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  1. 1 point
    The Last Day Of Summer, The Last Day In The Sun. A fulcrum point between Then and Soon. There was a synchronicity to the day, Coyote mused as he looked out of the window of his hotel room, the inelegantly-named 'OYO Hotel Shelly, MT' The cheap, reasonably clean and low-profile hotel was as good a place as any to lay his head when sleep became a necessity - as he had told the winsome Jauntsen girl, he was made of much the same substance as other living creatures, and his physical needs were largely of the same kind, though altered in some ways and diminished greatly in others. Substance, he mused, holding a hand up to his gaze, peering at the solid-seeming flesh and noting, on the noetic level, how paper-thin his vital force now was. It had been a long time. Too long, even for a race that had thought itself immortal. Too long to be cut off from the surge and shimmer of true Radiance, the Source of All, on this prison-rock. He had husbanded his strength through millenia and now, in this time and place, the fruition of every manipulation, every nudge, every word sown in the right ears at the right times was coming to pass in a handful of seedlings, beautiful and fragile, each containing a spark of his Radiance passed down through uncounted generations, nurtured in the deadly yet fertile soil of Montana. Keeping track of the bloodlines alone had been a Herculean task, let alone ensuring that they would propagate in the right way. Each of them had a touch of greatness, a spark that the presence of Radiance could fan into an illuminating star... or a terrible inferno. Or both, the near-immortal thought with a smile and a shrug. Fire burned, but from ashes arose new growth. Illumination could also be blinding. They would need to find the balance between blindness and destruction. He hoped that they would find that balance in each other. Hope was all he could do, really. Tonight was the night. He sensed that as the sailor senses the storm through the ache in his shoulder. One of his seedlings was already dead, their light devoured. Tonight would see if the others had the mettle that their world would need. He looked out of the window at the Champion's Field surrounding the Carousel across the road, and mused at how apt the naming of the field was. Today, the champions of this little blue-green ball would revel, and tonight go forth to either bring doom or salvation to their people. * * * * * * * Catheen of the Draig, born from Elsbett by Iskand, heard the sound of music and laughter and voices as she sat at the table in her apartment's small kitchen nook. The sun was shining outside, the blue skies calling her to step out, to wander amongst the people of her adopted home. After all, Kaitlin Forster would be expected to show up, wouldn't she? She'd smiled pleasantly and nodded noncommitedly in the teachers lounge when asked if she'd be attending, half intending to simply claim a stomach-ache when she did not show. But she shared a quality with humanity that her son did not - the need for company, to be part of a larger grouping, to feel the ebb and pulse of people around her. Put simply, she was lonely. She did not deliberate overlong. Donning a sundress and sandals, and slipping a pair of sunglasses over her cerulean eyes, she checked herself in the mirror before applying a couple of touches of makeup. She grabbed her purse and a broad-brimmed sun-hat as she headed out of the door, wondering idly if her son would be at the Labor Day event... * * * * * * * Hannah Fuhrman was annoyed. Not about her weekend - she'd caught up with an old flame from college who had been just the right mixture of friendly and flirtatious to take her mind off her philandering soon-to-be-ex-husband. They'd had a nice date, and Brock had been a gentleman and not pressed when she'd bid him goodnight with a kiss on the cheek before headed to her hotel room alone. Her lawyer had advised her to wait until the papers were all signed before getting back on the horse - advice which at the time the heartbroken woman had scoffed at but was now grateful for. Then she'd spent Sunday shopping and treating herself to a spa before heading back to her hotel once more. Only to receive no answer from the home phone or Charlie's cell when she tried to call him at noon on Monday to let him know she was on the way - and give him time to clear up any evidence of teenage shenanigans. Her lips thinning in an irritated grimace, Hannah heard the voicemail message for the sixth time. "Charlie, it's your mother. Again, again. Please call me back, or better yet, answer your damn phone, mister." she said with some severity. "And the house better not be trashed when I get back, or you are grounded for life." she added with only a faint trace of humor in her tone. "See you in a couple hours, sweetheart. I'm leaving Great Falls after I have some lunch with a friend." That boy, Hannah sighed as she hung up and turned back to finish packing. "Probably off smoking weed with his reprobate friends again." she muttered with a shake of her head. Still, she was meeting Brock again for lunch, so at least she could swap divorcee stories and enjoy herself before going back to being 'The Mom'...
  2. 1 point
    The Keane home, sometime that evening. “Hey, Mom?” They were a little more than halfway through Jurassic Park, both Keane women in their most comfortable pajamas and curled up with dogs occupying every inch of couch-space their humans weren’t. During the commercials, they’d argued over which of the male protagonists was hotter, and Autumn had showed her mother a dozen or so of the better memes the movie had inspired in the nearly three decades since its release. “Hmm?” Dana popped another handful of buttery popcorn into her mouth, glancing absently at her daughter across Zee and Dakota’s heads. “Remember when I took that stuff back to the other house on Thursday?” “Mhmm. Yeah, the… oh, what was it? The fishing tackle and the jigsaw?” “Yeah, and a couple of other things Dad borrowed. So, I went inside, you know, just to make sure everything was still good. No leaks or weird smells or broken windows or anything.” “Right…” Something in the girl’s tone caught her ear, distracted her from the television- suddenly the rugged paleontologist wasn’t all that interesting anymore. Autumn took a breath, realizing that the box was open now and that shutting it again was not the easy option, and forged on. “Well, I checked the basement, and- did you know Grandpa had an office down there?” She asked, regarding her mom curiously for any sign of recognition. “An office,” Dana repeated carefully. “No, I didn’t. Why?” No going back now. The younger redhead absently petted one of the dogs using her as a pillow, drawing reassurance from their solidity. “I found a couple of letters, and one of them was to us. Me and you, I mean.” There was no response; Dana’s face was frozen in the flickering light of the TV. Hesitating only a moment, Autumn continued. “Do you want me to bring it down?” There was another pause, followed by a hasty confession born of guilt. “Sorry, I got curious, I already read them both…. But, um-“ “Go get them.” The older woman’s response was quiet, scarcely audible over the panicked cries of the children on screen. Her hazel eyes were fixed not on the television, but somewhere above it. Beyond it. Autumn nodded, unsure if her mother noticed the gesture of assent, and squirmed her way out from beneath Briggs and Lexi, who’d managed to arrange themselves simultaneously across her lap and against her side, imprisoning her against the arm of the couch. “Sorry, guys,” she murmured as they grumbled, roused from their drowsing by her movement. Was her mom angry? A furtive glance at Dana’s cameo-perfect profile in the dim light of the television didn’t reveal much, and she headed uncertainly up the stairs. By the time she returned to the living room, the light was on, the bowl of popcorn was on the coffee table, and her mother was sitting on the edge of the couch, her gaze one of too-calm expectation. “So, this is the one for us.” Autumn fought down the flutter of nervousness as she handed over the strangely heavy envelope with its folded stationery. The room was silent then, Autumn reclaiming her spot on the couch and watching as her mother slid the letter from its container, unfolded it and read it. It didn’t take long. Dana’s eyes closed momentarily as she folded the letter back up and returned it to the envelope. She bore the look of a woman struggling with some deep-seated emotion as she carefully set the letter aside and looked at Autumn questioningly. “And you read this?” Autumn nodded. “Give me the other one.” There was a sense of energy in the room now, something swirling and tense, and it was with the same growing unease she’d felt when she’d followed Jason Effing Bannon into the woods to an abandoned trailer a week and a lifetime ago that Autumn placed the other missive into her mom’s hands. Again, there was the rustle of paper being slid from an envelope, and the unfurling of the letter. Again, there was the