What Dreams May Come


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Scene Title What Dreams May Come
Synopsis Teo's investigation into the murderous reputation Deckard's subconscious has accumulated for itself lately yields more in the way of hindrance than it does hope.
Date January 5, 2010


Three poles on the nearest stage. Three poles and two skeletons vermiculate in their senuous grip and grind, spectral phalanges barely gracing white hot steel. Translucent flesh fills in bare at a sporadic strobe of ghostly blue light, flickering viscera and taut muscle nearly in time with the bass thump of music appropriately themed to the setting. Rare glimpses of the costuming find their way in every once and a while and tend to linger once they have — teasing independently of whatever conscious effort each girl is devoting to her craft.

They dance while a third pushes a skeletal hand through his hair and another under his collar. She's on her way into his lap, but he's only just received his first beer and brushes her off to ply at the metal cap instead of at his zipper.

He's the only one here. There was another (a bouncer? the owner? someone he knew?), but the only evidence of their prior existence requires awareness of the visible light spectrum to detect. Specifically, the ability to see red.

The girls don't mind, though, and so long as they don't, neither does he. Back slouched low in his seat, knees angled wide apart and cold beer balanced at his quad, he watches at a distracted distance, too accustomed to the weave of metal piping through the walls and wooden struts to be bothered by the entire world being inside out.

Cold dots his forehead. There's no weight to it, not at first: the only thing nerves register is the wan change in temperature, scaled small, timing abrupt, flecked with neither anti-alias nor any kind of acknowledgment to the rhythm and the beat, and less impressive than the wan effort at refrigeration that the beer on Deckard's lap came out of. At first. By some coincidence of trajectory and source, the trajectory and source of the volley are concealed from Deckard's eyes by the fact that the cold managed to land on the old man right

—between the eyes. Of course, gravity being what it is, and associations of chapped plastic basins, gravity, and maternal complaints inculcated too deep in human psyche to be discarded even in the bendy weirdo physics of dream, it doesn't take much of a leap to trace the intrusion up to the ceiling. And long before the fourth drop looses off toward Deckard's eye, the conclusion's obvious, easy.

It's raining. (Either that, or there's an astral projectionist systematically annoying his way into Flint's dream.) (Impossible.) One would guess. Water plays pretty tricks with the visible light spectrum; less so with X-radiation. Water, you can't see at all.

There's a crack in the ceiling, though, where bricking was rifted to make way for cheaply-rigged copper wire. There's a flinch to one of the girls, a slithering rosette of dilution to the other color on the floor, and there's the smell of something — clean.

Nostrils flare and pupils constrict, twin points of black ringed with glacial blue when Flint looks sideways and then inevitably up. A beat of real color blanches through black and neon blue like an echo, weaving orange and violet in amidst cooler aquamarine. Past a touch of flagrant red smeared in a five-fingered arc across the far wall, it touches upon little else of interest and isn't required besides — a hazy touch at his nose confirms the dampness there, and the crack in the ceiling reads as clearly to x-ray eyes as it does to more mundane lenses.

But it's the smell that belongs least of all — coarse and unfamiliar in sinuses that were just settling in to the richer stench of beer and too much human activity in too confined a space. A hard blink twitches the worst of the blur out of the eye that got splashed — a pass of his bony wrist clears the rest, but in a way, the damage has already been done. The memory or imagination that went into the creation of one of the girls has faded nearly to nothing.

A deep breath seems unlikely to bring her back, and its with a sense of wary unease that he tries to settle himself back in to focus. So far as he remembers, this is one of the better dreams he's had in a while, and the first in weeks where he hasn't felt a driving compulsion to be somewhere else.

Water rims the ceiling's break, coruscates along the seam. Well, 'coruscate's a flattering word, maybe too hard to manage in lighting as dingily sporadic as that within the stale compress of this bar's atmosphere and ambience. All right, all right. It creeps in, torquing an eddy, travelling capillaried along the grain of plaster texture a few feet before gravity takes over. Yanks another fat drop to the floor. Another plunks squarely into Deckard's beer, and one trails the bristly incline of the old man's cheek like the long-fingered affection of—

Tik, tik. The patter of weather counts the passage of time in intervals harder to ignore or to change than a mere analog clock. It's almost anticlimactic when thunder belches its reverberation through the walls, bass register, an echo wobbling a Doppler pattern as it recedes. The lights go out, perhaps a little petulantly, perhaps so audacious as to think that Deckard needs them to see.

Odds are Deckard wouldn't have noticed at all, but there's more at work here than his own simple observation. The music stops and so do the girls — one suspended upside down from the wrap of one toned leg, both young enough to be his daughters. If he has any.

…One hopes not.

Show's over, in any case. The girls have given up dancing in favor of trying to grope their way towards an emergency exit, which isn't in itself interesting enough to hold his attention. One after the other they fade into the black that has always and will always define the outer limits of x-ray radiation that can only be perceived so far and for so long. It's the logical outcome, so far as logic can be argued to exist here.

