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It had taken a couple of days and more than a few fistfights, but Fenrir had gotten a name, finally. Camira. The newest Archdemon of Hell. He should've known, in hindsight - he and Seirasam were a remarkably successful team, and Sei had been eyeing the Archdemon position for as long as Fen had known him. Without his hellhound, the demon was vulnerable, and the position would be ripe for the taking if he was removed. Of course the person now in that position would be the one who killed him.
So, he had his answer. He knew where she lived. All that remained was the question: what would he do about it?
Fenrir thought of Fenix, of Teo. The spaces in the back of his heart and the back of his mind where Seirasam used to be.
He thought he wanted some coffee.
Tired feet, bloodied knuckles, a bruise blooming across his right cheekbone, Fenrir dragged himself to A Likely Story. He'd been without Bigby's coffee for six months, and if he was going to be walking to his death at Camira's hands, he wanted good fucking coffee before he did it.
They'd never spoken, outside of a grunt of a greeting and latte, please. Fenrir still found it comforting, somehow, to exist in the space of a man he'd idealized for so long. He was a legend in hellhound circles - craved, venerated, exalted, and he'd turned his back on the whole thing. Fen wished he could do the same.
The bell to the shop tinkled when he entered. He went straight to the cafe, ignoring people's sidelong looks at his battered appearance, and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Bigby's massive frame. He stepped up to the counter.
"Afternoon," he said, before he caught himself. Idly he scratched at his days-old stubble. He started to ask for a latte, then stopped. He made eye contact with Bigby for the first time, possibly ever. "I... don't know what I want."
there were days, especially like this one, where his choices gave him pause. why had he picked such a mundane pastime? why had he turned his back on an entire lifestyle that had very well suited him, if not for the nagging little subservience that didn't quite sit right. why did the autumn season ring with it this incessant need for cinnamon, of all things?
there's a rhyme and a reason, he's certain, behind all the things he's done in his life. the weighted measure of his words, of his actions, those all made sense to him. but sometimes, when he had to wear two jackets, even despite his bulky frame, to hide from the cold of this earth, he wonders why he misses the hellfire like he does. hell's a shit place, one hell of a hell, alright. there were a few demons that had made it their business to come and mock him, his presence something to smirk at. he'd never considered the fact that he was the bigby. he was just bigby, as far as he had any reason to care for. just the barista at a likely story, just the guy that always grabbed something sweet on his way home from work.
just the hellhound with a reputation that stretched almost as far as the list of his accomplishments. just the one without a master, some seven hundred years strong now. he's mid-thought, all jumbled up and contemplative on this shitshow of a tuesday-- or was it wednesday?-- when the bell at the door twinkles to life, and searching eyes are blinking pensively up at the figure skulking their way across the divide.
this one is named fenrir. he's a habit, despite everyone's assumption that he didn't care, to memorize all the people that are regulars. especially, he might add, the ones from hell. even with muted senses and a body all laid out for the wrong processes, he can smell something far-removed on their coats, in their hair. like every time they shift they're smothered up in hellfire, reminding him of a place he hasn't visited in centuries. it's a heady smell, one the humans all insist is fire and brimstone, but it's something deep. it's almost as familiar as the smell of coffee is, now.
this one hasn't been around in months, now, time drawing out the silences that had filled their 'conversations.' there's a few hellhounds, just like the demons, but they come to stare, to whisper, to relish in his presence. he doesn't understand that, not much at all, but if it makes them happy, and if they're paying him to do it, he doesn't rightfully care at all. "afternoon." he intones, and bigby nods his greeting just as he always does. there's something different, as the moments drag into a minute and then some. it's different like the bruise or the uncomfortable stubble he sports, or the way his body language screams like something's eating him up. "i... don't know what i want." comes the reply, finally, and bigby can't help the snort that that rings out of him.
what a life he lived, to be seeing revolution and evolution in the way a man ordered his coffee. he can already feel the uncomfortable weight in his throat, mouth parting even as he steeled himself to have to speak for the first time in hours. "sweet or bitter." he more states than asks, even if it's meant as a question. and when that's not answered as quickly as he'd like, he steamrolls along, expression never betraying his own distaste at having to speak. "seasonal is in stock. cinnamon, eggnog if you ask nicely." bigby's not ashamed to admit he's already bought the eggnog that's been ever-so-kindly slipped onto the local market's shelves, and certainly not any more ashamed to admit he'd brought it in and had been making drinks for himself since his shift started. to think, all those hundreds of years ago, the angry pup would become an old man, more keen on eggnog than serving his society.
