Todd's hands were ice-cold, like he didn't even retain heat. He felt them press against his, pushing into himself, guiding Connor to take his life, to kill him. Their eyes met once again, and Connor saw a familiar pain there, a hollowness. A wounded stray animal, accepting its fate, he'd seen it before in prey.
He'd seen it before in himself once, spying a look at himself in a lake, contemplating jumping in.
His grip relaxed, Connor removed his hand from Todd's throat. He sat up, and stepped off of him, leaving Todd on the floor as he sat next to him. Connor sighed, these were painful thoughts and painful memories that haunted him again. He'd long since thought them gone now, figured he could escape them if he hid in the woods long enough. Foolish really, he looked at Todd, they were very different beasts, but they shared this kinship all the same.
"We only have one soul, Todd," Connor said, he looked over at Mac and Brian, who had watched the whole display waiting for direction. "You're not half man half monster, no more than I am, we are what we are, that's it. You can't separate your natures, you can only come to terms with them... this is no different than any man really, since we all rose out of the mud, or since the Fall, every man has evil and violence inside of him, gluttony, envy, pride, lust, greed, sloth... wrath. Whatever it is, you and I? We're just stuck with our own kind of sin... what makes you who you are is what you do with the time you're given."
"Sam... if she loves you, and I believe she does, then she loves you... all of you, you're right, there's no undoing that, but that means you no longer have a choice. You have a responsibility, to her, to stay and to be with her, and to learn... learn how to be with her... and never to lie to her again."
"I spent so long-running, from everything, from the world, from people... from love... running doesn't get you anywhere Todd, unless you want to end up like me, an accursed unwanted animal hiding in the edges of the world, no friends, no family, no love... never going to have a home again... " Connor's voice cracked again, the tip of his nose tingled with the pressure of holding back tears. "You have to... understand... Wowacintanka, patience, be patient with yourself, it will take time but I... I can help, if I can... I don't want you to make the same mistakes I did."
The big hand moved, and Todd was left with his own hands on his neck. He lay still for a second, then slid the hands down to his chest, to fold over each other there. Part of him was upset that he’d fallen prey to his own weakness, that he’d let Connor see that. He knew he’d never have the other predator’s respect again, not completely. But his rational thoughts set that aside. He could live with that. Especially if it meant no more exhausting dominance games.
Connor talked about souls. He talked about creation, and sin. Todd had done research, when he was younger, about what he might be, before he settled on metahuman being enough. Monster, predator, carnivore – meta. Every creature that embodied the cannibal, from the ghoul to the wendigo to the werewolf to the vampire, embodied gluttony. The consumption of flesh was the highest form of carnal desire when it came to devouring.
“I have my mind. And I have my instincts. I have two sets of wants that fit into two categories. I want to have her. I don’t know what that means. One minute I’m holding her in my arms, the next my teeth are by her throat. One minute I want to run as far from her warmth as possible, the next I’m sitting in the middle of her fire because I deserve it. Anything I do about her I love and hate at the same time, equally. It definitely feels like two souls.” His left hand gripped his overalls, right over his heart. His voice quieted, but the emotion and exhaustion left the edges ragged while he made his confession to one of the only creatures that could get it, and not want to exploit it. “I’ve made more than my share of mistakes. I– scavenged from a girl who killed herself. Who was my friend, my sister, I guess. I killed my best friend when he found out what I was. And because of what happened with him, I killed a teenage girl for not reacting fast enough when she found me. I ran, then, but I can’t stay away from people like that because – because of what I am. What I have is patience, but not what you’re talking about. My patience is the ambush. My patience is waiting for guilt to pass so I can force myself to move on. What I have is survival, because if I don’t survive, then they all died for no reason. That’s not – wowacintaka, probably. It just is. It’s me.”
His tears had stopped. The cold hadn’t, but it was back to small vibrations, not full-body shakes. He took a deep breath, and sat up. He curled in on himself, pulling his knees to his chest. His eyes were dull, now, but they held the truth of what he was saying as he put his chin on his arms and looked at the floor.
“I’m afraid, Connor. I’m afraid of what she’ll do when she knows. If she accepts, it could be worse than her being scared of me. The idea that she’ll fall in love with the thing that survives everything, instead of the person I’ve had to teach myself to be – that’s what’s scaring me.”
He raised his head to look at Connor, and the dark circles under his eyes were more prominent than ever. But rather than the fear, there was a little bit of resolution. The same determination that had made him get up with a broken rib cage the night Arlo found him. The same determination that had gotten him from Columbus to Pittsburgh after Summer.
