You Don't Know What Love Is (Until)



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Scene Title You Don't Know What Love Is (Until)
Synopsis In which Teo's various and submerged intimacy issues reemerge in demons of his own design.
Date June 1, 2010

West Village: Maison d'Allegre

The brownstone home, number 57 on West 11th Street, is three floors tall, all old brown brickwork as the name implies. A curving stepped stoop leads up to the door, wrought iron barring it off from its neighbours, with the building's number in brass nailed into the painted wood without any glass inset to give a glimpse of the space within.

Once inside, the immediate hardwood foyer offers space to hang up coats and set aside shoes, with a wooden, open flight of stairs curving up into the second floor. The first opens up into three designated areas — a spacious livingroom with a rug of earthen tones thrown in the centre, a generous hearth set into the wall with traditional log-burning capabilities. The walls are exposed brickwork, lined with shelving of a slowly growing book collection. Next to it is a dining area defined as such by an oval dining table, generous and able to expand to sit up to eight people, and usually littered with too many things to be good to eat at until cleared. The kitchen is barred off from the rest with a counter, all stainless steel appliances and a sliding door that leads into a modest backyard. Tucked away to the right is a laundry, cramped but sufficient.

The second floor has more walls, closed off areas — a master bedroom with a connecting bathroom, a hallway that slides between the stairwell and said bathroom, into unfurnished open space that provides linen closets and such storage. The third floor is similar, if reversed, and almost designed to be its own separate apartment, with a bedroom and bathroom at the back of the house, an open social space with a squat coffeetable, and an open, unfurnished space with a balcony hanging off it, street-side. The stairwell spirals all the way up into rooftop access.

He means to be cute, probably. First thing in the morning, which is first thing at 16:23 (sans-serif, black on glassy substrate gray, the LCD device the size of a butter block) in the afternoon, after a spontaneous nap made mutual by a systematic capture of each one of Francois' anatomical fulcrums of balance and then a targeted toppling-over. Teo is not a morning person, and spends far too much of his time asleep by the standards of those who knew him Before. Francois has never known him to do otherwise without jetlag and the stress of a Beauchamp kidnapped to excuse it.

Logically, he had expected the Frenchman to awaken first. Was pleasantly surprised to find himself awakening, instead, with someone-else's shoulder to sigh into, and an indistinct mumble as easily provoked out of someone-else's belly through thin shirt fabric by the experimental niggle of his hand. If it was an early morning (afternoon) pet, it had been a close-fingered and brusque one, missed its mark by a half foot too high. Teo feels like his ribs are creaking when he breathes. The sky keeps threatening snow, but it never does actually snow anymore. A good thing, except that Teo feels like he's holding his breath the whole fucking time. Carries it in his chest like they say ex-cons carry the weight of gaoled history in their shoulders, and cops sling the jello-like consistency of their inadequacies around in their gut.

He rolls over to find Caligula: Divine Carnage staring up from the bedstand, among other valid candidates of fine literature (Ryu Murakami, Haruki Murakami, some Austen; Dickens, he could never get through). Seizes upon it with uncoordinated fingers, casual, with an expression of sly concentration on his face. Slumps back down agains the curve of Francois' spine, propping the book up to read on one elbow over the Frenchman's hip, splaying the pages open.

A bedtime story in reverse. "The Libyan lion was the ultimate killing machine."

He starts of slow. His voice does, that is, thick as if he were in the process of regurgitating clotty pounds of cotton he had inhaled from the depths of the pillows, sleeping facedown, half-suffocating and exacting a reduced version of the same condition upon his partner the way Teo is ever comfortable with. He pauses to scratch his eyelid with the thick corner of the book and squeezes the blur out of his eyes by wrinkling his whole face again. He has to blot the saliva out of the corner of his mouth with a rotating swizz of his tongue. Catch that he is. "Armies of slaves were expended in the capture of those majestic beasts.

