Starling Hills Utilities
#1
Dante arrived just past noon at the king's castle. It was, of course, not a castle. But even idling at the curbside he felt some sense of awkwardness, as if he was bound to kick over a vase or something the moment he walked in. A little... dread, maybe. But he'd done worse things than talk to a wolf, or a cop.

Still, it threatened to whisk away any idea of why he had come here. Even as he approached the doorstep, he found himself scraping his thoughts together. Pack stuff, mostly, right? Yeah. To be here, for real. See how he could help. And. Maybe something not quite pack related. He hadn't decided yet, whether he would bring it up at all.

Dakila knew he was here, and Dante knew that Dakila knew this, but he knocked all the same for the sake of respecting a man he really didn't know. When the door opened, he would greet the other man by raising the large brown paper bag in his grasp, lifting the rich scent of Indian food between them. His wolf, more expressive, tail-wagged and lick-lipped in passive greeting.
#2
Dakila had let Natalie know that Dante would be over, in case she wanted to clear out. But it sounded like she'd had some work to do and was just going to hang out in her room, so...

Having counted on Dante to provide food as initially intended, Dakila had really only pulled together a drink. Which was difficult for him! When he knew he was hosting someone, even for a moment, all his instincts kicked in. And he heard his mother's voice, very insistent.

But Dante was not the kind of guest he should fuss over anyway. As evidenced by him lingering around outside before he arrived, like he was still debating whether or not to cancel instead. Ah well, they were working on it.

At any rate, Dakila was very prepared to open that door to his nice and underwhelming home for the man.

Who he smiled at, in spite of it all. "Come on in." The living room would greet them first, the kitchen just behind. Down the way, to the right, the hallway of rooms and the like. A far cry from the woodland mansion that Alina had always favored.
#3
The door opened, and there he was, more a stranger than anything else, but a familiar face nonetheless. Natalie's question fluttered through his head - what had he been like, all those years ago, compared to now? He had no fucking clue. Better, he could decide, vaguely. In a number of ways. He wondered if Dakila would ever consider unturning. If the easier life would be worth such a thing.

He stepped in with the invitation, finding he appreciated the simpleness of the home. Nat's scent hung around heavily, too, and he could not help but take a brief glance about for her. Close, but not present, and that was okay. They were working on time spent, too.

Lingering, Dante felt about as uncertain as he was afraid he was, both for being in unfamiliar company and for being in an unfamiliar home. He never knew what to do with himself in some other creature's burrow. So he cleared his throat some, and looked down at the bag. "Thanks for havin' me. Where you wanna eat this?"
#4
"We can take it to the table. Smells good--from somewhere nearby?"

Leading the way into past the couches and into the slightly separated kitchen, where the blinds were drawn back and natural light was the name of the game at this hour. His own house, in a state Dakila didn't often see it, truth be told. Even on the weekends there was always something to do. Just fortunate for him that today that 'doing something' meant he was here at home.

Gesturing Dante to the table to pick his place and do as he wished, Dakila moved to the fridge to pull out a limeade he'd put together to appease the invisible mother on his shoulder, and brought that over before he doubled back to get plates and the like. Normal things for him to do, even if he was fully, utterly cognizant of Dante being here.

Even if he wouldn't treat it like some thing to be wary of, he knew too well where he and Dante stood.
#5
"Yep," he answered Dakila's question simply, mostly because he could not even begin to know how to pronounce Bawarchi Biryanis confidently. Followed him dutifully to the table, took a seat as directed, and tried to re-center himself there. Focus. Think about what he'd come here for, and be direct about it. He tried to plot this path as he unpacked the paper bag, already darkening in some spots. Rice, biryani, samosas, fried bombil, curry. He'd picked out a great smattering of things, much as he had with Natalie, rather than hem-hawing over specifics of what someone might like.

He waited for Dakila to return, dishes in tow, and nodded with a murmured thanks. Felt himself trying to figure out how to shuffle into this gently, and ultimately gave up.

"I haven't been... a part of this pack." He started bluntly, looking directly at Dakila rather than digging into food containers. "Just not a rogue by technicality." By Dakila allowing him to stay linked to the rest of them under his strange umbrella. "I'd like to fix that."
#6
They settled in, and while food was certainly some kind of priority--inevitably, given what they were--there was something else heavy on Dante's mind.

