Sam paused for a moment after they got in the car, listening to his story. Something about it was… off? She couldn’t put her finger on it. She had never heard Todd lie before. He didn’t lie to her. She would know if he lied. Sam always knew when people directly lied to her. The Vibe Checker 9000 not only checked vibes but also had a knack for catching lies.
This was the closest to a lie that Todd had ever come to telling her.
She debated for a moment saying something, but then decided to let it go. He was telling her most of the truth, so she would believe him. It might have to do with the part of his powers he wasn’t ready to talk about. So instead, she answered his question.
“So Nat and I met– well. There was this asshole who called himself The World? He was very self-important. Teleporter. And I was about to leave because he was trying to recruit me to his ‘team’. Then Nat just showed up, and we all stopped a bank robbery together. He gave me his number afterward.”
A mischievous grin crossed her face then, as she realized how close they were in the confines of the car. Todd was a lot taller than her, so it was hard to catch him by surprise, but this offered her the perfect opportunity. She leaned toward him, placing a hand on the console to raise herself up a bit. “Hey, Todd?”
She knew that getting so close would likely make him look in her direction. She would wait for him to turn his head, and then she would lean in and kiss him, her hand catching his cheek.
He felt her hesitation, and that rubbed against the guilt he felt for everything he wasn’t telling her. But – to keep Sam, he had to keep her separate from his monster. If survival, his and hers, depended on a few half-truths, then he would fill her heart with as many of those as it took to hide the real hunger from her.
So rather than give in to the urge to pour his hunger and soul into her and see how she responded, he listened. He wished he kept closer tabs on her with his nose, but after patrols, they tended to stay separated until the next day, by which time personal scents faded. It was a pretty good thing that people like “The World” didn’t think to look into some guy in a Halloween mask bruising up drug dealers and traffickers in the warehouse district; he wasn’t anything like Sam, not as spectacular, not as powerful, not as perfect.
And he was dangerous. He was a weapon. Which was one of the reasons why he hadn’t called the number Ethan gave him. He wasn’t ready for that yet.
Nat hadn’t mentioned The World or Phoenix to him, but then again, it’d been a busy few weeks. Between Malachite and Ethan and Lament and then that thing with Two-Shot Ace… actually, when was the last time he’d chaired for the kid? He thought it was a few days ago, but that couldn’t be right. No wonder Nat wanted to talk to him.
“Oh yeah, about the phone number. He’s going to change that on you every so often.” He glanced at her, to make sure he heard and in response to her attempt at getting his attention.
And he fell right into her trap. He took a short breath of surprise when he first tasted her on his lips again, but let her have him for a second before he pulled away from both her hand and her lips, face hot, hunger stirring, and smile laughingly reproachful.
“There’s laws against distracted driving, you know,” he scolded, as he turned his eyes back to the road. Nothing had come of it, and it was a good surprise. The timing was just... not wrong, it could never be wrong.
But the world moved on, and some asshole tried to cut him off a few seconds later, when he would've still been in the kiss that lasted eternity.
A success. Her cheeks were warm as she sat back in her seat, a big grin on her face. The rest of the drive there, she couldn’t help the teasing tone in her voice as they talked. What she really wanted was to tell him to pull over so she could crawl into his lap and really kiss him, with her hands threaded through his hair. But then they would be late to see Nat, and they couldn’t have that.
So instead she refrained from doing that, or from kissing him again, or even from really touching him, despite her desire to bury her fingers in his curls and drag her nails over his scalp. She knew that unless she threw herself at him, he wasn’t big on touch. She wasn’t entirely sure why that was, and maybe she would ask him about it in the future. But for now, she was trying to work in small touches and kisses where she could get them.
Sam watched Todd while he drove. Watching him had become something she did, something that helped her with the lack of touch. While her brain craved his touch, his hands, his lips, things she couldn’t have yet, she allowed herself to drink him in through looks so heavy they might as well have been touch. This time, she watched his face as he drove, as they spoke. She let her gaze trace over him a few times while they talked, but it always returned to his face, to trace the outline of his profile.
She was so distracted by the shape of his mouth and the icy, faded blue of his eyes that she almost missed when they had parked. She looked around to find that they had arrived at the Warehouse strip. With a sheepish grin, she unbuckled and got out of the car. “Anything else I should know before we go in?”
