Christmas Past

Larkspur 
#1

How much could change in a few short months? In Mountainside, it seemed a lot. The Cackle was gone, but that was not entirely a surprise. The Queen and King had children, whom grew too quickly not to spend constant hours teaching, lest they turn out stupid. Echo didn't have high hopes for them anyway. There was no tell of where they had gone, but Crestview was void of them. No skin off his nose; he was accustomed to being alone.

Chloe had been murdered. Again, something he had anticipated, try as he might have to direct her. Romeo had proven useless in helping her. Two foxes under his care, dead. Amusing, in a way, how bad he was at keeping young girls alive. It really took little effort. And yet, the old man opted to seal himself away in his cave of a house and shut out the very thing that defined him. It would likely kill him too, one day.

Echo stood at the man's doorstep now. For all of his miserable mistakes, Romeo was a source of information in this city. A hand drew his knife from its holster, and he tapped the tip of it against the wood of the front door. Once, twice, and a third for good measure before stepping back. Between gloved fingers, he toyed with the knife, and he waited for the answer. He could smell the little creature inside.

@Romeo Swift
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#2


The figure on his doorstep, identified through a doorbell camera and a feed to his phone, actually quite surprised Romeo. And not at all in the pleasant way. While Echo's apparent disappearance from the scene had been somewhat frustrating to a man in search of answers and some stability, it had been a mixed blessing. The man was, if nothing, unpredictable.

Suppose, then, he should have realized this day would come again. Was this better or worse than the man turning up in public?

The knife gave him doubts. Like a child, that hyena, always having to prove something about himself. Not a real lick of loyalty in him, either.

No small temptation was had to leave the man out on the cold front step, but if Echo had turned up here, it was with a purpose, and ignoring him would only invite him into breaking in. Never in a mood for dealing with broken windows, Romeo made mental note that his gun was holstered beneath his sweater, reminded himself that Echo could be dealt with if he was feeling difficult, and went to open the door.

What met him now was... unexpectedly silver-eyed, and his wariness grew as he stood in his own half-open doorway and regarded his old colleague levelly. "Thought you'd gone."
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#3
He half expected the little creature inside to stay behind his locked door. Echo peered into the camera, offering a closed lip smile. Eventually, the door would open. When it did, Echo raised his knife and pointed the tip toward his forehead before jerking it away in a form of salute. The words brought a soft laugh from his chest. "You like to assume." Echo spoke, but the voice was different. Not entirely, but there was a octave or two different. It sounded as if he were speaking through a throat cold. An effect on his voice that had been yet another result of his unfortunate shift. It was perhaps the thing he disliked the most. Thankfully, it was not so deep and strained as the voice that came from his beast, but it was reminiscent.

A smile did pull at his lips, which revealed the teeth he did not try to keep hidden from Romeo. Jagged and overgrown, his canines are elongated and sharpened. He had taken steps to remove the yellow tint they had started at. "Like I assumed you were competent enough not to let two girls get killed so easily." He continued, and gestured toward the rest of the house. "Let me in, I've got a task to ask of you."
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#4
The sound of Echo's voice--distorted in a way too familiar and entirely unwelcome--raised the hairs on the back of his neck and Romeo had to actively work to keep his face passive. The eyes were a frustration enough, but also that strange brand of normal. Every were contended with that at times--even Romeo. But the voice, the teeth, they spoke of something far different and perhaps more cosmically sinister.

Something very unsettling had happened to this man, and Romeo felt a revulsion so immediate you would have thought these sorts of conditions were contagious at a touch. Leaning back a fraction, it wasn't until Echo dared to immediately bring up the matter of Heather and Chloe that Romeo's calm overtly faltered and his eyes flashed gold in a heartbeat and his teeth bore slightly as he responded. A tightening of his touch to his door frame in resistance he said, "I'm very inclined to tell you to go to hell, Echo."

It was offered in the falsest of light tones between teeth all but clenched.
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#5
The dog bristled, and Echo huffed through his nostrils. The comment had him clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth chidingly. “Come now, you’ll likely enjoy this.” He said, and held up the knife, gripping the blade between gloved fingers and extending it to Romeo hilt-first.

