What Are You Wondering? What Do You Know?

Cedar Creek 

 This wasn't like an actual baby, there wasn't a standard way to handle it. Someone pops out a kid, you slap them on the back and tell them congratulations. It was more or less implied by their brief text interaction that Dante wasn't feeling very celebratory. No harm no foul in her book, she would probably feel the same way. More than just casually paranoid about him reaching out, cautious as she made her way clear across town to meet up with him at a quarter past eleven. Auto-pilot by the time she had hit Cordova, a familiar set of directions from countless nights of coming home after long days.

This wasn't coming home, but she had a few minutes according to her eta, so she could pretend as much as she liked.

 Ever late, she found a parking spot easily enough considering the late hour and kept her keys in hand on the walk up to the correct door. There was a chance she was supposed to just walk on in like the old days, but that felt intrusive with their new parameters. Her hesitation lasted only a second or two, knocking against the door and adjusting her hold on the six-pack hooked on two fingers. Like a celebratory cigar, but ... not.

 Dante already had a beer open by the time he realized Alex was approaching his door. He'd had a few, in all honesty, but remained unfortunately sober. It was hardly whiskey.

 He was on his feet as she knocked, pulling the door open to let her in. There was of course an instant sort of desire to squeeze her tightly, but it was overpowered by the urge to look outside after her, making sure no one was following - extra senses helped in that area. When he was satisfied that she was alone, he closed and locked the door.

 "Hey," he greeted her finally, and would give in to that initial want to hug her, keeping it brief before he gestured to the couch with the beer in his hand. "Have a seat."

 She wasn't sure what to expect exactly, but a hug was ... fair - a good way to meet in the middle. Allowing herself the indulgence of laying her head briefly on his shoulder before she slipped past and settled in on the couch to the left. Sort of like reclaiming a territory in a way, an idea she tried to skirt even as she set the cans down and pulled her legs up once her boots were off.

"Go on."

 She maneuvered past him and he would turn to join her on the couch, resting his beer on his knee. He sighed as he gathered his thoughts, watching the condensation roll down to soak a ring into his jeans. "This girl spotted me shifting in the woods, so I bit her." A blunt start. "I almost killed her. Ate her dog. I'm not sure she saw my face now, but that was my worry to begin with." He applied varying degrees of pressure to the bottle, rolling it around on its bottom. "Now I'm just not sure I can keep her from getting killed, you know. Dunno if she's tough enough."

 "I mean, you've talked to her about this shit - right?" It was more or less implied, but it was a little late to screen for prospective Were-hires, the girl was bitten, the situation couldn't be unfucked. "She's going to full moon with you all, all that jazz?" Skirting her own previous fuck up and how well that had went in the long-term scale of things.

 "Yes," he grumped at her in reply, in a tone that implied "of course!" He took another drink from his bottle, swallowing with a sigh. "Getting to that point won't be the problem, y'know. Obviously. I'm just wondering how much babysitting she'll require. She doesn't seem like the troublemaker sort, but that might change." Baby Weres could go up in flame like a dry tree in a lightning storm. What if this chick tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and hulked out? He leaned back into the couch, free hand scraping hair away from his face. "Worst case scenario, she gets put to sleep, I guess." No - he knew, but he could hope it didn't get that bad.

 Oh, yeah, of course - worst-case scenario, she could just go off and DIE. She sipped her beer to keep from commenting on that less than comforting resolution to a potential issue. Found it lacking but didn't complain as she watched him and tried to gauge how much alcohol was in his system already.

 "Don't get all doomsday, you're giving her a fair chance and that's what matters." Even if he was miserable about it, at least she wasn't torn to rags and bone fragments in the middle of the woods somewhere. "How's her living arrangement? Not a problem, is it?"

 He huffed a little at her reassurance. He guessed she was right, but even so, he downed his beer like it was his last supper. "I don't know," he grunted. "She's a fucking school teacher, so that blows. I told her she'd have to quit. Stay away from friends and family for a while." He shook his head a little, remembering how she'd asked what he had done. His life hadn't been nearly as turned upside down as hers was going to be. He had flipped the table of her existence - what was this guilt shit?

