It was a miracle Todd had gotten home before Sam woke up, and he had to explain his face.
He’d left the warehouse. After the maniac in the fedora left – after Cryptid had let him leave with the last of his intact wits – Todd had taken his advice. Not completely. He’d avoided the corpse like it was poisoned, except to collect his claws and check for a cell phone. He found it, and once he’d mopped up most of the blood that was his, at least enough that it wouldn’t be identifiable, he called the emergency number.
And then he’d gone home. He’d gone home, in time to avoid seeing Sam, to avoid her asking about his face, even if it had reshaped enough for him to talk on the phone. He’d cleaned himself up. And he’d gone to bed for a few hours. By the time he woke up, the injury was nearly gone.
He still felt like shit. He’d turned on the news right off the bat. It played in the background while he showered and dressed. The body was mentioned from time to time, but the police made no comments. That meant they were keeping their suspicions under wraps. And while he was a high school dropout, Todd could do simple math.
Todd had a thing about serial killers. It was ironic, he knew. But he recognized everything from costume to obsession to police silence. A serial killer complicated things, but in some ways, it gave him a trail to follow, a rabbit hole to stick his nose in.
It was his day off. It was either hang around the gym for the day, or give himself something to do. He definitely wouldn’t be feeling up to patrol tonight, but he wouldn’t ask Sam not to go. But he’d be spending this whole day in this rut. He’d need a way out. Normally, he’d call Mike, the senior mechanic at Vik’s. But after the week he’d had, between Obsidian and the new serial killer, he really wasn’t feeling up to the kinds of friendly arguments Mike might start. He’d usually love to play along with the banter, be the devil’s advocate for whatever Mike’s stance of the night was, but he just wasn’t feeling it.
He scrolled through his phone, idly searching. His thumb hovered over one contact – Ethan.
He kept scrolling down. No, he couldn’t risk dealing with that kind of drama today, and he had a feeling Obsidian would definitely ask about the new scar in his cheek that would be better after another night's sleep. The phone wasn’t that full, and his eyes caught another name that he hadn’t thought about in a while. Vanity. When had he gone to Vulture? It’d been about a month now, right? Two months? He’d called after he’d talked to Neal, just to give the all’s well and let Kosuke know he was at Vik’s now if he needed anything for the bike. Since then he’d kind of forgotten about the other man, until just now.
He let his mouth twist at the name, then sighed. He needed someone normal, to talk about something normal like music or motorcycles. Even with the remains of his gunshot scar, Todd felt like this might be the outlet he needed.
He dialed, and waited for Vanity to pick up.
“Kosuke? Hey, it’s Todd. Listen, I know you’re probably at work, but I’ve had a hell of a week. You doing anything after closing tonight?”
Lament was lucky the wound he sustained was only skin-deep; a bruise was easy to cover, especially given his habit of always wearing long sleeves. Small mercies. That thing looked gnarly, and it hurt like a bitch every time he knocked it. He'd have to be more careful, next time; maybe invest in some padding to wear beneath the coat, or simply not be as reckless when dealing with unstable metahumans- if the human part could even apply to Cryptid.
There were two types of metahumans, it could be argued: the superhuman and the inhuman. The distinction was blurry, imprecise, a matter of both circumstance and personal perspective, but it was there, and it was clear as day that Cryptid fell into the latter. Sure, physically speaking, he was human-but-more. Faster, stronger, an altered metabolism. But, when it came to his mind, his attitude- when it came to what made him human, there was simply nothing there. Inhuman. Animal. Lament could liken him to a predator, in some vague zoological sense.
And he'd continue sticking his hand in his cage until something was bitten off.
Then, he'd start with the other.
His resume; brutal acts of violence, bodies left in unrecognisable, unspeakable conditions, followed by reports claiming isolated acts of heroism. Saving a hostage. Freeing victims of trafficking. He wasn't a blind killer, even if his targets were all apparently deserving- fascinating new information, to someone who hadn't directly observed it the night prior. Regrettably, there wasn't much new to be gleaned from his search just yet. Just confirmations of things he had suspected, and panicked suspicions of things he had confirmed. The only thing worth noting was that Pittsburgh was not his first hunting ground. He'd keep an eye on those records when he had the time.
Somewhat frustrated by this lack of anything useful, Lament resolved to stalking current affairs; local killers, local deaths. There were those recent murders that tied in with Cryptid's MO- bodies missing, clothes remaining. The issue was, they weren't lone wolves, and the animal they worked for was a lot more dangerous than those drug-running dogs Cryptid usually worked for. Obsidian was the name he had stumbled across; a gang leader who had travelled to Pittsburgh to recruit metahumans for his cause. He was violent. He was dangerous. If Cryptid had crossed them, he'd undoubtedly be dead before Lament next saw him- which meant, if he wasn't, then the shadowy preacher had likely got his hooks into him. A powerful metahuman like him would be the perfect weapon for someone like that, for someone with a cause. Cryptid would be wasted on a cause.
So, after all that, Lament had resigned himself to wait; to be bolder in his own instigations, to lure out if not Cryptid, then another metahuman, just to observe, to study, to see what it does when provoked. They'd meet again, if he was alive. For once, Lament hoped he was alive.
Dead men can't scream.
Regardless, he had a life to attend to- a work outside his work, outside his work. So, on this cold, Tuesday afternoon, Kosuke was sitting behind the counter with his usual iced coffee; smiling at customers and frowning at Carrie. The current track was a bit of a compromise: Jordan wasn't one for mathcore, whereas Cass and especially Kosuke very much were, so, after much deliberation, they had settled on this as a way to sneak the genre past him without giving him a migraine. It seemed to be working. Either that, or he didn't want to tell Kosuke to change the track. As much as his employees may question some of his music choices, none of them had the guts to stop him.