“We can’t do it here.” He glances over his shoulder to the houses surrounding them. “Neighbors will wonder.” He fixed Romeo with a smirk and a wink of a silver eye.
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#6
Romeo wasn't much of one for rolling his eyes, but something about Echo made it very hard to resist and though it was subtle as he turned his gaze away for a moment, he did briefly express his disdain that way.

This manipulative monster.

Less curious, more resigned--rather than accept anything from the hyena outright, he ignored the proffered weapon and stepped back from the door--an gesture of space and little else. Better, in the end, than trying to force him out or arguing on the step. For all he was vexing, Echo was right on that front.

Even so, Romeo glowered at the man as if he expected him to have hyena spots in the back of his hair upon passing.
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#7
Echo grinned a grisly, toothy grin at the sight of the eyes flickering, and the resolve of the man breaking. Room was made for him, and though the knife was not taken, he stepped inside. Echo's pace carried him swiftly through to the living room, as if he had been inside the home hundreds of times. He did keep his eyes open, and his ears fixed behind him. He didn't suspect the excuse of a man behind him to do anything to harm him, but his beast remained ever conscious. When he reached he living room, Echo placed the knife down atop a side table, and kept his back to the man.

Without much pause, he moved to shrug away his jacket, then his over shirt. He lay them on the couch as he spoke. "I was not interested in destroying a hotel room by attempting this alone." He explained. The white undershirt did little in the way of hiding the thick swath of sandy, speckled fur that grew from the length of the man's spine. Some peeked from over the collar of the shirt, but it was not hidden for long before Echo reached to pull the shirt over his head and toss it aside. The fur only reached to the width of his neck, before tapering off and leaving his back bare. It was as if he had skinned his beastly counterpart and wore its skin like a shawl. Alas, it grew from his very skin. The fur clung against the fabric as it moved over it, and the muscles beneath the pelt twitched as an animal's would at a soft touch.

It was only then that Echo turned to fix the man with a hardened gaze, his hand moving to pick up the knife once more and extend it to the man. "If I shift here, you are; in the very least; sworn to secrecy. Just lock me in a bathroom, I will pay for damage." He wagged the blade in his hand encouragingly. "It's silver. Burn somewhere around the top, enough to leave it bare." He instructed.
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#8
Door closed. Locked. He doubted Echo had brought any tag-alongs, but he also hadn't expected the man on his doorstep at all today, so he took no chances with what he could control. In his own home no less Which Echo now strode into like he was a particularly welcome guest and the words 'make yourself at home' had dared to be uttered--which they most certainly had not.

The man began to strip, of all things, and Romeo began to open his mouth to either question or protest--even he wasn't certain as to which--when he caught sight of what appeared to be fur and he bristled all the more, as if Echo had just come in here with a visible rash and a very terrible cough. Wanting little more than to change his mind and usher the hyena right back out, it was only a twisted curiosity that stilled him, several feet back and tense.

The manifestation of beast on human flesh was the last thing he'd ever wanted to consider a possibility, but he evidence was unmistakable right before his own eyes.

Echo went on, fully expectant of something, going on about shifting, paying for damages. Romeo felt like he half-heard him, as if this were all a very disgusting joke that he wanted no part of, up until the mention of silver and his eyes burned solid gold and angry. "If you think I am touching that, you are out of your damn mind, Echo."
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#9
Of all things to bristle at, of all things to let that miniature little rodent of his to try and claw it's way to the surface. Echo stood before him sprouting fur from his spine, and the man worried more about silver he did not have to touch. Echo frowned, and looked to the blade. "If you have half of a mind, it won't touch your skin." He observed. Perhaps he didn't even have that. It did not seem like that would be enough, and it was incredibly inconvenient. "Here." He huffed through his nostrils, and set the blade aside once more. Quickly, he shed his gloves and extended them in the man's direction. His nails were thick, black, but the points had been filed away for convenience. "I am not asking you to swallow it. Just press the blade flat. " Of course, he was prepared for Romeo to attempt to change his mind. Without the shirt to cover, the holster that held a gun was visible at his hip. He suspected Romeo sported some similar form of weapon.
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#10
The fact that Echo could, in any way, bring himself to have a weapon like that in his possession at all just blew his mind. There was very little in this world that their kind--much as Romeo was loathe to concede that people like Echo were his kind at all--needed to worry deeply about bodily harm from. But to have something that even the barest brush would cause distress--

Romeo didn't deal in silver.

