Closed RP Hot and Cold

This RP is currently closed.
She knew. He’d known, of course. But it meant so, so much that she told him that. That she knew, and she needed him to trust him with that knowledge. And she knew, of course, that he knew of her, or she wouldn’t have taken that risk. How could he tell her he’d known her before he even saw her face again? That some part of him was so deep and predatory that he’d known her from a stray breeze, that he’d found her like a fox finds a rabbit?

Maybe he would, eventually. But there was so much else in her question, so much else in her eyes, in the answers.

He didn’t resist her touch as it burned into bare skin. He let her turn his head, let her search his eyes, and he searched her back with every sense his curse had given him. He felt her pulse, even through her glove, felt the waves of heat that brushed against his skin like a warm wind on a cold day. She would feel the cold that lived inside him, he was sure; the way his temperature rested at just below healthy, like his circulation was fucked. Her heart was racing like she’d run a mile, like she was afraid – but she didn’t smell like fear, not like adrenaline and terror.

Samantha Walsh had fallen in love with him.

She didn’t love him, to the fullest sense of the word. She didn’t know the parts of him that were afraid and fierce and hungry and cold and dark, nor did she know the barest fraction of the guilt that rested in his heart.

But she wanted him. She had fallen for him, these two sides of him that she had seen.

He took a deep breath of her to be sure, letting the warmth fill him up, run through him, and he closed his eyes, holding her there, spices and flowers and pure heat in so many senses. He shuddered on the exhale, as the warmth flowed back out. It burned in his throat.

He wanted to keep that, but he didn’t. Keeping her, the scent in his nose, the taste as it passed his tongue on the exhale… that was dangerous. Dangerous to her. Dangerous to him. He wanted her. God, he wanted her. Every part of him wanted her. He’d made himself live alone for so long. He’d been so careful, for so long. He craved this touch. Craved the warmth. He wanted her so badly it cut through him like that cold that lived at his core, a hunger as deep and primal as the one he fought every day. It was his first instinct to fight this, too.

She was a stranger, but they’d shared one day, one beautiful day, and they had learned more about each other in that day than he’d learned about anyone since Summer – no, longer. Longer than that. Summer had never really known him, though she’d told him plenty. He hadn’t shared like that since Arlo. And he’d taken Arlo.

She had kissed him, and he had tasted her. Still tasted her, in the quiet moments.

Could he take her, the predator asked? Could he have her, whole and entire, if he took her right now, when she least expected? While she trusted him? There was no doubt in his mind that if it came to that, she could kill him, if he wasn’t careful. But to ambush her, right now, in her moment of weakness…

He wouldn’t. He knew better. He remembered Arlo. But it crossed his mind, and that was a reminder.

He removed one of his gloves, enjoying her warmth every second while it lasted. Then he raised his bare hand, icy to the touch, and slipped it under hers, pulling her gently away from his face, away from danger. His fingers interlocked with hers, the strength behind them holding her there, hinting at the more, at the fiercer side of his desire, the part that wanted to have her in every possible way he could, only he could, he never could. He closed his eyes, and the shape changed, like an expression relaxing. When he opened them, they were his own, cold as the heart of winter.

He let her see his fear, and the aching hunger. Not the monster’s hunger, but a deeper desire. The gaping loneliness that was a hole he had never been able to fill. She would know that he wanted her as much as she seemed to want him. But there were reasons why he didn’t take her now, push up his mask and pour his hollow soul into kissing her. Those were his, for now. She just needed to know that it wasn’t her keeping him from that.

His eyes smiled, around everything, and his voice was his own, too, when he spoke in a soft voice, like he was afraid even a word could cut her, could put her at risk, that he could hurt her.

“It doesn’t sound like you’re giving me a choice, Sam.” He relaxed his grip on her hand. His eyes held hers, and the fear melted.

He had to let himself hope. He couldn’t keep living like this, not when she looked at him like that.

“As long as you can trust me, I guess I can, too.”

What she saw in his eyes, those eyes that were once again fully his, she felt reflected in her. There was a loneliness in him that ran so deep she imagined she’d never find the bottom. He had a hunger to fill that void, a desperation in his eyes that she felt echoed in herself. A desperation to reach out and take whatever this was and turn it into something more. Every bit of her screamed to do something, to fill that lonely hole inside him with as many touches and whispers and kisses as she could fit into however long they had together.

Because Todd Fowler clearly wanted her as much as she wanted him.

That’s what she saw in his eyes, in the hollow hunger that watched her, that rose to meet her. She answered in kind, letting the full rawness of her need shine through. She wasn’t going to play games with this, whatever it was. Her mind screamed at her, repeating the same word over and over as she looked at him, and she knew that he would be able to read it from how loud it was.


His cold hand was wrapped around hers, but she didn’t mind the chill. Instead, she cranked up her internal temperature, sending a rush of warmth down her body, keeping it close to her skin. Her skin became feverishly warm and she let it soak into his skin where he held her hand. She wished she wasn’t wearing the gloves. God, she wished she wasn’t wearing the gloves.

She wanted her bare skin against his as he finally answered her. It was only then that the fear in his eyes, the fear that had been there the whole time, finally melted away. In its place rose a hopefulness that made her heart sing. That made her jump, holding herself up with a hot thermal step, and throw her arms around him.

