Closed RP Frequency

This RP is currently closed.


Staff member

It was late.

The store was as quiet as it was not. An empty store meant less customers, which meant his music choice didn't have to be quite as palatable, nor did it have to be played at a sensible volume. The only people who came in at this hour were regulars; people who knew who he was, knew his quirks. He was sweeping, now; gliding across the day's dust with the broom, almost dancing with it in his steps. He was singing into it like it was a microphone, projecting his voice like he was on stage. His register was a little lower than the song in question, but he made it work. Vanity always made it work.




His audience of one, Carrie, took this as her queue to leave.
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Todd heard Kosuke from the other side of the doors, and paused to listen with his eyes closed It was pretty late, but he was hoping to catch Kosuke alone before he locked up for the night. In the pocket of the coat he didn’t need was a wad of cash and a paper list that included a series of albums and a few pieces of recording equipment to ask about.

Including a brand of speakers, and some dimensions.

But he wasn't here on Cryptid business, for the most part. He wasn’t going to risk his one normal relationship for that. No, instead he was here for a personal project. A Todd project. He did his best to cover his limp as he opened his eyes and pulled the door open, adjusting his cap with his free hand and looking around to scan for any other customers.
The door opened. There was no bell, and the hinges were near-silent; if the door made any noticeable sound when opened, it would drown out the speakers, which meant the staff of VULTURE would be even more irritable during the winter months. With the current volume of the music, nobody really should've been able to hear it. Indeed; if it were any one of VULTURE's regular employees behind the doors, then they probably would've carried on business as usual, not noticing Todd's arrival until he entered their line of sight and snapped them out of their broom-dancing daze.

Vanity froze, mid-lean, as soon as his fingernails clicked against the glass.

He kicked the broom out from beside him, throwing it in the air and catching it in his hands, resting it over his shoulder like a particularly long and dusty sword- every motion, of course, in rhythm. His expression was as intense as it was completely unintelligible; a new warning light showing up on your dashboard halfway down the highway. The singing had stopped. Then, once he reached into his pocket for the remote, the music stopped as well. Todd entered the store a beat afterwards.

"Empty, save for us." He said, "Isn't there something you want to ask?"
He hesitated as he stepped through the door, feeling something off in the air around him. The store was empty; there was nobody else here but him and Kosuke, which was what he’d been hoping for. But there was something about the shop’s owner that made him pause on the threshold, that allowed just a hint of alarmed sharpness to seep through into his eyes. There was an intensity around the other man that he couldn’t place, and it made him uneasy.

Then, he realized what he must look like. He was wearing a black turtleneck that peeked up under his usual collared shirt, a short gray coat over his tan vest, and still he couldn’t help the slight shaking in his hands as they slid into his pockets. He was cold, the kind of cold that was only getting worse the farther he got from the two incidents that’d taken up most of his energy. His paler-than-usual chin was shaded with a neglected beard that he hadn’t bothered to shave since Connor’s visit to Vik’s, and he’d gotten a bit lazy combing the tightly coiled curls on top of his head, which had already started to look a little overgrown. On top of it all, he knew his already sharp bones were probably even more obvious than usual. He either looked like death, a hobo, or a depressive episode on two feet. No wonder Kosuke was looking at him funny.

He relaxed, slumping in on himself a little and getting out of the doorway. A hand left his pocket long enough to push the hair off his forehead and start tugging free a few of the knots between curls. Still, Todd moved carefully, making sure that his limp wasn’t something a normal person could make out clearly in his gait.

“A couple things, actually,” he said, keeping his voice soft but tinging it with friendly warmth, “but if you’re closing up, I don’t wanna bother you. I can come back tomorrow at a more reasonable hour.”

And I’ll make sure to look a little more human, he didn’t add.
His gaze lingered on Todd a little too long, scanning him up and down from behind the sunglasses- although, the way his eyes settled on certain details seemed to suggest this went beyond a cursory investigation. He had noticed things, perhaps. They stopped at his eyes; dark and sunken, sleepless or otherwise drained. They stopped at his hands; stuffed into his pockets, despite the heating being turned to Vanity's preferred warmth. They stopped at his hips; angled slightly, weight shifted to one side, the asymmetry as well-concealed as it was obsessively bothersome.

He threw the broom towards him.

"Lean on this."

