This RP is open, but with limitations.


Staff member
Mary lifted another heavy box into the back of the black, 2001 Toyota Tacoma. She had acquired the truck out of an abandoned part yard. She had to nick a new windshield, a new set of spark plugs, and a new fuel pump off a few of the other vehicles, but she was able to get the little thing running again. The retrofitted speaker was playing a song fairly loudly as Mary hummed along.

Mary felt like she was smiling, she smiled all the time. But her face didn't reflect her intentions, only her thoughts. As a deadpan display dominated her features, Mary shoved the box further into the truck bed and made her way back inside the little hole-in-the-wall she used to call a 'hideout.' The idea of using this place for her Anti-Meta Militia had crossed her mind, Avery had even suggested it would be a good spot over the gutted apartment building. But there were too many memories here, Mary couldn't stand it.

Reentering the room, Mary looked over at a set of beanbags and chairs clustered around a squat little coffee table. On the table, a DnD mat and map had been laid out with little figurines scattered about it. She stared at it for a long time, looking carefully at the shape of each little plastic figure. They had saved so much money to order those, carefully designed them to be like each one of their characters. Mary was the DM, she wasn't supposed to have her own character, but her brothers had insisted she play as a member of the party as well as run the campaign.

Markus had been playing a ranger, the useless fuck loved bows even though he had never shot a real one. Brian was a paladin, always trying to be good. Harry played a well-rounded, helpful fighter. Mary was a Warlock, of course, and Jim Jam... He was playing a Warlock too... He wanted to be like Mary so much. He had always talked about how he was going to make millions of dollars and put Mary up in a mansion. Mary would laugh at that, Jim Jam was the only one younger than her, but all the boys acted like she was their mom and they needed to take care of her.

She found herself standing in front of the table before she knew it and, with a bitter smile, kicked the whole damn thing over. Was she screaming when she did it? She couldn't hear it if she was, but her throat hurt, her mouth was open and she felt like she was quickly running out of breath. Maybe she was screaming. When she felt like it was over, she crouched down in front of where the table had been and tried to cry. She tried.

But she didn't have tears left anymore.
Todd hadn’t seen Mary since that night. He remembered her face, the pain in her voice. He clearly remembered offering a way out that didn’t end in bloodshed. He knew, in his gut, that she wasn’t the reason why everything had gone to hell.

He knew, without actually feeling it, that he wasn’t to blame either.

But he’d never asked Sam what happened. There was so much else to talk about, so much else to think about. He wanted to ask, of course he did. But asking Sam would come with absolution – absolution he didn’t deserve. That she had no right to give.

He’d spoken with Mary about her family, that first night. He followed the alleys without any difficulty; he’d taken careful note of where the hole in the wall was, in case he ever needed to find her again. Her family, she’d said, were animals. They were human, but they were like her, in spirit. She loved them in her rough way, and he’d appreciated that, as someone who couldn’t afford to love anything roughly.

Maybe he didn’t actually remember the break, when he kicked Sam’s knee out. But he could imagine it. And the sensation of hunting, the sensation of chasing, of fear, of panic, of –

Someone screamed.

He was running before he could think, making the last few turns and barely registering that the dumpster had been pulled out as he dove past it, into the little living space. He skidded to a halt as he scanned the room, taking in how much was missing. Taking in what was left, the chairs, the overturned table…

And the girl sitting beside it, screaming numbly. The girl who was the source of the anger scent, and the ear-splitting sound. The girl with black hair and a face that was twisted, but was recognizable. Todd paused only long enough to look down at her, to shove away his own guilt, and to take his hat off. Then, he approached, circling so that he’d be in front of her face when he crouched down close to her. Within arm’s reach.

“Mary,” he said, very softly. A warning, before he touched her, before he rested his hand on her shoulder. A little pressure behind the hand, an offer of human contact. He didn’t look at the mess on the floor, or the empty room, now. He watched and listened to her breathing, and kept his face open and kind, showing none of his guilt.
Mary's head snapped up. Someone was crouched in front of her with a hand on her shoulder. She couldn't really see who it was through her angry eyes, but after a few vigorous face rubs she recognized the curly hair.

"Todd!" Mary spoke with a wide grin and a joyful tone, the noises that may or may not have escaped her earlier were gone. Reaching out, she gave him a quick hug and stood up with a spring in her step. Shaking off the invisible weights from her shoulders, Mary stepped past Todd and kicked a few of the scattered figurines aside.

"You's should've told me you's was comin' by! Would'a cleaned up a lil for ya cutie! Haha! How you's been? Work at the car shop been good for ya? I ain't robbed it, swears, if that's why you's come 'round." Her voice was happy, but not in a clinical or clearly fake sort of way. It was almost genuine happiness, a personality switch flicked from something real to something put on.

A heavy mask, to be sure. Glancing back at Todd, Mary asked, "Why have you's come 'round?"
“Well, I figured it’d been a while since I stopped in,” he offered, as a half-truth. The personality switch didn’t seem to affect him, the way it might most people. No alarm, no surprise. But, despite the things she didn’t know, she did know he was a shapeshifter. That shouldn’t be surprising to her, either.