Flint could leave. Stand up. Walk out. But sitting here being rained on makes as much sense as anything else, and he can't work up the energy besides. Contaminated cold beer tilted aside and eventually set down on his table, he doesn't even bother to move his chair, ignorant of the patter and dab of rainwater behind his ear and down the back fo his collar.

They say you never have dreams— for instance, sexual ones— about what you already have in the real world. Lends credibility to the definition of these otherwise nonsensical or gratuitous REM-cycled fabrications as manifest illustrations of important inner-fantasies. Drives. That kind of thing. The fact that Deckard's dream weighs him down with the lassitude of enervated indifference says either something bad about his somewhat more frenetic pursuits of his preoccupations when awake, or something sad about what he really wants to do. Or maybe it says something really great. Maybe.

A clicky heel's beat after the second girl dwindles into her retreat, and the door wheezes open again. Somebody-else's hand on the knob, shoulder in striated plywood, a long-legged gait plowed through. Densely-soled boots, sprinkle sloughing off coat, gathering glassily at the ends of his hands. Contradictory to Deckard's hypothesis, being inside when it is raining outside seems like the intruder's logic. He— and it's definitely either a he or an exceptionally tall and corpulent woman— comes up behind the old man's damp couch, measuring even footfalls across the floor. He drags up a chair.

The chair is all right angles, severe corners, a steady lambent blue in the edge of Deckard's vision. When the man sits in it, the fold of his leg bones and straight shoulders are almost the same the same way, conforming further in the blurriness of peripheral focus, except that there are no straight lines in nature and Flint Deckard knows that better than anyone. There's a subtle contouring in the skull that turns an arc to study him, speculative, a sinosoidal kink to the axis of his spine, tibia in curvature. "Bet you could even get Pam in here," Teo says, "if I told you why she left."

In settings such as these, Deckard does not often (or ever) dream of men. That one should appear so readily after the departure of what he was presumably here to see is cause for unease if not outright alarm. Even if this particular assemblage of bones is familiar without being pulled fully into focus.

Annnd yet. Flint never actually looks its way, or even lifts his scruffy head out of the hangdog dip it succumbed to when he gave up on his beer. Evidently he's not so unsettled that he can be roused to react. Runoff from the ceiling glistens at the bristled bob of his throat and damps hair hardly touched by grey and still he sits there, in his own world in more ways than one.

Happily, the water makes little headway through the pinsriping of his suit. It's already saturated with something else — something that paints expensive tailoring into a brackish cling over bony knees and slouched shoulders or merely stinks of hot, coppery death. Depends upon whether Teo's own level of immersion relegates him to sizing up the sinkhole sockets pitted into Deckard's long skull or the shrill ring of superhuman light through bright irises in the dark when mention of Pam's name finally prompts him to look and heed and listen at a hazy squint, recognition more suspicious and less ready than it should be.

Which is maybe better than ready suspicion at Teo's appearance in and of itself. Half-lucid, the Sicilian finds himself quelling a little fear, anxiety, and motherish concern. It's cold in here, and claustraphobic, like snowy Ryazan full of hunting raptors at close-quarters never was. Obscurely, he knows that he is very far away from home. "She cornered me.

"So I told her about Phoenix's mission, HomeSec's depreciating regard for Evolved rights, New York City's forecast," he says. Broad strokes. "Told her she could either put her head in the sand or put some gloves on. It was a very serious… clandestine conversation. She got this really thoughtful look on her face." Hesitation lights the Sicilian's features. Indiscernible to the bony ridges of his face, flat and flawless brow, rigidly machined cheekbones and clackety-chatty jaw, it nevertheless manifests in a hiccupy spout of motion in his arm, wet fingers open and palm starfished flat, reaching at Deckard's shoulder. Or the lurid stench soaked into it. Morbid curiosity, wary of some half-remembered blowback. "And went straight back to fucking Texas within the week. You liked her, right?"

There would have been an apology inherent to the question if Teo was still the other one, who would have said it aloud anyway. Here, with him, it's merely another one of those— options. He swivels a glance at the forsaken stage.

"She didn't like me." Maybe all the work she did with animals gave her an unconscious measure of insight into where certain trends and tendancies were inevitably headed. The same grizzled mutt that rolls over to have its belly scratched at the pound may bite the hand that feeds the instant it looks like there might be competition for scraps. Whatever the case, Flint's monotone drone betrays no disappointment on the subject.

She had a lot of practical experience as a young woman working with dogs. He's had a lot of practical experience as an older male hitting on disinterested strippers.

The truth is in the tension wound vice-like into the muscle tempered in over the ball and socket of his shoulder. Distrust and familiar resentment that siezes deeper into itself at contact; bloody mess squelching cold through coarse fabric depressed under callused fingers. The harder he tries to recall the harder it is to remember. Had he thought she'd run because of him?

He registers the tell-tale squish at his shoulder too late amidst wondering whether or not he is capable of finding her — lets the irradiated blueprint of the strip club fall away into the naturally lightless shell Teo created for himself. He's reduced to a pair of glacial eyes. Teo is a vague assembly of blocky shapes in the foreground. "Why are you here?"