There was no sympathy in his voice, no warmth. The line was said far more like a command than a suggestion; his concern lay less with Todd's health, and more with his appearance, with his direction. Detached. His eyes continued to crawl, watching intently to see whether his vision would be met. Only then, once the broom was out of his hands and Todd's explanation had been given, did Kosuke start to return to himself.

"Hey, don't worry about it, man." He smiled, "Not a bother at all. Everything alright?"

It was like turning on a switch- or, perhaps, turning it off instead. Not only did Kosuke appear more friendly and open, but more sleepy as well. His posture had relaxed, folding in on itself like a wet napkin without the broom to prop him up. He looked like he needed a coffee.

"You look like you need a coffee."
Todd didn’t think as he reached out and grabbed the broom. His focus was on the man across from him, on the weird calculation in his body language and attitude. For a moment, there was the temptation not to take the command, to simply hold the broom where he’d absent-mindedly caught it.

The moment passed, however, and Todd put his weight into the makeshift staff with the familiarity of someone used to using branches for the same purpose on a long hike. His knee immediately thanked him by fading from the occasional sharp pain to a dull throb.

When he’d settled, he knew he’d caused a change in Kosuke. The other man had faded out from the overbearing voice of judgment to the sleepy storeowner he was used to, that he’d gone out with. The tension that had built in his shoulders drained – all but the little bit necessary to hide the shake in his arm.

He smiled at his friend, without any teeth. His eyes softened, though his voice was still clear and warm. “Coffee sounds great. I’ll take whatever you’ve got that’s bitter – usually helps ground me better than anything that actually tastes nice.”
Satisfied that Todd had something to lean against, Kosuke made his way over to the coffee bar and flicked on the espresso machine, sliding a couple of small glasses underneath the nozzles.

"Americano, black." He said, "We've got this new robusta blend in, actually- it's roasted a bit darker than our usual, so it should be more than bitter enough."

He made a face.

"Yeah, definitely more than bitter enough. Let me know if it's too much, and I'll throw on a filter brew for you instead."

The espresso machine whined into life; far more audible than it usually was, now that the music wasn't there to drown it out. Kosuke turned towards the fridge to fix his own drink, taking out the jug of pre-made cold brew and pouring it over a half-melted cup of ice whilst Todd's order got up to temperature. Once the machine's screaming reached its apex, he turned back around to attend it, nudging the glasses more securely into position and flicking a switch to pour the shots.

"You can have this on the house." He said, without looking up from what he was doing, "It doesn't feel right, charging you when you're like this- especially with our mark-up."

His tone was light, but there was an air of seriousness about him. Concern, most likely. Todd was sick, and he was wounded. He had already dealt with one wounded leg recently- they could be serious, he knew. They could be really serious.

Once the glasses were full, he tipped them into a mug, filling it up the rest of the way with boiling water, taking care to angle the mug away from him as he did so. After some tampering, the pressure of the water nozzle had been bolstered by quite a substantial amount- for convenience, of course. To make things quicker. VULTURE had its fair share of difficult customers, and he always wanted to deal with them as quickly as possible, and a nozzle that could fill a mug in half the time it would normally take was a very good way to help with that.


He set the mug down on the counter next to his own plastic cup, frowning a little as he spoke. The lightness had left his voice, and that hint of seriousness had taken its place- Kosuke was quiet, and gentle, and knowing.

"You gonna tell me how you fucked up your leg, hm?"
Todd had already had a $20 bill on the counter when Kosuke told him the drink was on the house. He debated arguing, then decided it wasn’t worth the energy. He pulled his wallet back out and put the money back in with a quiet, “Thanks, man.”

He picked the mug up and held it between his hands, letting the warmth sink into his skin and the muscle underneath. It should sting to the touch, and honestly, it did, but he didn’t show any sign of discomfort as he eased his weight from the broomstick to the counter so he could hold the mug.

He glanced at Kosuke as he actually asked about the leg. Most of the time, people would’ve just noticed it and wondered, but kept their curiosity to themselves. He looked down at himself, like he hadn’t even noticed, then shrugged.

“Running, I think,” he said, almost truthfully. “I go hiking a lot. Helps clear my head. Must’ve snagged on something. I didn’t think anything about it until I got home and the pain hadn’t gone away.”

