made nests inside men's sunday hats

Red Rock 

The last of ten mason jars was lifted from a large pot of boiling water and added to a wooden workhorse to cool along with the rest. Remington stood back to observe his morning's work with crossed arms and an approving nod. It was nearing noon, and his stomach was starting to grumble with hunger. But his preserves needed to seal, and were much too hot to snack on anyway.

"Towel." He snapped his fingers. It had been a while since he had made these and he had forgotten a step. Into the house he went and out again he came with a towel in his hand that soon was draped across the jars. "There." The man canted his head. That did not look right. There was a soft pop as Remy cracked open a cold beer and scrutinized the row of sweet mustard pickles.

Searching his memories for 'how Ma used to make them', he recalled a rooster-print towel beneath the jars on his old home's counter. Aha. Too late for that though. Not really needed, either, he figured. Remy plucked the towel off the jars and threw it over his shoulder as he sat on one of his log benches and contemplated what he might rustle up for his dinner.

He'd given Remy enough of a heads up that it was 'sometime in the next day or two' but really, beyond that, Iago was bad at schedules and was glad to find that the rat didn't particular seemed fussed about it. So when the work he'd been doing in Avondale was delayed today while a separate team worked on some issues unrelated to carpentry, he'd found himself with time to make the trek into Red Rock and Remy's little.. what was this, exactly? A ranch, maybe? Minus animals, given the whole... predator thing, he supposed.

Whatever, it was nice, and if Iago was the sort to buy land and a home--he wasn't--he could see himself very happy someplace like this. Red Rock was one of his favorites, even if it was owned land these days. It had never put him off before, and wouldn't put him off now.

So as he pulled up the long drive and parked, he did so with the window down, and left it down even as he got out and began to pad further into the property, keeping himself alert to the presence of the rat he knew was around here. "Remy!" he called, not shy about trying to flush the large rodent out of wherever he might be. A lion has come calling!

Sometime before his companion arrived, Remy had got up and went into his house, where he had raided the fridge and cupboards for some grub. "Iago!" His spread his arms wide and grinned the just same as he stepped out onto the front porch. In his hands were a pack of deer sausage and a bag of sausage buns.

"My friend! Hungry? I was just about to chuck some sausage on the grill." Remy wandered on over to his companion, setting his food down on his log bench next to his beer as he passed it by. He extended his hand to clap Iago on the shoulder. "I just finished up a batch of sweet mustard pickles too. I'll send you home with a jar or two if you like." He winked.

Sorry, was there anyone on earth who didn't love being greeted like that? It was a very Iago thing to do, so he did appreciate it from Remy in turn. It hurried the steps of the shorter man--much shorter, it was easier to note, now that they weren't sitting at a table. Iago didn't often take note of people being taller than he was--a regular occurrence--but Remy had a certain presence. The juxtaposition of his species and his personality just made it more humorous.

"Always hungry, always appreciative of things to take home," he said, never fretting over kind gestures or charity, especially among friends. Much as he didn't actually know tons about this wererat, today would probably change that a bit. "I can't think of the last time I had a home made anything." His own cooking--rare as it genuinely was--did not count as such by a long shot.

Taking the clap on the shoulder without faltering he met that wink with a further smile that bordered into becoming a proper grin and shrugged. "You sound fantastically domestic. How have you been?"

Remy laughed deeply from his belly. "Haw, you sound like me!"

Except for the bit about it having been a while since Iago had had a home-made something. Remy was always cooking and preparing his own food and much of that food he had acquired himself from anywhere but a grocer. He was a hunter and a fisher. Back home he had had himself a garden of herbs and vegetables. He was also an artful scavenger and forager who knew the edibles that could be plucked from your surroundings.

"Oh hah, don't be fooled now. I might sound domestic but I got a wild side." Remy arched his brows and gave them a playful waggle. He laughed again then, just a short huff. "I've been good. Real good. Getting this placed fixed up a bit and getting settled in." Hands on his hips, he cast his blue eyes about his property and bobbed his head. It was coming. He had fixed up some of the run-down damage of his house, had cleared some brush and tidied up trash and old things that had been laying around. "Yup," he affirmed. "Getting there."

