Closed RP Jackals

This RP is currently closed.

There was the first question. Malachite chuckled, low in the back of his throat. So this was where it began. As long as he didn’t tell him anything of import, it wouldn’t matter. And this monster would never meet either of his brothers. So he shrugged and with a hint of a smile, one that clearly said “I know what you’re doing”, Mal replied, “No harm in telling you that. Obsidian. You’ll never meet him, so it’s not like it matters what you know.”

Mal sat up a little straighter despite the wave of dizziness the action presented him with. He made eye contact with those wintry blue eyes, his own light brown ones flashing with a challenge.

It was time for the fight to start.

“I don’t suppose I could convince you not to go down this road of questioning, can I? It would be much better if we just stopped right here. For both of us.” The kid didn’t seem like the type to want to actually torture someone. But he also seemed the type to be impassive about it. Just impassive enough to get the job done and then move on.

Of course, asking if they could stop there was putting an expedition on his death, and eventual consumption. You know, if Mal had to die, at least this was a way that would sound interesting on his plaque or headstone or whatever Katherine chose to get given there would be nothing left of him. Malachite shook his head and sighed, already knowing what the answer to his proposition was going to be.

He tried not to tense his body given what he knew was coming. It was going to be bloody. It was going to be difficult to endure, but no matter what, Malachite– Jasper– was going to remain quiet.​
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Todd laughed again, not the monstrous, wheezing chuckle of the hunter about to seize a meal, but the soft laugh of a man who was impressed and maybe a little amused at a good effort. Oddly human for the situation they were in.

“I can’t let it go that easy.” He sat up, and stretched, loosening the muscles that were starting to give in to his own exhaustion. He wasn’t done quite yet, and the cooling blood was starting to get uncomfortable. “You were sent to kill me, after all, I can’t risk that happening again without a little more to go off of.”

He slid off the table, and shivered a little bit as his bare feet touched the cold concrete floor. That woke him up. He rolled his shoulders and stretched his neck without any difficulty. Nothing like eating another person to fix up deep-tissue injuries and shattered bones. He wiped his hands on his shirt again, then looked at Mal again.

“Catch some rest while you can, Jasper. I’ll see if I can’t find us some water.”

He was gone for a while, whether Mal rested or not. He knew which faucets in the building still had running water, probably because turning them off would fuck up something in the city’s overall water system unless – or until, really – they demolished this place. He’d had a bucket nearby, too. Todd used the water to scrub the blood from his face and arms, and was as successful as could be expected without a mirror. It left his shirt soaked, though, and he changed into his warmer sweatshirt.

He came back eventually, with water in his bucket, and he rinsed off his tools and the tabletop. He hummed quietly while he worked, focused on what he was doing, only keeping half an ear on the prisoner until it was time to drag the table closer, tools and all. From somewhere, he pulled up another old wooden chair, a little creakier, and then took an empty coffee cup with his hands and dipped it in what was left of the clean(ish) water. He sat down across from Jasper, and then waited for the other man to wake up.

The moment Mal was given the leeway, his head tilted back and he blacked out again. When he opened his eyes, he was in a restaurant booth. The place was dark and the air was hazy. He looked to his left and saw the faces of his two brothers. One wore shadows like a cloak, and the other’s straight blonde hair was cleanly cut. A wave of relief washed over him. Someone must have come and gotten him out of wherever he had been before. Where had he been before? He started to think about it but stopped when the man across from him pulled out a cigarette box.

“Mal, are you ready to go? I know you don’t want to leave Katherine behind for so long. I promise she’ll be looked after. You know I never leave her alone when I send you out. What do you say, brother?” The voice was smooth and low, with a certain cadence that Mal would recognize anywhere.

Before he could answer Obsidian’s question, and reassure him that his loyalty was still undying, the world shifted, and his head jerked forward. Oh, god damn it. He was in the fucking steel factory still, tied to a fucking chair. His eyes moved across the room. The young man was sitting across from him, his blue eyes almost glowing in the dark of the room. Malachite sighed.

