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  1. Around 1630, Marias Medical Center. She wasn't sure how much time had passed. She hovered for awhile in that iridescent scarlet and gold expanse, tugged both towards and, more powerfully, away from the far distant edge of All Things... or something like that, she mused, then realised that there was a consciousness with which to muse, and that with that realisation noise and sensation came back to her. "...hrist almighty - she's..." Dale's voice, fading in and out, sounding like Autumn's ears were underwater. "...pecial, yes." Etienne's voice, coming from closer by. "...at's wrong... do that?" "I don't know." Someone had picked her up and sat her in the chair once more, Autumn realised as sight returned, blurry at first but then sharpening. Hands were on her shoulders, steadying her, and Etienne's worried face filled her vision. It wasn't the worst thing to wake up to - provided you didn't know the handsome spy's history. Beyond his shoulder she could see Dale, staring at and flexing her healed hands inside the clear plastic protective sheaths. "I think she's coming out of it." Etienne sounded relieved, standing up but keeping a hand on Autumn's shoulder in case she slumped over again. Dale's eyes were wide with both wonder and shock as she glanced from her hands to Autumn. "What are you people?" she asked wonderingly, fearfully. "Tired." Autumn murmured. "And also no longer any of your concern." Etienne added firmly. There was a sound of footsteps as two men in orderly scrubs - but with shoulders and a manner that suggested otherwise - came into view and began unhooking various monitors from Dale. "You're going to join your friend. After which..." he shrugged. "About the only thing I can predict is that you'll not go to a regular prison, nor be executed. We certainly can't have you running around knowing what you know." Dale opened her mouth to protest, but shut it again, her face paling somewhat as her situation sank in. The orderlies, finished with the unhooking and preparation, made ready to wheel her away. Etienne's hand was still on Autumn's shoulder as he leaned down and spoke to her. "Are you okay, Ms Keane? Do you need anything?" "Water, please," she husked, nodding carefully as her equilibrium slowly returned. Jesus, I hope I never have to do that again. Did it work, at least? "Just. Something to drink, yeah." The attractive twenty-something agent glanced at one of the orderlies, who likewise nodded and excused himself while the others adjusted the casters on the bed. It was hard to tell through the clear protective cases, but... it did look like there was movement. That was a good sign. Even her thoughts felt lethargic as she sat there; the tickle of sweat-sticky hair glued to her neck pricked annoyingly at her awareness, but she couldn't quite rouse herself to do anything about it, and so she just stared straight ahead at the woman in front of her. She'd need physical therapy, for sure, although that was way better than the alternative. What would it be like to have new hands? she wondered. Are they a different color, now, since they have brand new skin? Does she have, like, those really thin, sharp fingernails like babies, or normal grown-up ones? Are her fingerprints the same as they used to be? Or... Does she even have fingerprints at all, now? Maybe she'd ask later, at the Not-A-PTA-Meeting meeting. Leaning back in the hard plastic chair, Autumn let her head rest against the wall behind her as she watched the hospital staff go about their work. She licked her lips, wondering how far the nearest drinking fountain was. "Hey. Uh. Miss Dale." The dazed marshal turned her head, exhausted and uncertain of her future. "Don't know if this'll make you feel better or worse, but you didn't kill him. I'm not saying you're forgiven for trying, or that you didn't earn every bit of this. But at least you're not an actual murderer." "He's still alive?" Dale's attention was taken away from her new hands at that, her head jerking as she looked at Autumn in shock for a moment before understanding dawned. "Guess you did that, too." she sighed, nodding acceptance of the situation, her expression neutral. "Not sure whether I feel better or worse either, kid." she murmured, her mouth quirking wryly. "On the one hand - I'm still a murderer. On the other, at least there's not a teenage body on my tally." She sighed again, her eyes on Autumn as the orderlies wheeled her bed out. "Thanks, anyway." she said by way of farewell. Etienne reappeared next to the exhausted redhead then, holding out a bottle of water and a candy bar. "You look beat." he told Autumn quietly as she accepted the offered items with a wan smile of thanks. There wasn't much to say to that, so instead she swallowed a couple of mouthfuls from