Sulphur caught sight of Todd out of the corner of his eye. Having just found out that he was Cryptid, he was left with even more questions than he’d had before. Questions about Ethan’s lies, about the truth of what happened to Malachite, about what Todd really was. If it hadn’t been for Coldcall, Sulphur would have shot Todd multiple times, most likely. He wouldn’t have waited to have seen Todd’s eyes flash beneath the mask. He wouldn’t have decided to talk to him instead of fight him.
It really was an incredible chance that things had lined up in such a way that Sulphur and Todd could now talk.
Sulphur didn’t miss when Todd slipped his hands into his pockets. It let some of the tension in his shoulders drain. Todd didn’t want to fight him either. They could handle this civilly. There was a long moment as they walked where Sulphur didn’t say anything. It wasn’t until they rounded the corner of the street and Sulphur saw the Rover that he started to speak again.
“Mr. Hart, I want to know what happened. And I want you to start with Malachite.” The name slipped past his lips as the last of his spite fled his body. He turned his suddenly tired eyes onto the young man. There was a heaviness to his stance now, as though he was finally letting something out, letting it be seen. The tall and stark figure now had sloped shoulders. There wasn’t much fight left in him now that he knew.
There was weariness, yes. But there was also so much anger and rage. Sadness, in the form of grief over his brother’s death. Emotions he couldn’t express in front of the Pack. Sulphur was Ethan’s right-hand man. He needed to be unwavering, unflinching, and unfeeling in the face of everything that came their way. He hadn’t even cried when Ethan had brought the box of Malachite’s parts into their home.
No, Sulphur wasn’t the one who got to have emotional moments.
Now, he had a chance to let it all out. Todd wasn’t exactly Pack, and Sulphur had a feeling that even if he took up a name and was hazed and become, officially, Pack, he still wouldn’t be Pack.
Cryptid followed Sulphur down the stairs, hands deep in his pockets. He still had the bagh nakh on between his fingers, but he didn’t think he’d need to use them. Even before he saw the shift in the older man’s body language, he could feel the weariness in the air around them, and smelled the undercurrent of adrenaline that betrayed his anger.
Sulphur wasn’t supposed to find out like this. Fuck, Sulphur wasn’t supposed to find out at all. Cryptid was supposed to be a shadow of a ghost in the minds of Ethan’s pack. Someone they could be angry at for Malachite’s death, for the loss of – of a brother. Because even though Todd hadn’t believed him completely, Slate was a family.
He didn’t flinch, at ‘Mr. Hart’. Ethan had already warned him that they’d done their research, but it still hurt. It said everything that needed to be said. He wasn’t Todd to Sulphur right now. He was a monster, a degree separated. And what he was about to hear probably wasn’t going to help.
“Malachite.” He took a deep breath that ended in a heartless laugh. “Y’know, I haven’t even told Ethan about this. He hasn’t asked. I– I’ll get to that.”
He walked a few steps in silence, organizing his thoughts, trying to figure out where to start, and then shook his head.
“Right. I guess I’ll just… start with what I know. It was just another patrol for me. I was going to intercept one of the Jackals’ shipments, rough up Leo’s guys and go kind of deal. I saw him when I did my first pass. Assumed he was just another bruiser or – well, more likely an outsourced merc. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been that much of a problem. I thought I’d just be able to handle it. I didn’t exactly expect him to turn into steel, but I thought I could handle it.
“We got a few rounds of banter in. He said he was from an interested third party protecting Leo’s interests, that he’s killed vigilantes before. Which was about what I expected. I don’t know if it means anything, but he roughed me up good the first round. Hell, if he’d really wanted to – and, I think, if he hadn’t realized I’m a meta – he could’ve killed me right then. He backed off when he realized I was just taking the hits, saving energy for my body to figure itself out and heal any vital injuries. Gave me enough time to get back on my feet.”
He knew what he was telling Sulphur. He was giving the play-by-play, and he was giving Sulphur the places where Mal had fucked up. Where someone who knew better could take advantage of Cryptid’s openings, his weak spots. And this was Slate’s tactician. If anyone could take advantage of the little details, it’d be Sulphur.