“You’re right. I’m not giving you a choice. I trust you, Todd. So trust yourself.”

There was a brief moment where Sam felt an inexplicable wholeness. A moment where it felt like her split soul was sewn back together. It wasn’t fixed, not really, because Sam knew nothing would ever fix her, but it was as if someone had sewn a patch in over the gaping hole and stitched it in.

That scared her as much as it brought her hope.

Sam was all or nothing. She’d never been able to take things slowly. She’d never had the patience for most things that required it. Whatever was going on between them, her brain was ready for it to be fully formed. She tried to reign that part of her in and she curled her face into his neck, a gesture that could have either been tender or just friendly depending on who was looking at it. Sam wasn’t good at reigning that part of herself in. She never had been. So as she clung tightly to him, she didn’t bother to hide how warm she was, or how tightly she clung to him.

There was no point, in her mind, to try and hide such a thing. Especially not when he clearly wanted her in all the ways she wanted him. Why he didn’t make a move based on that clear, shared desire, she wouldn’t ask. She had her own reason for actually wanting to try and take this slowly.

Alice would have approved, though, she felt. Of Todd, of Sam trying to move on. Well maybe not move on entirely. She still intended to find the bastard and skin him alive, if she could figure out how to skin someone. But maybe now she’d have an extra hand in doing so. A hand that she could walk away holding at the end.

Either way, she was hopeful for it being a new beginning. A new beginning for herself, and hopefully one for Todd, who had also lost people as well.​
She jumped into his arms, and he caught her, because there wasn’t a world where she wouldn’t catch her right now. He knew it when he saw that she had a hunger all her own, not the hunger of an animal but the licking hunger of a fire, of the heat that raged out of her and filled him. When he didn’t pour herself into her, she gave him herself instead, and he could do nothing but take it. His instincts, her heart, wouldn’t let anything else happen.

And so he caught her, and held her. He pushed the mask up, not entirely, but enough to let himself feel her warmth. He released his own leash, just enough where he could press his nose into the warmth between her neck and her hood, where he breathed her deeply again, and this time he trapped her in his lungs, held his breath and exhaled so slowly it would barely rustle her curls.

But the slip in his leash meant he started talking before he could catch what he said.

“You smell like…like autumn. Warmth and cinnamon, with just a little apple. But there’s jasmine in your conditioner, and you use vanilla lotion, just the slightest hint.” He laughed, a single puff of air against her ear. “Like an apple pie. I could just…”

And he clicked his teeth together, not right against her neck now, but close to her ear; not as loud or violent as his warning, just enough so she knew. Or wouldn’t know – who would guess? She’d take it the wrong way, and he needed her to. He needed to keep his face hidden from her, eyes and all, where she couldn’t see the momentary flash of a predator in his eyes.

He’d tense under her arms, for just a second. What was he thinking? If he’d had just a little less control there –

No. He relaxed, and breathed her in again, felt the warmth that was moving down from his skin into muscle, down toward the same bones that had been cold for as long as he could remember. She trusted him. That was enough – for now. That was enough to trust himself, just for now. Just for tonight, for this moment.

More would take time. He knew outside of moments like this, there would be doubt. He didn’t even know what they’d be – what they could be. What would happen when the cold and the hunger got worse, how close he could let her get to him between his weakest moments. How close she could get to him in those moments.

She couldn’t know what he was. Who he was, yes. He could let her in to who he was, as deep as she wanted to go, all the bits there that he was proud of, that he hated. But never what. She didn’t need to know she’d fallen in love with a monster, not for as long as he could help it. And he was patient. He could wait, could see how this played out. The predator in him could see what came to pass. It could be placated with the warmth she brought in life.

Mine, her eyes had said, her body said, her breath said, her warmth said, her scent told him, as they all enveloped him.

Mine, his own predator whispered back, in the single tap of tooth on tooth. His instincts understood. He could trust in their patience, if nothing else.

So he let himself finish his statement, in the softest, most playful version of the awful words.

“I could just eat you up, Samantha Walsh. You’re mine now.”

His predator had claimed her. However this went, whatever this became, she wasn’t getting away from him. Mine, his, his and his alone. As long as this lasted, they wouldn’t be alone, ten miles away or in each other’s arms.

It couldn’t last. It was doomed, as everything he touched was.

But he could love it, while it was here, wrapped around him. He could wait to grieve it until it was gone. It was the least he could do for her.

Todd Fowler was more than he wanted Sam to know. She knew it in the way he could smell such subtle scents on her, in the way that his teeth snapped near her ear, a motion so animal that it sent a violent shiver through her body. She knew it in the way that he had moved to close the distance between them that afternoon at lunch. She knew it in the way he moved in general, as Cryptid. For whatever reason, Todd didn’t seem to want to tell Sam what he was, but she recognized the signs.

Todd was a predator.

She didn’t know what kind, but she could recognize the signs. She knew what to look for in dangerous people. She knew what they looked like, how they acted. She knew the difference between truly dangerous people and people who thought they were dangerous as well. Todd didn’t just think he was dangerous, but he kept whatever danger he was on a tight leash. She knew that from the way he tensed beneath her before relaxing again.