"They were impervious to tranquillizer arrows, and the only way to subdue them was for a particularly handsome slave to present his shapely, exposed anus to the lion's mighty sexual apparatus; then, once the act of copulation (which invariably proved terminal for the unfortunate slave, due to unsustainable blood loss) reached its critical point—"

His fingers switchblade shut, halfway through a notion and midway through a thought, the book clapped shut between like the halves of a sandwich. Teo dumps his cowlicked head down onto the mattress, and peers askew and askance, across the wrinkled linens at the creature who is by now, beyond all shadow of doubt, playing dead. He does not notice that the room doesn't smell of anything, not morning breath, nor Tide. Nothing. He asks, "Mec?"

"C'est un gaspillage d'esclave." His voice sounds far more awake than the relaxed, limp shape of his body suggests — alert, if still sleep-edged, a smile curving the syllables and spoken in impeccable French as opposed to the half-asleep foreign mumbles when English is too much work during the dawn of waking. One hand wanders out from where it had been buried in his pillow — scratches pale fingers through his own rumpled head of dark hair.

Francois rolls away from Teo, first, but only to flop bellydown on the bed, and get his hands beneath him. Shoulder blades hike up beneath thin cotton, thin enough for the vague suggestion of his tattoo to show through next to his spine. Knees brace to mattress, hips shift, all sinuous relaxation in movement. He's awake. He's getting there.

A hand travels across the rumpled linens. "What happens next? To the lion." The real question, though, is in the manner that this hand is on Teo's right, and therefore Francois' left, and so should have that mashed quality to the knuckles and the queer splay of two fingers.

It does not. Francois' azure eyes flick up to regard him, and he's already moving. Not snake-speed quick or any other metaphors to do with predatory ensnaring — it's only the same swift determination that Teo had toppled him(?) some hours ago, aiming now to only bracket the Sicilian within the gait of an arm, a palm landing on the other side of his torso, pinioning the mattress. It's as if he expects Teo to want to leave for some reason. There's a smile already in place, more of a displaying of pearly ivories than any actual reassurance or even mirth, too haughty in its crescent split. Both ears, too — he has those, complete in their curves and shape, throat clear of scarring.

Teo knows who this is — or who this is meant to represent even before he knows he knows. Blue eyes where there ought to be green, flesh healed and recontoured to anatomical rights, that smilebutter wouldn't melt in his fucking mouth. The book falls out of Teo's hand, discarded as an inadequate weapon in that disorganized split second before he remembers that anything would be better to have in the hand than bare knuckles, with this one. Even an atrocious book.

The Libyan lion is tranquilized to an approximate state of domesticity, lulled to this state of effective harmlessness by a imported liquor and other luxuries as would befit a King. Vised by its vices. It's supposed to be fearsome when a lion does it. The feline paragon of predatorial finesse, where schlubby mortal men, Gods converted between Testaments, and even dogs wind up wincing after the conceptual castration wrought by soft living and the momentary mistake of having let their guard down.

Teo stares, blue eyes big in his head, body halfway coiled into a defensive (fetal) curl, fisted aggression going nowhere. Punching nothing. It is a fair facsimile of an upended kitten. His first attempt at logic underlines the necessity of determining whether or not Francois is actually there, somewhere behind the imagined villain. His second attempt at logic asks the first if it's sure that the villain is imagined. He stops thinking in words, right about then. Hoarsely: "When I'm through pinching myself, you'd better be gone."

Settling above and beside Teo, Francois' clothed hip rests against the other man's — warm and solid, and no sting of degenerative power that might say more about the fact that at least two layers of clothing separates skin than it is about whether or not this is a mistake, an inconsistency, or proof about the make of this dream. "Or you will do what, call for help?" he asks — tone almost saccharine, coy, all the affectations that Francois doesn't need when he's not. Fucking with Teo, essentially.

There is a sweep of a blue-eyed look, mouth to groin and back up again, the hand that isn't stapling into the mattress coming up without yet touching, hand lax on his wrist, risen as if on a string. He doesn't push the book away to slide off the bed — ignores it entirely. Maybe he can't.

"What will you say?" This incarnation sounds honestly interested in the answer, head at an angle as his hand wanders air as if trying to decide where to touch.