And he was okay with that. While there weren’t going to be any tears for Mal, his heart still hurt knowing what he’d taken.
“Round two, I figured out the cracks in his armor. I might’ve done it the stupid way and hopped on his back to do that, and he broke my everything. If I hadn’t kept an arm free, I probably wouldn’t’ve been able to get him off. I startled him more than anything. Fuck, I think I would’ve been freaked if I’d been in his position. I was lucky nothing important ruptured, and I had my arm at an angle I could jab him in the neck. I got up, and I played the fear factor. I pushed. I monologued. I let him see what I really was – really am, actually. I’m not going to lie. Another round would’ve killed me. I’d burned up all my reserves the first two times, and I already knew I’d need to eat. I didn’t actually expect blood loss to get him but… well. That was it. He fell, and I didn’t give him the chance to get back up.”
He slipped his right hand out of the claws, and took it from his pocket to run it through his black curls. Looser than his natural hair, but close enough for a quick shift.
“At the time, I knew three things. One, Leo had sent someone to kill me. Me, specifically. Two, that someone was involved with something bigger, something I wasn’t seeing. Something I needed to figure out. One plus two makes three, I needed to know more to be ready when whatever interested third party sent Malachite to kill me. So I went through his stuff. I found out about… Katherine, and about… well, you. And some boss I didn’t know anything about.”
He swallowed. This was where things got tough. He breathed deeply, then reminded himself that he didn’t really have any reason to lie anymore. He didn’t have anything to hide from Sulphur.
“With no idea how his abilities worked, I wasn’t gonna take risks. I took the skin off his hands and feet. It… wasn’t a great decision, but I was pissed, and I didn’t want to risk him touching anything that’d make this harder. I ate one of Leo’s guys to fix my ribs and lungs enough to talk, but I didn’t have anything left over. I’d need to eat again either way. When Mal came around, we talked. It actually went pretty well, all things considered. He told me about Leo, though I guess that’s not important anymore. And then I asked about Obsidian. And I found out he thinks – well, thought. According to Mal, he thought Obsidian had stopped caring about human lives. Expendable, that’s the word. And for obvious reasons, that started to worry me.
“He didn’t want to talk about you all. I wasn’t even able to put together that the boss and Obsidian were the same. He blacked out twice, but I think that was the blood loss. I needed to know about all of you, but I especially needed to know about Obsidian. I know what a metahuman predator is capable of. I tried a few things. I, uh… I ate two of his fingers just to get to the Obsidian part. When he called you all his family, I realized I’d found a better trigger.”
Here, Todd paused. He wasn’t done. He wasn’t anywhere near done. But there was something on his mind, something that reminded him. Something Mal had said. For the first time since he’d started talking, he looked at Sulphur, still hiding behind pitch-black eyes that did nothing to conceal the sadness, the apology.
“There’s more, but… He, uh… He mentioned passing on his goodbyes. But… I haven’t been able to do that, since he didn’t tell me anything and Ethan didn’t want me to say anything and god, I wasn’t going to be the first one to bring it up, and, well.” He looked up at the sky. “Now that it’s in the open, it feels like the right time for it. And to admit that I’m not sorry enough that I wouldn’t do it again, in the same circumstances.”
Sulphur didn’t stop or slow down the entire walk. He simply listened. He fished in his pocket for the keys as they got closer to the Rover, but he kept as silent as he could. He wasn’t quiet like Ethan, but no one could be quiet like Ethan. Ethan was objectively terrifying in that regard. As Todd finally reached a stopping point, they reached the SUV. The older man nodded, ignoring the strands of blonde hair that fell in his face as he looked down at the keys in his hand.
He clicked off the alarm first, and then unlocked the doors. He gestured to the passenger seat and then walked around to the driver’s side door. By the time that Sulphur had gotten into the front seat, Todd still wasn’t in the car. He was about to roll the window down and ask him if he needed a more formal invitation when the door finally opened. He watched the young man get hesitantly into the passenger side seat and close the door behind him.
