If someone had told Connor a month or so ago how much in his life would have changed just by coming down to Pittsburgh... well he would have demanded to know why you were even talking to him, which was part of the problem really. Connor recalled thinking he wasn't going to stick around here long, but now he was thinking he could, he leave. Despite this place being loud, smelly, and full of people... it was also home to a new friend, Sam as well as her mate, Todd who was... his... anyway, he was there. And Lapis, sweet little gem Lapis who was his mate. He had a mate now, the thought of her sent his head spinning, which was very dangerous when driving a car.
His old Range Rover shuttered around a corner, Connor had finally decided to move the thing from the parking lot he'd stored it in after around the twentieth parking ticket that he had no intention of paying. He had just not felt like having it towed and then goring through the trouble stealing it back from the tow company, so he drove it around looking for another place to store it. Fortunately, no one else was on the road at three o'clock in the morning, Connor specifically only drove on populated streets during the night as he had never bothered to learn traffic laws.
Mac and Brian sat in the back, whimpering as the breaks of the car screeched in protest, there was a snap! And a bang! And the Range Rover's engine pattered out, and the car came to a halt. Connor groaned, which was more of a growl, and slammed his head into the wheel. Mac whined at him.
"What am I supposed to do about it?" Connor said to him. Mac tilted his head and gave a small boof.
Connor rolled his eyes and climbed out, Mac and Brian both stuck there heads out the back windows to watch him, Connor got the feeling they were making fun of him .He looked over the car, it was broken, that much was clear, but he didn't know a damn thing about cars and how to fix them. He sighed, he needed a mechanic, but who was open at this hour?
Though, hadn't Sam mentioned one? She may have, but looking around, Connor recalled something or other about a mechanic shop being open at weird hours around here. Connor stepped begin the car and began pushing it down the street, which wasn't a great effort for him, as he looked around. Sure enough a street over Connor was able to spot a shop with it's lights still on and it's bay door open. The sign read Vik's Automotive Repair.
Connor figured they might at least get the thing running and started pushing his car right up to the shop.
Vik’s Automotive was not a 24 hour service shop. Vik had joked about making it one, ever since hiring the thin out-of-towner who was willing to take overnight rush jobs twice a week or more, but the kid’s schedule was too irregular for it to be a full-time gig. Neal had recommended him with some grumbled excuses, and at first, Vik hadn’t been too sure himself. But the kid was clearly experienced, and seemed to like the work. If there was a reason for his unusual schedule, even if they weren’t the night classes he’d told Vik about, those reasons weren’t Vik’s business.
Todd was grateful that Vik hadn’t asked any questions after the first week. He was an irregular worker, but he came when he was scheduled and called when he couldn’t. He worked his ass off when he was here, and he could get overnight orders done faster than Mike ever had, even in his prime. It helped that he’d told Vik was a meta – he was sure the old mechanic at least suspected vigilante activity, but if he cared, he didn’t ask. He was stronger and more focused than most people without his abilities.
And, when he played garage music, it was a lot quieter. He had a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds he’d gotten at VULTURE with Kosuke’s recommendation, and even then he didn’t need the volume turned up all that loud. He didn’t necessarily need his ears to identify anybody coming up.
Some of the regulars had gotten used to finding him here at all hours of the night, and they’d needed to be reminded that unless it was an emergency, he had other orders to fill out first. Sometimes they just wanted to chat, sometimes they just needed a wrench to tighten something themselves. He was finding himself generally liked by the weird 2AM clientele, but most nights, he was left alone.
So he didn’t look up right away when he saw the movement out on the street from the bay doors, his lips moving in sync between the songs on the playlist Nat had insisted he make. Right now it was only three of the albums he’d gotten on CD anyway, but the shuffle function was a fun feature.
Especially when the songs found an accidental pattern in the algorithm.
“Oh, there’s nothing quite as real as the touch of your sweet hand. I can't spend the rest of my life buried in the sand.”
The Caligula’s Horse cover of Message To My Girl faded out, and Todd pulled his head out of the engine to step toward the side of the pickup he was checking. The driver would be back around five to start a long road trip, and Todd was already done with the inspection. It was hardly seamless, but it would run, and that’s all Bill had asked.
