into the ceiling. It'll be blotched up with black soot by morning, and everything, even the bird, will smell of ashes.

After a moment, he assents settles down. Tips his weight onto the tent peg of elbow, flattening out on his hip, ribs, his scruffy off-blond head burying cheek onto the dying man's shoulder. He peers at the bird from over the bony incline of Felix's chest. "You don't believe in forgiveness. That's like evil."

Fel peers at him, clearly confused. "I do believe in forgiveness," he says, quietly. "What….what do you mean? What does that have to do with anything?" He doesn't argue the boy's resting his head on him - human warmth is welcome, here. He smells of wool and fur and blood.

It's morbid for a human child, blood inching into the weave of his pant leg through slow and silky capillary action, but Teo's been Simon long enough to go a little feral; perhaps even long enough not to care. He shrugs, the one shoulder he isn't lying on. Reaches a tentative figure to prod at the bird waddling to and fro along Felix's belly. "It's easier to follow orders or beat people up than to forgive them. Or t' figure out when you should. Or could. Nothing has anything to do with anything.

"It doesn't matter, I guess." The bird presses her bill briefly against the squared-off end of Teodoro's forefinger, before hopping two spaces to the left, quirking his little blue popcorn puff of a head at the sight of his own reflection in Felix's glasses. "Since you're dying."

He opens his mouth to dispute, but there is no arguing. He knows that feeling - and abruptly, the room is gone, and they're on a beach, the water lapping cold beyond them. The city's lights turn the sky a bruise-colored purple and orange in the distance, but it's still dark over Staten. "Help me, please," he says, quietly. "Put pressure on the wound - I'm too weak." The images are wavering and strange - there's a tall figure, indistinct at some little distance. Rendered in shadow, save for the eyes that glow an unnatural blue-white, and the occasional glint of light off the rifle it carries.

"You broke my fucking castle, uomo," Teo observes, crossly, lifting his head in an collie pup's rustle of abrupt movement. Scrambles halfway up, off his side and onto his elbows, his eyes burning hotly in the sockets of his skull, jerking away, jerking somehow awake. "Why should I!

"Why should I?" He has his mouth twisted into a frown, or maybe a sneer. They're in Staten, suddenly, and gone with the forest there goes the wild fructose flavor on his breath and the moss-mingled-hawthorn tang on his clothes, the ruddy woodsman color scrubbed from his cheeks. Teo's merely red. Furious, Saint Nicholas' coat a sloughed-off skin wadded laughably around his skinny boy-shoulders, only a thin residual fiber of false beard clinging to his crusted cheek, his hands in closed and empty fists. "You're not my friend anymore. I helped you get away from Central Park.

"I helped you then, and now you don't care about anything except making sure the fucking prisons have enough people in them, no matter who they are, and fixing your stupid leg. I hate your leg. Your leg is ugly. Shut up." This last rebuke is not for Felix himself, but spat hatefully at the bird, who shrieks a dozen irritable notes for every word that crosses his lips. The small avian lifts off on a single beat of wings, drops neatly onto the Russian's knee, below the sluggish burp and drip of the entrance wound.

"I do care," Felix breathes. "It's not like that. It was never like that," he protests, panting. There are other wounds, now, blooming like slow flowers - his flank, his chest. "I'm sorry," he adds, rolling his head to cough, and putting out a hand to Teo's chest, as if patting him down for that medal.

No wolves to feed, here. Just a man and his conscience— or two men, depending on how one quantifies and divides those involved here. Teo squeezes his eyes shut, sniffs once, a noise loud enough to funnel a snort through the acoustics of his nose. Even at sixteen, he has a rather big nose. "Yes, it is like that. Yes, it is—" No immediate understanding greets the flat of Felix's palm. No pendant, either. The boy merely startles backward an inch, confused by the gesture, until he closes a brittly-gloved hand over Felix's knuckles, catching and stilling that panicky pattering.

More lines in his fingers, now, latticed by the grooved wrinkles and calluses of age, the bones within them longer inside their work-stained skin than they were before.

Someone else's hands. Teodoro doesn't notice, distracted, darting his eyes past the spreading liquid dye of fresh injuries, stop on the bird. Who trills harshly, his tongue in a panicky worm jiggle between the halves of his bill. His voice is unwontedly high, now, snagging on the brambles of confusion and dismay. "Everyone cares about being alive. That doesn't count. Not to you, so it shouldn't count for you either."

It is the medal he wants, and he's certain Teo is wearing it, but lacks the strength to push his hand past Teo's seizing it. "I don't understand," he says between coughs, even as he rolls nearly onto his belly. The body remembers dying convulsions, the spine severed. The shadow in the distance moves, a step forward - it's a pistol it holds now, the rifle slung over his shoulder.

"Me neither," Teo answers, but his voice is slowing and deepening, giving way to heavy notes of aged despair. He looks up. His hands are old, now, thinner and longer, and those fixed to the wrists of the rifleman in the distance are younger, square-palmed and broad, knuckles as round and bulky as the bolts in a bull's spine. There's neither fear nor recognition in his face. "Someone's coming. I think he hates you, too."

His grip on Teo's hand is spastic, fingers clenching and unclenching. Dying is hard work, takes concentration. Not as easy as you'd think. "Absolve me," he begs, suddenly. "Please." There's enough ambient light that it picks out Deckard's features, not clearly, but recognizably him, the other man's eyes still glowing that unnatural blue-white as he glances idly at Teo. Somehow Flint's wounded too - a hole in the shoulder, though he moves easily despite it. Fel's gaze is fixed despairing on Teo's. "Sucks, doesn't it? - The sudden, utterly unfair realization that your life is no longer in your hands. No happy ending. No heroics. Just a bunch of fishy sand and you bleeding out of your asshole," comments Deckard, tone conversational, as if Teo simply weren't there at all. He takes aim with the pistol, as if he had all the time in the world.

Gulls moving by electric light, a streetwalker in a huge blue coat reeking of baby's breath smirks at catcalls from the mouth of Shooter's, trucks shifting gears and Manhattan a cable of lights like a pearl string across the Hudson Bay. It's ludicrous, the sheer number of minor details that Felix has recalled or supplied for this scenario; the area and volume a world moving at pace unchanged by the death of one cop by robber, cowboy by outlaw, throwback mutant by throwback mutant, hateful madman by one who returns the spite drop for drop.

Deckard's voice doesn't finish there though. Takes up residence in Teo's throat, suddenly that much nearer, and warm with a clasp of mantis-hinged finger joints, short nails, palms overlaid with strips of scabbed cloth, the answer characteristically laconic, too. Long before they became enemies, began to limit their exchanges of lament curses and remorseless lead, Deckard and Ivanov had been taciturn companions at best.

"You first."

Oil-black tide, the lassitude of dream, and the tingling flow of regeneration come in the same swelling crest of movement.

He's opened his mouth to say something further - beg, protest, offer what forgiveness he has.

But there's the crack of the pistol, a sound as inconsequential as that of a twig breaking, and any questions from Felix Ivanov are stilled, permanently.

In the darkness of a Russian winter night, Felix Ivanov snaps awake, sits up awkwardly in the closet he's more or less taken up residence in, gasping for air as if he'd come up from the depths.

"Ego te absolvo," he murmurs, before putting his face in his hands.

After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab.

A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue.

A scab is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and his class.

Jack London (1876-1916)

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