Mostly true. True enough for the casual observer. He knew, from their time together, that Kosuke wasn’t the casual observer. But nobody would honestly answer they got fucking shot, unless they had a good story to go along with it. And, god, Todd did not want to tell Kosuke that story. Ever.
Todd was lying.

Kosuke raised an eyebrow to show that he knew this, but didn't try to push for anything else. Instead, he just nodded, taking a sip of his coffee as he did so.

"Uh-huh." He said, "Well, probably best not to go running again until it heals, yeah? This sorta thing can heal wrong, if you strain it too much during the process. I don't mean to scare ya, but the damage could be permanent, if you're not careful."

It wasn't a surface wound, that much was for certain. Unless he was running through a field of fucking chainsaws, Todd couldn't have snagged his leg on anything that would injure it that much, that deep. It had torn the muscle, at least- perhaps even reaching the bone, depending on how good he was at hiding pain. Thorn-cuts don't leave people limping, and Todd had not been steady on his feet. There was a difference between a slight limp and a severe one that was masked well. Kosuke knew that difference.

"So, what are you in here for?" He asked, "You can have a seat whilst I get it for ya- no need to put any more weight on your leg."
Kosuke clearly wasn’t buying it, but he let the subject drop with a serious warning. He took the seat that was offered, and rubbed his bad knee, massaging the muscle a little. The muscle, thankfully, had healed, but his bone was still mending, and would probably still be mending when he ate again.

He wasn’t the one to change the subject, though, and he took a sip of the hot coffee while he rummaged with his unnecessary hand for the handwritten list he’d brought.

“Right, let’s see… Under the Willow Tree by Jasmine Thompson… it looked like I could get that one on Amazon. Um… Lungs by Florence and the Machine, Foxlore by the Crane Wives, Eyes Open by Snow Patrol, In Contact and Bloom from Caligula’s Horse, Coexist by The XX, and uh… Wasteland, Baby! by Hozier. And then I’ve got a list of recording equipment, mostly just a mic and mixer. I figured you could give me some recommendations, at least, and for a good recording program on a budget.”

He’d already checked to see if The Horror and the Wild was available on CD, and hadn’t turned anything up. So that one he could address later. He folded the paper up and set it down on the counter, then looked at Kosuke.

“Really, if you just point me in the right directions, I can get up and get everything myself. It doesn’t hurt that much to walk on anymore. I’m not an invalid.”
"Still, even if you can walk, doesn't mean you have to." Kosuke smiled, "I made you a coffee, man. Sit down and enjoy it- I'll go grab the records for ya. I've got to put the shutters down, anyway, so it's not like I'd be sitting here the whole time otherwise."

His tone, again, was light and friendly; a nonchalance that was only betrayed when he stood up from behind the counter and placed a hand on Todd's shoulder.

"You've gotta let me help you, yeah? Even if it's small, just let me in."

He sighed. Then, with another sip of his coffee, he turned around, and headed off towards the shelves of records. Todd's list was... eclectic. Not in the 'I listen to all genres, look how varied my music taste is, please give me a free coffee' sort of way, but in the 'I'm not just shopping for myself' sort of way. Two distinct tastes- not quite clashing, not quite synchronous. Hozier, the XX, the Crane Wives- Kosuke knew someone had convinced Todd to wear a Tim Burton couple's costume with her a few months prior. That was who they were for.

"So," He said, "Is your roommate's birthday coming up, hm? Or d'ya get into an argument?"
Todd sighed as Kosuke insisted, but he never lost his smile. He could let Kosuke help, sure. His pride wasn’t really in the way of that. He just felt bad dragging his normal human friend into his vigilante business, even tangentially like this. After what he saw with Ivan… he didn’t want to see anything like that happen to Kosuke. So he’d keep him out of it, large-scale.

But he could let him do little things like this. That… that was okay.

He laughed, when Kosuke mentioned his roommate. He turned just a shade warmer, but he didn’t deny it. “CDs are probably better – I can listen to them in the car.”

That correction made, he leaned forward over the counter, genuinely relieved to be able to rest. He hadn’t called in to Vik’s since this happened. He’d mostly been pulling night shifts by himself, anyway, like when Connor found him. His eyes darkened a little as he remembered that, and he held his mug between his palms, letting the warmth push the negative thoughts away.

“Neither, actually. I’m really just throwing something together for her. She keeps recommending me music faster than I can stream it. It seems like the right kind of little thing.”

