Dainty Bird Diner Kings and... Yeh.
Y'ain't ten minutes early, you're late. It wasn't a standard he held everyone too, but it was a dumb saying that stuck with Shane because basically his whole life was built around dumb sayings. It did lead to a fair reliable punctualness. Punctualment. Punctuality. There it was.

He'd texted Suri a bit more, set up a breakfast. Could've cooked, had it at the farm. First impulse, but... Was a reason to have it here. Mmm.

Shane sipped at his black coffee, too hot to really drink. squinted at it. Frowned. Folded his arms and looked out the window to the parking lot. Frowned deeper. Settled into glowering at the coffee.


Spring seemed to be playing a game of tag, or hide and seek, or something. A week of warmth, a week of cold, back to warm, back to - on and on. Suri was not so bothered by it either way. Anything beat waking up naked in the woods in the middle of January in the mountains, didn't it? The weather was good enough to drive the creaky old Buick with the windows cracked, at any rate, observing the sleepy status of Hollowstone on a middling April morning.

Shane's silver pickup was easy to recognize, if only because she'd learned to spot it by now. She parked right next to it, killed the ignition, and stepped out with a cacophony of groans and whines that came with aging iron. Didn't have to see him to know he was there, thanks to the truck, and also thanks to the friendly trill that vibrated out from the cat in her head. Strong cranky friend was nearby.

If there was a host, they were not around to intercept her before she could properly spot him. With an easy smile, she made her way over to the table, greeting him with an immediately extended hand while simultaneously angling herself into a seat. "Howdy, Shane."
Fair bit distinctive, sound of that machine. Rickety but reliable. Heard it come up his laneway a good few times now. Familiar. Would have known she was coming even if he hadn't been sat staring out the window. Feel of her too, approach of the cat. One Stowaway wasn't quite decided on, but was pert-near certain was his favorite to fight. Been fighting Hope's longer, liked being so much bigger. But Suri's...

Shane didn't have the words for it. Wasn't more spirited than Hope's; both fought with gleeful ferocity. Supposed it was way they could fight in the bigger form that had proven so enticing for the grumpy cat. Yeh. Was it, likely. Couldn't fight tiny Hope cat when he was like that. Just scoop her up, chuck her over the house. Be no good for anyone.

Anyway, couldn't smell much past the coffee he kept shoving in his own face, but was well prepared by the time Suri walked in. Popped up a bit stiff, a bit formal, when she approached. Took the hand. Shook. Sat back down as she did.

"Suri. How're you now?"
Good old Shane. A man so reliable that he was predictable. That wasn't a bad thing, really - it seemed to suit him just fine. It was all relative, anyway. She wondered just how well he handled change. Did he let the tide and wind guide him about, or did he throw out his anchor and get smashed between the waves and the rocks?

She fixed him with a widening of her smile as their hands met and the cats had a brief moment to converge, then settled back down and rested her elbows on the table before her. "Another day in paradise. And you?" She asked this with her full attention on him. Well - most of it. In the edge of her vision, she was observing the movement of a waitress who had seen her sit down, and part of her mind was reveling in the idea of a cup of cheap, hot coffee.
Little nod. He folded his arms immediately, dismissing the urge to fix his gaze on the coffee cup and instead meeting her eyes. "Oh, not so bad." The correct response, but also reasonably true. Like most serious discussions, Shane wasn't much looking forward to this. But it was... Suri had a fair calming presence. Partially cat stuff, yeh, but also just something she'd earned with her steady, unbothered acceptance. What he appreciated about her.

"Been thinkin' about, uh, Monica n' Ophelia n' suchlike." Just get right into it. Except waitress (Peggy) had gotten a heads up that he was meeting someone and had been keeping an eye. Showed up straight away, asking after anything she could get them. Addressed Shane by name. He was a known entity.