No surprise at all, this was about a lot more than merely hanging out, making up for lost time. Or... well, it was about making up for lost time, but it wasn't about Dakila specifically.

At least, at the moment, it was a bid for help or assistance. A self-admitted absent wolf hoping for help when something got too difficult. Not that Dakila would have begrudged it in the least, but as he sat here making steady eye contact with the other man, he was glad it was more like this.

They would see where it would take them. He nodded to the other, accepting his point with nothing to add or rub in. Dante did not seem the man who needed reminding that he could stand to be there for Natalie more, or that he needed to make up his mind about where this was all going in the long term.

So.

"You may not have believed the pack has had much to offer you, Dante, but... I've always felt like you've had plenty to offer the pack."

Maybe some insight into why he'd been allowed to behave as he had.
#7
Maybe that was how he'd been feeling - that they had nothing to offer him. But the same could be said for himself, if you'd asked him just a few months ago. Dakila had not cut him out, and he had not cut himself out for some weak, straggling sense of obligation to Natalie, and even that wasn't something he'd done much to back up until recently.

Even in trying to be open-minded, a man digging for solutions, he still had his doubts. What did Dakila know about him, anyway? The strangers that they were to one another. What did Dakila see in a man he didn't know? Maybe this was what made him feel the most awkward. His deepest inclination was to mistrust Dakila, given the badge. He had to work against that. He had to look at this man through Natalie's eyes; someone who she trusted far more than Dante, without a doubt, and there was a reason for that.

So, he'd take the bait.

"I... appreciate it," he settled on, still not quite reaching for food. Putting a little more focus into keeping his tone even, thoughtful. "What do you think I have?"
#8
It was interesting to see this man from the position Dakila found himself in, now. When he'd first started out at this, Dante had seemed like... a lot. A presence that existed, was a part of the old guard, intimidated by merely existing. Dakila wasn't one to let that get the better of them, but he had spent a long time seeing Dante as someone well above him.

That had changed, obviously, without either of them really even interacting. A few conversations here or there. Rejoining the pack. Offering to help, never really getting anywhere more often than not. Mostly they talked about Natalie, who ended up being their one common point of interest. And in that time, Dante had sank in his standing, and Dakila had risen to a point of being arguably one of the more powerful people in the state. Let alone the pack.

Perhaps Dante was not everything that first impressions had told Dakila he was, but that didn't mean he was nothing.

"You are probably the most capable fighter we have around. Maybe Dove could give you a run for your money but... I mean, obviously I'm not inclined." In spite of training and his work, he was approximately never keen to throw down. "But I think that's the obvious part. The security you could add to the pack. I think less obvious... and maybe something you don't realize I'm inclined to think of as a strength, you have a different point of view."
#9
The obvious part, as Dakila put it, was his ability to literally throw his weight around in a meaningful way. Security. It did seem obvious; a pack full of softies, even Dakila to some degree, could use someone like him. A shield and a sword all in one. His grit and grime could stand between the likes of Nat and Holly, and whatever this god-forsaken county might have to throw at them. It didn't matter if Nat was second in command, or equal to him in strength; she needed protection all the same, perhaps perpetually a tender-hearted pup. What she'd said of her feelings regarding the fight night disaster made him sure.

The less obvious part, and a point of internal contention, was his point of view. It was almost funny. Dante was a creature molded by days of old; shaped by people who ate their dead and picked battles over scraps. He was not much older than Dakila - maybe not older at all, he actually had no idea now that he thought about it - and yet there was that generational divide between them, and then some. Their roles in human society was another story entirely. And yet Dakila did not carry the bitterness that Dante had for it.

His gaze wandered down to the table between them, weighing the king's words against his own thoughts. He could have been cut out long ago, if Dakila had so desired, and it was this, at least, that had stayed his hand. A strong wolf who could see things in a light that the others might not, for better or worse.