Which would be true, if he was really just returning the favor with the CDs she’d already burned for him. But there was something off under the surface of his explanation, something to do with his real intentions with it. He knew he couldn’t tell Kosuke what the recording was really for.

Fuck. He should’ve just lied and said it was an early Christmas present. He really was tired, if he couldn’t come up with something as simple as that until after the fact. To compensate for that realization, he took a sip of the coffee, a little less careful this time, even though it hadn’t cooled off at all.
Something was wrong, clearly. Since the moment he stepped through that door, every word that had come out of Todd's mouth had been a lie, and it was starting to become obvious that Kosuke knew that- and that he was losing patience. The wound, the excuse, this weird lack of cover story as to why he needed to buy seven CDs... he was hiding something, and he wasn't hiding it well enough.


The vocalisation was all he'd get out of Kosuke for the time being, as the man got to work darting around the store like a pathfinding algorithm. This CD was in this genre under this letter, which was closest to this one under this sale sign, that one was behind the desk because he hadn't finished putting it out yet. He was very efficient. Perhaps that's why he worked in uncharacteristic silence- perhaps, for once in his thirty-five stated years of life, Kosuke was focused on the task at hand. If that was the case, it was almost a tragedy. If it wasn't, then it was just awkward.

In Contact was the final one, retrieved with a heavy sigh from its hiding spot under the counter. There was a note on it- neatly handwritten, but impossible for a human to read, from where Todd was sitting. He peeled the note off and stuck it in his jacket, before passing the CDs over to his customer.

"There you go."

Kosuke nodded.

"And, this audio equipment you're after," He smiled, "Let me guess, you want your home karaoke set-up to be as good as possible? You're breaking into the improvised spoken word genre on Soundcloud? You and the roommate wanna record some acapella together?"

His tone was light, but the effort it took to keep it that way was starting to show- a tension beneath the surface, much like Todd's, and just as noticeable. Eventually, he broke it. Sipped his coffee. Sat down, and looked Todd directly in the eye- peering over his sunglasses, unaware of how fucking terrifying he was when he did that.

"I'll get it for you, Todd, under one condition."

He motioned with the cup.

"As soon as it I take it off the shelf, I'm going to close that shutter, and you're going to tell me what the fuck is going on, okay?"

He sighed, pushing the sunglasses back up his face.

"I know what it looks like, hiding something like this- trust me, I've been there before. If you think you're protecting me from some horrible truth by keeping it secret, then i really- I really hate to break it to you, but you'll only make me worry more."

His voice was quiet again, but not distant. Not quite.

"I asked you to let me help you, Todd."
It was the formality that clued Todd in to what was going on. Kosuke was being… professional. He had a professional side, Todd had been around the VULTURE long enough to see it. But that was just the thing. Todd had been around long enough that Kosuke wasn’t just professional with him anymore.

But Kosuke was terse. Efficient. Focused. The heavy sigh was really the only thing to break the silence of the store, and that only drew Todd’s attention to the note just before Kosuke pulled it off the copy of In Contact. His eyes were just barely sharp enough to pick up the small, neat handwriting:

Thought we were out of this- saved a copy for you ^-^
- K

Of course, nobody normal could read that, but it didn’t take metahuman eyesight – or a nose for strong emotions – to know Kosuke was irritated with him. Todd kept his own body language relaxed, betraying weariness. He drank the coffee he’d been given right up until Kosuke sat down.

Something moved in the back of his head like a warning flag when Kosuke met his eyes. He blinked back, to keep himself from taking it the wrong way. Was it the way he just met Todd’s gaze, without hesitation? Or was it that look behind those eyes, the deadly calm, the… the moment of vacancy. It almost felt familiar.

But maybe he just had Lament and Ivan on the brain, because Kosuke was back to himself, if an irritated self.

He sighed, then ran his right hand through his hair, untangling an unruly curl in its path. “Alright. Alright. I’ll tell you. But after you lock up. We… we might be here for a while.”

The caveat gave him a chance to think, to figure out what, exactly, he was going to tell Kosuke. He couldn’t just say oh yeah I’m a metahuman vigilante who eats people, now, could he? Or I’m investigating a dangerous serial killer and I’m worried he’ll target you if I say anything.