the bottle then tore open the candy wrapper and ate in silence. It likely wasn't enough - she could feel through her heightened awareness of her body that she'd need something more substantial, and soon. But it'd do for now. Perhaps Jase would swing past McDonalds or something on the way to the meeting at the Jauntsens, the thought of which was good for a mental Ugh! This day was stretching out too much. Just get through the day, Autumn promised herself. Get through the crazy, and then go up to her treehouse and watch the stars and light up a joint. Maybe invite Jase over to share it with. Yeah. Cuddling and a smoke - she could go for that right now. After food, anyway. Autumn chewed the last bite of caramel and peanuts quickly as the awkwardness of sitting in an empty ICU room with a gigolo-spy-turned-maybe-good-guy outgrew her diminished tolerance. It would've been easier if they'd sent someone else, someone she either knew better, or not at all. As it was, her passing familiarity with Etienne meant that it felt wrong not to make some attempt at conversation, but didn't actually leave her much to talk about except how gross she thought his relationship with Clara had been. But Clara was gone, and Canada might as well be another planet. A thought flickered through her mind for just an instant, then, as she set the water bottle on the floor: that there had been other members of the nascent Fellowship, like Clara, who might have to cope with something like this on their own. But... She couldn't do anything about it, could she? She could do something about, Sophia though. About Dale. About the treehouse that needed finishing and questioning potential accomplices to a murder attempt, and about Homecoming and learning to skateboard and driving Jase's car. She licked a smear of melted chocolate from her thumb before slipping the phone from her pocket and tapping out a quick text. [Hey. Business is all done. You still available?] "So, is this a probationary thing for you, or did they give you a job, or what?" the spent high-schooler asked finally, crumpling the empty wrapper in her free hand with a muffled crackle of plastic. Glancing up at her observer, she balanced the edge of the phone case on her thigh, see-sawing it back and forth out of habit until even that felt like too much effort. "Probationary." He gave her a wry shrug. "In view of my attempted change of heart which landed me in Site C, Ms. Giles is giving me a chance to be useful." She nodded, and it occurred to her that his last comment to the marshal applied to him, as well. "Mm. I guess that makes sense." And it did. ...And then nothing. She had nothing else to say. It felt weird to talk about what had just happened, especially knowing he was there to keep an eye on her, and it felt weird to say nothing at all. There was another minute or so of uncomfortable silence before her phone vibrated softly and Autumn flipped it over with an audible sigh of relief. In keeping with Jase's usual level of efficiency, he'd used the minimum number of words to reply- //"On my way"// -but it might as well have been a sonnet. Oh, thank god. A slow smile warmed the soft sea-blue of Autumn's eyes as she re-read the text. If Jase had been there in person, she'd have kissed him. Difficult conversations notwithstanding- because they were going to happen, and hopefully sooner rather than later- she probably would kiss him anyway, when she saw him again. Her thumbs moved quickly over the screen, accompanied by the faint crinkle of the candy wrapper. [You = the actual best. I'll be outside by the main entrance.] "Okay," she announced, leaning down to grab the cap of the water bottle. "My ride's on the way, so... Yeah." Exhaling, the redhead slowly, cautiously got to her feet, making sure she was steady before hazarding a step forward. "Good luck with the, um. You know. The job and everything." "Such as it is." Etienne smiled self-deprecatingly as he accompanied her from the room. Autumn half-worried that he was going to walk her all the way out, but the Project agent turned down a different side corridor with a discreet farewell wave. With a sigh of relief, the fire-haired teen navigated her way out of the Marias Medical Maze a lot more easily than she'd plumbed its secrets. She'd saved lives, altered lives, taken lives, and all in one day, she reflected as stared thoughtfully just ahead of her shoes. Saved Jase, arguably saved the marshals from Jase, and saved Sophia, in a way. She had altered the course of Dale's life. She had excised the horror that had been growing inside Sophia. None of those things would have been probable, if not possible, without her. Had she left things better than they would otherwise have been? It was hard to see how she hadn't, even if there might still have been more ideal outcomes than