"Why are the fuck are you?" Teo asks in the same breath that he shrugs with. His hand comes away red, and he knows it's red, even if he can barely see for shit and his palm was already wet. It wasn't sticky. Weather has his hair plastered down his eyes and his beard logged heavily, a ginger cosmetic effort combined with the turn of his profile to obscure the thing that's wrong with his face. There isn't a lot wrong with his face anyway.

It takes him a few seconds to remember that the ruddy clingfilm on his hand is gross. He wipes his hand on the couch, perhaps figuring the upholstery is such that it would be of no consequence. Now there are two dull handprints decorating the strip club, and not a single corpse between them. You don't get take-backs with Deckard, as a general rule, so he doesn't retract that earlier rhetorical retort, but he does do his friend the courtesy of not staring at the stage with blithe expectation Pamela Brown's about to teleport in and facetiously exceed preexisting performance standards.

No room in this genre of life for such bromance. Courageously, Sicily forges ahead. "Mexico was a surprise," he says, in the tone of explanation, or a cordial caption to go along with tea. "I wanted to see how you were. Probably shouldn'tve been. I can't always tell when you're being— serious." Overhead, the ceiling growls musical with thunder. He doesn't know what the world outside these walls are. Lacking either a vigorous economic boiler or exportable culture for tourists, the spot of Mexico marked on Abby's map had made this place look relatively inspired. Or was what inspired this place.

"You're bleeding," Teo says. He's wrong, but he'd prefer not to know it.

For all that Deckard shows all the most promising signs of alert attention — curious eyes that flicker after the indirect trace of Teo's profile and posture upright enough that he hasn't slithered off the couch onto the floor — it's hard to tell how much he's really mentally here. He tends to react to spoken word on a slogging delay, as if he's trying to translate it through a sheet of water or merely responding to prompts on unconscious reflex, like a somnambulant four year old on his way to the bathroom. Pamela does not appear. Nor does anyone else.

"I'm always here," isn't quite a lie, depending upon individual interpretations of the idea of 'here.' Grimy city light blocks blue-grey through the windows; touches slight on raised edges and polished metal. He says nothing on the subject of Mexico, or Joseph, or the fact that everyone else left. Packed up and left him. Unreliable, instable, violent. Wife beater.

Resentment amassing itself into a thundercloud in the hood of his brow never has a chance to reach its crescendo. Teo's observation about the state of him sees his long face bitten down in shame, but it's a vacant, submissive withdrawl, automatic and unsure of guilt's source or reasoning. He doesn't fill the overt gap where a correction should go. Coward.

Doubly so, as flayed bone pulses uneven across his chest and the world bleaches gradually back into crisp shades of white and blue.

OH but it's just a dream. You're allowed cowardice in dreams. Unreliability, instability, violence too; maybe even hitting your wife, murdering a man who merely happened to hold a job at a dingy place like this. Even if it's what some part of you rrreally wants to do, deep down inside, it's not like dreaming it is the same thing as doing it.


Teo blinks, and the single screw-in lightbulb enhoused in the quilted plastic panel above them stutters on in the flick of that minute motion. As dream manipulators go, he's a weaver of cheap parlor tricks. The Nightmare Man might be a maniacal sorceror who rends slices through the veils between worlds like they are butter, remakes them in whatever shape at will; Ghost might have been a mean-spirited apprentice wielding greater and darker skills than he knew how to control. Hokuto Ichihara, some sort of paladin, a light-emitting sword in her hand. Teo shakes walls with B-movie thunder and knots balloon animals.

But hey. At least now they can both see. Though there's a palipated glance down at Deckard's chest, shock scorching a reflexive curl through Teo's damp fingers. It's just a dream. Other times, the application of such reassurances is not sarcastic; there is nothing so embarrassingly unironic as genuine concern.

Inelegantly, Teodoro winds up flitted off his chair, stooped closer, fingers fixing at Deckard's sodden suit collar as if asymmetry and a misshapen tie knot are the most major of manifest crises. "Oy. Vecchio. Heal thyself," he says. If could remember the memory context of that phrase, he'dve thought better than to say it, but the phrase is an association too ready and too urgent to yield to delays like closer analysis.

"I feel fine," murmured as denial or reassurance or both, Deckard declines to look Teo in the face immediately once he's in closer proximity. "Better than fine." Familiar whiskey in his breath is faint — negligable under a thicker veneer of coffee and antiseptic wash and so much blood that there might well be a Flint-shaped stain on this couch forever.

It sudses up under the ministrations of square hands at his tie — bubbles and squelches under the bristled jut of his chin, fine detail repronounced from memory all the way down to the damp scuff of silk over starch. He looks good, though. Physically better than Teo's ever seen him. There's a youthful vigor to the belt of wiry muscle up his forearms and bunched down through his shoulders, shored up energy at predatory ease while his long face lolls faintly along with the effort Laudani's putting in at his collar.