Nowhere. Somewhere already, though: Teo notices, belatedly and with a mule-kick of cardiac shock inside his ribs, alarm, that a little doesn't seem to hurt. The physical urge toward avoidance has him plastered down on the blanket, already, every inch the blue-eyed creature takes given back to him with a downward squirm, a breath pulled to suck the level of his own ribs inward, as far away from not-Francois as possible. This is unpleasant.

Disturbing, with its implications, the macabre improvements of anatomical idealization given an uglier spin than merely having sex dreams that feature movie stars. Makes a pang in his gut and curls his toes. He hopes, not for the first time, but differently this time, that Francois is not really here. To see, and wonder.

That he is out there somewhere, however. "I will call for help, asshole," he answers with nearly childish hauteur, twisting his head away. Partially to find the door with his eyes, and partially to search for the stencilled shape of the wraith's shadow on the wall, or more promisingly yet— the lack thereof. "You go away when he's here. Three times, so far." Three. The word is bitten off with emphasis. Three makes a pattern; three makes a charm, against evil. "He comes, and you motherfuckers go." Teo digs an elbow into the rippled sheets below, starts to row himself away, bumping into the book on the way.

Francois' hand smacks down— albeit gently— onto Teo's chest. There's a soft sound that goes with it, tangible pressure, and even warmth — it's not the pleasant bodyheat kind of shared warmth, though, something clammier and feverish. "Be still," he orders, abrupt and harsh, eyes unnaturally bright and dull of any endearing qualities. Ice is the same unfriendliness, for all that Francois has a nice smile, lit back up now. His tone is optimistic. "He is not here. Only me." Yaaay.

Pressure heightens as he leans that weight on his hand. Curls of ashy shadow seem to be leaking up from his perfectly straight knuckles, like a snakenest beneath his palm, creepy crawly threatening tendrils of darkness flooding out but not yet hurting anything, simply feeling across the cotton stretched over Teo's chest.

"How do you fuck a man with the ability to kill you with a touch?" is an abrupt riddle, the bed— squeaking beneath them both as Francois is leaning. "Really carefully." Leaning in to kiss — scentless, warm only like sickness is warm, he is no more pleasant up close than he was a few inches back.

Their mouths meet at odd angles, mostly because Teo is ruining it. Funnelling air in through his mouth, his nose, hissing and jerking around like one of those otherwise loose and treacherous girls who slap the hand that comes wandering at their skirt hand anywhere that other people can see it. He skews away, spits, almost bites, but more like a cat than a dog; backing as he does it, more to hurt than to harm.

"Vaffanculo." His guts are squirming, and he twists at his torso around its knotting, gripping the edge of the bed. Crawling, ungainly as a toddler but just as determined to get where he's going. Which would be away, from this puppeted rapist facsimile of his lover. His heart is going like a toy hammer in his chest, tinny, erratic, and hollow, probably because he isn't breathing enough, breathing deeply to provide his brain with sufficient oxygen. The still-wintry light coming through the window is bending, prismed strangely. He notices, finally, that it doesn't smell right here.

Burning. That means he has brain-cancer, doesn't it? "Get away." He wants his shoes. More clothes, probably. The T-shirt, the track pants; they aren't enough. Every inch of skin on his arms, his back, his nape, is raised in spiny gooseflesh, a pathetic facsimile of a fortress' defensive battlements against the inky swirl of soul-eating blackness as well as the metaphorical grease coming off the older man in waves. "Francois." How thin his voice sounds. His left eye feels like it's pulsating in its socket. "Francois!"

"Teodoro!" Mocking, now, lacking volume but managing to mimic that frantic, thin edge that Teo's voice acquired. Francois doesn't chase, this time, just slumps a shoulder lazily against the head of the bed, looking domestic in his sleep clothes, his bare feet. Predatory sexuality had been traded in for an affected brand of laziness, an arm coming up to tuck back beneath his head against the wrought iron of the risen bed frame, pale eyes like twin ice-chips catching the light as they follow Teo's journey within the room. The last wisps of degenerating smoke at first follow Teo, clinging like intangible vines to the Sicilian's body before release.