 He stood, chunking the empty bottle in the bin and moving to the fridge to grab a fresh one, popping the top off with his hand as he maneuvered back to the couch. "If she doesn't hate me already, I figure she will soon enough."

 "Imagine that shit." She chuckled against the lip of the bottle, made a sort of whistle of a sound in the process as she sipped. A kid skips ahead in the directions, a giant feral dog flipping desks and sending children pouring into the hallway like a violent human tidal wave. After she'd trailed off and started to think about it, deciding to keep that to herself out of fear of him not thinking it was as funny as she did.

Distance had a funny way of letting you appreciate shit like that - he was hellishly close to ground zero.

 "I would think the opposite, really. She might resent you more but once there's that little shitty nagging voice in her head ..." Misery loved company, and there was little value in pretending she'd felt anything but loathing and misery in those earliest months. But hell if even the asshole who bit you wasn't better than no one. "It's going to be like raising a shitty moody teenager. ... You ever turned anyone before?"

 Dante nodded, listening to her points. Even a new-born beast would recognize the need for companionship, even if its human host didn't get the drift at first. It would be rocky, sure, but Natalie needed him - or someone, at least. That someone might as well be the one who was responsible for her. He scoffed a little laugh at her comparison of his progeny to a hormonal teenager. It seemed accurate. Even if she did come off as a pleasant chick.

 "No," he said simply. He had never had any desire to. Permanently silencing someone had always seemed easier than taking on an extended babysitting job. "You?" He looked at Alex now, curious. Maybe She was speaking from experience here.

 "Yeah. On accident, once ..." She trailed off, shrugged her shoulders and decided to indulge the line of inquiry. Her fault it came up anyway, and maybe it would distract from the infinite number of ways this shit show could take his life from stressful to hellish. "I got too cocky and I thought I could help someone and I couldn't."

 She glanced over, nudged him with her elbow as she took a drink. "Might not have any chance in hell of real kids but at least I know with a hundred percent certainty I'd make for a shitty mom." Best to keep it light, really - make a joke out of her own failure so she didn't come across sounding like some sort of shitty ghost of fuck-up's past.

 He watched her as she spoke, brows rising some at her words. She didn't get into too much detail or anything, and he decided he wouldn't pry into old wounds. He did privately wonder what had happened to this fledgling of hers. Then she launched off into a joke, and Dante huffed a laugh despite himself, rubbing a hand over his face as if he could wipe away the worry. "I'd probably be a shitty mom, too," he retorted, punctuating it with a long pull off his beer, wiping his mouth with the back of his other hand. "I just can't imagine myself not fuckin'... breathing down this kid's neck every day for the next several months." A disaster seemed inevitable.

[inden]"To be honest with you, back then Jo sort of took over for what I lacked ..." Something that felt oddly more embarrassing when she admitted it to present company. "Hindsight being twenty-twenty, yeah - breathe down her neck. She'll give you shit for it now, but it'll be a headache for the both of you if you don't."" To hell with whatever his kind-natured accidental pet project thought about it personally. ... But also sorry, it was a lot easier to be that confident and clinical when it wasn't directly her problem.

 His eyebrows rose some for her confession. She sounded less than proud, but Dante kept judgment at bay in favor of just learning from her. He nodded a little. "I’m sure she’d rather be annoyed than dead," he grumbled. The memory of her begging for her life was proof enough of that. "Who knows. Maybe she’ll come into it better than we think." Being changed had benefited his entire life. It was difficult to imagine that being the case for this girl, but anything was possible. "What about you? How’s cop life?"

 And there they were, back on this hole in her head and making her grimace as if she had tasted something particularly bitter. "It's going." Which, allegedly, wasn't a total lie and that alone had to mean something. "You know one of yours is a fucking cop, right?" A coincidence that hadn't really connected until then as she stared at him.

 Exciting. He frowned some at Alex’s response. "Yeah. The uh. Da... kila, right?" He was a good Second, promise. "You met him or what?" That must have been a hairy situation. He frowned deeper with his next thought. "He’s not outed is he?"

