Location Warehouse 34 (The Den)

This is an in-universe location thread.
Nat had taken to a routine in the week following his encounter with the Monster that had been rigorous but oddly freeing, his afternoons and evenings of idly studying ahead for his classes or reading a novel to pass the time were replaced with exercising his body and his powers, though no excuses gained him the few hours his grandfather demanded daily for furthering his martial training. His elder had said nothing of his grandson’s absence deep into the night, though at times it felt as if he were measuring him in some way. Despite his suspicions that his grandfather might have reason to take those missing hours to his father Nat made the most out of the time he could spare.

It started with simple workouts of pushups and sit-ups, racing around the large warehouse and simply calling upon his power and testing its responsiveness and limits. After a few days of this repetitive practice coupled with his repairs to the warehouse itself, Nat began molding the steel beams and tearing away considerable weights, continuing his exploration of his power as he used it to supplement his routine. The mass he could control grew with his strength, both his body and power gaining incrementally more robust as his practice continued. It had been hard work, but more rewarding for its little successes than the detriment of his limitations could dim.

However, a week of constantly pushing himself had taken a toll, and though he did not let his weariness interrupt his routine he did not add to it as he had been doing so regularly. Instead he had taken to reclining on the salvaged couch he had drug into the center of what he was labeling “The Briefing Room,” which was an imaginative way of translating the televisions displaying news feeds and the old radios tapped into police and emergency feeds into the vision they didn’t quite achieve. The buzz of the radio chatter had lulled him into a half slumber, heavy lidded eyes barely focused on the smaller screen below the news feeds, split into nine squares of grainy security footage.

He might have dozed off, might have simply lost more of his focus than he realized in that dull, drowsy movement before the sharp raps upon metal jerked him from his relaxation into panicked action. Frantically he flipped the volume on the police scanners, another dial rotated to blast some form of popular music he had settled on to cover the sounds of his practice. Channels were flipped from the constant feed of information to the waiting screen of a possibly stolen console he had bought from a seedy pawn shop. If anyone had inspected the console his lack of games progress might give away its use as a prop.

The Briefing Room turned Lounge was finished, and he glanced at the camera feed before shutting it down, noting the familiar face as Todd’s cigarette burned. Nat vaulted over the metal stairs, darting over to storage container and tapping it lightly, a ripple going through the metal despite his light touch that ended just as he reached the warehouse door. He took a deep breath, his fingers ran through his hair as he calmed his nerves. He wasn’t sure why Todd would turn up here, of all places, or how he could have guessed that Nat was inside. Perhaps his job, a subject as yet untouched with Nat’s preoccupation getting in the way of another visit to the cafe where they had met, involved the warehouses. A site inspector, perhaps?

Or maybe he is a cop and he knows what you’ve been up to. Nat shook his head and let the though slip away as he levered the handle down and pushed the door open with a rusty screech.

”Oh! Mr. Todd, how odd to see you here! What brings you to the warehouses?” What brings you to my warehouse? Nat’s smile might have been a bit strained, but the man had been pleasant enough at the VULTURE that he held no malice toward him, despite the oddity of his appearance. ”You certainly look… dapper?” Why are you dressed like a detective in an old film?
The doubts started to creep back in while Todd waited. This was practically inviting conflict of interest, inviting problems. He'd have to be careful - more so than ever before, because now he couldn't even let the idea he was the Cryptid slip. It might be suspicious to just ding-dong-ditch, but wouldn't it be safer in the long run?

Another drag of the cigarette, and he felt his nerves settle a little. It always worked, temporarily. He'd put too much thought and effort into this to rethink it now. Besides, he'd already announced himself. He heard faint sounds like radio static quickly interrupted by the kind of popular music he'd pass by on the radio when he drove. A clatter like someone jumping the better half of a staircase, and the clatter of feet. There was a pause on the other side, though. The kid was smart, and not all that rash. He had to have questions, which Todd would answer in time.

Seeing the kid's face snapped the name into place, which had been the last piece he'd needed. His smile was warm, and reached up to his eyes.

"Hey there, Nat," he said, but he fluctuated his tone like someone who was pleased with a development. "I was wondering who it'd be. Small world."