Eddying back in on themselves, dissipating in the air or soaking back through Francois' pores, the edges of his mouth and eyes. His free hand comes up to knuckle against an eyesocket, as if this process itched. "You called this livable, once." The vapid taunting has drained away — he seems to be regarding the ceiling, now. "Perhaps I did, ah? Live it. Perhaps everything that followed is happier fiction." The sting that followed the kiss fades quicker on this plane than it did in Mexico.

Throwing his legs over the edge of the bed, Francois wraps his arms around himself. "Don't leave," he says, with as much injury in his voice as there had been biting meanness the last time he tried to tell Teo what to do. Some stricken grief. If he's acting— if hallucinations can act— he's convincing. "Stay. I can try not to hurt you."

Acting. Teo puts his face into a sneer so exaggerated it kind of hurts his gums. Compensating for something. Or buying into something. Something. Maybe at the point where one is experiencing full-five sensory hallucinations, the distinction is less meaningful if one is doing anything other than lying very still and trying to get back to sleep. Teodoro just woke up. He finds this demeaning.

"Shut the fuck up." In some of his other fantasies, he's much more eloquent than this. Teo yanks pants on over the soft cotton of the track set, coarse work cotton scraping the softer weave. With a personal record for speed, Teo has them buttoned over him, a shirt hitched on over tattooed arms, a jacket with pockets deep enough for flammy hands because he is not going to stop and figure out where the fuck he put his gloves. There should be two more layers for habit's sake, but he is in a rush, kicks past socks and an inexplicable heap of overturned pillow to jam naked toes into his boots.

Idiotically, he does not tell the demon where he's going in hopes that'll stop him knowing. It's supposed to be separate discouragement, that he slams the door shut. Hurdles the stairs fast, trying not to fall, catching himself with an elbow hooked around the bannister when the new carpet at the landing bunches under his ankle and stubs his toe. Teo is made of harder stuff than the floor, though. He totters. Turns. "Francois, where the fuck—?"

The door exhales him onto slushy brickwork. The hem of his pant leg is soaked in an instant, and then there is grit making its way up onto his shin as he goes kicking onto the path. It stinks obnoxiously of Spring out here. Of renewal, intensifying sunshine, of organic matter finally freed of icelock enough to venture sweetly odorously toward decay. Cars scratch past— still only a weak parody of New York City traffic, but better than it was. A solitary bird makes the frigid air musical with song. Left behind, in two senses of the term, Teo's face is red.

He goes onto the path anyway. Shivers; doesn't look back. "Francois?"

West Village

The West Village is largely unofficial territory in Greenwich Village, squared off between the Hudson River and Seventh Avenue if one were to approximate. Its grid of streets sits askew to the rest of Manhattan, confusing both tourists and residents that have lived there for longer. The West Village is more or less residential, with apartment buildings and individual housing, including the distinctive sight of brownstone housing rows that line thin, 18th century angled and designed streets. Both the sidewalks and the streets themselves are thin for New York City, with an old world feel conveyed with wrought iron, brown brick and squat buildings.

Since the Bomb, decline is conveyed in a certain emptiness of this place as opposed to overt destruction, with many houses and business lots remaining in various states of buying, renting and selling. The once popular Meatpacking District in the northern side of the village is less the artistic, crowded area of nightclubs and youth culture, although is slowly on the mend as the city heals. In the nicer areas of the West Village, living is not as expensive as the fancier corners of Manhattan, but real estate has reached an all time high.

Hallucinations don't use doors. There's no slam of one behind Teo to indicate that he's being followed, though what Francois is doing is no more following Teo than Teo's own shadow. Unlike Peter Pan's, there is no choice in the matter.

Francois found his gloves — these are a pair of thin black leather, with tidy seams and a perfect kind of fit, hems disappearing beneath his sleeve and with enough of a shine to them that they might creak when he makes fists. The rest of him is black, too, in a kind of old world sophistication of a black woolen frock coat that the real thing might even own, but probably would not pair with further black no matter how many textures are involved. Agelessness comes with a preservation of time, and a lot of it — this one has the same kind of chill that Kazimir did, with centuries yawning behind him and his power, instead of just one old man's journey.