“Because of that, I have to tell her. Please, let me have that, at least. When I’m ready. If I take too long, then – we’ll worry about it then. But I can’t tell her now. Not like this. And if somebody else tells her, and she comes to me with it, if I think she wants that violence more than –”
He sighed, not the content sigh of a predator, but the long, shaky sigh of a long-broken man.
“Then I’ll take your advice. It might be the only way to hurt her in a way she lives through.” He rested his head on his arms again, forehead first. “If that happens, I need you to be there for her. Please. She’s going to need someone. And she’s going to need to stay here long enough for me to be somewhere she won’t find me. That’s for her sake, not mine. If you can promise to do that – I’ll find a time to tell her. You have my word.”
Connor watched him curl into himself, the pretense of predators at each others throat was passed between them now. Connor now had no worry of passing some line and inviting retaliation, he'd quite handily broken that wall. He'd held Todd's life in his hand, and he hadn't taken it, and Todd in turn had opened to him the most vulnerable part of his heart. They'd never be threatened by each other again.
Which is why Connor responded to what his heart told him to do next, though the idea would have been ludicrous just moments ago. They had, in a sense, shed blood together now, there could be no more hesitation. Connor shifted closer to Todd, and he wrapped his arms around him. Connor was warm, not like Sam who radiated heat, but the more steady heat of an animal. Man and Brian moved in response, coming up to Todd and nuzzling him, attempting to get their snouts close enough to lick his face.
"I promise... to be here, for both of you... if you'll let me"
Todd felt Connor come closer, and didn’t do anything to stop him. He did freeze – or at least, tense – when he felt the weight of the bigger man’s body surround him. His head lifted slightly while the animal heat pulsed through him – just to get a pair of wet tongues in the face. His nose wrinkled and he tilted his head away, but he didn’t pull away from the embrace.
He’d started crying again. He was going to be dehydrated by the end of the night. That thought was odd, but also was a relief. Because it meant he was putting his traumas back into the right boxes, so they would stop haunting him. Enough that he felt human again, under the pressure of Connor’s arms.
“I can let you.” He sighed, getting a lungful of dog and old deer meat, and he pretended to choke. He laughed as he playfully made as if trying to push Connor away. “But if this is gonna be a regular thing? I’m gonna have to ask you to shower. If I’m gonna end up smelling like you, I don’t want to smell like that.”
Wet dog, yeah. Wet dog and meat, and – at this proximity, Lapis was unmistakable. He wondered if he should mention her now, then decided to wait. This might be his one chance to convince Connor to take an actual hot shower, with soap, even if it was industrial-grade citrus soap. And – maybe he wanted a moment to recover his pride, in privacy, before even touching on Slate.
“Back of the shop, narrow hallway, there’s a set of shower stalls. Soap is under the sink. Towels are in the far cabinet.”
Things were going to be different now. What that meant was hard to say, but that was no excuse for him to stay a broken mess when there were things to be done.
Connor couldn't help but laugh too, at Todd, and the ludicrousness of where they had arrived. He let Todd push against him in jest, but held onto him for a moment. They were linked now, in a strange way, they didn't belong to each other like Todd belonged to Sam, or how Connor belonged to Lap- in any case it was different. They were kin, pack, friends, brothers, they wood stand side by side as equals now. Connor couldn't help but smile a little bit, this was something he could cherish along with everything else he had gained since coming here. He'd once thought Pittsburgh was the most rancid place he had ever been, but if he judged it now by the folk he had met, then it was more gorgeous than the shores and fields of Tír na nÓg.
"Yeah, okay, if you insist," Connor said, he then lowered his head and planted his mouth right onto of Todd's head, amongst his curly hair. It was half kiss half nuzzle, affectionate, but familial. There was no demands in the action, only a message. That I care for you, that I will always care for you. Connor slowly detached himself from Todd, his nose filled with cigarette smoke and motor oil, he mimicked Todd's fake gag. "You know you don't smell like roses either." he teased, but then followed Todd's directions to the shower. Mac and Brian remained behind, seemingly come to the same conclusion as Connor and refusing to leave him alone until he felt better.
Todd laughed off the comment about his own scent. If he’d been asked the day before what he’d do if Connor – or anyone except Sam – had kissed him, he wouldn’t have known. Probably been upset. But now, something about it felt… right. It felt like the familial kind of thing that he’d never really had before. The closest he’d come were kids like Liz, and he’d consider her a friend more than a sister, foster or otherwise.