“Time to start, then?” He tested the ropes binding him, but found no give. It only served to aggravate the skinned hands and feet. He hissed under his breath and stopped, almost as if he was accepting his fate. He let his head fall forward for a moment, and then a laugh bubbled up from his throat. "Let's fucking go."
Todd could see the confusion in Jasper’s face right before he remembered where he was. He slipped farther this time, then. Next time, or the time after, he might not wake up at all. If he wanted to control time of death, he’d have to get this over with fast.

But patience was his main virtue, and he had some time before the exhaustion came again, especially if Jasper had a little help. He reached forward and tipped Mal’s chin up with one hand, and pressed the coffee cup to his lips with the other.

“Drink this.” He tipped the cup so the water would touch the prisoner’s lips. Even if he wanted to refuse it, Todd of all people knew that some needs went deeper than conscious thought, and blood loss led to dehydration. There wasn’t any doubt in his mind the full cup would be empty when he set it back down in the bucket.

Hands free, Todd turned his chair around, sitting on it backward so he had to lean forward to rest. It gave him a more casual position, put a barrier between himself and the prey – victim now, really – and finally, meant he wouldn’t have to lean as far forward to use the butcher knife he picked up off the table. The filet knife was in reach, but was more delicate, and Todd was looking to open with general intimidation over direct pain.

Jasper was right. Time to start.

“What’s your boss’s relationship to Leo Vasquez? What does he do for him, and what does he get out of it?”

Malachite gulped down the water like he hadn’t seen any in a week. He drank all of what was offered to him, then took in a few deep breaths after. He looked up from under his lashes at the Cryptid, who had started asking his questions.

This early in, he could afford a few answers. He could give maybes and uncertain shrugs and the occasional yes. Those wouldn’t be detrimental to Obsidian. The relationship with Leo was likely going to become more predatory after Mal’s body disappeared. That was, if this monster didn’t immediately break the chip in his right arm, and somehow managed to dig it out. That chip would immediately alert Obsidian to his death if it was broken.

He let his head fall forward some more, expending as little energy as possible on keeping himself upright. He’d rather remain as conscious as possible than as upright as possible. He shook a little as the autumn air chilled him a bit. Then with a small smile that indicated his “cooperation”, he said, “It’s more like what Leo can do for my boss, really. Have you not noticed the increased firepower on these idiots over the last month?”

Then he tilted his head back so the now sharper smile on his face could be seen. “Leo provided him with a good first source of income in this city. That’s all I have to say on that matter.”
Jasper actually decided to talk, which was nice. The information was actually useful, too, not a quip or an outright ‘fuck you’. Maybe this would be quick and painless for both of them. Maybe Mal was just ready to die.

“Arms dealing and mercs, then.” He had noticed the uptick in weapons quality, but he’d just assumed that Leo was getting smarter. He should’ve known better. The idea of a new arms dealer on the block, especially one losing a good assassin, didn’t make Todd any happier, partly because it put him in direct danger.

Technically, that was all the information Todd needed that he thought he’d get out of Malachite just like htat. Anything else he could probably pry out of Leo himself, and that with a lot more relish. But he’d had time to think about what he’d been told about Obsidian, and he didn’t like what he was piecing together on that front. Any more about him could save Todd’s skin in the future.

“Your boss. Does he hold normal people in the same regard your buddy Obsidian does? Competition, prey, call it what you will. Are they just expendable beyond their use for income?”

And violence. Violence was the income of the arms dealer; two guys didn’t care if you were selling to both of them, as long as one could afford more than the other. A good arms dealer could own a war. He’d had to deal with one out in Omaha, and it hadn’t been fun when both sides suddenly found a third target to shoot at. And the idea of other assassins…

One question at a time. This one would help him form an opinion of a person, not just judge him by his business. And maybe give him a little insight into motives, too, because if he was the kind of guy who could escalate gang warfare, that was a lot of normal people dead in the crossfire.

If he could do that, there wasn’t any doubt Todd would need to do everything he could to stop that.

So he hadn’t pieced it together yet. That Obsidian was actually his boss as well as his friend. Malachite knew that when he went missing, Obsidian would investigate it personally. He wouldn’t risk Sulphur should the situation be dangerous enough to take Mal out. No, Obsidian would rain hell down until he found who did this.