"Usual, yeh. Please n' thank you." Always got the same thing. Well, had changed a bit once cat, bigger portions, but it was a change they'd all settled into.
He got right to it, and Suri listened mindfully. Thinking about the girls. Of which she had only met one, still. Good grief. Something to take action on later and not to punish herself for now, at any rate, especially as the waitress came strutting up to them. Suri smiled gently at the woman, eyeing her shiny plastic name tag for a moment. Shane, clearly no stranger here, would have the usual, of course.

"Cup of coffee for me, and... the loaded omelette here," she decided easily, one ink-dotted finger pointing to its spot on the menu. "Thank you."

Shane's treatment of waitstaff likely spoke to the sort of man he was, too. Suri did not have to take great care to offer similar treatment. She'd been in the service industry long enough to know that a little bit of kindness could go a long way.

"What've you been thinkin' about 'em?" she prompted her companion as Peggy sauntered off again.
Mmm. Came to it now. Part he needed to lead with and most didn't want to talk about. Shifted uncomfortably in his seat, folded arms tightening a moment. Glanced out the window to the parking lot again. Place it'd happened. Forced his gaze back to Suri for the words.

"Kay. Well. Monica's situation." And Parker's for that matter, though he didn't mean to go dragging her into it. "Could relate. Had a, uh... Had a incident. Last year. Scratched a fella one night."

Untangling one arm to reach for his coffee, he pulled a fresh sip off the top before gesturing with the little mug out the window. "Right out there."
Kay. Well. What followed was briefly puzzling. Monica had scratched a man a year ago, right out in the parking lot? Suri looked out the window, gazing at the asphalt as if she could see some playback of it all. That didn't make sense, did it? Would Monica and the man have gone on unnoticed for so long?

She was close to asking for more details, as well as they could be asked for in a place like this, but it sifted gently into place as her mouth opened up. Oh. Oh, Shane could relate. To Monica. Her eyebrows rose gently, expression one of sudden realization.

"Oh," she said gently, as if he were talking about having found a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk somewhere and not upending someone else's human normalcy. It opened up a whole well of questions that money on the ground didn't. "Okay. Got it. Hm... that's a long time ago." It was a prompt, of sorts, for as much as she was making an effort to not be pushy. Where had that man been this whole year?
"Yeh." Was a while. Fair bit of time had passed between it happening and any apparent consequence. Then again between that and now, fuckin' saying anything about it. Anything real.

Impulse to justify, explain how he'd come back in the daylight. As himself. Well, human self. Made some effort to learn who the guy was. Find him. Some effort. Not fuckin' enough. But felt like an excuse. Like he'd be trying to make himself look like he'd done better than he had. Didn't like that. And Suri'd shown...

More interested in understanding than judging, likely. Don't fuckin' get preemptively defensive, bud.

"Uh, found out later he'd been turned into... somethin' else." Which was an option, apparently. Wasn't real sure about specifying what. Probably no harm, but he tended to lean toward leaving folk to their own business. Say as little as he could about them to others unless there was reason. "Mutual friend. Folded him into her... uh, herd or suchlike. So."

Shrug. Fished one arm free to sip his coffee.
Yeh. Suri blinked, waiting quietly, watching Shane chew it over. He was certainly a man to think before he spoke, after all. Eventually, though, the explanation did come, though it wasn't quite what she expected. This unknown man's course had been changed, intercepted. The must have been relieving for Shane. What a weight it must be, either way, to have that responsibility on his head. But how convenient, perhaps.

"Herd," she repeated with an amused chuckle. Relief was Suri's, here, too, however minor. The man was no stray cat. He was being cared for. "Lucky you, hm?" She eyed him as she suggested this, wondering if lucky was how he felt. She knew better than to assume it could be so black and white.
Lucky him. Shane grimaced hard, jaw clenched. It had all fallen out with remarkably little inconvenience to him. Really no greater consequence than a tongue lashing from Asha. Deserved worse. Felt lucky, yeah. Felt shitty for that.

