Title: Wolves Don't Date

Summary: Neuroatypical werewolf willing to be poker partner for fun, profit. Will not rob banks. Crunchy foods a must.

Edit: I forgot to say, happy new year everyone :) May this one actually contain some stories! At the very least, have one!

Wolves don't fall in love at first sight.

They don't mate for life. They aren't ruled by alphas, craving the guidance of someone born more inherently better than they are. They don't like shoes. At least, Felix doesn't. He shifts his weight to the other foot, absently scratching the back of his leg with his toes as he scratches down another number on the sheet.

His aunt's bar is almost too tall for him, but that's another Felix fact, not a wolf fact. He likes facts. He likes long lines of numbers, tallies that add up correctly, and the adorable round decimal points of taxes and fees. He doesn't like the roar of the bar around him whenever the sports, broadcasted on the televisions about the bar, does something exceptionally sports-y, but it's not too bad. Sometimes loud noise is another form of silence, and it makes the numbers flow swiftly, smoothly.

"Hey there, cutie," a stranger says behind him. "Here all alone?"

Felix ignores this for the next columns of numbers. Most strangers take the hint. This one puts a heavy hand on his shoulder, so Felix stabs his pen into the back of it, returning to ticking off figures when the hand's owner shrieks and flees.

"Wo-ow," another stranger says. "You've got fangs."

Felix doesn't — at least, not right now — though he runs his tongue over his teeth to check. The last total tallied, he takes a moment to bask in the content glow of a job well done. Then he turns to the front of the packet to start double-checking his answers. Wolves are cautious.

"You've missed one," this new stranger says, and dares to touch one of Felix's neat lines. When Felix grips his pen again, the man pulls his hand back with haste, but where his finger had touched glistens a shiny copper penny.

He lifts his gaze slowly. The man leaning on the bar beside him, one elbow propped on the gleaming wood, grins and sweeps his arm into an absurd bow. It's a nice smile, Felix supposes, but that's all he'll give. The man is slick black hair, bright blue eyes, biker jacket, ripped jeans, boring. As a rule, handsome people are boring.

"Get it?" the man asks. "One?"

"Wo-ow," Felix echoes flatly.

"It got your attention," he says, still smiling. "Penny for your thoughts?"

The man's companion, seated on the stool beside, tears his gaze from the game long enough to punch his arm. "Dude," he groans. "No wonder you can't get any action. Your lines suck, and also, that kid is like ten. What the hell, man."

The stranger's eyes flash even as his cheeks redden, as if he hopes to hide embarrassment with anger. It seems to Felix to be a losing battle. "Shit, Sal. Last time I take you to a bar with me."

"When I agreed to wingman for you, I thought you'd be going for people who are actually interested. Leave him alone. That's the owner's son, not a barfly."

"Oh." The stranger is blushing harder now. "Sorry. I didn't mean… shit, is it hot in here, or just me?"

"The temperature is unchanged," Felix notes. "The owner is my aunt, not my mother. And I am not ten. That would be against the law."

"Oh," the stranger repeats. "Right."

He looks like he might actually die of embarrassment. Felix, despite himself, is intrigued.

"Are you still paying for my thoughts?" he asks.

"Paying — Christ. How about we just forget any of this happened, right? No, you keep the penny," the man says, shaking his head when Felix slides the coin off of his packet and onto the wood of the bar. "I don't need it? It's a gift. It's yours."

"He's a generous date," the one called Sal adds, popping a handful of bar nuts into his mouth.

"I don't want a penny," Felix says. This causes the man to shove a hand into his black hair and mutter incoherently. "I want to know how you did the trick."

"The... trick." The man lowers his hand and looks at the penny, not Felix. "Oh. Uh. I don't normally reveal my secrets."

"I like secrets," Felix replies. He thinks, then, remembering years of rules conveyed politely, sternly, furiously, and exasperatedly by turns, adds, "But you don't need to tell me if you don't want to."

"It's fine. I guess."

The man scrapes the penny off the edge of the bar, flips his hand over, and presses it into the center of his palm. "I hold it like this. And then—" With an odd twitch of his muscles, the penny disappears, pushed up along one finger. "Like that."