She should know that he could feel her eyes on him, burning into and through him. She should know that he could sense every moment of hunger, that he could smell the excitement she had at the prospect of him. No– not him. The him she could see, the self he gave her, however much he could give her without devouring her in return. She should know about that, she should know the danger. That if he turned his head right during that kiss, he could tear her open and let her bleed and have her, and that she wouldn’t even feel the pain.
She should know that Wolf had a right to be afraid, and that whatever Nat told her about the Cryptid would be the truth, no matter how farfetched it might seem.
But he was too selfish to tell her those things, as they got out of the car, as he came around to her side. If he knew those things, he would lose her, she wouldn’t be his anymore. And he knew that someday she would know, and then he would die, or take her.
He really, really needed to stop letting that cross his mind, and just enjoy her while he had her.
So he did. He came around the car, put his arm around her, and kissed her cheek gently, tenderly, without the hunger that would have kept them out here forever.
There was a nervous energy to the air as Nat flitted to and fro in the Den. It had been a while since Todd had come by, had been a while since he had seen the progress Nat had made. Phoenix was more nerve wracking, though. She was an unknown, the caliber of her standard as yet untested, though she seemed at least impressed enough to have given Nat a call in the first place. Todd had approached him, but Phoenix was an experienced vigilante who hadn’t fallen into Nat’s lap. It was important that he made a decent impression.
And so beyond dragging equipment around and covering surprises with paint stained cloth Nat fluffed the throw pillows on the couch, set a tray of cheeses and crackers on the table, and dusted what felt like the entire Den by the time the red light soundlessly blinked on and off in the far corner of the warehouse. Nat glanced to a monitor across from the couch, eyebrows knitting together when he saw that Todd had not come alone.
By the time the sharp raps came upon the steel door Nat had already reached the floor of the warehouse, shoulders tensed in dread anticipation for the explanation Todd might have for his company. Worst case scenarios ran through his mind as he brushed his hand across the wall of the storage container and a series of clicks followed the ripple of his power.
With a deep, heavy breath Nat opened the door to greet Todd, smiling past his trepidation and paranoia to greet his mentor.
”Hey, Todd! You brought a- friend?” There was something familiar about the woman- was this Todd’s girlfriend?! -that stood next to Todd. The angle of her eyes, the shape of her jaw, and particularly the jacket she wore nagged at the back of Nat’s mind; familiarity without the scope of reference. ”Should I, uh, go straighten up?” he asked Todd surreptitiously with a thumb thrust behind him as if he hadn’t been doing just that all evening.
“Got to admit, I’m a little disappointed he doesn’t immediately recognize me based on my hair alone.” Sam playfully tossed her hair back off her shoulder, flashing a grin up at Todd. “It’s Phoenix, kid. Or rather, the name is Sam.”
She leaned into Todd a bit, her posture relaxed and open. Todd’s arm was still around her shoulder, leaving no space for Nat to come to any assumption other than that they knew each other and most likely were together. Sam didn’t mind helping that potential assumption by curling into his side for a moment before reaching up and taking his hand in hers and removing it from her shoulder, interweaving her fingers through his.
She walked in past Nat, pulling Todd along with her. She stopped when they were both inside the door, her free hand gripping the strap of her backpack. “Hope you don’t mind that I’m early, Todd said he was headed this way when I was leaving to do a scope of the place, so I just decided to come in with him.”
She kept her voice mellow and relaxed, the same as her posture. She was far more neutral than she was around Todd usually. Or at least she was trying to be. Despite her best efforts, her hands were shaking, like an addict in need of their next hit. With it came warmth that she couldn’t suppress, filling the entrance to the warehouse.
Todd was smiling when Nat opened the door – how couldn’t he be? Of course when the door opened, his attention was pulled to the Den’s occupant, but his arm remained firmly around Sam. He laughed a little at Nat’s question, then let Sam answer for herself. Why wouldn’t he? She was her own as much as she was his.
Not only that, but he felt the laughter might ease the obvious tension in Nat’s body language, tone down the nervous energy that mixed with his scent.
“No need to tidy up more than I’m sure you already have, Nat. Sam’s my–” he was about to say roommate, the way he had with Kosuke, then looked down at her again. The flash of her golden eyes was enough to settle his mind, and filled him with more warmth than her body pressed against him. “My girlfriend. And, before you worry about confidentiality – she mentioned you first, not me, so I offered her a lift. I hope that’s cool.”