He glanced down at his odd attire. He didn't always think about how out of place it must've been. It wasn't the question he'd really expected, either. Maybe he should get some normal clothes, but that would make his frame all that much more obvious. Here at least he looked tall and lean, not tall and starving. The idea that it made him look like an old-timey detective had never once crossed his mind, nor did it now.

"This isn't that different from how I normally dress, but thank you for noticing. So, I'm actually here investigating some rumors. I heard there was a little bit of a mess not too far from here, and that there could've been vigilante activity involved. Someone who'd be using the area as a hideout, maybe."

That would sound like an accusation, or scare most people, so now came the gamble. Still smiling, he winked his left eye, and it changed shape and color as he did so to a faded green. Not Summer's bright emerald, but borrowed from a low-life who'd lost his life owing a drug dealer a debt. It had been a memorable kill, but this wasn't the time for reminiscing. Todd had always found it fitting that his eyes were roughly the color of worn-out money. The shift was subtle, like an afterimage or one of those illusion paintings that was one thing one moment and another thing the next. If there was any doubt, the other eye remained definitely frigid blue.

"I came to see if that someone could use my experience."
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Alarms rang in Nat’s mind like clarion bells announcing medieval invasion from the moment Mr. Todd spoke. The simple words, the utterance of the man’s musing was enough, ”I was wondering who it would be,” twisting in Nat’s mind to an accusation thrown down before the consequences were decided. He may as well have said, ”I know what you did.” Nat’s hand tensed on the door, stifling the urge to slam it shut. Had the man mentioned his work during their brief conversation the week before? Nat couldn’t quite remember, but it seemed like he should have brought it up.

Whether he held a badge was an entirely different question, though it might explain his penchant for wearing out of date clothing. Perhaps Mr. Todd was older than he appeared and the clothing was a choice made long ago to match his peers’ tastes. As Nat’s nerves twisted into themselves and tension ripped through his heart in fell expectation the man winked. It was exaggerated, a sign that Nat’s paranoid mind couldn’t quite interpret the meaning of. The change in the man’s iris was nearly missed in that moment of silence Nat took, trying to piece together the clues his elder laid before him.

Nearly missed, but key to the hidden message that Nat had almost overlooked. Todd wanted to help, though his reasons seemed suspect at best. Nat stammered, sounds falling from his tongue but failing to form even the beginnings of a word. ”Ah- bu-le-,” He snapped his mouth shut, stepping to the side to provide an entrance to the man, action speaking the words he couldn’t. It would be rude to keep him on the other side of the door, especially after he had expressed seemingly pure intentions. With a deep breath Nat managed to gather his stuttered sounds into words, and those words into a few confused sentences.

”Mess? I did hear about something happening.” Play the ignorant kid. ”I don’t know anything about vigilantes though. I just hang out here to get out of the house. Dad’s company owns the warehouse and he told me I could use it until they needed it again.” Was that too much? Lying was never one of Nat’s talents, an unneeded skill left to those who had better use for it. The grain of truth method was one he learned from those kids who had a tendency to drawing trouble to themselves. Hopefully he was convincing enough to dissuade Todd from his reasonable suspicions.
Todd didn't have to rely on his extra senses when the kid wore his nerves on his face. This had been what he'd worried about - a trust issue. He saw the flicker of tension, the temptation to just close the door and be done with it. He pretended not to notice as he turned his face away just enough to take another drag on the cigarette and not blow smoke in Nat's face.

But his gamble had worked. The moment of reconsideration happened, and after a moment of alarmed stammering Nat got control of himself and stepped aside. It was an open invitation. Todd smiled a little, then dropped the cigarette and crushed it under his heel before collecting it back up to slip into his carton. That was a habit left over from his frequent hikes and national park visits - no point littering if he didn't have to. That, and it did a good job to cover up a trail if he was being followed.

He crossed the warehouse threshold with a nod of thanks. The warehouse was a lot cleaner than the one he'd used, without as many broken or leaking bits. It was a little surprising given that Nat had mentioned it hadn't been used in a while. Less surprising when he remembered the ripple in metal under the kid's touch. As he looked around the main room, Nat played ignorant. A good move, a safe one. He'd half expected it, to be honest. Kid had a habit of playing it safe.