these. She emerged into bright sunshine and blinked her wide blue eyes as she looked about her, moving to sit on a stone bench to one side of the main entrance. Checking her texts caused her to smile at Jason's reply and shoot off a response of her own. Idly shuffling her feet on the paving, lost in thought, she didn't register the sullen grumble of the Charger until she heard a door opening not too far from her and heard a voice call to her. "I got a text: Someone wanted to look hot riding shotgun?" Snapping her head up, she met the pale green eyes and faint smile from the Black Beast's driver through the open passenger-side door. "Only until I learn to drive it," Autumn retorted, grinning despite the bright flush slowly blooming in her cheeks as she swept the half-full bottle of water from the bench and rose. It was good to see him, she realized. Not just in a casual, hey-there's-someone-I-know way, but in a way that made that little almost-smile (the kind of thing she'd never have noticed if she didn't know how to look for it) totally worth dealing with everything else that was going on. How to Speak Bannon was still a work in progress, sure, but not everything demanded an immediate explanation; sometimes there were more effective ways of communicating than just talking. Settling into the passenger seat a moment later, she tugged the door closed and, instead of going through the motions of putting on the safety belt, turned. "Hey," she murmured, still smiling as she shifted to face her perplexing and dangerous and utterly impossible boyfriend. Before any further greetings or replies or banter could be exchanged, the lithe redhead's arms slid over Jason's shoulders, her fingers gliding through the dark hair at the back of his head. Leaning over the gear shift she pressed her lips to his in a slow, searching kiss, hmmming with delight at the brush of his palm across her cheek. Whatever this feeling was, this whiskey-sweet warmth he could spark with nothing more than a touch- "pheromones," or simple chemistry, or something less quantifiable- it was hard to deny how incredibly addictive it was becoming. "Missed you." The words were a whisper, if that, a half-conscious exhalation just before her teeth grazed his lower lip, followed by a teasing flick of her tongue. She was aware, somewhere in the back of her mind, that they were in the front of his car, in front of a busy hospital, but that mattered less than the fact that he was right there, his breath on her skin, and the steady rhythm of his heart against her chest. Missed you, she'd said. Rather, she'd breathed those words into him as their lips met, as though the exhalation had carried the words unbidden from within her. She'd missed him - not some abstraction of him, not some fanciful imagining of him. Him. And Jase was profoundly rocked by the realisation that he, too, had missed her for the scant few hours they'd been apart, in defiance of common logic and reason, knowing that he'd see her again soon: he'd still missed her. And even as the Mandelbrot of his experience with Autumn opened and unfurled yet another vista for Jason Bannon to consider, there was the caress of her tongue on his lip, and the feel of her heated cheek under his palm, and the sweetness of her lips just millimetres from his own... Kissing her wasn't so much a conscious action as it was an act as natural and necessary as drawing breath. Their lips met, her hands tightening in his hair as the gentle exploratory brush of lips became a deeper, more passionate give and take. He was aware of the pleased 'Mmm' from her, the scent of her warm hair, and the way she pressed her body against his without fear or self-consciousness. How long the kiss lasted was hard to say, but it broke eventually, the two of them leaning together, foreheads touching as they searched each other's desire-darkened eyes. "I wish we didn't have anything to do for a few hours." Autumn confessed, her fingers playing delightfully with the strands of his hair over his ear. "So do I." Jase replied honestly. "Yet we do." With a sigh that was as heartfelt as it was shared, the two parted a little, Autumn strapping herself in as Jase put the Charger in gear. "To be continued." he said with a sideways smile at her. "Yeah." Autumn smiled back despite feeling somewhat grumpy that, yet again, there was something (allegedly) more important going on than the chemistry, the pheromones, the fwoosh. There shouldn't be, damn it. "How did it go?" Jason asked as he carefully pulled the Charger out of the parking lot. Glancing at her, he clarified. "If you want to discuss it, that is." That drew another sigh from her lips, one decidedly less rapturous than the last. Leaning back against the headrest, Autumn relaxed into the dull rumble of the engine, the faint thrum of movement that