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  1. 1 point
    Fallout. Tuesday, 3rd September, 0600 The soft chime from his phone sounding in the stillness of the bedroom found Jason already awake, his eyes resting on the plain white of the ceiling as he lay in bed, hands folded over his stomach in repose. A thought brought the slim rectangle of electronics to hang above his head, and his eyes fixed on the text that popped up as he swiped the screen lock off. *// Had a hell of a night. Barely slept from thinking about everything. Hard to process, you know? I’d call, but ‘rents are already up. How are you? His lips curved in a slight smile at the accompanying photograph, a pair of slightly bleary deep blue eyes, framed by tousled red hair that lay across the pillow, peeked at him from the warm snuggle of a blanket as Autumn smiled out of the screen. He tapped out a reply. *// I’m okay. We can talk at school. Want me to give you a ride in? The reply was swift. *// Dad is insisting on driving me. Ugh. But I might be able to convince him to let you drive me home. See you at breakfast? He processed that - yes, it made sense that Autumn’s parents would be in a protective mindset right now, seeking to reassure themselves that they could do what they saw as their duty and keep their girl safe. The fact that it was a comfortable illusion, that she was more qualified to protect herself, was likely less relevant to both them and her. Human beings, he had come to realise, needed a certain degree of illusion. Not self-deception so much as the knowledge they were doing the best they could do and that would be enough. Not for the first time he wondered what that would feel like, to have that refuge from merciless objective reality. He tapped out another reply. *// I’ll bring a flask of coffee we can share. Another ping. *// I’d settle for shower n00dz [blush emoji] He made a soft amused sound, briefly tempted to call her bluff and then examining whether or not it was, in fact, a joke. It could be half-serious flirtation, after all. *// For now, this will have to do. And he snapped a photo of his own, sending the image of green eyes and the faint dimple of a smile whirring away into the electronic ether, before setting the phone aside and slipping out of bed. His father was sitting at the table eating as Jase silently padded into the kitchen twenty minutes later. Gar Bannon was clear-eyed and clean-shaven, dressed for a day's work on the farm, and as he noticed his son turned and gave Jase a smile. They’d spoken briefly last night when Jason had returned from the fight with the creature Cody had become, but other than simply stating that the fight was done and that they had won, Jase hadn’t been very forthcoming with details. Gar wasn’t sure what to make of that - did his son not have any need to speak about it? Probably. There was likely no impulse to unburden, to share the load. And indeed, pragmatically, Jase might reason that providing details would simply distress his father. Gar wasn’t quite willing to leave it at that, though. “There’s some batter left if you want some waffles.” he said, causing his son to smile faintly as he moved to the large coffee pot. “I’ll be having breakfast at school today. But thanks.” Jason answered as he filled a thermos, then poured himself a mug. Gar studied his seemingly unruffled child as Jase took the seat across from him. “Jase?” Pale green eyes flicked from the plate to the older man’s face, and Gar plunged onward. “Look, I know you don’t… process stuff like everyone else. But I do, and at some point I want to know what happened last night.” “Why?” The slender youth’s head tilted slightly. Gar snorted, gesturing towards him. “Because I’m your dad. Because I want to know what goes on in your life. Because I want to be a part of that, even if it’s just listening and asking questions. About half a dozen other reasons - pick as many as you like.” Jason was silent for a moment, his attitude one of consideration as he scrutinised his father before he nodded slowly. “I was trying to spare you uncomfortable details and future worry.” “I’m going to worry anyway, kiddo.” Gar said earnestly, reaching for the syrup jug and pouring some over his plate. “I might as well have some facts to worry about rather than imaginings. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to make some sense out of it all, and who knows? Maybe it’ll be useful to have your old man in the know.” Jase considered that as he ate, nodding slowly once more. “That makes sense.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “I don’t have time right now, though.” “Sure, sure. But soon, okay?” Gar said in a manner that was not quite an instruction, and not quite a plea. Jason focused on him for a moment, eyes on his father’s face as he drank from the mug in his hand. “Sure. Tonight, after the meeting, I can answer any questions you still have.” he suggested. Feeling somewhat relieved, Gar nodded in return as his son got to his feet, downing the rest of the coffee in his mug. “Got to check on my hothouse. See you after school, dad.” he said with a faint smile as he shouldered his satchel and headed out the door. = = = = = = = As the distant figure loped from the big barn to the vehicle barn, Marshall lowered his binoculars and keyed his radio. “There he is.” he said from behind the wheel of the unremarkable sedan. He’d stolen it from a motel parking lot somewhere down the interstate and driven it back last night. It was a disposable vehicle meant to be dumped after the hit, much as the revolver he had in his coat was with it’s serial numbers removed. A high-power LED police signal light had been mounted above the dashboard, it’s cord plugged into the cigarette lighter socket. “You sure that heap you have there can catch him?” Dale was not an early morning person. Never had been, in all their time working as partners. He could hear the tension in her voice, though, that had nothing to do with lack of sleep and everything to do with the task ahead. Neither of them liked this - a fact which was oddly comforting to Marshall. It meant that he still had a soul, after all. Though not enough of one to refuse Enterich. The mere thought of that filled the federal agent’s mind with fear. He didn't know why he was so afraid of the man - he just knew that even the hard-bitten Dale was just as scared. “He doesn’t drive like the Dukes of Hazzard.” he replied waspishly. “Kid won’t have a chance to get away. You just make sure you’re in position.” A double-click answered him, and he started his car up as the black gleaming shape of the Charger rolled down the dirt drive to the road, turned left, and headed towards Shelly. He wasn’t headed over to the redhead’s place, then. That was good, very good. Enterich had left no doubt that he wanted this job done today, whatever it took. Killing one teenager, however allegedly dangerous, was bad enough. Killing two, and one of them a girl, felt even worse. A calmly rational, objectively moral corner of his mind, a remnant of the decent law enforcement agent he’d once been, informed him that murder was murder, and putting numbers and arbitrary lines on it was just so much bullshit. He ignored it. He caught up with the Charger a mile down the road, pulling up a half-length behind the other car and triggering the signal light. The plan was for either the kid to compliantly pull over, thinking this was some manner of official stop, or for him to try and escape, in which case Dale, not far ahead, would be ready. = = = = = = = Jason’s eyes narrowed as the blue and red flare of the signal lights appeared in his mirrors. It wasn’t a sheriff department vehicle - they didn’t have unmarked cars - which meant either this was a State cop or perhaps some Federal official. Given the murder-kidnapping, the presence of either in Shelly town limits was not unusual, but why would either be pulling him over first thing in the morning on the way to school? Which left another option: perhaps this was no legitimate law enforcement stop. It could only be a limited number of other things, though. Crossroads, the people behind the subversion of the Project, would be the most likely to attempt something like this. They had resources, and mercenaries. Perhaps it was some other agency, or a new player on the field. For a moment he considered gunning the gas pedal and attempting to evade. He could likely outrun the sedan, but then he would not find out who was behind the wheel. So instead he slowed, pulling the Charger to one side of the road and coming to a gradual stop, giving every appearance of complying with the request to pull over. He killed the engine and watched with pale green eyes as the sedan passed and came to a halt ahead of him. = = = = = = = “He’s stopped.” Marshall said into his radio as he pulled the car over. “You know what to do.” Dale’s tone was blunt. “Headed your way.” “Right.” Marshall sighed, checking the revolver in his pocket before getting out of the car and walking back towards the driver’s side of the Charger. = = = = = = = Lanky build, late twenties to early thirties. Light brown hair. Wearing a shirt and jacket, no tie. Handsome enough, but not in a way that was easily identifiable or distinguishable. Could be a cop. Could be something else. All of these assessments ran through Jason’s brain almost simultaneously as he wound down the window a fraction, watching the man approach, smiling and giving a short wave with his left hand as he reached into his jacket with his right hand, presumably to pull out some ID. His gloved hands. The youth’s glacial eyes narrowed a fraction of a second before Dylan Marshall pulled the revolver from his pocket and fired three shots at point blank range. The first was aimed at the head, and even as the kid’s head snapped sideways with a spray of blood the killer was firing twice more into the torso. Marshall stood for a moment, heart racing, then turned away and tried not to hurl. This was the first time he’d shot anyone. Hell, it was the first time he’d discharged a weapon off a range. He was still facing away from the car when Dale rolled up half a minute later in their own car. The blonde woman’s hard stare fell on her partner’s pale face as she approached, and she rolled her eyes. “Job done, then?” Marshall nodded, gesturing towards the Charger wordlessly. Dale imagined he was probably feeling pretty terrible right about now. She could sympathise later, though. Right now, they had to make sure it was done and their tracks were covered. “You check?” “Fuck, no. I put one in the side of his head and two more in his chest, Dale. You can see the fucking blood.” Marshall almost lost his stomach at that, and took deep breaths. Dale sighed and moved to the Charger’s door, leaning in to look. There was blood, all right, matting the side of the kid’s head and covering his face as he lay slumped in his seat, a matching spreading stain on the grey t-shirt over the ribs. The marshal leaned in further, reaching to feel for a pulse… And then she froze as she saw it under the mask of blood: a slitted green eye. Open, alive. Watching her. Then the Bannon kid’s lips pulled back from his teeth as he straightened, both