Closed RP Give and Take

This RP is currently closed.

Ethan didn’t miss the appreciative whistle at his car. That made him smile a bit and chuckle. The car had been in terrible condition when he had found it at twenty. He had restored it himself, piece by piece, part by part, until it looked like new, until it drove like new. Sure he may have stolen it original, from the back lot of a dilapidated mansion, back in Virginia, but it hadn’t been like they had cared about it. It was such a valuable, beautiful, and unique vehicle. He’d had many offers to buy it, but after the amount of work that had gone into its restoration, he couldn’t possibly sell it.

“When we’re done with the hunt, you can drive it. We can go for a nice long drive. I trust you not to crash it.” He chuckled as he entered the code again, and the door slid down and into place, the security alarm immediately turning on.

He caught sight of Todd’s key ring as they started walking back toward the vehicle. He had a guess as to where the bracelet on it had come from. Sulphur and Lapis had done a lot of research on Todd. It turned out, that finding cannibal cases in the US from around the time Todd was a child had been quite simple. And after he had mentioned LA, Sulphur and Lapis had assumed he might have been from California. Usually, someone would mention the biggest city they were familiar with. An east coaster might say Manhattan or D.C., and a west coaster would offer LA.

That was how they had found the Redding Butcher. That was how they had found a young Lyle Nicholas Hart and his father, the man who had fed him his mother. From there, Liz had been an easy find. Todd’s name change had been public enough to find in the California legal system, given all name changes were public unless done with exceptionally good reason provided to a judge. With his birth name, they had been able to access, not so legally, his foster records. And a Liz who had committed suicide was easy from there. A Liz who had been missing a hand.

Ethan looked at the friendship bracelet, in remarkably good condition, and came to the conclusion it must have been from Liz. He wasn’t going to ask. That would be rude. And it was already bad enough they had looked him up, looked through his life, pried it open like the shell of a nut and then examined it from the inside out. That had eased the minds of the Pack, but it had left Ethan feeling some kind of way. Uncomfortable, maybe.

He walked with Ethan over to his car, keeping quiet the whole way. Once they got to the car, however, he finally spoke up again. “Are you good to drive, Todd? You’re rather shaky.”
The prospect of driving the old sports car managed to pull Todd’s real smile back out, even as his fingers traced the weave of the bracelet and the Montana keychain jingled against the Malibu’s key. It was something else to ground him – something in the future to look forward to. Between that and the cool night air, his emotions had settled, even if his body hadn’t. The hunger throbbed like an old bruise or overused muscles, except cold instead of burning hot.

His smile broadened to a grin as he unlocked the car when Ethan suggested he wasn’t fit to drive. He even laughed. “I’ve probably spent more time in this driver’s seat than a bed in the last nine years. I’ll be fine, I swear.”

He put his hand over his heart, then opened the driver’s side door. He paused before he could fold himself in. He frowned, like he was thinking about something, then looked at Ethan, seriously.

“It… might be for the best if you drive after my hunt, when we’re ready to go somewhere private. Not because I don’t think I’ll be fit – I’m just…” He took a deep breath, then shook his head. “Y’know, I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Sorry.”

And then he folded himself in and closed the door.
Ethan paused at Todd’s words, car door open. He let Todd get into the driver’s seat before he moved again, sliding into the seat. Just like Todd, he was tall enough to have to fold himself in, which he did gracefully enough to not look like a complete fool. He sighed softly, then turned to look at Todd as he buckled himself into the seat.

“Todd, is something going to happen? Is there something you aren’t telling me?”

There could be a lot of things that he was referring to. Like Ethan, he could have a high of some kind after a kill. Maybe he didn’t trust himself to be stable enough through that to drive? No, that didn’t seem right. Todd trusted himself to drive when he was starving to death. If it had just been something like that, Todd wouldn’t have any issue.

Then again, he couldn’t compare their hunts. Not until he saw Todd in action. Despite that, he felt like he knew they were going to be far different. Todd didn’t seem like the kind to play with his food after all. And especially not in the way that Ethan had to in order to get enough energy to make one person enough of a meal.

A part of him paused at the realization that he had invited Todd to see him at his literal worst. The kid was going to see him melt into the darkness, see him play cat and mouse with some poor soul. In the past, Ethan hadn’t been as picky as he had grown over the years. Now, he tried his hardest to pick only people who seemed like they deserved it. He wasn’t big on targeting his own people, but it was easy enough to spot that purple handkerchief on a Jackals member.