hummed through the car and into her bones. She really, really didn't feel like going to either of these meetings, especially not with the seductive growl of the Charger urging her to just close her eyes for a few moments, but maybe it'd go quickly. It was the best she could hope for at this point, since drama seemed destined to destroy every chance they had to relax. "It went okay. Better than I thought it would, but also not at all the way I thought it would," she admitted, one corner of her mouth curving upward in a rueful half-smile as they pulled out onto the road. "Checked on Sophia. She's..." The drowsy girl considered, for a moment, what he might consider relevant. "Recovering. Physically, she's fine, but she remembers too much, I think, to ever go back to the way she was. She went through a lot." Her voice trailed off, wide eyes reflecting the distant blue of the sky as she remembered the way the brunette's hand had shaken during her recounting of that hellish nightmare. "Dale," she began again, quickly changing the subject, "is a whole other thing. So, I may have... sort of... let her think you were dead," Autumn admitted grudgingly, a guilty flush suffusing her features. "And she told me about Enterich, too, stuff Cassie didn’t know: that he's apparently really influential, plays people like a game of chess, manipulates them and uses things they’ve done against them later. He’s also connected to Crossroads somehow, and some local developers who worked on the prison, and apparently he brought in Marissa after he got a call about the break-in there last week. So he could also have something to do with that Dr. Klein guy who was running the experiments there, maybe, since he was the one who had Etienne when we went to get him. I don’t know, it just seems like a weird coincidence.” She took a deep breath, carefully weighing how much more to tell the inscrutable genius sitting next to her. If he still had feelings for Marissa- and it was hard to imagine that he didn’t- the idea that she could potentially be a traitor would have to be even harder for him to deal with than it was for the rest of them. Maybe not bringing up the fact that she got paid a hundred fucking grand to give Enterich a file that resulted in the attempt on his life was the better option for now. She could always mention it later, if it seemed relevant, right? No point making things any worse, and besides, there was always the chance that her first new friend in ages would have a really great, totally rational explanation for everything. “Anyway, she said he told them- the marshals- you were telekinetic, but not about the other things you can do. And there’s something else about the situation with Dale that I want to throw on the table, next time you and I get to sit down and talk for a while, but not today. Honestly, today I just want to go to these stupid meetings with you, and drag you off somewhere to get high AF and be irresponsible for a couple of hours." Huffing softly in frustration, Autumn reached up to tuck a rogue curl behind her ear. "Anyway, the marshal's doing okay, probably. I gave her her hands back." There was a note of quiet pride in her tone, a hint of awe in the little smile that bowed her lips. "Like real, brand-new, working hands. I did that." He’d listened silently as she’d relayed the fruits of her talk with Dale, his expression neutral, his manner relaxed as he drove the car. Her admission that she’d let the renegade marshal believe him dead elicited a small nod - an acknowledgement, a sign of approval, or both: it was hard to tell. Otherwise, the only reactions were a slight narrowing of the eyes, an air of focus as she told him about Enterich. When she finished, he was silent for a moment or two before speaking. “So if he brought in Marissa - and possibly paid her off with whatever was in the duffel - that could also mean he has something on her.” Jason said softly. “And used that to pull her in. The payoff… the payoff was simply to ensnare her further, perhaps. Carrot and stick. A connection to Crossroads - it makes sense that he would start to target us. Obviously he - and those he’s working for - want the team that tore apart their facility neutralised. Probably before we can go after Site B.” He tapped the edges of the steering wheel absently, then glanced at the girl in the passenger seat. Jase thought for a few moments, his eyes following the road as he mulled over the other import of Autumn's words. First and foremost, of course, was the fact that she could grow limbs back from pretty much stumps "That’s something we should probably address once we’ve discovered the depths of Marissa’s involvement. For now, I admit, I’m more intrigued by the fact that you regrew limbs. That's impressive." he said, glancing her way. "It's an incredibly complex biological