"Ah, well, that's a shame." He didn't sound too disappointed. "Cool pad, by the way. Must've taken a while to get all this stuff all the way out here. Then again this kind of thing's easier with help. Your dad must've been willing to provide that."

This wasn't going anywhere, really, but he had to be gentle. Nat was nervous enough as it was, he couldn't risk pushing him away completely. He seemed to mull something over, then nodded a little.

"You said he owns this building, right? Does he own any others down here?"
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This time it was Nat who felt suspicion growing within him. Todd had been distracted too easily, though his eyes seemed to tear the entire warehouse apart with their different hues glaring obviously as he took a quick look around. In the back of his mind Nat struggled to catch up with the man’s words, still processing what he had said at the door. He had come here looking to help the vigilante. It sounded like something a detective or some kind of government agent would say to convince the target to come with them willingly.

”Um, yeah. Yeah he asked someone to help, an intern or something.” Lying seemed to be coming easier, though Nat knew it was a slippery slope of embellishment. ”I think he owns a few of the newer ones in the triple digits. He deals with a lot of shipping in his line of work.” Nathaniel closed the door and walked to the stairs, motioning for Todd to follow. ”Speaking of, I don’t remember what you said you did for a living.”

The game console was still on its home screen, and Nat flipped the television off hurriedly before Todd made it up the stairs. A small refrigerator hummed in the corner, a couple of cold bottles of water withdrawn and set on the boards set on top of crates that served as a table. Regardless of whether Todd was investigating the crimes that happened at Warehouse 92 or something else drove him to Nat’s door, it would be rude not to offer him a drink.
He didn't necessarily have any reason to think Nat was lying about the intern, besides the way he was very clearly trying to cover up his illicit activities. Once inside, he let his eye shift back to its natural icy color without taking as much care as he usually did to cover it up. He kept his movements slow and casual so as not to startle his host.

"I don't think I did," Todd replied to the question as honestly as he could, "given I'm not doing much of anything right now. I'm kinda new in town, still shopping around. Mechanic work or repairs tends to be what I go for if you know anyone." He chuckled warmly, and then an idea crossed his mind. "That's kinda what brought me to this side of town in the first place, actually. Before I saw the, uh... mess."

He followed Nat upstairs while he spoke, and while he didn't see what was on the screen of the TV before it was shut off, he did note the kid's speed in doing so. He nodded his thanks as he accepted the drink. The bottle was very cold, even through his glove, but it was nice to have something to hold. He turned the lid to open the bottle with a satisfying crack, then just twisted it back and forth while he went back to the original story. He barely even had to embellish this part, just change out a couple words.

"I've never worked with shipping before, but I have done a little PI work in the past - you never really forget that kind of stuff. Retraced the steps I saw."

It was only after he said that that he wondered what he'd say to someone who suggested they were a PI investigating his work as the Cryptid. Of course, he had more reasons than just vigilantism to be dodgy about the subject, but suddenly - suddenly a serial cannibal might be the least concerning kind of person he could be to Nat right now. He didn't hurry his connection, although the moment when his eyes lit up with the realization might've been clearly visible to a suspicious person. Backpedaling could unravel the narrative, and he couldn't let that happen yet.

"I've just got a good eye for details. I thought I found a place that looks out of the way, along a path that apparently hasn't been well-traveled until recently. That's what brought me here, although it makes sense with what you've said. I didn't mean to come in swinging. I just like to help out with that kind of thing, if I can."

He sighed. He liked people, but this was new territory for him. He'd told a good portion of the truth. Glancing at the bottle, he decided to take a drink. It was just as cold as he'd expected, and it chewed through his bones, but it wasn't nearly as bad as it would've been a week ago. The slight shiver was almost refreshing, even, and the chill helped clear his head. Now he had to let the kid sift through the tale and see what parts he decided to believe.
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The offered water bottle became a stress relief tool, the cap repeatedly twisting back and forth before the man finally took a drink. Nat left his untouched on the table, eyes trained on every muscle twitch, every syllable spoken by the elder. Although Todd seemed almost defensive about his career and his reasoning for seeking Nat out, he didn’t seem to be lying outright. It didn’t help his case much.