silence as the older Keane woman read. This time, however, the reaction was different. Autumn watched as her mother’s face darkened, her eyes narrowing as she reached the end of her father’s last words. “Bullshit.” It was just two syllables, spoken quietly, intensely, but there was something behind them Autumn recognized, although then the voice had been her own. The word was jagged and tremulous with a raw edge unsmoothed by time or the careful, assiduous avoidance of unpleasant thoughts. “Mom, I don’t-“ she began tentatively. “Bullshit!” Dana all but shouted, crumpling the paper and throwing it violently at the floor, startling the dogs. “This is such ridiculous, insane, absolute fucking bullshit! He, what? Left these just… lying around in a magical locked office in his own fucking house expecting some random similarly magical fucking idiot from god knows where to just stumble across them? Fucking magically?! He knew he was goddamn dying and this is what he decided to do- leave a note for some meth-head looking for a DVD player to pawn? Jesus fucking Christ, Dad! What the fuck were you thinking?!” Autumn had expected her to be a little angry because even she’d gotten kind of pissed off herself at first. She’d also maybe thought her mom would just be totally dismissive of the whole thing, but this… This was waaaay beyond her experience or understanding. This was not parental behavior. Not at all. Especially not for her parents. Her parents were sane. Normal. They were usually pretty chill, and she never once questioned whether they loved her because they’d never given her reason to. Yeah, sure, there was maybe some weird or awkward stuff between them, grown-up stuff, but it had just never really seemed like that big a deal because they’d never made it one. For Dana to go from 0 to 100 this fast, though? Weren’t adults supposed to have their shit together? Oh. Oh, god. I don’t- I don’t even know what to do with this. There was nothing she could do but stare as her mother broke down, flinging the blanket aside while the dogs whined nervously, scattering, and Dana rose suddenly from the couch, furious tears streaming down her flushed cheeks. “It’s been over a year, Dad! A fucking year! And I’ve been doing the best I fucking can, trying to figure this shit out on my own, and I thought I was doing pretty fucking okay, you know? I thought I was doing a pretty fucking good job just not losing my shit completely and taking care of everything that had to be done, the hospice visits and the memorial and the fucking house and all the accounts and the stupid fucking legal bullshit because, hey, people can’t just fucking die and be dead and have that be the end of it, can they?” As Autumn watched with mounting horror the woman who had raised her storming aimlessly, erratically about the living room, a sudden realization struck, lightning in the midst of the tempest raging around her: just because Dana had been doing all the normal mom-things, the boring grown-up stuff, it didn’t mean she wasn’t having a hard time. “And this? This fucking bat-shit ignorant fairy tale nonsense is what I get? More of your fucking stories? Heartfelt letters to a goddamned stranger when you couldn’t even be bothered to tell your own fucking family you were sick until it was too late to do anything about it?! Magic fucking spells?! What the fuck, Dad?! What the actual-“ Whatever Dana was about to say was cut off as Autumn flung desperate arms around her, dragging her fiercely, bodily into a hug. It was like hearing that awful, broken laughter all over again, except instead of being a twisted mockery of self-deprecating mirth it was just raw, unvarnished grief and fury all roiling together into something unbearable. But, still, it was pain, so blatant in its expression the impulsive young woman could almost feel the ragged edges of it herself, her mother’s tearful exhortations dissolving into shuddering sobs as she squeezed her close. They clung to each other like the survivors of some terrible cataclysm, a living Mobius strip of pale arms and red hair and hot tears entwined together in the aftermath of the explosion that had detonated their quiet life a year and a half before, but whose shockwaves were only really reaching them now. A little later... “Autumn.” Her mom sounded better. Still raw, still hoarse from crying, but once more ‘Mom’ - the adult with their composure restored, not the hurting child torn with grief and anger. The two of them were cuddled together on the couch, Autumn holding Dana and letting her grieve until the older woman recovered, at least enough to talk. “Yeah?” “Why did you tell me about this now? Tonight?” “It just… I guess it just seemed like the right time. There’s been so much going on, and I wanted to wait and talk to this guy that was supposed to be Grandpa’s friend, you know? Laughing Joe. I didn’t wanna say anything to you until I’d been out there, because it really… I mean, it’s a lot.” “It is… ‘a lot,’ yeah.” Apart from Lexi’s tentative snuffling at Autumn’s hand, the room was almost silent. “So I’m guessing they had you go through the ritual, then? At the reservation.” Autumn just shook her head, rubbing the even-tempered Pit’s head in a wordless reassurance that, yes, things were okay now. Or, at least, that they seemed to be. “Mmmh.” Dana nodded, plucking at the hem of the blanket tucked around them. She was quiet for a moment, pensive and visibly exhausted from the emotional outpouring. “I knew about it, at your age, but I never would go. Dad tried to convince me. I just never understood why it was so important to him, all those old stories. I thought he should focus on the real evils in the world, the ones that you don’t need some medicine man to investigate. Maybe I should’ve humored him,” she mused bitterly, glancing down at the tousled head resting against her shoulder, the pale, red-rimmed eyes that peered up at her. “Maybe I would’ve understood him a little better.” How did you respond to something like that? Owen was her grandfather, sure, but he was her mom’s dad. That was a whole different thing, and again she felt that uncoiling of guilt, of shame for not recognizing what had been in front of her the whole time. “I mean, if you didn’t believe in it, though,” Autumn began, her voice trailing off as she realized she really had no idea what to say in this situation. Maybe she’d already used up all her ability to people for the day. “I didn’t. Don’t,” her mother amended. “But he did, and his believing formed the basis for a lot of the things he did, the…” The older woman sighed, a heavy, weary sound, absently resting her cheek against her daughter’s hair, breathing in the citrusy scent- sweet and bright, like ripe tangerine, but with a hint of grapefruit’s woody, underlying bitterness. “The choices he made, even if they didn’t make sense to anyone else but him.” Another pause. “What about you?” Autumn hesitated. “…Yeah? Probably. Not exactly the same way he did, maybe. I don’t know. We didn’t really talk about it, to be honest. Not the whole Kavanagh thing, anyway. I guess…” She frowned, wrinkling her nose as she burrowed close against her mother’s side. “I guess if I had to explain what I think about what he thought, which sounds kind of weird, I’d say that there’s maybe too much of the world, of everything, for us to really understand all of it. I mean, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try, just that it’s too big for us to see all of it at once, and we come up with stories. Like the elephant and the blind men. So maybe Grandpa was feeling the trunk, and you got the leg, and I’m touching the side of it, you know? It’s all the same thing, the same elephant. Just…” She gestured under the blanket, her hands spreading apart and lifting the patterned fabric slightly, and shrugged. “Like, I don’t think magic is a real thing, and I’m not sure if Grandpa did, or if it was just how he framed the stuff that was too big to see.” “Mhmm. When did you get so talkative?” Autumn shrugged a little, pressing her face against the reassuring solidity of her mother's shoulder as she felt the telltale flush creeping up the sides of her throat. "I dunno," she mumbled, her words only half-audible through the blanket. It wasn't entirely true, of course- she had an idea that it might've had something to do with spending the day around someone who actually listened, but you didn't say that to your mom, obviously. The tired young redhead nestled closer, seeking out that maternal warmth that had so often been a source of comfort. With a knowing smile, Dana kissed the top of her daughter's head. "Should I blame Jason Bannon, do you think?" Her initial answer was a muffled sound that might have been agreement, followed by a soft, "Maybe." As Autumn hugged her mother's waist, the older, wiser redhead pulled her close; how many more of these little-girl moments would she get before the adventurous teen went off on her own for good? Not enough, the pretty veterinarian decided, exhaling as her eyes drifted closed for a moment as behind her lids bittersweet memories of family played out, of chubby, sunburned toddler