machine - bone, tendon, muscle and nerves, not to mention the skin. Being able to repair it is something, but being able to regrow parts is amazing." He pondered her other statement - that she wanted to throw something about Dale onto the table next time they continued their Conversation. That implied something about her reaction to what he'd done to the woman who'd tried to kill him. He worked that around in his head some as they drove: plainly, she wasn't outright rejecting him over that - more likely, she simply wanted to understand his logic. Which was simple enough - he wanted to punish Dale and terrify Marshall, to cut loose and cause pain to those who'd dared to hurt him. His sparing of Dale at the last minute was as much due to his wavering consciousness as it was to a change of heart - he didn't have the resources to wait until she'd slowly burned to death whilst Marshall watched. Which took his thoughts down another line. Was he a sadist for taking satisfaction in the terror and pain of his enemies? Probably, at least by some people's definitions. It wasn't a sexual pleasure, or an obsession with the causing of pain. He didn't enjoy the suffering of those who had done him no harm and actively sought to prevent or avenge the suffering of friends. So: a sadist? Or was it simply his instinct being satisfied - enemies should suffer and know fear, should be dominated, or else die. He filed that away into another part of his mind for continued examination. "I wonder - did your Shine seem to know what needed to be done, to rebuild such delicate machines?" he asked Autumn, a note of curiousity in his voice. "How did you observe the experience of healing her?" "Hmmm." She rolled that around in her mind as they drove, trying to piece together a description that both matched her experience and was semi-coherent when she strung the words together. "You know how they say people who've lost a hand- or a leg, or whatever- sometimes still feel it? Like, it's still attached somehow. ‘Phantom limb,’ I think it's called. Well, in a way, maybe it is still there." Turning to watch Jase's profile for a moment, Autumn tipped the water bottle back and forth in her hand, the contents softly sloshing while she thought. What was the word he used for their powers? The scientific term. "Or... More like, the body has a memory of it being there, remembers where it was and how it was shaped, how all those pieces fit together. Sort of like a-” Noetic? Was it noetic? That sounds right. “A noetic blueprint, or something. I could see that, with Dale," she explained, unconsciously flexing her fingers in imitation of that phantasmal framework. "I didn't need to really guess or try to figure it out on my own, because her pattern was already there. I just needed to follow it. It was..." Her smile broadened a little as she returned her attention to the road ahead. "It was incredible. Totally draining, but also worth it just to know that I could do it, you know?" And just as quickly as she'd turned away, she was shifting in the seat to look at him again, her eyes intent. "Okay, so, I was thinking about this, and I didn't get to ask her before they hauled her off to the basement, or wherever. So I wanna hear what you think, and then we can bug Annette or somebody to find out. She's got new hands, right? Do you think she has the same fingerprints? Does she need to learn to use them again, through physical therapy and practice? Or are they just copies of the hands and arms she had before, with the same manual dexterity and skin texture and everything? Because it wasn't all just lumps of scar tissue, right? But it's driving me crazy that I don't know if they're really new, or just duplicates of what she already had, because those are really different things." "If you are working from an existing template - that blueprint you mentioned - then her fingerprints should in theory be exactly the same - minus any callouses or scars that she had there." Jason answered after a few seconds to think. "Our DNA carries the blueprints for all inherent details of our bodies - which is what it sounds like you were accessing to rebuild her hands. Individual DNA will determine a person's fingerprint from that template." He steered the car past some lights and turned onto the road leading to the Jauntsen house, idly musing on the fact that he'd only last week first visited the place as he turned his mind back to her question. "So I'd say that the hands are both new, because they lack the wear of her life to date, and also duplicates, because they are using the same template as before. Fresh duplicates, perhaps should be the label. As for the other questions..." He pondered. "They won't be any stronger or more dexterous than the template allows, though again, any weakness or lack of mobility from wounds or