There was yet much to do. The lodge he had barely touched and the barn was the reason his friend had come. Remy had done some work himself, tearing out the old stalls and cleaning it, getting ready to convert it into a workshop. But a workshop required surfaces upon which to work.

"What about you, eh? Life treating you well?" The question was returned as Remington gestured his friend over toward the grill that sat up on his porch to the left of his door. He scooped up the sausages, buns, and his beer as he passed them by, setting them all down on the cover of the side burner. "And can I get you a beer or anything else to drink?" The hiss of propane was followed by the clicking of the igniter, before a flame woofed to life.

What a character. Iago watched him in a relaxed sort of way, the smile he had one one that wasn't quite as intent as it could often be, mostly in the eyes and the way they crinkled slightly at the corners as he squinted in feline pleasure. Following Remy onto his porch, he rather appreciated the solid feel of this homestead. Something someone had built with a lot of love and hope, Iago imagined. He bet he could build something like this someday, if he ever gave himself the chance to settle down. It seemed unlikely.

Finding a place along the railing to pull himself up to perch with his legs dangling down, he watched Remy at that comfortable distance and shook his head, "I am good for now, but thank you." He'd rather see Remy focus on food, if he was being honest. "I have been doing wonderfully, actually. Getting lots of work and feeling more and more like this is someplace that I am staying."

Remy had no way to know it, but Iago putting down any sorts of roots was not done lightly.

The grill would be left to heat up as Remy leaned against the side of his house.

"That's great to hear! I'm a bit of a homebody myself, I don't tend to wander far. I came here on a bit of a whim needing a new home; this property came up for a price I couldn't refuse. Figured Cordova offered me the best chance at living this life, being ground zero and all. I sure don't regret coming." He had but one small disappointment but did not dwell on it and believed it was temporary.

"Have you found any of your brothers and sisters here? Got a pride in the works?" Remy cocked his head, studying the man before him. He sensed they stood on equal footing, and yet Iago bore features he had only ever seen on his former King, whose power towered above him. The eyes, the teeth, and the claws of the beast within separated from the rest. But his King had only ever sported these assets temporarily and only when needed.

Occasionally, he would glance to the temperature gauge to assess if it was time to chuck the sausages on.

Iago let his feet swing slightly, heels knocking gently against the struts of the railing. Remy's life did sound pretty simple and straightforward.

"Found a couple," he admitted. "Spent the last full moon with them, which was... nice." Understatement, but it was all rather personal for him, and for whatever reason going on at length about Sokol or a potential pride to anyone but Sokol felt... like he shouldn't be doing it. The reasons for this were unclear even to him, but he tended to follow his gut anyway.

"What about you? Any rats?"

"Good! Good." Remy nodded, smiling in genuine happiness to know that his friend had met up with a few of his kin.

The grill was heated. The hiss of meat hitting the hot grates greeted them. "Haven't even had a whiff of another rat," Remy answered as he closed the lid and turned back around to face Iago. "I'm surprised by that but I'm sure some will turn up here or there. Meantime I've made friends with a couple coyotes, and got myself a real nice lion pal too." He winked. "Rat ain't so sure about it all but I am. Good folk the lot of you."

He chuckled. Folded his arms and crossed one foot over the other ankle as he leaned against the house. "If you don't mind me asking, I'm just curious now, but do you control..." Remy unfurled a hand from the crook of his hand and with a finger, gestured at Iago's hand and face. "Those features of yours? My former King could partially shift bits of himself, and I've been trying because man, a hand of rat claws would be some convenient to scratch an itch with but. Haw. I ain't got there yet."

"Ah, man," Iago said at the announcement that Remy hadn't found anyone else. Truly a shame, for all Iago thought that their kind could do just fine on their own if they truly had to. Was it better? He had thought so for a long while, but he'd... come around, maybe a little. Enough to not shy away so sharply as he once had. If nothing else, the companionship of other individuals was really something special.