It isn't until x-ray radiation finishes tumbling through the bend of his own knee and his eyes tick marginally up that he stiffens again. There's somethng Off about Teo's face, and for a good twenty seconds, watching him is eerily like watching an Alzheimer's patient struggling to Know something they should already Know. And when he finally does figure it out, rather than comment on it out loud, he does an ET: right hand lifted to touch at the afflicted area while his eyes arrow into a puzzled squint.

His fingertips are no cleaner than the rest of him, either. Where they go, murky red follows, and already there's a slick of the stuff under the careful trace of his thumb over raised scar tissue.

Every dreamer, by definition, enjoys a certain level of disconnect; it's Teo's turn, this time, when touch to his face fails to root Deckard's expression of hazed revelation in any context outside of weird (Eg., unexpected) sympathy. It's too soon to make the leap that, you know, Deckard's missed him or anything like that, though. Instead, he is moderately distracted by the sheer amount of hemoglobin that's saturated the fabric of Flint's suit, and diluting strandy flowers in the sluicing coat of water on his own hands. He peels them away with a jolt of disconcertion, looks up the long-boned incline of Deckard's face with something a little bit darker than the weather clouding his own mobile features.

To be terribly facetious, you might observe that Teodoro merely, technically, turned pink. Snail trail leaking its way over the keloid ridging past his lip, starfish suppurating to take up the spread shape of his hand. "Christ," he says, "Fuck. Damn it, Deckard," and useless words like that.

Scowling fiercely, like you would your cat for doing in the neighbor's canary. At least, Teo doesn't need a vet to tell him the change in diet isn't making negative impact on his companion's weight and lustre. He's relieved. Irritated. Training's the problem, not the nature of the beast, though. He casts around. Gets up. Has to lean into Flint's fingers for a moment to do it, and damaged tissue, and there's a momentary ghost of rubbery goblet cells and mucus-slicked molars divulged to the inadvertent application of pressure and the uncertain inquest of radiographic eyes.

There is nothing here to clean Deckard off with, and the moment before Teo pushes away the brief conjuration of the other body on the floor is the moment that Teo realizes those clothes aren't going to be— much cleaner than the ones that the old man is already wearing. Plain walls and dingy corners fur with concentric haloes of bokeh-disrupted light, mosaic with pixels, squirm out of focus. He claps a hand on Deckard's shoulder, reassuring, and it percusses with the dense one-note of plastic-rimmed doors shutting. Suddenly, they're at a laundromat.

One of those low-rent, almost cartoonishly generic one-story self-service affairs that they say became the backbone of Vietnamese America after the Chinese claimed the foreign fast-food empire. Floor tiles the orange yellow of sweat, every inch of wall space taken up by the solid laid-brick regularity of commercial drying machines, front-loader washing machines, and bleached paper advertisements for seasonal deals (¡Venta de verano!) and despite that only one of the light panels is working, half the machines— both heavy load and small— are churning vigorously at loads that seem to consist of nothing but unheated water. The portal windows show a lot of weeping glassy nothing— except for the brief electric-blue shock of an impression of some other old man's sea-weathered face in the inky eye of the unit squatting across from Deckard's stool. There. Gone again.

Plateglass stands lukewarm against his back. In the summer (when it's really verano), it's probably unbearably hot in here. "I'm going to find you some clothes," Teo says, gamely; not to be dissuaded.

Flint has 'suddenly' been places before, whether it be by means of passing out somewhere or head injury or dreamwalking or squidink. But as much as he is entirely himself, he is not his entire self. The unanticipated stimulus of a full setting change incites no baring of teeth or seizing of rangy muscle in distrustful panic. One blink he's sitting on a worn out old couch. The next he's on a wooden stool in a laundromat.

A slow pass of his chilly eyes across the room takes in tiled floors and churning socks without feeling. In virtually every aspect shadow has been exchanged for some degree of light — from the squeaky floor to the florescent bulbs blazing in retina-scalding bars of white. Contrast and saturation both are high, and here on his stool he looks like a cigarette burn on a white leather sofa.

His suit is a sooty shade of grey; vivid red bit deep into pinstriping that might've once been silver or ash through the black dress shirt underneath. Smudges mark his hands, his neck, the side of his pallid face, dried enough now to stick and crackle bare over familiar lines when he finally turns his head enough to track Teo's progress, if he's made any at all.

A cursory glance down at his own fingers determines that they didn't come away from Teo's cracked face with anything gross trailing behind. No pus. No loose bits of flesh. Maybe a little drool. He scuffs his fingertips wordlessly together, apparently ignorant of the pre-existing mess. Or maybe just that it constitutes a mess.

"What happened to your face?"

Stiffening, then a: "Huh?" Teo forgot, in favor of progress. In the interim, Teo found pants.