Sulphur leaned forward on the steering wheel. He sighed, and then he took over the conversation. “Then Malachite chose to die. Skinning him wouldn’t have stopped anything. As long as his cells were touching something, he could turn into it. He had steel in his body. He could have turned his skin to steel at any point during your interrogation.”
The man took in a deep breath and ran a hand up his face and into his hair, pushing it all back again. He flipped the keys around in his hands as he continued. “Malachite saw in you what I did, then. A way to fix Ethan. Malach– Jasper always thought that Ethan wasn’t the way he was supposed to be. We both thought that killing his sister had ruined him, and then there was the whole business with all the midwestern branches being burned to the ground. For a long time, his anger was all-consuming. We didn’t know when we’d get our brother back.”
Another pause, but this time with a sad chuckle. He nodded as he spoke, his hands tightening around the keys until they felt like they might cut into the flesh of his palm. “Jasper would give anything to save his family. He was that kind of a man, but you already know that. And he saw in you a salvation for Ethan. He let you kill him, rather than fight you again. He let you eat him in the hopes that you would save Ethan. He wanted you to be the hand that pulled Ethan back into humanity.”
A bitter laugh, and Sulphur leaned back into the seat, still not making any moves to start the car. “And based on the lies you two have been telling us, it seems Ethan also agrees that you can help him. From the moment he brought you in, I knew you could… I hoped you could.”
A soft moment of silence as Sulphur closed his eyes and just allowed the grief to sit in him. God, damn it, Jasper. Of course, that cocky pretty boy would do something like this. Of course, he would make all of the fallout Sulphur’s problem. No, that wasn’t fair. He made all of the fallout Todd’s problem. He flicked his eyes open and looked him over again.
He didn’t want to be an even more enclosed space, where Sulphur could basically take him anywhere. His survival instincts told him that would be a stupid fucking idea. He’d just admitted to torturing one of Sulphur’s brothers to death, basically. When Sulphur’s back was turned, he glanced over his shoulder, back down the way they’d come. He could leave at any time. He should leave now, actually.
He got in the car.
He closed the door behind him, but didn’t put his seatbelt on. With the relative security of the SUV, he decided to at least let his face relax again, let his eyes turn blue. The interior of the car smelled like everyone, all of Slate in one place, much like the Diamond, or the apartments above it. He breathed it in, starting to identify the scents as a kind of mental exercise.
Then, Sulphur hit him. Not physically, but with the revelation that Malachite had chosen to die for Obsidian – that Jasper had decided to die for Ethan. Todd hadn’t been ready for that. He knew that Jasper’s powers were probably more complicated than just turning into things he touched, but the idea that the whole time he could’ve turned, well, inedible... that hurt. That hurt, because it didn’t surprise him. Malachite was one of the few people who’d given Todd a look of real prey resignation before he died. He’d been resigned long before that.
“He told me I should agree to join, when someone came around to find him.” Todd’s voice was soft, but it was once again his own, even if he still wore the plastic demon mask. He stared out the windshield, pushing the guilt down for later. He’d feel guilty later. Right now, he needed to survive. Just in case the anger Sulphur had lurking under the calm surface broke out. “He said you’d do everything you can to kill me, but Obsidian would make sure you were smart about it. And that you might forgive me, if I agreed to join.”
He shook his head, a little bit of the aggravation with the situation as he remembered it flooding to the forefront.
“I wasn’t going to join. I’m still not, not really. But… you’re not what I picked up from Mal. What he told me about was a metahuman arms dealer who thought human life was less important than meta lives. Which… yes and no, when it comes to Ethan, sure. But I’ve met human arms dealers who’ve realized they can literally own a gang war. That’s dangerous enough as it is. And then you add someone who – who thinks metas should be free to be what they are, even when what we are is monsters. Someone who believed that we should be allowed to hunt without consequences if we need to – fuck, if we want to. I’ve been that person, I’m never–”
He stopped. He didn’t have a right to that speech, not anymore. Not when Ethan had pulled him out of the hunt, not with everything Ethan had offered to help him fix it. Sure, he was still wary of Ethan’s intentions. But he couldn’t assume the worst, anymore. And given how he’d relapsed into the hunt, he didn’t have a leg to stand on about becoming that person again. Suddenly, all the anger left him. Sadness flooded in, along with another memory.