tendon damage would be reset. Learning to use them again... I doubt she even had time to adjust to the fact she lost them." He glanced at Autumn, his cold green eyes glinting gold in the reflecting sunlight from outside the car. "I would think any rehabilitation would be swift - they are her hands, after all. If there's any adjustment period needed at all." "More interestingly even than that - could you enhance someone's natural template? We know you can regrow tissue. You can boost a person's natural healing - probably a manipulation of blood cells to increase clotting and repair. You can even repair damage to the brain." He glanced her way again, his words calling her attention to the faint line of the scar against the darker skin of his cheek. "So... can you enhance other biological functions? Can you make someone stronger, or taller, or alter that blueprint you mentioned?" "I... think so," she replied carefully. "I remember getting the feeling when I helped you after the fight that I could probably have pushed a little farther, not just healed you but made improvements. I did it to Devin, just a little, when we went into the prison. Made him a little bit tougher. It’s something we’d have to test, for sure." Autumn thought about the other part, whether she could make more dramatic changes, as she watched the power lines roll by through the driver's side window behind him- Oh, damn it, I totally forgot to ask about food! "Crap, I'm sorry, I got carried away talking- is there any way you could hit a drive thru before we go? This meeting is not gonna go well if I walk in hangry, and I'm absolutely starving. Etienne gave me a candy bar earlier but-" She paused, backtracking mentally for a moment. Context, Autumn. "Sorry. I guess they've got him working there now, since they can't just let him walk out knowing about all this. They had him babysitting me while I was with Dale. Anyway, yes. Food, please? When I said it was a draining experience, it really was. I feel like I haven't eaten all day." "Sure." Jase thought for a second, then turned right instead of left at the next junction. A few more turns put the Charger in the drive-thru lane of a McDonalds. Burgers, fries, and a few sundries were swiftly ordered and paid for and then the teens were back on the road again, Autumn already working her way through a double cheeseburger with occasional happy hmm-ing sounds as her boyfriend steered the gleaming black car back into traffic and helped himself to fries. "I think we could probably do some experiments with plants again - see if you can change the color of a rose or alter the growth parameters of an orchid, for instance." Jase suggested, glancing at the copper-haired girl beside him. Autumn, her mouth full, simply nodded, blue eyes communicating her own curiosity about her capabilities. "Sorry... mmf." she said, swallowing. "Yeah. That's a good idea." "If you can alter the genetics of plants, that just by itself has huge potential." Jase went on. "Disease-resistant crops. New pharmaceutical properties engineered into existing plants." His eyes were on the road, narrowing as he considered the possibilities. "Even plants that can grow in hostile, toxic environments, turning the toxicity harmless, for example. Just as a possibility: imagine a strain of grass that uses radiation as part of its photosynthesis and renders it harmless. You could potentially reclaim poisoned land like Chernobyl." His lips twitched in a rare smile as he looked at her. "By the way, that would officially make you more amazing than me." And just like that, she went from thinking about future explorations of the limits and scope of her abilities to the here-and-now immediacy of being teased by her boyfriend. Stifling a snort of laughter, Autumn covered her mouth with the back of her hand as she shook her head. It took the Titian-tressed girl a moment to finish chewing and swallowing before she could elaborate on that mute denial, even as her face reddened slightly beneath his gaze. "Hm-mm. That would make what I do more amazing, maybe." Taking a sip from the large cup of soda they were sharing, she pretended to give the matter serious consideration- more serious, even, than the possibility of restoring the environment from catastrophe- with a dramatically furrowed brow and pursed lips. "Amazing is something that you are, after all, not something you do," she intoned, the corners of her mouth twitching as she looked down at the remainder of her sandwich, the trees out the window, the drink between her knees, anywhere but directly at him, and tried desperately not to grin. "It's just part of you, you know? Genetic, maybe. Like being tall, or having really gorgeous eyes or giving really good hugs. You can't help it. It's how you were born." She shrugged, casting him a sidelong glance as