Felix takes the penny from the man's hand and flips it over his own fingers a few time, fascinated. When he tries the trick on his own, the coin just clatters down to the bar again. That's the result the next four times, too.

"You must be talented," he tells the man, whose grin is shyer this time.

"Me? Nah," he says. "Just practiced. How about you keep practicing too, and show me when you've got it?"

"Okay," Felix agrees, approving wholeheartedly.

"You can call me when you do."

The man slides across a piece of paper with a number on it. Felix memorizes it, in case there's a quiz later, then passes it back. "I don't have a phone," he says.

"You don't… right," the stranger replies. "I guess I'll just have to become a regular."

"Oh my god," the friend watching television mutters, and the stranger kicks him.

Thursday night is poker night, and also sucker night. Felix unwraps and crunches through a grape one, then leans the stick against the five others braced into a teepee at his elbow, returning to his cards. Ace of diamonds, two of clubs. He sweeps them off to the left, and flips another pair. Three of hearts, four of clubs. Someone hasn't shuffled very well.

The stranger from the other night is in the bar. Felix had heard him come in, but he's spent so long idling by the doorway that Felix thinks he might leave before he takes his coat off. Instead he makes his way over to the bar stool and says, "Hi. Mind if I join you?"

"That seat is open," Felix agrees.

He flips the next pair of cards, and the pair after that, and sweeps the results to the right. The man watches in silence, which Felix, his ears sore from the shouts of victory and defeat at the tables nearby, appreciates.

The man does eventually say, "Are you… playing War? Against yourself?"

"Mm," Felix agrees.

"Right." He watches a few more rounds. "Solitaire not doing it for you?"

Felix shrugs. "Solitaire has a displeasing amount of luck as well as logic, takes too long to set up, and is messy."

"I can't disagree there. What about one of the tables?"

"Poker is boring," Felix replies, and when the man opens his mouth again, adds, "rummy absurd, and Speed is inefficient when I am the one moving both decks. War is entirely based on chance, and is also takes up less space than 52-Pick-up."

"Huh," is all the man says. "Still. You could probably join one of the tables if you asked."

"I could probably become a coffee farmer if I planted beans," Felix retorts, and flips over another pair of cards.

The man is grinning when he looks up, but not in a cruel way. He doesn't say, what the hell does that mean. Instead he says, "Want to give me half your cards?"

"Depends," Felix says warily. "Can you shuffle?"


The man does so with a quick, easy skill that Felix tries not to envy. Instead he unwraps another sucker and gives it a sniff. Watermelon.

The man's hand only pause when Felix crunches through it, adding the stick to the rest. "You, uh. Must really like suckers?"

"Not really," Felix replies, puzzled.

"Right." He splits the pack in half, sliding the top to Felix, and flips over his first card. "Five of hearts."

"I do have eyes." Felix turns over a seven of diamonds, and collects both cards off to the side.

"Oh, is that the way we're going to play it?" The man lowers his voice, leaning forward, a gesture Felix does not reciprocate. "The bush rustles beneath the moonlight. Its leafy shadow grows into a looming, hostile form. Branches creak, one softly tread underfoot. One soldier creeps out, then another — and, yes, a third. Clenched tightly in their rough, scarred hands are primitive wooden… clubs. They strike!" The man flips his card over with speed, slamming it down on the table.

Felix turns over a Jack, and collects both cards.

"Undaunted by the sight of a knight cruelly cutting down their friends in perfect silence, the army marches on! They send in their spears. Six will slow the enemy down!"

Felix turns over a ten, and collects both cards.

"Oh, come on," the man says. "Can't I get a smile? Or a scowl, I'll take that too. A twitch?"

"You're ridiculous," Felix informs him.

The man beams unseemly. "I'll take it!" he crows. "Ah hah, at last! The soldiers have put their confidence in a secret weapon. A warrior of flowing tresses, a veritable valkyrie of the battlefield, she who works her wiles as well as her sword! Leaving a trail of dripping, broken hearts behind her, the lady — uh —" He clears his throat and straightens hastily, saying, "Good evening, ma'am."