The coyotes, himself... that was what Remy was living with, and it reminded Iago a lot of his own early days, so he wouldn't worry too much about this big man and his prospects.

The smile was soft and easy, even when Remy started asking the sorts of questions that inevitably anytime someone became comfortable or curious enough to override the basic social protocol of not asking someone why they looked the way they looked. Iago was far from offended--he knew he wasn't normal and with another were it was actually much easier to answer than it was when dealing with the normal people.

"Don't mind at all," he assured. "It's... not really a control thing. Actually more like a lack of control," he admitted, sitting up a little straighter on the rail as he laughed at himself. "Stayed too long in a shift. Several times. Often, in the beginning. Bits of you start to get stuck when you do that. Eyes, then teeth, then claws... whole fun thing. Been years."

While 'fun' was used sarcastically, it was very much worth noting that Iago didn't seem like he suffered too much under the burden of consequence.

This was not something Remington had ever heard of, and as Iago explained, his face was a portrait of wonder. "Well ain't that something." He grinned.

"I've never come across that before. Good to know because sure as I'm standing here if you hadn't told me that I would wind up with really unflattering teeth by and by." The dark-red eyes and the claws he could tolerate, but even though he was the sort of man to take everything in stride and make the best of things, he would take issue at having his grin permanently featuring four long curved incisors. Ever-growing ones at that! "I like being shifted and the more I get control of it the more I tend to do it. I like exploring the world on a different level. Something neat about it."

He popped up the lid on the grill and rotated the sausages a quarter-turn.

"I wonder if anyone has ever gone further than you and landed themselves a tail or got trapped as their beast forever? Have you met anyone else with stuck bits?"

Iago nodded along--as someone who also liked being shifted, he could empathize. It was good, then, that Remy knew him. Best to not go tempting the animal to taking more than it was already due. Remy being big and soft in the way that he was, Iago had a hard time imagining the man ending up in the same state at himself. It would be impossible to hide any of it!

Honestly, the werelion didn't mind so much about being a visual warning. Don't make my mistakes, kids!

"I haven't, actually. I thought I saw a gal with sharper teeth a while back, but we didn't talk much and I wasn't like... completely sure, you know?" Weird circumstances that those had been. "But yeah, if it gets any worse from where I'm at right now, I have not clue. I'm a little more careful these days. Frequent lion walks instead of long ones."

Smiling still, he realized that the lion was rather close to the surface now. Intrigued by food and the rat, but also by the stretch of land that was Red Rock. It was a usual shifting place, but today was not the day for that, sorry kitty.

The man offered a nod. "I know just what you mean. Some people have naturally pointier teeth. I like your strategy though. Go more often instead of longer. I think I'll employ that myself going forward. I feel like I'm on the cusp of a breakthrough with my little buddy here. I just need more some practice or something. Kind of slid backward a bit since leaving my old Rodere." Remy hummed thoughtfully, turning the sausages another quarter turn. "Feels like that anyway. Stagnated myself a bit I think. Sure made the rat unhappy and more unruly. Eh. Something to that grouping up thing."

It made perfect sense to Remy that there would be. People were a social animal. Rats were a social animal. Neither was as happy as they could be when bereft of company. Remy found perfectly suitable companions in lions and coyotes and all other manner of shifter but his beast was frantic at worst and downright aloof at best. He was always aware that at least some fragment of his soul was not content.

"Honestly, I hate the hierarchy of it all, but it is very good to have friends," he conceded, unable to deny that. Perhaps he would have stuck harder to the 'going it alone is just fine' line of thinking if he hadn't met Sokol. But he had met Sokol and so... well, those were the sort of feelings you couldn't simply set aside. For better or worse, this werelion had finally found some notion of what it was to crave his own kind.

"I spent years and years of it alone so I know it's totally doable, and I guess you're no stranger to that, either, but... yeah, the right lions, rats, whatever--it's..." He found himself unable to articulate it, something skirting closer to deeply personal than he'd realized before he'd opened his mouth in the first place. The resulting conclusion was less poignant as a result, some thoughts unwilling to be shared. "Worth pursuing, if you can."

"I'll agree to that."