eyes gleaming with cold malice as he turned to look at her more fully. Her eyes widened in shock, and she opened her mouth to yell a warning even as she pulled back from the window and scrabbled for her own gun. Then something hit her square in the chest so hard she felt the hot popping as a rib give way, driving the breath from her lungs in an explosive wheeze and catapulting her across the asphalt to land with a bone-rattling thud several meters away. “Mary?” Marshall half-turned in shock as he watched the athletically built woman flung across the road, then whirled towards the car as the driver’s door opened and Jason Bannon pulled himself upright. Jase had had an instant to react, and had almost failed to erect the barrier of force that had saved his life. The first bullet had been slowed by the half-raised barrier, but had still grazed his head badly as he’d jerked his head aside, flooding his mind with white-hot pain and almost breaking his concentration. In that split second of pain and confusion, the second bullet had lodged between his ribs, again with most of it’s force stolen by the barrier. Fortunately his will had not wavered, and the third bullet had been stopped completely. He was in pain, and losing blood, but he was alive. He was swaying slightly, canting to the left as he stood, dizzy from pain and the head wound, but his gaze was focused as it came to rest on Marshall’s face. His grin was fading, but there was still an air of unholy amusement in his expression as he stepped towards Marshall, his face a blood-covered mess from which twin flames of green hell blazed. “Fuck!” Marshall raised the revolver and fired. One, two, three, and then the click of an empty chamber. The bullets stopped dead in the air inches from the Bannon kid’s face and torso. With another curse, the older man threw the empty gun at the kid’s head and reached for his own automatic. Right now, the last thing on his mind was worrying about ballistic matches. Something grabbed his arm, stopping it from reaching his shoulder holster, then wrenched it out and around his back, as though a power-lifter were putting him in an ungentle armlock. He felt his shoulder creak under the strain, and gave a short yell of agony. Five shots rang out, and Marshall looked up to see Dale, up on one knee, face pale from pain as she aimed and pumped five bullets at the Bannon kid. Once more, the slugs stopped in mid-air, hanging there along with the nickel-plated revolver. The kid’s eyes swivelled to lock onto Marshall’s partner as Dale’s automatic was pulled from her hand and flung aside. “I only need one of you.” he said in a voice that, despite being slurred from pain and concussion was too calm, and Dale screamed as her gun-hand caught fire, skin crisping and blackening as she held it up before eyes made wide from disbelief and searing pain. She screamed again, frantically flailing to extinguish the fire as it began to creep up her arm. The sickening scent of burned flesh filled the air, Dale rolling to get her jacket off and smother the flames, but to no avail. The jacket flared into actinic bright light, falling to ashes in seconds as Dale’s other hand also caught fire. “Mary!” Her partner stared in disbelief, the sick feeling in his stomach growing. The flame was under control, he realised in a flash of terrified insight. That it wasn’t even up past Dale’s elbows yet was down to the fact that Bannon wanted to make her suffer. He cast a glance at the youth, who was watching Dale burn with a detached air belied by the implacable hardness in his eyes. Enterich hadn’t exaggerated - if anything he'd underplayed the threat: Jason Bannon was a monster, beyond human comprehension. Dale was now thrashing around on her back, wailing hopelessly in agony, and Marshall forced himself to speak past the bile rising in his throat. “Stop it!.” He managed through gritted teeth, Dale’s screams taking on a raw-throated rasp. Jase tilted his blood-covered head as if considering something, then nodded. “Yes. Two sources would be better than one.” he murmured to himself, words slurring a little. And like that the fires winked out - one moment Dale’s forearms were shrouded in golden flames, the next moment black and red horrors ending in claws, without even a wisp of smoke rising from the ruined flesh. The blonde woman sobbed and then lay still, passing out from the pain. Marshall felt a tug inside his jacket, and his gun and badge wallet were pulled out by invisible hands, flying across the intervening space to his captor. “You don’t know what sort of trouble you’re buying-” Marshall attempted to bluster, but even to his ears the words sounded… thin. Pathetic in the face of a force that could stop bullets and control flame. He felt something grab his throat, lifting him onto his toes and choking off further words. “You attacked me, mister… U.S. Marshal?” Jason’s eyes widened a little. “I doubt this is official law enforcement business, Marshal.. Marshall?” His lips twitched at that. “If this is real, I imagine you’ve heard all the jokes.” He turned his gaze back to the man, squinting against the pain and the spinning of his head. Even speaking clearly was an effort right now, his words coming with slow deliberation. “Tempting and justifiable as it would be to burn you both to death by increments, that doesn’t serve my purposes. We’re going to have a long talk about trouble, and who is in it. And now, lights out…” Marshall opened his mouth, but something hit him hard just behind the ear, and he fell forward into darkness. Jason leaned back against the Charger, relaxing as both his attackers lapsed into unconsciousness. His head spun, a searing pain centering around his temple and left side of his face, and his ribs were on fire, though he wasn’t feeling any particular shortness of breath. Raising a hand to the side of his head, he felt the edges of a gash from there down across his cheek, the fresh pain from the touch causing a surge of nausea which he ruthlessly fought down. He looked around. Two unconscious marshals, guns, three cars… And he was wounded and needed looking at. He couldn’t deal with all of this alone. Fortunately, he didn’t have to. Fighting back another wave of dizziness, the lean psychokinetic pulled out his phone and began, with some slow deliberateness to counter the difficulty he was having, to tap out a message. -----Tuesday, 09/03/2019; 07:18----- <<<To: Devin Jauntsen; Autumn Keane>>> [From: Jason Bannon] Been attacked. 2 gunmen, neutralised. Head wound, bleeding. Need you both. Road into town from my place, two miles down. Be careful. As he went to hit ‘send’, Jase realised he’d ended up sitting, slumped back against his car. He tilted his head back, feeling the bodywork against the back of his skull, and sighed softly as he closed his eyes, his last conscious thought that he wasn't even sure he'd hit the send button as darkness claimed him...
  2. 1 point
    The Fellowship nodded, waved, or murmured their own farewells in answer to Devin as the Jauntsens left, and Jase drained the plastic cup of coffee and screwed it back onto the thermos before floating that back over to the Cassidys. Glancing at Annette, he nodded. "I guess we'll be taking you up on the offer, unless someone says different." the tall young psychokinetic told her as he stood, testing his wounded leg. "Right." she nodded in reply, watching him with a curious expression, as though trying to perceive something not evident. He looked up, meeting her gaze, and she simply smiled and looked around at the others present. "I'll order a room set aside for tomorrow, and drinks and snacks will be provided." Annette stated, then gave them all another polite smile and withdrew. "Time to go, then." Jason suggested, glancing at Autumn before turning his attention to his dad. "I'll see you at home, dad. I have a promise to keep, then have to pick up my car." "Promise?" Gar looked askance at Autumn, then Jase. "I'm taking Autumn home to Dana, as I promised." came the simply stated answer. "Strikes me you'd need your car for that." Gar seemed more curious than confused, his brows drawing together over his hazel eyes. Jase gave him a faint smile, the edges of his eyes crinkling as he swung his gaze back to the redhead sitting beside him, the ice of his expression thawing slightly. "Not necessarily." At the sound of her name Autumn's head came up, her attention suddenly diverted from the door to the exam room, in which direction she'd been staring distractedly since the abrupt departure of the Jauntsens and Ms. Giles. Glancing from the warm hazel of Gar's eyes to the frosted jade of his son's, her brain worked to reassemble the bits of conversation she'd half-heard. "You're going to take me home and then get your car?" she paraphrased, perplexed. "How do-?" At the sight of an oh-so-faint glimmer of amusement in those pale green depths, she stopped short. If they weren't driving, then... Wait. "Wait, seriously?" Autumn murmured cautiously, her torso angling toward him to study his expression for any signs of dissembling or mischief, her own eyes brightening with excitement as they searched his. "I thought, you know, we'd just get a ride to your car and drive to my house from there. I mean," she added hastily, straightening to take in the sorry state of their clothes. "We're gross. Or, at least, I'm gross, specifically, and you can change clothes." Her bronze- and rust-flecked features scrunched unhappily; even if she couldn't smell herself anymore, that didn't mean other people couldn't. "Unless your dad put something in that bag for me, too," she ventured, a teasing light in her eye as she glanced at the older man. Gar cleared his throat. "There's sweats and a t-shirt, but only for one person." he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. Jase smiled slightly, then leaned down and kissed Autumn's cheek gently, uncaring of the grime clinging to her. "I'll clean up later, once I've gotten you home." he told her quietly, his voice a murmur as his hands found hers and drew her to her feet. "A bit of dirt is no reason to pass up a flight with you." A hint of a dimple appeared in one soot-streaked cheek. "Unless you'd rather we drive..?" he suggested with a sly gleam in his eye. The answer was an emphatic, unequivocal, "Nope!" Autumn grinned as she slid off the edge of the table, her fingers tightening momentarily around Jason's when the soles of her boots struck the tile floor. It felt strange to smile after what had happened, to feel laughter bubbling up in her chest instead of sobs threatening to break free; even knowing they'd survived, that they'd all made it home, couldn't quite dispel the sensation of an impending breakdown. This, though, the simple joy of being close to someone she liked, of touching his hand and feeling the warmth rising in her cheeks, was at least enough to make it bearable. "What if we split the clothes?" Autumn inquired suddenly, eyes sparkling as she leaned up on tiptoe to suggest more quietly, "You take the pants, I'll take the shirt?" Someone behind the new couple cleared their throat and her grin broadened, the flush suffusing her skin visible even beneath the ruddy remains of that other