His head nodded along to the drumbeat of the next song as it faded on. A song about Whatsername really suited his current thoughts and mood about Sam. He still hadn’t had the chance to eat since their last dinner – part of the reason he was working extra hours at Vik’s was to keep his mind off of that. Fixing cars, fixing anything, helped him focus on her without food crossing his mind once.
“She’s an extraordinary girl, in an ordinary world– and she can’t seem to get away.”
The car from the street turned – no, that wasn’t right. He couldn’t hear the engine under his music, or see the headlights. It was being pushed. An emergency order. He looked up from the door he’d been about to open, then popped out one earbud. The car looked awful, dirty and dinged-up and – and awful familiar, too. It took him a second to recognize the warning his instincts were giving him before the smell of wet dog hit him on the breeze.
Ah. Yep, there was only one Ranger Rover in Pittsburgh that was in that kind of shape.
He took the other earbud out as he stepped to walk out of the garage. The warning in the pit of his stomach was counterbalanced by the knowledge that this was his place – his territory. Civil rules determined that he’d have control of the situation, as long as he was here.
He stopped outside the bay, and folded his arms, already well aware the other predator would be in earshot as he announced his presence with a stern, “Connor.”
So preoccupied with pushing the car, and with his swirling thoughts that Connor hadn't be paying as much attention as he would usually. As he approached, something did tip him off, and he felt his hackles raise slightly and detected a whiff of mint before Todd spoke to him.
You ever have one of those days where this might as well happen?
Connor figured there must have been an upward limit to how much his inner instincts were able guide him, because they seemed to just about give up here. He felt a half-formed sense of potential danger to what was his... rival? No they weren't that, in fact they couldn't be Connor liked Todd's mat too much. Not friends no, they presented each other with far too much danger for that. Connor did consider turning right around at this point, but strangely, he figures there was no one else he'd rather work on his car.
So Connor slowly, awkwardly, poked his head out from behind the car, avoiding Todd's gave while also not looking away.
Todd raised an eyebrow, and looked at the poor old Range Rover, beaten half to death as it was. “I’m surprised it worked in the first place.”
He really didn’t want this. He didn’t need it tonight. His instincts curdled as he breathed in the scent of wet dog, ginseng, rosemary, and ozone.
He paused, tilted his head, took a deeper breath. Connor was upwind from him, which just added to the fact that Todd was in control and helped him reign in the parts of himself that wanted to tell Connor to fuck off. Now, he wanted to tell him to fuck off more, because he’d only met one person in Pittsburgh who smelled like cheap perfume and ozone. And– other things, that indicated exactly how Connor knew Lapis Lazuli.
Todd shook his head a little. Not his problem, not his issue, not his business. He glanced at the beat-to-hell SUV, eyes and expression making his pity for the machine all too clear. He exhaled, looked back at Connor without meeting his eyes, then jutted a thumb at the Chevy Colorado in the bay. “Gimme a minute to pull the truck out and I’ll have you roll it in. But I’m gonna have to ask you to stay outside the garage after that. When was the last time you had her checked out?”
They were back to their familiar dance, it would seem, and it was almost comforting to Connor, knowing they were still somewhat on the same page. Still, he wasn't emotionally prepared for navigating the complicated rituals with Todd today, it was all so tiresome really. So Connor found himself acting far more meek and diminished than he usually might have., he remained half hidden behind the car.
"I don't think it's ever been checked out... maybe before I had it, so five years at least... maybe longer"
Todd took a deep breath, then nodded. That sounded about right, both from the SUV’s condition and from Connor’s personality. He definitely noticed the submissive behavior – but the animal part of his soul never acted out when he was at Vik’s. This was his sanctuary, where he fixed instead of breaking, where he worked with his hands and solved problems that required human thought. So even though he engaged in some of the rituals, like never making eye contact with Connor, he wasn’t invested in how Connor responded to him in turn.
“Alright. Just a minute.”
He pulled the Colorado out of the garage and parked it in front of the shop doors. Then he walked back, and directed Connor without unnecessary force of command in rolling the SUV into the bay. This was routine, mechanical, without the messy intricacy of organic interactions. He knew where the car needed to go. He knew the tools in the garage. And even when he looked at Connor again, thin though he was and clear though the hunger might be in his eyes, there was no violence in his behavior.