There was something in his head, a little itch, that made him want to pick someone who was absolutely horrible. No guessing, no vibes, but someone who it was clear was really doing terrible things. The thought of that made Ethan realize that he knew the perfect prey for Todd. But first, he needed to be in control before he took Todd there. There would only be one person out there, so he needed to eat first.

With that, he smiled, then tuned back into whatever Todd’s answer was.​
Todd looked conflicted. To be fair, he was conflicted, but he rested both hands at the bottom of the steering wheel and stared out the front of the windshield while Ethan slid in. He took a few seconds to respond, clearly weighing his options, before his fingers curled around the wheel and he nodded a little bit.

“Y-yeah. Yeah there is.”

He ran his hand through his thick curls, and sighed in resignation. Ethan had to know. Just in case. Damn the consequences, or the curiosity.

“My hunts are usually in two parts. These days, I catch the prey somewhere, and take them somewhere isolated to– actually kill them. Sometimes there’s torture, just– for information. As soon as I have what I need, it’s over. The bigger thing is the isolation.”

He swallowed.

“It… hasn’t always been like that. I haven’t… I haven’t hunted, hunted, since before Arlo. The kind I described to the rest of– to the others. My self-control is really good. I can keep it in check.” He smiled a weak smile, one that lacked intensity. It faded out as soon as he could form it. There was a furrow right between his eyebrows that wouldn’t go away. “But… just in to be safe. Sorry this isn’t– it won’t make sense unless you see it, I guess. I haven’t ever had anybody ever watch before. If I do slip – and it’ll be a big, no-joke slip if I do – then I need you to stay away from me. When I get like that, people– stop being people. It’s just me, at the top of the food chain, and whatever’s running from me. If I slip I get a high off the chase. Blood and fear and– and running. What I used to do was catch my food in a long hunt, and then bring them– out. Still isolated, but a big space. A forest, or a big warehouse. And I chase them until they don’t have any chase left.”

That was the mildest way to describe it, but it was the first time he was ever actually talking about it. Telling Slate he got high on the hunt was one thing. Telling Ethan he became a sadist was another entirely.

“That’s why I might need you to take the keys when we get– when it’s my turn. You first, though. I’m not dying right now. But after that… I can’t. I can’t let myself have a two-part chase. And I won’t be able to distinguish you from any other food. The first part will just have to play out, but the second part…”

He trailed off a little. His eyes became unfocused. He remembered the second part. It had always been his favorite part, after all. Taking them somewhere that he could revel in the blood. Where they were out of their element. He closed his eyes, and sighed again, the same sigh as before. When he opened his eyes, he put the keys in the ignition.

“Wherever you take us. Make sure it’s too small to hunt properly. I’ll be mad, but if I have food, that won't matter. I’ll deal. I’ll have to..”

He turned the key in the ignition. The engine purred to life, and the radio came on, playing CD- TR-04:

Read between the lines
What’s fucked up, and everything's alright
Check my vital signs to know I'm still alive, and I walk alone.

His hand hovered over the stereo, like he thought about turning it off, then pulled it away. No, music would help him right now. He let it sink in, then smiled again, this time with more firmness, as he put the Malibu in gear and started to drive.

“But! It shouldn’t even be an issue. It’s been– what, seven years now since the last time that happened. I just thought a warning would be fair.”
There was a moment of silence after Todd finished Speaking before Ethan could find it in him to reply. So Todd had a violent streak, one he couldn’t necessarily control, and that he suppressed. Ethan frowned at the radio as he considered his response to this. He could ask questions. He could push for more details. But that might make Todd more uncomfortable than the kid already was.

So he could either redirect, or reveal something about his own hunt. Of course, Ethan could be judged much more harshly than Todd in this regard. Even if the hunt was wired into him, even if he had felt every part of it click into place in his brain, he still consciously chose to do what he was doing. He wasn’t as driven by a higher instinct. Ethan chose to be a monster. So it was with some hesitancy that he opened his mouth and began speaking.

“What you do, is based entirely on instincts. There’s a higher function to your brain, one that sounds like it’s designed to keep you from being… emotionally distraught about what it is you do. Todd, I don’t have that. I chose to do everything you’re about to watch me do. I do it because I enjoy it. Because I can.”