Deserved worse.


Took a long draw from his coffee, wishing for the moment it carried a different kind of burn. Had mired himself in that all through his first year, though. Better not to keep giving in.

"Anyway," he pressed on. "Supposed you ought know. Uh, whether you lead or..."

Shifting, he managed to look even less comfortable than he'd started. "'Nother thing I wanted to talk about."
Suri didn't miss the discomfort that seemed to squeeze him in the moment, like a titan's hand gripping him around the temples. Yeah. Not so black and white. She watched him with a soft gaze, not staring so much as observing with a cat's half-lidded gaze. Content to listen, to let him push their little boat along. And so he did. Anyway.

Leading. Something else he wanted to touch on, even as he looked like his intestines had rocks moving through them. Suri raised her eyebrows some, but kept quiet for a moment as their waitress - Peggy, her name tag reminded her patrons - dropped by with Suri's own cup of coffee. She smiled and offered a quick thanks, pulling the mug closer to herself, steepling her tattooed fingers around warm ceramic.

"I'm all ears," she prompted him when they were left alone again, speaking in a tone that suggested she wanted to tell him to relax. Which maybe Shane was not totally capable of doing.
Shane appreciated Peggy. Generally, but specifically right then for the stalling her return let him stretch out. And the refilled cup she left him with. He tried pretty hard to keep that going with a long sip. It was fresh though, too hot for anything like comfortable drinking. He choked it down anyway, knowing the burns on his tongue would heal quicker than they had in the past. Couldn't keep the intensified grimace from his face for the discomfort though, the physical added to the other kinds he'd already been sitting in.

"Well..." Kay. Yeh. Get after it. "Suppose... From talks n' suchlike, first few times you were over at the farm, didn't seem like you were real... mmm, adamant about..."

This wasn't going real well. Shane cleared his throat and leaned hard into brevity. "Interested in leadin' myself." Folded his arms again. "Ain't interested in causing a problem if that'd be one."
Too-hot coffee down the hatch! Suri could practically smell the delicate little hairs in his throat going up in flames. It was good incentive to keep from trying to get after a sip of her own right off the bat, at least - anyway, here he went again, staggering through his next topic of concern. Starting, stopping, humming, starting again. Diving right into it, as a matter of fact. Shane didn't seem to enjoy being too forthright - didn't want to be offensive, or anything, probably. But sometimes, he could get right to the point.

Suri's expression bloomed into one of mild surprise, piecing all this words together. Indeed, she'd been accused of being too lax before, by other weres no less. This didn't feel quite like an accusation, or even a... bartering tool, or manipulation. Just facts. Just the way he saw it. Suri was very laid-back, and maybe Shane saw that as a lack of drive.

Which, you know - it might be, to some extent. Life was a river. Go with the flow.

"Well," she did eventually say, grinning pleasantly. "What makes you want to lead? Do you feel... qualified?"
Suri smiled a lot. She seemed like a generally happy person. Been real accepting of every weird little situation he'd laid at her feet. Didn't doubt she'd lead well, listen and... Comfort, supposed. Guide. Nurture. All that.

Her question had him frowning down at the table, pressing a fist against his lips in thought. It was hard for him to feel qualified for anything wasn't farming. Hadn't much felt qualified to lifeguard at Asha's were pool. Got his certification and did it, though. No one'd drowned yet, so...

Hadn't much felt qualified to date Hope. Picked fuckin' Thankgiving for their first date. Also at a place Asha owned, though he hadn't known her at the time. Funny. Now they were living together. He and Hope, not Asha.


"Ain't got... I dunno, a resume. Think I could learn. Figure it out. Way things've gone. With Hope. Parker. Monica. Whole experience there, with her n' Ophelia. Sort of... Mmm. Empathizing, suppose? Tryin' to understand n' guide. Lead."