the smile that threatened to surface on her lips sparkled instead in her eyes. "Amazing and impossible." "Ugh." Jase pantomimed rolling those aforementioned gorgeous eyes, glancing at her with that shimmering witchfire of humour in the jade depths as he plucked the drink from between her legs and took a sip before dramatically proclaiming, "Fine, you win this round." Autumn giggled, the laughter welling up from her stomach, thankful this time that he hadn't waited for her to take a bite of her sandwich. Of all the things, Jason Bannon mimicking a sixteen year old girl - namely her - pouting was just the right combination of surreal and observation comedy. "You said it wrong." she told him fondly, reaching over and trailing her fingers through the ends of his hair where they brushed his collar. She wondered idly if he'd ever cut it, or how long he'd grow it. Then she snatched the drink cup back and grinned, her cheeks reddening under the bronze dusting of freckles, as she took a sip. "I did?" "Yep. You said 'ugh'. It's 'ugh'." she informed the Impossible One, trying not to look into the glitter of his gaze as she studied his cheekbones, his nose, his lips... "More a sound of disgust than a word. Good work on the 'fine' though." she added airily, with the manner of an old hand imparting wisdom and encouragement. She took a bite of her sandwich, conscious that the iridescence of his gaze was on her now, and determined to finish her meal rather than get lost in his stare again. Plenty of time for that later, she told herself, aware of a nagging twinge of something in her chest at the word 'later'. Very faint, just an echo of the pang she'd felt this morning when she'd seen him lying on the road, covered in his blood... But he was fine, now. Just fine. "I'll bear that in mind." he said in a grave manner belied by the twitch of his lips as he went back to driving, now and then reaching for a handful of fries. Too soon, it seemed, they pulled into the driveway leading up to the Jauntsen house. "Looks like at least one of them is here." Jase noted as he took in Sean’s vehicle. His tone was back to being neutral, Autumn realised, glancing at him once more and seeing the warm humour and flirtation of just a few moments ago gone, locked behind an air of calculated wariness. "Mhmm." She watched him for a moment longer, wondering not for the first time at the abruptness of his changing mood. Or was it maybe closer to a mindset than a mood? A switch in his head he could turn off and on at will. Of course it would be totally normal for him, if so, but... what a weird concept it was for his average sixteen-year-old girlfriend with her average human brain. Was it unique to him, to Jason Effing Bannon, a conscious part of his efforts to interact with the people around him, or was it part of his genetic makeup, engraved into his DNA as a survival mechanism by whomever (or whatever) designed his species? Like so many other things she wanted to ask him, though, it would have to wait. For now, at least. There were a few questions she felt pretty sure she could get away with, though, prolonging the moments of calm before the storm, and as they got out of the car, gazing at the sizeable home across the immaculate lawn, Autumn came up alongside him. "Hey, are you really okay?" she inquired, peering up at him and squinting slightly at the brightness of the sky above his head. "No trouble breathing, or fuzzy memories, or anything like that?" He turned to face her at the question, and as the cold emerald of gaze met her cerulean blue eyes once more the frost melted from his manner and, at least for a fleeting moment, his gaze was warm - and warming. The scar along his cheek, so stark and forbidding when his eyes were cold and his face was blank, seemed more rakish as his lips twitched and the corners of his eyes crinkled in a smile. "No." he said after a moment of reflection, his eyes still on hers. "I feel fine. I even remember fading in and out of consciousness, Devin talking to me before you got there, keeping me alive." He glanced at the house at that, his gaze more reflective than wary in that moment, then back at Autumn. "I am... reluctant to confront the possibility I have an enemy in that house." he said very softly, in the manner of one admitting a failing. "I do not enjoy the consideration of what that will mean. Of what that will require of me." Autumn's eyes widened slightly as the shock of his response set in. It wasn't so much that he'd confessed to having reservations about the potential outcome of the meeting, or even that he'd thought about the possible consequences, the actions he'd take to survive if things went completely sideways. After the events of the day, events which nearly fucking killed him, that level of pragmatic mental preparation was absolutely to be