Part 2 of the HH/Winter/Twi collab. HH is in black, Winter is in purple, and Twi is in blue.
Kokichi followed Lee’s lead-- lol, that sort of rhymed-- and slid their way across to near the window.
Jade had thought they might each take a donut or two, ask a few easily evadable questions, and leave her and Nathan to make an exit. Instead, Liam wanted to sit down and Kokichi took a window seat and sparks now they had to sit down and make awkward small talk. Jade usually didn’t mind small talk--there was a way to make almost any question interesting, if you gave an answer they weren’t expecting, and that either took care of the awkward part or got the other person to walk away--but small talk with an Epic was bound to be awkward no matter what she did.
Well, awkward up until they wanted a fight. That, technically, would end the small talk.
Nathan quickly claimed the side of the booth across from Kokichi and let her slide in before taking the seat beside her, across from Liam. They shared another quick glance, and Nathan gave a small tilt of the head toward Liam. Jade nodded, but didn’t quite relax. He seemed ordinary. If Kokichi was willing to travel with a maple-vanilla-whatever, then they probably weren’t the type to kill at random.
Jade clasped her hands on the table, grabbed one of the creme-filled donuts and held it in both hands, swinging her legs beneath the booth. She had to say something, had to get this conversation over with so she could port the two of them to the other side of town without anyone seeing.
“Nice donuts,” she said at last. “And the shop is nice. And so was the--er, I mean….” Calamity. She took a bite of donut and swallowed. “It’s nice. All nice.”
Liam selected a chocolate frosted donut with sprinkles. Besides being slightly awkward, Jade didn’t seem particularly unusual. Nathan, on the other hand, could be more than met the eye. He had the capacity to be hiding something, but Liam had no idea what. Sparks, that was what was so frustrating about this. Liam would be entirely happy with leaving now, but he knew that because of Kokichi, something important was here, and with every moment he grew more sure it was these two.
“So, I noticed your, uh, packs. Do you hike? Out of town?” Liam took a bite of the donut and silently cursed himself. Packs? That’s so random. Small talk was never his thing. Bear always loved to talk, and Liam let him.
Jade had an answer, but it got lost the moment Liam asked why they had packs and if he was asking about that he’d want to know about the survival gear and then he’d want to know where they’d come from and where they were going and she’d thought about what to say but she couldn’t remember it now, and--
“You could say that,” Nathan said. “Jade’s from around here, been showing me through.”
Kokichi pulled one out of the box. It was the brightest, most flavorful, and funnest looking of the bunch. It was practically glowing with flavor, the light reflecting in a way designed to arose hunger in the eye of the beholder. Everyone in the room would, by extension, be enjoying their meal so much more.
Why did they hesitate? I won’t. The small moment would pass undetected, or it would be completely obvious to everyone around them. So Kokichi shoved it into their mouth, taking too big bites, expecting the rush of flavor that should come.
That didn’t come. “Lee,” they said, food still in their mouth as they tried to conceal the concern that was rising in them like the acid in the back of their throat. “That food I gave you before. Did it taste like anything?”
“Hmmm? It tasted normal. Should it have tasted different?”
That was an understatement.
But... what else was there to say about whatever this was? How long had they been like this? They couldn’t remember the last time they’d tasted anything, besides the rust of blood or burn of acid.
Kokichi’s voice dropped off in sync with Liam’s heart. The encounter with the illusion Epic had shattered Liam’s impression of Kokichi as a carefree, hyperactive youth, and he was beginning to realize just how much they were an Epic of extremes. If things started to escalate--and just after he hoped the donuts would solve everything--Liam had to get Kokichi back to the van.
He leaned towards Kokichi. “Do we need to leave?” He whispered.
Jade had always been aware of how little she understood what had happened to her. Nathan had something to do with it—he had everything to do with it, despite his protests—and it likely wouldn’t have happened without that song playing. But now, watching that pain she’d known all too well come over Kokichi like a cloud over the sun, she knew it more acutely than ever. It was as though she’d been lost in the wilderness and found her way to some hunter’s cabin in a fugue, and now she heard Kokichi calling out from those same woods. She wanted to tell them which way to go, where to find the path, how to avoid the thorns and the wild animals and the river that would sweep you away if you so much as leaned in for a look.
But she didn’t know. She’d been a monster and then she’d been a girl again, and saying as much wouldn’t help a bit if she couldn’t say how it all happened.
It was Nathan who spoke up, as she seemed to have forgotten how. “We...we can go if you need a minute.”
“No, it’s fine.”
Fear or pity.
If they had to choose, they’d pick the fear anytime. But it wasn’t like they could just switch between a moment of melancholy and a moment of rage, not without consequences later.
Not for something like this. This was small; it was something they could laugh off. No reason to make into a thing.
“F, my sense of taste.”
They didn’t seem to care too much about the aftermath of the Donut Incident or whatever it was that had happened, which was a good sign. Or at least, not a bad sign. Jade wanted to relax a bit, but all she could think of was the other ways this conversation might go wrong. If a donut not tasting the way Kokichi thought it should taste was enough to cloud their cheer, then something equally small could set them off, and Jade couldn’t guess where those potential fuses might be.
Sparks. She’d been there. She should know how to handle this better than anyone.
“So,” she said after a minute’s consideration led her to conclude that Are you from around here might not strike Kokichi as a neutral question, tied as it would be to past they’d tried to escape, “Is--is it nice here? It seems nice. Some of it. I mean….”
She trailed off, taking another bite of donut--which, while not bringing the pure joy she’d wanted from a donut, tasted as delicious as any donut she’d had.
“It seems like a good city,” Nathan put in. “Fairly safe, or as safe as any city can be. Better than Calgary, at any rate.”
“Haven’t been here long.” Kokichi put the donut down and went back to playing with the drawstring of the yellow hoodie. “No idea what Lee’s deal is. I yeeted myself into his van earlier today, so...”
That strange look Jade had wasn’t going away. They’d thought it was pity, but… it wasn’t quite. At the very least, it wasn’t just pity. There was something else there, something familiar.
Something haunted. Those jokes should’ve, by all rights, brought them back from this uneasy tension.