Unfortunately, Mal also knew that Obsidian might just keep the guy, He loved metas with fucked up powers, and a cannibal who gained strength, speed, and healing as intense as this guy’s? That would be a great replacement in the organization for Mal, even if he’d never have the trust or respect Mal did.

Mal chuckled at the new question and shook his head. “I can’t answer that one, pal. Not in any meaningful way. So I guess this is where it really starts. Take your best shot.”

He lifted his head up in defiance. He didn’t plan to cuss the man out. He didn’t plan to behave in an unbecoming manner at all. Obsidian had taught him better than that. The more disrespectful he was, the more likely his torturer would get meaner. They had practiced resistance before. The week he’d been tied to a chair, without food or water, constantly being interrogated and having the shit kicked out of him, would hopefully come into effect now. Malachite hadn’t said a single meaningful word that entire time, even when Lapis had threatened to kill him, her very real knife pressing into his skin as she had straddled him. That woman had hated his guts from the moment she joined.

So Malachite wouldn’t say anything he didn’t want to say. His body still remembered the feeling of Hematite knocking out his wisdom tooth, of Sulphur using his poison on him reluctantly, of Obsidian bringing him to the brink and back over and over. Even if this man butchered him alive, Malachite wouldn’t speak.​
Mal clammed up, right on cue. If they’d had a little more rapport, Todd would know whether to take that as a resounding yes or a resounding no. He didn’t know yet, but he bookmarked the situation as he bounced the big butcher knife in his hand the same way a teen in class might bounce a pencil while he thought through a difficult question.

Todd was capable of a lot of violence. He was pretty sure that if he ever let the monster off the leash completely, he could kill a man and eat him with just his bare hands and teeth. Maybe not this man; and even at his worst, he’d never gone so feral as to even consider that. He could do as much as Malachite had done, and more. A few well-placed punches, especially with the techniques he and Sam had been going over, could leave the man with half his ribs broken, or worse.

But violence wasn’t the only answer to these situations. Physical torture was rarely effective, especially with the chumps Todd usually grilled. They’d lie about answers they didn’t have just to make the pain stop. He didn’t take Mal for the sort, but he did take Mal for the sort prepared for plain, simple pain. Normal torture methods: starvation, dehydration, broken bones and torn flesh; they wouldn’t work on him. He was a professional.

Good thing, then, that Todd had learned more effective methods. Unique methods. They weren’t guaranteed to work, but they had some time to figure it out. Todd, at least, had all night. If Mal hadn’t bled so much already, he might even risk a couple of days. But he had to work with what he had, the way he always did.

So Todd smiled, a not-unpleasant smile, and reached toward the man’s tender left hand. He’d already decided how to start this, and with a jab of the butcher’s knife, he popped the ring finger off at the knuckle in a single, precise cut. For show, he caught the falling finger on the flat of the blade, and brought it back with the same little practiced flip some people might use when frying eggs or flipping pancakes.

He deposited it in the palm of his own left hand. Maybe it was a little on-the-nose, to take the wedding ring finger, but it indicated he meant business.

“Hey, Jasper, do you know why people use this one for wedding rings?” He examined the red, angry muscle for a few seconds, then bit into it with all the care someone else might bite into a french fry, expression calm like he’d just asked a trivia question over lunch.

Malachite could see it happen. The Cryptid had smiled, and with a quick and practiced motion, Malachite watched his finger disappear. There was a white-hot burning that raced its way up his arm. It spread through his chest and he gasped with it, cursing under his breath. A shock of electricity followed the nerves, igniting his entire left arm, and well up his neck.

So it was being butchered alive then. Mal had never lost a finger or anything else before, but he had felt nerve pain before. That had been Lapis’s ability. Convincing your body that it was in pain. She had been his primary interrogator alongside Obsidian when they had been practicing. So the pain didn’t bother him as much as it probably–


He froze. Then he looked up in horror. Forget butchered alive, eaten alive was… Something else entirely. He watched as Cryptid chewed and swallowed the bit of his finger. He numbly shook his head in response to the question. There was a much stranger form of shock settling in as he looked back down at his hand, which was now bleeding, though not as much as Malachite thought it should be.