Something about the touch soothed his inner animal, though. It didn’t make sense – Connor was supposedly a rival, an animal of a different species. Todd’s animal didn’t do packs. Not even Ethan’s pack was right for him. But whatever Connor had done, whatever boundary had just been broken between the two of them, had shifted their dynamic completely.
He’d have time to think about that, as Connor walked off to go shower. Or he should’ve had time. But when the Wolfhound finally emerged, he’d find Todd underneath the old Rover, the engine of which was already half-dissected, pieces scattered around. Small, displeased mutters emerged from the undercarriage. No part of the car had been safe from the mechanic’s inspection, made clear by the weapons that had been carefully removed from the back seat and set just outside the bay doors.
When he rolled out from under the car on his back, Todd’s face was black with oil and grease, with flecks of loose rust in his hair. He didn’t look angry, but he hardly looked happy, either.
“Connor, I’m gonna give it to you straight.” He sighed. “I think it’ll be cheaper to just buy you something new. Too much of this needs to be replaced for me to ask you to pay for all of it in a reasonable amount of time. Vik knows some guys who do rebuilds. I can talk to him about it tomorrow, but I’ll need to know your budget for that.”
Connor emerged a while later smelling of soap that probably wasn't meant for people, his beard less frizzy, and his long hair was wet and slicked back just a fell in a sheet down his back… He wasn't wearing his jacket or his flannel shirt, just an undershirt, revealing his large and very battle-scared arms. Connor felt the need to shake the remaining moisture off, but he resisted it.
He accepted Todd returning back to business as usual after their emotional outburst, if anything it signalled all was okay and they could be comfortable. Connor felt that Todd looked entertainingly normal underneath the car, like he wasn't what he really was, but also wasn't hiding anything. It was a new side to him. Though Connor did frown at the mention that the car was unsalvageable, he wasn't particularly attached to it, but stealing another felt like more trouble than he wanted; it was different in the city.
"Budget," he repeated, Connor tossed his jacket and shirt on top of the car and rummaged through their pockets. In a moment or two he produced a large crumpled wad of seemingly totally random bills. "This is what I have with me, I have no idea how much a car costs."
Todd pushed himself out the rest of the way from under the car, then went over to the big sink to wash his hands before taking the money from Connor. Despite the grease and oil, he looked better than he had earlier, like the outburst had helped settle the hunger and the exhaustion all at once. The outburst, and the work, however frustrating it was in its own right.
He was quick about counting the big wad of cash. He frowned, and then counted it again. Mostly 5’s, 10’s, and 1’s, but the whole wad all told was $231. No way to know why or how Connor was carrying that much money around loose, but what Todd did know was that it wasn’t nearly enough for a car. It wasn’t enough for some car parts, even. He sighed, then looked back up at Connor, apparently unfazed by his appearance, or the fact that most of his heavy scents were gone, replaced by oddly sterile citrus.
“You don’t have any more than this anywhere? You’re sure?”
Connor could feel Todd was far more comfortable and better off than the shaking thing he was before, and this was good, so Connor focused on the matter at hand. He watched Todd count out his money, feeling embarrassed that he'd never considered doing that himself. Numbers didn't mesh well with him, but Todd didn't have to know that.
"I might have more stuffed away," Connor moved to the back of the car and opened the trunk. He began rummaging through it, pushing aside out seemingly random items. Mostly books, canned beans, knives, antlers, empty whiskey bottles. Eventually Connor produced a fancy looking lockbox. He shook it and a faint jingling could be heard inside. "This might have something in it, but I could never get it open."
Todd peered over Connor’s shoulder while the big man rummaged around in the back of the SUV. Mostly, he was looking to see what in there might be valuable that he’d missed the first time around, not for personal use but to recommend Connor sell. Probably not enough for a whole car, but he remembered a few of the combat knives that might fetch a good price at pawn shops; and the collection of antlers that definitely weren’t last winter’s sheddings might get some money from the right people, too.
All of that slipped his mind when Connor turned around with a lockbox that was definitely not his style in his hands. Todd arched his eyebrows as he looked at it. He opened his mouth, about to ask Connor where he got that, then decided to go for plausible deniability – plus, he had a feeling Connor wouldn’t remember. So instead, he just nodded, took the box, and walked it over to the tool bench. He picked up a crowbar, and eased it into the gap in between lid and box.