He let her take his hand from her shoulder, and wished he didn’t have his gloves on when their fingers tangled together. It was a necessity, though; no way that Nat hadn’t noticed his thinness already, but he’d always worn the gloves, for his own reasons. He felt her trembling, even through the leather, and held his own hand steady for hers as she poured warmth out and around them.
Pieces fell into place, though that place was surprising and odd for many of them as fingers interlaced and a wave of heat emanated from Todd and Sam, interwoven as they were. Nat stammered and mouthed for a moment, wholly unintelligible as he worked through what Todd and Sam had said. He wasn’t sure which bothered him more, the fact that Todd had a secret, vigilante girlfriend or the fact that he seemed to think that was less important than Nat’s budding secret identity being shared. Sure, logically Nat should have been a little more worried about the latter, but this had quickly escaped the realm of his logic.
”Shit! Come in, come in!” Nat was hardly one to curse, but it was the only thing that came to mind as he still rolled over the unexpected news. He had worried over their meeting and it had already been done. Closing the door behind them, Nat grinned at the pair awkwardly, something nagging at the back of his mind. Both Todd and Phoenix were expected, if not together. He left the nagging sensation away from his attention, trying to reconcile the situation in front of him before addressing anything new.
”There are snacks set out in the Lounge, Thin Man.” Nat had invited Todd to surprise him with the advancements he had made since their last time working together. Sam, however, had been a surprise for Nat, an unexpected call for help that had unexpectedly intertwined with Nat’s plan to impress his mentor. The excitement of what he had to show Todd was tempered and contradicted by his trepidation at Sam’s presence, not just with the promise of more of the unexpected with the reason behind her call but also because, well, she had already called him “kid.” How much more would she be inclined to viewing him as a child after watching him show off for Todd? He wasn’t that young.
”I’m sorry, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this.” Nat scratched at the back of his head and chuckled awkwardly. ”So, how did- this,” he pointed to Sam and Todd and with each hand and crossed their indicative fingers, ”end up happening?” An errant though crossed his mind, ”Todd! You didn’t wear a different face to get Sam’s attention, did you?!” He only realized how insulting that might sound after the words had fallen from his lips.
Sam laughed, a full, almost tinkering laugh, her free hand going up to her mouth as if to cover the laughter. The idea that Todd had changed his face to land her was hysterical, especially when she felt like she was the lucky one here. She shook her head and grinned wide, “Todd got me with his own face. Like he needed a different one.”
She chuckled again as they walked further in. She used that time to consider how to answer Nat’s question without lying. She didn’t want to lie, as much as she could possibly avoid. She’d already had to lie too much in her life, to her family, to others she met along the way, and she hated every moment of it. With that in mind, she looked up at Todd and smiled, deciding on what to say.
“Well, I’m not sure about him, but I definitely fell for him the day we met. We met at his day job, and I could not stop thinking about him after that. Then he kind of saved my life while I was on patrol, and well, we recognized each other and that was that. He’s been min– my boyfriend since.”
She had almost slipped up and used mine there, with all its emphasis and implications. That was theirs. In the same way that she was his, and he was hers, mine was theirs. That belonged to them so wholly and was so uniquely them that she had almost used it without thinking, had almost let someone else know. It was the most natural thing in the world, that claim they had over each other. There was another word for it, she was sure, but she couldn’t come up with it. Couldn’t come up with whatever the equivalent for something as deep and primal as mine. So, for that moment, she didn’t try. She just smiled up at Todd to confirm the story, to add whatever details he wanted.
Sam’s laugh, and Nat’s eagerness, pulled out Todd’s genuine smile. It hadn’t taken either of them to find the one that showed teeth and reached his eyes. Nat’s comment even brought a chuckle bubbling up. Such was a reasonable assumption for a teenager who knew a shapeshifter, obviously.
Sam answered for herself – for both of them, if he let her. He practically melted when she nearly said mine out loud. He’d known she felt it, of course. It was still a sound reassurance that his feelings were reciprocated. He was hers and she was his and that was mutual, that wasn’t just the crossed wires in his instincts. He could’ve basked in it for a while as they made their way into the lounge. Nat, like Sam, as far as Todd had gathered, had definitely noticed his narrow frame and had presumably come to the conclusion of depression, which wasn’t so bad if it meant free snacks. Or meals, in Sam’s case. They had another dinner planned for next week.