The offer of the gloves might have made him a bit more compliant, if their removal hadn't revealed yet another twisted mistake in Echo's genetic makeup, and though the claws were filed down, they were still starkly apparent and wholly unwelcome. Striding forward to close the distance, he batted the gloves aside and went to grab the man's hand at the wrist, as if he would twist the limb up to show Echo the details of his own physical demise. As if somehow, some way, Echo had missed this on his own.

"What the fuck happened to you?"

The absolute lack of explanation did not endear him to the slippery hyena, and if there was a sunbeam's chance in a black hole of Echo getting his way here, Romeo had to know what he was messing with. Nothing about this was right.


miss technically, unless Echo just lets him do it

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#11
Echo’s hand moved instinctively toward the gun as Romeo strode forward. Fingers wrapped around his wrist, and he stiffened against the hold. His arm braced, and his teeth gritted, but his hand remained off the gun. His eyes fell upon his hands, the nails that grew from their beds. Initially, they had been long and hooked.

Keeping them in this state was a task that he could deal with. Handling a thick pelt along his spine? Something he would rather not let inconvenience him. Discretion was his priority. Nothing about him was of that nature now. He stuck out, and it was problematic. There was little he could do for his teeth and eyes. He couldn’t not very well pull his teeth out. Even if he did, they would grow back from shifting. Contacts were irritating, and so he was thankful for the color. Silver was not so far from blue.

The hair was something that vanity and self preservation shook hands upon. In the summer, it wouldn’t be impossible to obscure without a jacket. It was a nuisance and it compromised a tool he relied upon. Silver would burn and mar the skin. Hair would not grow over it. He would be scarred in the form of his beast, as well, but he hardly thought the hyena would care much about scarring.

As for what had happened? Echo’s jaw tightened and he fixed Romeo with a tight smirk. “You never learned of this?” He challenged dryly. Echo had not, either, but Romeo would not know it.

“There is a time limit on shifting. This is the consequence.” He flexed the hand in the man’s grasp, then yanked downward to break the hold.
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#12
Echo broke the hold that he had taken on him forcefully, and Romeo let him go in the same pull, turning away to stalk back towards the kitchen counters not far away, some unwelcome chattering in his head and a headache that wasn't really a headache building. Digging his thumb and the pads of his fingers into his temples with one hand, he tried to process this.

A time limit. It felt like a threat. It even felt, dare he say, untrue. But even he couldn't deny there was a lot he didn't know. Having very purposefully tried to keep himself out of that life, he had plenty of blind corners--ones that he would have preferred to go his whole life not having reason to know.

He didn't like this. Not one foul bit. Not the fact that it had happened to Echo, and that Echo had brought it to him, and that... what? The man was essentially asking him to skin him, for lack of a better word for taking silver to flesh and fur.

Though it would likely do nothing, it was an old, comforting habit hat had him reaching for the bourbon tucked against the backsplash.
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#13
The man said nothing. Echo watched as he stalked to the kitchen and grabbed for some bottle of liquor. With a huff through his nose, he moved to sit against the back of the couch. His arms folded over his naked chest and he watched with a placid stare. “I’ll only have you do a bit. Then I will see if it has grown back after my next shift. I do not know the outcome for sure.” It felt sour in his mouth to admit it.

“Think of it as a science project, Romeo.” He added in feigned optimism, his brows raising cheerfully.
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#14
You think of me as a scientist? A thought that didn't leave his lips, but was betrayed somewhat by a bitter laugh as he fetched a tumbler from the cupboard and poured himself a glass. Warm temperature, hardly his preferred way of drinking the stuff, but right now he hardly cared. He just needed something to keep himself from taking that knife and doing worse than what Echo was requesting, or otherwise taking this in a direction it didn't need to go.

There had been a moment, just seconds ago, when Echo had yanked his mutated hand away and Romeo had sincerely considered swinging straight for his jaw and his messed up teeth just out of sheer repulsion.

Silent still other than the laugh, he turned back to the counter behind him where he could look at Echo as he poured himself a glass. A couple of fingers too deep for a human--it was regretfully not enough to do anything for Romeo himself. A placebo for his nerves as he occupied his hands with something other than an unwanted knife, and his mouth with something other than harsh opinions.