There's this bin in the corner— lost, forgotten, overlooked items. Mostly socks. Not even a single kerchief. Somehow, it's the things that belong in pairs that tend to leave errant articles. And pants. Khaki. The Sicilian inverts the pair, then folds his neck down to check their length against his own legs. Long enough, but Deckard's taller and errant recollection reminds Teo that he didn't actually check to see if Deckard's trousers were a source of problematic staining medium either. He lacks the ability to distinguish his manias and preoccupations with physical hygiene from that of moral. Might be because this is a dream. Maybe.

His boots drub his return, rapid, efficient in a bustling kind of way he probably picked up from a fat Italian Madre somewhere back in the old land. He hasn't forgotten the question by then; hitches the extra pair of slacks over his forearm, freeing his hands so he can reach and swivel the nearest open washing machine's door over for him to examine his reflection in the rounded plastic, sharpened to uncomfortable detail by unflattering fluorescent light. He is immediately and visibly disturbed, if not surprised. Grinding the wet cuff of his sleeve into the makeshift mirror improves neither upon the visible version of himself, nor the clarity of the viewer.

A moment, and then he releases it with a shrug. Maybe if Aleksandr Kozlow had seized him by the arm and dragged his blade through his flesh to merit this grievous injury, he'd have a vivid flash of memory to assign the injury. Instead, there's only a blurry timeframe of reference, a static impression of adrenaline and sinuous flames, an obvious deduction to violence. "Must have gotten into a fight. There's too much to do. Munin, still. Sumter… the remnant. Rommy. Wireless.

"Too bad for me," he adds, with an unsettlingly amiable sort of resignation, not turning it into a joke, exactly, but making believe for a moment that his concerns are practical. He squats down, casts the long trousers up onto Deckard's lap as if he expects Deckard to just sit there and take them. Sheds his coat backward. "I look like what I am now. It'll take the element of surprise out of the fucking equation when I do something mean, won't it?"

Teo's voice lifts at the end, indicating either the sincerity of the question or that his sweater caught on his ribs as he pulls it off. It's damp around the collar, smells of air clean enough to make breathing hurt, but he offers it out with one hand. The second sweater he's wearing underneath is rucked and crooked. "It's like the stories." A different lift pleats itself into his voice, this time, more launch than curiosity, though one hangs for the other like the waterlogged cotton waits in his hand.

Pants are accepted via lack of immediate resistance. They flop into Deckard's lap and he lets them, tipping his chin down to investigate only once it seems certain that he's expected to do something with them. His existing pants, predictably, are as much a mess as the rest of him, but he makes no move to shuck them. Doesn't even look like he considers it.

Jaw worked into a slow hollow, he winds his grubby fingers into a clean cuff, khaki already contaminated where it's had more than a few seconds to sit.

When he glances to his watch and pushes to his feet, he takes them with him. The extra pants, that is. All the better to fling them stiffly back down at Teo's chest and involuntary leer and the offer of the sweater. Everything. Everything he is and offers and represents. There's no aggression in the gesture (yet) but blunt disinterest hardens through the slate angles and hollows of his face while he awaits reprisal and a watery thread of runoff mingled with blood traces cool around the side of his neck.

Deckard's rebuff certainly stems the flow of Teo's half of the dialogue. More like Teo's monologue, at this point, something that the young (young?) dream manipulator is made all too aware of, and uncomfortably so, when he glances back up at the old man's face. Not for the first time, it occurs to him than narrow cheeks and the lupine proportions of Deckard's jaw are somewhat too readily predisposed to expressions that make his stomach want to shrivel up and die wasted at the diaphragmatic floor of his abdominal cavity.

Teo's mouth gaps a fraction of an inch, closes again with an enamelled click, his mouth contracting around a machined line that indicates Temper as clearly as a stroke of tube neon in the dark. His knuckles rindle pale underneath the skin of his hand. He jerks the sweater back in his lap with one stiff arch of movement. Pants have already clumped there like so much dirty snow in the gutter, bloodstains and all. It's some kind of bullshit that dirt— blood, even— dilutes water quicker than water cleans blood up.

"You don't have to be anything like me to stop doing shit like this."

"Do you think I want to be like you?" The ringing cuff to the question is condensed in a lack of inflection that leaves Flint sounding bored of the answer before he's heard it. Another glance aside confirms that they are still in a laundromat despite the smudgy haze that constricts at the peripheries of his vision until he blinks.

Radiation maps the facility out in stark shades of black and blue, smothering true light more effectively than any thunderstorm could. Hard edges stand out more clearly; the sprinkler system built in overhead winds serpentine through the ceiling, and Teo is rendered into a translucent Italian sack of vague skin and muscle suspended over electric blue bone.

"I am what I am. This is the only thing I've ever been really good at, Teo."

There's a distinct sense settling fungally cool around the roof of Teo's head, that he he'd said too much, earlier. As it happens. "If you did, you'd put the shirt on. I know don't, but you could still change your fucking clothes." Cross as anything. "Christ." He gets up too, less graceful than expedient in the switchblade of motion opening out between the fold of his spine and legs.