He was lazing against the desk when his phone started to ring, startling him a beat later than it should've, causing him to flinch out of his chair. After composing himself with a sip of coffee, he answered the call.
He waved to Cass to excuse himself and slipped through the staff door, leaning against a wall by the break room to answer the call.
"I was just gonna go home and work on mastering some PROJECT stuff- so, really, any excuse to not do that would be great."
Rough week, hm? That could mean a lot of things, but the way it was said seemed to hint towards the genuinely harrowing half of that spectrum- significantly below customers were being shitheads, which was where Kosuke's week had been sitting.
"Hey, there's a Halloween party on at Resident, we could head there if you'd like?"
"There's a karaoke place attached. I know the guy who runs it- could easily get us a booth if you... y'know. If you wanna talk about anything."
A Halloween party sounded so… strangely mundane that Todd actually looked down at his phone to check the date. It was October, alright.
He could tell by Kosuke’s voice he’d heard Todd’s own stress. He heard it in the offer of getting a private booth. That sounded so nice, beyond definition, really. He couldn’t talk to Kosuke about vigilante problems, but he could mention… other things. He’d come up with something, a number of somethings. And honestly karaoke sounded just as blessedly mundane as mundane. Just the idea of talking to someone who wasn’t Mike, Vik, or anyone involved in his night life, was enough to tell Kosuke: “That’d be great, actually. You say what time and I’ll be there. Costumes expected, right?”
The conversation ended, and Todd took off on research. After two hours of fruitless forum searches into known Pittsburgh serial killers, Todd finally came across something relevant, if only vaguely so. Just a potential name, a vague description.
Lament. A vulture, an omen, someone who seemed to stick around violent death.
Given that it took two hours to get just that, even Todd’s ambush-predator patience was somewhat shot. Kosuke’s Halloween party remained an unexpected pleasure, because the idea of a costume hadn’t been all that important until now. If he knew Kosuke – Vanity – and he did at least as well as the casual fan because he’d checked a few different social media presences, he had a hunch that whatever was going to do would have to be sufficiently dramatic. It was only fair.
He was going to need help.
Any concern he’d had about asking Sam and interrupting her day was immediately abolished when she asked if he had a pinstripe suit. He’d actually needed to check – white and black pinstripes weren’t exactly subtle – but he did, in the bottom of a box. It’d need to be ironed, but it was one of the few suits he had that actually fit him nicely, despite his unusual size. He couldn’t even remember where he’d found it.
And that was how he lost three hours of his life to sitting still and letting Sam do his makeup. She’d paused, when she saw his cheek, but seemed to accept when he told her it would get better, and that he’d talk more about it later. He’d made a joke about his jaw being sore, which wasn’t completely a joke, but he’d gotten out of talking about it, and he’d gotten to spend some time with Sam. He wanted to invite her along, too, but – well, there was something novel about getting a normal night, and she was in the middle of her personal project. She hadn’t told him what it was yet, and he wouldn’t interrupt her.
But he was ready, with time to spare, the white makeup suiting him as well as his own mask, if not better for being applied to his real face; and the suit worn over long limbs with a comfort and self-assurance that Todd rarely let himself carry outside of costume.
He gave himself plenty of time to fold into his Malibu and find Resident, which turned out to be a hipster bar closer to the Strip and VULTURE than Elliot and Infinity Gym. The exterior was a little run-down, but the soft pulse of club music’s heavy bass indicated that it was active in there, at least. Todd managed to find a spot that wasn’t too much of a walk. He lit a cigarette as he stepped up toward the front doors, and didn’t think too hard about the smell of pepper as he made himself comfortable against a wall on the front wall and wait for Kosuke to make his appearance.
Costumes weren't just expected, they were almost mandatory- an unspoken rule among the partygoers. If you weren't with it, you weren't with it. There were certain standards to be upheld in a venue like this. The matter of what those standards were was arcane and ever-changing, comprehensible only to those so deeply entrenched in the scene that they'd devote their entire life, their entire being into managing it. Even the most ardent hipster got left behind sometimes- out of the loop, out of vogue.
The mood tonight was extravagance, and Vanity knew that well.
He didn't want to know how long he had spent getting ready that night. His eyeliner alone took so long to perfect that his arm was starting to get a cramp- though, he was a guitarist, and he hadn't been keeping up with stretches recently. Thankfully, Cryptid had wounded his non-dominant arm, the one he used to shoot, so as to prevent damage to his writing hand from the recoil. It was uncomfortable, but it could be worse. It could always be worse.
The costume he had chosen was, admittedly, reused; somewhat of a Frankenstein's monster, drawn from three different stage outfits he used. The mask and coat were from his ABSTRACT solo tour, the cape was from the first music video for HIGHWAYMAN with PREMORTEM, and the wig was a new one, from the cover shoot for For every 500 streams this gets, I'll kill another hostage- parody nurse's outfit not included. It was fun to reuse things like that, not just easy. Gave his fangirls something to chew on- they could whisper to each other about which part of his costume came from which of his projects, and he could feel the warmth of their stares from all around the room. Vanity enjoyed the spotlight. He enjoyed the obsession.
He arrived fashionably late, having seemingly underestimated the amount of time it would take to walk from his apartment to the venue, despite having visited there countless times. He saw Todd, recognisable mostly through his frame, standing outside Resident. Hell of a place to be stuck waiting. The music, the awkward stares, the fact that the outside looked considerably worse than the inside- so much so that, if someone was going off description and hearsay alone, then they'd likely think they were in the wrong place.