”So you used your PI skills to track down someone you assume to be a vigilante after happening across crime scene full of blood? Putting aside the strange assumption that the person you found wasn’t the criminal, you are looking for the vigilante to help them?” Nat liked Todd well enough, but his eyes narrowed in suspicion. ”Help them how? I doubt someone running around trying to stop crime has a car that needs repairs, though I guess the skills of an investigator might be useful.”

Of course Nat was baiting him, though he might have been the one on the hook. A change in eye color might have been an oddity, but it was hardly a superpower. If Todd were being truthful about his intentions he would have to provide a secret of his own before Nat would admit his real purpose in the warehouse. Part of him wanted to believe that fortune had brought him an ally, but he knew this was no comic book. The encounter at Warehouse 91 had driven that point home with crunching bone and visceral disgust. There were real monsters out there, and some mechanic with a keen eye that could change colors hardly felt an asset in a very real situation rife with dangerous criminals.

”If this vigilante is out there fighting criminals and murderers with supernatural powers, well,” Nat paused a moment, partially for dramatic effect and partially to take his own bottle from the table and take a slow sip. ”No offense but I don’t really see how much help you could be to them, Mr. Todd.”
“You did ask what I did for a living. I was doing my best to be honest with you.”

He smiled again, but also closed the bottle and set it aside on the table. He didn’t show any sign of anger or frustration with the ongoing roundabout of questioning, even if he knew. It was bait. It was definitely bait, a chance to see what else Todd could do, what he brought to the table.

He listened closely to Nat’s voice. His ears might not be the best sense he had, but there was experience enough to help him catch shifts in tone. Was there suspicion there? Sure, but now that he was closer, he had a great sense that it wasn’t even close to that kind of suspicion. There wasn’t enough - well, outright fear, if he was being honest, not just in the sound but in Nat’s scent. Not enough fear and not enough anger. Nat suspected him of something, but not the important thing, and he had to keep it that way.

Maybe that meant being a little more – obvious. He sighed again, then flexed the fingers of his left hand. He needed to put just a little more meat on those before he even showed them off, just to keep things subtle, but he spoke as he did so.

“The eyes are just easiest to shift in a hurry.” He shrugged his shoulders, then looked down at his gloves, as if considering. “I can’t always bring a change of clothes, but I guess I could show off a little more.”

He tugged the glove free, to reveal a slender – not dangerously thin – hand. He put a little focus into it and then it began to change, becoming thicker and darker. Visibly stronger, and definitely someone else’s. He did his best not to show that he knew exactly whose hand it had once been – just a fun trick, despite the slight sadness it brought. He told himself he was over all that. But it could be heard, just a little bit, in his voice as he looked back at Nat.

“I’ve been at this for a long time, Nat. I’d know a killer if I saw him. Or her, I guess. They carry that look with them, something different – well, different in a way that’s not obvious. You can usually tell after a while. It’s an instinct.”

That was – well, that was a fucking lie, actually, but Nat didn’t need to know that. Maybe he’d play it off as inexperience. But if he wanted this to work, he’d have to lie outright a little, and then lean in and take the plunge as his hand faded back into his hand, and not Arlo’s.

“To be honest, maybe I was half-hoping to find that guy. But instead, I found you. And it means a lot to find someone like – well. I guess we should be straightforward, someone like us. I won’t stop you from trying to deny it but let me finish. Someone who’s not just - different, but different and wanting to make a difference. You’re right, there’s not much I can do with this, not too much and not for long. It always costs too much. Makes things hard.”

He stopped his hand before it became too thin, and pulled the glove back on.

“It’s just as hard to trust.” He forced the grief away the same way he would the hunger, into the back of his mind to keep it out of his voice. “I do get that. And if you don’t want the experience of someone who’s been around the block a few times, I’ll go home right now. The part that matters is you’re not the killer.”