So she leaned into him and breathed in his scent with no shame, the smell of coffee and mint and the auto shop he worked at. She didn’t hold it in the way he clearly had, but she sighed softly when she released it from her lungs.

None of that changed the way she wanted him. It never would, she felt, because he was already cemented into place inside her mind. The part of her that was all obsession, the part of her that hadn’t quite let go of Alice even now, the part of her that refused to stop hunting Obsidian, that part of her had already decided. Todd Fowler could eat her alive, could destroy her, could break her down, could do whatever he wanted, and she would still want him. She would still need him, to see his eyes smile at her, to feel his hands on her. She would give him everything and ask for very little in return.

Just his everything.

She wanted everything he could give her, whatever he could give her. She didn’t really care how little or how big, but she wanted everything he was willing to give her. So that was why she lifted her face from his neck and practically pressed her lips to his ear as she softly replied, “You could do it, and I wouldn’t stop you. Because you’re mine too. Do you understand that?”

Even though her voice was soft and almost adoring as she said it, an edge crept in underneath it, almost like she was daring him to challenge that claim, despite the fact that he was the first to vocalize it. The autumn air ripped past them then, carrying her curls into the wind as she belatedly realized she had broken another hair tie. She couldn’t bring herself to care, though, as her arms tightened ever so slightly, as though worried he might pull away from her.

She felt a strange kind of warmth radiate through her chest, and she didn’t bother to contain it. It was more burn than heat this time, more scorching than gentle, even with the lower temperature. This was the kind of heat that burned you if you weren’t careful with it. The kind that would catch you off guard when you turned your back on it.

Finally, she leaned back, leaving her hands on his shoulders as she kept her little thermal step going, so she could look him almost square in the eye. There was so much that he would see in her eyes, just then. A swirl of hope, of adoration, of possession, that all mixed in with a kind of happiness closer to euphoria than anything else.

Todd was hers.​
He tensed again, when she shivered. He held her against him, but now it wasn’t the fear that held him there. She was his now. A wildfire with as much need as his own starvation. The warmth that clung to her, and with her clung to him, fed him as much as it fed from him. Her whisper roared through him. It wasn’t the roar of fear it should have been. It wasn’t the rush of relief. It was satisfaction – not just from the predator, either. The predator was satisfied that she knew what she was, in his arms, and that made him nervous.

But she was his, and he was so full of joy that she shared in the desire, if not more, that the nerves dissipated.

He met her eyes, that blazing amber with his own ice blue, and she’d see her emotions reflected there like a bonfire on a frozen pond. Hope, joy, and an oasis of peace that he hadn’t known in a while. But he knew that she’d know there were other things locked behind the ice, things he wasn’t ready to tell her yet. He might, someday, when he was ready. Maybe someday when he was sure of this desire, when it was no longer want or even need, when it was something as deep and innate and stronger than his own instincts.

When the temptation to put his teeth against her throat and test her resolve was far, far from his mind.

“Yes, ma’am, understood loud and clear.” He repeated his phrase from lunch – that felt like forever ago. That felt like this morning. They were never supposed to see each other again.

He wished he could say he didn’t know what he’d do without her.

But now he held her, and let her hold him. She was his, his to take and be taken by should whim win over wisdom. He held a fire in the palms of his hands, and it licked at the cold edges of him, and he’d let it burn him down to the frigid bones if it meant it wouldn’t go out and leave him at the mercy of the storm around them again. He could be hers, could let her have him, all of him except the teeth that would take her without a second thought, the part that was kill or be killed, because he would rather die than let it have her right now.

Right now, his eyes laughed into hers, his own mask still displaced, his face clear to her as he held her amber gaze. He kept his voice low, deep, soft as a winter’s night. “Do you claim every dangerous man that saves your life, Miss Phoenix? Should I be worried about competition at all?”

It was as she had expected– beneath all of the reflected emotions, beneath the shared joy and hope, and beneath his peace, there was something hiding. She wouldn’t pry. Especially not now, in this almost perfect moment. She would know all of him eventually. Of that she was certain. Even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t be able to hide it from her forever, whatever it was. She wouldn’t allow it. Her obsession wouldn’t allow it. But for now, for tonight, she would allow it.

The stitched patch on her soul tightened just the smallest bit, covering more of the hole.

She grinned as he repeated the words he had said to her before. She realized with a start it had been four days ago that they had agreed to never see each other again. God, she was so glad they had fucked that up. Because if they had been successful, Sam was sure the hole in her soul would have grown bigger. The last few days had felt like an eternity where she had thought of nothing but him. She had already felt the rift within her widening by the twenty-four-hour mark. So couldn’t imagine what would have happened had they really never seen each other again.

She supposed some part of her would always have wondered, would always have dreamed of, longed for, desired that which she wouldn’t allow herself to have.

She didn’t have to worry about that anymore. Not now that his hands were on her, not now that they were so close they were sharing breath. She controlled the urge to kiss him. She failed at controlling the urge to lean her still-masked face against his forehead, slipping just under the displaced mask on his head. She grinned wide at his last comment, and then her forehead was pressed to his, his face so close to hers that controlling herself became an Olympic task.