"Yo!" Kosuke waved, cape flapping in the wind, "That's a real nice costume, actually- Jack Skellington, right? Not much of a Disney guy myself, but I'd recognise that suit anywhere. Looks good on you! Fits well!"
He gave a thumbs up.
"I should be recognisable enough that the bouncers don't give me shit. This costume is hardly the most anonymous thing in the world- hopefully they can see through my masterful disguise..."
He pointed towards the entrance, past the man apathetically guarding it.
Todd’s lanky form, with its two thin layers, should’ve garnered him a lot of attention. He knew he should’ve been colder, but maybe people assumed he was wearing long underwear, because very few gave him a second glance. Or maybe it was the way he relaxed into the wall, the way he held his cigarette and wasn’t shy about eye contact, but wasn’t aggressive with it, either. Maybe it was the way that, after the first compliment given to him, he started handing them out whenever he recognized a costume. Maybe it was the way the smile touched his eyes to hide the hunger behind them.
Maybe he was just designed for camouflage.
Kosuke was downwind from him, so Todd caught his coffee-tinted scent before the greeting came, with all the clinging notes of records and baked goods that came from VULTURE. There was also that clean detergent smell that came with a rarely-worn costume, and something underneath – something else clean and crisp.
But he didn’t look in his direction until he heard the greeting, as difficult as that was already with the ongoing bass from behind the wall he leaned on. But it looked like a coincidence when Todd dropped his cigarette and crushed the butt under his heel at the same time Kosuke’s ‘yo!’ met his ears.
He smiled with his lips closed as Kosuke complimented his costume, practically glowing. “Thanks, haha. It wasn’t my idea. My–”
My what? Just “my” would be enough, between them, but… what would they be to Kosuke? Landlord, girlfriend, person whose heart he wanted to devour in the most spectacular and horrific show of desire that his soul, mind, and instincts could concoct?
Yeah. None of that felt right.
“–roommate’s idea. She’s a huge Tim Burton fan and helped me out with it. I like the Phantom of the Opera look you’ve got going – are the pieces from PREMORTEM tours?”
As a response to the question he’d been asked, he just fell into stride with Kosuke, and would start to take cues from him in terms of body language and vocal tone. He’d never slip into anything as dramatic as Vanity could manage, but he could play second fiddle without hesitation or discomfort. He’d readily let his friend take the spotlight, if only to take it off of himself.
Todd was casual; more casual than most people Kosuke asked to meet outside Resident. That was good. If he was this comfortable outside, then he'd probably be comfortable inside as well, despite the venue's discerning clientele. Bringing new people here was like bringing a new kitten to a house full of Carries, hoping to god that you left enough time for them to sniff each other through the closed bathroom door that they wouldn't immediately maul each other once it was opened- if, of course, mocking stares and stuck-up passive-aggression was the kind of thing the person in question would liken to a mauling. Some folk simply didn't care. Kosuke could respect that. Sometimes.
"Couples costume, eh?
He nudged Todd with his elbow at the comment, smiling wryly. That pause, that hesitation- oh, he was hiding something, and he was hiding it badly. Was this related to his bad week, then? Did he have a falling out with his, ah, roommate? No- no, surely not, why would he have taken her advice if that was the case? Unless- ah, was this a new development for Todd? A new flame? He seemed to have caught well.
"And are you doing anything else with your roommate for Halloween?"
Kosuke laughed, then mercifully changed the subject- allowing the probing questions to retreat into the rhetorical.
"Yeah, yeah- some of it's from PREMORTEM, others from VANITY PROJECT." He posed half-heartedly, "I made a lot of it myself, actually. I mean, with shit like this, you kinda have to- can't exactly walk into UNIQLO and ask for a fucking armored shoulder-cape, can you?"
He began to walk towards the venue, smiling at the bouncer by the entrance. The man looked at him, squinting through the darkness, through the costume, through the sunglasses, before eventually recognising him. He didn't have to say a word, even for Todd; just pointing his thumb towards the man was enough to grant him a nod and an open door. This seemed like a common occurrence. It would be, for someone like Kosuke.
Inside, the venue was a little nicer; retaining the industrial charm of the exterior, but with a lot more... well, charm. Scaffolding lined the walls, illuminated by flashing lights, casting skeletal shadows across the packed floor (to call it a dancefloor would be innacurate, given how self-consciously static most people were) and reflecting thin spires of light against the opposing walls. The bar was steel and concrete, likely reclaimed from some abandoned factory, with a wall of segmented windows framing the bottles, lit tastefully from behind by warm, diffused lights. The music was loud and typical of the place; unfamiliar songs in familiar genres- the conformist's eccentricity.
Kosuke smiled as he passed through the threshold, immediately met by stares of recognition. A few people waved at him, and he nodded back- the most he'd ever reciprocate, if not approached directly. He tapped Todd on the shoulder and gestured to the bar.
Todd grinned wryly as Kosuke teased. His little slip had been noticed, and was met with what Todd realized was a very normal reaction. Friendly. And given that was what he’d come out here looking for, he actually relaxed as he flicked his cigarette to the ground and crushed it.
Vanity gave him the space to drop the subject, and he decided that for right now it was best to do so. He nodded along as Kosuke told him what the setpieces were, although he had to make some assumptions about what UNIQLO was, and went so far as to golf clap when he posed. He trailed after when Vanity, nodded when Vanity nodded. For once, he didn’t fold himself inward; he had the sense of the people coming in and out, that they would snap at anything that looked small, insecure, or weak. So he stood up, shoulders squared, never quite overshadowing Vanity (a feat he wasn’t even sure was possible) but definitely stretched out behind him like a shadow on a dark night as they passed through the door.