“Like I said, I’m gonna have to ask you to wait outside. I– don’t think you mentioned where you’re from, right? Not around here, I know. How many miles do you think she’s got on her?”
Connor peered at Todd oddly as he pushed the Rover into the garage, his initial submission to him was met... unanswered. Connor had expected him to double down on his authority, like he had when they hunted together, but he didn't. He's acting... like he wasn't a predator, Connor frowned. Every rule in the proverbial book insisted that he at least establish he was in charge here, this was his territory, explicitly... not to mention the fact that Connor had been in contact with Todd's mate, something he was assuredly aware of.
Connor studied him, he was moving sort of unenergized, practised motions of someone not totally all here and running on autopilot. His skin was... scarred, burned? Had he been burned? All over his body, perhaps from a fight, it wasn't impossible, but something was off about the whole thing. It was strange seeing someone like Todd in this state, someone who he'd seen hunt with ruthlessness now diminished. It was like seeing a proud lion wounded and exhausted, it was... sad? Connor felt... what was this feeling? Sad too? Why? Todd was a threat, a rival... right?
As the Range Rover was pushed into the garage proper, Connor remained at the very edge of it, just out enough to technically be obeying Todd's request. He crouched down on his haunches, still looking at Todd and trying to determine what he was seeing here. As Todd moved around the car, wincing at its condition, Mac and Brian appeared and poked their heads out of the open window. Mac was more reserved, tilting his head and sniffing at Todd, a look of recognition in his eyes. Brian on the other hand was barely contained, he nearly jumped out the window, his tail wagging furiously and his tongue flicking out trying to catch Todd in the face.
"I'm not sure, I stole it somewhere between Tennessee and North Dakota... not sure exactly where, I wasn't familiar with where I was at the time... I then drove it from North Dakota to Montana, I stored it in the woods for... five years, didn't really touch it much... or at all, until I left Montana and rove it here," Connor felt odd, talking somewhat casually like this, though he figured his time in Pittsburg had already been weird enough. "I'm not from Montana, or Tennessee, or North Dakota, or any places in between them."
It was impossible not to feel Connor’s gaze on him, on the back of his neck, on his injuries, even if they’d healed by now. At least he hadn’t sustained the fucking limp from the bullet he’d taken.
But Todd was at work, and he was tired. Civil body language was easier and safer than letting himself posture to hide his injuries. Best not to trigger any kind of fight in his state. Easier to slip into a customer service persona, even if a mechanic’s customer service persona was a little more grating than most retail workers.
“You stole it, drove it roughly a thousand miles, then didn’t have it checked. Then you left it untouched for five years, then drove it roughly two thousand miles, straight through?” He huffed, and shook his head at the abused vehicle, just as two more heads appeared in the window. His eyebrows lifted at the dog that made eye contact with him. It seemed to recognize him, and wolfhounds were rare enough that he recognized it, too. Made sense, he figured. The dog had been at the scene when Connor had first crossed paths with Cryptid.
The other dog hadn’t, its long tongue catching Todd offguard. He laughed a little in surprise, but there was a tired edge to even that. Animals tended to be neutral with him at worst, and over-friendly at best. He was pretty sure it has something to do with the fact that he wasn’t a predator to most of them, nor did he compete with them for their usual food. The animals’ friendliness was also a good sign Connor didn’t have any animosity for him tonight, either. He brought both hands up and scratched their shaggy heads, a human reassurance that their affection was noticed and returned, then stepped back and opened the doors.
“Go on, get. You two can’t be in here, either. Too much for you to get into.”
Whether or not they listened to him, Todd would reach under the steering wheel to pop the hood of the Rover.
“The fact this thing was still running is a bigger miracle than I thought,” he continued, nonchalant. He had questions about where Connor was from, but his brain was slipping into the autopilot necessary to start looking through the engine block. “Word of advice: don’t do that. God, I have no idea how much of this is going to be rusted out – please tell me you at least replaced the battery before you got back in the driver’s seat.”