But as much as he’d like to consider the future, he had to stick to the here and now, where he had to patch a hole in Sam’s story. Especially given he was teaching the kid all his tricks, he needed that to be airtight for things to keep working.
“It wasn’t all that.” Unlike Sam, Todd had no problem lying, especially if it protected the people around him – in this case, Nat. “I’d borrowed a face to scope the place out when Phoenix kicked the doors down. I might’ve recognized her as the pretty lady with the coolest Beetle I’ve ever seen, and done the thing I always tell you not to do and played hero without thinking first. Turns out I make an excellent distraction when left on the field.”
That was almost an inside joke with him and Nat. He couldn’t go on the field with him, for obvious reasons, but it was Nat who always wanted to make sure he was safe, and there wasn’t anything he could do about it without the whole house of cards coming down. He could still make joking little pushes, though. It was part of the rapport.
For a split second Nat’s eyebrow cocked at the slight variance in their answers. He wasn’t looking for it, hadn’t expected any kind of secrecy about how they had gotten together, and yet there was an incongruence to their stories that made very little sense. It was possible that Todd was trying to keep the details from Nat to keep him from worrying, but even mentioning that he had been in the field was cause enough.
”I’m sure you distracted the hell out of them,” Nat said with sarcasm laced in his words. Todd was experienced, Nat knew that, but he worried despite the past. They had never really spoken about the last team Todd had worked with, but Nat had seen the pain there. He kept Todd from the field as much for his bodily health as for his mental, though he figured Todd would never accept that reasoning. There was an unaddressed tension in their playful banter on the subject, an underlying, mirrored worry between the two that had left them at an impasse. Todd wanted out there to keep Nat safe as well. It was obvious enough, even if it was never spoken.
”I guess now I know why you’ve been so busy lately.” Nat forced an extra jolt of flippancy to his words, more playful to counteract the heavy air his sarcasm had formed. ”I’ve been busy too, though I probably didn’t have as much fun as you guys have.” And that was as far as he wanted to travel on that train of thought.
”I hope you don’t mind, Phoe- er, Sam.” It was going to be a shift to start calling her by her name. ”I wasn’t expecting you until later. I wanted to show Todd some of the things I have been working on while he was… otherwise occupied.” Nat flashed Sam a winning smile, something she hadn’t been able to see before thanks to his mask. ”When we get done I would be more than happy to help you with that problem you called about.” Whatever it was, Nat was starting to wonder given her involvement with Todd. Were they looping him into some side mission they had been working on? His curiosity almost outweighed his excitement towards the surprises he had prepared for Todd. Almost.
“Even with that borrowed face, I knew it was you. And you provided exactly the distraction I needed to take care of those wannabe gangsters. Like I said, you saved my life.” She chuckled and looked around the room. It was set up like a lounge, so she went ahead and walked toward the couch, dropping onto it like she was more at ease than she was.
“Sam, Phoenix, whatever you want to call me, kid. It’s fine. I don’t mind waiting. In truth, I kind of came here to study your powers. I wanted to see how seamlessly they work, if they’re permanent, that kind of thing. So you take your time with Todd. Though I did want to pitch something to you, even more so now that I know you work with Todd.”
She smiled up at the man and then turned her full smile on Nat. It was the smile she used to distract, to blind people to any lies she might be telling. In this case, she wasn’t telling lies, but rather was trying to distract from the lie she and Todd had just jointly told. To make Nat forget he was ever concerned about any part of their story.
“I’ve been doing other things,” Todd huffed with false indignance as Nat insinuated Sam had been taking up all his time. He wanted to crash down on the couch next to Sammy, but he knew he had to let her go, because Nat had called him for something important. It didn’t look like it was going to be a patrol night, at least.
Nothing about his posture or behavior would be out of the ordinary. It helped, of course, that he told Nat white lies like that all the time for his own safety, and that Sam had been willing to roll with this one. Someday he was going to teach this kid something that he’d regret, but so far it’d worked out. He stepped over to the cheese and crackers (and olives and cucumbers and prosciutto and berries and oranges and apples and peanuts), and put a bit of the precut brie (he’d never had brie before he met Nat, but oh, god, there was no going back) on one of the weird round crackers that definitely weren’t Ritz and topped it with two apple slices, because for some reason “paper-thin” didn’t begin to describe the texture of the fruit. Then he bit the little stack in half, and turned back to Nat.