Resident was loudly pretentious. Not just to the ears – although the music was a touch louder than Todd would like, most days – but walking in through the doors immediately stretched his senses to their limits. The room smelled like the sweat of people dressed in too many layers and too proud to take any of them off, mixed with the kind of perfumes and soaps and colognes and deodorant and oils that came from overpriced “apothecaries” and “all natural shops”. Underneath that was the clear, sterile smell of alcohol, and the faintest scents of marajuana and flavored vape steam. The cast of the light made him squint just a little to let his eyes adjust. The room itself was too warm for the cold night, although that didn’t bother Todd as much as other people; and the dull chatter of people murmuring to each other about other people.
It was overwhelming, and that was exactly what Todd needed.
He relaxed into it, felt the vibe, shifted his body language. He could get a sense of what was expected at a glance while following Kosuke inside, mirrored the people he saw in loose expression, sharp observation, and misleading body language. He only met the eyes of the people who met his, and kept himself calm as he would in the presence of another predator, just without threat or dominance.
When he spoke, he did so just softly enough for Kosuke to hear him, with a hint of humor. “Since I think I’ll be judged for ordering a Cuba libre, I’ll have what you’re having.”
He sat down at the bar, and you could see, you could clearly see him restraining himself from lying across it like the desk at VULTURE. It was sticky. It was gross. His outfit was too nice to dirty like that. Kosuke resigned himself to sitting back, forgetting that the bar stools didn't have anything to lean against- so, after a brief stumble, he ended up in a miserably compromised slouch.
"You'll be judged for ordering anything."
But whatever he ordered would be accepted as another cool thing Vanity liked. That was the good thing about being in the in-crowd of a place like this; you could get away with almost anything. People were judged for judging you.
He waved down the bartender, who recognised him almost immediately.
"Two, ah- Cuba libres, please."
His pronunciation was a little off- this was clearly a drink order he had never said out loud before, moreso mimicking the way Todd had said it, rather than drawing from his own internal dictionary. Still, by some miracle, between the music and his slightly botched order, the bartender seemed to understand what he was asking for.
Kosuke seemed fairly bored whilst waiting for the drink, spending most of his time fending off greetings. By the time they arrived, it was clear he didn't fancy being up here any more- clear enough that half-assed point towards a stairwell in the corner was enough to get his message across: let's go somewhere that isn't shit.
When Todd sat in a barstool without all his layers, unless he sat with his legs crossed, he looked like a spider, all spindly limbs. But that was almost the point in not wearing layers in this costume; he could look like what he was, without drawing too much attention to himself, because people recognized Jack Skellington and didn’t think twice about thin limbs and crossed legs. It was liberating, to be honest.
He followed Kosuke’s lead in sitting down, in waiting. His head tilted just a little in surprise when Vanity ordered the drink he’d suggested, and a quick glance around told him that nobody was going to say a word. He really was here with a local celebrity, wasn’t he?
“I didn’t really take you for the rum and coke type.”
That was all he said while waiting, smiling or nodding or numbly observing Kosuke’s admirers as they came up in a reflection of how they responded to him. Vanity belonged in the limelight, despite the boredom. It looked natural on him, somehow, despite his distaste for it.
Even Kosuke had enough, though, and Todd nodded and followed him toward the back stairwell, drink in hand. He waited until they were out of earshot of the nearest guest before giving his friend a smirk. “Seems you’re quite the celebrity, Vanity. If these people like anybody it’s you.”
"Really?" Kosuke shrugged, "I guess my day job would hint more towards an espresso martini, but I don't like anything ruining my coffee. I like things simple, y'know?"
That was an understatement. Anyone at VULTURE could tell you how strict of a purist he was when it came to his coffee; despite drinking gallons of the stuff every day, he always had to make sure it was the right stuff. Dark roast, low acidity, brewed at exactly the right temperature so it tasted as smooth as possible- he could tell from smell alone when it had been scorched. Perhaps his day job was a way to manage this weird, hipster, control-freak nature of his. Music and coffee were both what VULTURE sold, and they were both what Kosuke was particularly opinionated about. Oh, well. It wasn't all bad- it meant he had passion, right?
He took his drink with a smile, making sure to tip the bartender so as not to end up on a blog post about Top Ten Celebrities Who Are Assholes In Real Life. He wasn't exactly BuzzFeed listicle status just yet, but there were a few sites he had to keep an eye on- music-focused ones, mostly, or anything based in Pittsburgh. Vanity had made mainstream news exactly two times- once for headlining a festival, and once for... well, for MYTHOMANE, of course.
There were a few looks of disappointment as he walked towards the stairwell, but everyone knew where he was going. It was no secret that Kosuke spent most of his time in Resident away from the action. The karaoke bar downstairs, which once took up the whole building, was his go-to spot for work outings and time off with PREMORTEM, so much so that he had built up something of a friendship with its owner. Not that it was particularly hard to befriend Hasegawa- the man was almost as talkative as his favourite customer, to the point where Kosuke wondered whether he had much of a life outside that little desk of his. There were rumours that he was something of a socialite in his youth, but most of his circle had aged out of this part of the city- unconfirmed, of course, but Kosuke still attempted to pry.
They were greeted, at the bottom of the stairwell, by a setting a lot less refined than the club above. It was dated--painfully dated--moreso resembling the hallway of an old mall than any sort of hip drinking establishment. Neon lights, plastic palm trees, a peeling checkerboard floor- and, in front of it all, a white plastic desk piled high with puzzle books, and a man sitting inattentively behind it.