expected- especially from Jase. But this reluctance to admit someone he trusted might want to hurt him was definitely not. At least, not given what she knew of him so far; even knowing how those pale eyes could smoulder with a primal inner fire, or that when he really smiled there was a hint of dimple in his cheeks, it was impossible to ignore his acerbic wit and frosty, incisive intellect. He seemed so damned clinical most of the time, so matter-of-fact about things like killing the marshals, it was hard to imagine him having second thoughts. And yet, the very fact that it was such an unusual demonstration of vulnerability from someone who could hardly be called "vulnerable" tugged wrenchingly at the expressive young woman's heartstrings. There was that twinge, again, that faint ache in her chest that demanded movement, demanded that she do something. Almost before she realized it Autumn was stepping forward, slipping her arms around Jason's waist until the full length of her body was pressed against his, her ear against the muted drum of his heart. She hugged him tightly, fiercely, her fingers curling into fists in the back of his shirt, and as she did the athletic redhead felt the echo of that contact through her Shine, that soft, crystalline hum just beyond the threshold of hearing as her awareness resonated in some intangible way with his own. "What can I say that'd help right now?" she asked quietly, closing her eyes at the feeling of his lean arms encircling her. "Because I really want to, but I have no idea how to do it." He held Autumn close, feeling that vibrancy, that warm scarlet and gold that was her Shine as it wrapped around him much as the feel and scent of her hair enfolded his senses as he rested his cheek against the top of her head. And as he did so, Jase considered his own actions. A week ago, he'd have walked into the meeting without expressing any misgivings to anyone. He'd have still experienced them, but would not have shared what was going on behind the mask of his expression. A week ago, though, he hadn't been close to someone the way he was close to the lithe redhead pressing herself against him, holding him close with fierce gentleness. So much had changed in such a short time, it seemed. "You're doing it." he murmured, his lips moving against an errant curl of copper hair. "You've been doing it, ever since you cycled up to my home to ask for your hoodie back. Even if we weren't dating, even if you didn't light a fire in my blood, there's still no-one I'd rather walk in there with." He looked down into her wide blue eyes as she lifted her head from his chest and stared up at him, his own expression grave as he lowered his face to hers, stopping barely half an inch from her mouth. "Thank you." he whispered, his breath warm on her cheek before he brushed his lips firmly against hers in a lingering kiss. Coming from anyone else- or in most other circumstances- Jason’s somber, semi-dramatic declaration and the formality of its delivery would have demanded some sort of light-hearted, teasing response. In this case, however, Autumn just couldn’t bring herself to laugh, even if only to lighten the mood: in part because the portion of her brain normally responsible for coherent thought was largely focused on the warmth of his kiss and the faint scent of tobacco from his shirt, and in part because if the last week of talking to the detached genius had shown her anything, it was that in that moment he was utterly serious. And that was… a lot to think about on a day when there was already a lot to think about. “Same,” she replied with a sigh, reluctantly pulling away and wondering, briefly, what it said about her that she hadn’t run for the hills yet. “And, anytime. Seriously. You don’t have to thank me for doing something I want to do, though.” Smoothing the wrinkles she’d created on Jase’s shirt, Autumn released him with a quick, uncertain smile, then reached up and tugged the elastic band from her hair, freckled fingers weaving the uncooperative mane into a more manageable braid as they moved side-by-side up the pristine walkway. “You guys are lucky,” Devin announced with a smirk as he waved them inside, opening the door to greet them. “I was this close to turning the sprinklers on. Come on in.” The house was just as Insta-worthy as she remembered from the last time she was here, a week and forever ago. Only then it’d been as someone hoping to make a friend, and now… Taking a deep breath, the redhead steeled herself as she followed the more gregarious Jauntsen twin into the dining room where the others were gathering. Now she was just hoping not to lose one. “Hey,” she offered in greeting, her lips thinning out into a smile. “Sorry I’m late. I had a couple of things to take care of.”
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