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  1. Pointing out that Jase not really being capable of caring had more to do with biology than courtesy- or reminding Marissa that the "other priorities" she'd mentioned basically consisted of everyone trying not to go crazy or get murdered- wasn't going to get her anywhere, Autumn conceded with an inward sigh. And since Marissa seemed more than capable of shifting a given conversation to her benefit, even a simple, straightforward statement about any of the topics she'd raised could be twisted and transformed in the beautiful socialite's flawlessly-manicured hands as she moulded truth and fiction like a sculptor with so much clay. It didn't help that no matter how much she claimed to not want to talk about him, Shelly High's teen queen kept adeptly turning the subject back to Jason Bannon, almost as if she were daring the redhead to contradict her, or to bring him up herself. Is she? Autumn wondered, copper brows arrowing together briefly in a frown. Marissa could be low-key trying to pick a fight, or to restart the conversation/argument from the training session, or to figure out whether Autumn was going to completely bail on her. Or... none of those things. Or all of them. "If you're going for Lana, try putting your hair up, maybe? The way you just had it. Draws attention to your eyes, I think," she noted as Marissa tested out various hairstyles in the mirror, having averted her eyes politely as she'd finished changing clothes. Even if neither of them was embarrassed, it still felt weird to just watch. It would've been easy to hate the girl for her wealth, her beauty, the sheer enormity of her presence; it was easier to hate her for her personality, though, her best friend acknowledged with a mixture of guilt and resentment. In moments like this, when Marissa was being honest, that seemed unfair. Maybe she really did consider Autumn her only friend. And that just made it harder to tell if the girl she'd seen behind the mask at that sleepover was the real Mari, or if the selfish, self-centered Mantis was. But after the attack that morning, Cassie's revelations, Dale's recovery, and this absolute shitshow of a "meeting," it was kind of hard to find the energy to care. Even being angry had mostly subsided into impotent frustration, and obviously, Marissa felt more or less the same way. Or didn't feel. Or whatever. Hell, maybe they were all... not coping. Maybe that was okay. Or, maybe it was better to just keep moving forward, even if it meant some things got left behind. "And, yeah," she agreed finally, half-consciously reaching for the drawstring of her hoodie before she caught herself and sighed; that was gonna be hard to get used to. "Yeah, I'll text you. I was thinking of doing a thing this weekend, like a camping trip for everybody, but..." With a rueful half-smile tugging at one corner of her mouth, the restless red-haired girl shrugged again. "I guess we'll see. Anyway." She glanced toward the window, through which the late afternoon sunlight filtered in a hazy golden glow. "You need to get ready, and my ride's waiting, so... See you at the next catastrophe." The crooked smile faded, replaced with a slightly more genuine, if taut one, as Autumn gave a quick wave and headed back downstairs.
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  2. Jase pinched out the glowing butt of his smoke, exhaling a final plume into the air, then glanced sideways as the Jauntsen manor's front door opened and Cassandra stormed out. The pretty blonde's face was a mixture of red and livid, her features set in a weary half-scowl that the usually detached young man analysed and classified as 'so done with all this shit right now'. Her gaze moved over him, her jaw tightening a little as she walked down the path and started to pass him, clearly intending to make her own way home. "Do you want a lift?" The question was simply and quietly asked as Cassandra drew abreast of him. "It's no trouble." he added, noting what he took for hesitation in her expression. Cassandra was barely down the driveway before she realized that she'd overcommitted to this dramatic storm out. The Jauntsens weren't in the middle of nowhere by any means, but they weren't particularly close to her place. Or a bus stop. She'd probably have to hike all the way back to the town center before she had her bearings enough find a way home. Going back in now would be...just...no though. And calling her mom almost as bad. But hey, walking was exercise right? Cassie held onto that fragile resolve right up until Jase asked if she wanted a lift. She nodded and went around to the passenger side, then let herself in. "No Autumn?" she asked. "She'll be out in a bit." Jason gestured to the single bench seat in the back of the Charger as he opened the drivers side door and slid with his habitual boneless grace into the driver's seat. Green eyes glanced at Cassie, giving her the sensation of being analysed - but not wholly clinically. There was a glimmer of something else in the otherwise glacial expression. "I'd imagine she's trying to talk to Marissa." He paused for a moment, then his head tilted faintly in curiousity, the scar on his cheek showing starkly against the olive tone of his skin. "How are you?" Cassie flapped a hand as she pushed in past the passenger side seat into the backseat area. "Still kinda mad. Kinda at Devin and Mari. Kind of at myself. I just...had this self-image, you know? Like I'm someone who can talk people down, or get people to think about things, or themselves, or...whatever. But I'm not. That's not me, and I should know that by now, but I keep doing this kind of thing." He considered that, half-twisting in his chair to watch her as she settled into the back seat, absorbing her words and turning them over in the prism-like halls of his mind. "Sometimes our image of ourselves and our ability is coloured by what we desire. I am curious: why do you want to be that person? I can understand why a reporter would want to be able to draw people into talking to them, but I get the impression there is more to your desire than simple curiousity." She shrugged, then said, "I guess because I can't fight, and still want to think I can get people to do what I want. So...can't threaten or force people, so I need to be able to persuade