He looked her over, well aware that the anger had been at seeing her in this state – at being disturbed. He couldn’t tell her that he knew she’d been grieving. He couldn’t tell her that he knew what she’d been through. That he’d caused it. But he could try to balance the scales, with her. He could offer her comfort. If that was a betrayal, it was a small one, compared to the other night.

“Seems like I came back by in the nick of time. I didn’t realize you were packing up and heading out.” He made himself smile as he teasingly ruffled her hair – a habit he’d developed with Nat that he found himself carrying over to other people, when he was deflecting. “Were you gonna leave me a note or something, or make me come and find you?”
Todd ruffled Mary's hair and she felt a surge of rage. It didn't reflect in her face, and Mary didn't know Todd would be able to tell anyway, but she hid it extraordinarily well. It was not on purpose, of course, but it happened nonetheless. A reaction of 'you don't touch me like that, no one gets to touch me like that anymore.'

Mary moved past Todd and toward the back of the room, a small filing cabinet and an empty banker box was all that was left to pack. Opening the top drawer, Mary replied as she rifled through the papers, "Oh come now babe, you's don't know me like that. Besides, I'm not goin' nowhere hard to find. Ain't you's seen my fliers up 'round the city?" Mary almost wanted to scream at Todd, to demand why he was acting like he didn't know.

Maybe he didn't know, though. Mary didn't know how much he got out, or how often he watched the news. It had been on the news for a night, but no more than that. A gruesome triple homicide, or at least that's what the police called it. It was really four dead, but they didn't find enough of Jim Jam to- to-

Mary choked and tried to cough through it as her mind wandered for a moment to thoughts of Jim Jam. Laughing, she pulled a few papers out and placed them into the box.
"Don't worry, I ain't gonna come after you's. Not unless you's gonna make me."

Todd’s smile faded at the edges. The anger was sudden enough that he almost sneezed, but he kept it together. Kept her scent in his nose under it, aware of how faint the Axe body spray was, after a week. He turned to watch her as she stepped away from him. He didn’t follow. She needed space, and he’d give her room to breathe.

He knew what it was like to be that angry. She had every right to her anger. And he knew what it was like, to pretend that wasn’t the case.

“I’ve seen them,” he assured her, his voice still soft. “They just say ‘Mary.’ I had no idea it was you. Last time we talked, you seemed pretty behind metas. It’s a big change.”

I’m sorry.

It was his fault. His and Sam’s. Whatever had happened, though, it had ultimately been on him. He couldn’t control the hunt, but he didn’t understand it, either. He could’ve warned Mary, when they saw each other before, that predators existed. He was a predator. And she knew it. But she hadn’t made any kind of connection.

Why wasn’t he relieved by that?

“Are your brothers joining?”

The question slipped out as he tried to fill the space, and he bit his tongue as soon as he asked it. It’d seemed casual, for just a second. It’d seemed – it’d seemed –

He hadn’t been thinking. But he had a decade of experience shoving the feeling back out of his face, hiding the embarrassment. He was a predator with camouflage that’d make a chameleon blush. And as much as he hated to use it, he couldn’t hurt Mary more by telling her outright he’d come to see her after betraying her. All he could do was give her an opening where he could offer his condolences.
Mary laughed.

It was not a kind sound. Mary's laugh had never necessarily been a kind sound in the first place though. It was a mix between a snort and a cackle, something that sounded unintentionally fake and possibly intentionally cruel. But that had been how Mary used to laugh, back when she had real things to laugh at. Now? Now it sounded perfect, the soft trill of a woman's voice giggling with delight. A delightful giggle. A soft breath. An intentional cruelty.

"No silly~! They're dead!"

Mary laughed again and placed a few more papers into the box. Looking back at Todd, Mary's smile faded a little as she continued, "Oh? Babe? Didn't you's hear? Well, is not like they was given an ob-it-uary I's guess. Just a report in the news! Three dead! Meta murderers! Jimmy Johnnes did a piece on it, that stupid fat fuck, haha! Ha! Hahaha, hah, yeah."

Mary placed a few more papers into the box, looking away from Todd. Her face seemed unaffected by her words, but her hands were trembling something terrible. There was so much rage clawing through her chest that it hurt to breathe, but she didn't let it show. Todd didn't deserve that to be taken out on him. It wasn't his fault.

"More'n three dead though. Markus, Brian an' Harry were killed by two fuckin' vigilantees. Trigger happy fucks jus' couldn't leave nobody alone. Jim Jam, I- I don't know what happened to him. But he's dead, he's definitively dead..."
The laugh made the hair on the back of Todd’s neck stand on end. It should’ve been pleasant, should’ve soothed something human in him. Instead, he felt some weight in his chest get even tighter. A week, and he still felt the hum under his skin, the energy that kept the energy at bay.

At least he knew which name belonged to the one responsible.