Remy held out his beer before he had a swig and set it back on the grill.

"I'm fortunate that I haven't been alone too long. I was taken in by a group as soon as I was infected and they raised me up. Taught me a lot. I owe them my gratitude and appreciation but in the end I couldn't abide their politics. They didn't like to associate with other Weres and... I ain't about that. I think we all need to stick together even if our beasts are tied in some way to their own kind. I don't think it has to be... ah well whaddyacallthat, mutually exclusive like?"

He shook his head. Flipped the sausages. They were just about ready to be chucked on to the buns. "I think we can have our groups and still be good neighbors to one another, you know? We're all still people more or less. No sense backsliding and segregating ourselves from each other in some new fandangled way. How's that gonna benefit us any?"

He hadn't brought out the toppings, he realized.

"What do you like on your sausages, and do you want your buns toasted?"

Iago let his face crinkle in distaste at the description of Remy's former crew. It was big NO THANKS for the free thinking lion, the idea of isolating like that. Even with as much as he enjoyed his friends, the idea of associating with them and only them as some sort of... anything. What was the purpose? What did it serve? Misery, sounded like. Absolute misery. "Course not!" Iago agreed--in no way were their beasts the end all be all of everything, and that coming from a man who vibed very strong with his own.

"The world is way too interesting to close our eyes to all but a part of it." Shrugging, he slid off the railing and down onto his feet, unable to sit for too long.

"I'll take mine however you like yours," he said, trusting a cook's palate and not particular enough to shun much. "And toasting never hurt anyone."

Frankly, he would have just eaten the dang thing straight off the grill as was, but it was hardly the most civilized of guest behaviors.

"Well alright then."

One finger was raised in a gesture of hold please. Into his house he went and back out just as quick, a bottle of French's mustard in hand. The sausages required little for condiments; he had seasoned them in a mild cajun flavor and did not like to mask the natural flavor of the wild meat. The mustard was was twirled before Remy sat it down on the side burner and set about tossing the buns onto the top rack for some gentle toasting.

"I think you and I think alike," he commented as he spread the sausage rolls and layed them flat across the grates. "So humor me then, would you? What do you think about vampires?"

Iago had turned to survey the front yard, really admiring it. He did love Red Rock. He could hear something bravely rustling about in the grass.

The first comment when Remy came back made him smile lightly, but it eked away at the follow up. Not long ago that would have been a very easy question to answer in a truthful fashion. Now it was... well, more complicated than that. Bella had thrown him for a real loop, and just the briefest recollection forced him to take a deep breath and settle the slight flip of uncertainty.

But when he turned back to Remy it was with a full on smile once more. "They're alright! I've met a few I really like and for the most part I think they're just trying to live their lives same as any of us. Just. You know, pro-tip I got from a friend: don't go looking them in the eyes if you don't super trust them."

It was a good warning.

Remy kept a careful eye on the buns. They could go from a perfect golden brown to black as tar in a real hurry especially if he let himself get swept up in the conversation. But he was listening, thoughtful hums and nods and periodic glances toward his companion all indicators of this.

"I haven't run across too many." Being a homebody might have had something to do with that. The first of the sausages was laid on a bun and set aside as he continued. "The odd one. I agree though. I don't think they're so different from anyone else. Don't matter what you are anyway, there's gonna be good folks and bad. But what's that about the eyes?" It wasn't the first time he had heard something along those lines. There was a lot of mistrust among his fellow rats toward vampires but none of his companions could give him a solid answer as to why. "Don't tell me they shoot laser beams now eh? Hah. My old King there, used to just tell me to stay the heck away from them."

The last sausage was sandwiched and a squiggle of mustard graced the top of each one. He offered one over to Iago; the rest were waiting their fate on the cover of the side burner. Remy wasted no time taking a big bite out of his.

Iago accepted the offered food with a gracious smile and a chirruped, "Thanks," before he got a little serious, considering what he needed to tell Remy here. "Man, honestly, I think I'd prefer laser eyes." Really, really prefer laser eyes, actually, but that was a wee bit personal to go putting that much feeling into, so he kept it light and indirect.