 "What?" A moment of stupid confusion before she immediately caught up and scoffed. "No. No Squall's completely in the dark about him." Quick to reassure as she reached out as if to squeeze his arm before she thought better of it. "I was randomly assigned a point of contact and with good luck I got him - I didn't talk about you though ..." Not personally, at least.

"I was just ... y'know, making sure you knew."

 Squall was in the dark. Good. Where he belonged, as far as this wolf business was concerned. Dante would hate to have to get his hands too dirty in all this. He nodded slowly for her words. "We don't know each other well. I don't think he knows we've got a mutual friend." He gestured lightly at her with his beer before he took another long drink off of it. His other hand would move carefully to rest on her closest knee. "I don't think he knows a lot about me except that I'm Second, so. That's fine, I guess." He looked down at his beer. It would be unwise for Dakila to put police work over Pack, to say the least, but he wasn't about to drag her into wolf politics.

 Stupid, but the hand on her knee was comforting in the sense that it was easy, something old and familiar even if it was all on ice. She knew better than to say anything about it, rocked forward to grab another beer before she settled back again. "I'd tell you if he was hemorrhaging information." Not that he asked her to, but there was a hierarchy of loyalty both in sway and in her personal life, he ticked both boxes.

"He's a good guy though - seem's to get pack first but ... lotta morals for someone who lives as he does."

 Dante was comforted for her loyalty. It was a stark reminder of how foolish he had been to think she would put being a narc before being a Were, a reminder that she was doing what she had to do but that didn’t change who she was. "I’d appreciate that," he muttered. If Dakila became a problem, he could be taken care of just as easily as Natalie.

 "Alina wanted a cop on our side, I think. I’m sure she thought about her choice. He’d be smart to remember his place." There it was, his ever burning mistrust of cops, bleeding all over the place. Whoopsy.

 "He says he'll get me off the hook." A hard and simple fact after a lull in conversation that in hindsight hardly felt long enough for something so important. "Squall, I mean - he says he'll burn my shit and say I went MIA or whatever. I don't know if I trust him to do it, but ..." But it was more than nothing - better than just a brick wall of indifference.

 "Sorry, new wolf - I just ..." She trailed off, no way of saying she wanted to share even the possibility of good news.

 At first, his face furrowed in confusion. How was Dakila going to do that? Then she clarified, and his eyebrows eased up, a look of almost pleasant thoughtfulness there on his face. On what conditions, he wondered. Just... continue to be an informant for an undisclosed amount of time? Alex swerved suddenly, going back to another train of thought and offering an apology. The hand on her knee squeezed a little.

 "It's alright. Good distraction." It definitely was good news. Something he needed. He would figure out how to handle Natalie's situation either way.

 Quiet, she nodded and considered the coffee table, the spread of bottles and the distracting touch of the slight pinch of his hand on her leg. It was fine, everything was fine - the girl would get the hang of things and everything would hopefully work out for the best for everyone. "I'm sorry I can't be more help. I'd offer to talk to her but, ..." The way you contain a possible breech of information wasn't to open it to more sources, she wasn't that stupid.

"Anything else? C'mon," Clearing her throat as she turned to pull one leg more or less up and press the small of her back to the arm of the couch. "No fucky shit at work? Weird laundromat encounters?"

 Having Alex talk to Natalie seemed like it could end badly. Maple syrup and hot sauce. He might be wrong - it could be totally fine, but something in his brain somewhere ticked repeatedly against the notion that it could blow up in his face. He chortled at her question. There was nothing else. Life had been quiet until some poor chick had come across him in the dark in the woods.

 "You... I didn't, uh. Natalie is alive because I thought of you after I'd already bitten her." It wasn't really an answer to her question, but it was a response. "I thought about what you had said. How I never think of anyone but myself." He swirled his beer, feeling stupid now. "I don't know why I told you that... I'm not looking for a pat on the back or anything. I just. Thought you should know." Genius. Dante grunted at himself, lifting his beer to chug what remained of it.

 "What?" It was dumb, flat as she kept herself twisted towards him and leaned in to kiss him hard on the cheek. "I meant it at the time, but you've been better y'know." Good for Natalie, good for her because he would still take the risk and talk to her even if she could think of a rough dozen of reasons why it was a risk on his part. "You're not that terrible - not all the time at least."