world. Smiling, he drew her after him, turning at the doorway to the infirmary room and casting a glance back at the others. Despite the wound in his thigh, and the blood and smoke-stained clothing and skin, and the faint weariness of the adrenaline wearing off, he seemed otherwise untroubled by the privations of the evening, as though the horror had not touched him in any way other than physically. His gaze was clear and bright as it rested on Sean and his family, then moved to Cassie and her mom, before finally alighting on Kat and her father. "See you all in school." he said by way of farewell, giving them all a nod and a smile. Next to him, Autumn waved a silent goodbye, giving Cassie and Kat a smile before turning and leaving the room at his side. The two teens walked hand in hand through down the corridor, past the curious glances of the staff and the few sheriff's deputies that were still hanging around, talking quietly over coffee. In the parking lot, they could hear faint wrangling voices as the Jauntsens, some distance away, got into their cars and started off. Jase looked up at the clear evening sky, taking a deep breath, before turning towards Autumn and tugging her closer to him. "Going to pick me up again?" Autumn grinned, wrapping her arms around his neck, feeling that sweet familiar warmth rise inside her at his proximity. He brushed his lips over hers, his hands sliding around her waist. "I was thinking you could stand on my feet." he replied, playful mirth in his eyes. "You'd have to press close and hang on tight, of course." "Oh, no," the girl in his arms lamented cheerfully, not at all dismayed by the prospect as she moved closer, stepping carefully up onto the steel-braced toes of his combat boots. With her pack on and the heavy steel pry bar strapped to it, there weren't many other practical ways she could think of to manage such a feat anyway. "That's only one of my favorite things. I guess I'll just have to deal with it." Much as he had moments before, Autumn glanced skyward, tearing her gaze reluctantly from the angular symmetry of his features. The Summer Triangle. The Fox. The Arrow. The Eagle. The Swan. The Harp. Only some of the brightest stars were visible, but it was just enough to mark the constellations and asterisms her grandfather had showed her, some of which were charted in pale green stickers on her bedroom ceiling. Her grin softened a little as her eyes roved once more across the clear expanse of sky overhead, a deeper, more velvety hue now than it had been at the hill, and yet in a reversal of circumstance, now also obscured by the mundane lights in the parking lot. "I'm glad I get to see this again," she admitted quietly, squinting a little into the darkness. "I didn't know if I would. Well, if any of us would, honestly." Her shoulders shifted a little in a shrug, the smile that curved her lips more contemplative now than teasing as she leaned against him. "There's a curious added beauty to it." Jase's voice was also soft as he followed her gaze up and out into the night. "Logic states that the world is the same in texture and colour, but it seems... more, tonight. Greater, more luminous. The possibility of death, of losing my own existence, seems to heighten everything, make it even more valuable." His eyes returned to her face, lingering on her dirt-and-freckle covered skin and the blue of her eyes - almost indigo in the dim light - framed by that omnipresent tumble of copper and gold. "Everything." he repeated softly as he contemplated her, his hands tightening on her waist and holding her against him as he began to rise into the air. The ascent wasn't jarring, nor was it gradual. It was a smooth elevator ride straight up, leaving the ground and the lights and the cars and people and the world behind them as they rose into the night sky. Jase turned them slightly as they climbed higher, letting them both see Shelly spread out below them like a carpet of sprinkled lights as he held Autumn close to him, feeling the warmth from her that was more than merely physical. I'm not standing on the ground, she realized giddily, her grip tightening instinctively on Jase's shoulders as she clung to him. The only thing beneath her feet was his feet, two precariously narrow points of contact through which gravity seemed to stubbornly maintain its grasp on her as the earth fell away. It was almost, almost a dance, a kinetic sort of call-and-response: every movement, every breath and subtle change in his posture registered in her heightened awareness of him and obliged her to match it, and the sense of instability was alternately thrilling and terrifying. It would only take a moment's distraction and she could lose her balance, plunge hundreds of feet back down to the rural town that lay beneath them in a moonlit patchwork quilt of forest and farmland and tiny homes. ...but, flying! the redhead reminded herself, trying desperately not to move too much as she cautiously shifted one arm down to his waist, pressing her cheek against his chest and staring, wide-eyed, at the world as it opened up. And, besides... he promised not to let me fall, right? So... It's fine. Totally fine. Unconvinced, her heart continued to pound at the inside of her rib cage. "I think I've seen this movie before," Autumn quipped a little breathlessly, grinning as she hazarded a brief glance up at his face- and then quickly back to the starry horizon. If the evening air was cool as they rose just a little closer to those glittering points of light, she never noticed. He could feel her heart pounding against his, or so he fancied anyway. Jason was keenly aware of Autumn, as always when she was near and especially when they were touching. The curious mixture of strength evident in her grasp and the shift of muscles under her stained hoodie as he held her, and the feminine softness natural to a young woman, was a tantalising tactile complement to the inner warmth she kindled just with a look or a touch. Did she feel it, he wondered? Obviously she felt something for him - that was plain even to his un-intuitive grasp of peopling - but how deeply did she feel? Was he just yet again reading too much into signals, as he had with Marissa: projecting his own desires onto the situation and interpreting every data-point in the most favorable way? Or was there more there, under the honest desire and friendship? And moreover, wasn't the honest desire and friendship enough? If not, why not? What was this urge he had to possess and be possessed by the girl he held, so similar to the camaraderie he sought in the Fellowship, yet turned up to eleven? A 'place' in someone's life, their place in his... Was this something he should be seeking? Was it even practical or healthy for both of them? He set the concerns aside, relegating them to a corner of his mind to mull over later. Right now, he was content - even happy - to be once more soaring above the petty concerns of the world with the person he chose. "Lost son of an alien race raised among humans, with more-than-human powers..." Jason's voice held a note of wry humor as he looked down at the girl nestled against his chest. He smiled as he started them flying in the direction of the Keane home. It wasn't far - certainly not as the crow flew - but he also was not in a great hurry. "I fail to see the connection." "Mhmm." Autumn tipped her head back slightly, her expression one of bemused skepticism as she peered up at his near-impassive features. He was as much a mystery as ever, with only subtle changes in body language or minute variations in tone suggesting what might, might be going through his mind, but there were times- like right now, she thought- when he seemed to really try. To consciously show how he felt or what he thought, to give people a glimpse of the life beneath the otherwise mirror-smooth surface of that frozen lake. To smile, or frown, or even laugh once in a while. So much so, that- "Honestly, sometimes I forget," the earnest teen admitted with a little smile of her own, the clear blue of her eyes moving over his face before turning once more to the endless swath of land and sky before them, all silver and violet and deep black velvet scattered with pinpoints of light above and below. "That you're different, I mean. Well," she amended, one shoulder twitching in a shrug as she held him tighter. "I mean, apart from being-able-to-fly different, which, in my opinion, is one of the best kinds. The fact that you can do this whenever you want, can go wherever you want. And, I know Devin can kind of do the same thing, right? But, if he was taking me home, I'd already be home, you know?" She inhaled the cool, pure air, so implausibly clean and revitalizing after the stagnant, rank smell of decay in the world of the Throne and the Tree. I'd already be home, and I'd have missed this. "And then..." She exhaled again, slowly, as that thought led inexorably to another. "There're times it's obvious. Like earlier tonight, when Devin was trying to open the portal, and-" Swallowing past the sudden tightness in her throat, she took another deep breath. "And I wasn't sure you were coming. I couldn't tell if you even wanted to." He was quiet for a few moments, the only sounds either of them heard were the murmuring of the air moving past them as they sailed serenely through the dark sky. She had noticed, then. He had wondered if any of his friends had caught how close he had come to the slipping of his self-control, the near-abandonment to the instinct to stand and deal death until his last heartbeat. Most of them had likely been too busy with their own concerns at the time, he had reasoned. But of course, it stood to reason that she would notice... especially if she was attuned to him as he seemed to be to her. "I..." he hesitated as her eyes, deep blue and glimmering with the light of the stars above - and perhaps some unexpressed emotion - turned up to his face once more. "It was a near thing." he admitted quietly. "Something deep inside me was telling me I wasn't yet out of resources, was still able to do damage to our enemies. I wanted to stand and fight, an urge as powerful as the draw I feel to you. Something biological, rather than mental." He took a breath, sighing as his arms around her waist tightened slightly. "And then I told myself I was putting you at risk. You, and the others. That it was conceivable if I failed to retreat, you would stand with me, or try to come and get me, and in so doing would be hurt." He looked down into her upturned face. "That thought, that possibility, mattered more than my desire to fight and kill." Those wide blue eyes looking up at him grew wider still as Autumn listened, a rush of warmth that had nothing to do with nervousness or altitude creeping slowly up the sides of her throat. Once again, he'd managed to completely subvert her expectations. She'd thought he might admit to getting caught up in the moment, to being tempted by the urgency of the primal drives he'd described before, or even that he might've wanted to test himself, or just deal out bloody vengeance. She'd even considered the unlikely possibility that he might have been thinking of trying to hold off the nightmares on