He slid his hands back into the pockets of his coat. Everything that needed to be on the table was now there, and his cold eyes were steadily locked on Nat’s face. The kid wanted him to stop fucking around? Fine. An offer of help, an offer of experience, and almost blatantly saying he knew Nat was the second person at Warehouse 91 without revealing how he knew that.

Now it was up to Nat. And a very, very small part of Todd hoped the kid would let him just walk away, the part that was a predator too close to the light to be comfortable.
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Todd made a convincing argument, and provided a show to back it. His words about the eyes of a killer made sense to Nat, that hungry look that the cannibal had sporting still haunting the back of his mind every time he would train and practice. It was that look that Nat warily kept an eye out for when he walked the streets to his hideout, which it seemed needed a little more hide in it. Todd may have been doing things for a long time, but Nat wasn’t keen on any unexpected guests again anytime soon.

There were still doubts, still a nagging feeling that the man’s past might have darker tones than he was admitting. His apparent power was dubious as well. Changing your appearance, your form and your face; well it didn’t exactly scream “I want to help people.” But the man certainly seemed to be intent upon it, and Nat had pushed enough that at this point he felt himself pretty obvious. One thing he knew about people who lie; eventually they would expose themselves. For now he would trust the man’s intentions, and to do so he was going to have to expose his own lie. He had never been very good at lying anyway.

”Okay, fine. Come on.” He didn’t have any expendable metal up here, and while he could walk out of the room and return with material for a demonstration, he didn’t trust that the man wouldn’t snoop around while he was absent. There wasn’t much to find in the Lounge, but he wanted to keep Todd in his sights regardless. At least until he had proven himself.

He led him back to the main floor of the warehouse, to the pile of steel beams that were obviously dented, stretched, and broken in ways that weren’t typical of any power tool as one might expect. He had intended to move them at some point, and had started practicing from one end to find ways to make it easier. Once he had learned how to separate the mass he could handle from the rest of the weight it had become a matter of moving the steel piece by piece. It seemed to work like his muscles, the more he used his power the more material he could manipulate, and the more detailed he would shape it the more dextrous he became with it.

At this point he had already graduated to rather sizable pieces of steel, and for the sake of effect he chose to take a fresh piece from an as yet untouched beam. It would be better for Todd to see what he could do on a clean source. Casually Nat tapped the end of the beam, and as the ripples traveled over it’s surface a soft ringing accompanied their movement. Nat’s hand pressed upon the end of the beam, and over a foot long section of it squished inward as if it were made of dough. With a small grunt he clenched his fist inside of the malleable steel, and jerked away from the rest of it with a quick heave. A sound somewhere between a screech and a squelch followed the torn piece of metal as it stretched and snapped away from the main bulk of the beam.

To add to the effect of his demonstration, and to test himself for the umpteenth time, Nat shaped the glob of steel into something like a teardrop or an egg, before it began to unfurl with soft scrapes into a metal flower, simply designed yet somewhat dazzling in its gleam. A bead of sweat fell from Nat’s brow to his chin, and dropped to the floor at the same time he released the flower. ”I am your guy, Todd,” Nat stated the obvious quite well, his friends often told him as much. ”And, ya know. I guess I would appreciate your help or whatever.”
Todd whistled low as the demonstration ended.

Nat had definitely improved just in the last week – or he did worse under intense life-threatening pressure, which was also possible. The predator in him did notice the second of weakness, the beading sweat. That was just noted and put away, however. The monster was currently satisfied enough that no sign of it was in his eyes now, as Nat turned back to him. Nor was any sign of pleasure or discomfort at the sounds the rent metal had made. That wasn’t on his ‘approved list’ of powers, after all.

He didn’t have the kid’s full trust, he already knew that, but he had a start. Yes, part of the reason he was here was to watch Nat grow so he could better counter him if they met again by accident. At the same time, he really was happy to help. It kept the two sides of himself in balance for now, both benefiting from the arrangement.

It was a risk. It was also a relief to have succeeded. He didn’t flinch as the metal struck the ground.