 Dante scoffed, considered going to get another beer from the fridge, reached out to pull one of her cans off the ring instead as he put the empty bottle on the table to join the others. He wasn't that terrible - he was good enough to be elected Second of the Pack, which was good enough, he guessed. "You're not too bad yourself," he murmured. "Thanks for coming here and listening to me bitch." Even if there was little in the way of advice to take, her company and her support was enough to bring some comfort, even at the expense of risk.

 She leaned in, slow at first and then committing to laying her head on his shoulder outright. It was hardly anything technically, but it easily filed as the most human contact she'd had in well over a week. Watching the table and squeezing her hands between her knees as she considered how to proceed without sounding like she was rooting for information. "Do you know what happened to Larkspur?"

 She leaned her head on his shoulder, and he would lightly prop his own head against hers, eyes ahead, resting somewhere in the middle ground before them. Her question was a curious one, and he would shake his head slightly against hers. "No... what's going on?"

 Weirdly enough, she sort of hoped he would have a real and genuine answer for her. Sure, she'd yell at him for not volunteering it - but closure was closure no matter how delayed. What she got instead made her slump down further and worm her hand between his arm and his side to hold at his elbow.

"It's gone, Dante. Not - you know, Larkspur, but ... I can't feel them."

 Oh. Dante blinked a little, making room for her hand as it wedged into the crook of his elbow. He flexed against her hand in a gesture that was meant to be a gentle squeeze. Reassuring. "You haven't, uh. Heard from them, or anything? Reached out?" He lifted his head to glance down at her. "What about the chick that bit you?"

 "Not a word - not from Kai, not from Jo, no one." She snorted at the squeeze of his arm, closed her eyes and turned into him before she reluctantly pulled herself up to sit properly. "I guess I could text her, I just - you know, I assume if no one told me if shit blew up then it wasn't just a slip of the mind." A weird sense of personal guilt that she could hardly stand.

 Dante frowned deeper at her. That was definitely shitty, if that was the case - shit blowing up and her just being left out to dry. He was pretty sure he recalled her saying they weren't all exactly close knit buddies, but still. "Call those bitches. Maybe it'll bother you less if you try."

 Call those bitches. She laughed, leaned away from him and closed her eyes as she dipped her head back and considered it. What was holding her back? Fear, really - probably of rejection, mostly of a whole lot of nothing. Not angry or anything else, just ... nothing. "Alright. Tomorrow, it's late tonight and Kai's a bitch in the mid-afternoon so ..." Well, she had been pretty damn alright when shit it the fan that one night with the coyote joyride, but that was an isolated incident.

 Dante watched her lean away, the movement of her throat as she laughed. He anticipated her throwing it in his face, like it was a bad idea, and maybe it was. But instead, she decided she would. He grunted, amused but a little satisfied for her. "Let me know how it goes," he said simply, taking a drink from his beer. The hand on her knee squeezed then with the intent to tickle.

 "I can tell you now how it will go, it's going to be like bleeding a fuckin' stone to get one tiddly-" She lurched forward a bit when he grabbed her leg, a perfect placement that made her kick out the tiniest bit before she reached up, laughing as she tried to halfheartedly shove the side of his head, "Dick."

 It wouldn't be easy, or whatever. Dante would let her stew in her worry of the future another time. For now, torturing her seemed a little more favorable than wallowing in either of their woes. She moved to shove his head and he would retaliate with a chomping mouth, meaning to bite her hand, but not too hard. "Drink your fuckin' beer, turd."

 "Oh, this beer?" She pointed towards the table, nodded at the bottle even as she rocked forward to grab it. Deciding to ignore the bite even as some high shrill coyote Napoleon complex of a voice tried to urge that she escalate the situation. Mumbling against the mouth of the bottle, she kept her eyes forward to keep from laughing. "Go clean your bathroom, you crusty sock." Content to get back to something that was ... normal enough.