his own while everyone else escaped, but unnecessary self-sacrifice didn't seem to fit with the rational, logical impression given by the stoic young man. Almost anything, as usual, was at least a little bit plausible where the unfathomable workings of the Impenetrable Jason Bannon's mind were concerned, and the fact that he'd put the others, put her ahead of his own interests... Oh, god. What was she supposed to say to that? Even if she'd had anywhere to go, to turn away from the impossible directness of that unblinking green gaze, there was something in his expression that held her in place as surely as the feel of his arms around her. Something she'd seen when they'd gone camping, when he'd told her how she'd made him feel then. Warm in the cold places. And then, of course, she'd opened her big fat mouth, and said the first thing that had come to mind. ...But, then again, he'd said he wasn't bothered by it, she remembered, teeth catching at her lower lip as his words turned over and over inside her head. He felt drawn to her? Was that just the cognitive empathy he'd described, his way of quantifying attraction? If so, though, why would he have compared it to an urge to kill as many of those things as possible? Were sex and violence just part of the same thing, for him, or was it related to their Shine, somehow? "I don't think I'd have been the only one to stay behind, in that case, but... Yeah," she murmured, watching the reflection of the moonlight in his eyes. "You said you..." Pausing, she could feel the heat of the blood suffusing her skin, could almost hear the sound of her own heartbeat over the soft rush of the breeze. If you ask him, what do you think he's going to say? Weaponized. Fucking. Honesty, Autumn. Although, worst case scenario, you could just throw yourself backwards and die, so there's that, her inner voice interjected helpfully. Inhaling, she counted to four, fingers toying idly with the ends of his hair as it fell over her hand. "That you felt drawn to me," she continued after a moment, watching his eyes, the corners of his mouth, the line of his jaw for any changes she could try to interpret through the admittedly weak lens of her current understanding. "That it was like the urge to fight those things. What does that mean?" "'As powerful as,' not like." he corrected mildly, taking a moment to glance past her at the ground below to ensure they were still on course. "The urge isn't alike in anything except perhaps intensity." "Right." she answered, still watching his face, his eyes as they returned to her. "So…?" Her doggedness in pursuing the true question made him smile a fraction. "I am designed, at the genetic level, to be a hunter, a warrior, a killer. It could be argued 'so are humanity', and that is indeed where the drive comes from. Only in the Teulu it is stripped of conscience or fear, and instead becomes... a sort of fulfilling act, almost celebratory." he admitted. "At least, that is how I understand it. So I feel the drive, whenever a challenge is presented, to rise to it. When something presents itself as an enemy, my urge is to exercise dominance over that person or force - to the point of destroying it if it will not submit. You have a fight-or-flight reflex. I just have 'fight'." He paused, watching her features, trying to gauge her reactions. "There's nuance to it, of course. Friends, family members - they don't trigger so extreme a reaction. And I have spent most of my pubescent life learning to avoid conflict, to control the urge even before I fully understood it." He smiled wryly, a cold expression for a moment. "If that were not the case, there would have been a spate of murders in the school well before now. I've certainly considered such things in the past." He watched her for a moment longer, warmth returning to his eyes. "I'm telling you this, because with all that instinct driving me in a certain direction, the only thing I have to compare it to in terms of power is how you cause me to feel. There are many rational reasons why you are attractive to me, not least of which your physical attractiveness." His emerald gaze roamed her face, lingering on every detail. "But the draw I describe... it's like all of those sensible, logical reasons come together to form a white hot, searing fire that is beyond logic. It's not just desire, and it's not just friendship. And it just feels right. As natural to me as the other urge we just discussed." "Oh," Autumn replied simply, blinking up at him as, somewhere in the back of her mind, a voice very much like her own laughed hysterically. She did ask, after all. And there it was: the unsubtle, unvarnished reminder that he was undeniably dangerous in ways even the other super-powered teens weren't, even if the only real concern Autumn felt for herself was the one to her sanity. A reminder that social shame and fear of punishment wouldn't alter his behavior because they were irrelevant to him. That the only limitations he was willing to accept were the ones he devised for himself. That he had actually considered not just violence, but actual murder... Which meant that, somewhere in the recesses of his mind, was a perfectly preserved memory of the person- or people- he'd thought of killing, and had chosen, for reasons of his own, not to. She frowned a little at the thought, simultaneously trying not to imagine who might have been targeted, and resolving to ask. Eventually. Maybe. He could have done it, she realized, and would almost certainly have gotten away with it. He was capable. He had no moral compunction against it. He was unnervingly intelligent. ...But he hadn't done it. That was important, wasn't it? Important because he'd told her, important because he could easily have made different choices, important because it seemed to reinforce the idea that even if he really was a dangerous creature who was almost certainly going to be the death of her one day, he wasn't a feral one. "I... First, okay. At some point, we should probably talk about the whole 'considering murder' thing. Preferably before I'm asked to testify, please," the Effing Girlfriend added, the corners of her mouth curving faintly upward. "Because if I'm gonna date a super-hot angel of death, I need to know about these things. Second-" She hesitated for a moment, then cautiously leaned up toward him, the heat suffusing her skin intensifying as her lips fleetingly brushed his. "Thank you for telling me." "If humans can rise above their fear and show bravery or kindness, surely I can rise above my instincts and show restraint." Jase murmured into the feather-brush of her lips on his. "Whether dealing with immature fools who have no concept of their actions, or when in a battle to the death with Dark-twisted creatures- It is fitting that I not get carried away by my instincts. Especially if I want to actually live amongst and with humanity. Well..." he smiled faintly, dropping a kiss of his own on her lips, taking advantage of them still being near. "...some of humanity, at any rate.” "So yes, I worked out some mental exercises - how to do the thing. And, knowing that it could be done, I then decided whether it should be done. After all, they were just rude, crass and ignorant children playing stupid games. Was it my task to clean up the gene pool? I asked myself. And I decided no, it wasn't, however temporarily satisfying it might be to be able to walk down the halls without someone slapping my books out of my hand or pushing Sean into a locker, the greater satisfaction was found in controlling myself and rising beyond them." He cocked his head, his smile widening. "And as serendipity would have it, my restraint has paid off. I am a better creature for not giving in to my instincts, and the world is better off for it also." "Well, yeah," she agreed, wrestling with the urge to keep asking, to delve deeper into those fathomless and frigid depths when darkness was the last thing she wanted more of today. Later. We can talk about it later. Not yet. Not now. "I'd definitely say it's better all around. To be fair, I might be a little biased, since I kind of enjoy breathing, and also kissing you, and I'm pretty sure at least one of those would be off the table if you'd decided not to show restraint, so..." With another little shrug, the warm-hued redhead dismissed the sensation of rime crystallizing up her spine, banishing thoughts of death and pain for a day when they hadn't seen so much of it already. "I'm glad that you did. That you do, I mean," she corrected herself, the broad curve of her smile widening slightly in response to his. "And, y'know. Will hopefully continue to do so. Although now I have even more questions, so..." Pausing for a moment, Autumn watched the shadows shifting across his face, resisting the temptation to steal another kiss. A little part of her felt guilty for trying to just enjoy the moment, to be content with the thrill of balancing precariously over her hometown, holding tight to the inscrutable and impossible form of the guy she liked. But hadn't she earned at least that much? Taking a deep, shaky breath, she tried again. "So maybe we could pick up where we left off at the kitchen table, and the campfire? I was thinking maybe this week. Wednesday-ish, if you're not busy?" "Where we left off from the campfire?" Jase's smile faded, and yet his expression was one of mischief, that ageless gleam of humor evident in his eyes as he pretended to consider her meaning causing Autumn's face to heat up once more. "Oh, you mean our conversation." "Yes." Autumn remembered that she was a couple of hundred feet up in the air and elbowing her impossible boyfriend could lead to disaster. So instead she squeezed him a little, a pleasant compromise as she smiled up at him. Jase considered her expression, his manner turning pensive - at least so far as she could determine. "It's a curious place I find myself in." he mused aloud, studying her eyes. "For the first time in my life, I have found a person that I wish to know me, as I wish to know them. Who is warm, and beautiful, and asks good questions and listens to the answers without undue judgement. Who makes me warm in the cold places." The remote-seeming youth let his gaze roam Autumn's features once more, a lover’s caress from his jade eyes. "I don't want to keep anything from you... And yet I am aware of a possibility that, perhaps, you will ask a question to which the answer will drive you away from me." He moistened his lips, looking down at the ground below once more to check their position. "To be honest, I am wondering if perhaps I have already told you too much, if you are already preparing to pull away from me... But if that is so, at least you have known me better than anyone else. There is a satisfaction to that, I think. So yes, we can continue the conversation whenever you wish." Although the smile lingered on her lips a few moments more, the deep blue of her eyes warmed by the unexpected pleasure of his compliments, Autumn's copper-red brows knitted together in a tiny frown, her dirt-smudged features a mask of perplexed curiosity. She'd expected the teasing, even if she somehow still hadn't developed an immunity to it and perhaps never