He hadn’t been prepared for this. Not anything like this. Pain, yes, but not whatever the fuck this was. He felt himself get a little dizzy from the pain, but he breathed through it and it dissipated. With a shaky breath, Jasper asked, “N-no, I don’t. Are you going to tell me why?”
Mal really didn’t seem to like being reminded he was food. Todd didn’t seem affected by the panic and horror in his prey’s eyes. He’d seen it a thousand times before. Some people were absolutely more affected than others. For some of them, once the pain stopped, it didn’t matter as much what happened to the meat torn off.

But Mal wasn’t used to being prey. They’d already established that, and he just confirmed it when he met Todd’s face.

The predator – really, the butcher, at this point – continued to talk, as if he hadn’t seen the wolf turn deer. “In a lot of ancient cultures, they thought that there was a vein that went right to your heart.”

He took another bite – not a big one, but hardly a nibble, either. Technically the hunger should be sated for tonight; this was just replenishing his stores now that his body was fixed. He could afford to take his time. It could take hours for him to finish Jasper Torres at this rate. And he knew ways to keep him alive for most of it.

“I don’t think that’s actually true, but it’s a cute thought, right? And I mean, if there was and it bled too much, I’ve got a cigarette lighter. Not too hard to cauterize a wound I could fit my teeth around.”

Crunch. He tried not to let it show that the bite-sized limbs, the tiny bones in the fingers and toes, were his guiltiest pleasure. Something he’d never let see the light of day, something nobody who knew about it would survive to know.

“It must be embarrassing, to think your boss is going to lose one of his best mercs like this. Death by a thousand cuts and all. How many vigilantes did you say you’ve killed again? Worst time to start a losing streak, if you ask me. But I got a big appetite. How many guys like you do you think he’ll throw away on me?”
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Even though it wasn’t attached to his body, Jasper felt like it could have been. He could practically feel teeth on his skin, biting through him. He shivered violently, his mind occupied as the questions started again. Something irrelevant with something relevant. Mal shook his head slowly, as if worried it might be the next thing to go.

“I didn’t say. They weren’t all vigilantes. I’ve killed nine metahumans. Five of them were vigilantes.”

Then Mal looked away from the man as he bit into the finger again. His left hand spasmed uncontrollably for a moment as a violent shake racked his frame. The bleeding was slowing down, but Jasper was sure that was due to how tense his body was getting. His stress and tension were climbing quickly, and that likely had something to do with the reduced blood flow.

“He won’t waste anyone on you. I’m the one they send to deal with people like you. If I can’t fight you, then only– no, then no one can.”

He’d almost said a name, almost outed Hematite. The man whose skin was as hard as steel, the unbreakable man. Maybe he would be hard for the bastard to chew on. But Hematite didn’t get sent to things like this. He was a new recruit, so they mostly kept him close to Philly. If Obsidian were to send anyone else, it would be Lapis, maybe, or he’d just come himself. He didn’t really have a good sense of self-preservation.​
“Jasper, man, come on. I told you, I’m just looking to survive. I need to know what to look out for. If they’re not in my way, they’re not my problem, right?”

Mal wasn’t going to die anytime soon. Todd had a good sense of that. The shock was finally getting through – the shock, and the fear. He could smell it in the adrenaline that bled out of the wound. See it in the lines of tension against the bonds. This was really doing a number on him.

But given he wasn’t dying, caution wasn’t on Todd’s mind when it came to the non-physical trauma he was inflicting. He sounded reasonable, looked it, too, never quite reaching bored but not looking as invested as a man invoking survival should be.

He sighed, not frustrated, halfway content, even, as he looked down at the fractured bone and bit of pulp between his very whole fingers. They were hardly recognizable as the same thing, anymore. Maybe Jasper had a reason not to look.

“At least tell me why you were sent to kill the others. If they weren’t vigilantes bothering prospective buyers, they were just people living their lives, so – why bother? Just for kicks? Even you don’t strike me as the type.”

Give him a few directions, maybe an outlet, make the target pick the least of the possible snitches. Any information was better than what Todd had, unless Mal chose to take the rude route after all.

He did pause with the finger, though. Nothing more would be heard on that front. When Mal looked at him again, he’d casually pop the rest of it in his mouth all at once, calm as a clam. Any more bites and he’d just have a messy bit of raw meat left, anyway.