Or could he? He realized with a wave of relief that probably looked like resignation that there was a believable, almost even true, answer to whatever questions Kosuke had. Sure, he wasn’t licensed – but that’d be all the more excuse to have been cagey about it before. Just like that, the worry melted. Whatever Kosuke asked, he now had at least half a truth to give him.

As long as his friend didn’t go out of the way to help his PI buddy take care of dangerous work.
Kosuke nodded, silent. He left Todd at the counter, walking back towards the shelves to pick up a few display boxes- the more valuable stock was kept in a locker in the cash office, rather than on the shop floor. Standard practice, of course, but it was a pain in the ass. Who was going to steal from him, anyway?

Not knowing Todd's budget, he picked a few different options for the mic- something designed for streaming, something for home audio, and something that was nearing studio quality. He used the latter himself a few times, so could vouch for its quality if needed, but this wasn't the time to be pushing high-value sales onto customers. For the mixer, he only picked one- mid-price, but on par with the more expensive option they stocked. He set the boxes down on the counter and walked over to the shutter, turning the key to lower it.

Perhaps it was odd that he didn't try to make conversation. Perhaps Todd wouldn't buy the line that he was too tired.

"Take all the time you need, this isn't an interview." He said, once the shutter had closed, "It's just... you come here looking worse and worse, sicker and sicker every time I see you- and I know these injuries of yours aren't from working at Vik's or taking fucking hikes, because I know Vik, and he would tell me- and you don't- you don't get tissue damage like that from brushing past a thorn, I'm sorry."

He returned to the counter.

"I'm not angry, I promise. I'm just... concerned. I told you before- I know how fucking dangerous this city can be, and if you're getting involved with all that as soon as you arrive, then I-"

His eyes met Todd's once more as he sat down, thankfully masked by the lenses.

"You're travelling all the time, you pay for everything in cash, you haven't got a social network anywhere outside of one or two people- something's going on, I know. Hiding yourself like this, isolating yourself- trust me, Todd..."

He sighed, at last.

"I've done it all before."
Todd’s eyes followed Kosuke around the store as he locked up. Behind them, he was sorting out the details he could give Kosuke without actually giving anything away. He’d resumed sipping his coffee when Kosuke sat back down, and he waited a few long seconds after his friend had finished talking to get going.
“I’m a foster system dropout,” he said, quietly. “Well, I graduated the foster system when I turned eighteen. But I didn’t graduate high school. I picked up my roots and ran the second I could. Not because it was bad – it wasn’t all that bad. But you don’t make emotional ties when you’re treated like a ward of the state. But I mean, without a diploma, you can’t get that many jobs, and I blew my savings on that old Malibu and a nice camera for my photography hobby before I decided to just run. So I uh… improvised. I never got involved with anything criminal, technically, not the way you’d think.”

He ran a hand through his curly hair, his fingers snagging on another knot. He worked through it.

“I started taking on side work as a PI. Most states, you gotta be at least twenty to get the license to do that kinda thing, and you can’t get a license without a lot of personal references. But some people want things done off the books. Newspapers or even just reporters who don’t want to have to share the byline, cheating spouses, lost dogs, stolen items. I’ve done it all. The mechanic thing – that was a buddy of mine who got worried, same as you. Made me stop for a while, actually do something with my hands. I… I like it, as an actual job. But with the investigator work… it was making a difference. Billings was actually the closest I got to sitting still long enough to apply for the license. I’d almost reached the three years when…”

He stopped himself, his eyes unfocusing for a second. He… no. There was no sharing that with Kosuke. He didn’t need to know about Arlo, and Todd wasn’t sure he could lie about it again. Instead he rubbed his knee, and shook his head.

“You don’t snoop around places and not get involved in more intense stuff, y’know. Keeping people at arm’s length, moving from place to place, it’s safer. This isn’t my first gunshot, but I think it’s the first one that hasn’t healed on its own yet. I got a buddy to take a look at it, and he said I’m lucky it didn’t hit bone or my whole kneecap would’ve shattered and I’d need surgery. He suggested a knee brace until it figures itself out. I’m not too good at listening to that kinda advice, but if you noticed… I guess I probably should.”

A sigh.

“I’m not running from anything, anymore. Old habits just die hard, and– and that’s all the isolation is, I guess. I don’t want to romanticize the lifestyle, but it’s easier to do the right thing when you’re not putting other people in danger with it. And I’m – I’m doing good, Kosuke. Like I said, this is something that makes a difference. Fixing cars is a good thing, but – I’m good. I’m good at this kind of stuff. And if I can use that to figure things out, help people, and – fuck, sometimes save lives? I will.”