He paused and then continued. His expression went from one of seriousness to one of severity and a touch of embarrassment. He licked his lips as he spoke. “I do it because it gets me higher than anything else could ever hope to. Because I might as well be addicted to the hunt, to the chase, to the kill. I want it. I want it far more than anything else in the world, that moment at the end where I get to have everything. And everything else has become so associated with that that it– Todd, you’re not the monster here. You don’t choose to be that way. Your biology forces it to happen.”

He was silent for just a touch longer before running his hand through his loose curls and giving Todd a tired smile. “Todd, what the fuck is playing on your radio right now? Is that Green Day?”
None of the uncomfortable questions he expected came. Instead, after a little quiet, he got some insights from the only other predator he’d ever met, and despite his exhaustion he listened. In this, he valued Ethan’s opinion. The idea that his huntsong was biological had crossed his mind – but the purpose being psychological made too much sense. He nodded a long, unconsciously matching the beat of the music, and smiled a little bit as Ethan finished, filling the space he left between topics.

“I mean this in the best way possible, Ethan. That’s kinda what I expected.”

He then cleared his throat, and grinned sheepishly as Ethan noticed the music. He chuckled a little; this was an explanation he’d gotten used to. “Yeah! Green Day. I was really into them when I was younger. One of my foster brothers left American Idiot behind, and I got to keep it because nobody else wanted it. It… I started getting into it after Liz. Had my ‘angry at the world’ phase then, and that stuck into– well, up until I met Arlo, actually. I just got back into them lately, actually, after a buddy of mine took me to karaoke and I realized I can still sing all of ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ from memory.”

Ethan chuckled a little darkly as Todd admitted that he had expected nothing else from him. That stung a bit more than Ethan expected the confirmation of Todd’s beliefs of him to. He swallowed softly, but he didn’t address it. The time for that had passed already, so instead he just shook his head and flashed a tired grin that was all teeth but in the most gentle way possible. The most tired way. “I didn’t expect you to have shit taste in music.”

While they drove, Ethan traded music notes with Todd as “Are We The Waiting” played, and as they turned to head toward the warehouse district, Ethan redirected him. He pulled out his personal cell phone, punched in an address, and passed it to Todd so he could see where they were going. He let him keep the phone if he needed it and leaned back in his seat.

Ethan was a words man when it came to music. He didn’t necessarily remember all the words to songs, but he did listen to them. And he listened to the lyrics of “Are We The Waiting” with a kind of solemnness the song might not have entirely deserved. Then, it flipped over, and “St. Jimmy” began playing.​
Music was something Todd could talk about for certain genres. Those genres did not overlap with the genres that Ethan could talk about. He took the phone, expensive like everything else about Ethan, and glanced at the address. He frowned a little, but put his eyes back on the road as he adjusted his course from west to north, going a lot farther than the Strip district to Fox Chapel, a township on the outskirts of the city.

He couldn’t help but notice the downturn in Ethan’s mood. He’d half-expected that, with his comment, but he couldn’t take back what he’d said. And, well, it was the truth. It wasn’t kind to give Ethan his thoughts – but he also didn’t think it was fair to keep them from him, either. He felt that the conversation about music was another mask, a quick way to cover up what was really going on. He thought about saying something, and decided not to. Ethan would address his problems when he was ready. Or he wouldn’t, and that was okay, too.

Then the first beats of “St. Jimmy” started, and Todd couldn’t help the bright grin that appeared, or the fact that he paused the conversation to join Billie Joe Armstrong:

“St. Jimmy’s comin’ down across the alleyway
Up on the boulevard like a zip gun on parade
Lights on the silhouette, he’s insubordinate
Comin’ at you on the count of one, two–
One, two, three, four!

His body bobbed with the beat, head rising and dipping just a bit while he drove, and he never quite lost the sharp grin or the bright gleam in his eyes. This had always been one of his favorites, and showed in the way he managed to put so much energy in lyrics sung quietly enough not to be a bother or a distraction.

Ethan was trying to work over his feelings. He couldn’t quite shake that feeling of hurt that he had after Todd’s comment, but still, He couldn’t blame him. He was right. It was exactly what people expected of him. To be a monster, to be vicious and violent and, well, cruel. He couldn’t fault anyone for voicing that when it was so true. He wouldn’t have had this reaction if anyone else had said it to him. But it was Todd. And something about that made it… hard to swallow.