“He talked about the revolution. Security, safety, everything. And Jasper reiterated that. That Obsidian, that Ethan, really just doesn’t want to be afraid anymore. And… I get that. I know now that that’s closer to the Ethan I’ve gotten to know. But – but at the time, you’d all become this big, vague, overhanging threat in my mind. So when Jasper died, and I found that chip, I – I had an idea.”
Had he deliberately given Todd the clues to find Ethan, he wondered, or had he just assumed Ethan would find him all on his own? It’d been a mix of the two, in the end, but if Sulphur was right… Todd hadn’t given Mal enough credit. He would now.
“I put the parts of Mal I couldn’t eat in a warehouse, and I set up to watch and see if anybody showed up. I called in to work, I barely slept all week. It paid off, though. I expected to just take note of whoever showed up, then slip out. Ethan saw right through it, called me out, and I saw right away that he was the predator. We recognized each other. But I spent a lot of time beating around the bush about what’d happened to Mal’s body. Obviously, he figured it out. Fuck, I found out Jasper wasn’t completely organic the hard way, but leaving the parts I’d… well, chewed up, leaving those out of the pile would’ve just gotten more questions from anybody who knew. And he reacted pretty much exactly how I expected him to, which was not great in my book.”
He sighed, deeply, and leaned back further into the passenger seat.
“He wanted me. It’s not really that Jasper’s death didn’t matter to him anymore. That wasn’t what was happening, but that’s how it came across, and that wasn’t what actually mattered anyway. He wanted the part of me that I keep locked up in a box that if I could help it was never going to see the light of day again. He tried to play coy about it after. I mean, I do the same thing, sometimes, when I can’t get someone to do what I want. But man, did it piss me off.” He shrugged, weirdly casual about this part. “I told him to fuck off. I told him to go home and forget I existed, basically. That pissed him off. He grabbed my shoulder and started to drain me. I think he expected it to take me off-guard, or maybe I just recovered faster than usual. I had a point to make, though, and that’s when I stabbed him. That was the end of the posturing period, and we played twenty questions until–”
Another pause. A full stop, actually. Because that, he realized, was when he told Ethan about Arlo. And when Ethan had told him about Zeheb. That was the moment, he knew, that Ethan had decided to lie to the pack. He didn’t know if he wanted to tell Sulphur about Arlo. But… but. But it was the least he could do, wasn’t it? He just had to be stronger about it, this time. He couldn’t feel sorry for himself. He didn’t deserve that. Not here.
“Until he told me about Zeheb. And then I told him about how I killed my best friend because he went into a blind rage when he found out what I have to do. I told him that because I needed him to understand why I can’t be what he needed me to be. That thing he wanted isn’t me anymore. I don’t want to be that, I can’t slip ag–”
He stopped, breathed, closed his eyes. Right.
He might as well let Sulphur know about that.
“Right. Right, there’s – there’s something else I don’t know if Ethan’s told you. We went hunting a few days ago. And, I – there’s this… it’s hard to explain. I learned that it’s not just my brain turning off and going purely instinctive, it’s – I don’t know. I call it the hunt. I told you about it loosely, I think, but… It’s not what I thought it was. I go into a high when I’m chasing someone, and I come out with partial amnesia about it. Ethan’s the first person who’s ever seen me like that and lived. He was able to pull me out of it. He – he chose to pull me out of it. And I don’t really know what to do with that. Because I know what he wanted, or – or I thought I did. Maybe Mal’s right, maybe I’m fixing him, or– or maybe wasn’t ever what I thought he was in the first place.”