Hasegawa was strikingly plain, dressed in a white button-down and blue jeans, with a pair of wire-frame glasses sitting awkwardly on his face. He was leaning over the desk, scowling down at an open book- a crossword, by the looks of things, that he had filled in about halfway. For a moment, it seemed that he was content to just sit there and continue, almost as oblivious as Kosuke could be at VULTURE sometimes, but, as soon as the pair made their approach, his head snapped up like a spring-loaded cannon.
"Good eve- ah, Kosuke-san!"
And, as soon as the man's name left his lips, the two were talking. Kosuke didn't know if Todd could speak Japanese, but he didn't really seem to care- completely ignoring the man as he was swept away in lively conversation, retaining the same cadence he had shown him during their meeting in VULTURE. Kosuke talked a lot, it seemed, regardless of the language he was using, and he was just as inattentive outside of work as he was behind his own counter.
They continued for minutes.
Hasegawa had to be the one to stop Todd from standing there, eventually gesturing at the young man, and pointing down the hall.
"Booth seven- down, far end, to the left." He laughed, "Go, sit down, make yourself comfortable- I'll let him go in a second."
He then turned back to Kosuke to continue their conversation, though Kosuke looked a little guilty.
Todd did not, in fact, speak Japanese, but he didn’t need to speak a language to understand the gist of a conversation. Some things were universal, some things were cultural, but it was always interesting to watch people and guess which was which. You could learn a lot about a person, and even a pair of people, by the way their bodies talked to each other, the facial expressions and posture that accompanied different vocal tones. People-watching like that was one of his favorite pastimes, way back when.
It’d helped him relearn how to do those things himself.
And when the man at the desk finally addressed him, Todd put that practice to use and offered him the best I have no intention to impose smile he had in his arsenal, and a wave of his hand. “Oh, take your time. I’ll be there when you’re done with him.”
He didn’t miss Kosuke’s expression, but he didn't comment on it, either; better to act the part than try to interrupt and reassure him that really, it was fine. He went and sat down, made himself comfortable, paying attention to details but not obsessing about them. Once he was seated, he picked up his phone and reopened his latest search. The Lament mousehole was still open, and he started bookmarking tabs for later reading. He wouldn’t start on the actual work – he was here to take his mind off vigilantism for an evening – but no point in wasting time until Kosuke could join him, however long that took.
After a few minutes too long, Kosuke finally walked into the booth.
"Sorry for making you wait like that, you know how it is with Hasegawa- guy could give me a run for my money, when it comes to engaging with his customers."
He laughed, still wearing the warmth from his prior conversation- seeming a lot more lively now than he did when they were upstairs.
"Shame he, ah- his tongue is loose. He tells you things he shouldn't. That's not why I talk to him, but- y'know, I can't help it if he treats me like a confessional sometimes! At least he trusts me not to talk about it!"
Or... had the alcohol got to him? The drink had gone down in level- not quite as much as Todd's, though the ice in both glasses seemed to have melted the same amount. He put the glass down on the centre table, content to ignore it for the time being. Then, he sat down opposite Todd, relaxing into the chair behind him- this one actually had a back, unlike those stools at the bar, so the embarrassing little stumble from before wasn't a problem this time.
Still, once he settled, Kosuke seemed a little weary.
"So," He said, "What happened to you? Why'd you have a bad week, hm?"
Todd did not, in fact know how it was with Hasegawa, but he let Kosuke tell him. He set his phone aside the second Vanity sat down, to be forgotten like the other man’s alcohol, though Todd noticed some of it was gone. That not being unusual given he’d just bought the drink, he didn’t give it any more thought. Todd himself had been working his way into his own cuba libre, enjoying the slight warmth it gave him in the sip that dissipated long before it could take effect.
He noticed the tiredness that came over Kosuke when he started to relax, though. Maybe a big social thing hadn’t been the best outlet for today, but if Kosuke had wanted to tell him no, he could’ve.
“Actually, no. She’s been the best part of all this. We just moved in together and– well, that’s not really right. She owns a couple of apartments down the hall from each other and is letting me stay in the one she’s not using. I know she wants me to move in with her, but… we’ve only been dating for a few weeks and that seems a little fast, y’know?”
Then he laughed and shook his head. “Sorry, fuck. I haven’t had the chance to talk about her to anybody but Mike out at Vik’s so far. She’s being really understanding about my space, and we’ve been spending a lot of time together. She makes me… really happy.”
And that would show on his face. Just the thought of Sam brought a little color to his features and a softness to his eyes. He let his teeth show a little bit, a rare sight, and shook his head again with that smile before it faded away again with a deep sigh.
“No, it kind of started with…” Where to actually start, and how much to tell? Kosuke was a normal human. Todd had some half-truths baked up, but they wouldn’t begin to describe the broken bones and then the panic attack and the gunshot and everything that’d happened in the last two weeks. He definitely wasn’t going to tell Kosuke about his vigilantism. If he didn’t freak out, he’d worry, and Todd didn’t want anybody worrying about him that way. He didn’t really deserve the concern.
But he did need to vent, so he decided to just start with the basics. “To make a really long story short, there’s this guy who’s made me a new job offer. And I don’t really want to take it – thanks again for Neal’s info, by the way. I love it at Vik’s. But he’s invited me to do something a little more private and I really don’t want to, y’know? But he wouldn’t really take no for an answer, so I’ve agreed to call him up for drinks sometime. And he seems pretty cool, we’ve got a lot in common I think, but I know he’s just going to keep pressuring me for that job, and there’s only so many ways to politely tell a guy ‘no,’ right?”
