Four and Twenty Blackbirds

Iron's Craft Brewing Co. 
#1
Sokol had no interest in owning a bar or restaurant. But if he did...well, ideally he would want to own a successful restaurant with plates in the $50 price range. But as a second choice, a lower-stakes sort of classy pub/brewery motif also had its appeal.

You know. If they were going to take on a restaurant. Which they weren't. But Sokol had needed another excuse to be out here, and shepherd's pie was an extremely familiar and satisfying meal for cold weather.

Truthfully, he felt like he had eaten several pies already, in need of a long sleep. But he figured he would perk up soon enough. Knowing Iago would find him, he allowed himself the slightest half-doze at the table, head cradled in his hands, and caught himself a little rest before his old man friend made it down.
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#2
Meeting up in Larkspur was definitely a change of pace, but one that spoke of how things were moving. A fourth lion in town, a few meetings in a part of the greater area that hadn't garnered much of Iago's interest before now--all little hints that they had their foundation, but now they had to build on it. Iago still felt strange, being involved at all, but what he didn't feel strange about was hunting down the one person he'd do all these strange thing with in a bustling and warm restaurant.

Everything was still cold, but it had eased up in comparison to some more recent experiences by at least a few degrees, so... it was quite happily that he spied out a very sleepy lion at a table, having come in with a 'my friend is already here' to the hostess, not even needing direction.

"Ey, you not been sleeping?" he asked as he dropped into the opposite side of the occupied table (instead of doing the crowding he would have liked to do). Half a tease, half sincerely wondering, even as he dropped his toes in on top of Sokol's.
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#3
The lion, which was not tired or sleeping particularly, rolled into metaphysical motion as Iago came in. His very best lion was in the building, and he was up and jumping for a greeting even before Sokol's eyes fully opened; when they did his human brain fumbled to catch up. He was not a cat, he was not...biting Iago's paws and then trying to stand on him. He was sitting at a table with feet touching.

Blinking sleepily and smiling, he leaned back off of the table and rubbed his eyes. "I've been keeping busy." It was kind of...weird to meet in a public place like this, it meant he had to inhibit a lot of recently-learned behaviors that tended to come out around Iago. No hand-grabbing, no gooey smiling long stares. Weird.

Well, all right. Recover from it. He settled for a more inquisitive stare across the table. "How was your week?"
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#4
Sleepy Sokol was appealing--and a version of the man he had been coming to know quite well. Though he preferred it when it was from a late night Iago had taken part in as well, rather than, you know, "keeping busy," which could have been so many things!

Regardless, smiles beget smiles, and their soft contact as people lent itself to the very good feeling of lions in motion. Iago wanted to shove himself under Sokol's chin for snuggles, but he'd have to settle for the sensation of it while reality was a lot more tame. He folded his arms on the table, putting his weight into it.

"Well enough. Put a rush on the neighborhood out in Avondale so I guess I'm out of work for a bit until spring or until I find something else to do."
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#5
:') Why had they not just met at his apartment, this was torture. He slumped back onto the table, resting his chin in his hand. "What do you do all winter, if it's not working?"
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#6
It would have been really nice to bend Sokol's PDA preferences right now. But Iago supposed Larkspur was the place he may have been least likely to be able to convince Sokol that this was a good idea.

"I'm not actually all that accustomed to having on off season yet, so... I don't know? Maybe like I did last year when I got here--looking for side jobs, small projects. Otherwise getting around town and just... seeing stuff, meeting people." He still, for whatever reason, still felt wary of confessing that he genuinely meddled in problematic situations. And also he was doing so much less of that lately, so did he need to??
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#7
In the same way Iago had not fully understood what he was getting into, moving into a place with real winters, Sokol didn't have the firmest grasp of what a place would be like without them. But he could picture Iago doing odd jobs and sticking his nose into things for several months. Hanging out in his Red Rock friend's barn. The waitress came by, and Sokol ordered a coffee without easing his attention on Iago, falling into a rather drippy look as he thought about taking an entire month off of work and just spending it in his apartment. Hard to nose everyone else out of Iago's life when he had other places to be. "Anyone interesting?"
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#8
Coffee sounded good--and so Iago would get in on that train--mostly because the weather left him needing something to warm his hands on. And if Sokol wasn't currently an option...

"Did I ever mention my friend Alex? Well, I don't remember. Anyway. She's the one who went and claimed Red Rock for the, uh," his voice dropped just a fraction, knowing better than to be too loud about all this while in public spaces. "Coyotes. She's in charge over there now. I actually just found their base of operations a few weeks back."