“Do you want the serious answer or the playful answer?” There was a devious undercurrent to her softly spoken words, but also the smallest twinge of sadness. Her grin didn’t lesson as she closed her eyes and breathed him in again, trying to sear the scent of him, the feel of him, deep into her soul. “Because I could tell you, oh, absolutely. I have been saved by many dangerous men, and I claimed every single one, just like this. But we both know I don’t need saving, don’t we? So the lie would be a little obvious.”
Her touch, her forehead against his, made his skin crawl in a way he’d never experienced before. She was so close to him, so close that at any other time he would beg her to back away, if it was anyone else, someone who would listen. But she was his now, and to push her away would be an act of deeper betrayal than sinking his teeth into her.

So he smiled, mouth slightly agape, giving her the slightest glimpse of his danger.

“But then I could say, oh, of course, how could they resist?” He turned his face inward to hers, taunting, breath in her breath, less than an inch from each other, his voice so quiet only she could hear it over the wind, even if there were others nearby. “There's nothing like a damsel in distress to attract a monster.”

And he kissed her. He did it gently, his lips grazing hers. He already knew she would press in, and he did nothing that would stop her. His own monster he’d control, let himself have just as much as she would give to him, keep his teeth to himself but feed everything else to the fire that rolled over him and out of her. What little of her he let himself taste he would keep the same way he kept her scent, hold it and harbor it and hunger for more in the darkest places in his heart.

He’d wait for her to let go, because if it was up to him, he would either throw her aside the second he felt the warmth stirring inside him, eddying around the edge of the cold that waited at his center for it. And if it was up to that cold, he wouldn’t ever let go, he would see if she really would let him have her, all of her, if she really wanted a monster.

But he controlled himself, both extremes of himself, and let her pull away first, never changing from that first breezy gentleness until she was through. Then he smiled, again with teeth, without threat but with as much honesty as he could manage.

“But I guess I could ask for the serious answer.” He kept his arms around her, kept her close, kept the same kind of quiet. “You don’t seem like the love at first bite type. Why me, Sam? Why us?”

He kissed her first, which meant she could do what she wanted. Her whole body fell into his, pressing close as she slanted her mouth against his. He stayed gentle, so she tried hard to keep it light, to keep it just as gentle, but there were a few moments where she felt herself lose a bit of that control. It was difficult for her to regulate that hunger for him that she felt in her bones now. The longer they touched, the longer they were together, the wilder the feeling got.

It was painfully difficult to pull away, but she did, with a small gasp of breath. She would let it go on for hours, she thought, if that was acceptable. She hadn’t felt this fully human in almost a decade. And she wanted the feeling to last, to bring her back from a brink she hadn’t been aware she was straddling. How far away from her own humanity had she started to drift? She had no idea, she just knew that Todd Fowler made her feel alive again, human again. She could still feel how close she was to teetering, to falling off the edge, but she also innately knew that he was going to slowly walk her back from the cliffside.

So she broke the kiss and shivered, her hands having found their way into his curls again. She pulled back just far enough to look him in the eyes but stayed close enough that they kept sharing breath. She took in his smile with a small flutter in her chest.

And then he asked her the question.

A sadness crept into her eyes, bringing the outer corners down despite her smile. She took in a deep breath and immediately sighed it back out. She leaned forward and rested her head on his shoulder while she thought. Her long curls trailed down the front of his leather duster, and she reached up and played with his collar while she spoke.

“I’m going to sound crazy. Sometimes, when I meet people, I can feel like. This space inside me where there was a hollowness becomes full. I’m always right about them fitting into my life. It's not a superpower. At least, I don’t think it is. It’s just a me thing.” Her voice was soft as she explained this. She talked slowly, like she was worried he’d bolt at every word.

“You… At the end of that afternoon, before I kissed you, you clicked into place for me. I don’t know how to explain what it is you do to me. I’m not the love at first bite type, no.” She hesitated there, for a moment, as if worried about what she was going to say. As if worried about what his response to it would be.

“The last person I loved, I loved her after she clicked into place. But she was too delicate. Powerful, but easily broken. I burned her, I bruised her, and I watched her die just outside my grasp. I was going to leave you behind. Try to never think about you again. I didn’t think that we would ever see each other again. I didn’t want to watch another person die. But.”

She lifted her head from his shoulder and looked at him again. Her hands had slipped from his hair to his shoulders at some point, and she lifted one to his face, then. She rested it against those cheekbones that had haunted her for days. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. Every day my brain just screamed at me ‘go back, go back’. I knew if I went back, I wouldn’t be able to leave you again. Because Todd, I know exactly one thing. I know exactly one reason why I’m no longer willing to let you go. I know exactly one reason why it’s you and not anyone else.”

“You remind me that I’m human. You reminded me that I can be more than a thin mask during the day, and violence and pain at night. Every time you touch me, I feel more and more like me again. No one else has ever made me feel that way. I don’t know what the fuck this is, or if something is wrong with me, but this is how I am. And I am… all or nothing. So it was either nothing, or it was everything. And I’m choosing everything because I can’t keep forcing myself to live separate from everything. I want, no, I need you. I think we both deserve maybe one good thing. I’d like that good thing to be us.”