He listened to Todd sing along to the song. And keep singing. Ethan quirked an eyebrow as he waited for Todd to finish singing, to reach the end of the song. It wasn’t a long song, and Ethan likely could have interrupted at any point he wanted to, but instead, he let Todd sing through the song. It didn’t feel right to interrupt him.

“You seem to really like that particular track. Is there a reason for that?” Ethan turned his gaze outside the car and watched as the streets passed them by, as they got less and less busy. They were getting close to the edge of the city.​
Everyone had a track, in Todd’s mind. Not really a theme song, but a single song that talked to them no matter how often they listened to it. For Todd, depending on the day, two songs hit him hard enough to demand he sing along. One, obviously, was ‘Jesus of Suburbia’. The other was playing on the radio.

Ethan gave him the space to use the song to vent before asking a… probably important question. He couldn’t quite shake his smile, even after he finished, as he remembered the first few times the song had hit him this hard.

“Oh, yeah.” He shifted his weight in his seat, and glanced at Ethan, who seemed to be staring out the window. Then, he returned his eyes to the road. “It kind of has to do with the overall plot of the album– it’s a concept album for a musical, actually. The main character just had a turning point in the last song. He realized some things about himself, and how he’s sick of the way things are for him, so he’s decided to move forward by leaving it all behind and starting new. This St. Jimmy is a persona he’s invented, a character he can be without all the baggage of who he was before.”

He sighed, but he wasn’t even thinking about the song anymore, as ‘Give Me Novacaine’ faded in with its instrumental. His mind wandered to the face of a man, a man with the same crisp blue eyes and tightly wound curls that he had, even if those were a different color. A resonant sound of old anger swept through him, echoed for a second, then died out. The moment might’ve shown in his eyes, or maybe Ethan wasn’t looking. He hoped Ethan still wasn’t looking.

He didn’t need Ethan knowing about his father.

“Anyway, I– about the time I got out of foster care, it really hit for me, y’know? I was ready to just cut ties and start fresh. Become a new person. For me, that wasn’t, ah… obviously wasn’t a punk anarchist drug dealer. No, for me, my brilliant act of rebellion was inventing the Cryptid. And um… well, you know how that’s turned out.”

And he laughed a little, the casual laugh of someone remembering something foolish they did when they were younger. The fact he had never dropped the Cryptid meant he didn’t actually regret it, any of it. He did find it ironic that this song had been what inspired his own character, his own persona, the one that ate guys like St. Jimmy because – in his mind, at least, way back then – they deserved it. He’d changed his mind, but not his costume. Fear, and reputation, for people willing to look it up, were valuable tools for a vigilante.
Ethan had turned to face Todd again as he started talking. In doing so, he caught that flash of deep, buried anger in Todd’s eyes. Understanding now that the song was about someone shedding the baggage of who they were before, it put that anger into perspective. Likely, angry at his father. Anger toward the man who could arguably said to have ruined his life, to have started it all. Fuck, Ethan would be angry too if his father had fed his mother to him. He likely would never have let go of that anger.

“You have every right to be angry at him, you know.” Ethan didn’t elaborate as he turned himself to face Todd again. For not the first time on this drive, Ethan thought about how cramped this car was. Todd himself barely fit in it. Ethan wondered if Todd would accept a newer, slightly bigger car.

Probably not.​
Todd glanced at Ethan when he commented, and although he felt the little flush in his cheeks, he– well, he wasn’t sure what Ethan was talking about. He’d expected a question, not a statement. Did he mean Arlo? Did he assume that flash was about Arlo? It could’ve been, he reasoned, but that didn’t – Ethan’s vibes were off about it. Ethan had been encouraging Todd to grieve Arlo, not stay angry at their differences.

Himself, then? That person he used to be? But – no, that person, with all his rage and hunger, that was the person Ethan wanted to pull out of him, to see again firsthand. Todd had a sneaking suspicion that was one of the reasons for the hunt tonight. If not now, it would’ve come up eventually. He’d have to be careful.

But that didn’t answer his question, so after the moment it took to mull it over, he finally asked.

With zero hesitation, Ethan responded, “Your father. I’m sorry, we uh, kind of looked into your past. It was meant to calm the others a bit and give them some reassurance. I never expected them to find out about your father. I never expected that something that, well. I never expected something like that.”