It hadn't occurred to him until just now that Sokol might actually benefit from having that 'in' with another group. But that qualified as interesting, right?
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#9
Alex, female Alex. As the information came in he tried to remember the coyotes from the wolf club's fight night; mostly he recalled them being awfully vocal at each other's bouts, a somewhat over-the-top level of camaraderie. "Really?" Do go on! In spite of loitering aggressively in Belle Vista for months, he had never managed to meet one of the inhabiting cheetahs, and that was as far as he'd gotten with networking.
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#10
He did so like having Sokol's interest, even if it was over something that Iago didn't tend to chase for the same reasons. Iago liked Alex because she was Alex--he knew Sokol well enough to know he'd like her because she was Queen. And then maybe the other stuff would follow.

"Yeah! So... there's like... I think she said she's got six or something. They've got a like... gas station? Car shop? Something. Extra Mile. It's basically dead center in Red Rock. Alex was one of the first people I met when I got here, but she didn't have an prospects for any friends back then so... I don't know, very good to see her happy, I think."
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#11
Well. A gas station was at least appropriate in a barren place like Red Rock. He had a lot of questions about this coyote leader from the bits Iago was divulging, but he suspected also that Iago would not have most of the answers he was looking for. "She wasn't happy before?"
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#12
Well... His head tilted thoughtfully. "I mean, I can't say for sure, we are not like... best buddy buddies or whatever. But she did seem a little lost in December, and she looks far more settled now. She said she enjoys the whole... Queen thing. Helping the group. I wouldn't have pegged her for the sort, but it does suit her."

Reminded him that with all his free time he could definitely go and see if he could wiggle his fingers a bit more into coyote business, maybe endear himself to a second one.
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#13
Of course, he wanted to know what about her made her seem 'a little lost' to Iago. The man was endearingly oblivious about a lot of things, but he did come through on human observation occasionally. Their coffees arrived, and Sokol busied himself adding cream and sugar. His next question came once the server had passed out of earshot. "Have you met any of the bears?"
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#14
Iago, somewhat without thinking, put a couple of sugars in his, lips a thin pursed line as he thought, as if he might have forgotten...

"No, I haven't managed that yet. I did see... you know, all the ones at that gathering, but--" Shrug. He'd been too busy lingering with lions and then having a concussion to have done anything good with that. It had occurred to him to wonder why there appeared to be bears both in Red Rock and North Glenn, but it struck him as the sort of scenario that he'd find passingly interesting at best, not being involved in anything like that and not really caring to.
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#15
Remembering the fight night brought out a pained half-smile. He had meant to do better with meeting people, but it had all become lion business almost immediately. Worrying about Iago's rattled brain. "I met one from North Glenn ages ago. A woman with red hair. Which." Which was a glaringly convenient segue.

He clinked the spoon around in his coffee, staring into the cup.

"I think we should talk about vampires tonight. If we are all running into the same few, and they've been...not safe." He placed the spoon on a cloth napkin and looked up over the table.
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#16
And like that, talk of bears turned to talk of vampires.

They had put this off once before, in favor of things more personal and honestly... preferable in some ways. Iago couldn't explain it. He had had no issues with vampires that he could think of, but perhaps that was the unsettling part. Why Sokol bringing it up at all inspired feelings of guilt or shame, so utterly uncharacteristic... He didn't know. He didn't know why he'd felt bad admitting to being familiar with the red-headed one.

Not safe, Sokol said, and Iago believed him, but he had no proof of his own and so maybe it wasn't guilt, maybe it was just ineffable shame. Why don't he remember the warnings he'd been given? Why did Sokol have such issue with Red when Iago had not?

Momentarily mute, Iago would meet Sokol's eyes and nod. Acquiescing to the subject, with no idea where to start it himself.
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1

#17
There was, in his head, the insistent desire to take Iago's hand. It felt like. It felt dangerous to talk about, anything that could disrupt the perilous balance they had worked to find. When he had tried to script out this conversation days earlier, it had been all wrong and really, maybe, couldn't they just ignore it?

No, was the obvious answer. But a very desperate need to not Ruin Things helped him find the right words to begin. "I don't...know that one of them did anything to your brain. But, I think it could have happened." He certainly worried that it had.
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#18
Iago very much would have liked to be somewhere a little more comfortable for this. But he saw the merit of a public space--less easy to get distracted, to write it off for yet another day. For all talking about it was obviously going to suck, Iago did feel like... there were some things he had to say.

He would lead with the one that had been plaguing him the most. Red had struck him as innocuous, nearly boring. Beauregard was his... friend, yeah? But...

"You might... be right, I'm not sure." And that was the trick with having your brain fucked with, wasn't it? If it was done well, how would you even know? But the more he'd thought about it ever since it had come up again, trying to figure out when or where he could have misplaced such vital information, the more something had become obvious in a way that he was shocked he hadn't realized it before.