Hm. Maybe Hasegawa talking Vanity’s ear off wasn’t Hasegawa’s fault at all. He finally got around to the point he’d actually planned to tell Kosuke about if his scar had been worse. It was mostly hidden under facepaint now, but now he was going.
“And then icing on the cake is I get mugged last night by a creep in a costume. That was kinda the last straw, I guess. I just needed a break, y’know?”
Perhaps surprisingly, given his propensity to chatter, Kosuke didn't interrupt Todd at any point. The thought seemed not to have even cross his mind. He was a good listener, in truth; anyone at VULTURE would tell you that, if they thought you needed to know. As Todd spoke, Kosuke sat there, and he nodded, and he watched.
He certainly got on well with his roommate, it seemed. The entire time they had been together, Todd had seemed more placid than genuinely happy, content with going through the motions a night like this would bring. Kosuke couldn't blame him- it was hard to get excited for a party at Resident unless you were the kind of person who already knew what Resident was, and he had to introduce the venue to Todd with what amounted to an apology.
Still, even at VULTURE, the man had seemed reserved. The change, however brief, was almost impossible not to notice- but, again, Kosuke couldn't blame him. Todd had arrived in Pittsburgh with no direction, no social circle, not even a job lined up until Kosuke pushed him towards Nash and his lot. To say the man must've been lonely was to say the sun must've been hot- no wonder he fell so hard, so fast, for what Kosuke could only hope was not the first woman he met. Then- shit, to find out he didn't even have a stable place to stay, as well? As fascinating as his romantic escapades were, they only raised a more pertinent question; what the hell was he doing here in the first place?
"Fuck, man, you sure do."
The girlfriend- he knew how relationships this intense tended to end. The job offer- at least he knew that one was suspicious. The mugging- there was a scar across his cheek, but it had faded by now- a shallow wound, most likely, so he probably got off relatively unharmed.
As Todd had been speaking, a frown had started to creep onto Kosuke's face. By now, once he had finally begun his response, it was just about the only thing there: Concern. He leaned forwards, sighing sympathetically.
"Look, it's alright." He said, "My first month here was rough as well. Left my whole damn life back in Kyoto. Chased some stupid research job across the Pacific, then found myself stranded here when those prospects inevitably fell through. No job, no connections; all I had to keep me company was the black mold on my apartment walls, and the guitar I had brought with me on the plane over- the only thing left from where I was. From who I was."
He laughed- bitter.
"And, yeah, I got mugged a couple times. You learn to avoid certain areas, after a while; certain streets, certain districts, certain people. First time, I got caught down by the river. Got the scar on my chest to prove it- not that you'd want me to take my shirt off for you, this isn't that kind of venue."
His posture relaxed a little, gaze still casually levelled at Todd, like he had told this story enough times that it stopped hurting, like he wanted Todd to feel the same about his, one day.
"Still..." He smirked, "Hell of a bad time to be mugged by a costumed killer, eh? Who was it- Freddy? Ghostface? Another Jack Skellington?"
Kosuke caught himself.
"Sorry, sorry- too soon. Is that what people say when they offend someone? Too soon?"
He waved his hand dismissively, forcing shut the opening in the conversation until he had finished his point.
"Look, what I'm trying to get at here is... I've been there, yeah? I don't tell people this- fuck, I don't even tell myself this, but I have been there. What you've got going on, it's hard.
It was odd to see him so pensive. Even with the mask covering his eye, you could tell it wasn't something he was all that used to. Kosuke never wore negativity particularly well- it was like his face was designed only to smile, or shout, or emote absolutely nothing at all. To frown was to go off-model. It was strange.
He looked Todd in the eye, practically staring him down through the sunglass lens, his expression only a little softer than the intensity one would expect. It was a good thing that lens was there; it certainly helped dampen it down.
"You got friends, Todd?" He asked, "Outside of, like, your roommate, and your job, and this guy who's trying to leverage his friendship into another job you clearly don't wanna take; you got anyone else?"
He sighed again.
"I only say this because, if it weren't for PREMORTEM, I'd..."
Todd couldn’t help but notice the shift in Kosuke’s body language. He wasn’t disturbed by it at all, especially since the silence, the sense of watching, was actually very familiar. A taste of his own medicine, as it were. It was actually pretty nice being on the receiving end for once while he vented. What wasn’t familiar was the frown, the worry in Kosuke’s face and eyes. Todd tried to stay detached, at least physically, when he was the one listening. He felt like it made him easier to talk to, if there wasn’t that personal attachment.
But of course Kosuke was going to look worried. Most people would. Not everyone was as deliberate as Todd was in social interactions. And honestly? The sympathy was a nice change of pace.
And then it was Todd’s turn again, Todd’s turn to pick up pieces and scraps and listen to whatever Kosuke wanted to tell him while drinking his cuba libre. He was more surprised that he wasn’t surprised to find out Kosuke was an immigrant. It just felt right, like an obvious puzzle piece. If he’d been talking, it would’ve been a little embarrassing for Todd to admit he wasn’t sure which Asian country Kyoto was in. It felt Japanese, but he didn’t want to make assumptions, and he definitely wasn’t going to ask now. He’d remember to look it up later.
Immigration wasn’t the most important part of what Kosuke said, though. He saw how hard it was for Vanity to admit he’d ever had a problem before. Was it the venue making it hard, or Kosuke’s personality? Hard to say. He always seemed so confident, so quietly self-assured, when Todd talked to him. Never intimidating, but always in control. It really must suck to admit he’d ever lost that control.
Todd was grateful that he did, though. It had the desired effect, and some of the underlying tension melted from Todd’s shoulders. He seemed a little more comfortable in the chair, and actually met Kosuke’s eye. The stare was human, and bore none of his usual instinctive challenge.