He sighed, deeply. “I don’t know. I– don’t think that was something you needed to know, except it could be a problem if it happens again. It– I wasn’t like that with Mal. Until a few nights ago, it hadn’t happened in like, seven years. But a relapse is possible. Ethan’s offered a way to help, but… I don’t know. I told him I’d think about it. And… and I think that’s everything.”
He went quiet, and looked at Sulphur again. He didn’t deflate, didn’t necessarily go still, but he was waiting. Waiting for judgment, or questions, or consequences. Just waiting. Patience was the virtue of the ambush predator. Even if he had no intention of taking Ethan’s other brother away, he couldn’t bring himself to just lie down and take whatever Sulphur had to throw back at him.
Sulphur was quiet for a minute before chuckling. It wasn’t a bitter laugh, but it was far from happy. He looked down at the keys in his hand and smiled, a faint trace of softness on his face. Then, he looked up at Todd, That was a lot to process, but all of it tracked. He knew Ethan well, and all of that made sense. “He was angry for a while. Ethan. He was angry for a long while. There was only so much that Jasper and I could do to stop him, or slow him down, at least. He was on track to spiral again when he met you. I know why Mal told you all of that. He was preparing you for the worst version of Ethan. Not the actual man underneath it.”
He paused again, his eyes staying on Todd’s mask. Slowly, the anger ebbed away. It was replaced with a soft forgiveness. “Listen… Todd. I understand now. I understand everything you’ve said, and I understand it couldn’t have been any other way. I have only two questions for you.”
He raised one finger, holding it in the air as he sighed. His eyes closed tightly for a moment and he asked, “Would you kill him again if you knew everything you knew now? Would you have killed him knowing about us, about how we actually are? Knowing what you know now about Jasper, knowing what kind of a person he was? He wouldn’t have killed you, once he figured out what you were. He knew how badly Ethan needed you. So knowing all of what you know now, would you kill him again?”
Then, he sighed a little more heavily as he flicked up a second finger before dropping his hand to his lap. “Is there anything else I should know about? Anything else that might piss me off or that you two have been keeping from us, together or individually?”
“No.” He took a deep breath, but he answered as soon as Sulphur finished talking. “No, knowing everything I know now, about all of you, about Ethan, about… everything. And especially knowing Jasper wasn’t going to kill me? No. I wouldn’t do that again.”
The second question was a little harder. It was harder, because he really didn’t want to tell anyone in Slate who didn’t need to know about the only other thing he was hiding from them. But given that went over so well last time, he knew he had to at least warn Sulphur. Because whether Ethan went looking for Sam, or Sam found out about the Diamond...
In for a penny, and all that.
“And yes. There’s one more thing.” He finally slipped the claws off, letting them sit on his lap as he ran his hands through his hair. God, God, after Ethan reacted, this was probably going to go about as well as admitting to Mal’s death. “You know Ethan’s little sister Sam. The one he killed right before he went into his – what’d you call it? Spiral. He… he’s the one who told me about that. And, well, I wasn’t really going to tell him, because –”
Pause. Backtrack. He was buying time, but he didn’t need to. Really, there wasn’t any point.
“Sam. Sam is um… she’s still alive. And she’s here, because she was heading to Philly to – to kill him, and anybody who got in the way. She got stuck here, and then we met, and – we’re mostly living together. It’s complicated! The point is, she’s alive, she doesn’t know he’s here, he knows she’s alive – he figured it out when we went hunting – and I really don’t want him doing something stupid like trying to reestablish contact.”
He exhaled slowly, and then started fiddling with the claws to slip them back into the pockets of the coat.
There was a moment of shocked silence following Todd’s reveal. Sulphur stopped moving entirely, staring at Todd before letting out the deepest sigh he had probably ever made in his life. He leaned forward onto the steering wheel, resting his forehead on the top of it. Then, he pushed himself back into a sitting position. “Well that’s great news. Maybe now Ethan will get his head out of his ass and really start to make a change.”
The man chuckled and leaned back in his seat, tipping his head back against the chair’s headrest. He flashed a small but real smile toward Todd and thought for a moment. “It’s complicated” implied their relationship was more than just friends. But what could really be done with that or about that? Not much. And frankly, Sulphur had more pressing matters on his mind.