Maybe testing Echo's patience was unwise, but alternatives weren't any more appealing.
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#15
Nothing but a laugh. Echo shifted in his seat, a hand moving to scratch over his shoulder at the patch of hair as he watched the man. His hand had dropped again once Romeo turned back to face him, and he met his gaze. The man moved slowly and deliberately, quite obviously doing so to push his patience. Echo flexed his jaw as he tilted his head backward to peer up at the ceiling. He was not a patient man, but for this he could wait until the lesser creature had time to work up his courage.
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#16
He paced himself through the glass, gritting his teeth between swallows until his jaw actually started to hurt somewhat.

Echo had been terrible before, truly. At a distance, as a colleague, he had been... tolerable, perhaps. Or maybe just useful enough to overlook the way he could make you feel. But now, a rogue agent, with no agenda but his own, no leash to lead him along even if that leash had always been something of an illusion...

Romeo was just far too tired for this. Too tired to be reminded of what they--what he was. He hated all of it. Acknowledging his own vulpine persuasion just reminded him of Chloe at this point. Why her death stung more than Heather's had dared to, he didn't know beyond the fact that, well...

Finished off the first glass, poured a second but leaned against the counter with it lightly between his fingers instead of drinking. "Someone was very convinced either you or I killed Chloe. Did you?" He hadn't thought so at the time--still didn't think so, really. Perhaps more unsettling was that anyone had thought to put his and Echo's names together. The association had done and continued do him no favors.
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#17
Romeo drank, and Echo waited. He toyed with the gloves in his fingers. Considered grabbing the knife to busy his hands, but thought better of it as Romeo was so fearful of it. Eventually, there was speech. Words he had not expected to hear from the man, and an insinuation that had Echo chuckling darkly as he looked to the man.

“No.” He said truthfully. “She was stupid, but did not earn my ire.” He had helped her. Or attempted to. Perhaps he had lead her to her death, after all. Or perhaps he only prolonged the inevitable.

“ Chloe knew more than what she was trustworthy for. Whom did she tell her theories to?” And how had she come to connect the two of them to enough violence that some third party suspected them of her death. He had never told her of his profession. Perhaps Romeo had been more loose lipped around the girl than he was now. Perhaps she had coerced him. Such an innocent little thing, and she knew it. Romeo struck him as the kind to be weak to that brand of harlotry.
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#18
As it was the answer he'd expected, Romeo believed it without hesitation. But that didn't clear up the big question that loomed perpetually--who had done that to her, and why? Surely no one would--or could?--kill a were so casually. It could not be a mugging gone wrong... Surely. Especially with those around her looking to point fingers, somehow knowing the thin threads that bound a few distant beings.

Romeo so did want Cataclysm back, but more and more it seemed that all that was left and active may have been Echo, and what a terrible remnant that was.

He frowned, thinking of his last interaction with Chloe, where he'd... told her quite a bit. But the only reason he'd done that was she had started to put two and two together on her own. Really, who would she have told...? But he chose not to confess all that he'd told to Chloe. That was the sort of conversation that was best left dead.

Instead, he shrugged, and decided other things were more important. "Some feline I never got the name of chose to accuse either you or I of her murder. Some nonsense about secret agents. It got tense and he bolted before I got anything more clear out of him."

A very dissatisfying night, for more reason than those offered.
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#19
The back teeth that often caught on his cheeks gritted at the information. Romeo, of course, has been useless in making sure the cat was handled. “Perhaps she is better off the way she is.” Echo grumbled. She had known too much information. Someone as thoughtless as her was bound to let it slip to friends. He wondered how much she truly had known, and how much she had guessed at.

“Have you drink enough courage yet?” He questioned flatly, finding his patience worn and running dry.
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#20
Echo was terrible, but sometimes Echo may have been right.

Chloe and her presence had never been a comfort to Romeo. Her knowing anything at all was dangerous. Better off... but that didn't mean she had deserved it. His thoughts swirled darkly as he finished off the second glass of bourbon that he probably should have saved to savor later rather than to get himself only the barest bit buzzed now.