Ethan waved his hand a little as he spoke. He seemed genuinely embarrassed, or maybe remorseful. He wasn’t proud of what they had uncovered, and for not the first time, he wished they hadn’t found what they had. He ran a hand through his curls with a wistful smile. Honestly, he was expecting Todd to be angry about this.

They had, after all, pried into his past, broken it open to be examined like a bug under a microscope. That wasn’t fair to Todd. Any questions they had should have been funneled his direction, but between Lapis’s natural curiosity and Sulphur’s need for all the facts– and Ethan’s permission– they had found things meant to be hidden.​
He was quiet, for a while. Not a very long while, but long enough that ‘Give Me Novacaine’ bled into ‘She’s A Rebel’ before he spoke again.

The answer surprised Todd. He – he’d been worried about Ethan finding out about Lyle Hart, but he’d never considered they’d go looking for him. That was a lot of information gained over a very short period of time, and it had required a lot of specific facts to find. To be fair, he would’ve done the same – given a little more space, he planned to look into Brightheart and Jasper Torres, now that Jasper was out of his system. But… he wasn’t hurt by the revelation, he realized. Like with Arlo, this was the first time in almost a decade he’d been able to have a conversation about his father.

He was angry. It was a familiar flavor of anger, though, not rage at being found out. It was a dull ache that lived in his heart, and had lived there much longer than nine years. It’d been almost twenty years since the night his father wouldn’t look at him. Now, that was the moment he’d been angriest about. He’d always be angry about that moment. But that was a moment that wasn’t on the record anywhere. It was a private moment, a private rage.

Even when it shone out of his eyes, the rage was his, and his alone.

“Nobody ever really expects something like that. I– I don’t know what I expected, the first time I heard the interview. But now it’s – it’s mundane. It’s familiar to me. And granted, it’s not that hard to find, either. He’s got a goddamn internet fanclub.”

Is she the mother of all bombs, gonna detonate?
Is she trouble like I’m trouble?
Make it a double twist of fate–

There was that, too. Because Todd would’ve looked, and because Slate did look… did Sam – oh, god. Sam could look. The idea immediately banished the rage and let him give in to just a second of panic. He’d told her more than he’d told Slate. If Sam ever went looking –

She’d figure everything out. He extinguished the panic with that thought. She’d figure the whole thing out, and she’d kill him. She hadn’t done that. So she didn’t know. For some reason, that logic rang hollow, but he let it go. And he didn’t want Ethan making any more helpful observations, so he sighed, long and deep, and shook his head.

“So, yeah. Even if that anger’s never going to go away, it’s…in there now, and it’s small compared to some of the shit I’ve done since. I can’t use his fucked-up-ness as an excuse to get away with my own anymore. I had to learn that the hard way.” The twitch of a smile at the corner of his lips, the softening of his eyes from angry to sad. “From Arlo.”
Todd didn’t direct any anger at him, or at his pack. That… surprised Ethan more than he thought it would. It seemed like Ethan had said many things already that would normally elicit anger responses. But Todd didn’t seem to be angry about any of it. Almost as if these were things that he had just been expecting and that– that hurt more than Ethan would’ve thought it would. Why did that hurt?

Was Ethan… ashamed? He didn’t know. He just knew that he felt bad. Really bad. He turned his gaze back out to the road as he thought for a moment. The thought that Todd was disappointed or expecting them to do shitty things– because Ethan knew it was a shitty thing to have done– instead of getting angry and surprised… he didn’t like that. He didn’t like that Todd’s opinion of him, especially him, was so low that these seemed to be expected.

Ethan wasn’t sure what to do about that.

So instead of dwelling on it, he moved on. He returned to the topic at hand and in a softer-than-normal voice he said, “I don’t know if… if this makes it any better, but I am sorry. If I had known I wouldn’t have let them go digging like that.”
Todd glanced in Ethan’s direction. The silence clung to him like the shadows, and Todd could see something familiar in the lines of the other man’s face. He wasn’t sure why Ethan was feeling so guilty about the others doing research.

“It’s fine, Ethan, really.” He smiled a little, a controlled smile. Forgiving, though there really wasn’t anything to forgive. “It’s a lot easier to find than information about Cryptid. If they’re digging about Lyle Hart, they won’t go looking into Cryptid or the uh–”

He laughed a little bit as he suddenly remembered something. It wasn’t a happy laugh, but amused.