Connor watched Mac and Brian hop out and run over to him, Mac lay next to Connor, but Brian kept standing, his tail still. He like'd Todd, but Brian liked everyone. Connor glanced at Mac, hos looked at him back. They'd known each other long enough to know to communicate in their strange way. Mac didn't mind Todd, but also was thinking the same thing Connor was; something was up with him.
He paid more attention to Todd as he moved, he was relaxed, not because he was comfortable but because he was seemingly not invested enough to be on edge. He wasn't afraid of Connor, not like usual, not like he was supposed to be; strangely this made Connor ease up even more too. But then, Connor noticed it, very slightly Todd was limping.
"Well I grabbed it when I was... younger, and I knew less, I was mainly trying to... run," Connor paused, unsure if he should offer more detail, he was also unsure why he'd given even that much detail. "I'm afraid I wasn't aware the car had a battery to be changed... no one around to tell me."
Connor observed silently for a few more moments, he felt the need to say something, to address the disparity in their interaction. It would bother him if he didn't, though Connor couldn't quite place why he cared. Asking might come across as mocking, or a challenge, or even worse, pity. Any of those might make this oddly casual and pleasant conversation much less so. Connor chose his words carefully.
"Were you wounded recently?" Connor said. Wounded was better than hurt or injured, hurt implied weakness, injury implied something that might weaken him. A wound was an expected result of combat or the hunt. He added recently to imply the wound was no longer a major problem, and therefore Todd wasn't in a weakened state, and Connor wasn't asking him if he was in a weakened state.
Todd didn’t actually seem fazed by the admission to stealing the old car. Honestly, in circumstances where he had to run across the country, he would’ve done the same thing no matter how much he loved the Malibu. Sentiment came second to survival. However, he would’ve at least changed cars a few time if he was going to be pursued. He was about to mention that, when Connor filled the silence with a question instead.
Todd’s head snapped toward the other creature before he could stop himself. The frigid blue eyes narrowed, almost as if to cover up the hollowness behind them. And without thinking, he focused them on Connor’s face, on his eyes, looking to find the challenge there.
There wasn’t any, though. None to be found. He seemed – thoughtful. More than that, he seemed worried. That immediately shattered all the anger in Todd’s heart. Of course Connor wasn’t going to exploit his weakness. He had no reason to. He needed Todd to fix his car. Todd was in control of the situation. Slowly, Todd walked himself back out of the flash of instinct. His expression relaxed, turned into an apologetic smile without teeth as he averted his eyes again, first, this time. It wasn’t a challenge. He wasn’t challenging. He cared. Why he cared was another mystery entirely. But Todd slowly exhaled, and walked over to one of the shelves.
“I get wounded a lot. It’s better now.” He turned back to the engine, wrench in hand. The burst of anger left him even more tired than before. It’d be easier to focus on the mundane. Back to banter, back to customer–mechanic. Safer territory. Less exhausting territory. “Next time? Just steal another car. It’ll probably be safer for you. Though I think it’ll be smarter while you’re around here to have a regular mechanic. I can recommend some places.”
Because I just proved coming here might not be a good idea, and don’t want to risk conflict by inviting you onto my territory. The slip-up was probably the strongest evidence he wasn’t doing well, making the half-display of aggressive challenge stupid on every level. Connor could rip him to pieces on a good day. Tonight? Tonight with his bad leg, sore arm, sore bones, and itching skin? Tonight, Connor would break him like a toothpick. Stupid. He had to hope the apology was enough, and that focusing on the engine block could make the shivering that had started right after his outburst stop.
That was the first time their eyes had met, Connor never realized how blue his eyes really were. They almost shined, not reflective like Connor's were, but almost produced their own light, and yet they lacked that special light that all living things had. This was all Connor rational brain was able to process before it became very preoccupied with resisting the urge to tear Todd limb from limb.
The eye contact instinctually made his body want to react, to meet the challenge, to bear fangs and pounce. The rival was weak, he was wounded, if the threat was to be eliminated it had to be eliminated now. Connor's heart pounded heavily and he had to steady his breathing, Todd wasn't actually challenging him. His sudden breach of protocol was an involuntary reaction, one that Connor couldn't blame him for, yet still the Bloodfury threatened to boil. Connor focused on Sam, she held him back, if he hurt Todd at best she would be pissed off, at worse she would be hurt and never forgive him. Strangely Lapis entered his thoughts, and somehow he thought she wouldn't want him to hurt Todd either, but the final push back against the fury came as a strange realization.