“It’ll be my pleasure. I’m at your service.”
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Nat grinned back at Todd, somehow relieved that he had finally revealed his power to someone, even if that someone had somehow fallen into his lap. He needed a good mentor, after all, and while his grandfather was a diligent Sensei Nat couldn’t bring himself to show him his secret just yet, especially with the theft of the mask in mind.

”So, what now?” He wasn’t quite ready to show Todd everything, either. The secret of the shipping container, for one, was a step too far at such an early point in their partnership. There was still a chance that Todd wasn’t quite what he claimed to be; though Nat couldn’t find a reason not to give him a chance Todd could be playing a longer game. It was crucial that Nat figure the game out before he lost, if that were the case.

And if he were truly trustworthy, in time, they would take down the Monster together.
The ball of steel shimmered as it sailed upward toward the rafters, gravity holding it suspended in the fluorescent light for the barest breath, casting a refraction of light onto Nat’s face before gravity brought it back down to his open palm. Laying on his back on the couch he had drug into the Den, Nat tossed the ball high again, yawning lazily as he snatched it from its descent. It had been rough lately, far more than he and Todd had prepared for. It was as if the city was beginning to sink into madness.

He set the ball to the side, resting it on the floor as he pulled his phone free pf his pants pocket and pulled up his mentor’s number. With only a moment of hesitation he called, placing it to his ear and waiting patiently as it rang until the voicemail picked up. It was his second or third phone since they had exchanged numbers, and he wasn’t surprised Todd would hesitate to answer any unrecognized calls.

”Hey Todd, it’s me. Was just wondering if you wanted to stop by tonight. Last few days have been pretty hectic and I was hoping we might get a chance to talk. Oh! I’ve got some things Ive been meaning to show you too! Anyway, if you get the chance could you come by around seven, seven thirty? See ya, man.”

Nat ended the call and sighed, setting the phone on his stomach and reaching for the metal ball again. It wasn’t so much that he was bored, but he was reticent to keep moving forward without his mentor present. He supposed it was sentimental; he had started this on his own and Todd still didn’t know his ultimate goal, but the man had been nothing but supportive and helpful. Nat owed him a modicum of loyalty.

Just as he was about to throw the ball into the air again his phone began to vibrate, interrupting his throw and sending the ball crashing through the wall on the other side of the Lounge. Cringing, but also smiling, Nat quickly answered.

”I didn’t think you call back so-“ The voice on the other end stopped him, definitely feminine and to the point. ”Yeah, yeah sure. Come by Warehouse 34 tonight around eight. He didn’t get a chance to say more, to warn her that he might not be alone. For a moment he worried, looking at the call log and biting absently at his thumbnail before slipping the phone back into his pocket. It would be fine. Phoenix was experienced, and so was Todd. They would be professional about their first meeting, Nat was almost positive.

Sam had cracked her hammer on purpose. She wasn’t going to tell Wolf that, but she had done it on purpose to test him. She had seen him utilize his powers already, but she wanted a closer and calmer look at them. The kid had seemed a little directionless the few times they had bumped into each other. If possible, she was hoping to give him a little bit of guidance. Maybe start some kind of friendship with him, so he had someone to call when he got into trouble.

It had taken her most of the day to make the decision to go in her civilian clothes, the bodysuit underneath it. Wolf was just a kid, after all, it wouldn’t hurt for him to know her face. Not her real face, as he had already seen it, masked and colored in black, gold eyes shining beneath the haze. But her daytime face, the face most people saw– that was the one she’d sharing with him. Her real mask.

She waited until about seven o’clock, then she packed her bag and started out the door. The kid had said eight, but Sam wouldn’t ever be able to shake the instinct of scoping places out before her meeting was meant to take place. Even if the one time she had forgotten in years to scope a place out, she had met Todd for the second time and irrevocably changed her life, she didn’t expect something like that to happen again. No, the next time she was caught off guard like that could spell doom for the copper-haired girl.