He shook his head, started to give a small shrug but stiffened out of the gesture. Forcefully refocused his gaze on Suri's. Don't look at your fuckin' coffee, bud. "Found it... fulfilling. Somethin' there. I want to protect 'em. Not just from, what, vampires. Hostile weres. From each other. Themselves. Shitty feelin's what come up. Come up a lot in Parker. Good kid."

Couldn't avoid looking back down as he thought of their pumpkin patch chat. But he corrected quickly, eyes back on her. Jaw set. "Ain't experienced. Haven't led, ain't good with people. But I'm good with responsibility. Won't shirk it."

Which maybe rang hollow in light of his confession, but he meant it all the same.
It wasn't meant to be a harsh question. Not a judgemental one. She wasn't trying to question his capabilities. Well - not like that, anyway. That was where the emphasis lied - did he feel it. At any rate, Shane didn't seem to take it poorly. Didn't seem to get defensive. In fact, he spoke carefully, mindfully. It was easily the most she'd ever heard Shane say all in one sitting.

He felt capable of learning - and indeed, Suri could agree. Look how quickly he'd grown, after all, and he was far from dim-minded. It was a role that warmed something in his heart, added to his soul. To teach, to protect. Suri eyed him thoughtfully, listened to his words, the way he seemed to hang tight to his own sense of presence, of confidence.

Suri was not a gung-ho leader type, herself. She found it fulfilling to teach, to guide, to provide - much the same as Shane did. But his expression of desire for it was something more than her own. It was richer, more pointed, more purposeful. Shane was not the sort to float down the river - he was the sort to man a boat, to keep his crew safe in rough waters.

She was quiet for a moment, weighing this all in her head. The answer was an easy one, of course - still, she chewed on it, letting herself wander through the flower field of thoughts in her mind.

"I think what you lack in experience, you make up for in wisdom," she did finally say, one hand abandoning her coffee cup so that she could lean her cheek against her knuckles. "I think you have a good instinct. A good heart. Motivation." Her head nodded slowly against her fist, eyes on him, soft but unblinking. She grinned again after a moment, and then sat up straight. "If it's a role you'd like to fill, I am more than happy to support you in it."
Confidence was, mmm, contextual. Things he knew, understood, was comfortable and familiar with... Yeh. Could be confident there. Sitting at his stall, answering questions about squash. Terse, surly maybe. But confident.

Other things... Well, by and large Shane avoided areas he didn't feel confident. But some things were important. This was. He wanted this, and that overruled the other thing. Still uncomfortable though, even with Suri's pervading gentleness.

Had managed to hold something close to eye contact while she pondered and shifted onto one elbow. Fell away real quick when her words started penetrating.

"Well, uh..." he expressed into his cup, pink creeping into his cheeks above the dark beard. "Kay. Thanks." Nodded. Picked up his coffee again. Glanced at her. Set it down. Folded his arms. Glanced at her again. Stared out the window.

"Appreciate that. Real, uh... real kind."
It was easy to wonder what Shane had been expecting. Push-back, or scrutiny, or outright denial, maybe? At the very least, maybe just not prepared to be handed the torch with a side of affirmations. Look at him, blushing, getting so flustered that he didn't know what to do with his hands or his eyes. Suri tilted back some with a laugh, genuinely tickled. Shane was very much a traditional American man in many ways, and certainly had the added grit of a furious little cat, but she wasn't fooled. He was gentler than he might care to appear.

"Yeah, yeah. It's no problem." Her smile persisted, disappearing only for the sake of finally taking a tepid sip off her coffee. Still very, very warm, warranting only the smallest mouthful. "You got a plan of action?"
It'd been hard to plan much beyond this conversation. Confession. Cards on the table. Kept his arms folded as he chewed thoughtfully at the inside of his lower lip. Sort of settled back though. Just a little. Seemed less stiff, more relaxed. Much as he ever did outside the farm, anyway.