cheeks and the rare sound of Owen's laughter, the smell of grilling meat and sweet grass underfoot. "I'm sorry about the letters." The apology, softly-spoken, was scarcely more than a murmur against her mother's arm as Autumn stared at the images moving on the television screen. "I just thought you'd want to see them." "No, I'm sorry." Her mom's voice was soft, her tone reflective as she squeezed the girl's shoulder. "You were right to show them to me." She sighed then, feeling her daughter's hair under her fingers as she stroked her back. "So maybe you're right - about the elephant thing. Perhaps your grandpa was trying to put a shape or a name to something that was too big for him to fully understand. I mean, isn't that what religion is?" Dana asked rhetorically. "He had faith - even if it was in something crazy, it was also in us." A thought occurred to her then, as she looked down at the copper curls crowning her not-so-little-anymore girl's head. "You know, if he believed that only a special person could find the letters, and you found them - maybe it wasn't so crazy." she commented, smiling a little. "Someone special did find the letters." Another pause as a further thought occurred, ideas beginning to take shape of all the strangeness that had happened of late. A series of random incidences, perhaps - the medical center lockdown, the fight, Autumn changing in ways that were surprising, new friends like... Jason Bannon? Devin Jauntsen!? It wasn't a fully formed thought. More a zygote of a thought. A fleeting sense of potentiality that was lost in the background noise of her emotional exhaustion and the contentment of holding her daughter close, but one that would, perhaps, surface again later in quiet moments. "You know..." Dana said casually. "Dad's letter mentioned a talisman bundle. I don't suppose there was such a thing?" "Mmhmm," Autumn hummed in half-conscious confirmation, the combination of physical and emotional weariness with soft canine snoring and her mother's gentle touch having led her perilously close to the edge of slumber. "Brought it back with the letters. It's on my desk, 's got feathers and stuff on it." She stirred, blinking as the hand on her back stilled and the vague shapes of the furniture and photos on the wall slowly came back into focus. That had been the whole point of talking about the office, hadn't it? The hope that her mom might actually consider at least going through the motions of the ritual. The bracelets, the talisman- even if she didn't understand how they worked, particularly, she'd seen some of the evidence that they did with her own eyes in the soft, shimmering silver of the Light surrounding them, and talking to Joe had helped lay a few of her concerns to rest. That, she considered, turning the morning's conversations over in her mind like a smooth river stone in her hand, had helped too, just hearing from someone who'd known her grandfather that he wasn't crazy. Or, at least, no crazier than anyone else in Shelly. Shifting, the drowsy young woman straightened, extricating herself with obvious reluctance from her mother's embrace. "I can show it to you, if you want?" "Please." Dana nodded, smiling a little at her sleepy-eyed girl. Smiling back, Autumn wormed off the couch again and went to retrieve the talisman, returning to the living room with it in hand and carefully passing it over before plopping back down on the couch. Her mom examined it, fingertips running over the mixture of long and short feathers, the polished stones, the occasional tooth or claw. the intricate braided leather thongs. "I should have listened more to him." the older redhead said quietly, her head bowing as she closed her eyes against threatened tears. "Maybe if I'd listened, tried to understand, he would have felt he could trust me with- With other things. I'm sorry, Dad." The last was said almost as a whisper as she drew in a steadying breath and raised her head again, smiling at Autumn through fresh tears which she wiped away with one hand, holding the talisman out on her palm. "Do... How do you feel about his instructions? I mean... It's silly, but I feel it would be right, somehow. Wouldn't it?" Dana asked, a trifle uncertainly as she regarded her daughter. She wanted to tell her mom it wouldn't be silly at all, that her grandfather had been right- mostly, anyway- and that it was okay. That it would be okay, because even after he was gone he was trying to protect his family, his daughter, and because she was going to help finish what Owen couldn't. But she couldn't say that, could she? There was no way to make that promise and be sure she could keep it. What if she couldn't? "I think," the expressive young woman replied slowly, earnest blue eyes narrowing slightly as she considered the question and the tumult of her thoughts tumbling over each other. "I think it feels like the right thing to do, yeah. It was obviously important enough to him that he left-" Autumn hesitated, her throat constricting around the sounds she wanted to shape, the words her lips couldn't quite form as she watched the tears drip silently down her mother's cheeks. Oh, god. Oh, fuck. I don't know if- "I mean," she managed haltingly, "I think it would. Um." Keep talking, Autumn. You're almost done. She swallowed hard, Dana's face rippling and wavering in her field of vision as if she were looking up through the surface of the creek, eyes stinging in the current. "It would help. Maybe." She nodded, lips compressed into a taut, pale line that suggested a smile. Her mom's answering smile was almost a mirror of Autumn's, tight-lipped with the urge not to sob as her own warm hazel eyes went liquid with hitherto unshed tears, but her nod of agreement was firm. "It will be like having another part of him still with us." Dana said, almost as much to herself as to Autumn. And then she smiled a little wider, carefully drawing Autumn into a one-armed hug, a hug which the warmly emotional young woman returned. The decision made, there was not much more to discuss. Mutual consent decided that over the front door would be the ideal spot for Grandpa's last bequest, the stepping-stool was fetched from the kitchen, the sewing box from the lounge. Exchanging glances, the two Kavanagh women - for such they were, by their blood and their roots in this land - each pricked their forefingers and dabbed a spot of blood on the strange talisman. There was an air of solemnity about the process, a sense that something sacred was being enacted, and then Autumn stood up on the stool, stretching upwards to hang the talisman on a small hook before stepping back down to stand alongside her mother. It was gradual, a faint whisper on the edge of her awareness, but it was enough to prompt the lithe young teen to focus her... sixth sense? Third eye? Shine-vision? And there it was, a tracery of silver so pale as to be almost translucent grey, a net of Radiance limning the doorframe, the walls, spreading from the talisman. And there was more, too. A sense that she'd only felt at her grandparent's house before now, and realized was the cessation of the spiritual smog that was omnipresent almost everywhere within Toole County. Here, the metaphysical air was clear for the first time, and Autumn could not help but smile slightly as she took a deep, steadying breath of it. Dana felt it too, at least on some level. Autumn could sense the tension flow out of her mom, could see the subtle lifting of her shoulders as though a weight was gone from them. "Yeah," she murmured, leaning against her mother's side as she peered up at the talisman with its claws, quills, and feathers where it hung above the door, just next to a frame that held one of her grandmother's embroidered blessings. "Yeah, I think that does help." Even without the faint web of intangible, invisible silver weaving itself protectively around the house, it really did just seem... right. It wasn't even about having the physical reminder of Owen, because until she'd found it in the secret room at the other house, Autumn hadn't known the odd little bundle even existed. The thing itself held no association with her grandfather in the energetic redhead's memory; it was the idea of the talisman, the notion that one of the last things he'd tried to do, in his own way, was to make sure they were protected from the Dark. The Enemy. And now, as her mom had suggested, some part of him was bound up in that ritual, that memory, to be kept safe and cherished as he'd wanted to keep them. This- Shelly- was her home. Their home, she reflected soberly. Not just that of her distant ancestors, but her family's. Her friends'. And paired with that thought was a curious possessiveness, a half-formed sense that the forces arrayed against them were wholly alien, antithetical to life, and therefore couldn’t be allowed to remain. As if, at least in part, she was entitled to make that decision. There were also people like her grandfather, like Nathan and Jacob and Laughing Joe who maybe knew what was going on, or had a vague idea of it, but who couldn't act directly- not like she, or the others in the Fellowship, could. Warden