It took a little time to get the box pried open, but – it was full. Of $100s, with a healthy handful of smaller bills. Clean and crisp. Which was almost exactly what Todd expected from a fancy, hard-to-open lockbox, and worried him just a little bit more about where Connor had gotten it, and how long he’d had it. He took a deep breath, then shook his head, and started counting.
Whoever the hell kept five thousand dollars (and change) in a single lockbox owed Todd financial compensation for having to keep a straight face as he turned back to Connor and calmly said, “Alright, this should be enough. It’ll take a few days, could be a few weeks. If you need something to borrow I could probably find you one tomorrow, but I’ll talk to Vik about the replacement for this. We’ll probably keep it as a parts car, if anything’s salvageable.”
Connor nodded along, in truth he really didn't care much for the car but maybe leaving it with Todd could be a good excuse to check up on him; now that he felt the need to.
"I can walk most places for now... I'll have to move all my stuff to where I'm staying at." Connor cut himself from expounding on the cabin, that somehow seemed a tad too private to mention right at this moment. "Though, I have learned the hard way I can't walk everywhere"
Todd tilted his head again. He caught the hesitation in Connor’s speech – he had no idea what it meant, unless Lapis was at Connor’s current place of residence at this exact second and he didn’t want Todd to get involved with her. Which, completely fair. Todd wasn’t in the mood, either.
But it still felt rude not to ask.
“In that case, I could drive you tonight. My car’s not that big, but she’s serviceable, and we could make a couple of trips if we had to.” He pointed at the Colorado he’d moved to make space for the old Range Rover. “I finished today’s overnight order just before you got here. I’ve got to be back before five, but we can move at least part of your stuff, if you wanted. You could even load it up while I shower.”
Connor paused, unsure for a moment at the offer. He trusted Todd, he cared for him, he had decided that already. Yet, something told him that the cabin should remain separated b\from Todd, though he wasn't sure why. His gut still told him so, but, for Todd; he decided to ignore it. If they were truly close now, then there could be nothing hidden.
"Yeah, I would appreciate that, I have a cabin in a woods on the outskirts of the city."
“Cool. Give me about ten minutes to get rinsed off.” Todd rummaged in the pockets of his overalls a little until he found the Malibu’s keys, and tossed them over to Connor. “Get everything you need in there and I’ll meet you back here.”
He disappeared into the back of the shop. The orange industrial soap never banished all the smells that clung to him, but it got the oil out. He also knew from experience that the exhaustion hanging on to him would be helped by the hot water, if Connor hadn’t used it all. He’d clear his head, and come back – maybe not perfect, but better, at least. He’d still be tired, still be hungry. But that was okay. He was used to those. As long as he could wash off the emotional exhaustion, he’d be right as rain for a few more days.
Connor caught the keys and watched Todd leave, he went about moving what he could from the Range Rover into the Malibu. As he did so, his gut still twitched and churned at the idea of brining Todd to the cabin; he'd be able to smell Lapis there, no doubt her scent had soaked into the place already. Though the most he would be able to tell was that Connor had company, what was the big deal? Still, Connor found the prospect of Todd of all people knowing he had a... had a what exactly? A girlfriend? A mate? Both applied, both seemed wrong right now. Certainly the animal inside thought of Lapis as his mate, but did... did she think like that? What did she think? Did she think of him at all?
Would Todd approve? Why did Connor care if he approved? For some reason, his relationship with Lapis seemed... hypocritical, in the face of what he has just said to Todd. Though Lapis had a far better idea of what Connor was... she didn't know all of it, she didn't know what he'd done... what he could do. Neither did Todd, not yet, Connor promised himself to be honest with him, it was the only way... but he didn't need to bring it up.
Connor's mind was still all twisted when he had finished stuffing the mailbu and Todd returned.
The shower worked, and Todd came out refreshed. He didn’t have time to dry his hair completely, but it wasn’t like he was going to catch a cold. He hadn’t thought about too much while he washed; just gone back over some of the things Connor had said, that he’d already been mulling over under the poor Range Rover. He was right, obviously. Sam would have to be told, someday. He’d already known that, gone over that scenario in his head. It never ended well.
It never ended well.
He closed the bay doors as he walked past the button, enabled the alarms Vik had installed after a break-in, then locked up the shop doors. He was back in his layers, two shirts, turtleneck, collared shirt, vest, sweater, jacket. Cap over his damp hair. None of it made him any warmer, but it did make him feel whole. Human again, he turned toward Connor, and smiled again, close-lipped and without fully looking at his face.