"Oh, don't mind me." Felix's aunt tugs his braid, to which Felix can only give a long-suffering sigh, and winks. "I see you're making friends, Fi. Care to introduce us?"

Felix freezes, the ease that had crept up on him despite himself fleeing at once. Names. The man almost certainly had mentioned his, but Felix hadn't been paying attention. Or — he tries not to squash the thought — he has forgotten it. He can memorize two thousand digits of pi on a dare, but string out 3-to-10 letters and attach it to a face and the deficiency is glaring.

The man will be staring at him, patience giving way to confusion and finally disappointment and offence. Felix can't look over.

But instead, the man is swearing and slapping a hand to his face. "Shit, that's—I didn't say," he groans. "We didn't get that far. I'm Niko, short for— just Niko is fine. It's a pleasure."

Felix has to fold his hands together to stop them trembling with relief. "Short for what?" he asks.

"Short for a mouthful." The man—Niko—grins, short and rueful. "My father is very Greek. And… what about you?"

"Not Greek," Felix says.

His aunt sighs fondly. "His name is Felix," she says. "What can I get you?"

"Rum and coke." Niko taps Felix's hidden card and says, "Want anything? I'll buy. Uh, assuming you don't just get everything for free anyway."

Felix doesn't usually get anything, but he doesn't want a lecture on friendliness, either. "I'll have that too," he says.

That must have been the right answer, because his aunt sounds cheerful as she says, "Coming right up!"

"Sorry," Niko says as soon as she's down the bar. "I didn't mean to — I didn't think you'd want to know my name, after last time. Actually I thought you might have wanted to bleach your brain altogether."

Felix shrugs and slides over his ten. "Your win," he says.

Niko, studying him, slowly grins. "Yeah, I guess it is," he replies, and flips his card with a showy twist, turning it to Felix — a two. "You took my bluff!"

Felix's mouth drops open. "This isn't a bluffing game," he protests. "That's not in the rules."

"Haven't you heard?" Niko's grin stretches wider. "All's fair in love and War!"

Later, after several rum and cokes, and one rum and coke and a good many glasses of water and ten more sucker sticks, Niko props his head on his hand and asks, "What do you have against poker, anyway?"

Felix doesn't like to be questioned. He likes questions, open ended wonderings about the world and the things in it, with answers that make everything manageable. Being questioned has nothing to do with manageable and everything to do with managing. Why did you do that isn't a curiosity, it's an accusation, when the asker's got something else in mind he should have done.

But Niko looks sleepy, not controlling. He's stayed at the bar trading War for Slapjack for Canasta, and even an attempt at Pinochle where Felix tried to explain the rules at length but, due to some tipsiness on the part of the players, ended up as 36-card-pickup and his aunt laughing behind the bar. It's been — fine.

"It's boring," he says cautiously, watching Niko for that ah hah, you're wrong moment. "The first round is just guessing, and then the rest are just picking the cards that will win."

"The winning ones, huh." Niko's grinning again. He does that a lot, showing his teeth more than a wolf would.

"It's easy," Felix adds, not wanting to be called a liar. "If someone throws out a three of clubs, it's not going to be used again in the game. It's just remembering."

Niko straightens out of his lean. "Wait. You can count cards? Shit, who am I asking, of course you can. What method do you use, high/low? Sets values?"

Felix knows the meanings of these individual words, of course, but the way Niko is using them are plainly jargon. Poker jargon. Felix hates not knowing something, even if he shouldn't have to; it's a punch, like finding out halfway through a semester he has to take a final for another subject.

His shoulders hunching, he mutters, "It's just plain old remembering. See?" He takes the deck, fans it, reads the cards, flips it. "E-S, J-H, Fo-D, T-D, Fi-H—"

"E-S?" Niko lifts a brow, lowers it again. "Oh. Eight of spades. How many can you remember?"

Felix snorts. "There's only fifty two. There are more elements on the periodic table."