He took a drink of his coffee. Maybe he was conflating his vigilantism with the PI work, but – he had recently been thinking about trying for the Allegheny County license, if he made it that long. And he had saved lives. Even if he couldn’t counterbalance the lives he took… well. He thought of Ivan. He’d saved one life.

That was how he had to keep going. One day, one life, at a time. One good deed that might help with whatever he’d have to do to fix his leg.
Once again, Kosuke said nothing. Aside from the occasional sip of his coffee, there wasn't much movement from him, either. He sat down opposite Todd, listening intently in the way that would seem uncharacteristic, if you only knew him from work. Concerned, yet interested- attentive. He nodded as Todd finished his tale, taking a few seconds to process the information before speaking, his voice tender in the way that would seem uncharacteristic, even if you knew him more personally. His usual detachment seemed to have vanished. There was a connection here.

"Your buddy's right, y'know." He said, "If it was a gunshot, then it looks like you've been wandering around with that thing for a while now- it's not too late to reverse some of the damage, if you can find something to hold it in place."

He seemed to know a lot about gunshot wounds.

"It's noble, I s'pose, but I'm still worried that you're alone. Protection is one thing, but- ah, how do I phrase this... what you gain in that, you lose in perspective. Without personal ties to ground it, social goodness becomes... abstract. You risk losing touch. And, when you lose touch, you don't notice when your standards are changed."

Are changed. Not have changed.

A wandering investigator, with no social network aside from a girlfriend and a couple bosses with variable levels of good intention- and Kosuke, of course. Of course. From what Todd said, it sounded like self-imposed torture; noble or not, you don't just cut yourself off and go on the run simply for the sake of it. Things like this usually followed a catalyst. Three years, he said. Three years.


His voice was quieter, now.

"You lost someone, didn't you?"

At last, he looked away.

"I know. It's guilt."
There was a warmth to Kosuke that pulled Todd out of his tired thoughts and sore memories. He looked at his friend, watched him in a way that might seem attentive at first. He drank his coffee, and breathed normally, if through his nose. Trying to pick out any one strong emotion. Anger, grief, fear – any of them should make an appearance, if Todd had really round resonance with this man.

Kosuke seemed to know… a lot more than he let on. Gunshot wounds, isolation, other people’s influence. Todd did smile faintly when he said are changed. That wasn’t an accident of translation. That was intentional, and it seemed to land as intended.

“Not just guilt.” He sighed, then decided to give a little, and see what he got back. “I… wasn’t a great guy before I met Arlo, but he thought I could be. He thought I could be a better person than I was. He never stopped believing in me. That was one of the things that kept me going, after he… after him. Be the person he thought I was, thought I could be. And he was right.”

That wasn’t true. That was only partly true. Arlo had died thinking his best friend, the man he’d seen such light in, was a monster. A man-eater that needed to be put down. The anger he’d seen in Arlo – his eyes closed for a second as he centered himself. He remembered instead the first few times they’d talked at the shop. The time Arlo had invited him to his house for dinner, and they’d talked about philosophy and Todd’s life. He hadn’t been honest then, either, and for good reason, but… it’d been nice. Nice to have someone genuinely concerned for him. Arlo had set a pretty high bar for expectations of people. Right up to the end.

Maybe Kosuke would meet those expectations. Maybe Todd was just an optimist.

“Maybe it’s stupid, or silly, to hold myself to his standards still, but it’s the least I can do, right? And now – now I’ve got Sam, and you, and Vik’s guys, and a couple of other people. And I think it’s getting easier. But that doesn’t mean I want to put any of you in the way of my problems.” His fingers tightened around the mug, just a fraction. “Nobody else has to get hurt because of me.”

Most of this was genuine, of course. Almost all of it, despite the outright lies, but Todd needed to check something. Just to see. What he said next, or did, depended entirely on Kosuke’s response to that. Whether he shared in sympathy, or started to dig more. Started to really, actually look. He didn’t want to have such low expectations of his friend, but he knew how emotionally vulnerable he was right now. He had to make sure he was being strategic about his openings.