Connor didn't want to hurt Todd.
Not because Todd was a threat, not because Todd could hurt him back; both were likely untrue right now. No, Connor didn't want to hurt Todd... because it was wrong to do so. Connor watched him, observing closer, he was clearly diminished; in a sorry state really. He looked thin, more than usual anyway, in that wiry way that animals took on when they weren't eating enough. Was he ill? Or something else bothering him? Connor wondered these things as the last tinges of his fury faded away to be replaced with another feeling; empathy.
This was reinforced by the fact that Todd immediately backed down from his supposed challenge, that fact alone demonstrated he was in no state to fight even if he wanted to, but he truly didn't want to. He had willingly demonstrated just how vulnerable he was, and Connor figured he realized that too by the way he had placed the car between them Todd was thinking he might have to run, that Connor might attack. A fair assumption given the circumstances, that Connor wasn't attacking was a surprise to both of them.
"Tough hunts can often lead to bad wounds... It happens to me too, sometimes I get hurt badly enough that I can't hunt for food," Connor added the last bit to try and say he understood, and wasn't commenting on Todd's weakness. He was also ignoring Todd's mechanic calm at this point, he figured that was a cover he was using to avoid talking to Connor about anything else. "Have you had... tough hunts?"
Connor thought back, to when they had hunted together. Todd had refused all of the freely available meat, even the ones they were hurting, Todd hadn't eaten. Connor hadn't thought much of it, but he wondered when the last time Todd had eaten. For some reason, in the back of his mind he was already thinking how he could best catch Todd some food.
Todd could feel the tension that came from the entrance to the garage without looking up from the nightmare of an engine block. His internal hackles rose. Even so, he knew that there was no winning a fight with Connor tonight. It was why he’d chosen that time to step behind the van, half-hiding the way Connor had been when he first rolled it up. Not just hiding, though. It gave him space to be on whatever side of the Rover that Connor didn’t charge up. In a land race, with his bad knee, Todd would need a head start to survive.
Or maybe not. The tension drained, and Todd risked a glance without eye contact. Connor hadn’t moved from his position. He was still there, at the entrance to the garage, technically blocking the exit if he wanted to run. But he hadn’t come in. Instead, he kept asking his questions, and Todd knew that they weren’t meant to gauge his weakness. That was already clear as day by the tremble that now climbed down his limbs and into his hands. He steadied himself with a deep breath, just enough to use the wrench properly. He was starting to notice the cold again, not on his bare arms, but under his skin, seeping into his blood and spreading into every crevice in his body.
Connor’s question made his leg throb, and he subconsciously shifted his weight off of it. Tough hunts was an understatement. He’d spent the last week looking for the right prey. It’d been easier when he’d had the Jackals and had messages to send to Leo. Now he felt a little adrift. It shouldn’t be hard to go back to his old habits, but there was a lot of risk here in Pittsburgh. He’d just been too careful.
“A few,” he admitted, his voice tight. He didn’t look at Connor again. “Nothing that’ll stop me from eating. I’ve just been putting it off. Tomorrow or the night after I’ll probably go hunting. I can make it a couple more days.”
The discolored skin on his arms and face weren’t from the hunts, though. He’d had those scars before he saw Lament the second time. Before the incident when he’d actually fallen to his starvation. But – when he ate, they’d finish healing, those reminders of what he’d almost done to his Sammy. His free hand ran up his wrench arm, following the path of discolored skin up to the shoulder before he set his jaw and brow and stuck his head completely into the compartment. Whatever horrors were in there were probably better than the pity he’d see if he looked at Connor again, or whatever he’d feel if he kept dwelling on his last dinner with Sam.
He'd relaxed, that was a good sign, he no longer thought Connor would pounce on him. Maybe you could call that trust, but that would depend on whether or not you believed a tiger could trust a wolf. Connor kept his eyes on Todd, now outwardly studying him, the barrier between them had begun to chip away and Connor felt more comfortable brazenly looking at his, former, rival.