Her voice trembled a bit as she finished speaking, the hand against his cheek shaking from the intensity of what she felt. She would never be able to convey properly how she felt about him right then, so she didn’t try. She already sounded crazy, as if she was trying to edge around the word “soulmates”. She didn’t think she could say “I want to tear you open and wear your skin while I eat your heart, in the most romantic sense possible”.​
He held her close, and listened. He was good at listening, quite literally designed for it. He let her move in his arms, holding her tight enough to know that he was there, would be there as long as she needed his strength there, but loose enough that she could move, too. Her face on her shoulder, her fingers on his face.

Did he make her feel more human because he wasn’t? She said she understood people – they gave her feelings, and she trusted her instincts. She certainly didn’t make him feel any less human. Having her pressed up against him, filling him with a kind of need entirely unrelated to hunger – he understood what she meant, when she said he clicked. The mask and the violence, the pull between them, the destruction of the last thing she loved. He understood it, but to say he understood – that didn’t feel like enough, because they weren’t the same.

Sam had the same fear he did, of consuming the people she loved in what she was. Maybe not literally, but a fire was its own kind of hunger, the burning heat under her skin that sank into him equal and opposite to the piercing cold under his that he tried to keep from sinking its teeth into her. But being afraid to take that leap would be to take away the support she needed from him, and if it meant doing one good thing – letting her have one good thing, even if he didn’t deserve it – then he would give her what he could.

So before he said a word, he kissed her again. Not full on the mouth. He kissed the corner of her mouth, where it met her cheek, the gentle kiss of the first snowflake on the ground in November, where it was doomed to melt.

“You could’ve saved yourself the explanation and told me ‘a gut feeling,’ and I would’ve taken your word.” There was amusement in his voice, but before he continued, he traced the lines of her face with his cool lips, let her burn kiss his own cold skin in return, kiss her mask, the one that meant she could show her real face, the face of heated violence. Once he reached her hair, he let go of her waist with one arm, and brushed a stray curl away from her eyes.

She might see her worry reflected in his again, but it was carried now with a sad smile, one that bore both past grief and reassurances.

“Thank you for telling me about her, again. You don’t have to worry about me, though. I’m pretty good at surviving. I can promise to live for you, if you do the same thing for me.”

“I could have just said ‘gut feeling’. You’re right. But I wanted to. I wanted to tell you. I want to tell you things, Todd. I’ll tell you anything.” Her voice trembled, but if he listened close enough, he would realize that it wasn't from fear or sadness. No, the tremble in her voice was from raw emotions. It had been years since Sam had opened up to someone, and as she had told him, she was giving him everything. Every thought, every emotion, every memory, every piece that made her her. She would bare herself completely to his eyes, and his alone, and she would do it without hesitation. Whatever he asked, whatever he demanded, whatever he wanted.

She took a deep breath to try and control the intensity. She didn’t want to scare him away. It was hard, as he traced her cheek with his lips because she wanted nothing more than for them to skip ahead to the devouring each other part. She wanted to fast forward through the soft, fragile beginning, even more so than they already were, and she wanted to get straight to the part where it was okay for them to be that kind of raw and animalistic about each other.

She looked up into his face as he brushed her hair aside, and she felt her heart do a fluttering twist in her chest again. Something in his eyes now looked worried, and his smile was sad as he spoke. She understood that he understood what she was saying. She caught his face between both her hands, holding him gently with still shaking fingers.

“I trust you to not die on me. That’s the only reason I’m going with this. If I thought you’d die on me, I would have told you I knew it was you under there. I would have let it rest and just tried to never bump into you again. You seem like you can manage, though. And, I can promise you that. I won’t die on you. I’ll live for you.”

She withdrew her hands and clenched them for a moment to her chest as if trying to control the shaking. Then she returned them to his shoulders and shifted her weight on the thermal wall. She chuckled a bit under her breath, her voice still shaking from intensity as she asked, “Didn’t we come up here for a reason?”
The need to talk through her emotions wasn’t something Todd understood. He was used to everything staying in, tightly controlled, conversations directed toward the right ends – the end of making friends without devotion. Ties were easier to cut when they were they barest threads. And hunger – hunger like hers, that was like his. She shimmered with it, or maybe that was just the lens through which he saw her. That kind of fire being allowed to burn bright and rampant was exotic. It was hypnotic. Intoxicating. He wanted so badly to –

He couldn’t return it. He’d made her promise to live for him. No amount of desire would make breaking it for her, breaking her open the way he broke everything he let that hunger touch for longer than a brush and with more intensity than the spiderweb kisses, wouldn’t be fair. Wouldn’t be –

He won’t call it that. Not yet. That word scared him more than the heat of Sam’s intensity ever would.

And she pulled him away from that word. She let go of him, pulled her hands to her chest, and he knew that all he could do was be there. All he could do was hold her, pull her closer to him and remind her what she reminded him without thinking. He was there, he heard her, he wasn’t going anywhere. And he chuckled.

“Business, I believe.” He walked toward the edge of the building, carrying her in his arms if she let him. He’d set her down on the ledge that looked down over the city below, and then sat next to her. “I could phrase it the cheesy way, but Sam, what brings you to Pittsburgh? You said you were originally going to Philly. I know there's the gym that was meant to be, but what was bringing you through in the first place?”

Sam was more than willing to let Todd carry her to the edge of the building. She leaned into him, as close as she could get, her hands running up his chest and shoulders slowly. She had mostly recontained herself, and the shaking in her fingers was slowly subsiding. His chuckle made a shiver run through her, still, despite her efforts to repress her responses. She hummed lightly as he set her down on the edge of the building.