Boots sink into watery slush, avoiding the constant river tracking through the gutters as Francois steps up onto the footpath, quite suddenly just there and dressed for a pleasant stroll. He turns, on a heel, matching Teo's pace a few feet ahead and going backwards. He probably doesn't need to see his obstacles.

"Mon ami, what are you expecting?" This version of Francois is condescending too. "He arrives, I go away. We come back when he's gone. That is called treating symptoms. Would you ever let me cure you?"

Rude is the least Teo can do, or that's what he tells himself; in uncomfortable truth, it's probably the most he can do. The back of his neck prickles to hear the other man coming up, then watching him blur into focus from the mobius edge of his peripheral vision. Teo makes an ugly face out of his scarred one. Finds himself turning his head away quickly, too sharply. Lances the side of his neck with a hot needle's pain.

It is still too cold out here. Freezing point. He can see his breath in thick plumes, and he has to will his feet into the treachery of the terrain. "Prefer not to get my dick burned off in the sucking degenerative vortex of your anus, yes," he answers, "though I am told I have a little bit of a problem with sticking it in anything available for penetration. Our thoughts on curatives may differ. Shitbucket." Name-calling. Teo's hands are clumsy on the wrought iron of the brownstone's fence, hurting already, mostly around the knuckles. They are red, threatening to swell.

There aren't enough pedestrians out there. Ice splits, cracks, shears away with the vicious, chastising shaking he gives the bars, bucking it open against the grain of stubborn hinges. It sounds like a murder, but nobody looks up. There aren't enough pedestrians out here. He shunts fists in his pockets and forgets to ignore the wraith following him. "You've never even existed." Not like Walter, or Eileen, the dead girl's consort, or Logan with his blond crown thinned even with his big stupid bone-colored piano.

Now that is rude, being told he does not exist, or has never existed. Vulgarities aside. Francois' pale features arrange into an affectedly hurt expression, lesser acted than in the bedroom, just lines through his forehead and a downturning frown. Spilling out onto the sidewalk in gliding steps, keeping his distance from both Teo and obstacles — which is difficult to do, the street is a thin one, old fashioned. "I did exist," he argues, affront in his voice and the way his chin lifts up. "Briefly. You remember.

"Or perhaps non, you are correct." Because Teo will recall that blue-eyed Francois was still human, and not much more of an asshole than he is now. "But here I am, all the same. And as much as I know how you value it, sex is not a cure — nor what I was talking about."

Don't worry, Teo — he was this chatty in Deckard's head too.

And Francois has the luxury of speaking freely, almost loudly, for all that there aren't many pedestrians anyway. The foot-traffic trickle can't see or hear him. "I am wondering only if Francois is just enough to chase away your demons instead of fix you, mon lapin. I can show you he is not even that — we could make a game of it, oui?" Ahead of Teo, now, he tosses a glance over his black-clad shoulder, eyes flashing bluer than the hazy sky above them. "You tell me — why am I here, Teodoro?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

There are, however, some people out on the street. A peppery-haired man trundling along behind a potbelly and underneath a knit cap, startled to suspicion, looks up. Teo feels immediately self-conscious, lifts one chill-sore hand to his ear, perhaps pretending there is some kind of Bluetooth comm piece there, or another equally sufficient excuse. Ducks his head to do it. Stares at the ground, hunkering his shoulders up. God, it is cold. His toes are curled up inside his boots, as if that will improve his balance on the translucently smeary pavement, and sweating.

One of Teo's less sexy features. Stinky feet. "I must be winning." Here, have some more impertinence. It is free! He resists the urge to check his mouth for scabs in the first plateglass window that passes, and then conceals his surrender to that urge in the reflex to glare at the imaginary enemy's reflection, tries not to flinch at the secondhand glimpse of his own scarred cheek, the molar-deep leer that somehow, however irrelevantly, catches him off-guard. "Stronzo."

"Pauvre con." Having no trouble navigating over ice and melting snow is Francois, naturally. He is of course looking when Teo glances at his reflection though offers nothing more than his presence — no smiles, facetious waves, no scowls or even a vampiric lack. "You are not winning," is quickly stated, tone haughty and careless, as he falls into even step.