Unsure of what he'd been expecting but surprised nonetheless, Fenrir blinks owlishly at the man and his not-a-question question. It takes him a moment to fumble up a response, and by the time he does, Bigby's already barreled along.
They haven't exchanged more than a dozen words in all the time Fenrir's been coming to him. He's a little dumbfounded. It almost makes him smile. "You never have been a slouch with the seasonals," he mumbles. Sweet and creamy has always been a soft spot for him, though he isn't certain if he's always liked it or if he's just gotten so much ice cream with Teo that his taste buds have permanently adjusted. "I'll have the eggnog." He catches himself. "Please."
Peering around the rest of the cafe, he notices the ratio of customers to employees is unusually disproportionate. Bigby's expression is as stony and dispassionate as ever, but Fenrir has a sudden, visceral desire to do something productive for once in his fucking life, and before he really fully realizes that he's speaking he's asking, "Do you- want a hand?"
It's not that mopping and counting change are appealing tasks, really. He just - he's fucking tired. Gods, he's tired. He might be following Seirasam to the grave and he's having a hard time figuring out if he doesn't want to die or if he doesn't want to want to die, and a little banality in the presence of someone so solid sounds infinitely fucking appealing.
The problem, he thinks, is that he's acting on his own. The master is dead and the other soul attached to his own is gone from this world and he has no one and nothing telling him what to do. Just his own blind loyalty. Self-destructive tendencies. He implodes without direction; he chafes against command but inherently needs someone to obey.
"It's weird, I guess," he says, cursing his careening thoughts. "I can't make coffee. I could clean, though." The stubble is itchy. When he looks at his hands he notices bits of flesh stuck under his nails. "If you want."
but he feels it, in his bones, the years catching up with him, that little whisper of you don't have much time left that wakes him with a cold sweat. there's no point in selfishness, not when he's amused at the way fenrir remembers his affection for the seasonal flavors, not when there's that ghostly look that anyone gets when they face down death masked across his usually pleasant face. no, selfishness will do him no good, nor do either of them any good.
there are fever dreams, sometimes, that he gets on rough nights, when he remembers too much of the burning embrace of a demon near him, when his subconscious betrays him and wonders what if. but looking down across the counter at the other hellhound, he's reminded once more why he chose this path, chose loneliness and resolute autonomy. they're all aware, sometimes, when a demon passes. it's not so much a heralded event, even among the number such as bigby that scorn the whole lot, but rather a solemn affair. those that tie themselves to demons know the loneliness that nips at their heels and draws their thoughts to the grave.
"i'll have the eggnog." the other man finally asks, before reminding his manners and tacking on a harried "please." that makes bigby feel all the better for it. he's moving through the motions, cracking a knuckle idly as the fridge drifts shut behind him and a cup is set out to start pouring, when fenrir speaks up again, drawing his attention back across the divide that sits between them. "do you- want a hand?" fenrir asks, almost as taken aback by his own suggestion as bigby. the only answer, for a time, is the arch of a brow, gaze sliding easily from those hunched shoulders across to the cafe. enough of the customers have stumbled off into the book store itself, and there's no line queuing up behind fenrir, but there was still the matter of the spill from earlier... his thoughts are cut off as fenrir continues, babbling.