Mal studiously refused to look up at Cryptid anymore. He didn’t have to just sit there and watch himself get consumed. He could answer at least one of those questions, though, in a vague way. He gripped the arms of the chair tight despite the shouting pain in his skinned palms. The pain reminded him that his hands were, in fact, skinned. He didn’t want to think about what had happened to that skin. So instead he bite his tongue for a moment.

“They were in the way of other things. I can’t tell you what. But they weren’t cooperating, so I was sent after them.”

Jasper knew that he was a hunting dog for Obsidian, but he also knew the man loved him, could feel it in his refusal every time he forgot to “eat” and Mal tried to offer himself, even just a bit. His death was going to be hard for most of the team.

Rhody wouldn’t have her sparring partner anymore, the man she had called her brother just recently. Hematite would lose his mentor, and they’d have to find someone else to help him learn to control the steel beneath his skin. Lapis wouldn’t care, but then she’d have no one to hate. And Sulphur, well. The two of them had been together since they were six. Twenty-eight years of friendship, gone.

That steeled his nerves, and he looked up with something new in his his. The fury was back, in full force. This man was going to take him away from everyone who loved him, who he loved. And just like that, Katherine was back on his mind. Her soft smile on her round face as she whispered his name late at night when she was awake and thought he wasn’t awake. The way she used to curl her head into his chest when they sat next to each other.

Malachite was furious on their behalf.

So he watched as the Cryptid ate the rest of his finger whole, and he didn’t blink.​
Anger was interesting. Todd tilted his head again, the same doglike motion he’d made a few times already. What was it that triggered the anger over the fear? Of course, rage like this, that stank like this, was going to be exhausting, so he’d need another resting period. He didn’t think it would be a blackout, exactly. A nap and a little water and he’d be okay this time. After that, though, he’d definitely need to be careful.

He needed to get what he could now, from the burst of energy that came with the anger.

Todd chewed on the finger, on the options, and thought about the men in the photos, Jasper’s real friends, the kinds of friends Todd had never had. Obsidian and Sulphur. He had no way to actually ID either of them without context clues, but he had a hunch he’d know Obsidian pretty quick when he saw him. His instincts usually said when he was looking at another predator.

Mal wasn’t a predator. He was a hunter, one who had several kills under his belt, but he hunted for pleasure, for sport. And he’d been sent to hunt Todd, among others, by someone. Someone who utilized people like Malachite, metahumans who did their dirty work. Who hired people like Obsidian, necessity killers who’d somehow lost their ties to humanity. The pattern of codenames meant they all belonged to the same group. He felt like he was staring at a puzzle half-finished and upside-down, like one little clue might tell him what he was looking at.

Unlike Jasper, he didn’t let his frustration show in his face or voice as he met the other man’s eyes. Maybe he didn’t get the big picture, but he’d seen enough of the man in front of him to know where to hit on the emotional scale.

“Don’t give me that look, Mal.” He licked his fingers clean between statements, not savoring the blood, but not wasting it, either. “You let this happen to you. You fucked up, you slipped, you failed. You failed them, you failed her, that’s that. Now you deal with the consequences.”

Most of the time, ‘consequences’ didn’t constitute being eaten alive over the course of an evening, just dying. But Todd was walking proof that sometimes living was worse than dying. And Mal was going to continue to experience it as Todd dropped his eyes, not in submission but pure dismissal, and took a cursory look at Mal’s bare hands again, as if debating which finger looked best for his next snack.
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“You’re right- I fucked up. I underestimated you. I didn’t see you for what you were. I failed everyone.” He could admit that. Mal had no trouble admitting that he had fucked this all kinds of up. This was entirely his own fault for being a cocky bastard. But he’d be fucked if he brought everyone down with him.

So summoning up the rage and holding onto it, Malachite spat, aiming for Cryptid’s face.His voice had a horrible tremble to it as he spoke, barely controlled rage in every shake “If you want me to suffer, then do it. If you’re going to eat me piece by piece, do it. I’m not bringing everyone else down with me. I could never do that after all that’s been given to me. So fucking do whatever you’re going to do already.”