"The encounter with Bella. The dog, the black one--borzoi. I..." Feeling uneasy to say it, as if it were the sort of thing that could conceivably remain untrue until you made someone else hear it, he hesitated and then forced it, sinking a little further into the tabletop. "Don't remember most of it. Like. I can't remember how it ended."
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#19
Sokol felt his jaw set. He reached for his coffee cup and drank from it, more or less trying to go on with normal behavior instead of letting the lion crack out of his body and turn this helpless dread into a bloodbath. Vampire suggestions were a horror.

He was quiet for several moments, letting the reality sink in.

"Ingrid met that one, too." He forced himself to breath, looking up at a man who looked about as uncomfortable as he ought to. "What do you still remember from it? Any detail."
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#20
It was awful. This was awful. Not being sure, it left Iago feeling powerless in a way he didn't like. Was it just the one? He was so certain that Beauregard hadn't done anything. He remembered his conversations with that man so well. So what about Red? Had she done anything? He almost couldn't even think it, that doubt somehow set aside even more easily than that which he felt about the Bird King himself.

Ingrid had met Bella. Had it been bad? He was too rattled to ask, and maybe it was just enough if Sokol knew.

Iago clutched his own coffee mug in both his hands, his chin on his arm on the table now, looking a bit like a child who was being interrogated about bad marks.

"She... god. Cordova. I sniffed her out just because I was curious. Saw her approaching a couple of young ladies in her dog form. I'm... I was just curious, called her out like she was a dog who had run off on me. I guess I spooked her off of whatever she was doing, so when she went off I followed and..."

To him, it had been harmless, all of it. "I'd not meant anything by any of it, I just wanted to talk but she turned back. Tiny little lady, looked maybe in her twenties?, like... yeah, dark haired, intense. She had a knife but I really wasn't looking to upset her, stayed back a bit and..." And then he didn't remember. He grasped at memories that simply weren't there and went quiet, troubled and feeling like he'd failed Sokol here.
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#21
He was a fool, to have not pursued this earlier. Had something happened between them, to make the dog-woman blot out the end of the interaction? Or...had that been before they'd spoken of this in the first place? Was the erasure from some other meeting? He was almost too busy trying to force structure into the mess of empty spaces, to realize Iago was melting into the table.

He did see, though, and the fontanel-like soft spot that had opened up in his brain made it hurt to see, like it was his own feeling. Gritting his teeth, he tried to think, what was a response that was kind and not simply sensible. After a silence his right hand began to creep over the table, removing Iago's from its hold on the cup and hooking them together like two links in a chain.

It was pretty mortifying. He had to frown with concentration. Silence was a weird choice, so he opened his mouth to say something reassuring and managed to emit a dry 'ack'.
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#22
Iago knew the gesture wasn't easy for Sokol. Here, where the chances were small that anyone who knew one or both of them could show up, but not impossible. But Iago didn't resist it, folding his warm hand into the other's without a moment of hesitation, needing it bad enough right now that Sokol's twitchy sensibilities could softly go fuck themselves.

He stared at their hands for a moment, heard the poor attempt at breaking the silence. Not sure where Sokol's mind was at, Iago decided, you know... may as well just out with as much of it was he could. He was just so very done with having no idea and no reliable way to sort his own thoughts when they'd been apparently tossed in a sink and partially lost down the garbage disposal. He'd pile up what he had left.

"I literally just remember feeling... tired after that. Weird, like, stressed tired, but I don't... there wasn't anything that I can remember so it doesn't make sense but. She wasn't there, that was the last I'd seen of her. So maybe she... I have no idea, Sokol, I really don't. I literally only met the red-headed one once and for about five minutes and she seemed alright. And Beauregard..."

He wouldn't have. He absolutely wouldn't have, would he? Though the question of what had been done in the first place superseded that. It was hard to gauge what someone would or would not do if you didn't know specifically what it was you were denying their involvement in.

It wasn't his way of things, living by someone else's expectations. It was something he had worked against all his life. But he couldn't help but feel as if he'd done something so terribly stupid and he was only disappointing Sokol and it hurt a weird amount. With no idea what had happened he could only assume that maybe there was something he could have done better to stop this from happening at all and...???

"I'm sorry. I don't know what happened. I don't understand it at all."
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#23
No, he was, No, No Holding Hands they were in a bar holding hands and that was not correct, inappropriate Bad very embarrassing. Not pulling his hand away and melting onto the floor took the same concentration as keeping a hand on a hot pan handle, which was unfortunate, because Iago was definitely still talking about that thing he had really needed them to talk about.