“The Slasher murders. I think they slapped that name on Leo’s disappearance, but I’m surprised none of the tabloids have picked up that there’s a serial killer with the same nickname on the West Coast. Though, I guess if they did, they’d assume this is a copycat or something.”

His eyes had a little mischievous sparkle, his voice had a warmth behind it, that tried to banish the cold despite the macabre subject.

“They wouldn’t be wrong though, this time. I don’t even want to know how you got that much blood out of him.”
Ethan smiled wide, with more teeth than was comfortable. Sharp, wide, and mischievous. Killing Leo had been more satisfying for the Pack than anything else so far had been. He had been surprised at their willingness, their eagerness, at tearing him apart. At torturing him.

“Oh, nothing special. You’d be surprised how much blood you can get out of a body by slicing open arteries and draining dismembered body parts. I would be more than willing to tell you what happened to him. It wasn’t pleasant. But he deserved every moment of that pain.”

He leaned back in toward Todd, the smile flashing again, this time laced with something vicious. Something violent. That feeling of rage he had felt was almost overtaking everything else, was bringing his temperature up to warm his bones–

A wave of dizziness filled his head and he breathed out, letting the anger go. With it, the ice returned to his skin and bones, cooling him down. He needed to preserve what energy Todd had given him to chase, to hunt. He tilted his head forward, his brow furrowed and his lips curled. God, he was going to let himself feel that anger again soon. He would need to process it, to process Mal’s death, at some point.

That point was not now.

Instead, he focused on their future activities. The hunt that was to come, the relief he would soon have. The warmth and the spark that would soon fill him and bring him back to life. His hands were shaking again, like an addict who was jonesing for their next hit. He tsked, squeezing his hands shut. He breathed deep, then breathed out. He was fine. He was going to be fine. He wasn’t going to die. Not that he feared death, a death that would eventually find him, likely at the hands of another. That wasn’t something he needed to worry about right then. He needed to be preparing for the hunt. He needed to be ready.​
For just a moment, the Malibu was full of the scent of pure rage. It was strong, and burned just enough that Todd actually sneezed when the shift happened, taking his eyes from the road for a second. When he looked up, he caught a glimpse at Ethan’s phone. There was a small byroad, almost like a long driveway, marked on the map. As he glanced at the road and really focused on it, he realized just how far from the main city they were. The sides of the road were thickly forested.

He couldn’t help the slight frown as he turned the car onto the byroad and pulled up away from the main road. He was trying to remember when Ethan gave him the directions – after he’d told him not to let Todd take anyone anywhere too private, right? He breathed slowly so he didn’t let the sharp spike of anger show anywhere but his eyes. Maybe Ethan just planned to hunt the old-fashioned way. Maybe that was all this was, since Ethan was eating first. Then they’d go back to town and Todd would go about his business the way he always did, just with Ethan watching.

When they were a good distance from the main road, Todd put the Malibu into park. He didn’t say anything to Ethan when he did so. He just wanted make sure he didn’t say anything. The last thing he needed was to start throwing accusations when they were just suspicions, and his temper was already slipping. He needed control. He had to stay in control of every part of himself, from here on out. One little slip and all the work he’d done in the last decade would fall through.

He swallowed hard and turned the car off, silencing the radio. Then, when he felt centered, he turned to Ethan with a close-lipped smile. The teeth had almost made him nervous. If it hadn’t been Ethan, there might’ve been a problem. He didn’t need another problem.

“I’m gonna suit up,” he said, casually. Maybe too casually. He might’ve been overcompensating. Much better, though, much better than letting the reality show through the cracks. “Might be best to leave the car here. For the record, I really won’t mind if you want to watch. It’s nothing special, just putting on a turtleneck and some body armor. But I’d rather be safe.”
Todd walked off into the treeline with his kit, but not far enough that Ethan couldn’t see him. To be fair, they were about to do something far worse than change in front of each other. If Ethan had to change, he would have done so as well, but for his hunt, he didn’t need to. He wouldn’t be getting any blood on himself. He wouldn’t need to change.

Ethan tried his hardest to respect Todd’s privacy while the man changed, but his eyes still moved in his direction, and he caught a glimpse of Todd’s skin– and he paused. His eyes stayed locked on Todd’s forehead as the hat came off. There was a burn across his face, one more severe than the soft ones on the rest of his skin. It was so… it was so familiar.