would, but the rest...? Was he worried that if she knew more about his condition, she wouldn't want to see him anymore? Although she supposed it wasn't really technically a condition, now that they knew more about where he’d come from. And that was the idea, wasn't it? To learn, and understand? To confront what she'd been afraid of? "Hey," she said after a moment, arms tightening around him instinctively as she dipped her head a little, seeking his eyes with her own. "You know we've only been going out for a couple of days, right? And I thought the plan for this whole dating thing was for you to learn more about relationships, and for me to try to understand you a little better. ...Not counting pheromones or, um... Compatibility," Autumn continued more quietly, and it was her turn to glance at the ground, willing the cool air to draw the heat from her face. "So, you know. Why would I pull away from you, or be driven away from you, when we've barely even started working on that? Besides." Hazarding a glance at his profile again, the expressive young vitakinetic smiled, her nose crinkling as she teased him gently. "You still have to take me to Homecoming. I'm not letting you off the hook that easily." He nodded, conceding to her logic with a small smile curving his lips. "That's true. Would be a shame to miss out on that." He studied the charming crinkle of her nose as they began their descent now, the Keane house drawing nearer, the lights of the porch and windows beacons of warmth and family and safety in the night that was, perhaps now, a little less scary than it had been yesterday. Dipping his head, his pressed his lips to hers as they came closer to the ground in front of the Keane home, the lingering kiss gentle though still possessing and communicating some quality of the hunger the girl in his arms evoked. His feet touched down on the ground first, Autumn still standing on them as the kiss continued, even as the barking of the dogs inside the house started to intrude on the pair. Slowly their lips separated, Jase staring into her eyes as reality started to come back to both of them. "You're still amazing." he told Autumn in a low voice, the edges of his eyes crinkling slightly. "I'm still glad you think so," she replied with a grin, stepping gingerly off his steel-toed boots and sighing at the feel of solid ground beneath her feet once more. "And I meant to say it earlier, but... I'm really, really glad you came back with us." Her smile faded by degrees, leaving behind a glimmer of some bright, liquid emotion in the wide and guileless eyes that shimmered up at him in the amber glow of the porch light. "I'd have missed you." The sound of excited barking grew suddenly louder, and then closer as the door opened behind them, and Autumn drew Jase into one more too-brief kiss before turning to greet the four-footed members of her family. "Hey, guys- Noooo, don't lick me, you don't know where I've been! Mom, call them back!" she cried out plaintively. "Lex, sweetie, I love you, but c'mon. I need a shower." Disentangling herself from the surging canine bodies, the redhead extended a hand, reaching back toward the tall, glacial-eyed youth whose kisses could spark bonfires. "Come with me?" "I'd have missed you." Such a simple statement, with so much feeling underlying it. Jason wasn't sure what emotion glistened in the seas of Autumn's gaze as she'd declared that her world was better with him in it, and had been locked in analysis as the dogs had noisily and enthusiastically greeted the laughing, protesting redhead. He knew that it was genuine, and there was depth to the liquid expressiveness, but the subtleties of nuance and shade were lost on him. He knew only one thing for sure: he thought the same way - glad that she was alive and well, that his world was a richer place for her existence. And then she gently pushed the excited dogs aside, who reluctantly scampered back over the threshold at a sharp maternal tone of command from within, and Autumn turned to him, hand outstretched in invitation. The moment was captured in his memory - her expression, the outstretched hand as she stood poised against the rectangle of warmth that was the doorway, and beyond the tumble of red-gold curls he could see the concerned Dana, her hazel eyes wide as she regarded the bloodied state of both teens. "Come with me?" Autumn had asked. Was it his over-analytical brain that attached layers of meaning to the situation, the words, everything? Come with me, into the warmth. Did she know, even peripherally, how significant it all seemed to him in that moment? Could she ever know how significant she was? He hesitated for maybe half a second as these thoughts flashed through his mind, and then nodded simple acceptance to Autumn's request, limping forward and wrapping his long, slender fingers around her hand as he moved to stand next to her, both teens looking as though they had returned from war - which was not far from the truth. "Dana." he gave his girlfriend's mom a faint smile, inclining his head to the auburn-haired vet as he indicated Autumn with his free hand. "As promised." Regarding the pair of teenagers with a mixture of relief and worry, the slender woman, still wearing the same clothes from earlier in the day, hesitated at the threshold as tears welled up in her eyes. Seeing the two of them, seeing her daughter bloodied and dishevelled but still undeniably alive, she felt her breath catch in her throat as she stepped back to let them in. Even hearing her voice on the phone earlier hadn't been enough to dispel Dana's worry that something had happened, might still happen before she could hold her again. "Both of you, come on. Come inside," the older woman insisted tremulously, even as her face began to crumple. "Mom," Autumn breathed as they stepped inside the entryway, but got no farther as a soft, strangled sound escaped Dana's lips and her mother's arms were suddenly around her, tugging her forcibly into a fierce, unyielding hug. The younger redhead returned the embrace one-armed, the fingers of her other hand still entwined with those of the tall, laconic young man next to her. From within, the sound of a chair scraping on the hardwood floor followed by footsteps muffled the anxious whining of the dogs as they milled about uncertainly, and the pretty veterinarian glanced up at Jason over her daughter's shoulder. Thank you, she mouthed silently, her red-rimmed eyes brimming over. Ian rounded the corner a moment later, and his wife rose, drawing the back of her sleeve across her eyes as she sniffled, still shaking with near-silent sobs. "There's my girl," he muttered in a voice taut with emotion, pulling Autumn close and, heedless of the state of her clothing, squeezing her until she squeaked softly in protest. "Are you hurt? Are you okay?" the distraught man all-but demanded, fear and concern and the faint scent of alcohol radiating off him in waves. Leaning back, her father took her face in his hands, studying the film of faded red grime overlaying her features. "I'm so glad you're home. Thank you," he echoed his wife's unspoken sentiment, glancing briefly up at Jase. "For bringing her back to us." "I'm fine," Autumn murmured, smiling as she rubbed at her eyes, smudging the dried dirt and blood away from the paler tracks drifting down her cheeks. "I'm okay, really. We're all okay." "She brought me back too." Jason replied in his quiet, grave fashion to Ian Keane, and though Autumn's parents were perhaps puzzled or curious as to his meaning, the girl with her warm hand still in his clasp understood. Dana studied them both, her initial blinding relief giving way to more conventional concern as she took stock of the ripped and dirty clothing, the scratches, the blood and dirt covering their faces. Moreover, the maternal radar looked for less-obvious signs of distress, and she noted that while her daughter was as expressively emotional as ever, swiping at the tears on her cheeks even as she smiled through them at her parents, the tall lean young man next to her looked... unperturbed. Tired, perhaps, but not at all like someone returning from a life-and-death struggle should behave. No redness around the eyes, no haunted gaze to go with the stained and bloodied features. He was watching Autumn and her family with the air of someone patiently studying a new culture, and the slim, pretty veterinarian was reminded again of that otherness that hung around him. "Come into the kitchen, you two." she ordered as her composure returned, at least somewhat. Later, she might hug her daughter and weep again. Later, she might just lay awake holding her little girl and vowing never to let go. Right now, though, there was 'momming' to do. As they all moved through in a small knot, Ian still with his arm around Autumn's shoulders, Autumn still drawing Jason after her, Dana did not miss the way her daughters new and baffling boyfriend was favoring one leg. The dark patch around the rent in Jase's pants drew her attention, the white of a bandage showing through the tear, and her eyes widened slightly. "Are you-?" "It's fine. Aches a bit is all." Jase's voice was calm. "Autumn worked her mojo, and the medical center bandaged it up for good measure." And there it was again - no wincing, no complaints of discomfort, no note of bravado in his voice or 'pain don't hurt' nonsense. The least teenaged teenage boy - scratch that: young man - she'd ever met. He sat on one of the chairs as they all came to the table, his bright green eyes regarding her even as she stared at him. "It aches a bit," Dana repeated incredulously, then shook her head, eyebrows rising in resignation as she sighed. Had it really only been Saturday that he'd stood in this same kitchen, distant and different and- Her hazel eyes drifted downward, where Autumn's fingers still clutched Jase's under the table. -And demonstrably interested in her daughter? On Friday, they'd been 'just friends.' A day later, they were dating. And then, earlier that afternoon, it had been like watching a physics experiment, with the two of them pairing up, separating, and then drifting back into the other's orbits; not so much inseparable, perhaps, as inevitable. And now this: strange powers and evil spirits, and who knew what else. Maternal worry warred with Montanan pragmatism as she pulled a canister from the cabinet overhead, preparing herself for what might be yet another uncomfortable conversation. "I suppose I should put some more coffee on. Jason," she continued over her shoulder, turning to empty the cold remnants of an earlier brew into the sink. "You're welcome to make use of the shower upstairs, and I'm sure we can find something for you to wear home, if you like." "Coffee sounds freaking amazing," Autumn sighed, finally releasing her boyfriend's hand and slipping the straps of her backpack from her shoulders, lowering it to the floor next to her feet. "Shower sounds better, but I can wait a little bit longer." Rubbing her palms across the stained knees of her ruined climbing pants, she shifted restlessly in her chair; it was hard to tell if the twisting, knotted feeling in the pit of her stomach was due to hunger or the beginnings of