If asked, Iago had most certainly never been mind controlled in his entire life, not even once and certainly not twice. And even Iago wouldn't believe you if you told him it was four times, for all that was the truth. But the ones he did remember, no matter how much he would deny that, had left him plenty wary at this point in his timeline.

"It's mind control, amigo! They can tell you to do anything if they want to. Like... hypnotism or something." For all it hadn't felt like that. It had been so subtle he hadn't even really realized or believed it at first.

"Just something to keep in mind, just in case. Most of them are alright, though. Wouldn't do that for no reason, I don't think."

And then he ate.

Remy was a man of the moment generally speaking. He tended not to dwell on the past nor give in to daydreaming about the future. But as Iago spoke of the reason you ought to avoid the gaze of vampire, the man's blue eyes fell distant to his feet and he scratched at his beard. There were puzzle pieces falling into place in his memories.

"Hm." He took another bite and chewed. "I think I'd prefer the laser eyes too. Mind control and hypnotism! There ain't no telling what someone could do with that kind of power. I can see why some of my old pals were wary around them if they had some idea of those kinds of goings on. Say, did you know they can turn into animals?"

His eyes twinkled with amusement as he grinned around more sausage.

Well, Remy took him seriously without freaking out, which was about what Iago had hoped for. So he smiled and ate and listened, then hastily swallowed so he could reply with more enthusiasm, "Yeah! Seen a dog and a bird with my own eyes and everthing! Almost unfair, how quick they do it. I think they might do cats, too, so maybe be careful out there."

Just a well meant tease to a rat. Sorry, he still had a wild time thinking of a man this big being a rat!


"You charmer," Remy said as his grin slowly crept to his ears. "Cats! Haw haw. Have you seen me as a rat?" No Iago had not. There was a devious twinkle in the blue of Remy's eyes. He might not be able to compete much with overgrown Weres when he himself sized down, but a vampire's lickety-split house cat? "I can't transform in a blink — and I agree it's a smidge unfair and I might be envious by times — but once I get there..." Even a run-of-the-mill brown rat could make a menace of itself let one that challenged the size of an average house cat. "I'd make any ol' tom or queen think twice."

The man downed the last bite of his sausage and then lifted his brows. "Could show you if you like."

That had Iago giggling slightly to himself, knowing exactly what Remy was getting at.

"Would it disappoint you to know that I've run around with rats like you before?" It was one of the reasons, maybe, he was a little more fond of Remy than he often was with your random weres he ran into. Rats were all strange in their own ways, he felt, and he imagined a lot of it had to do with what a different sort of were they were. Dangerous, no doubt, but that rodent brain had to be so, so different from a cat, right?

Or maybe Iago just made friends with strange people, who knew!

"But seriously, sometime you and I need to go play cat and mouse--I promise I wouldn't even try to make dinner out of you."

Loud laughter was chased by, "are you kidding me, Iago? That delights me!"

His grin was all pearly teeth before it gentled to a smile. "I'd sure love that." The comment was delivered in a softer tone thick with genuine warmth. It had been a long time since Remy had shifted with anyone else, and his grin grew broad and bright again at the idea that some might find the idea of a rat and a lion to be nuttier than a squirrel turd. "I trust you. That I knows. The only question I have though is can I ride on your big ol' head? Haw haw!"

Remy slapped his thigh and then reached for another sausage as he started off the porch. "Might as well show you what I dragged you out here for," he said as he waved his hand to beckon his companion along. "Grab another sausage and come on down to the barn."

Truth be told, Iago had certainly hoped that it would delight Remy! :3

The lion practically glowed with that friendly spark of joy as they all but agreed to make this happen sometime. Full Moons were meant for the other lions, these days, but Iago had no qualms whatsoever with a recreational shift, so... sometime. Definitely. He'd cajole Remy into it and doubtless it would be very easy.

The question of whether or not he could ride on his head was answered with a grin and an open handed shrug. They would just have to see, wouldn't they?