Crocker had called her the “Kavanagh in the hot seat,” and said they’d support her if she needed them. Rubbing her cheek idly against the soft flannel of her mom’s night shirt, Autumn didn’t bother blinking back the tears this time as something cold and tense suddenly twisted like a snake in her stomach. She might need them after all, because tomorrow, she was supposed to defend that home. It would be okay, right? She’d reassured herself of that earlier, but- Her arms tightened around Dana’s waist, eyes squeezed shut as she buried her face against her mother’s shoulder. For all the nightmarish horror, the undercurrent of raw and primal fear that gnawed at her belly and pounded against her ribs and shrieked and hissed inaudibly that she was six-fucking-teen, and there was a whole world she’d never get to see, and other people could handle it, and that it would totally destroy her family if she didn’t come home… There was also the quiet, undeniable truth that it wasn’t just her; the meeting with Laughing Joe, the journals, the training, and the talks had proved, definitively, that she wasn’t alone. She had seen, for just a moment with Marissa at the farm, the sheer enormity of what she was part of- of the ring, or spiral or whatever it was. Others had been where she was now. Others had taken risks. Others had asked these questions, wrestled with the same doubts, and still chosen to do what had to be done, even if they were afraid. Even if they didn’t want to. Everyone was fighting in their own way, she guessed, peering back up at the talisman. Even after they were gone. Autumn sucked in a shuddering breath and shook her head to dispel the uncommon existential bleakness of her thoughts for a moment, pulling away long enough for the two women to put everything back in order. They didn’t discuss the faint, dull ache of the matching pinpricks on their fingers, or how appropriate it was that Owen’s rough bundle of wild magic now hung next to his beloved Caroline’s more refined, domestic version. Nothing much was said at all, in fact, until they shared a brief, subdued exchange regarding what movie they should watch next. More popcorn (with a medically inadvisable amount of butter and salt) filled the big mixing bowl, blankets were straightened, and sleepy dogs rearranged themselves around the pair of redheads- a living barrier of soft snores and warm, furry bellies to ward off any lingering shadows as they all settled back in to cuddle for what the youngest of the Kavanaghs resignedly acknowledged might be the last time. “…Didn't I tell ya before? It's my island.” “Hamish, ride ahead to Edinburgh and assemble the council...” It was well after midnight when the front door opened and then closed again, but not yet so late- or so early- that the light of dawn had begun to steal across the sky. Dakota stirred and peered over the back of the couch, Zephyr grumbled, and Lexi yawned, while Briggs just whined softly without waking. “Hey, guys,” Ian murmured with a weary smile as he rubbed the big sable Shepherd’s head, glancing first at the flickering screen and then at the two women fast asleep on the couch in each other’s arms, with the pale light of the television sparking hints of gold in their hair. “I’m home.”
  3. 1 point
    The bike pulled up to Bunnee's burgers after a rather mild, ten minute or so, cruise through Shelly from the Bannon Farm. A death grip wasn't required by Cassie as her driver traveled smooth and slow down the streets instead of his usual speed demon manner. She assumed it was because he was in the crowded areas of Shelly now, and while the Sheriff might know about them, he wasn't above issuing tickets to the lot of them for being idiots. They walked in together, garnering a few looks from their peers who were here already (because Bunnee always had the high school crowd in here in some form or fashion). In the eyes of high schoolers a couple of friends couldn't just go eat a meal by themselves with out them obviously being on a date of some sort and they could both feel the judgmental eyes of their classmates silently calling them out on their business. Those who actually cared anyway. They say anywhere as Maxine instructed them while blowing past like a busty wind on the busy Sunday evening. The evening church rush was happening and their peers were in their Sunday best. They slid into a free both as the Heath twins passed them on their way out. They pretty blondes both said 'hi' at the two and they exchanged greetings. Cassie couldn't help but notice how they flushed when Devin politely replied in his own flirtatious way. H really couldn't help him self, it seemed. “Well, you two are not the pair I expected seeing in here,” Max smiled wryly. Being in on all the high school gossip she almost more familiar with the lives of the students of Shelly High than the students themselves. “When did this start?” She smirked while asking playfully. “Relax, Max,” Devin held out a hand to slow her roll. “It's just hanging out. Purely sexual.” Cassie's glare could have froze the waters she brought them solid. She was used to his humor, but, dude. “Oh, right.” Max nodded in sagely understanding. “I totally get it.” She touched Cassie's shoulder and nodded. “I get it sweetie. We ladies need to set our standards early in life, and we can't set that high bar without first realizing where the low bar is hovering at.” Her side eye to Devin screamed there was ointment in the back to treat the burn. Devin just half laughed and nodded his head, soaking it up. Max was good, she was an ace at dealing with him. “Two sodas and an order of chili-cheese fries and you're totally off my Christmas list.” “Oh,” she pouted. “Darn. She took their drink orders and sped off to the kitchen to do her thing. The two were left alone finally and Devin looked at his pseudo-date and didn't quite know how to kick this whole thing off. “Sooo...” Smooth, Devin. Real smooth. Cassandra let him hang for a second, just for the 'purely sexual' before offering him a hand. She arched an eyebrow and prompted, "So?" Then after a sip of soda reminded him, "Maybe start with Homecoming?" "Okay," he agreed. "So, where to begin? In case you hadn't heard my sister is pretty much kidnapping all of you for preparations at our place before the dance. I'm tasked with somehow making Cade and Jase presentable. If you don't have a dress yet, talk to her, she's in a 'formal affair frenzy', like a shark sniffing blood in the water. We won't be taking my bike, so no worries there, I'll have my car that night, so we don't mess up all effort we put into making ourselves pretty for for the ball. Seriously, if I ended up with mud on my slacks, I'd throw a fit." He shrugged. "So, yeah, that's my side if it all, whatchu got?" Cassie laughed a little. "A notepad, fortunately," she quipped. "Okay, so I should probably give Marissa a call then, since I do have a dress, but not one she's going to be happy with. And...hmm." Cass paused for a second, assessing Devin. "I'm trying to decide if you meeting my mom in advance will be a net positive or not... You've never set foot in the library, have you?" "Sure I have." He chuckled. "Ladies are totally into smart guys and all that. Whenever we have some big study assignment I always make it a point to hang out there after school at least twice in the first week it's been assigned. Some girl always needs some help studying." He grinned wide. "Totally down to meet your mom, though. Met Autumn's for the first time today, she totally loved me." He opened his arms wide like it should be a no-brainer that Cassie's mother would obviously fall immediately in love with the rich, spoiled walking white stereotype of entitlement. "Coooooool," sighed Cassandra, already imagining Devin being Devin in front of her mom. That would go down one of two ways...either 'what are you doing, Cass?' or 'are you doing this just to hurt me, Cass?' And it was so exciting waiting to see which one she'd go with. But you didn't get far telling Devin not to be Devin. One way or the other, she'd just have to deal. Cassie reached out to nab some fries out of the greasy little cardboard cradle they arrived at the table in. "That wasn't so painful," she remarked. "Even if it means a shopping trip with Marissa. Now all we have to do is...survive. Best Homecoming ever." "Didn't know if you'd still be hungry after the pizza, figured something munch on couldn't hurt though." He smiled, stealing some of the fries too. "That's it?" He looked at her skeptically. "No list of rules for friendship dating? Hands off the butt, hands off you, ghost arm only in all pictures? No? That was easy." He chewed his fries and washed them down with a sip of his soda, which she noticed had no ice in it. "So, out of curiosity... why'd you agree to go out with me for Homecoming?" "Dude," she admonished with a grin, "If I gave you rules, it would just be a checklist for shit to do to get to me. As for why?" Cassie stirred her coke with her straw for a second, watching the foam burble up between the chunks of crushed ice. "First, you're funny sometimes. I think we could have fun. But also because ever since this crazy shit started, you've let the whole 'naughty manchild' thing slip a few times. The guy I think I saw when that happens is one I'd like to meet." She looked up at Devin again and lifted an eyebrow. "Can you set us up?" "Wow, that was," his posture visibly changed as he sat up and rested his arms on the table, suddenly more invested in the conversation. She'd been interviewing people for years and, while certainly not a professional, she'd learned enough to know when she'd gotten someone's attention. "Surprisingly direct. I'm used to people dancing around answers with reddened cheeks and that annoyingly playful 'I don't know' reply." "Blondie, look, the... 