Amusement, though, in Teo's periphery — of course Francois would be laughing at him now, even silently and with a simple smile, though less in the way of laugh lines, too marble-smooth like he were made of the same material. The real one does that— the mocking— enough that this settles on this impostor's features easily, though the Bluetooth idea — it's not a bad one. Francois isn't necessarily out to prove to New York that Teo is insane, so he has few objections.

Does turn on a heel as someone moves past him, the pretense of avoiding being knocked into spinning him briefly. "Look. You have a real excuse now, to not hold hands in public. Although I did wear these," he feels inclined to note, gloved hands extending, fingers splaying, healthily symmetrical. "Where are we going?"

Teo seals his lips tight over his teeth as he can and still feels the ache insinuating itself in the molar. The look he gives Francois, or the empty air occupied by the hallucination thereof, is uglier than anything he saved for Dreyfus. That can not be attributed entirely to the fact that he managed to get through that whole episode without having direct fist-access to Dreyfus' face, either.

He does not particularly enjoy Fransatan's fucking approval. He doesn't like the dig, either. About the gloves. He'd care less if he thought the specter was entirely wrong, but that is the kind of self-recognition that one must be careful not to give too much recognition. Too much being— any. Teo shoves into the first likely door, tings a bell overhead.

Picks a chair by the window. His hands are so cold they still hurt more than numb, and he has to press them against the plastic of the furniture, sandwiching under the clutch of his knees. He urges warmth back in. Clarity. There are a few people in here, gloomy black-jacketed penguin huddles over styrofoam cups of coffee and cafeteria-styled trays of food. He thinks about pretending to order something. He closes his eyes and tips his face downward. Breathes.

N'ai je pas peur, is under his breath, as if the translation part of his brain would provide adequate distraction. Alternatively— "I'm going to get French fries." Teo forgot his wallet, unhelpfully. He is only going to talk himself through the process of a thing he lacks the capacity to do.

Inviting himself at the table — again, no particularly obvious transition between following Teo around outside and suddenly being here — Francois eases to sit, apparently manipulating the chair out from under the table to do so. Gentlemanly, he goes to peel off his gloves, as one should once inside. Glassily neat nails flash under the lights of the diner, and he sits back to tuck gloves into an inner pocket, somewhere in all the black. "You should just come over to my side. There are people that love you, where I am. I do too, you know?"

He sends a disdainful glance around their surroundings. You never take me anywhere nice. Except the restaurant, but as established, that wasn't this Francois. "So we cannot touch. There are worse things. I also cannot leave, or find another as easily as Abigail was found. As you were found." His shoulders curl inwards beneath the sensible lines of his coat.

As if hallucinations got the chills. "Come." He patters his hands against the edge of the table, a short drumroll. There are vibrations. "Come. Why am I here? Why like this? I will pay for your food if you tell me. Or leave you alone."

That's just fucking perfect. One step below paying a handsome stranger for his company, making sacrifice to get a wicked familiar to go the fuck away. Teo takes his hands out from under his thighs when it feels like they might be warm enough, but they still feel like ice scoring his skin when he rubs his face. Realizes he can't feel his nose. It's the problem with having a big nose, all that heat loss. 'You're lying' seems like the wrong thing to say.

"Because," he starts in a grunt. Looks up, finds no one taking particular interest. Drains his voice into a whisper, anyway. "Because I think he's going to hurt me. And he will.

"It's not fucking rocket science. And," he trips on the stumbling block of clammy, swollen-fingered weather-related discomfort, and different pain. He twitches an upward glance when some middle-aged woman in bowlegged wellies and three-inch thickness of socks comes clanking through the door. The sun brightens for a moment, cutting an oblique beam into the street a dozen yards ahead, and a taxi's horn goes off like a donkey's bray. The clockwork city, shrugging its rust off. He rasps, "And it's not the end of the fuckin' world, either."