Then he asked her the question. It made her fire die just a little and a new one replaced it. One filled with fury and despair. “Philly. I suppose one of these days I’ll make a trip out there. I have business there still.”

She looked up at him, and then very gently she reached for one of his hands. She removed her glove with her teeth, lacing her bare hand through his, interlocking their fingers while she thought. She was quiet for what seemed like forever before she finally spoke again, heat pouring from her and into him. Honestly, with how hot she ran around him, he never once complained. Maybe it had to do with how cold he seemed to always be. Every time she had ever touched him, he was cold as ice.

“I was going to Philly for a reason. There’s a man. I’ve been tracking him for eight years. He’s the man who killed Alice. That was her name, the one who died. And I’m going to carve out his heart and crush it before his very fucking eyes.”

Her voice filled with barely leashed fury, the kind that you had when you let something like this build-up for almost a decade. It was the kind of fury that only obsession like Sam’s could really bring out. Her hand squeezed his subconsciously. Her nails gently scraped the back of his hand, leaving small crescent moon indents.

“If my car hadn’t broken down, I probably would have driven right through and, well. This is going to sound cheesy and there’s no other way I can say it, but I’m glad the Bug broke down. For the gym, and for you. I can’t– fuck. Okay. I can’t imagine a world where I didn’t meet you, where I just kept going and started tracking him in the city. Sure, I might have found him by now. But he almost killed me once, and sometimes I can’t see the forest for the trees, you know?”
“If it hadn’t broken down, you’d probably be dead.” His skin itched with the heat she was pouring into. It didn’t quite burn, not yet. Even if it did, he wouldn’t tell her. Even if he felt her nails dug into the backs of his hand and she drew blood, he wouldn’t pull away from her. “That Beetle saved your life and brought you to me in one piece.”

There was something about her intensity that was worth the pain, that was worth basking in. He would do worse, if she gave him half the chance, if he slipped into a moment of weakness. He looked for the instinct that said kill – and was surprised to find that instinct instead saying mine. Through her rage and her violence, he felt only anger of his own. She was his. She was his, now, and if anything was going to kill her, it would be violating his claim. Hadn’t he promised her to the predator in him, if it came to it?

He squeezed her hand, fingers fully interlocked, as if to make sure. As if to make sure she was there and she was real, like somehow it was possible to know these things even if she hadn’t come here first and had gone to Philadelphia. But she was real, her bare palm burning against his bare palm. Her voice tight with eight years of anger. She was real, and she was his, and something else wanted her the way his darkest heart wanted her.

“If it’s tracking you need, I’ve got a good nose.” If she looked at him then, she’d see his smile, teeth and all. Not the teeth of his genuine smile, but something sharper. A smile that was only teeth, and no smile at all. His eyes glinted with rage that matched hers, but was not a simple reflection. It caught on the crack in the ice that showed the dark shape moving under the surface. It was a cold that carried in his voice for just the next sentence.

“And now if he tries to kill you again, I’ll be there to rip his heart out for you.”

Then the monster softened again, and he was back, the cold fire gone as he remembered her name – and the names of his own losses, not victims of a nameless stranger, and whose names he couldn’t say to her.

But he could echo her, and he did: “And for Alice.”

Sam did look at Todd’s face– and the icy rage she saw, icy rage that spoke of more than just anger on her behalf, didn’t scare her. She was no stranger to deep rage. It made something deep inside her shiver with something she couldn’t describe. Maybe it was just her recognizing his own intensity, and how it matched hers, if not exceeded it. “I’m glad you’re on my side. You’re pretty scary.”

She said it with a light tone that implied she didn’t find him scary at all. She leaned in close and kissed his jawline, brushing her lips over it for a moment before retreating. It was a gentle, adoring touch, not without the fire that she had for him, but definitely more reserved than before. A touch that at once said both ‘thank you’ and ‘let go of your anger’. His anger was well placed, but now wasn’t the time for it. Even Sam, who was fighting back eight years of burning, roiling rage, was trying not to be angry at that moment. She didn’t want to ruin the peace of sitting hand-in-hand with him.

“I might take you up on the tracking. I don’t have anything of his, but the moment I do, we’ll hunt him down. He’s… dangerous. Even just being around him, watching him walk toward us that night, it was terrifying. The only time in my entire life I’d ever been afraid was then. It raised the hairs on my neck and arms. Just one touch and I went down.”

She squeezed his hand as she tried to stay out of the memory as much as possible. She didn’t need to relive watching helplessly as the man choked the life from her best friend, her love, her moon. She had tried, through the years, to let it go. She couldn’t. She couldn’t rest until Obsidian was dead. Not only for Alice, but for herself as well. She wanted him out of her nightmares. She wanted to stop dreaming about her death.

“What about you? From California by way of Montana– that’s quite a trek. Why Pittsburgh?
Under her dying rage, he could smell it. Her fear. Not fear of him – fear of him would have come sooner, should have come with teeth so close to her soft neck. The shift from rage to fear was brief, before both breezed away. But the predator in him knew the fear, and remembered it. If the monster that could scare a fire so much as touched his, Todd would give him something to be afraid of.