a long-delayed emotional breakdown. "How's Jay doing?" she asked her parents, willing herself to focus on more immediate concerns. "He's all right. Passed out in the guest room not long after we got home," Ian replied, taking a seat across from the two teenagers and regarding them with a weary expression. "Warden Crocker's on the couch." "Mmm," Dana agreed, summoning up a faint smile from some hidden reserve of mom-ness. "But he probably won't stay there once he smells the coffee." Glancing at the green-eyed genius from the corner of her eye, she added, "I'd say you could stay the night, since we've already got Nathan and Jacob here anyway, but I'm guessing your dad will want you back." Jase considered that for a moment, as he likewise shucked his backpack, recalling his father's words and actions at the medical center. "He will." the lean youth nodded affirmatively. "But a shower and a coffee would be great, Dana. Thanks. He brought some clothes down to Marias which I shoved in my pack, so no worry on that score." He gazed at Autumn, his expression curious. "You sure you don't want to shower first?" I'd like to shower with you- No, bad Autumn! Mom and dad are right there. The thought of wet olive and bronze skin, soap suds and green eyes gleaming was almost enough to change the knotted feeling to something more heated and delightful. It was such a vivid image, helped by the fact she had seen him mostly naked and wet before. Had wrestled with him, play-fighting in the creek as the sun sparkled through the spray of kicked-up water... "No, you go ahead." The lithe young woman leaned in and kissed his cheek, smiling up at her unlikely and impossible boyfriend. "You'll be efficient and quick - I feel like I'll need to wash myself at least three times over, then stand under the spray well after I'm clean." And possibly cry a little too, she didn't say. "There'd be no hot water left." "Fair point." Jase smiled faintly back, nodding as he rose to his feet. Dana turned back from the coffee maker as he shouldered his pack once more. "I'll get you a towel and a washcloth." she insisted, accompanying him out of the kitchen. In the hallway, they encountered Nathan, rubbing the back of his neck and yawning as he shambled out of the lounge. At the sight of Jase he stopped short, then glanced at Dana. "Autumn?" "She's fine. In the kitchen." Dana smiled, gesturing over her shoulder. "Coffee's on, too." Nathan's smile of relief was broad and genuine, and he nodded to both of them as he passed by. Autumn's mom led Jase upstairs, opening a closet and producing a guest towel for the young man. "Thanks. I won't be long." Jason nodded as he took the towel and turned towards the bathroom, only to be stopped by a hand on his arm. He looked quizzically at Dana, who abruptly hugged him. It was a quick hug, and perhaps a little awkward due to the fact that his arms were full with the pack and the towel, but it was heartfelt and warm. She smiled a little at his bemused expression and stepped back again, watching as he turned and carried on to the bathroom, then went downstairs to her family. "So... how'd it go?" Nathan was asking as Dana re-entered the kitchen. "I mean, did you win?" Did we? the redhead wondered as she leaned over to unlace her boots and grimaced at the scarred, stained leather; like most of what she was wearing, they were probably beyond salvaging. They'd done their job, though, and so had the teens who'd traveled through a wound between worlds to do battle with nightmares made flesh. Even so, she realized, Charlie Cole wouldn't be at school anymore, and neither would Cody Sikes. ...But Tawny and Sophia would. Did that make it even? Was that, on some massive cosmic scale she couldn't fathom, somehow fair? Was that a win? Autumn took a deep breath as she sat up, inhaling the rich scent of brewing coffee with obvious relish, grounding herself in the present moment. "I think..." she began uncertainly, nudging the heavy-soled footwear off her feet and onto the carpet with a pair of muffled thumps. "Probably, yeah. I mean, we did the thing, right? We all came home. We fought the monsters, we got rid of the bad guy..." "Well that's good, then, right?" Ian asked, frowning a little at the uncharacteristically pensive expression on his daughter's face. Nathan nodded gravely, almost imperceptibly. "But?" the warden asked quietly, both men regarding the girl who looked to have been through a war zone as her mother paused in the doorway, listening, then slipped unobtrusively past them to the counter and the coffee maker that burbled softly at the end of its cycle. "But," she sighed, the lively blue of her gaze turned inward as she slumped back in her seat, sock feet skimming idly back and forth over the rug. The sensory memories- the stench of rot, the screeching of inhuman mouths, the rubbery-slick feeling of whatever had grabbed Cassandra- came rushing back, and the animated young woman shivered bodily as she recalled what Marissa had said about Cody and her own fears at the medical center. "One of those monsters used to be someone from school. I didn't really know him, and he wasn't a good person I guess, but still. He was still a person at one point, you know? Still... human." There was a long moment of silence, the adults in the room slowly processing that this wasn't metaphor, wasn't some poetic description of the way people could go astray and turn down dark and violent roads. "And we killed him," the sixteen-year-old stated tonelessly. "Whether he was just screwed up, and made bad choices, or whether he really was just sick and twisted from the beginning, he's never coming home. And," she took a deep breath, her voice trembling, "and I know he had to've brought it on himself, and he killed Charlie Cole, and he hurt Sophia and Tawny, and there's no telling what else he would've done if we hadn't stopped him, but I just don't understand how. How did he turn into this- this nightmare thing? Why, if he had a choice, any kind of choice at all, would he do that? How did somebody get so..." She was shaking now, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks, and Dakota whined softly next to her, pressing his nose against her leg. "How did he go so far we couldn't bring him back?" she whispered plaintively, begging the grown-ups around her for some shred of insight. "Let me help with the coffee," Nathan murmured as Dana started forward, rising from his chair to put a hand on her arm. "I know you're her mom," he said quietly, meeting her desperate gaze with resolve, "and you want to help, but give him a chance, yeah? Girl needs her dad, too." Ian Keane rubbed the bridge of his nose, then braced his chin in the palm of his hand, fingers splayed awkwardly across his mouth. He'd expected to come home for a few days to spend some time with his family after hearing about the fight at school. He'd expected to come home to the same town, the same wife and daughter he'd left behind the last time. He'd expected sanity. Normalcy. Maybe some of the typical teenage acting-out, sure, but... Not this. Not all these secrets, a child he barely recognized, a boyfriend who could create the illusion of fire in his hand, and crazy talk about ancient evils and fighting honest-to-God monsters. But Autumn... He sighed, the stricken expression on his little girl's face eroding the entrepreneur's composure. Real or not, it was hard to deny that whatever had happened had affected her deeply. "What would you have done differently?" Exhaling in a long, shuddering breath, Autumn glanced at her father, then down at the warm, honeyed grain of the table top. "I don't know," she admitted softly, scrubbing the back of her sleeve across her face. "They had to be stopped. Cody and the spirit, I mean. I get that. I do. But when we got there, it seemed like Sophia was changing, too, and we managed to help her. Why her, and not him? Could we have saved him, too, if we'd tried? I don't-" She shook her head, the words catching in her throat as the knot of tension in her stomach twisted up into her chest. "I don't know," she managed, leaning forward to rest her forehead in her hands. Ian looked at his wife and Nathan, momentarily helpless in the face of his daughter's despair. What to say? What could a man say when his only daughter had come face to face with Evil with a capital E? He could privately deny many things, could dismiss the flame dancing on a boy's hand as illusory whilst ignoring the very real force that had locked him in place when he'd tried to physically pull Autumn away from Jason - A trick of some kind it was a trick like hypnosis that's all - but Autumn's grief, her confusion, was real. He couldn't turn away from that. He slid his arm around her shoulders and drew her into another hug, feeling her turn and bury her face against him as he stroked her rebellious curls. "Maybe..." he began, then hesitated as he tried to formulate his thoughts. "Maybe because what was wrong with Cody was his own choice? Like..." he looked at the far wall, eyes roaming the fixtures and fittings of the kitchen as he remembered old sermons, talks with priests from back when he'd actually sort of believed in his faith rather than merely performing it as a social exercise. "There's sin, which we fall into backwards because we're dumb, or we're selfish, or we make a mistake. Everyone does that." “And then there's evil, which is deliberate, and we choose to step into: whether by doing terrible evil things ourselves, or by turning away and doing nothing when other people do them." He shrugged, still stroking his little girl's hair. "I don't know, sweetheart. I really don't. Maybe you could save Sophia because she was just sick, but maybe Cody was more than that. Nathan's told me a little bit about the Darkness. Seems to me it can't - or rather couldn't - make a person evil. It just... showed them the weakness inside, like the Devil in scripture can only tempt people." He sighed, hugging her a touch more tightly. "I'm just glad it's all over now." Autumn leaned into her father's embrace, closing her eyes as the sharp, spicy-sweet bite of his cologne enveloped her. For a moment she just let herself be held as if she were still a little girl with skinned knees, secure in the knowledge that her dad was the biggest and the strongest in the whole world, and if he said it was okay now, it must be so. If he was there, it was safe. It was a feeling more than a conscious thought, a childish sense that parents were protectors, that wherever they were, bad things couldn't follow. They were the ring of warmth and love keeping the nightmares from her bed, the glow of the porch light that always guided her safely home through the shadows, no matter how far afield she'd wandered. But Autumn wasn't that little girl anymore- not really. The Dark and what it represented was terrifying in a way that Marissa with her deliberate cruelty, or even Jason in his clinical detachment, were not. They almost certainly could hurt her, but the Dark would, given a chance, and moreover wanted to, and could twist people like Cody into acting on its behalf. Maybe he hadn't realized it at first, and it had just preyed on his fears or insecurities... What if