He was tempted to a third glass, just to piss Echo off, but Romeo found his own patience wearing thin and wholly unwilling to find out how far Echo would go to get what he'd come here for. Setting the glass down with a sharp click, he pushed back from the counter and went back around to snatch the gloves from the waiting hyena, his frown not lightening up for a moment.
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#21
Echo met the glower with a smile as the man finished his drink and stalked around, the little fox posturing with as much effort he could muster. His hand extended for the snatch, and with a soft breath through his nostrils he nodded and turned to grab the knife. Careful now without gloves, he grabbed it by the hilt and extended it toward Romeo, careful to point it down and away so as not to spook the varmint. When he was free of the knife would be when he turned to face away from Romeo once more. His shoulders rounded, and he rolled his neck once before looking downward and tensing. "Only a small section at the top. I will tell you when to stop." He instructed, his voice hardening some as he pushed inward against the beast that was becoming antsy with the anticipation. One hand extended to grip the back of the couch, and the other moved to hove near the gun holster. Echo took in a deep breath through his teeth, then locked his jaw. Ready.
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#22
Working the gloves on with practiced finesse, Romeo grit his teeth and declined to say anything. Nothing he could possibly put into words right now was either helpful or friendly in any way, and things were about to get unpleasant without him telling Echo exactly what he thought of him. Taking the knife with golden-eyed apprehension, it wasn't as though he feared slipping and injuring himself so much as... well, the principle of the thing.

The struggle with this simple element was a were problem, and Romeo so did hate having were problems.

With the man's back to him, it would be a lie to say he did not consider slipping the knife between ribs and calling that the end of this disastrous relationship. Hurting him, at the very least, might have even felt somewhat cathartic after the last few months. But it was not really Romeo's way to go after someone who wasn't a target, and for all Echo was an irritant, he wasn't a particular threat, either.

They were useful to each other, as disgusting a sentiment as that truly was.

Gripping the fool by the shoulder--to hold him still should the inevitable agony prove too much even for someone like this--Romeo took only a moment to look at the silver knife's surface. Maybe the bourbon had done something after all--or maybe he was simply out of fucks to give. Either way, the sharp edge was taken with dexterous precision to the edge of fur and flesh, to cut away where animal had rooted to man like a leech, blade angled to something just barely more than flat.
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#23
The hand on his shoulder only stiffened him more, and he let out the air through his nose in a low, animalistic huff. For all he had prepared himself, for all he knew of the pain of silver... the burn was as if he were being branded. His muscles flexed against the sudden white hot sensation, and despite his best efforts he did let loose a strangled grunt of pain. His lips peeled backward, his back arched in reaction. The blade burned, pain bloomed, and he could not determine how far Romeo had even gone before he felt the familiar ripping sensation from inside himself. His ribs pulled at their places, his joins screamed as they were suddenly stretched against their will. The hyena's yapping and yowling nearly drowned out the rushing of blood in his ears.

"Enough." He croaked, and turned to break from the man with a strength that was no his own. His body moved backward, away from the source of the pain, and he snarled through his gritted, jagged teeth as he reeled toward a wall nearby the couch. His back pressed against it, but he hunched away so as not to touch the searing burn to the drywall. His lungs restricted, and his intestines twisted in a way that made him thing for a moment that he would see his lunch upon Romeo's floor. His hands pushed backward against the wall, and the filed nails scraped uselessly at the paint. He gulped for air as a fish would laid upon a deck.
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#24
Little speckles of blood leeched past the burning wound as the silver did its nasty work, but he didn't shy away from it. Not now that he was committed to it. Though knives were hardly his preferred method of dispatch, it would be difficult to say the idea of pain or even gore particularly fussed him. Really, the worst of it was the attention the small animal in his brain had on the blood, and the way the groan of his... companion... set his teeth even harder on edge.

Suddenly, it was all too much for the hyena, who seemed intent to make a bad situation even worse as his beast flexed inside of him. Romeo would have let go of him then, but before he could even step back, Echo was twisting away. Left holding a dampened knife and feeling his own beast lean warily back, he felt a fresh surge of irritation at having been dragged into this.

Stupid fucker about to shift in his living room. He wasn't having any of that.

Lock him in the bathroom, Echo had said, so nonchalant as if it were no big deal. As if it probably wouldn't even happen. But a scant handful of seconds into being willingly skinned and the asshole was just going to grow more fur and be done with it. Advancing on the other with the knife, he pointed it, breathless in his fury.

"Down the hall, now." Gesturing with the blade, for now he'd not go any closer, much preferring the idea of watching the man drag his breaking body down the way he'd come. Not the bathroom, though, no--he had aims to get the man locked in the laundry room where the were was nothing but metal appliances and hangars to fuss over.
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