"Look at this." The patchy stains, Teo means. More pointless words like that. He sidles his left foot out, loosening a stiffness of sinew despite that the sinew isn't really sinew, a nervous fidget of motion, almost. His face here isn't really his face either, but it's weird how self-perception and self-consciousness conspire to keep self-awareness at bay. He's keeping the ruined slope of his cheek tucked away into a further vanishing point, never mind that incisored luminosity is back in Deckard's eyes, bluer and sharper than a hyena's tapetum lucidum caught in camera light at night and totally unconcerned by Teo's trivial vanities.

The heel of his boot trods on coat behind him, squelches stormwater out of it. An ugly sound, and annoying; he flares a backward kick, a tiny ridging hook-motion of one foot, tosses it out of his way. There is a flagging sort of quiet, broken up around the laundry switching cycles. "You're not that good at it," Teodoro adds, finally. "You're good at reading."

"Reading isn't a marketable skill," may be the most Deckardish thing this sodden husk of an avatar has had to say since Teo arrived. His stare lingers longer than the rest of him does, sloped shoulders and saturated suit turning for the exit. There is one, isn't there?

Odds are it doesn't matter in the end. Now that everything's back in shades of black and blue and white, the fringes have begun to weather and fray away into darkness. This is his dream and his territory, and unfortunately he seems to have enough of a basic understanding of as much to know that there are facets of his existence here currently under his control. The laundromat bloats and disentegrates like a piece of bread at the mercy of an unusually voracious pack of minnows. Light goes with it, florescent and irradiated alike, and so does he.

Seconds pass before he flares again, skeleton briefly bright as the end of a cigarette against the wind before it resettles dimly amidst ghostly flesh and spectral eyes. He's farther away, walking a sidewalk towards a grim-looking horse without ever having passed through a door.

Deckardish things couldn't have chosen a less inopportune time to reintroduce themselves into the otherwise hokey and disjointed exchange. It's harder for Teo to hold onto the rules of conduct and physics of cause-and-effect than it was for Ghost to manipulate them. Something happened, and now the old man is walking away, off toward that— spectral steed up ahead on a road he didn't pave, and probably doesn't want to explore, if he knows what's good for him.

Doubtless, the other man would prefer Teo didn't make it out like he knows what's good for Deckard. "Killing shouldn't be. Killi— Deckard." Teo's feet hamsterwheel into motion, send him puttering him after Deckard's gangly figure with only the most tenuous of hopes that the sidewalk and street's concrete is going to keep together, remain solid, hold him up out of the more dire threats that wait in the cross-section of Flint's psyche.

"Deckard. Deckard." He's better at talking when he's awake. Finds the right words, quicker and easier, commits word to meaning, manages mostly not to ruin feeling with sentiment. Here, everything feels slipperily approximate, every noun sort-of-but-not-quite, adjective nearly.

"There's a story. About some asshole— 'bout a man who's having— I think it's a dream." Vision? Teo's boots falter on the incline of sidewalk, kick something aluminium-husked over the ridged topography of the gutter's segmented grille. "Where he's walking over a beach" Maybe it was a desert. It might have been a desert, and uncertainty wallows into compulsions that had found an approximation of strength in desperation. The blunt of his nails carves at the back of Deckard's arm, snatches at the rough grain and lopsided creases of his suit sleeve. "He's walking over a beach with Jesus beside him and the shape of his life flashing across the sky. And he looks back. Deckard, he fucking looks back. And he sees do you know this story?

"Do you know what he sees?" Spit wells in the pitted scar tissue around Teo's broken cheek.

Buildings on either side of the swarthy street fail to take solid shape. They're blocky smudges in the night, blurry with humidity past halo crowned streetlamps whose orange warmth compliments occasional heat lightening blurs of electric blue through brick walls and ridged scapulae. It's hard to keep pace with him.

Air stirs soupy and thick in the lungs, clags at the larynx and stuffs the sinuses. Thought and reason dulls in the fog of it. Rubber treading slips often on concrete that glistens damp and slick, and he moves through it all with the insouciant ease of a bullshark coasting through brackish water.

"He sees one set of footprints."

Teo's hand is on his arm. Flint glances to it as if only just noticing the contact, measuring intent with suspicion stark in his eyes. It's been a long time since they talked about religion.

Encouragingly, he stops and rounds on Laudani half a step later, long face intent in its bleak study of the younger man's damaged counter. More pointed than polite, he waits for the punchline in blisteringly cold silence, irises preternaturally bright in his skull.

"He sees only one set of footprints. It's a bad time in his life." Teo's rate of speech stilts, slows, constricts with effort. This is a bad place to be, was a bad part of Flint to go into it with, and perhaps as a result of this, or that, or some other thing, he isn't going to be able to tell this story well without trying very hard. "Further back, though, he sees two. In the happiness, there are two sets. He sees— he sees that there's only one pair of footprints when things started to go to shit. So he gets mad. He rounds on Jesus.

"'Why'd you leave me?' he asks.