 This really was kind of normal feeling. Paranoia took a back seat to simply being present and enjoying the company of an overgrown but endearing brat. He scoffed at her insult, moving to put the cold can against her neck. "Or what? Gonna hit me with a toaster?" Joke was on her, he had yet to replace the one she’d dented with his head.

 She hissed, raised her shoulders as high as she could manage to try to escape as she lurched forward and grimaced. "I think I lost my throwing shit at you privileges, but you really are trying to warm me up to the idea." Turning to try to pinch the inside of his elbow with a good deal of force - petty, but not completely horrid.

 "... How long do you think I should wait?" A question she was going to sit on, not wanting to saddle him too much with her troubles. Blurted out now in a moment of paranoia. "I mean, if he really does just stop callin' and shit - how long do you think I should before I can just ... be normal again?" Was that even an option, really?

 Dante chuckled at her response, then growled abruptly for the harsh pinch on tender inner elbow skin. He would try to flex his arm to trap her fingers there, but she picked up heavy conversation again. That meant momentary maturity, and he would fix her with proper attention once more. He blew a breath through his lips, looking down at the littered coffee table as he thought about it for a moment. "Shit, I dunno... six months? I don't wanna steer you wrong. Is he up your ass pretty often?" Maybe not that much, considering the fact that he'd been able to be in touch with her, however lightly, without an extra nose in his business so far.

Six months.

 You could do a lot in that amount of time - a half a year, two full fucking seasons. So ... hopefully he would follow through and then she could turn that particular hourglass over and just ... spin her tires. She pulled her hand away, suddenly very disinterested in her beer. Some bratty and entirely human part of her brain wanted to snap at the timeline, at him for suggesting it.

 Six months, his wolf-friend would probably at least start to have her shit together. Maybe someone would move into Larkspur and then ... she definitely didn't want anymore to drink. "Yeah ... you're probably right. Thanks." Well, no thanks really - but not his fault.

 Something... changed. Something. He lacked the emotional intelligence to put his finger on what exactly that something was. She had pulled away, gotten quiet. He tried to file through his words, seeking his mistake. "What," he asked quietly, staring at her.

 She'd gone through the paces of this whole mess, from numb to angry to defeated to the second wind of resistance to ... but this wasn't happening. She watched the carpet, frowned at the tight feeling in her throat that made her think that her voice would sound higher and off if she tried to talk. That if she got too far into that particular water she'd fucking drown and then she'd cry and it would ruin what was meant to be a perfectly fine evening that wasn't about her shit.

 "Not you." Hardly a full thought but she didn't trust herself to string together enough words without losing her composure. "Just - s'long time." There was the slightest hitch, barely anything - but she didn't gamble for more.

 Not him. That was both relieving and a little uh. Embarrassing. Of course it wasn't him. She had a lot on her plate. It was a long time, yeah - but damn if last Christmas hadn't felt like it had only been two weeks past the one before it. A watched pot never boils. Gingerly, Dante reached his hand out again to rest on her back and rubbed circles that were meant to be comforting. There wasn't jack shit else he could do for her. It sucked. "Sorry."

 Stupid. She grimaced when he apologized, the empathy there making her want to pinch the bend of his arm even harder than before. Instead, she pulled her legs up, feet on the edge of the couch as she curled up small and turned to lock her arm around his middle. "I'm sorry too."

 She curled up against him, and he would disrupt her only to set his beer down. "It’s okay." What she was apologizing for, and what he was forgiving her for, he wasn’t quite sure in this moment. But he would embrace her all the same, pulling her into his lap if she would let him. Even Dante could appreciate a good cuddle.

 She'd have to agree to disagree on that one, but his damage was minimal in comparison. She was - well, she was where she was. And he'd lost a roommate who threw things at him and put out. Finding it easier to swallow in those terms, less personal if she just sort of thought about it as an agreement of convenience and nothing more.

 But while she wouldn't outright say it, she was grateful when he pulled her in. The faintest laugh at the absurdity of being tugged into his lap even as she laid her head on his shoulder. Well aware her arm would fall asleep soon enough like this but keeping it there as she tilted her head back to kiss him on the cheek before laying back down - mentally looping a soundbite of the simple words: it's okay.

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