“It’s fine, man, really. It’s not my first rodeo when it comes to that.” Todd laughed a little, with no bitterness, as he waved his hand. No perceived slight, and if there was, all was forgiven. “Freddy’s pretty close. I think that’s what the outfit was supposed to be, but he had an actual mask, too. Honestly I just feel kind of stupid. I’ve been around, I should know better.”
Know better than to kick down the door of a weird hostage situation instead of explore and investigate first. The fight with Malachite and the apparent victory with Obsidian had left him feeling cocky. It wasn’t a mistake he was going to repeat anytime soon. Cryptid was going to go back to caution and observation moving forward.
“I… don’t really have anybody, no.” He kept talking, because he wasn’t here to think about Cryptid or Lament or Obsidian. “Friends– I don’t know. I don’t think friends are extra baggage or anything stupid like that. I, uh– I’ve just spent most of my adult life on the road. The only time I’ve tried to put down roots was five years ago, and I had a big falling out with my best friend there. My… only friend, there.”
He shook his head. Took a bigger drink than the little sips than he’d been having, in Arlo’s memory.
“I’ve been trying to play it safe since then. Mixed results. Sam’s the closest I’ve let somebody come since… in a while.” The smile peeked back through, and his eyes unfocused a little. “Not like she’s really given me a choice. She’s being as patient as she can, but that’s– not very, if you know what I mean. She’s not pushing at all but you can tell…”
He caught himself, and blushed a little under the makeup. The wistful smile became more sheepish, and he laughed again, disarmingly. “Sorry, sorry. The point is I’m not really used to the whole friends thing. Settling down, having a normal life. Hell, having a relationship, none of that mattered before. I stayed in Columbus for a year, and even that started to feel too long. I’m coming up on six months here, and this is the most attached I’ve been to a place since Montana. And that’s got me a little worried.”
There was a genuine sadness, and maybe – just maybe – a glimpse of that preemptive grief he kept away from even Sam when he could.
“It hurts a lot less to pick up roots if you don’t put them down in the first place.”
Todd returned the stare- open, if not comfortable. It was a safe bet, saying the man was lonely. Compared to Kosuke, most people were; his friendship model of everyone everywhere all at once was perhaps enviable, but certainly not replicable. That didn't mean his perspective was warped, however; he was never that naive, never even seemed that way. Kosuke knew loneliness. Perhaps he didn't know it so well in himself, but he knew loneliness. The way he had been speaking to Todd made that very clear.
He hadn't touched his drink since putting it down. He hadn't even looked at the thing; it was like he had completely forgotten it had existed, despite having paid for it. It just sat on the table, condensation pooling on the vinyl surface. His attention was entirely on Todd. Perhaps he thought it impolite to be anywhere else.
And he listened, once again; posture open, face concerned, occasionally nodding along to what his companion had to say. It was impressive how natural it was, for the pair of them. Two near-strangers ditching a Halloween party to blow off steam in an underground karaoke booth, skipping a whole dozen drinks to get right to the open conversation about love and solidude part of the night. Normally, people like them would be rolling on the floor by the time someone managed to get this out of them, but Kosuke, at least, was stone-cold sober.
Wasn't his first rodeo, hm? Well, you'd expect that from a life on the road- though, the criminals in Pittsburgh could be a bit unusual. Perhaps one of those types had got to him. Hell of a first impression, if that was the case. Kosuke echoed the laugh, echoed the comfort.
"Don't blame yourself, man. This city's all kinds of fucked up, even beyond the meta-" -that characteristic pause- "-humans. I'm just glad you made it through alright- fuck, you made it through a hell of a lot better than I did, I can tell you that. Still, you live and learn."
He brought his hand up to his chest, idly tracing the path of a scar beneath his jacket.
"I'll walk you home, if you want. I don't know how many of those Cuba libres we're gonna have, but I might as well offer anyway, yeah? If there's one thing worse than being mugged, it's being mugged drunk."
His hand tensed up involuntarily- so sudden, in fact, that it made everything else seem almost too controlled in comparison, like an actor fumbling his lines. He inhaled sharply, bringing it down to rest beside his leg.
"Especially if you don't know what you're dealing with."
Which was an easy position to be in, here. It was the case during that first time Kosuke got mugged in Pittsburgh; he still bore the nail-scars on his wrist, faded though they were, covered though they were, minor though they were.
He brought his hands together, idly clasping them over his lap as he continued to look across at his companion. As Todd's face bore more weight, more emotion, Kosuke's seemed to do the opposite; his frown calcifying into hollow concern, detached curiosity. Though both seemed willing to speak on heavy subjects, only one seemed willing to feel them. Perhaps Kosuke simply wasn't drunk enough to stop running. Perhaps he never would be.
"I'm worried about you, Todd." He said, "That's a dangerous mindset to have."
Kosuke leaned forwards.
"Sure, it's easier to pick up roots. But you've got to remember- you're not the only one capable of picking. If you make it easier for someone else to take you someplace you don't wanna be- fuck, if you make it painless..."
He shook his head.
"Shit, maybe I'm projecting a little here. I apologise."
Finally, he reached for his drink; bringing the glass to his lips, then putting it back down on the table.
"I s'pose a better thing to say would be- the more crowds you're in, the harder it is for the wrong ones to single you out, y'know? But, hey-"
"Maybe I just like to talk. Maybe that's just me."
Todd was reading Kosuke’s body language and facial expression while they kept talking. The pause, between meta and human, like they weren’t the same thing – that didn’t go unnoticed, but there was something else about it. Something Todd found reassuring. It was a reminder that Kosuke was just a man, a normal man who didn’t have to worry about superpower bullshit on the daily. It meant he could give a fresh outlook on things.