“I have many questions. I won’t be asking you any of them tonight. Not about her, anyway. Though I may sit down with you in the future and go over it then, for logistic purposes. There’s not a chance that Ethan won’t try to reestablish contact. The best I can offer on slowing that down is to funnel it through you.”
He shook his head and tapped the keys on the steering wheel as he thought. Then, his eyes turned a little sharper. “That’s all I needed to know. I don’t… blame you. Well, I do blame you. And I’m angry at you, but I’m not going to kill you, and I’m not going to out you to everyone else. I’m going to have… a conversation with Ethan. We’ll see where we go from there.”
For some reason, Sulphur’s initial stillness worried Todd a lot more than the sharp look. The sharpness was actually a relief, after everything else – the look, and the blame. He’d started to get worried that yet another person was just going to let his mistakes slide, forgive him for something that was really unforgivable. It might’ve said too much about Todd’s state of mind if he’d been the only one who couldn’t forgive himself for some things.
“Thank you,” he said, sincerely. Sulphur would probably assume it was for the promise not to out him, or letting him live. Todd was okay with that assumption.
He took a deep breath. Not as deep as Sulphur’s sigh, but deep enough to clear the air, or at least his head.
“We should plan for Ethan talking to me after your conversation, yeah. I know it’s probably not worth much, but… I’m sorry. For lying, at least. And… for taking what I did. But I should head home. See how deep the frostbite still is, and everything.”
Now that he was done talking, and the adrenaline had gone down, he felt achy. His body was probably still repairing any damage from Coldcall. Then there was the matter of Lefty – though he could come back to that tomorrow.
He shifted his weight in his seat, and reached over to pop the door open.
He waited for the young man to turn back toward him before he sighed and looked him over slowly. Then, in a soft voice, he said, “Katherine would forgive you. If she knew, she would forgive you. I’ll do my best to do so, because she would want that. For that reason, and for Ethan’s sake, you and I are going to move forward from this as… associates. I’ll work with you, but I can’t guarantee that we’ll be friends. Not any time soon.”
He inserted the key to the Rover and turned the car on. It started smoothly and the engine rumbled softly as the air kicked on. Hot, but Sulphur quickly turned it off. After all, the cold had never really bothered him. The scientists at Brightheart had assumed that his nerves were deadened as a side effect of his gas, but they weren’t sure why. Either way, the heat wouldn’t make a difference.
He looked back at Todd and in his usual soft but stern voice, all of the previous gentleness gone, he asked, “Do you want a lift back to your car? I can drive you. I understand if you’d rather not.”
Todd turned his head back toward the driver’s seat. There wasn’t any hesitation in his body language, but it was there just under the surface. A wariness that hadn’t quite left. He listened to what the other man had to say, then nodded a little. Katherine… if Katherine was who Mal thought she was, who the messages between them suggested she was, then of course she’d forgive him. She was human, but she’d always known the risks. He wasn’t surprised by the revelation, just a little saddened.
It helped that Sulphur didn’t seem to share the sentiment. Try as someone might, if they didn’t want to forgive, they wouldn’t. Todd didn’t want Sulphur’s absolution, as long as he could keep up his relationship with Ethan, keep fixing him. It seemed to be working, whatever he was doing. Kenton’s security guard was still alive, after all.
He shifted like he was going to turn again as the engine started, then paused as Sulphur offered him a ride. This time, the hesitation was on the surface, visible to the naked eye. Instinctively, he knew how stupid getting trapped in a car with an enemy was. But if Sulphur was being honest, he didn’t want to be enemies. Todd studied him for a few seconds with sharp blue eyes, scanning body language and tone in the back of his mind to answer the simple question.
Could he trust Sulphur?
It didn’t take long to find the answer. If they were going to work together, he’d need to. And if he couldn't, well, he’d find a way out of the situation on his own.
“I’d like that, Sulphur.” He settled back, and reached for his seatbelt. “Thanks.”