The invitation to follow--and to take more food--was taken to without hesitation. He had to walk with a pop to his step to keep up with long-legs over here, but it wasn't an issue. He couldn't help but wonder if a lot of Remy's disarming attitude was required because of the man's size. It was probably the opposite of what Iago had to do: posturing to prove that just because he was a slight man he wasn't easy to cow. Remy wasn't scary; Iago wasn't scared--a fun pairing, if nothing else.

"Seriously, Remy, this property you have is amazing. How new is that barn?" It looked in proper shape, but Iago immediately had the absolute urge to go climbing around in the inevitable rafters.

Built of red and blonde round timbers from Douglas fir trees, the barn matched the house not only in its handsomely aged composition but also in form. It had a traditional monitor shape: simple but functional.

"Don't quite know the age," Remy answered as he unlatched and swung open the two doors. To the left and right just past the entrance were two storage rooms. The right-hand room also housed a latch and pull down ladder to reach the loft above them. Once fitted with stalls for six horses, the rest of the space had been cleaned out and made open; a canvas prepared to be worked on. "It's been around a while but like the house and lodge—" he gestured with his sausage toward the other building on his property. "It's been kept up for the most part. It's needed and still needs a bit of love but it's a keeper." He smiled even as he chewed a bite, glancing around the space. It would be hard to miss the warm gratitude and affection he held for his home.

He stepped on into the barn at a slow pace. The wooden floors bore the marks of having been trod upon countless times. They were cracked and dented and scuffed and stained, but except for the odd board here and there the floor was solid. "It was a family that owned it. They ran an outfitting business with a few horses but after the kids moved away for school and other careers and the like, they figured they'd best retire elsewhere to a more manageable cottage." It was a heck of a lot of upkeep, a business like that. "Most of their acreage was sold off to neighboring ranches. Then I got real lucky. This property along with the hundred acres left came up for sale and I managed to snag it."

Remy sighed. "Real lucky," he repeated.

"So! Gonna turn this into a workshop. But I needs some shelves and tables and the like." He turned to Iago, grinning again.

Remy was a talker, but Iago listened to it all while he polished off another round of food, feeling enthused and interested, nodding here and there and looking around, soaking it all in. He had a hard time fathoming living in this much space, let alone owning it. It was just... entirely different for him to consider a life where he had more than the bare minimum required. Would it be nice? It felt like it would be nice, looking at all this. But what would he even do with it, honestly.

Maybe it was the fact that it was basically outdoor living that drew him to it. Throw open the windows all the time. Hell, he didn't need the house, just the barn...

"And luck continues as it seems you know a man who can help you plenty!" he exclaimed, seeing his entrance into this. With his hands free now, he stuck them both on his hips and looked closer at the space provided for this apparent project. "If this is where I come in, I suppose this is where I tell you that I'm certainly on board to help. Whatever you need, my work is worth the price, I promise."

And maybe he'd just idly hope for a leak in the roof or something else that he could volunteer to tackle at some point as an excuse to get up there.

"Great!" Remy spread his arms. "I don't doubt you do fine work so name your top dollar and like I told you already, I'll keep you going with all you can eat grub and drink too."

Stretching his hands behind his head and leaning back on his heels, the man took a gander around the barn. There was a lot that could be done but he didn't need much for his purpose and more could be added later if he changed his mind. "I'll turn you lose on it if you're fine with... ah what's they call that then? Creative freedom? Figure you knows best. Don't need nothing fancy just functional. Let me know what you need up front and anything you need for supplies."

Remy: the epitome of easy going.

Remy and Iago seemed to be of similar minds in this--if someone worked their craft and did it well, they deserved to be compensated appropriately. Iago would never argue with someone insisting on paying him, and the prospect of being fed and likely having good company on and off as well... for a side project this was shaping up to be a very interesting one!

"Creative freedom it is!" He could already see ample spaces and layouts for both shelves and work benches. Really, this probably wouldn't take long at all to get up to Remy's standard, which was almost a shame because it would end so quickly. A couple of weekends of hard work, maybe.

"If you want to source your preferred wood I can get some quantities to you--otherwise I think I've got what I need. I'll just take some measurements and stuff before I go."

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