"it's weird, i guess." he starts, causing bigby to arch his brow once more, an invitation to continue. "i can't make coffee. i could clean, though." all comes tumbling out, and he's not unaware of the twitching of the corner of his mouth, ticking upwards in an almost imperceptible attempt at a smile. there's not so much warmth there, or nostalgia, or familiarity, but it's the simple admittance that makes bigby pause. "mop's in closet." he finally adds, once fenrir's gone silent all over again, thumb jerking over his shoulder toward the closed door on the other end of the cafe. he knows all about needing something to keep you busy, when the energy and the thoughts piled up into a cacophony of sound and grief and worry. it was easy enough to relegate tasks, if only to help the other. "trade you coffee for the mop when you're done." it's the most he's said all day, this entire conversation piling up on his conscience, before his thoughts and fenrir's presence are swept away by the need to finish said drink, fingers lingering over the spices and contemplating exactly what to put into it.
in the vision he constructs of himself, fenrir is not a talkative man -
(and wouldn't things be better if he were? wouldn't seirasam be here, alive and well?)
(maybe not here - fenrir knows better than to think the man would have stayed - but he'd be alive, at least. that's not nothing.)
- but bigby puts him to shame.
a mop for coffee. "thanks," he says, only moderately floored by bigby's acceptance of his odd, impulsive offer, and quietly fenrir goes and fetches the mop. he gets to work.
for a few minutes he feels words bubble up in his throat, pushing at his bruised, split mouth; but he keeps his lips sealed and they die back down, simmering unspoken in his belly. always he has pictured himself as something cool, aloof, unruffled; he doesn't speak much, but what he says is necessary and important. he doesn't emote much, so when he does, you know it matters.
but is that the truth of it?
the short answer is no. fenrir will talk about everything to avoid communicating anything. but introspection hurts; so he thinks instead of bigby, a man who genuinely says so little but expresses himself so effectively through a few shifts in his eyebrows. it's impressive. it's intimidating. it's what fenrir wishes he could be.
(but he's not, and he never will be.)
(so he has to settle for himself.)
fen mops up the spill, then mops the rest of the cafe, then wrings out the mop and gets some proper cleaning solution and does the whole thing again. tries hard to not let his mind wander; he focuses on the task, the rough wood in his hands, the pain in his back and the ache in his feet.
when he's done he wrings out the mop again, hangs it up in the closet, returns to bigby. doesn't quite make eye contact.
"if there's anything else," he says, "just let me know. anything you need."
they were empty vessels, a whole society built to be filled up and complete, and he'd chosen to spurn it all and be a whole being on his own. his own person. there's the softest hum from the back of his throat, contemplative, all too loud in the silence that follows the mop's sloppy wet motions across the floor. he considers the nutmeg, then the cinnamon, then settles on both, and turns to grab the coffee itself. he hadn't known fenrir or his demon all that well, before now, but this silence that draws itself pregnant between them tells him more than he could ever know from talking to the other man.
there's no need to say anything when he finishes the drink, blinking away the steam that swirls up to his face and wraps pleasantly around him. it's warm, inviting, a promise of all he had learned in this life. he knew how to kill, how to destroy, sure. but bigby had challenged his own society and learned to make, too. a simple smile graces his features, for a moment, before wiping away and the neutral expression of old wrapping round his ugly mug. he looks up just in time for fenrir to return, and nods at the words. "s'fine. i don't need much." he says in reply, offering up the cup without a word after the lack of eye contact. "sometimes you just gotta do stuff for you."
fenrir accepts the cup with a nod and a soft-spoken thanks, takes a sip, and is immediately blessed: he’d forgotten how fucking good bigby’s coffee is — the perfect ratio of flavor to coffee, the temperature exactly right, the sweetness of the whipped cream enhancing but not overloading the rest of the drink — and he fights the urge to swallow it all down. savors, instead, and wonders when exactly it was he last did something that created instead of consumed. he tries to help, takes people in - fenix, teo - but then he turns around and he hurts them, and he hurts them, and maybe that’s just what he’s made for, hurting and killing and living like a ghost in his own home.
but he takes a sip of bigby’s coffee and thinks, maybe, if he tries, he can make himself into something more.
sometimes you just gotta do stuff for you.
”thank you,” fenrir suddenly says again, with more force than he intended. ”this is really good.” he cradles the cup in his hands like it’s something precious. ”and i-” he almost slips, almost loses his nerve, but he lifts his gaze and makes eye contact, finally, and soldiers on. ”i’m out of a job.” the most concise way of explaining it, he supposes. ”so if you’re hiring, or you just need a hand for the day, or something. let me know.”