"Ri-ight." The man's eyes are narrowed. Felix edges the water glass away, in case he's angry. Instead he says, "I'm getting an idea, here. Do you want to make some money?"

"I'm not going to help you rob a bank," Felix says.

As it turns out, Niko does not want help robbing a bank. He wants a poker partner. He can read faces well, but he can't keep track of the cards Felix can. Together, he thinks they can clean the place out. When Felix points out that poker doesn't usually involve partners, Niko gets shifty and says that's only true in the legal sense. At the casual clubs and the seedier bars, no one thinks twice about a bright-eyed onlooker watching over a player's shoulder, giving coded taps, as long as they're subtle enough.

"I'll do it," Felix says immediately.

Niko seems more taken aback than pleased. "I was thinking we could agree to some terms. How to split money, for one. And also, there's—well, there's—"

He explains that it's not anyone the other players will overlook. Felix's wild hair and rumpled university sweatshirt look a little too math-genius. The others might indeed suspect a nerd, but not — and here Niko dodges around something for a good five minutes, before finally admitting — arm candy.

Felix thinks for a moment that time. "Okay," he says.

"Has no one ever taught you about negotiating with strangers in bars," Niko mutters, shoving a hand into his own hair. "Unless—are you just yanking my chain?"

He has a chain, running from his belt loop to a pocket and probably a wallet inside. Felix reaches out and gives it a light tug, just to make Niko sputter. "I can do both."

"Right. Then, money. How much do you want? I can do… shit, talk about hopeless negotiators, I can't rip you off. Fifty-fifty."

"I don't want money," Felix shrugs.

"Right," Niko repeats. "And I don't do charity. If we're gonna do this, you've got to take something. Is there something you're looking for besides money?"

Felix shrugs again — and then he realizes. "There is… one thing," he says slowly.

"Name it."

He tilts his head towards the bar, hears his aunt digging around in the store room. The bar is quieter now, the sports games done for the night, the card games winding down. "Not here," Felix says, scooping the deck of cards into his pocket, the candy sticks into Niko's empty glass, and shoves away from the bar.

Niko follows him out the door and into the night, the sharp biting nip of autumn. When Felix rounds the corner, he stops.

"Woah," he says. "No matter what I look like, I'm not the alley type."

Felix rolls his eyes. "It's out of the wind."

"Oh, in that case." Niko comes to his side again, flipping up the collar on his leather coat. "I might be an out-of-the-wind kind of guy."

"You asked what I wanted," Felix says. Reminding him. People don't ask Felix what he wants very often, and he doesn't mind that. He mostly has everything he needs, a roof and food and lines of taxes to do when he's good. But — "There's one thing."

"Yeah?" For all the chill in the air, Niko's voice curls warmly.

Felix takes a breath, and tells him.

"What," Niko says.

"I don't care about size and color," Felix adds.

"What," Niko repeats.

"But I do want it to be a good one. Do we have a deal?"

"Fuck it," Niko says. "Why the hell not."

The average wolf is blasé about research, but Felix is not. He types into the computer poker, gambling, casino, James Bond, tuxedo, and finds nothing worth replicating. With his height and build, he isn't going to be candying anyone's arm in a suit. James Bond girl, gown is little better. Those are cut low in front, and Felix doesn't have any cleavage. Drumming his fingers on his desk and ignoring the growl that brings from downstairs, he decides to change tactics. What else has people gambling? Cowboy Bebop. Yu-gi-oh? Baccano!. Too many suits. Leave the poker, look for sex appeal. Too many shows later, he gives up and gets the sewing machine.

The finished outfit is — fine, he thinks. He's not going to be taken for a card counting geek, and that's the important part.

When he tries to sneak down the stairs that Friday, Niko's instructions clenched into his palm, he runs into Courtland. She takes one look and shrieks, "Felix's got a date!"

That brings the pups, who barrel into the room and race around his feet, barking and nearly ripping out hours of hard work. Felix has to jump onto the entryway table and growl until they tumble away again, yipping protest. "I do not," he retorts when the noise dies down, or at least goes elsewhere, stepping carefully down from the table and straightening the cloth. "I have a business engagement."