She stepped out the door, humming softly as she went about locking the door. She was almost to the door that connected to the staircase when the second door in the hall opened. Todd stepped out, all tall and curly-haired, and Sam slowed down. She swallowed softly and a grin crossed her face that she couldn’t help. “Hey there, cheekbones. You leaving too?”
Todd had been at the garage when Nat called, and didn’t get his voicemail until the end of his shift. Based on the voicemail, there wasn’t any need to call back – he and Nat had a system at this point where he’d get the call, and show up at the time and place. Most of the time, that was the warehouse, since Nat was still under the impression that he was a mostly-human shapeshifter, and didn’t want him caught in the crosshairs. Occasionally, Todd could convince him to let him supervise from the comfort of the Malibu. He hadn’t yet had a reason to get involved in the action, but there were some cases where he’d prefer to be safe.

Today seemed like a warehouse day, so Todd went home to the gym and took a long, hot shower. It didn’t help with the cold, but it did help with some of the leftover muscle tension and semi-permanent grease stains. He came out refreshed, and dressed in his usual layers. He gathered up some papers and his laptop. He stuffed them into a backpack, which was part of his man-in-the-chair kit.

He did check his other bag, though it didn’t come with him on these trips. It was just habit, the same as checking it before he went on patrol. If Sam came in here for any reason – it was her property, she was technically his landlord – he couldn’t have her finding that, not when things were just starting up.

As he stepped outside, though, he realized he had nothing to worry about. He heard her door lock, which meant she was planning to leave. She never locked her apartment when she was at the gym. They were going to pass in the hall, and he was okay with that.

He waited for her to greet him first, as he turned back to lock the door. Sam had no idea he could hear as well as he did. Smell was weird enough. No need to make her more suspicious than he absolutely had to. So he waited until he heard cheekbones, and lifted his head to beam at her, mostly teeth.

“Well, hey there, gorgeous.” He adjusted the straps of the backpack around the day’s specific layers. “Yeah. I’ve got a mentorship thing today down by the warehouses. Where’re you off to? Need a lift?”

Sam blinked. She gave him a momentary look before grinning wide and responding, “Hey, I’m actually headed there myself. I would love to ride with you. I’m going to meet this kid who I’ve bumped into on patrol a few times. Calls himself Wolf. I want to take a good look at his powers when we’re not being shot at. He seems like he’s got the spirit if not the skills. I think he needs someone more experienced to guide him.”

Sam shifted her bag from one shoulder to the other, feeling her gear shift slowly. She had her mask in case something came up, and had thrown a thin black hoodie in the bag as well. The clothes she had on– a black mock-neck short-sleeve and a green plaid shirt under her usual studded black leather jacket– were much more noticeable than her all-black vigilante get-up. In case of an emergency, she could switch to the mask, hoodie, and jacket, but hopefully, no emergencies came up.

Without thinking, Sam stretched out her hand to take Todd’s, then froze, hand a few inches away from his. Her fingers twitched a little as she realized she had never really held his hand like that before. She started to withdraw her hand, not wanting to make it awkward or have him brush her away. “Ah, sorry.”
Todd put his keys in his pocket as he listened to Sam talk, but everything was put on pause when Sam reached for his hand, and stopped. He wasn’t sure why she stopped until she apologized, and then remembered that this was the first time for this. The whatever-it-was that he felt for her was so strong that it hadn’t ever crossed his mind that she would hesitate. It made sense, though. Unless she threw himself at him, he had been a little touch-averse, and she clearly didn’t want to push him. But he’d promised her he’d trust himself. This was a good first step.

So he reached out his hand and seized hers, with just a hint of the fervent hunger he sometimes let her see. He interlocked his cold, bony fingers – even through the gloves – with her soft ones that burned when she wasn’t paying attention.

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for, Sammy.” He wasn’t sure when she’d gone from Sam to Sammy in his mind, but now that was all he could call her in moments like this, unless they were in costume. He combined it with a grin, full teeth without threat, a reassurance and reiteration of mine.

And maybe a little mischief, because he knew all about the vigilante named Wolf.

“But I agree. Nat’s a good kid, a little single-minded sometimes, but his heart’s in the right place. That’s why I’ve been mentoring him.”

Sam’s face lit up when Todd took her hand, when his fingers folded through her own. She gave him a squeeze and felt something in her chest overfill slightly. She couldn’t verbalize right then the emotion she felt, but something about Todd just kept making her feel more and more whole. The patch on her soul stitched shut just a bit more.