Sokol grimaced, putting quite a lot of effort into doing something that felt publicly incorrect and embarrassing, and also tried to follow. "Some vampire took your memory away." Bella, or the redhead, or one who had erased themselves entirely. It was exactly what he had warned the man, he recalled, and Iago had gone and gotten himself into it anyway.
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#24
"Yeah." A simple conclusion to something beyond troubling. Not the sort of trouble Iago welcomed. Not the sort he knew how to contend with.

At least... something in having said it, at least once out loud, meant it was real to more than just him. Him and whoever had done this to him. He picked himself up slightly from where he'd puddled into the table, keeping Sokol's hand for a moment, resisting saying sorry nonsensically again. It didn't help anything apologizing. It wasn't Sokol's brain that was apparently so full of holes that he was losing memories left and right. (Okay, maybe not that bad, but then again who knew.)

A squeeze to Sokol's digits, then he loosened up. A brief and silent thanks before an unspoken permission to retreat, but only if he wanted.

"I just don't know why."
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#25
He let out an audible breath of relief when Iago loosed the grip on his hand, though he did make an effort not to pull it back to his side of the table with offensive haste. Boundaries back in place, it was quickly easier to pick up the conversation and move it around.

"That's what we talked about, after you met the vampire King," he replied carefully, softly. "They're not like us. They stop being human. It's...too dangerous, to assume you can trust any of them. Not when this is what they can do to abuse it." In other words, DON'T FUCKING LOOK THEM IN THE EYE, IAGO. Please!
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#26
Iago stared at some midpoint on the table while Sokol began to speak, before quickly bringing his fingertips to his eyes to press them gently there. God damn, why did he not remember this? How many times had he been messed with? Just the once, in a way that made him forget a few select moments that were all somehow related? More than once and he really was just that stupid?

Maybe it wasn't stupid, maybe it wasn't something he could have prevented. But that... that was decidedly more unsettling, and he couldn't bring himself to really commit to thinking it.

You can't trust any of them. Even the ones where it was easy to trust them. Clearly his own judgement was at the bottom of some cesspool for at least one of them, and with no concept of which one it could possibly be, he just had to... be way more cautious.

"Right." A pause. "I'm sorry." For the moment he couldn't put his hands down, even if he wanted to look at Sokol for some reassurance but being mildly afraid he wouldn't find enough. Just. Needed a moment.
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#27
Sokol was feeling avoidant himself, but his gaze did creep up, enough to see Iago rubbing miserably at his face.

Iago must be embarrassed, or. Ashamed, or even hurt? He had trusted his instincts and been wrong, Sokol thought, although perhaps it had been something out of his control. He sighed again, and after a moment moved his foot to tap on top of Iago's. "It happened. You're still alive, and acting normal." To the best of their knowledge, but still, he shrugged. "So you learned something. How to be safer." Don't look in their fucking eyes.
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#28
It was entirely kind. He'd fucked up properly and Iago sensed this could have gone a different way. A different place, a different pride, he'd been dressed down for far less. But hey. Things were really different here than all of that, and it was likely the biggest reason he was willing to feel like he needed to do right by this man.

Strange, all of it, but Sokol continued to feel like he was on Iago's side. Foot-on-foot, like it should be.

"Yeah." Wow, let's say literally anything else on top of that. "I'm... going to be more careful. And keep you in the loop better."

That seemed right. That was how it was supposed to be, when you were existing with someone.
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#29
He nodded, thinking that this whole scenario was unseemly, but still grateful that it had brought about — for now, at least he thought so — the correct sense of caution from his friend. He moved his cup along the table. "Speaking to each other about it is the safest option. I ordered some lighters, too, for everyone to keep on their person. As a safety measure."

He didn't imagine Iago would like the idea of lighting a vampire on fire, but that was the only thing that had driven the one in Cordova away. Anything was better than complete helplessness. He mustered a crooked smile and felt another overly-familiar bout of staring coming on. "Need a drink?"
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#30
It was convenient in a lot of ways that Sokol was poised to be the lion's go-to man. This would have all been a lot different, grouping up, if someone else were steering the ship. Keeping Sokol informed would ultimately keep everyone informed, and Iago was okay with that. Even if it meant either slowing down or fessing up to some of his later night activities.

Lighters were... well, that was an idea. Which Iago wouldn't have ever considered on his own, but he nodded tiredly, willing to accept it for all he could not fathom using it.

It seemed they had reached their acceptable conclusion to the vampire trouble. Iago wouldn't forget this time, he swore. (Could a man pray about vampire problems even if he wasn't really totally sold on the concept of God, either?)

"I could probably use one," he answered with a weak chuckle, finally dropping both his hand back to his mug and taking the sort of breath one took when they finally popped their head above emotional waters.

Drink and food and a chance to come back from being swept out into things he had little control on. He wasn't alone, and that was worth a lot.
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