'manchild', as you put it," his grin told her he found it amusing. "It's my way of dealing with all this 'shit'." He air quoted. "I don't mean anything by it, I j-" he paused and looked around the place at all the other people. "I just need to not be so serious all the time. One, I would be even more unbearable than I am as the manchild, and two, it would be far less entertaining. You have to admit." He smiled wide. "Buuut," he dragged out with a slight protest in his tone. "If serious Devin is what the lady wants, I think I can swing it. Might even waive the hourly rates, I dunno." Cassandra grinned. "I know, and truth is that I like it when you're funny too. We all gotta have some way to deal with everything. And us...I mean, everyone thinks they have it rough, but lets face it. We're going to war against..." Abruptly she stopped and looked around to make sure no one was paying them attention. "...alien magic monsters, so I think we owe each other some benefit of the doubt. So yeah. You don't have to stop being you. Just sometimes, when it's safe, be the rest of you. You know?" She took another fry and tapped it against her bottom lip, then ate it. "My turn now. Why did you ask me?" "Ugh," he rolled his eyes and flopped back in his seat. "I forgot this game goes both ways." Cassie smirked evilly at the bit of torture. "Come on, fair is fair." The fry she was pinching swiftly met its fate while she eagerly awaited for him to man up. He returned and rummaged about for a good, chili and cheese drenched fry to give him courage. Fine, but, no jokes." She raised her eyes brows in a silent promise as she sipped her drink. "Well, I'm shallow, so... if I didn't think you were, at the very least, an eight, I wouldn't have bothered." She was pretty sure that his way of telling her she was pretty. "Devin, the Heaths are like.... sevens, tops." Cassie protested. "And you flirt with them all the time." "True, but together they're a fourteen." He pointed out, proud with his math. She didn't have the heart to inform him that it wasn't quite how it worked. He seemed to sober up some from his fooling around. "...and aside from you being hot... that's it." He shrugged. "That's all I know about you, Cass. I... we..., hell, Cassie, we, all of us, fight and bitch and moan and yet here we are, at the end of it all, ready to die for people who will never even know what we did, together. And there's the old us, now there's the new us's, with unlikely friends and super powers... I guess I want to know more about Cassandra..." he paused, looking at her, his eyes wide as he struggled for the right word... "Allen." She nodded in that wow sort of way. "...Allen," he snapped his fingers. "Right, that was where I was going with that." His smile did to conceal that he'd even remotely remembered her last name. "We're all gonna make it through this, but... I don't us to do it as strangers. Y'know?" "Hmm," Cassie watched him for a moment, rolling the words around in her head. In the end, she decided, his reasoning wasn't that far from her own. They were just sort of...investigating each other. Scraping a layer under the surface. "Okay. You don't have to wait for Homecoming for that. Here we are...at least until the fries are gone. What do you want to know? AMA. Open book." She took another fry then and popped it into her mouth. "Oh," Devin chuckled. "Ohohohoho, alright, let's do this. Let's see... what are your top three turn-ons? Who has the nicer butt? Dana or Autumn? What are you most self-conscious about? What do most people think is true about you, but isn’t?" He kept counting them off in his fingers like they were preloaded in his mind like some spin the bottle, Truth or Dare Championship Belt holder. "What is the most childish thing you still do? What is something we, your friends, would never expect that you do?" "Those are the warm ups," he smiled but she noticed it faded fast and his expression went a little more serious in its presentation. "...and I know you have issues, with home and Crossroads... so, you know, don't worry. We'll bring him home... I'm trying not to ask the stupid obvious stuff. It's not like our lives are anything close to normal." "Okay wow," Cassandra laughed. "You've been giving this some thought. Let's see." She started ticking off fingers. "A good scalp massage, skinny dipping and victory. Autumn, definitely. I'm self-conscious about my hair...it sticks out too much when it's short, but it's super hard to style when it's long, which is why I ponytail it or just let it floof most of the time, but that feels lazy?" Cass shrugged. "People think I'm voyeuristic but it's really just business for me. Not that I get paid or anything, but that's how I approach it. I still love stupid-ass Saturday morning cartoons, and..." The last question forced her to think a little more. "I volunteer at the Sagebrush when I can." At Devin's blank look, she added, "It's the food pantry in town. Lately..." Cass sighed. "...haven't had that kind of time lately." "Why?" He asked out of curiosity. "Not that's a bad thing or anything, I'm just curious. What makes you volunteer there? Was it sort of a 'hey seems fun' kinda gig or did something draw you there? Oh, and I'm totally with you there on the Saturday morning cartoons." "So...my freshman year, I wanted to do something 'hard hitting' you know?" Cassie said, making air quotes. "And I was fixated on the prison, so I wanted to get like a word on the street kind of thing. But...here I am, comfortably middle class white girl, what the fuck do I know about word on the street? So I asked mom, and she suggested the Sagebrush. I didn't even know, at the time, Shelley had a food pantry." Cass paused to finish off her soda, slurping the last bit up the straw before popping the plastic top off to munch on a little ice before picking the narrative up again. "So it was scary at first, but I started talking to some, and...their stories were really kind of gut-punches. And I left feeling like absolute shit, because I'd thought they were scary. So after the article I wrote did not make it in the paper..." Cassandra grinned and shook her head. "...because it was kind of shit...I went back. I felt like I owed them something, because when I first saw them, I didn't see people. And then after that it was just...kind of affirming. The guys that run it are super nice, and really grateful for any help they get." "Wow, I uh, huh," he nodded his head. "I didn't know either. I mean, I knew we had quite a bit of families around here that we help out around the Holidays with the boxes at the school." The look on his face was akin to something resembling a realization. "I just never really considered where all those boxes go. I guess, like you said, I never really considered that there are people receiving them." There was a long pause in their conversation as Max slipped by and offered to refill her drink. "Okay, you're depressing me..." he leaned in and tacked off a few more. "Last ones, and then... I guess it's your turn. Fair is fair. What is something that people think you would never be into, but you are? What is the silliest thing you have an emotional attachment to? What is the most embarrassing thing your parents have caught you doing? Why did you break up with your last boyfriend or girlfriend?" She saw the play there, asking about an ex while disguising it as part of the game. Devin might have thought he was slick, but the wasn't. Cassie was onto him, easily. "Hoo, okay." Cassandra exhaled, clearing the palette. "Lets see. Something people think I'm not into...that's kind of like that other question, but all right. I am hopelessly addicted to jigsaw puzzles. You know how most kids have, like, band posters or movie posters or whatever? I have puzzles that I've finished. And that's also the next answer. I got a three thousand piece puzzle when I was twelve, and I fucking knocked it out of the park, did it in like three days, working on it hours every day. My parents got it laminated, and framed, and I'm going to take it with me everywhere I go until I die." She fished around for what remained of the fries, getting a few chunks from the bottom of the carton. "Embarrassing...that would either be the time Dylan and me did 'breakfast in our undies' when Mom was out of the house...only she wasn't out of the house yet and walked right into us...or the time dad smelled pot on my breath and we went through an entire decade's