Putting off eating, that wasn't right, who put off eating? Connor couldn't think of a time he had ever avoided eating when he needed to, and for Todd, he was surrounded by prey so there was no small shortage. Obviously Todd couldn't prey on every single person who crossed his path, he likely chose his targets carefully. A far stretch from Connor's methods at chasing the prey down until he caught up. Still his methods made sense, the fact that he was avoiding eating at all did not.
Connor figured he wasn't going to figure out this enigma unless he asked.
"Putting it off," Connor repeated. "Not very healthy to put it off, or to wait, especially if you're... wounded." Suddenly the word "hurt" seemed more appropriate but Connor still couldn't come to say it yet.
“I said I’m–” Todd cut himself off when he tasted the venom in his own words. He caught himself before he could glare at Connor again, closed his eyes, took a deep breath. He counted to five, then looked down at his hands. They were shaking again, too much to use the wrench properly. He set the tool aside, then stood up and stretched.
When he spoke again, he was calmer. “My wounds are closed. I’m just tired. I’ll be better after a hunt. I’ve got work tonight, and I’ve had a few incidents the last few nights. I’ve got tomorrow off. I’ll have time then.”
He stepped toward one of the tool shelves, where a radio sat. He pulled his phone and earbuds out of his pocket, and realized the playlist had kept going. The screen read Resonate. He paused it, skipped back to the beginning, and plugged his phone into the aux cord before hitting play again. The music was soft, and it was a good song to take another deep breath and let run in the background while he stepped back toward the front of the garage, toward Connor.
He patted his pockets down and retrieved a pack of Marlboros and a Zippo lighter, with the image of a bull outlined around the constellation Taurus visible on the front as Todd lit the smoke. He shook a second one free, and offered it to Connor, even if he was sure that the other man wouldn’t take it.
He smelled more strongly of cigarettes and coffee overall from this close, and much less of food or menthol. He leaned up on the wall by the bay door and looked out into the night, before deciding to not-completely-look at Connor again.
“Why do you care so much if I’m healthy or not, anyway? All this means to you is that I’m not a threat.”
Connor wasn't much more music, but the tunes were... soothing. Not unlike a gentle breeze, he found he didn't mind it so much like he did the loud jarring tones of other music he'd heard. If anything he appreciated it's presence. It blanketed over the smell of anger as Todd became frustrated with Connor's questions.
Todd was very close now, this must have been the closest the two of them had been physically to each other. Connor could smell Todd's lit cigarette, the strong coffee. He was shaking, from anger? Or from other emotions. Connor looked at the cigarette offered to him, he didn't smoke, Todd had probably figured he didn't smoke. But it was a peace offering of sorts, Connor took the cigarette.
Did the music die in the quiet?
Did the music die in the quiet?
Or did it give me room to resonate?
When I am hate
If I could resonate
Connor pondered Todd's question as he passed the cigarette through his fingers, feeling the texture of it, pretending to be interested in it while his mind worked away. Why did he care? He wasn't gauging if Todd was a threat, he figured that much, but there was a reason. Him not eating, him being so weak and hurt... it reminded Connor, of a another time, a small boy, laying in the forest. He couldn't hunt, he didn't know how yet, couldn't stand, his legs were battered, and he had cried. Connor thought that might have been the last time he had cried. He imagined Todd in such a desperate state, and he knew he didn't want that, he didn't want anyone to feel that way.
"Sam," was the answer he ended up giving, Connor no longer felt the risk of bringing up his mate. "She would care, very much... she would be upset to know this... I don't want her to be upset."
The heat and nicotine helped to start dissipating the cold, so that the tremble turned into something closer to shivering. He was in the habit of biting down on the side of his tongue so his teeth didn’t chatter when he got like this. He watched Connor study the cigarette while the music in the background, the gentle pulse of the rhythm helping to steady his mood.
He felt like he should’ve had more of a reaction when Connor said Sam’s name. Sam had already told him she knew about Connor, though, and – it was Sam. He knew there was nothing going on between them. And he knew – thank God – that Connor hadn’t said anything about what Todd was. Nothing definite.
Sam wouldn’t have let him close again if she’d known.
“Sam… doesn’t know about this.” He took another deep breath of smoke, and let it out almost right away. “She doesn’t know – about me. What I am. And she can’t know. At all. Ever. Finding out I’m – whatever-I-am? That’d upset her. It wouldn’t end well.”