"Are you going to be an actor?" his youngest sister asks doubtfully. "Or a stripper?"

"No." He reflects a moment, and adds, "Probably not."

"Uh huh. You've never dressed up for a job before," Courtland points out. Felix shrugs. "If you're going to be a stripper, I want to do your hair. It's a mess."

"If I don't leave now, I'm going to be late."

Courtland grins with a lot of teeth. "If you don't let me do your hair, I'm going to send a pic of your outfit to Mom."

Felix winces. "Just be quick."

In the end, he's five minutes late to the address, which turns out to be a bingo parlor on the edge of town. It's aggressively bright and aggressively plain, an offence of soap and bodies and ancient mildewy carpeting, but — Felix takes another tentative sniff — almost certainly no one has been murdered here. Which is good, because he can defend himself, but the blood would definitely destroy his outfit.

Niko is leaning against a wall in the lobby, checking the time on his phone. Felix is slightly disappointed to see he hasn't changed clothes for the occasion at all. The leather must be his poker look. Niko glances up from his phone and says, "Holy fuck ow," the last being when he drops his phone on his foot. He scrambles to pick it up and comes up again, face red.

"Hi," says Felix. He is abruptly absolutely, completely sure this is a terrible idea.

"Hello, yes, wow," Niko says, and takes Felix's arm before he can actually flee. "The gang isn't going to know what hit them."

They're older than he thought they would be, the people in the hall; at least older than the actors in the movies and shows. Mostly they wear sweaters. But he gets a few whistles, so he must not look all bad.

Niko puts an arm around his shoulders and Felix remembers not to bristle. Just because someone doesn't smell like pack doesn't mean they smell bad. "This is just a warmup," Niko murmurs. "The players are sharp, but the stakes aren't high and no one actually gets a hand cut off for cheating here. That was a joke. It's just a good place for practicing. Just don't be obvious, yeah?"

Don't be obvious?

Felix flushes hot, then cold. Niko has already slipped his arm away, throwing himself into a seat and calling out greetings to those seated. There isn't time or place to say just how offended he is, how betrayed, by the notion that he would pick a code that was obvious. He doesn't ever set out to do a job badly. Niko should know that.

Felix spends the first round of cards blocking out everything else, the noise, the bustle, feeling every laugh personally and every word a conversation he isn't a part of. Instead he glares at the back of Niko's head. If the man doubts him so much, let him receive his code through the very subtle means of ESP. So there.

There's some pushing of the pot, and Niko says, "Sorry, just a minute, nature knocking," pushes away from the table, and takes Felix's arm again. Felix doesn't bite him, but just barely.

"I'm an idiot," the man murmurs when they're at the back of the room. "We should have set up a code before starting."

"That isn't," Felix, who had started to relax after idiot, bites out. "It's not…"

"What?" Niko glances at him and frowns, halting. "You're angry. What happened? Was it that joke I told? Shit, I shouldn't have. Sorry."

"Not that either." Felix hates feeling like this, the anger that makes him want to lash out at any target. It's not Niko's fault, but it is. If he hadn't said something, then Felix wouldn't have to be angry. So he should be angry at Niko, because Niko should have known, because —

"Oh," says Felix.

"What can I do to make it up to you?"

Niko is all worried eyes and uncertain mouth, his hands shoved into the pockets of his leather coat. He's like a pup, trying so hard to be tough and not remotely succeeding. Felix has to smile.

"I guess I like you," he says.

"You — really?" Niko scratches the back of his neck and grins in a manner entirely too pleased. "Yeah, I see how that would make anyone angry. Wait. Are you angry because you thought I was flirting? Because I wasn't. With anyone else, I mean."

But now that he isn't angry, Felix's mind is back to complete efficiency. "The code," he says. "We need to establish which of your cards to discard, or to keep, but only one or the other since those are inverses, of course. It makes sense to number the cards left to right—"

"Right, how about in here, yeah?" Niko interrupts, steering them both into the restroom.