“Alright, let me have the keys back. And I’ll need– well, actually, I guess an address won’t help me unless I want to use minutes. You just give me directions while we go.”
He opened the driver’s side door. His nose wrinkled just a little as he realized his car smelled like Connor, but was pleasantly surprised to find that didn’t make him angry. It was just an unpleasant smell now, not an enemy smell. Funny how that worked out.
He slid in, and started the engine. The CD player buzzed, and just loud enough for Todd to hear the lyrics clearly, Holiday by Green Day picked up where it left off:
Hear the dogs howlin’ out of key
To a hymn called “Faith and Misery” (Hey!)
And bleed, the company lost the war today.
He settled, let his heart reach the music’s beat, and pulled on his seatbelt, waiting for Connor to get in and do the same.
Connor squeezed himself in the car, feeling rather trapped inside of it when he managed to get himself situated. The seatbelt barely made it around him and likely wouldn't provide much help if they did crash. Connor felt more than a little awkward being in this small enclosed space with Todd, it smelt of him, and probably was going to rub off on him too. Yet strangely, he was okay with that. The idea of Todd's scent going with him was a good thing, comforting almost.
"It's north-east from here," Connor told him and the set off, the music from the radio made Connor's ears twitch.
Oh I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies
This is the dawning of the rest of our lives (whoa, oh, whoa, oh)
He found he didn't mind it so much, though Connor wasn't a fan of a lot of music people tended to play, it often just felt like noise to him. This wasn't so bad. He found himself quietly bopping to the tune.
Todd ran through his mental maps at Connor’s unhelpfully vague direction, placing the forests in that direction. From here… well, from here, north-east led to the other side of town before it opened to forest on the other side of the city. He flipped through the known trails in his head; hiking was a favorite hobby of his, after all. The farthest northeast trail was probably Deer Lakes. He could figure out the rest from additional directions Connor gave him, if he offered them.
“The representative from California has the floor…”
He didn’t initiate conversation while they drove. His mouth moved vaguely with the music, murmuring through the song with almost perfect matches to the lyrics. Holiday wasn’t one of his favorites, but that didn’t mean he didn’t like it. The whole album was good, and as it bled directly into Boulevard of Broken Dreams, he slipped into that, too, eyes never leaving the road ahead. He left his body language open to conversation while he drove, left hand on top of the wheel and right hand at the bottom – roughly eleven and five o’clock. Comfortable, but in control, especially once he cracked the window and lit a smoke so the smell bothered him less.
Connor stared side-eyed at Todd for a while, watching him move along with the music and wordlessly sing the lyrics. He was enjoying himself, with so many emotions running high so recently, the music had a calming effect on him. His body was relaxed, even when doing something like driving, Connor almost felt like he was seeing a true half of Todd, away from the animalistic natures or hungers. Something that was human, simply and beautifully him.
Connor realized he enjoyed seeing him like this, it blossomed a warmth within him that he couldn't quite place. He figured, if Todd liked this music, maybe he could too? It might give them more to talk about other than violence and the nature of their souls, which could be a bit of a bummer sometimes.
"This is a nice song," Connor said. "Is this what you listen to often?"
Todd felt the pressure of Connor’s gaze, but didn’t feel threatened by it anymore. It was a strange realization. Was it because he was in his car, in control? Was it the music? Was it what had already happened tonight? Was he just too tired? He wasn’t too tired to drive; he was aware of all of his surroundings. But he felt it in his heart like a dead weight.
He smiled anyway, because the relief in not being threatened just by Connor’s presence was a lot stronger than the exhaustion.
“I used to. I've got other favorites– ‘St. Jimmy’ and ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ used to be ones I’d listen to on repeat, and now um– now ‘She’s A Rebel’ reminds me of Sammy. Iust picked the album back up, actually. American Idiot by Green Day. I– forgot my old copy at someone’s house, back in Billings. I didn’t think to find it again until a buddy of mine took me out to karaoke. Anyway, yeah. I had a couple CDs in this genre that one of my foster brothers left behind when he graduated from the system, and I kinda got into it. Death of a Bachelor by Panic! at the Disco was another one. There was an album by The Offspring I don’t remember the title of.”
He sighed, remembering the CD case, remembering the last time he’d been to Arlo’s and decided to show off his small but sentimental collection. He knew exactly where he’d left it, too. There was just no point to going to Arlo’s house after… everything.