"A different point of view," he repeated after a while, nodding his head slowly, thoughtful. "One way to put it. I am different, from all of you. Think that's bothered me while you're over here admiring it." The confession came with a low, short laugh. What a thing to say. He looked up again, meeting Dakila's gaze, and shrugged his shoulders just so. "There was a time when I think you and I were the only men in this pack. It was a bunch of young girls, and - poor Nat, you know. I did that kid wrong. I just felt like a sore fucking thumb."
#10
It was hard to feel the outsider, the black sheep, the (perhaps) unwelcome presence in a place that otherwise meshed together so well. And Dante wasn't wrong--for a time there really was nothing here but young women and the two of them. And while that had shifted at various points over the years, and had now settled at something a little less lopsided, it had been a strange place to start when they were so freshly abused by abandonment.

Dante laughed, but wasn't it all just the little tragedies they liked to make for themselves? They all did it, in one way or another.

"Sore thumb is still a thumb. Better to have a little pain while it heals up than to cut it off, right?"

Maybe Dante would roll his eyes at metaphors, but it made Dakila chuckle because it felt a lot like the point he was getting at.

"Katya never joined the pack again because she had a different point of view, too. But... she was one of the most valuable people, most indispensable voices in my ear." Oh, how he missed her. Occasional texts were never going to be the same. "I wouldn't ever make you stay if you hated it, but I think there's a reason--maybe a Natalie shaped one--you have stuck it out."

And he could work with that.
#11
Dante did not roll his eyes at the metaphor - at least, not externally. It briefly made Dakila an eighty-year-old man, and in turn made Dante feel closer to twenty. You just don't understand me, grandpa. He said nothing to it, at least, the image of a man doing his best to absorb something of what he'd come here for. Thought fondly of Katya, too, though probably not as much as Dakila. She'd been grittier than the rest of the girls, too; had stormed a library with him, making a vampire house call.

Ah-ha. Case and point, old chap.

A Natalie-shaped reason. Dante huffed, nodded his head. As if Dakila could force him to stay. There was no telling where Dante would be if it weren't for his varying sense of obligation to Natalie, but it wouldn't be Ridgefield county. At least without her he wouldn't have been so wishy-washy.

"Yeah." A simple confession, and it was at this point that he would begin to poke open boxes. "And she's spoken real highly of you. Worries about you." Maybe things Dakila already knew. He suspected as much. "So. I'd like to take whatever weight I can off the both of you. If being soldier is the best way to do that, I'm happy to do it."
#12
Oh... he knew he worried her. More than ever, now, when she had to be subjected to the sort of things he didn't let show on the surface. He saw it in her face nearly every day, and began to wonder if he was generally underestimating his own stress load for simply being 'used to it.'

Probably. He didn't especially know how to relax. This was about as close as he got.

"If soldier is what you want to do, I think you're easily our most qualified. And it would certainly help. I can't be in territory half as much as I would like... knowing you are at least available would go a long way."

Imperfect, when only a king could sense, know, truly control... But better than nothing, always.

Giving the other a few seconds of a head start, he also followed in on collecting food.

"I know we're not especially comfortable with each other, but I do think we're on the same side."
#13
Dakila left the ball in his court, over all. Stay, if you'd like. Be soldier, if you'd like. But these statements weren't shrouded in indecisiveness, or uncertainty; the other man made it clear that he wanted Dante to stay because he saw something in him. Wanted him to be soldier because it would ease his mind. That plucked something in him, a point to the one he'd brought up earlier. That he wanted to be of use, and they seemed to be on the same page about how he could best do that.

He didn't expect the last bit, really; both blunt and tactful, acknowledging their thin, awkward relationship. But it had never crossed his mind that he might make Dakila "not especially comfortable." Or maybe he was misunderstanding - maybe for his part, it was as simple as not really knowing Dante. Not comfortable, as in not familiar.

"Mm," he began, finding some room in himself to relax, just a little. "My charming good looks tend to make people uncomfortable. Pretty used to it." A joke, where maybe continue seriousness would better serve him, but he couldn't think of what else to say just yet.
#14
A good little show of just not how accustomed to each other they were. It was hard to be earnest, to face their years of knowing each other for what they were. Two people who would not only have not associated with each other without the wolves, but also would have been quite at odds.

So Dakila chuckled, shook his head, took a moment to load his plate. Another confession to follow.

"I was a little relieved when you weren't here when I called that meeting to let everyone know about my promotion. And going public."

Eyed him then, wondering if it would still be a spot of contention. Could be. He was prepared for it if it was. But he did not really want it to be the elephant in the room they always ignored.
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