He had the good manners to swallow before talking. “Alright, Nat, I’m ready whenever you are. I am prepared to be awed.”
It was an easy, pleased smile that erased the suspicious bend to Nat’s features, an expression elicited by Todd’s careful selection of the crackers, cheeses and fruits Nat had bought for him. There had been hesitance at first, a polite decline to every offer Nat had made when they first began that had finally, after months, evolved into this silent acceptance. Nat had been pushy enough, and Todd hungry enough, that the denials had faded away. The way Todd took his time to savor the food only made Nat that much happier to have found their dynamic.
He seemed thoroughly distracted from any inconsistencies between Todd and Sam with his mentor’s invitation to astound, and as his smile became an excited grin Nat practically leapt into action as he headed back down the stairs to the floor of the warehouse. It had been a while since Todd had been there, but was certain the sheet covered mysteries had already been noted by the detective’s keen eye. The show stopper was hidden even further within the shipping container. Todd had never questioned why Nat couldn’t open it, and Nat had done his best to cover that discrepancy.
”First thing’s first,” his voice was almost breathless from excitement, even if the words “training equipment” didn’t land as dramatically as he had hoped while he tugged the obscuring sheet away. The contraption beneath was a Frankenstein of machine, with several electric motors tied into a single belt over a steel frame. ”Meet, the Dodge-inator.” He was still workshopping a cool name, but if his own alternate identity was any indication the machine wasn’t likely to sound any more impressive.
”Basically I took your standard pitching machine and gave it steroids, with six extra motors to give it a major power boost. If I were to put regular baseballs in it they were breaking two hundred miles per hour on the highest setting.” Nat beamed proudly and slapped the machine fondly. ”But I added all of that power because this guy doesn’t throw silly little baseballs. Instead it throws these.” Nat held up a steel ball that could only have been formed by his power, whiffled and framed so that it was almost reminiscent of a ball of yarn. Nat hefted it into the air and let it fall to the cement floor where it bounced with a bell-like tone.
”Despite weighing more than a baseball these little guys get thrown so fast I haven’t even tried turning the machine higher than halfway.” Nat smiled mischievously and held out one of the steel balls for Todd to inspect. ”Wanna give it a try? I’ll keep it on the lowest setting.”
Todd followed Nat down at a fast-but-not-running kind of gait reserved for following overeager teenagers around shopping malls, conventions, and secret lairs. He’d definitely noticed the sheet-covered equipment, and he was genuinely excited to see what Nat had cooked up this time. The kid was a gifted engineer. Todd could fix a car, but anything else went over his head unless it used car-parts. He recognized the first mechanical monstrosity for being just that, just had no idea how it worked. It was an impressive monstrosity, all told, especially if it worked the way Nat described.
It could use a better name, but that was low on the priority list.
Todd had gotten himself out of the habit of laughing at Nat’s dumb nicknames for the things he had around, and even if he thought the name in a high-pitched German accent, he didn’t say what he was thinking out loud. Instead he watched the demonstration, and took the heavy chunk of metal in his hands, running his fingers along the gradient.
“I’ll pass tonight. It’s one thing, possibly embarrassing myself in front of you.”
He glanced back toward the lounge, the message clear: It’s another thing completely in front of Sam. It was an easy out, for now. He had to play two sides at once for suggestions like that – not let Nat see how fast he was or his healing factor, but also keep up the act of wanting Nat to let him come onto the field with him. Tonight, at least, Sam being here gave him a good excuse not to risk getting hurt. After all, Nat had seen her in action before. If it was about impressing her, Todd as Nat knew him would only make a fool of himself.
Of course Todd denied the offer, Nat knew even before he made it that the man wouldn’t be interested in something so physical. Though he was insistent that he could help Nat in the field he hadn’t participated in Nat’s daily workouts since they had begun working together. At first it had made Nat feel awkward, working out while Todd milled about the Den working on investigations or eating, and boy could he eat.