He would make Obsidian proud, if nothing else. He felt ill knowing what was likely coming for him, but he’d already made the only move he could. His rage was going to keep him focused for the rest of whatever this was. The anger wasn’t going to subside any time soon, and it cleared any and all dizziness from his head. He wouldn’t crack. He wouldn’t give up their secrets to this monster.

There was no escaping this, especially not now. The horror of it was subsiding finally as he accepted his fate, and with that, the anger became the moist dominant emotion in him. Maybe all the stress and anger would at least leave him a nasty texture, or something, one last fuck you to this man.​
Oh, right, anger tended to make people stubborn. Todd raised his arm to block the wad of spit from hitting him in the face, and wiped it on his sweatshirt instead.

His mouth twisted, and he sighed. He needed to change tactics; the bad-cop method only went so far, and he doubted Mal would take more water in his current state. However, his hands were empty of food, so he’d resolve that first.

He reached to one side, and picked up the filet knife. Pressing his hand against the back of Mal’s, he pinned Mal’s hand to the chair, and put enough force into the downward strike to pin it there. The pain might clear the bastard’s head. He left the knife there, and took the butcher’s knife again.

He thought Jasper might appreciate it if he took the middle finger on this one. There was a little more meat on it than the ring from the other hand. He’d wait for the flash of pain to pass before he spoke again, rolling the finger a few times, again more like a pencil than an atrocity.

“Okay, well, you pick a topic, then.” Feigned disinterest was a good counter to high emotion. “It’s only fair, give and take, it’s not like you’re telling anyone. Otherwise we’re just going to be sitting here while I keep doing things like this until I get bored or you pass out again.”

At this, he paused long enough to take a bite and swallow it. And when he was done, he took another, and chewed it more thoroughly to see if Mal would – well, bite.

He watched as the knife descended into his skinned hand. It struck some kind of tendon, because his hand jerked against it, or maybe that was just a natural reaction to a knife through your hand. Then there was a flash of the bigger knife, and another wave of pain washed through his body. Once again, it was a white-hot fire followed by electricity, a quick moving flash up his arm and across his chest. This time he hollered, screaming out in pain, his rage making it all the worse.

“Fuck! Fucking hell!”

It took him a long moment to shake that one off, especially with the knife piercing through his hand. He shook a bit as the Cryptid started speaking again, taking bites from the newly severed finger. Now, that didn’t bother Jasper anymore. Not now that he was pissed off for his friends– no, his family. He was pissed off for his family.

That was the main reason that he was surprised by the sudden change in tactics. It threw him off balance and he glared at the scarecrow before saying in a rough voice, laced through with pain and anger, “I want to know your name. You know mine, scarecrow, only fair I get to know yours.”

And then, he got eerily quiet as he waited for the answer. Something in his face changed as if he was realizing something. Or maybe as though he was thinking about something he normally wasn’t allowed to think of. Then, in a quiet and even tone, he said, “I never get to ask this of the people I kill. I choose not to because I don’t want to know. But given you beat me, I want to ask… Do you have a family? Friends? A Katherine of your own? What would I have been taking you away from?”
Todd thought about the first question, maybe a little bit longer than he should’ve. Longer than most people would need to. Maybe it was the screaming. Maybe it was the shift in gears. In all honesty, Todd was wondering what would be the most honest answer.

Given the circumstances, it might be weird that he was considering fairness in his reply, given the rarity of the question. “Todd” was as real a name as “Cryptid”. He’d hand-picked the moment he was old enough, and lived by it. Todd, the fox.

But that wasn’t his name. It was the name on his license, on any of his official documents now. But Malachite – Jasper – deserved to know at least a little something for his trouble. It wasn’t like he was going to talk to anyone about it, after all.


It felt foreign in his mouth, it’d been so long since he used it. He thought it more often than he said it, and then only on rare occasions when he felt particularly horrible about himself. This was… different. It didn’t taste like poison, just dust and old documents. A version of him that used to exist. He cleared his throat a little, swallowing some of the blood that lingered on his tongue.

“That isn’t what I call myself anymore, but it is my name. Lyle Hart.” He worked his jaw a little, letting Mal see his discomfort. Not weakness, just hesitation. “It’s my dad’s name, too, but we don’t keep in touch. I’m sure he wonders about me, but he’s a bastard, so I don’t care. My mom’s…gone. As for the rest, well.”