And he did. He worried, sure, but his perspective felt… familiar. A good kind of familiar. There was also something about being able to relate to someone who was so clearly normal that settled the human half of his soul around the other man.
But his animal pricked its ears at the sudden tension. It was impossible not to notice as the detachment set in. He listened earnestly while Kosuke talked about pressures, about experience, about the ability to get moved if you didn’t have a good handle on your own roots and resources. And Todd noticed the fact that while he was almost done with his drink, Vanity’s remained untouched, even as he started to talk about subjects better numbed against.
Even when Vanity picked the glass up, he didn’t drink it. That, more than the hollow distraction, was the sign Todd needed that Kosuke was speaking from experience.
Instead of addressing the subject, or his observations, Todd redirected with a laugh that wasn’t as soft and comfortable as the last one, but was still far from harsh. Amused, tinged – maybe – with regret. “God, you sound just like Arlo.”
As Kosuke became more tense, more hollow, Todd seemed more animated, looser than his one drink might’ve suggested. Like he was counterbalancing the shift on the other side of the table, but without thinking about it. It was as natural to him as the sparkle in his blue eyes. As the sadness that was under the sparkle, as he waved his hand.
“Well, not just like him. Sorry, I just – I think he’s the last one who worried about me like that. It’s…different with Sam. But you don’t need to worry about me, man. I can take care of myself.”
He took another drink of his own, nearly finished as it was, then set it aside again and shook his head.
“You don’t have anything to apologize about. I get it. Tonight I think I’ll stick with the one drink. It’s not half bad, but I’d rather drive home especially after– y’know. Actually if you wanted, I could drive you back to your place. I know you said it’s not far, but I wouldn’t mind.”
His smile remained friendly, but not purely polite – the edges of his teeth visible every so often, the warmth melting the edges of his cold blue eyes. Maybe Kosuke would understand the suggestion in the edge, not about going back to his place, but responding to the kind offer with another in return. We should look out for each other. If Todd was picking his own crowd, maybe Kosuke wasn’t a half bad choice to start off with.
Todd was more animated now, the chasm between their demeanours widening with every word. Kosuke, whilst remaining attentive, seemed to close himself off even more; folding his arms loosely in front of him, leaning further forward in his seat, angling his head downwards to only glance up at Todd towards the end of his speech, peering at him just over the sunglass lens. He was sympathetic, it seemed, but his emotions were purely external, purely Todd's. His own hinted-at trauma was buried; hidden behind the half-mask, so as not to infect his open eye. And, though he may speak as if to unearth, it would remain as such; a radioactive core beneath mile-wide layers of lead. Hidden.
"You sure you're gonna be alright to drive?" He asked, "The drinks here run pretty strong, it might not be, like, legal."
Though, unbeknownst to him, the drinks were anything but.
Todd understood the message of Kosuke’s body language, and remained non-threatening and relaxed in response. He was both extremely defensive, and trying to reflect Todd’s mood and expression. Had Todd said something wrong, or was he just not ready to address the trauma that kept him from actually drinking at Resident?
Not that Todd could really tell how strong a beverage was based on how it affected him, since his metabolism kept everything except a slight burn away. In this case, a very, very slight burn.
“Honestly, this might as well be straight cola. You could get a flashlight and check my reflexes, but I’ll be fine.”
He could pry. It crossed his mind. But he and Kosuke weren’t that close, and it felt intrusive. So instead he had a little more of his drink. “You said you came stateside for a research job, right? What kind of research?”
He was poking at something that he might be passionate about without getting Kosuke started on music tangents again. Friendly and unobtrusive.
He looked down at his drink, flat and untouched, and allowed his posture to relax. A smile crossed his face; friendly, and uncharacteristically sheepish.
"Guess I wouldn't know, huh?"
It was almost impressive how casual he managed to remain. Kosuke wasn't supposed to be lying here. Todd changed the subject, clearly aware he had caught him out in this regard; a kind gesture, one that showed the mistake wasn't too grievous. Not that it would be, of course, but Kosuke was careful. Kosuke was always careful. Now he knew what not to say next time, at least. He followed along, changing gears alongside his companion.
"Oh, nothing interesting- data collection, something to do with road speed and aerodynamics, for some fuckin' car company. I forgot the exact one. Never been a car guy myself, but I figured I should probably put my degree to use."
He gave a terse frown.
"Then- I don't know. I guess it was cheaper to hire local, so my contract fell through. I had moved halfway across the world- no friends, no plans, and now no job. The things I was running from had already caught up, and I had- I... just had both my ankles fucking slashed up from under me."
Then, he laughed.
"Honestly, much as it sucked at the time, it ended up being the best thing to happen to me. Meant I had some time to reflect- to find myself, rather than chasing after who I thought I was at- what, eighteen?"
He shrugged, gesturing to himself. He really didn't look like an office worker, or a contracted researcher, or anyone who would work anywhere near a car company.
"I always wanted to be a musician. Always wanted a band. Of course- well, growing up, that's not the kind of career path you're allowed to want past the age of five, so I kept it as a side gig and dragged myself towards a normal job; I forced myself to conform, if you want the pithy shit I give interviewers. I guess... I guess, to take a risk like that, I kinda needed nothing to lose, y'know? And to have nothing to lose, I needed to lose what I already had. Or... what I could've had, I guess."
Kosuke shook his head- more relaxed than before. A lot more.
"Man- fuck, sorry for getting all sentimental there. Aren't we meant to be doing karaoke or some shit?"