But the tension in his jaw was already relaxing when her lips touched it, and he melted under her touch. He accepted when she changed the subject, because it let the fear finish dissipating. It wasn’t that hard of a subject to change to, either. He didn’t mind discussing his travels.

“I’ve never been all that good at roots.” He squeezed her hand when he said that, communicating without words but you’re mine, so I’ll try for you. “I’ve spent a lot of time on the road. I’d go somewhere, stop for a while, leave when the road calls again.”

Or when I fuck up beyond belief. When the hunger slipped. When he took too much in one place – or the wrong person. Had she heard about Summer Kelley – about Breeze? She was from Columbus. He’d driven straight through from there to here.

He swallowed his own fear, and laughed it off, an odd reflection of his polite laugh, a shift in topic.

“Or when I start catching too much heat. I also have this nasty habit of drawing attention whenever I go anywhere. Really fucks up the whole ‘urban legend’ vibe I’m going for.”

She squeezed his hand back, her nails no longer digging into her skin. She listened to him talk and thought for a moment. “I don’t know, I think you’ve at least got the look of an urban legend down.”

She reached out and grabbed the collar of his jacket, tugging on it playfully. She let go, but let her hand drift down, to lay her hand close to his heart. She couldn’t feel the beat very well through all of the body armor and clothing, but she could feel just enough that her eyes closed and she focused in on it. She let her own beat sync up with it. Their hearts were beating on each other’s offbeat, almost as though they were passing it back and forth.

“If you wanted to leave, I would leave with you. I know the gym is here, but I could, I could part with it to stay with you if you wanted to leave.” She didn’t say the unspoken part, that she wasn’t sure she could go back to living without him, that she wanted to tell herself that she would be happy for as long as it lasted, but that she knew her heart would break and the rest of her soul would split if he ever left her behind. She didn’t need to say it out loud, as her hand squeezed his tight and her fingers grasped at his jacket.

She let go of the front of his duster and withdrew the hand slowly. Sam meant it. She would leave everything behind for him. She’d go where he went if he left. She’d follow him anywhere. But she smiled, and she lightened it back up and said, “So tell me this, Cryptid, why the name?”
His immediate response to her touch so close to his neck should’ve been to pull away. It was one of his poorly defended areas, just the high collar of his coat and his turtleneck. But there wasn’t even the temptation when it was Sam. He felt safe here. Safe with her, completely safe. Safe from everything except himself, but she wouldn’t know about it. Couldn’t.

He felt her hand on his heart, and felt her pulse through the palm he still held. He heard her make her promises, and he knew they were the truth. Instinct told him. But he wouldn’t tell her that the only thing that would make him leave now was losing her – because that wouldn’t happen. If he died, she would live. It would hurt, and she would burn. But she had lived, after Alice. If he died first, she would live.

But that wasn’t going to happen. He felt safe with her, and the idea of dying was so far from his mind that those thoughts only lasted a moment before she asked her question.

“Scary,” he said, with a shrug. “When I first decided to start out on all of this, it was… an outlet. For violence, for feeling better about myself. I could hurt people and get away with it, and made excuses for myself because I was making the world better.”

He shifted his weight a little, but while he was embarrassed by it, he could admit to at least part of his past. Maybe it was because he could feel her violence, too.

“I, um… I wasn’t as controlled as I am now about the violence. I try not to kill people if I can, but for the first few years I didn’t care. I didn’t realize how much it affected me until I met–”

He stopped short, his body tensing. He shouldn’t talk to Sam about that. He shouldn’t talk to anyone about that. He had no right to think fondly of Arlo after– after everything. He could slip, he could tell Sam everything, he could… he could tell Sam a little. Suddenly the crushing weight of fear and guilt eased, and, taken by surprise, he looked at her, looked into her eyes. She’d see the fading dregs of both the guilt and the horror, but he searched for something he already knew he was going to find.

She had told him about Alice. He couldn’t risk giving her everything in return – violence she would understand, but he didn’t know what he would do if she couldn’t forgive him for the rest – but he could tell her a little. Enough. A small piece of the bigger picture.

“Arlo.” As he said it, he realized that he hadn’t said his name out loud in five years. The last time he’d said it had been a cry for help, begging for recognition. He closed his eyes and flinched at how softly it came out now. He could feel his throat closing up, but he pushed on, because he’d started. “He was– he was the best guy I’ve ever known. He was like us, the first person I met who was like us. Strong, fast, durable. He– he called himself ‘Phantom Ox’.”

He laughed a little, at Arlo’s stupid fucking choice of a nickname, and it was only then that he realized that the side of his face was wet. He held her had, but used his free one to wipe the tears away. He didn’t deserve to cry over Arlo. Sam might get the wrong idea. He ran his fingers through his hair, and then took several deep breaths. Those sentences were more than he’d said about Arlo to anyone. Ever. There hadn’t really been a point while he was alive – he’d been Todd’s only friend. And with him gone…

Well. Here he was now, and he waited for Sam to pass judgment.

Todd would see it in her face– his words had had an effect on her. She still had acceptance and understanding in her eyes, but his expression about the violence, about using the work as a reason to hurt others, seemed to strike a chord within her. She pushed it aside, for the time being, her hand dragging across his chest until it traced down his arm to join their interlocked hands. She gently brushed the back of his hand with her fingertips before removing it entirely, placing it back on the roof’s ledge.