worth of 'war on drug' slogans for the next two hours." She gave Devin a lazy smile then, arriving at the 'ex' question. "What makes you so sure I broke up with him...or her?" Cass asked teasingly. "Maybe he or she dumped me." "Maybe," he shrugged. "Either way, whomever they were, how'd it go down? I'm curious, the people have a right to know, Cassandra..." he paused and finally snapped his fingers. "Allen. Ha." "I just have never seen you with anyone, granted I never paid much attention to you, even when I was knocking your school books out of your hand while you were fiddling with your phone..." he chuckled. "Man, you made that so easy. You were always on that thing." He shook his head in fond reminiscence. "So? Who were they? How'd the whole last relationship go down? Mine's easy... unlikely pair, met, laughed, spent an afternoon making love, then she got grounded and moved away a week later. Which I suppose is a win because at least I didn't turn her gay... which is what my sister was betting on." "Are you sure?" Cassandra asked. "Did you keep in touch after you left?" She poured some of the melted ice water in her cup into her mouth and swished it a bit before swallowing. "Well, as you might have gleaned, my boyfriend's name was Dylan. We were together a couple of years. He and his friends are into skating, alternative music and slacking off...and when I met him all three of those things were things I was kind of into. I started hanging out with them, and we just started going out." She shrugged. "Nothing complicated, and that was the appeal. The whole thing was very chill, very laid back. But my situation changed. I wasn't happy just fucking around, watching the world go by anymore...and he was. So yeah, I broke up with him." "See? I knew you dumped him." He said with confidence. "Me being picky isn't necessarily good news for you," Cassandra reminded him with a grin. "Pfft," he chuckled. "I'm sure you told him what was up. all he had to do was grow up a little, be willing to be flexible in order to keep you happy. And he didn't want to do that after a couple of years? Fault lies with him, Blondie, not you're wanting to mature and grow. Had it been a few months, or something? Okay, I could see it. Two people need to be flexible for a relationship to be successful. Fixed thoughts and patterns of behavior can have a negative impact on a relationship leading to fixed patterns of behavior. Being able to break that cycle is called psychological flexibility." All she could do is just glare at him. "Sorry, my mom was a behavioral therapist before we moved here." He shrugged. "EmJay and me have had every blurb of psych-speak hammered into our heads. It's how we manipulated a whole school for several years. Bad idea in retrospect, but totally fun along the way. My point is you wanted to mature and grow, which at our age is not an unlikely want. We need to discover the whole 'who we are' thing. Your being picky wouldn't necessarily apply to me unless...," his eyes flared wide and leaned in, silently, but in feigned shock asked her: "Blondie, are you trying to get in my pants?" "I can neither confirm nor deny those allegations," Cassandra replied cagily. "For what it's worth, my dad is a psychologist too, so...yeah. That much I get." She tapped her chin as she looked at Devin. "I guess that makes it my turn." "Fair is fair," he smiled. "Just make sure you're ready to know the answer before you ask, I do have little shame after all." As Max walked past he raised a single digit and pointed to the dwindling chili cheese fries. Although hard at it, she nodded to him and went on about her duties. "You know, my sister might have some ways to help you out with your hair too. She's lazier than she lets on, and still looks like a million bucks everyday. Hit her up, she'll probably tell you how she does it." "That might almost be worth the ladling of contempt I'd get for it," replies Cassie. "Okay. Let's see." What did she really want to know about Devin? As fun as it might be just to ask questions to get under his skin, that wasn't the first priority. How deep did the 'jerk side' of him run? "If you could change one thing you've done in the past up until now, what would you change...how would you change it, and why?" she fished. That got him. His smile seemed to fade as swiftly as the witty quips sprang to his lips on any other occasion. She could tell that he was legit taken off guard by the question. Cassie half expected a dodge... but he began, with very little preparation, like he knew exactly what it was he was going to say. "I know that Marissa is easy to dislike. She's hateful and hurtful and... she used to not always be like that. We used to be like you guys, albeit richer and better dressed, but we were just... ordinary kids, y'know?" They way he looked into her eyes while he sorted through his memories seemed to indicate she'd found the serious side of the teleporter she'd been looking for. "We were the zero's among the elite. We weren't as super rich as the richest kids, so we were the poor kids who got picked on. Mom was always trying to get us some commercial and get us into acting on Disney or Nick but it never happened. We're pretty sure it was her they didn't like, not us." He sighed and shook his head at the memory of some of the antics his mother pulled at auditions but didn't dwell on them. "Anyway, it didn't bother me as much as it did her. It really hurt her her self-esteem and... I don't know, I'm her brother... I was supposed to be there for her." "When we got here, it was her idea to dominate Shelly. All we really did was become the monsters we hated so much. Now? She's so distant from people, doesn't really seem to in touch with how people feel or even care for that matter. She's so self absorbed that," he trailed off and rubbed his face with his palms, an obvious sign that he was bothered by saying these things out loud. Perhaps because it reminded him that it was real. "I don't know... if I hadn't agreed and put my foot down or made some effort to pull her out of this stupid prank sooner instead of letting it go on for so long, she might still be the EmJay I used to know. One you guys would wouldn't even recognize. That's on me, I guess." "Stupid prank," Cassandra repeated, sorting through the story in her head. "You mean the 'dominate Shelly' prank?" She sat back for a second, then said, "I know I don't really know you two, so...I should probably keep my mouth shut, but I'm me. So...this sounds like something you wish you could change that Marissa did. And you're maybe blaming yourself, but it's still her mistake. I mean..." she offered Devin what she hoped was a comforting smile. "...I don't think even you could stop Marissa from doing something she really set her heart on." "Normally I'd agree, even when it came to my sister, a topic I'm usually pretty bull headed on... but I went along with it. She didn't beg me or need to convince me, I went along with it Cassie and let me tell you, I had a blast doing it. I wish I could say I was sorry for all of it, but I'm not. It was a fun ride. Do I regret it? Yeah. In retrospect it was phenomenally dumb idea, but... I'm only realizing that now." He shrugged with one shoulder while reaching for his drink. "We're both hateful and spiteful, I'm just more a more 'in-the-moment' guy. Let me get it out of my system, I'm good. EmJay likes the long game. I part of me thinks I should have recognized it sooner and pulled her back. I don't really blame myself for what she's doing, or has done, or... will probably do," he smirked with a roll of his eyes. "I'm her brother, y'know? It's not so much as just wanting my sister to be safe and happy... and stable." He let out a deep, audible sigh. "But, yeah... that's my big goof. Knowing better and still being dumbass anyway." "Most kids our age are dumbasses," corrected Cassandra. "You've gone further than just that." She let that hang, then nodded. "But yeah, that was...more complicated than I expected it to be. Which isn't a bad thing. Again, I get the feeling you've thought about this stuff before, which...is good." She took another bite of crunchy ice and went on, "All right, now...think about your first crush. What about her did you notice the most? Why was she your crush." Then with a grin she added, "Or he." "She," he said with a smile. "Ugh, god...," he groaned. "Can we go back to complicated brotherly issues? Those are easier." "Nope," she teased. "You're horrible," the teleporter joked as she laughed a bit. "Okay, fine... but this goes no further. Her name was Hannah. She was year older than me and her parents were rich as hell, like Arab oil rich. I'm pretty sure bled gold and kept her room warm by paying bums wearing suits made of hundred dollar bills to light themselves on fire." They both laughed at his extreme example. "If you've never been out to Malibu or the surrounding area... it's nuts out that way. Crazy rich people, doing crazy things with money." "Brunette, she was... incredibly well developed," he smirked. "But that's not why I liked her. To be honest... there wasn't just one thing, which completely