His hand went to his chest. On his chest, beneath the layers of clothes he wore, there was a handprint. A handprint burned deep into his chest. A handprint that would never fade. The handprint of a small teenaged girl who had tried to burn him, tried to shake him off as he had wrapped his hands around her throat. He felt his breathing pick up as he watched Todd strip his clothes, watched as the more severe burns started to appear. Burns that looked so damn much like– like–

It couldn’t be. But how else would he have acquired such thorough burns? How else would he have gotten such deep burns that hadn’t faded yet? All over his body, and it looked like something had melted into his skin, and been scrapped away, peeled away like plastic. Did he– was this–

He barely even registered the gunshots as his eyes followed every inch of skin that was revealed. Every inch of skin that was burned, that looked scorched, left him with even more and more suspicions. Maybe it was just because they had talked about her, because he remembered the feeling of her heat flushed across his own skin, and her searing touch that would brand him with his mistake for life. Maybe it was just because they had spoken about her, because he had her on his mind, that he came to the conclusion he did.

Samantha was alive, and Todd knew her. Had listened to his story and hadn’t told him. He was hiding her. But for what reason would he do that, if she was the one who burned him? Why protect her when he wasn’t–

Todd was seeing Samantha romantically.

It was the only thing that explained it. Todd was seeing his sister, who was still alive, and had survived his touch. God, she had survived.

What was he supposed to do with this now? He had the knowledge. He could confront Todd. He should confront Todd. His anger rose to a fever pitch as he realized that Todd had asked about whether or not he would do the same thing over. He knew she was alive, and he dared to ask him such a thing?

Ethan felt his head grow foggy again and took a few, calming breaths. He didn’t have the energy to be angry. He didn’t have the time to be angry. He could be angry later. He could talk to him about it later. Now wasn’t the time. He turned away as Todd began to pull his clothes and body armor on.

His breathing was still elevated, his heart rate still calming when Todd walked back out of the tree line. Ethan did his best to smile. “All set?”
The whole process didn’t take Todd long. He wouldn’t bother with the pants, this time; if he ruined these, it wouldn’t be hard to find a replacement, and even in the middle of the woods that was…yeah. As he moved to unbutton his shirt, he noticed again how much his hands were shaking, and he took just enough time to re-center. He couldn’t slip, he repeated to himself, like a mantra. He needed to maintain his balance, counterbalance even whatever Ethan was going to do.

He felt Ethan’s eyes on him when he got to his cap and tossed it down onto the pile. The scarring on his body would be more obvious now; no old scars, but a written record of the week since Sam had burned him. One on his bicep, an obvious one on his neck as he switched from a white turtleneck to his heavier black one. The cold nipped his skin, and he let it. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the cold in his bones, in his lungs. Lungs that filled with both the cold, and something warm mixed with black pepper.

He hesitated in strapping on the Kevlar vest, but he didn’t look at Ethan. He did what he could to cover the pause by flexing his fingers, closing his eyes, taking a deep breath, repeating the centering method he’d used earlier, pretending not to feel the other predator’s glare or smell the raw anger blowing downwind.

Did he do something? He’d just been getting dressed. Was it his scars? The burns? He reopened his eyes and resumed the buckling process. Maybe it was. Maybe Ethan had recognized how deep they went. He’d come close to killing Sammy; maybe he’d taken damage like this, even if it didn’t scar him. There was no way he could know these were Sam, specifically. But painful reminders stirred up old emotions just fine no matter how accurate they were. He’d let it go. If Ethan wanted to talk about it, he would.

Apparently he didn’t, as Todd walked back up to him, fully dressed all the way down to the coat, gloves, and boots. His mask was in one hand. He met Ethan’s gaze for a second, recognized the anger in his face still, and averted his eyes again. The smile didn’t feel real enough for Todd to be comfortable pushing boundaries right now.

“Yeah! I’m good. Are you–” he hesitated. There wasn’t a good way to push that subject. He decided to redirect. Something reasonable to be nervous about asking… ah. “Are you the only one uh… this one’s just for you, right? I don’t need my other kit?”

His day clothes were back in the vigilante kit, and as he asked, Todd put the bag back in the trunk next to the other duffel bag. He didn’t close the trunk just yet, waiting with a neutral expression for the answer, his own anger and concern hidden as best as he could manage.