”Right, perhaps not in mixed company.” Nat winked at Todd conspiratorially and glanced toward Sam who, to her credit, watched silently as the teen had proudly displayed his monstrosity. He briefly considered offering her a chance to test out the machine, but assumed she might make a similar excuse. Besides, she had told him that she was there to test him, and he didn’t think it likely that she would be willing to be tested herself. With a parting pat to the Dodge-inator Nat passed the next sheet covered something that sat wide and squat next to the pitching machine.
”This may be more interesting, then,” He said as he gripped the last sheet, whatever it was covering nearly as tall as he was and more than twice as wide. ”It’s nothing too special, but I was thinking of you the whole time I built it.” Nat snatched the sheet away, revealing a bay of monitors and older computer towers linked together at a tall, modern desk. Though there was a chair tucked under the lowest part of the station it was clear that it was meant to be used while standing.
”I figured my ‘guy-in-the-chair’ could use an upgrade, though I honestly don’t have that much knowledge about computers and such. I had a little help with some of the programs here, but I put all of the hardware together myself.” Maps of the city streets and flickering, shifting views from traffic cameras danced across the screens, the buzz of police radios monitored on one side while telemetry and diagnostics framed the other. ”The station is linked to my earpiece, so we can keep in communication without tying up our phones.” That was mostly an issue for Todd and his cheap, pay-as-you-go device.
While Todd was actually interested in everything Nat made, his eyes genuinely lit up when he saw the monitor station. He set the big metal chunk in his hand down, and walked up to the desk with a low whistle. A big smile spread across his face as he examined each of the monitors – genuine excitement, in which he forgot all about keeping his teeth covered.
“Nat, this is awesome.” The investigator in him, the side he’d been letting Nat see, was the part showing now. The ability to look at the whole city in a few seconds was beyond perfect, and the ability to watch Nat directly as long as he was on open streets would be a relief.
And the fact that it was a standing desk indicated it really was meant for him – Todd had trouble sitting still for too long in a place where he was comfortable. Oh, when he was uncomfortable, he could play civil guest. But Nat knew his habits of pacing and moving well enough to know that his guy-in-the-chair rarely used a chair at all anymore. And the attached comms would save Todd minutes on his burner phone.
He rubbed the surface of the desk with one hand, but finally took his attention off the screens to look back at Nat. It finally crossed his mind to close his smile from a grin, but the light didn’t leave his eyes at all. “You put a lot of thought into this, huh? It’s perfect. Thanks.”
Todd’s excitement was both palpable and gratifying, the smile that broke upon his face so genuine that Nat was taken aback at first. There was an intensity to the grin that he had never seen before, and though it was almost alarming how wide that smile became Nat found himself returning Todd’s grin before he even turned his attention back to his protege. As Todd spoke through his madman’s smile Nat replied through a wolfish grin.
”Its nowhere near what I really wanted to do for you. I couldn’t risk too many people having too many pieces of the puzzle and figuring out what we are up to here, so its a bit slapped together at the moment. I have a friend who is really good with computers, though. Maybe one day she can upgrade us to something more state of the art.” Nat’s smile slipped just a hair at the thought of his friend, though he didn’t give any detail to the nervousness inside of him. That was private, even from his mentor. ”But that is not the only thing I have been thinking about, my friend.”
Nat put a hand on Todd’s back, the layers of clothing indenting a little beneath his gentle push toward the sheet between the Dodge-inator and the bay of screens. ”This is also for you.” He didn’t stand on ceremony, snatching the sheet away to reveal why the item hidden beneath was so wide and low. Though a bit rusted and sporting a few dents, beneath the paint stained cloth crouched a pair of matching, aggressive looking street bikes with a case of new mechanic’s tools between.
”Patrolling has been fine and all, but I realized that we are a bit limited on how quickly we can reach any true emergencies.” Nat’s smile deepened again and he gave Todd a little shove toward the bikes; one that might not have felt so little to the thin man he issued it upon. ”They need some work, obviously, but I figured they would be a lot better than running across the city, and more convenient and faster than trying to hop into the Malibu.” Pushed ahead of him as Todd was Nat couldn’t see the expression of Todd’s response, but he hoped it was at least half as delighted as he had been about the desk.
”Just let me know whatever you need and I will get it for you. Price is no object.”