“I like that you call me that. I really like that.” She leaned into his side a bit, putting just enough weight into it that he would feel it. There was a little blush on her face as she looked up at him. Until she registered what he was saying. Her eyes widened a bit and a smile broke out across her face.

“You know the kid? Well, I’m glad he has you looking out for him.” Sam tugged on Todd’s hand as she started toward the door to the staircase, pulling him along. She was quick to unlock it and open it while listening to anything else Todd might say. Maybe he had some more insights into the kid, something that would help her out.

Honestly, the kid seemed like his heart was very much in the right space. She was worried about how young he seemed, though. Even Adelyn was seemingly older than Wolf– Nat.​
He let her pull him after her, feeling the same rush of warmth and possession that always took him. He loved that she liked Sammy, he realized – and there was no way he was going to call her anything else now, except Phoenix.

Except, maybe, in front of Nat. But self-control on that front was going to be very different from on all the other fronts, and if something was going to slip in front of Nat of all people, then he’d want it to be this. Better than anything else, and oh, something in him wanted the world to know she was his, and his alone.

But Nat was a teenager, and Todd liked to look impressive to him, especially since he couldn’t show off as Cryptid.

Oh, right, Sam should probably know about that.

“Well, I’m relegated to guy-in-the-chair duties.” Todd ran a hand through the back of his hair, which knocked his cap a little crooked. “He just knows I’m a shapeshifter. Cryptid spooked him once, so for right now it’s better that he thinks I’m just a concerned citizen with some good PI skills. It means I can’t interfere if he gets in over his head, though. So it’s good to know he’ll have someone like you–” he kissed the back of her hand “– to keep an eye on him in the field.”

Sam took in a small, sharp breath when Todd’s lips touched her hand. That faint blush returned, her genetics betraying her once again. She cleared her throat, but the stupid smile stayed on her face as she spoke. “Well, you are very scary, after all. I’m not surprised the kid got spooked. What happened?”

The smile made its way into her normally low voice, raising it an octave. God, they were going to have to tone it down in front of the kid, that was for sure. Sam was sure they were capable of not screaming mine with their eyes every time they looked at each other. Surely they could.

Still, her hand tightened around his, and a rush of heat flooded her. She was not going to be able to remain neutral around Nat with Todd there. And as far as she was aware, Nat only knew she was an acrobat with really good combat skills. This would be an interesting conversation, especially if he asked her about it.

The walk down the stairs was quick, and by the time she had finished asking her question, they were in the car lot behind the gym, where the Malibou was parked next to the Bug. She walked toward the Malbou’s passenger door, leaning into Todd again. She liked the feeling of him against her. It made the warmth all the more noticeable. Unfortunately, having any prolonged contact with him made her hands shake with the desire to touch him more, so she reluctantly released his hand as they got to the car, a frustrated huff escaping her lips.​
Yep, there was the part he’d been trying to avoid. He wasn’t really prepared for it, but given that Nat was going to tell her something eventually, he needed to do damage control. Then again, Nat hadn’t even talked to him about it. So on the other hand, he could be lying to Sam for no reason here. He had to find a median where he sounded believable, without starting anything.

He thought about his answer as they got into the car. He hoped Sam would take the hesitation as them being in the open – and he was a little surprised she went to get into the Malibu, and not her pretty Beetle, but then again it’d probably be best to go for inconspicuous. So he didn’t argue with her, just held her hand until he had to close the door behind her and folded into the driver’s seat. He didn’t speak until the door closed behind him, too, and they were alone again.

“I can’t really say what he thinks he saw. He hasn’t tried to talk to me about it.” He took a deep breath, filling his lungs with her to soothe his guilt, and shifted the car while he spoke. “He found me in the middle of… a mess, and I might’ve leaned into the scary trying to get him to clear out so I could get it sorted. It’s part of the reason I worry about him, though. That boy doesn’t have a survivalist bone in his body.”

He chuckled a little bit when he said the last part and shook his head. Given any amount of time around him on the field, he was sure Sam knew that, too.

“How did you meet him, anyway?”