He gestured around with the finger.

“This… doesn’t lend itself to long-term relationships. When there’s always something you have to hide, people notice eventually. And most folks don’t take well to being friends with a predator.”

He wanted to ask, about the other predator, about Obsidian. But he was going to be fair, and let Mal control the conversation for a little while. He took another bite out of his prop, which wasn’t as effective as before. That didn’t matter as much, Todd still had to eat, even if he was doing the answering for a little while. They’d get back to the intimidation part soon enough.

“Lyle. Well, Lyle, it’s good that I wouldn’t have been taking you away from anyone. Makes my consciousness a little lighter. I know I’ve taken people away from families that have loved them. In the same way, you’re about to take me away from my family. I’d ask you to pass on my goodbyes, but that would mean actually telling you about them. And I’m not that fucking stupid.”

Jasper chuckled low in his throat, a bitter sound that didn’t quite change his look of agony and anger. He looked the man over and shook his head a bit. “You know, I didn’t think what I did was conducive to a long-term relationship either. But sometimes you meet someone you can’t let go of, you know? And Katherine was that for me. She doesn’t know all the details, but I was very clear that I was basically a hitman. In spite of that, she refused to leave me. Despite the fact that you’re about to kill me, I hope everyone finds something like this.”

He tilted his head back and sighed a bit. This time, even with the pain laced through it, he seemed just… tired. Not angry, not sad, just tired. He let his head lull back for a moment, so long it seemed like he wouldn’t speak again. Then, he rolled his head to look at Lyle. “Got to admit, you don’t look much like a Lyle. Too big for such a small name. You said it’s not what you call yourself. So what do you call yourself?”

He watched the way he gestured with Mal’s finger, but almost impassively now. It still horrified him, but the horror was being crowded out by so much anger, so much sadness, and so much pain that he didn’t bother with the horror anymore​
The blue eyes didn’t exactly soften with humor, but they did relax, lean into it. This was working, at least insofar as it was taking the edge off of Malachite’s anger. “To be fair, I was a lot smaller when I used it. You might be disappointed, but the new one’s not much bigger. I go by Todd now. Means fox. I picked it before I knew all of what I was, but given the chance, I don’t think I’d choose anything else.”

He kind of wanted to see the reaction to that, and waited a few seconds before he continued.

“Sorry if I don’t have the same scruples you do after getting my insides rearranged. Twice. That fucking hurt, man.” Mal might be surprised to see a rueful smile instead of anger. Sure, Todd could hold a little bit of a grudge, but credit where credit was due. “I wouldn’t’ve made it through round three.”

He tore off another bit of finger, and chewed on it. His expression turned more somber as he thought about that, as he thought about the potential of other metas. Sure, Mal was a hunting dog, but Todd could handle a hunter. A bigger predator was another problem, the real kind that would go for the kill given the first little mistake and not waste time on bravado or fun. And then there was the unknown – he had no idea what Sulphur could do, even if he could identify him from a distance.

“You sure none of them are gonna come after me? Your family, I mean.” That was important, he sensed. Family. Not team, not friends. Todd had seen the photos with the blond man, with Sulphur or Obsidian. That had felt like family, really. Like the cliques of foster kids who fit together, who understood each other. He’d never fit in to those, but they’d let him get close. Almost close enough to be jealous.

Was it jealousy he felt now? Or just worry? Or fear? He wasn’t afraid for himself, not in the moment. A successful hunt always left him with a little buzz before he slept on it and let the guilt set in. But – and he’d been trying not to think about her – he did have someone to lose. He sighed a little, pushing her out of his mind. She needed to be kept far away from all of this. He wasn’t a hitman, he was a serial killer. There was a pretty significant difference there. And he couldn’t bear to think of what she might do if she saw him here, like this.

So instead he redirected, repeating the good-humored if rueful smile.

“Not to sound disappointed, but you’re real loyal for someone nobody’s gonna avenge. It’d be helpful to know whether I should be watching my back or not, because I really don’t want it broken again. I still don’t think I can feel my feet all the way.”