"- with one being the leftmost," Felix continues, ignoring this interruption. "Discarding is more efficient as you are more likely to discard fewer cards, and thus requires a shorter code. If you should discard the first one in your hand, I will… start a sentence with the letter O, perhaps. Or would that be too obvious? Should it be P instead? I'd like to use both, to avoid repetition and because no other card needs either letters. I'm concerned about four and five, because of course more than one letter must be indicated for clarity but the number of sentences beginning with F, let alone a differentiated F, are minimal. E for four, G for five. Two and three are obvious, of course, since sufficient sentences can begin with th, and the rest will denote two."

"Right," repeats Niko. "That all sounds very complicated. What's wrong with taps?"

Felix scowls, some of the old hurt surging up again. "It's too obvious."

"I guess I can see that." Niko shoves a hand through his hair. "Listen, I want to ask something a little less obvious — how do I put this? I've got a… well, not a problem, but an inconvenience you might say, in guys. Of a certain type. A women-liking type, if you get my drift. Or a not-anybody-liking type. Or a liking-anyone-but-me type, if I'm being honest, and why the hell not be honest? And we haven't really talked about it, but since you brought it up, sort of, I just figured I'd ask to avoid any misunderstandings, of what you mean by liking, exactly?"

"What I mean." Felix blinks, slowly. "I mean that by speaking a sentence beginning with the letter O, such as, "Oh, look at that door over there," only has a limited number of uses, so by including P, such that Please move your leg may also be used, to indicate that you should discard — "

"Me," Niko replies firmly. "What you meant by saying you liked me."

"Oh." Not something having to do with codes. Felix has to think about that. "I meant... I expect you to know me."

The man lets out a breath. "And what does that mean?"

This was starting to sound less like questions, and more like questioning. "Aren't we here to play poker?" Felix replies.

Niko groans. "Yeah, sure. Let's do that instead."

They do quite well at the poker — no small thanks to Felix's ingenious code, which Niko does figure out eventually. He gets pat on the head by the other players a lot, which isn't very fun. But they make a lot of money. And Niko's company is — fine. He smiles a lot. He drives Felix home, even when Felix points out he could just run instead. He doesn't pat Felix on the head, or make any stupid jokes about his height, or get handsy when they're supposed to be working. He also doesn't get handsy later, which is a bit weird in Felix's experience, but he does do a lot of looking whenever he thinks Felix isn't paying attention. It's a mystery, or a riddle. Felix likes mysteries.

Once home, he has to take a shower to get off the people stink. It's only in the water, surrounded by steam and the hiss of spray and wet that he figures out the answer.

"You idiot," he greets Niko with at their second poker night on the near side of town this time. "I'm not naive. Of course I'll fuck you."

"Oh boy," says Niko faintly.

The sudden scent of lust is gratifying. There are a number of whoops, and someone at the dark and smoky bar pounds Niko on the back. "Good one!" the man roars. "Is this kid old enough to drink?"

"Of course he is," Niko snaps, bristling, then freezes. "Wait. You don't just-get drinks at your aunt's bar because you can, right?"

Felix sighs. "I'm twenty-nine," he says. "I am tall enough to ride the ride."

Niko flushes bright red. The patrons whoop again. "I'll get you a drink," someone calls, and one arrives.

Actually, throughout the night of cards a number of drinks arrive, which Felix ignores save for the ice. Those he crunches through, wincing at the chill, in between offhand comments of "Terrible weather, isn't it?" and "Enough of these peanuts, I want pretzels," whenever he glances at Niko's hand.

"You must really like ice," the player at Niko's left remarks, her brow furrowed.

"Not really," Niko and Felix chorus. Niko grins up at him, and Felix slides onto his lap.

The man stills. It's not just arousal on his scent this time. There's something hesitant, uncertain, cutting in at the edges. It takes a beat before he puts a hand on Felix's arm, light as a feather. I won't break, Felix thinks irritably. But Niko's grin has gone uncertain, so Felix just flicks a gaze over his cards and says, "Please eat more. You're too bony."

"Tough," Niko replies, and discards his first card.