"Wants to know why he was left alone when he was most direly in need. But the man— wasn't. Jesus tells him" Deckard's sepulchral regard and saturnine features could probably freeze-dry a healthy rose to perfect crystalline preservation until you SMASHED IT TO A THOUSAND SHARDS OF black ice across the ground. Teo's grip on his sleeve doesn't loosen, but a pang of regret spasms through the even fold of his knuckles. It does not escape him that Deckard already knows how this story ends. "There's only one pair of footprints because I was carrying you."

For whatever reason, Teodoro is left thinking he had almost gotten that sentence inverted. That it was Jesus's emaciated weight crouched on the man's back, stirrupped in his hipbones and thin arms yoked his neck. Uncertain which detail was correct and where the soul of the story was supposed to be. "It's a good story. Don't you think? My friend told it to me. I don't know where he learned it. I don't think he was being sarcastic."

Flint draws in one slow breath. Then two. The misty air doesn't muddy his lungs or dim his focus in its stir around flared nostrils. For a beat or two he seems to be waiting for something else — something more. Elaboration, depth, relevance. Something. At his back, the horse flicks his ears and snuffs idly at an unoccupied bench, no more out of place here than a damp flap of newspaper turning over itself in the street.


It's not an 'okay,' of acceptance. Rather, there's a flat finality to it — a marker for the last iota of patience he had for whatever this is supposed to be vaporizing at an ozone sizzle. Vertibrae show clean through his neck; skeletal highlights trail down through one clavicle and on into his shoulder with a delicate kind of grace that ends in a hard thrust of the arm Teo's insinuated himself around.

The nearest wall resolves itself into limited detail with the closeness that accompanies a followup shove back into it. Black pieces of old gum stud dank grey masonry between faded graffiti and an address plate rendered illegible by faulty memory. "Why are you here?" is demanded with flat affect for the second time at close quarters.

Very close.

His bony hips are as flush to Teo's as Teo's spine is to the wall, one hand viced there low — disconcertingly low — and the other splayed to brace some of his weight against the wall itself when he lets his voice taper into a raspier growl. Whiskey breath rolls hot across the crooked mangle of the chelsea grin – his thumb trips carefully over buttoned blue jeans. "You can tell me."

Some high school counselor had confronted Teo at some point in his problematic youth and given him a trite piece of advice like— No one can make you feel uncomfortable without your permission, and the Sicilian, boneheaded that he was, had taken that somewhat too close to heart. For about eighty-three degrees of movement, he is reassuring himself he isn't actually uncomfortable. On the eighty-fourth, the arrow in his head swings hysterically to red on the meter, and tension clamps down hard on the sine-curved geometry of his spine where Deckard's shove couched it in the wall.

No, the wall sure as shit isn't going to move, either. Not for him, not for the dream, the intent of Deckard's subconscious, this halfed-man avatar that's getting blood on his clothes and eighty-proof liquor on his face. (The fucked up side of his face, not that that's important.) He closes his fingers on Deckard's wrist, leashing the attempt on his fly, which seems about forceful enough without making unnecessary concessions.

He prickles with irritation. Not at the insincerity of the advance, the moral ugliness insinuated of his true intent, or even the needless jab at his face, but arraying a defensive porcupine artillery of annoyance against the way Deckard's making fun, trivializing why he's here, what they could do, what they should. He packs his jaw down into his other shoulder. Glares. "If you were really good at this, you'd enjoy it. And wouldn't have to treat it like some kind of wet leprous rash. There's more to you than this! Your self-confidence is the wobbliest most frustratingly fucking" abuse cracks in his teeth like candy. "Frustrating souffle in the world and—

"It's getting really fucking frustrating trying to hang inspirational posters up in here only to see them burn." Anger tends to confer an extra capacity for language fluency in stroke patients with structural damage to the Broca's area. Anger's maybe a strong word for the sentiment that throbs a scowl onto Teo's features, though there's little change to the square of severed and matted fibrous tissue nearest Deckard's nose, no pull of musculature far-reaching enough to change the smiling permanence of its inlay. "I can turn into your mom if you want."

The wall shouldn't move because walls don't move. Except this one does. It ripples at Teo's back — a cool, maggoty, twisting roll of damp matter that seethes like a knot of earthworms turning through loose soil. The same sensation rots through Deckard's wrist at a tangible crawl, lending strength to a wrest of long bone that doesn't quite manage to jerk itself free.

He's caught and breathing hard despite himself, ragged gusts of coffee and Crown tagging through the clench of his teeth still clipped oppressively close to Teo's nose, scar, exposed neck. He stops short of touch with all of the above; searches and lingers carefully close without being able to forge through the last critical millimeter. Queerness in any regard does not become him, and it's been a long time since prison. Eventually, he pulls back enough to make this about eye contact again. Still, blood seeps and soaks cold between them, struggling to gain ground against clean water while Flint's eyes rake over what his teeth and tongue won't touch. Turn into his mother? Could he? Would he? The prospect seems to sink in enough to well and truly baffle him for one clear cut, crystal second.