the Dark was the reason people came up with the idea of the Devil in the first place? she wondered, nodding mute agreement against the smooth fabric of Ian's shirt even as she slowly pulled away. If so, it was unlikely that a high school kid in the middle of nowhere was the only one who'd fallen victim to it- or, worse, sought it out willingly. "It'd be nice if it was," she admitted, giving Nathan a wan smile as he set a mug in front of her. "All over, I mean. But-" The redhead hesitated for a moment, reaching for the cream and adding a splash to her coffee. "But...?" her father inquired, his brow furrowing. Autumn grimaced, stirring sugar into the milky swirls in her cup. She knew that tone, the slight elongation of even that single syllable advising caution. "There's more to it." Inhaling a slow, steadying breath, she took up the warm mug in both hands and waited for all the adults to take their respective seats at the table, spoons chiming softly against porcelain as they dressed their drinks. "I know if I try to tell you everything right now, I'm going to forget a lot, 'cause it's been kind of a day. But, basically, that, uh, door I mentioned to the other place is still there, and we need to close it and make sure nobody else moves in." "Mhmm. I see. And, is that all?" Dana peered at her daughter across the table, studying the face that was, in many ways, so like her own- and yet now, with the knowledge of what she could do and what she was dealing with, so very different. Autumn was quiet for a moment, taking a long, slow sip of coffee as she tried to collect her thoughts. "Well... At some point we also should maybe talk about the fact that some of us have these powers, that Cody possibly isn't the only person who was tempted 'cause this has been going on for a long time, aliens are probably a real thing, there's at least one secret government organization that knows about all this stuff, and there's gonna be a... I guess, a meeting for all our families at the medical center tomorrow evening to get everybody on the same page." Remembering the earlier chaos, and even her own parents' reactions, that didn't seem likely, but maybe things would settle down between now and then. "Hopefully," she added, and then glanced back at her father expectantly. "Also that I still haven't gotten an okay to go to Great Falls with Jase on Friday, and I want to have everybody over for a camping trip this weekend, if that's cool with you guys." "By 'everybody over for camping' you mean..?" Dana inquired as Autumn's dad just looked at her, clearly at a loss as to where to even start. Mom, on the other hand, had obviously decided to start around the edges of the list their increasingly unpredictable daughter had dumped in their laps. Though maybe Autumn wasn't so much unpredictable as she was simply... growing up. It was the world that had become unpredictable, Dana reflected, and the 'kids' - for want of a better term - were just ahead of the curve in racing to deal with it. "Those of us who were there tonight." Autumn confirmed, blue eyes looking at her mother earnestly over the rim of the coffee mug. "Summer's over, pretty soon it'll be too cold for camping and anyway, Homecoming is the week after and we need to spend time together that isn't all about the Dark and-" "Right, hmm." Dana nodded thoughtfully, exchanging a parental look with Ian almost on reflex. "Let’s call that a tentative 'yes', for now, shall we?" Ian stirred slightly, brow furrowing as he sought for a valid reason to protest, but finding none he simply shrugged and nodded. "And Great Falls with Jase - that's a date, right?" Autumn's dad's eyes narrowed slightly as he regarded first Dana, then Autumn. "Yes." Autumn mumbled into her coffee mug, trying not to blush and only half succeeding. Her father 'hmph'd quietly under his breath, causing Dana to restrain a smile. "He asked me on Sunday when he brought me home." She peered at her father in mute appeal. "I don't see any reason why not..." Dana looked at Ian, who despite realising he was outnumbered was not going to surrender easily. There was paternal duty and honor to be satisfied here. "Where's he taking you?" "Dinner and a movie." Jason said calmly from the doorway as he stepped in from the hall, even more noiseless than usual due to his boots being carried in one hand. "Nothing too exotic." he went on as Dana started, Ian practically jumped out of his chair, and Autumn - despite her own urge to start - tried not to laugh at the sight of other people experiencing her boyfriend's idiosyncracies. His soiled clothing tucked away in his pack, Jase was wearing the grey sweats and white tee his dad had brought down to the Marias Medical Center. His hair was towel-dry, the still-damp ends brushing his neck as the lean youth's brilliant pale gaze studied the Keanes before bending to set his boots by the door. "Shower's free." he added, giving Autumn that faint smile that was both warm and warming. She swallowed the mouthful of coffee by reflex alone, neither the temperature nor the flavor of the drink fully registering. Her eyes widened slightly as she took in the sight of the green eyed pyrokinetic, the dark pools of her pupils following suit as flames every bit as palpable as the ones he conjured licked up the sides of her face. "Autumn?" Ian frowned, still a little unsettled by the new boyfriend's sudden appearance- a feeling not diminished by the expression on his teenage daughter's visibly rosy features. Talking with her family about what had happened, about what it might mean, had put Jason's out-of-sight showering completely out of mind, but... Autumn's fingers twitched with the sudden, almost overwhelming urge to run them through the ends of his hair, and the lightweight cotton shirt clung to his torso in a way that seemed to highlight the leanness, the angularity of his form, highlighting the lingering summer-bronze hue of the flesh beneath. "Autumn?" Her father tried again, exasperation mounting as Nathan leaned down to pet a pair of dogs looking for attention and Dana- eyebrows raised- took a long drink from her mug to conceal the twitch of her lips. She'd seen this before, and despite her feelings on the matter, seeing her estranged husband flustered so obviously by adolescent hormones was almost enough to make her forget her own unease. "Oh, for crying out loud," he sighed, passing a hand over his face. Irresistibly, her gaze was drawn from the dangerous green-gold of his eyes downward, and for a long, quiet moment the red-cheeked redhead wished that she shared some of his telekinetic gift. If she could touch him, even from across the room... And then her eyes moved lower, and the warm mug seemed suddenly cool in her hands. Oh god. Why does he have to be wearing- "Autumn!" Blinking, she jerked as if startled, turning instinctively toward the sound of her dad's voice, but Ian merely scowled, rubbing the bridge of his nose. There was no way he was leaving the two of them alone. Not in Great Falls, not in Shelly- hell, not even in his own living room. "What?" she replied, abashed and a little breathless as she averted her eyes, studying... Well, pretty much anything except her boyfriend's face, although she could imagine the suggestion of not-quite-mocking amusement lurking in those glacial jade depths. "Sorry, I was just, um. Thinking." "Obviously." Ian sighed for neither the first nor the last time, shaking his head. "Right. Were you going to get cleaned up, then?" Pursing her lips, Autumn took another tentative sip of coffee, peering intently at the whorls of ivory and rich brown swirling therein. It sounded like a good idea, but once she was in there on her own, it might be a while before she felt like coming out again, what with the inevitable crying and being sick and prolonged scrubbing, followed by more crying, and then hopefully getting high enough to sleep through the night. "Not right now, no. I want to, but I don't think I'll be good company afterward." Hazarding a smile at her parents, she shifted uncomfortably in her seat as the soft percussion of her heels hitting the chair frame filled the brief moment of quiet that followed. Dana reached over and placed her hand on top of her daughter's, mute understanding in the older redhead's gaze, as Ian laid a hand on Autumn's shoulder and squeezed gently. Her mom looked up at the still-standing Bannon and gave him a weary smile. "Coffee, Jase?" she asked, drawing back her hand and making as if to rise. "I can get it." It was a soft-spoken statement, rather than a polite offer. Indeed, he was already setting his pack down by his boots and moving to sit by Autumn as the coffee pot floated from its cradle, a mug sliding into place under it as the black brew started to pour. Ian made a muted sound of disbelief, his eyes widening at yet another hard-to-dismiss intrusion of the unreal into his world. Dana's eyebrows rose as she glanced over her shoulder, but she seemed less upset and more intrigued as the coffee mug, now full, drifted past her to Jason's outstretched hand. "So you can." she agreed after a moment to recover her aplomb. She smiled at him, shaking her head slightly as he took a sip of the unadorned liquid in the mug. "That's a handy trick. Lord knows I could do with extra sets of hands." "How did you do that?!" Ian demanded, finally finding his voice. "I can feel, as if touching, any object around me." Jase said calmly. "A kinetic awareness. And then I just reach out and move the object, feeding it kinetic energy." "Just like that." Autumn's father looked like he was wavering between doubt and amazement. Jason glanced at him, his head tilting slightly. "It wasn't always that easy or smooth, no. In the beginning I could only move small objects, and without much finesse. I practiced a lot." He took another sip of coffee, his free hand resting next to Autumn's on the table. "Now I can lift my father's pickup or a tractor without any real effort. I'm not exactly certain how much mass I can move, but I would assume it's sizeable." "And the fire?" Dana asked, remembering the flickering, dancing golden flame on the boy's palm. "Also kinetic energy, but at applied at a molecular or atomic level. Thermal excitation or subtraction." He lifted his free hand, palm up. Shimmering motes of began to coalesce from the air as beads of frozen moisture came together, forming a delicate ice sculpture of a stemmed rose. "So I can heat things up, or cool them down. The first trick I ever did to open Autumn's eyes was to pull ice cubes from running tap water." He smiled a little more at Ian as he showed them the finished flower. "She reacted a lot like you are now." He glanced at Dana, then held out the frost-rose to her. "For my hostess, for your kindness." Hesitantly, Autumn's mom reached out and took the rose, noting the sparkle of frost along the edges of the perfectly formed sculpture as Jase placed it in her palm. It was cold, but not uncomfortably so, and seemed to show no inclination to melt as it shimmered in her fingers. Though rarely of the same mind on any subject, for a brief moment following Jase's display both father and daughter shared a mutual sentiment, expressed as it was in different