"Suppose I ought let Hope n' Parker know, see what they think." Tilted his head toward the window, uncertain, but softly settling on a notion. "Think just the four of us for the very moment. Get it all set up. Then see if Monica n' Ophelia're interested."

Not sure things. Ophelia might hold resentment yet, and Monica... Well, gal was hard to read for a guy who wasn't great at reading folk. "Welcome, they want in. N'..."

He frowned as another thought he'd had simmering came to the front of his mind. Felt, mmm, political. But important. "Know the jaguar queen of Ridgefield. N' the bear king of Graupel. Good enough terms with both. Figure ought let them know, so no one... dunno, wanders into Hollowstone confused as to why it feels different."

He didn't say it, but he was looking for feedback on all of it. Shane didn't know the protocol or suchlike with establishing a group near others. Didn't anticipate problems but...
Shane had a simple enough start in mind. That was probably for the best. All those cliches about baby steps and not biting off more than you can chew. Shane wasn’t necessarily out of his depth, but he was sort of... learning to swim, still.

Suri's head nodded along in acknowledgment as he plodded through it, certainly seeming less rigid than he had been moments ago. Focusing on something tactical instead of floundering over potential conflict and compliments. Get things properly buttoned up. Network. Yeah.

In case it wasn’t obvious, her own plan of action had not been... much. It hadn’t really gotten, uh, put into action. Shane was a good step or two ahead already, most likely.

"I think that’s a good start," she decided with a sage sort of nod. "Set the foundation. Secure connections. It’s helpful to have community. Outside the group, too, I mean."
Firm little nod. Kay. Good. Good summary. Succinct.

"Yeh," he agreed about external community. "Was, uh, pretty critical for me in the early days." Before he even knew any other black footed cats. Supposed it remained important. Shane was pretty insular by nature, but growing stuff on the farm and never taking it to market didn't help him or anyone else.

"Appreciate-" But he cut himself off, glancing past Suri to spot Peggy returning with a big ol' platter of plates. Small town diners were sure efficient at cranking out breakfast food. Had horrified him the first time he'd had to wait twenty minutes for a meal in the city.
She imagined it had been critical. A younger Shane, even if only by a hair, raw and shiny and new, lost in a great big world, kept afloat by whatever fortunate connections he'd managed to spark. How many Weres counted their whole lives saved by community. How many people, point blank.

He began to speak, and stopped just as quickly as he'd started, eyes focused elsewhere. Suri tracked his gaze, and all her other senses caught on in an instant. Fooooood. And boy, there really was something about a small American diner. A novelty like a stain. Didn't seem like it would be going anywhere any time soon. Good thing for the likes of hungry animals.

"Ahhhh," came her playful celebration as Peggy patterned the spread out between them. Admittedly, Suri had half-forgotten what she'd ordered already, and that wasn't quite a bad thing! It was a fresh - literally - surprise. "Thank you, Peggy."
Settled a little more with the food between them, unfolding his arms and nodding his own thanks.

Shane hadn't forgotten what he'd ordered, but then it was "the usual." Four eggs over easy, big slice of ham, three bacon strips, three sausage links, pile of country potatoes. Good array of savory flavors, good amount of fuel to keep the cat happy and quiet so he could get through chores.

Unrolled his silverware, set the napkin in his lap. "Was sayin', appreciate you. Uh, be after you for advice n' suchlike often, likely."
Good lord, his plate looked heavenly, too. Whether it was Suri or the cat, there were definitely feelings of food envy happening. Someone was suggesting a sneaky swipe of bacon, but that was impolite! And anyway, no need to start a cat fight at a diner. Ha, ha.

She was listening as he continued what he'd been starting on, but her hands were working already, too - tugging silverware free, cutting into the long slab of egg to reveal and entire breakfast course inside of it. Unf.

"Oh, yeah. Any time. I've been around the block a time or two," she assured him with a chuckle. Maybe her disposition made her a better advisor than a leader, anyway. About as good as a book, full of information without much capacity to flip open her own pages.
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