them. Annnnd I guess if I'm blisteringly honest, maybe because I secretly think I'm the hero of my own story, and I need to be able to make things happen. So...ego." "Interesting." Just that. No judgement, no amusement. Just a faintly thoughtful subharmonic to the young genius's tone. He straightened up, his eyes finding her in the rear view mirror. "Threatening or forcing people isn't an ideal solution. I rarely do either for that reason. I actually like your approach, Cassandra. Use of reason, of logic, rather than leverage, would yield better results if you are dealing with the same people long-term." He sighed slightly, relaxing in his seat. "The downside is that human beings are largely dictated to by their fear, or their desire, or their ego-" he smiled faintly at her "- unless they make an effort to adhere to principle. Reasoning only sometimes reaches the unreasonable. For what it's worth, I don't think you should give up. Even if people are frustrating, they can sometimes be rewarding too." "I'm not giving up. Just...tactical retreat for now." She waved a hand and turned so she was lying across the back seat rather than sitting up in it. "When I'm mad I tend to switch from the 'reason and logic' approach to the 'threaten and force' approach. I'm still bad at it, but I don't want to lose friends over it." Jason absorbed that without apparent reaction, falling silent then as the two of them sat in the car, the lazy afternoon sunlight outside making golden patterns on the walls of the large house. "For what it's worth, I still think I was right to have us come here," Cassie says after a moment of pause. "Even you. It might seem like we didn't accomplish anything, but sometimes gestures like this mean more than you think. Especially with someone like Mari." She hesitates just a second and adds, "And Devin." "Personally, I do believe it was a benefit for me to come here." he replied calmly, his pale eyes glinting with hints of frost. "I found out exactly what they think and feel about me. The mask was removed, and now I can cease to be confused by all the apparent contradictions. They were never really my friends - I was merely convenient, until I wasn't." "I think it's more complicated than that," Cassandra says. "I think they're just...really bad at having friends, you know? They don't have much practice. And they probably feel like it makes them...I don't know. Weak or vulnerable or something." "Really?" To his credit, or perhaps as a result of his natural reserve, Jase's tone was more rhetorical than genuinely incredulous. "They see me as a mad dog who not only can't be trusted judgement-wise, but cannot be trusted intent-wise either. Marissa is apparently legitimately afraid that I will kill her or Autumn for a wrong word or action. I am described as 'threatening or setting on fire anything or anyone' that does not conform to my standards. She tells me that we are friends, even after my mistakenly kissing her after misreading her cues, and then goes to seek out Cade to feel safe around me because apparently I terrify her." His tone remained dreadfully calm throughout the recounting. "In her own words, I am an abuser and the sort of person who torments helpless animals. And finally, my word once given has no credibility." He smiled, a thin cold smile, his voice taking a sarcastic tone. "Because yes, I am the one with a penchant for lies, tormenting people, and bullying others." "And yet, one of us was shot in the face as a result of the other one deciding not to warn them." He stared out of the window of the car, his features unreadable. "I am bad at being a friend, Cassie. Naturally bad at it. But I try to rise beyond that." "Because you're not afraid of having friends," Cassandra replies gently. "You just haven't had them before." "As for the rest..." she shakes her head. "I don't know. Obviously there's issues, but it all seems to me like it comes from that basic fear. I just don't know how to help with that." "Nor do I." Jase's tone lost the frozen edge as he sighed and leaned his head back against the seat. "I just know that humans almost inevitably try to drive away, contain or destroy what they fear." "Or...or...they grow past their fear. It can happen. It's just not easy." He considered that, eyes crinkling at the edges in a slight smile. "Yes. Like Autumn did." Cassie nods. "Like most of us did, truth be told. About one thing or another. And in the end, Devin and Marissa did go with us to the Dark. There's something there. It's just...without an emergency, without something to make it personal, they kind of slip back into their old habits." "I can't really do anything about that. I have people who actually enjoy my company, who think me trustworthy, who like me - the real me, not the mask I have worn for most of school. Which is an interesting experience, and one I enjoy. Why should I concern myself with those who do not like me?" "Concerning yourself with people who don't like you is how people start to like you," Cassandra points out. "No one likes anyone right out of the gate." She shrugs. "But I get it. They've had every chance. If you want to give up on them, I wouldn't hold it against you." "Perhaps I should exchange 'do not like' with 'actively dislike'. But yes, you also have a point." Jason's eyes smiled faintly again at her. "I am not 'giving up' so much as tactically withdrawing. Their opinions will mature and change, or they will not. I cannot control that, only my response to it." "Yeah," Cass agreed. "I just don't know what to do. Nothing feels like the wrong idea, but...maybe that's where we are. Anyway. Thanks for coming. Thanks for giving it a chance." "You asked me to." He inclined his head to her. "Despite my reluctance, it would have been unfriendly to refuse you." Cassandra absorbed that with a moment of quiet, then said, "We still have to figure out what to do about Enterich." "First, we have to survive the parental meeting." Jason's tone was dryly amused. "One catastrophe at a time." Cass frowned a little at that, but didn't offer argument for once. They let the silence fill the space between them, the blonde reporter relaxing on the back seat, the odd young man gazing seemingly idly out of the window, each musing on their private thoughts as they waited.
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