Todd laughed a little as Nat worried that the computer system wasn’t enough. It wasn’t sleek by any means – but sleek didn’t fit Todd. Clunky and maybe even a little old-fashioned suited him perfectly. It wasn’t the superhero daydream Nat had for the Wolf, but it was more than enough for now. He noticed Nat’s look as he mentioned his computer friend. He didn’t say anything now, but if it came up again, he’d definitely make a point of pestering. That was what mentors did, after all. Worse than parents in that respect.
He finally stepped away from the desk as Nat brought his attention to the next mystery piece, stumbling just a little when Nat shoved him forward. The kid had gotten strong. Todd was a lightweight, sure, but he had a good sense of balance. Nat took him off guard with that. He’d need to – what? Be more careful? That ship sailed. Be more aware, at least.
All of that slipped his mind when the drop cloth was removed.
He ran his hands over one of the bikes, feeling the metal flakes even through his gloves. They needed a lot of work, and then some surface treatment, but Nat could easily help him with that part. This time there was no manic smile, although he did smile, and his eyes were intense, picking up every detail, nose taking in the scents of different fluids and the metal itself. They looked like Yamahas, but Todd wasn’t familiar enough with motorcycles to really say.
He did know a guy, though. He wondered how mad Neal would be if he turned up with questions about repairing bikes. Probably not that mad. Couldn’t hurt to ask, at least, or ask Vik or Kosuke to pass the word on.
He looked back up at Nat, his smile a little less feral than the last one, but his eyes glittering with the ideas behind them – obviously already intent on taking this project on full-throttle.
“They’re not exactly as subtle as the Malibu, but they are more convenient.” His expression dimmed, just a little, and he looked back at the bikes. “You’re going to need to get your motorcycle license. Learning to ride one of these is rough, and you’re going to want to practice out of costume.”
And Todd was going to need to get his, too. Another license wasn’t too bad, another form of ID, another page on a paper trail. But then again, he’d started thinking about applying for his PI license, and a concealed carry and legal weapon for use in that sector. Nat didn’t know about that project; Sam didn’t, either. It was very long-term. An “if I survive another three or four months in Pittsburgh” long-term, and (he’d already checked) another five years to get the right kinds of references, work alongside law enforcement for approvable experience, and enough money for maybe a degree and then to pay off the bond for the license itself. And that was all assuming he was going to stick around, long-term.
But neither of them needed to know his plans. He got down on one knee to look at the side of the bike, already starting to give it a cursory once-over with experienced eyes. It’d need to be safe, of course. He’d want to take a few weeks of regular work to put them together. That meant more time spent around the Den. Which wasn’t a huge deal, either. Nat might’ve been joking, but he’d already realized that he’d started to neglect some of the other people he’d made connections with since meeting Sam. This was a good excuse to start to rectify that.
Sam had casually been watching as Todd and Natt made their way from surprise to surprise. She paid about half attention to everything going on, and the other half to the snack tray in front of her. It was ritzy, and Sam realized that between this and all of Nat’s surprises, the kid probably had some money. Not the most surprising thing. She couldn’t help herself from grabbing a vine of grapes and what she was pretty sure was Munster cheese. If she remembered correctly. She popped a grape in her mouth and chased it down with one of the small cubes of the cheese. Yeah, that was right.
She went to town on those, finally tuning back in as she saw them. The moment she saw the bikes, she sat at attention. She looked them over with a careful eye. She debated for a moment whether or not she should say anything. After all, she wasn’t his mentor, Todd was. And he was right, they’d both need to get their licenses– she thought about the one in her own wallet. Finally, she made the choice. She put the rest of the cheese and grapes back on the edge of the tray and stood, clearing her throat.
“You’re both going to need someone with a Class M license to supervise you during your required practice hours after you get the permits. You’re going to need to pass the basic test to get that, and then after you have the hours for the license, you have to take the actual driving test. Nat, you’re going to have to have that permit for six months, have sixty-five hours logged as supervised driving, and fifteen of those will have to be the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program Basic Rider Course.”
She spoke as she walked over to them. Her words flowed quickly and easily, as though she knew about this from first-hand experience. When she finally reached them, she pulled her wallet out of her pocket and happily flipped it open. Displayed within was her driver’s license, complete with an endorsement for her Class M.
“It’s a good thing you both know someone with a Class M license! I’d be happy to teach you both how to ride these. Nat, you’ll still have to take the course, but Todd, I don’t believe you have to. I’ve had a Class M since I was seventeen, so I am less familiar with the process for adult drivers.”