He tried to place the face to it, but he didn’t really remember any of the names spoken that night – if any names were spoken. He remembered one of them, pulling the trigger while his back was turned. He remembered Mary’s voice for half a second. He remembered, hazily, that he’d relaxed, opened the floor to a conversation.

They hadn’t been the trigger happy ones, he wanted to snap back. But he couldn’t bring himself to do that. His throat was too tight. Her voice was too small, even if it wasn’t all that changed. That laugh was too sweet. That wasn’t like Mary.

He looked down at the floor, at the figurines spilled everywhere. He picked up two of them, the one with a bow and the one with the heavier armor. He didn’t know anything about D&D, except that Mary liked it. Ghul, she’d called him. Not a wendigo.

I don’t know what happened to him.

No body, then. Just blood. Not even clothes. He had to wonder what he’d done with the clothes, and why. He turned the figurines over, and then set them upright on the side of the coffee table. He turned back to Mary, and carefully crossed the room to her, to where she was keeping busy to hide the shake in her hands. A weakness he only noticed from practice.

“If you need to be angry, you can,” he said, softly.

He hoped it wasn’t guilt she saw in his eyes, behind the soft sadness. He knew it wasn’t his fault. He just couldn’t control it. He’d been shot, potentially lethally. He might’ve started it, but it wasn’t his fault it ended like that.

It wasn’t Jim Jam’s, either. Or Sam’s, or Mary’s.

“I’m sorry, Mary.” It felt empty, but maybe she’d just hear a simple condolence. “Your brothers didn’t deserve that. You don’t deserve that. If you think this’ll help you find closure, then let me help. It’s okay.”

Let me make it up to you.
If you need to be angry, you can,” he said, softly.

Mary froze at those words.

Her teeth gritted, Mary gently, so terribly gently, set the rest of the papers down in the box. Then, slamming the drawer shut as Todd finished speaking the rest of his condolences, Mary responded, "Who the FUCK cares? Mhm?" Mary spun around to face Todd. Her eyes were wild, her face devoid of tears, and her arms tensing uncontrollably.

"I KNOW who did it! It doesn't MATTER Todd! Two vilgilantees, a redheaded bitch and a MONSTER. She call's 'erself a 'Phoenix,' can you's believe it?" Mary turned away then, striding over to where the beanbags were and flopping herself down with enough force that she definitively sunk through the old thing and hit her ass on the floor beneath it. Ignoring the pain, she continued shouting,

"The Phoenix and Cryptid. I heard his name, she screamed it. Markus, stupid markus, he shot the monster. It didn' go down tho- jus' kinda got up and started actin' weird. I barely remember anything after that. Jus' everyone goin' down, Phoenix killin' one, the monster knocking over everyone else, then chasin' Jim Jam..."

Mary leaned forward in the chair, gripping her hair and breathing deeply. Her chest was seizing as she thought her next words, fighting to say them, fighting to make them real.

"I couldn' do nothin'. I couldn' get up, I couldn' move, I froze... I fuckin' froze..."
I care.

He didn’t say that, because he couldn’t even think about the answer to the natural follow-up of why. He listened to her story, following over to the remaining beanbag and sitting down more carefully than she had. He listened like it was the first time he was hearing it, like he hadn’t been there. Did it matter that he didn’t even remember? That the monster–

No. No, if he denied that he was the same thing as Mary’s monster, he just got that much closer to letting his control slip. But he put the pieces together while she talked. The gunshot had been Markus – that’d probably been the person Phoenix killed. He didn’t know why he’d bother knocking the others down, but Jim-Jam running would’ve changed the whole night.

And then, of course, Phoenix chasing him after Mary froze, when everyone was dead. She would’ve followed, because there was only one person left.

I care, he thought again. He had no idea if he cared enough to do anything about it. He’d been thinking about Ethan’s offer every day since he’d made it. The chance to learn to control the monster, rather than repress it; to not live in fear.

But that meant admitting the monster was something other than himself. And, deep down, Todd knew that just wasn’t true.

He cared enough to listen, though. To lean forward, elbows on his knees, when Mary started to spiral. He didn’t touch her, not without permission. But he held out a hand, in case she wanted to take it. In case she needed to ground herself. She didn’t need to know that it was the same hand that’d taken Jim Jam’s life. She didn’t deserve to lose someone else. Knowing that – and knowing that he’d come anyway, knowing what he was – would ruin her.

“It’s not your fault,” he said instead, though his throat was tight. God, it hurt that the only conclusion to come to was that it was nobody’s fault, or the fault of someone who’d died. “The freezing, the running, the fighting– those are all natural responses. If you’d run, he might’ve chased you instead – and if you’d fought, Phoenix might’ve killed you. And I know it hurts, Mary. Jesus, believe me, it hurts. But you survived.”

Of course, he knew firsthand that surviving was often worse than not. He knew that finding a direction after losing everything – over and over again – was worse than the actual loss. It ached, somewhere in his chest, in his memory. But he’d lived. And if he knew Mary, he knew she’d live, too. It was just a matter of picking a direction, if she hadn’t already.