ways as they considered their respective companions: "Should I be jealous?" Ian, eyes narrowed as he struggled to make sense of what he was seeing, took in his wife's expression of rapt wonder and conceded that perhaps the flame he'd seen had not been so illusory after all. Autumn, nose crinkling with impish humor, playfully flicked Jason's forearm with the backs of her fingers. "You know she's married," the red-haired girl commented wryly, glancing at her boyfriend over the rim of her mug before taking a sip of coffee. "Of course she is. Just my luck, alas, that I am too late." Jase's gaze was filled with that ageless mirth that so characterised his sense of humor. A faint smile dimpled his cheek. "So I'm practicing for when you're her age." Despite himself Ian snorted aloud, Dana pressed her lips together to stifle her amusement, and Autumn... had just drunk a mouthful of coffee before his impeccably-timed retort. There'd been that tiny, almost infinitesimal pause, and she should have known right then that she was in trouble. Mother. Fucker. she swore internally, her glare a silent promise of vengeance the instant before she broke. Caught helplessly between drinking and laughing, the redhead choked and spluttered furiously for several seconds- a relatively brief span of time that nevertheless felt like an eternity in which she struggled to decide whether she'd die herself or strangle Jason right there at the kitchen table. "You suck," was all she managed through the hoarse combination of mirth and misery. "Well," Nathan interjected, keeping a bemused eye on his surrogate niece. "Nothing wrong with appreciating older women, after all. Having more experienced hands on the tiller." "Nathaniel Crocker!" Dana hissed, looking up from her admiration of the glittering rime-rose to shoot her childhood friend a look that could've peeled the paint from the wall behind him, but Autumn just groaned and dropped her forehead into the crook of her arm as it lay on the table, shoulders shaking with muffled laughter. She literally couldn't even, at this point, after everything that'd happened that day. Just... couldn't. Hearing such a cheesy line from Jase has been bad enough, but from Nathan? Seriously? It was no wonder none of the myriad of gods she'd half-jokingly prayed to had ignored her pleas for death- clearly, they all hated her. "Okay," she gasped, panting softly as she lifted her head to peer with mock-sternness at her utterly, completely impossible boyfriend. "Fine. If she gets ice flowers, I want to fly up Granite Peak this winter. I'm even better practice for Future Autumn than she is." "Wait, wait, wait," Ian interrupted, shaking his head. "First, that's the other side of the state, and we haven't even gotten to this date in Great Falls yet. Second, sweetheart, I know you're a confident climber, but that's entirely too dangerous, even for professionals, and especially in winter. Third-" He paused, eyes narrowing again slightly as he absorbed the import of her words. "Did you say 'fly?'" "Mmhmm." Autumn nodded as she pointed a finger at Jason whilst taking a restorative sip of her coffee. The Effing Boyfriend, eyes still gleaming with their silent, but no less expressive version of laughter, nodded in turn as the three adults stared at him. "She did. She said 'fly'." he stated with a slight shrug, then smiled faintly as he looked into Autumn's sparkling gaze. "And sure, I see no reason not to fly up there." "Now, hold on just one minute!" Ian protested, torn between disbelief and paternal protectiveness. "You can fly? Come on." He looked from his daughter to the lean, inscrutable young man, then at Dana and Nathan too, before returning his stare to the two teens. "Tell me you're joking." "Not about this." Jason replied calmly, finishing the last of his mug of coffee. "It's how we got home tonight, in fact. Autumn enjoys it, and I thought it would be a welcome distraction for her." The lithe young redhead beamed at him then, ignoring the faint pinkening of her cheeks, and narrowly avoided the urge to curl her hand around the back of his neck and pull him in for a kiss. As it was, she settled for simply lacing her fingers through his and squeezing warmly as she looked at her parents and 'uncle'. "See? Flying." she emphasised. "Is utterly fu- flipping awesome, by the way." "But is it safe?" Ian persisted. "What if you-?" "As safe as driving, if not safer." Jase asserted with quiet authority. "The only danger is if I lose consciousness, which would be equally dangerous in a car. There's no other road users to worry about, no mechanical failure to fear. I fly as easily as I walk - a simple act of will and..." he mimed soaring upwards with his hand. "Right." Ian subsided, plainly lost in thought as he absorbed all this. Jason glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall, and giving Autumn's hand a gentle squeeze began to stand. "I should probably go. We still need to go to school tomorrow, and my dad will need to talk with me as well." He moved to the door and thrust his feet into his unlaced boots, stamping them down a couple times to get them properly seated. Autumn and her family, Nathan included, all got up, mugs of coffee in hand, and came to see him off. Handshakes from the menfolk, a brief hug from Dana, and then Jase was walking down the porch steps beside Autumn as the adults remained up on the deck. Turning to her in the warm golden light that spilled out from the doorway and windows of her home, Jase studied that upturned face, marking each freckle, each glimmer in the deep blue eyes. "Are you going to be okay?" he asked softly, his eyes intent on her expression. "It's nothing a goodnight kiss and a few years of therapy can't fix." The smile as Autumn gazed up at him, his features limned in amber light and violet shadow, broadened from a facetious quirk of her lips to something warmer and altogether more genuine. "Yeah," she conceded, succumbing to her earlier temptation and reached up to thread her fingertips through the tousled ends of his hair. "I will be. Not today, and probably not tomorrow, but I will be. Just have to keep moving forward." It seemed a little strange, both that he'd asked and that she'd felt compelled to reassure him- mostly, she realized, because Jason Bannon wasn't the type to need reassurance. But maybe, like when he'd talked to her earlier about Devin, it was his way of peopling in a way she could understand. A kind of consideration on his part. The thought sent a ripple of something that felt the way honey tasted shimmering through her limbs, something she couldn’t definitively pin down; if he was making that effort, then he must've believed she was important enough to merit it, right? And... even if she couldn't know for sure whether that was true or what it meant, the fact that he cared- because what else could she call it but a kind of caring?- was like the warm glow of a campfire on a dark night. "I'll text you in the morning," she murmured, her fingers sliding through the dark strands at the nape of Jase's neck as she rose up on tiptoe to brush her still-smiling lips briefly across his. That same unknown warm sweetness, spiced with the smoldering heat of more easily identifiable wants, swam languidly along her nerve endings, sparking them into pinpoints of incandescent life, and she felt herself leaning into it, into him, into that sensation of embers flaring- You'll see him tomorrow, Autumn. Seriously. Don't start climbing him in front of your parents, at least, an inner voice reminded her as someone's shoes scuffed at the wooden porch behind them. Well, not again, anyway. "See you tomorrow," the redhead breathed, withdrawing just enough to press her forehead to his, the shadowed blue of her eyes meeting the shimmering jade depths gazing back at her. "Bring coffee?" From this close, the faint, almost microscopic smile that answered her was easy to read, and she leaned in for another quick kiss before stepping back. "See you tomorrow," Jason echoed, that hint of warmth lingering in his expression until the moment he glanced upward, and with a sudden rush of air that tousled her already dishevelled curls, vanished into the night. Her sock feet thumped softly up the steps to the front door, and Autumn paused, peering expectantly up at her father. Transfixed, the weary realtor stared up at the darkness overhead, beyond the reach of the porch lights that bathed them in that soft amber glow. "He really wasn't joking," the awestruck entrepreneur muttered, as Dana and Nathan blinked at each other in astonishment. "Nope. He really wasn't," his daughter affirmed simply, before heading inside for that long-awaited shower. Now, the tension coiling in her abdomen, pulsing threateningly behind her eyes demanded, and she agreed; all her not-yets were spent. Nearly an hour later, when all the hot water was, indeed, exhausted- and so, for that matter, was she- Autumn sat between her parents on the couch, Nathan in the recliner just a few feet away. Dressed in the most comfortable, well-worn pajamas she owned, the young woman sipped her last mug of coffee for the day, and did her best to quietly fill them in about what had happened, how she'd gotten involved, and what she knew about where it started. For the most part, Dana contented herself with holding Autumn close and letting her daughter do the talking, interrupting occasionally to ask a clarifying question, while Ian was more visibly troubled by what he'd seen and heard that day. Most of the details, like who was part of the Fellowship, could be left for the meeting with everyone else. Thankfully, the emotionally drained redhead admitted openly, that would also mean she didn't have to "out" anyone or go around getting permission from the other teens in order to keep her promise to her mother. Thankfully, too, after a cursory description of what she was capable of in the wake of Jason's earlier demonstrations, her father declined a similar show from her. Manipulating kinetic energy was one thing, after all- manipulating living tissue to repair, alter, or destroy it seemed to him, somehow, more unsettling on the whole. That Jacob was alive, and simply resting down the hall, was sufficient testament to the fact that it worked, despite a lifetime of adamant insistence that everything must have a reasonable explanation, and nothing like this could possibly be real. It was late when she finally crawled into the safe haven of her treehouse, the rest of the Keane household in fitful slumber. Making yet another mental note that she needed to finish it ASAP, Autumn wrapped herself in the comforting weight of her blanket, cocooned herself in the mind-numbing relaxation of a well-packed pipe, and banished thoughts of nightmare worlds and near-death experiences and existential crises for some near-future version of herself to address. If anyone in the house happened to glance out a window that night and take note of the tendrils of smoke winding away from her half-finished retreat in the yard, not a word was spoken; when her mother checked in much later, unable to sleep, she found her little girl bundled up in bed, nightlight on.
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