baffled me. I honestly didn't know why I was attracted to her, but, I was. That not knowing just made me want to know more. So, I joined gymnastics... because, yeah, you guessed it, she was in gymnastics too. Turns out I was really good at it and she wasn't, or maybe she just hated it... anyway, the more I tried to get to know her she more she treated me like crap and the more I let her because I really liked her." "It was awhile before Marissa pointed out I was friend-zoned, so I made my move and asked her out to a school dance." Dismissively the young man rolled his eyes and shrugged. "Not only did she reject me, she rejected me hard. Had all of her friends laughing at me, calling me out at school, basically making my life hell until it was no longer funny and they moved on to other torments. God I hate that girl so much." he chuckled, but she could tell it wasn't a half-hearted laugh... she'd really hurt him and he hated her for it. "She was my lesson on how to won everything I do so people can't make fun of me for it. Laugh at everything and be proud of the things I do. Forget what people think or say, y'know?" Cassandra nodded sympathetically. "I can totally understand it, yeah. I'm still curious about what you saw in her though. You might not have understood it then, but you've picked that part of your life over a hundred times. I bet you have some insight now that you didn't then, yeah?" "A thousand times, per year, since," agreed with her. Once again his eyes wandered off into that little pocket of reminiscence everyone possessed, where they kept the moments of their life couldn't, for whatever reason, let go of. "How can I say this and not come off like some creeper? So... I'd never crushed on anyone before her. She was gorgeous, sure, but everything about her attracted me to her... her voice, the smell of her hair," he looked to Cassie, holding up his hand to pause the action. "It was gymnastics. to paired up to help each other out so yes, her hair was whipped in my face on several occasions. I wasn't, like, creeping in while she slept and stealing locks of it or anything." He passively shrugged and offered one of his charming, witty grins. "The security at her house was way to tight." "It was her smile, her voice, I don't know, Cassie, before I knew it I was willing to join gymnastics just to meet her and felt like the luckiest man alive when we were paired off together to practice. Looking back honestly... I don't know what specifically it was and seeing how it all turned out, I must have looked pretty pathetic to everyone on the outside looking in." He sipped his coke and shook his head, looking for the words a bit more. "Sometimes there's just love. You don't know what it is, or why it happens, but there you are... joining gymnastics and letting someone take advantage of you for just the smallest chance that maybe, just maybe they'll be yours. Jason doesn't really understand how lucky he is, sometimes, not feeling things the way we do." "Aww..." Cassandra smiled, charmed despite herself. "I don't know, man. It sucks when it goes wrong, but...he's also missing out on the high of it. Seems like he's been like...trimmed. Clipped. Pieces of the human experience just carved off, and he'll never know what he missed. And you and me...we'll never be able to really explain what he missed." She shrugs. "But that's who he is." Then Cass jabbed a finger at Devin again. "...and we're not here to talk about him. You're still on the hot seat, mister." She folded her arms and smirked. "Okay then, I think just one more. We're almost outta fries and we'll need our sleep. Think back on a time when you felt completely at peace with...yourself, with the world. A moment when everything bad just melted away, and you were happy without effort. Now...what were you doing during that moment?" "Oh, Jesus... remind me never to spin the bottle with you. You're brutal." He laughed. "That one is easy though. Every since we," he looked around and leaned in all super spy-like and lowered his voice. "Our abilities. I've been skydiving a lot. I looked up that this Joe Kittinger guy held the record for something like a hundred thousand foot skydive. So, I went for it. First, it was incredibly cold, did not know that, so I bailed out early. Tried again with proper attire, and it blew my mind. Imagine three minutes of your life where you just let go and ride the wind straight down. For all the wind rushing through my ears it was amazingly quiet." "I fall for about two-thirty, which gives me plenty of time to negotiate a landing, but to just disappear from my room and be falling for two minutes over the lights and sounds of Hong Kong or New York, or... one of those phosphorescent algae tides that sometimes happen in the ocean, it makes the world seem so massive so, I don't know, massive. Me and my problems don't seem so big anymore in those two minutes. I see all the people we're helping, the lives we're saving and... I guess I realize that despite, the total shit I've been, I'm actually someone's hero, somewhere... even if they'll never know it. Nothing quite puts at peace like knowing I'm not as hopeless as I thought I was." His expression snapped back to the now and cleared his throat in the middle of another smile as he gesture towards her with his hand. "Wanna go sometime? Totally safe. We'll start low to the ground, thirty second freefall of the reservation. It'll definitely do wonders for your hair. "Hmm...I could kind of do that too, just seeing things at a distance," Cassandra muses. "But I think you're right. It wouldn't be the same if you didn't feel yourself falling. Yeah, that'd be really cool" She holds up a finger. "Not tonight though. Too much pizza in me. And now, soda and fries. Uhf." Cassie rubs her cheek ruefully. "I'm going to need a better workout." And with that she deftly grabbed the last fry and ate it. "Okay. I liked this. Thanks, Devin." "Anytime," he said as he stood up. "I had fun too, and whenever you're ready for the drop, let me know. Like I said we'll start low." He dropped a twenty on the table even though two drinks and fries couldn't have been more than ten bucks at the small diner, and followed Cassie out to give her a ride home. Perhaps it was their conversation or what awaited them tomorrow, but neither were in a real hurry for the evening to end and it showed in Devin's careful, rather slow (for him) cruise back to Cassandra's house. The purr of the engine was low and almost silent down eave avenue as the young man barely gave it what it needed to maintain the speed limit but, no matter how hard they tried, time moved ever onward and eventually the sleek, black motorcycle came to a slow stop outside Cassandra's home. He walked her to her steps and tried his best to make any of this seem like it had some weird date vibe to it. It didn't have that vibe did it? No, it couldn't have, because they weren't dating. "Well, I'll uh, see you tomorrow, I hope? Carousel? Before we all go off and..." Awkward silence was the order of the evening when it came to tomorrow. "Well, you know. Thanks for hanging out. I didn't realize Cassandra Allen was such a complex person. I might have to investigate further." He nodded with curiosity on par with mad scientists the world over. "Definitely," Cassandra said in reply. Her cheeks reddened as she realized that could be taken a couple of ways, "I mean, about seeing you tomorrow." She nodded...then admitted, "And also the other thing, except, you know, about you." Ugh...and she was wanting to make a living using words? "Okay! So...thanks. Seeya." Cassie fished her keys out of her pocket and gave Devin an awkward wave. A gesture felt appropriate but, like...what? Handshake was formal and impersonal and cringe. Hug felt...too the opposite. Shit, end on a joke! "Drive safe," she said, and managed a grin. He laughed at her safe driving comment, walking back a few steps as he winked at her. "No promises, Blondie." He turned to walk back to his bike. She breathed a sigh of relief as he didn't go for a hug or a handshake... just smiles and witty banter. After all, they were still friends and... he still had Lona issues he was dealing with, that much was obvious. He spun about around half-way to his bike and was stepping back again. "Oh, hey, if you want to, text me if you have Homecoming concerns or feel like going a few more rounds of questions or... you know... if you just can't sleep. Worst that'll happen is I don't respond because I'm already sleeping." It was close to 'I'd like to talk to you again' as guys who were not sure about their relationship status got to saying 'we don't have to be face to face to flirt shamelessly'. Since no one in the Fellowship was really getting a lot of sleep lately anyways, except Jason who was usually sound asleep stuffed full of hiker gibblets, his offer didn't seem like an unreasonable one. His bike roared to life and hushed to a purr before he revved it up and was on his way down the street. Her lips curled in a grin and she shook her head as the dark street lit up in a sudden, Back to the Future purple flash once he was out of sight.