The end of the world could be in a diner. It sounds like the premise of a short fiction, probably is the premise of short fiction, and for a moment— for a fraction, Teo is spending it alone. On the tail of his words and the saturation of further warm bodies in this vicinity, the chair stands empty in front of him. When he's with company again, it's a seamless edit. Francois has a wallet between his fingers, flicking it open, and the space around him seems headache inducing to look at as the moment passes.

"It is not rocket science," he agrees. Fluttery dollar bills land on the table between them — enough for fries and a coffee and a tip. "But worth speaking out loud. I do not see why I must do all the work."

His fingers make bone-white ridges of a temple, linked together, elbows on the table. "It is true. The entire world is out to get you. The future, the weather. Your lover and your friends, your own head. Paranoia and ego at the same time has this effect, I think. What are you going to do?"

Goddamn fake magic money is not actually! preferable to anti-Francois' summary disappearance. Teo's face clouds with anger before the metaphorical thunderclouds shut away even that slivered residual illumination, goes black and still and maybe more bleak than anything else. His eyes fix themselves to the money. "Hurt you first, I guess. Won't be my fucking intent.

"Just one of those things." Teo lifts his chin. Realizes his nose is beginning to run, sticky and clear. He refuses to concede to snagging a napkin to clean himself up with. "The consequences of dating in the dark future. My other take on this involves singlehandedly causing the lives of millions of Americans to spiral into Nadir to prevent the success of a few. By inaction, if nothing else." There's a faint sneer etching itself into his face, around the side of his nose. He watches the shadow of a raindrop streaking down the window smear along the table-top, bisecting the five-dollar bills. "So this is the optimistic one.

"Little booboos." Little booboos. Like that's what it'd feel like, if he found the Ethan's former lover, with her inconceivable gift for breathing the mundane state of the past back into the enchanted products of the Evolved. If she breathed it onto him. Little booboos. How he could explain such a sacrifice in terms of necessity or honor or anything else he could spin as better worth having than happily gay ever after.

Teo breathes loudly into the air. Doesn't look up, when a nearby patron makes a point of moving further away. "That probably didn't answer your question. That's what's going to happen. I don't know what I'm going to do."

"Neither do I. And that doesn't exculpate you. You know how I am with pain."

He moves with the sinuous grace of the smoke stuff he exudes as his power, some smooth transition between getting up to stand and suddenly doing so, right beside Teo. Upon burn-blonde crown, Francois places his— gloved, suddenly— hand, conforming to the curve of Teo's skull with warm fingers and palm. A gentle pressure, then, one that would accompany a kiss dropped onto the top of one's head — interrupted, here, by Francois' own knuckles, and the subtle sweep of his thumb that goes with it intends it only for Teo, of course.

It's a sadly sweet kind of gesture, an imagined exchange and probably unwelcome. Probably. He's backing up before Teo reaches the end of his patience and starts laying fists into thin air, even in public. "Figure it out, mon cheri." Disappearing, then, with no more than a melt of shadow, lingering glow of pale skin and blue eye like a superimposed light trick in the air, dimming to nada.

As does the money, obviously.

Hackling spite jams up the line of Teo's spine, tendons puppet-stringing underneath the surface of his skin and a vein going into a somewhat unattractive throb in the side of his neck. He doesn't lash out and punch the air, but Francois knew he wasn't about to do that, unwilling to betray himself in public, and perhaps also to prove him right— or at least, himself wrong so early in the game. Glaring daggers at the table-top. His scalp reverberates where the imaginary hallucination man had kissed him.

As a consequence, he feels it more than he sees it when the demon takes his leave, tesseracting seamlessly away in a bloodless inversion of pixels and palette. His hands stop hurting right about then, one or two last stinging pulses and then nothing, leaves the cold forgettable and his nose numb, his head going around with a wasp's squall of disordered neuroticism and instinctive habituation. He has had a lot of practice going crazy, in the combined decades of his particular experiences.

There are four minutes left before a waitress comes to tell him that he'll have to either order something or leave. Teo spends them anticipating the arrival of a man who doesn't come in, while the sunshine takes its wavering time covering the city with a democratic intensification and gradual thaw.

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