Sam smiled softly and reached up to catch Todd’s cheek in her hand. She pulled gently, pulling his forehead down to hers for just a moment. “I understand… the violence. The doing it for the worst reasons. There was a time right after Alice died when I was… Pretty unhinged. I– I killed people then, on purpose. Enough to make me feel. Not great. All while I was hunting down that bastard. I used the work as a means to get rid of the frustration.”

She brought their interlocked hands up to her lips, and she pressed the softest, most understanding butterfly kiss to the back of his hand. A kiss that set to absolve him of his perceived sins.

“I’m glad you had Arlo to set you right. He probably knew you were better than all that. You shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it. It’s just part of who you were, not who you are now.”

He was trusting her, trusting her with his tears. That was a bigger and better honor than she thought she deserved. She was tender and gentle and as compassionate as her fucked up heart would allow her to be. The last person she had been so gentle with had been Adelyn, but that had been wholly different from what was happening right then. So she gently held his hand and then leaned into him, offering her warmth to him.

“If Alice hadn’t found me that summer night, I never would have even become a vigilante. Not really. I was training to be a superhero, sure, but I don’t think I would have been very effective without her. And then, I wouldn’t have been me without… well. I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t met her. Arlo straightened you out. You’re allowed to shed tears for him, the same way I do for Alice.”

She gave him a smile. She raised their joined hands high in the air and said in a soft and even voice, “To the good who died young?”

There was a moment of soft silence from her after that, and she simply looked at their interlocked fingers. If they were anywhere else, she would have climbed into his lap and hugged him tight, but she didn’t want to risk accidentally knocking them off the ledge, even if she could catch them. It would kill the moment, and she didn’t want to do that.​
He saw what he needed in Sam’s eyes, in her face. The kindness, the understanding, the grief they shared without fully sharing in it. He couldn’t understand what it was to lose someone when you were simply frozen, helpless, weak to stop it.

She couldn’t understand what it was like to be the one to cause that loss.

Her killing didn’t affect him. He couldn’t judge her, even if he wanted to, and he did not want to. He knew the violence, could feel it in her. Different from his own violence, but still all-consuming.

He had lost himself to the hunger again, after Arlo. But because of Arlo, it had never felt right again. Even in dying, Arlo had straightened him out. And thinking about that for any length of time he wanted to throw up even though he knew his body wouldn’t.

He wished he could tell her that. He wished she would still touch him, still kiss him, still give him absolution, if she knew what he still was, and always had been and always would be. If she knew that he still thought of Arlo as the best person he had ever known, and still would have done the same, given the chance, because he had valued his own survival over that of his best friend. Because of the fear, the hunger, and the animal that had all coexisted in him in that moment, and killed any love so that he would live.

His voice was hoarse and tight, but he matched her in soft volume.

“And to holes that can never be filled.”

He wanted her to understand all the different meanings that had, coming from him – himself a hole, a hunger that would not be satisfied. But she wouldn’t, couldn’t, have him if she understood. Her heart and her violence wouldn’t let her, and a lucky blow wouldn’t save him from her fire when she turned it on him. He couldn’t take that away from her. Not so soon. Not when he’d just promised.

He was hers now, as much as a predator could belong to a wildfire. She would keep him warm, and someday she would consume him, and so long as it let her keep burning he would let her.

He unlaced his fingers from hers, and if she tried to hold him tighter, he would gently take her hand away, with the look in his eyes that asked her to trust him. Trust him, despite. It was too much to ask, yet he asked it anyway. Because when his hand was free, he put it around her, he pulled her against his side and felt her warmth in everything. He looked into her eyes, as deep and far as she would let him, but only let her see the desire for her, and the sadness that lingered behind that. The promise of mine. His tears had stopped, though his own eyes were still warm and damp.

Sam let the moment exist. She leaned in close to Todd and let him hold her. She looked up into his eyes and let him see everything inside her. All of her desire for him, yes, but so much more. She let him see her sadness as they talked about friends who were gone now. She let him see the guilt in her from killing those men, those men who hadn’t all deserved it. She let him see her anger, the anger that stayed with her no matter how calm or at peace she was. She let him see it all.

Then, when the intensity of her feelings began to catch up again, she broke eye contact and leaned her forehead into his chest with a chuckle. Self control was not her strong suit, however, and she couldn’t help showing just a little of the intensity. She nuzzled her face into his neck and kissed it, pressing her lips to the sliver of exposed skin. Then she smiled and pulled back, looking up at him again.

“Quite a pair we are, aren’t we?” She looked out at the city and noticed the sky growing brighter. They’d been up on the rooftop for much longer than Sam had thought. Or maybe the fight with the Jackals had been what was so long. Either way, Sam could tell that daybreak was coming soon. She sat up a little straighter, a sigh of frustration on her lips. The stars had already started to disappear. “And now we reach my least favorite time of day. Daybreak. Where I have to stop and call it for the night.”

She turned to look at Todd, a small smile on her lips. “Gym is closed today, but you should come by some other day. Do you work today? Or could we maybe fly back to your place and talk a bit more? I have so many questions for you.”
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