All thoughts about his original question had scattered to the winds. He flicked an ember away, then looked sincerely at Connor’s face. Still not meeting his eyes, not quite, but acting very clearly on the human side of his personality.
Connor froze, still as a statue. The casual demeanour that had been filling the air between them shattered and was replaced by tension. A whirlwind of feelings filled him, and likely showed, his normally stone-cold expression cracked. His eyes widened, his nostrils flared, his mouth opened slightly in surprise. He felt shock, confusion, fear, disgust, anger, horror.
Sam didn't know her mate was a cannibal. Todd was lying to her.
"She doesn't know," Connor repeated, as if he didn't believe what he had heard. "What... sweet Mary... fuck, How does she not know!?"
Connor didn't often raise his voice because he didn't need to, but he was filling with an energy anew. His gut old him to get mad, get ready, and fight, but it was all so confusing. He had just accepted Todd as... well, not a threat, but of Sam being his friend. Sam, his friend Sam, she was involved with his man-eater, and she didn't know it, why didn't she know that? Why hadn't he... why hadn't he told her? That's when the thought hit him, dark and insidious. There was a simple, pragmatic reason why Todd would lie to Sam like his. Because he was waiting, because he was biding his time.
"...I’ve just been putting it off. Tomorrow or the night after I’ll probably go hunting. I can make it a couple more days.” Todd's voice echoed in his head. Putting it off for, what? Connor narrowed his eyes at Todd.
Todd’s hackles went back up the second he felt the tension rise again in Connor. He wanted to bark and snap that it was none of his fucking business why Sam didn’t know. If he couldn’t figure it out for himself he was too stupid to–
He brought the cigarette to his lips again before he could say something he’d regret. The good news was, the shivering stopped the second the anger rushed in. But Todd had to close his eyes, take a deep breath, calm down. Count to five.
Even so, his voice was still tight when he exhaled. He didn’t open his eyes.
“Would you tell a doe you fell in love with that part of you is dying to eat her every second of the day, if she hasn’t already figured it out?”
Frigid blue eyes opened. There was an unusual sharpness, visible even from the angle he kept them at. There was a tightness in the line of his body. But at the edges of those eyes, if Connor had been able to meet them full-on, was the grief. The absolute certainty that he was living a tragedy.
Maybe he could even see it from where he sat.
“Because – because even if it’s not unprecedented, this is like a coyote falling in love with a rabbit. And the other way around. Except the rabbit could absolutely kill the coyote back. And the rabbit doesn’t have a single goddamn survival instinct.”
He licked his lips out of habit, but a little bit of the tension dropped from his shoulders. His voice quieted.
“Because it’s Sam. And it’d break her heart if she had to kill me.”
It likely took a year off of Connor's lifespan just to hold himself back here. He was wound tight like a spring, every muscle was clenched, he didn't shake like Todd did, he was deadly still. And when Todd looked at him, Connor stared right back.
"It would break her heart if she tried to kill me."
Connor felt frustration, everything he was saying was... ludicrous, it was insane. It was the self-pity that infuriated him, his jaw clenched. A growl threatened to release from his throat. Would you tell a doe you fell in love with..." These words echoed in his ears. A memory, an old one, long ago buried now surfaced. It hurt, it hurt so badly to see her face again in his mind, he'd tried to forget it, but there she was. A small house, a backyard at the edge of woods, she leaned over a white picket fence. They were laughing about something. But then the conversation had turned serious. Connor didn't remember why, but he didn't remember her voice.
"I would never hurt you," Connor had said, and Miriam smiled sadly.
"Don't make a girl a promise if you know you can't keep it."
Some part of Connor's mind was still present and observant, and it alerted him to a detail of Todd that had been bothering him. The scars along his skin, the way it stretched. These were no ordinary wounds. They were burns. And Connor only knew of one source of fire that Todd was around. The mere suggestion, the simple idea that Sam did or had to burn Todd, out of self-defence? Out of fear? It didn't matter. The fury didn't care. The beast was awake.