Because as much as he didn’t want to hurt Kosuke, he couldn’t let Kosuke hurt him, either, intentionally or otherwise, because injured, Todd was volatile. For all of his experience, whatever it was, Kosuke was alone in an empty shop with a predator. And one of the things he had been honest about: he couldn’t let anyone else get hurt because of him. Or by him. Not again.
Kosuke was never a particularly emotive person- not in a way that seemed genuine, at least. He'd give the occasional look of panic when he dropped something, he'd smile in admiration at Carrie as she fell asleep on the top shelf with her paws dangling over the edge, and he'd laugh with awkward nerves when someone asked him about a debt he had conveniently forgot- but the rest? The non-performative? It was subtle, to say the least. The most people got was concern, or respect, or cold, unflinching apathy. He seemed too lazy for anything else.

That wasn't to say that his expression now was particularly different. It was still muted, suffocated, not quite strong enough to properly pull at his facial muscles- the ones that had been diamond-set to only show passive smiles, making anything else seem unnatural, wrong. Still, there was something there. It couldn't quite be named, however; just some vague darkness that was trying to surface, that Kosuke was trying to push back down. Perhaps that was why he couldn't meet Todd's eye as he spoke. He was too busy taming his own.

He pushed the sunglasses back up his face, by reflex.

"Of course he was right, Todd."

A hint of a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, knowing and gentle.

"And you, the fact that you know that- well, that's proof, isn't it?"

He started to drum his hand against the side of the coffee cup. At last, with the motion to ground him, he returned his gaze to Todd- inscrutable but far from empty, expression lost in translation. Perhaps he didn't know what it was, either.

"People don't talk about how fucking hard it is, coming from a life like that. I guess I can see why- if you admit it's a nightmare to dig yourself out, then people aren't gonna bother, are they? It's already such a big step to take, but-"

A sigh- more weary than the last.

"Sure, it gets easier, but it doesn't get easy. Goodness isn't a trait, it's a choice- it's something you've gotta actively, consciously do. When you've been stuck like that for so long, you don't see that choice as clearly; you've gotta go searching for it--digging, sometimes--and there's all this other shit in the way, all these paths you used to take, and now you can't, because..."

He stopped himself. Paused. Then, slowly resumed speaking.

"You're right- nobody else has to get hurt because of you," He said, "But you can't hide forever. You've gotta practice making these choices, and--this is very blunt--you can't just use your girlfriend for that. It's not fair."

Another moment of silence, but he broke it a lot quicker.

"Did you know I dated my bassist, Todd?"
First of all, Kosuke was stroking Todd's ego. Not much. But enough that he noticed.

People wanted to believe they were good. Todd knew that. Todd had experienced that even at his lowest points. It wasn’t hard to recognize that when someone was trying to reassure him he was a good person, unless they knew him really, really well, they were trying to push a second point. Hell, even if he did know them well, they usually had an ulterior motive. Even Sam, he knew, wanted him to feel like she was enough for him.

Which was where point two came in. He cringed when Kosuke made the comment about using her as practice, mostly because he didn’t really want to explain the nuances of their relationship at this point. He wasn’t being good because of her. Being good was just harder around her. The itching scars under his turtleneck were proof enough of that. At least his hat was pulled down enough to hide the one on his forehead from the casual eye.

But there was something else. Todd was watching Kosuke casually, or apparently casual, and had noticed the tic with tapping his cup while he thought. He’d also noticed something… off, in the air around the other man. Usually, Todd tried to identify real emotions using his nose by picking up on hormones in sweat and breath and everything else that carried a person’s scent. He might not know all the names of those hormones, but he could recognize their combinations as emotions. Fear, anger, heartbreak, bliss, those were the easiest, but there was normally a subtle clue that added to his interpretation of body language.

There wasn’t any of that in Kosuke’s sweat. Oh, the man was sweating – Todd didn’t know how warm the shop was, given he was probably hypothermic right now – but usually a casual sweat carried those hints. There was the smell of saline and body oils, and… something. Something else, that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Like a ghost of an emotion, suppressed or only half-felt. His head tilted just slightly as he considered that, before he remembered he had an audience and decided to go back to point two.

“I didn’t know that, no.”

He paused, waited. Waited to see if Kosuke would expand on that of his own volition, if he had any feelings about it, or if he’d just use it as a segue to get to another point. Or if he’d ask Todd more questions without actually asking them.

There’s as much value in the things people don’t address, as in the things they do, after all.