They win a lot of poker. Niko keeps giving him these nudges like they're sharing every one of his victories, and that's nice. It's more than nice. It's not necessary, of course, since Felix was hired to a job and he's going to do a good one, but he is familiar enough with the concept of being used and this isn't it. They're in this together.

They lose a hand and Niko's still grinning even when Felix's stomach churns, takes a moment to press against Felix's shoulder and murmur, "That was my bad," even when it hadn't been at all. He doesn't get angry. He doesn't even get mad at other people buying Felix drinks, he just laughs and passes over the ice.

At the end of the evening, away from the glow of the bar and into the cold, Niko puts his arm around Felix's shoulders and says, "Let's get you home."

Felix balks at once. "No way. There are a lot of people there." Niko looks perplexingly puzzled, so Felix clarifies, "They all have very good hearing, and I'm not very quiet during sex."

Tough, spiky Niko blushes nearly as red as Felix's hair. "Christ almighty. I'm not — You were serious about that? Wait, who am I asking, you're always serious. You know you don't have to feel pressured to do anything. I mean, shit, feel whatever you want. That's not what this is about, right? The poker, I mean. This is about earning some quick money and spending — the money. I asked the stupid question about you liking me because I didn't want there to be any misunderstandings. It's no big deal. It doesn't have to mean anything — I was just being stupid, right? A bit like right now. A bit like running my mouth off when I really shouldn't be. Boy, those stars sure are bright aren't they?"

"Right," says Felix slowly. He's pretty sure it's now all one big misunderstanding. "Most people who pick me up from the bar want to sleep with me."

"I'm sure they do," Niko says faintly. "I don't mean I—don't. Most people? Shit, don't answer that. We should talk. There's a cafe? Probably, right. Or a diner. This side of town has to have a cafe or a diner, doesn't it?"

Felix's eyes narrow. "I don't like coffee."

"Right. Well, we could just drive around, I guess. That works. That — Fi, where are your shoes?"

Felix glances down to check, and shrugs. "Gone?"

It seems important to Niko to locate them, so Felix allows this delay, and then they are off. Niko drives nowhere like he's on a mission, all concentration under the glow, darkness, glow of highway lights.

"So, I used to live in one of the neighborhoods outside of town," he says eventually, his voice as quiet as the empty road around them. "I just moved. Or… you know what, I'm going to stick with moved. No need to get into the whole crappy story now. And moving sucks, right? So I might have been sulking a bit. Staying inside and maybe not eating and worrying my friends, because they're worriers, when can I say."

"Sal dragged me out to the bar to get over myself, and, I wasn't really expecting anything, you know? I hit on you because I was confident you'd reject me. I mean, because you're, like, a ten and a half, and also you'd just stabbed someone with a fork. And then I'd feel, I don't know, worse? But for a reason I could rationalize, because, of course you'd reject me, that's a normal kind of thing. And instead of rejecting me, you kept me company for hours on some of my worst nights, and then said that you like me. Which is good, I want to point out. Really good. Not complaining about that at all." Niko draws in a breath. "How do I say this?"

"You don't want to sleep with me?" Felix guesses.

Niko's breath explodes into a laugh, his forehead thunking down onto the steering wheel for one unnerving, swervy moment. "Fuck, I'm the worst at this. I absolutely want that, Fi, I mean, if you wanted to and aren't just feeling like you have to for some damned reason, I'm not trying to say that I don't want to have sex, though not everybody does and that's fine, just fine. What I'm trying to say is, I'd like it if things went a bit more slowly. I've got a bad habit of — if you were in my bed — " He shakes his head, looking away out the window. "Slowly. Yeah."

So maybe Felix hasn't figured out the mystery after all. He's half exasperated and frustrated, annoyed at getting the answer wrong as much as having wasted a lot of time getting ready earlier for the sex that doesn't seem like it's going to happen, but the other half is intrigued. "Okay," he says.

"Okay," Niko echoes. "What, you're just going to go along with this? No questions? No, 'are you sure you don't have libido because who wouldn't want to tap this', sort of things? Because you'd be justified."

Felix shrugs. "No. Can we get food? I'm hungry."

"Yeah," Niko says, and he's smiling again, a little. "We can get food."