In less than a second, the spring released its tension and Connor sprung forward. One hand clamped down on Todd's throat and the other grabbed his bad leg and pulled it forward harshly so that Todd's footing was swept up from underneath him. The two of them landed on the ground hard, Connor's weight pinning Todd to the floor, his hand remained in his throat, firmly holding his head down. He didn't squeeze, not yet, but the threat was preset. At any moment he could crush Todd's windpipe or snap his neck.
"I wouldn't have a choice!" Connor snapped, his voice was a mixture of growling tones and the cracking of emotion. "I've never had the chance! I can't hide! Not like you, you, you can pretend, I can't! They'll always see what I am, always know! They judge me once they see me! Which means you have a responsibility! You don't get to play with her like this! We can't' afford these games, we can't afford mistakes! If you believed you couldn't control yourself around her, you should have never stayed! You should have never spent any time with her, you run away, away from here, into the woods away from everyone! You don't lie to her and string her along and put her in more danger! You knew what you were, you knew what you could do, that's what we do! We take responsibility for the monster we are."
Connor choked back his emotions that were threatening to spill out, he saw Miriam's smile, he saw Lapis's eyes. The barest hint of tears sparkled on the edges of his eyes.
"But if you love her," Connor said, much more softly now. "If you love her you tell her from the start, a and if she runs away you let her, if she attacks her you let her... but you don't let her love you back unless you know you can stay, unless you know you won't hurt her. We can't have both, not us, not if we want the love to be real... they need to know, and if we are cursed to be alone, then we are alone... better that than to hurt them."
Something heavy hit Todd after a sudden blur of motion. He felt his bad leg give, felt the ground hit his back, but just like that, Todd wasn’t in the garage anymore.
He was in a warehouse. Open space was saving his life. Open space to move, to evade, to get back up and scramble aside before a fist that could shatter concrete came down where his head had been. All his ribs shifting as he bolted, as he ran, as his organs shifted around lungs trying to force his pleas out his rapidly closing throat: Arlo please, please it’s me, it’s Todd –
He was going to die. The pressure holding him down was a death sentence. He was on the ground, the hard floor underneath him. He was surrounded by – by dog. Wet dog, strong and thick. His breath was coming in shallow heaves, but the only motor oil and machinery smell was from the garage itself. No scent of horse, or peppers. Just Connor. Connor, who wasn’t yelling but growling, snapping like an animal between words. Words Todd had been hearing, but only now processed as his body realized that while this wasn’t Arlo, he could still die. Probably would still die.
He stared at Connor, his eyes wide and damp,
His eyes unfocused, as the horrible realization came back. The same realization he’d had when she was in his lap, accepting gentle kisses that only just barely hid the teeth of a beartrap.
“I don’t know if I love her. I– I don’t know if I can. I– I don’t know where one half of my soul ends, and the other half begins, Connor. I don’t know how much of anything is really me. I haven’t known since – since my first hunt. Nothing has been fucking simple since then, okay? I don’t know if it’s a fucking lie. To her or– or to me.”
He'd started to shake again, but there was something new in his eyes. Not fear or rage. Something that was stopping the rest of his emotions from melting into happiness at the very thought of Samantha Walsh. Guilt.
“What I do know is – She loves me already. I couldn’t stop that if I tried. And because she’s Sam, she couldn’t let me go. I’ll have to tell her, eventually, because she would chase me. And then one of us dies.”
God forbid it was her, God forbid it be her.
But there was something worse that could happen. And as the layers of Todd’s mental barriers fell away, he knew what he was really afraid of.
“And God forbid she falls in love with my monster, Connor. God forbid. If she wanted my violence I couldn’t – I can’t let her–”
Todd looked up into Connor’s eyes, and his own eyes only held resignation. A prey instinct. A knowledge, a certain knowledge. He dropped the cigarette, and his hands went to Connor’s.
He pressed against them, his fingers frigid, weak, but urged them down, closer to his throat. Suddenly the trembling racked his body, violent and bone-deep, and - and he was crying. How long had he been crying? Since the start? Since the flashback? Since Connor had hit him? Since he’d had to admit he couldn’t love the woman who loved him?
Since he remembered the soft, slow voice, a recording of a man who admitted to hating his gentle wife, when he knew what she really was?
He pressed Arlo’s hands to his throat. He was so, so tired. Arlo should’ve killed him.