In the end it seems best not to comment. On that, anyway. He can't muddle his way through a halfway intelligent answer and is left to claw blackly through his memory of what came before it instead. Souffles and motivational posters. Frustratingly fucking — his head turns slightly aside. Enough to regard Teo askance.

It occurs to Teo that he'd be a substantial increment less annoyed if Deckard were exhaling on the other side of his face. Illogically, his neck twinges from the scrunchy-inched angle at which he's chosen to beat tactical retreat fall back hold the line. He regards Deckard regarding him askance and pulls up his shoulders, posturing that's half recoil from the wall, which he suspects is contagious, and half hackling at this situation, only partially-relieved now that Deckard's lambent-eyed assault has abated to cross-eyed stalemate.

Maybe it's a good thing that the set of his target's junk affects rape. God knows, it never got in the way for the ghost. The lock of fingers tightens reflexively around the squirm of Deckard's radius and ulna, almost releases entirely at a sudden subconscious realization that anything formerly reassuringly solid that's suddenly squishing and wriggling should not be squeezed. His grip loosens considerably, warily, middling on a shove.

Teo isn't sure if Deckard is seriously considering the offer, or what he's seriously considering, and how much of his current thoughts are supplied by gnawing annoyance, so he grinds out, instead, "You're a Freudian nightmare, aren't you? Fuck. Don't you have anything nice in here?" Audacity, impatience, or discomfort finally override his existing annoyance; he pushes a shoulder out, an effort to physically shrug the old man off.

"…Who else can you become?" is a more resounding no than might have been calculated for. There's also a pull to the corner of his mouth that mirrors the Teo's — the wolfish slash of a leer not near so permanent on his face as it is on the dreamwalker's. Curiosity rings clear in his eyes, scalpel sharp and so precise that his interest might well be deliberate vexation.

All this and Teo's redoubled efforts are met with no resistence. He's shrugged off at an easy, slithery lean, balance accounted for and recovered from the shrug without difficulty. Humidity cloys and curls his wiry hair dark; misty diffraction scatters the unnatural blue cast to his glare when it turns to follow Teo's progress. The fog's getting worse, and so is the stability of the visible light spectrum: x-ray scans glitch through entire buildings and expose levels of detail that far outstrip the half-hearted blends of color that otherwise define the street.

"Jesus," a gesture encompasses a flicker of pewter, electric blue and then gone nearly before it has time to register as Rita, "is no more interested in my failures than he is my successes. As for you," his brows hike, "you're dead."

No relief adjusts Teo's posture for reestablishing his personal bubble. That seems like an unreasonable accusation from a man who's bones have started jiggling with the kinesis of detritus feeders and bacterial sickness. That seems like an unreasonable accusation all over. Teo's eyes hiccup a brief glance down at the pendant that was there, and isn't anymore. He wonders where she went; can't believe that he'd forgotten her. "I can't become Jesus, I think," he answers. Silence staccatoes into Teodoro's dialogue, troubled shadow forming still more disruption in the ruined line of his mouth, still contused around its ludicrously exaggerated half-smile.

"I'm not dead. I'm here. There's such thing as recoverable disappointments, asshole. Being a little bit of a dick doesn't make you all bad. And," and— Teo pauses, stalling momentarily. "And you should put The Once And Future King on your reading list." He steps away. There's a dragging scrape of his shirt against monstrous masonry, coarse-knuckled hands spanning upward to drag his hair. It lengthens at the touch like liquefying candlewax, turns brown, shakes loose into locks cut tidily but unstyled.

When Teo turns his face back, he isn't Teo anymore. The heart-shaped curve of her cheek is complete and creased by the webs of age and childbirth, pink and marzipan-fair, except for the single sleek-bellied droplet of viscous crimson relief hanging off the grain of her forehead. The garment she shrugs within is piano-key black and white and just as conservatively, sexlessly severe in its cut and hang, brushing concrete. In it, she hides her hair. Her eyes blink sparrow-fringed in the dark, and don't squint or slow under the drag and diffusion of unwonted humidity.

"La vedro di nuovo?"

Like a mutt on the end of a skunk's fluffed tail and foul ass fountain, Deckard bristles and recoils at a baffle as to exactly what manner of misfortune he's being faced down with, here. Somehow he didn't actually expect Teo to change – either didn't have faith in the claimed capability or didn't anticipate he'd be able to come up with something rancid enough to be genuinely unsettling.

The tangible detail of her is worst of all. She's here in the flesh. Unmistakable and undeniable.

Drawn back into an indirect hunch, Flint eyes her without answering, the unholy light in his eyes blanched pale with scalding intensity in its fervor to touch on puppet strings or – holographic projection. He retreats when he finds neither, one slow step crossing over into two, three. Four. The solid brace of his horse is near enough it doesn't take more than a few longer strides to catch at the saddle and drag himself up into it.

Then he's off at a clattering turn that's nearly too sharp for the beast to avoid tripping over itself, presumably to contaminate greener (and less conscience infested) pastures.

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