  4. 1 point
    Those who had wanted to had freshened up, had a coffee or a soda, and as the afternoon came to an end people started to go their separate ways without much ceremony. Tawny, with a cheery wave and a smile, cycled off down the dirt road first. Cade was next, slinging his equipment duffel into the back of his Jeep before driving off. Lilly was next, pausing long enough to offer Cass a lift only for the blonde to demur, stating with a smile that she had a ride coming. And sure enough, as Courtney's cherry-red convertible drove away with Kat in the passenger seat, a purplish ripple in the air and the purr of Devin's bike announced the teleporter's return, and Cassandra grinned as she hopped aboard the bike's pillion seat and donned the helmet. That done, she waved to Autumn and Jason as Devin gave them a jaunty salute, and the dust of the road was once more and finally disturbed as the Ducatti left. "So." Autumn said, leaning back on the porch rail and smiling at the Effing Boyfriend. "I can't help but notice I didn't get an airplane." she bantered, feeling a little breathless suddenly as he stepped closer, her face tilting up to regard him as she forced her hands to stay on the porch rail with an effort of will, given that they'd rather be doing other things right about now. "That's true." Jason nodded, angular features expressionless. "I was thinking we could do something else." he murmured as his hands slid around her waist, jade-hued eyes meeting hers. “Mhmm.” For a moment, it was the only reply she could make- language was, after all, governed by slightly more evolved parts of Autumn’s brain than the ones currently in operation. Pheromones, the rational part of her brain insisted through the delicious haze of warmth clouding her thoughts. With the railing pressed against her back and the heat radiated by Jason’s long, lean form so tantalizingly close, it was something of a miracle she managed even that much. She was dimly aware that they were completely alone. That his bare arms were on either side of her, implicitly preventing her escape even if she’d thought to make one. That he hadn’t yet changed clothes, and it would require only the slightest effort to- Releasing the porch railing, Autumn mirrored Jase’s movement. Pale fingertips dipped below the waistband of his sweatpants, the wide, clear blue pools of her eyes darkening as her hands skimmed around his hips and pulled him another half-step forward. He'd been intending to bedevil her a little, make her blush, steal a kiss, then bring up what he actually had in mind. To be playful, perhaps mischievous as he had been on Saturday morning when he'd inflamed her a little then dropped the word 'hiking' into the conversation. All of which went flying out of the window as Jase felt warm fingertips on his bare flesh, the lithe, athletic young woman running her hands tantalisingly over the skin of his hips and pulling him insistently against her. And just like that, like a circuit was completed and electrical current flowed between them, passing from his touch through her and then into him, and that primal savage part of him, looser in it's chains than before as a result of his careful balance between control and passion during the practice fight with Devin, lunged. He pulled Autumn against him in turn, arms going tighter around her waist as his lips met hers with almost bruising force, a sound like a hoarse echo of a growl in his throat as he drank deeply from her willingly open mouth, grazing his teeth against her lower lip before entangling his tongue with hers. All he could feel, smell and hear was Autumn: the warm solidity of her body, the scent of woods and grass and natural feminine perfume, the gasps as she eagerly returned his kiss, and in that contraction of his world to her he lost all sense of everything else. There was an undeniable hunger in that reciprocation, in the greedy melding of lips and teeth and tongue that kindled the flickering spark in her abdomen to bright, insatiable flame. The quiet gasps she made against his mouth turned to soft moans as the spirited redhead tried, in vain, to get closer, to press the length of her body any more fully against his; if it wasn’t for their clothes, she could, but to untie the hoodie from her waist, to tug off their shirts, to cast off shoes and pants and all the other annoying trappings of civilized society would take time away from kissing him, from the taste of him. Neither situation- being unable to feel the glorious friction of skin on skin, or breaking even the little contact she was getting in order to strip down- seemed tolerable to her fevered mind. “More,” she breathed in a low plea against his lips, one hand sliding up his spine beneath the white cotton of Jason's shirt, as the other drifted farther southward. With a little maneuvering, Autumn wriggled her way up onto the railing, shifting until her knees were on either side of his narrow hips. It wasn’t quite what Devin had suggested when he’d interrupted them in the loft, but she was in no way interested in pausing to go look for a table now. The only thing that did have her attention, in that moment, was the sweet, fierce delirium of desire that burned beneath her skin- burned, consumed, and yet left neither agony nor ash in its wake, but something as-yet formless, nameless, and wholly unconcerned with anything but the feeling of him in her arms Jason was aware that his control had reached it's limits. His need was painful, pressed against her through flimsy layers of interloping cloth as his hands slid under her hoodie and the t-shirt she wore beneath it, fingertips stroking the warmth he found there. It was frustrating, being so close and yet how discordant that awareness of never being close enough was. It would be easy, his reason supplied, to remove the pesky obstacles. He could cocoon himself and Autumn in his Shine and then just burn everything unimportant away, letting it all char and fall away and leave only pale ivory skin dusted with copper pressed against him and then- and then they could- they could fit just right together. In the depths of his half-lidded, passion-dark gaze fireflies began to swirl... "Christ!" Gar said as he rounded the corner of the house with his kit bag and camping gear, back from the militia camp-out, only to be confronted with a scene best described as 'bordering on not family friendly'. Coughing and with hazel eyes wide, he half-turned away. "Uh... so... I'm home." he announced to no-one in particular. Distracted as she was by Jason’s kisses, his touch, the texture of his skin beneath her fingertips, by the tangible proof of her lover’s mutual want, the insistent pressure she could just feel through her jeans, Autumn hadn’t heard the arrival of any vehicles- nor indeed anything at all over the mad rush of blood pounding in her ears and the quiet whimpers of need that caught in the back of her throat. So when Gar’s shocked exclamation interrupted the relative peace of the afternoon it caught her utterly and completely off-guard. Jesus fuck! The startled curse was muffled by Jase’s mouth on hers- or hers on his, the two being so intertwined it would’ve been almost impossible to determine- and it was only the reflexive tightening of her thighs around his waist and her hands on his back that prevented her from falling backwards off the railing. All at once, the heat that had been building in her core surged to the surface of her skin, staining with crimson the sun-warmed cheeks that had moments before been rosy with desire. Oh, god. Oh, my fucking, god, Autumn. With a mortified, despairing groan, she buried her face against her boyfriend’s shoulder, as if in doing so she could somehow escape the awkward. “Hi, Gar,” she muttered almost inaudibly, pleading in vain for some merciful deity to just incinerate her on the spot. "Dad." Jason's voice held a taut husk as he fought back down the consuming urge, his hands still holding Autumn to him, aware of her arms and legs having tightened even further around his lean form as he glanced at his father, breathing hard and eyes alight with a feral flame for a long moment... and then returning to his normal outward composure as control reasserted itself. "So I guess you didn't hear the pickup." he noted, glancing quickly to ensure both teens were decent before actually turning back to face them with an uncomfortable smile. "You guys have a good training day?" "Productive." Jason nodded, his breathing coming a little easier as his heart slowed and blood settled from the searing heat that had been running through his veins. He still cradled Autumn, one hand gently stroking the ends of her hair absently as he spoke. "The old plough is fixed - though needs a tow linkage bar. The far north field is a bit waterlogged but should be fine. And we learned a lot from each other." "Good. Good." Gar smiled a little less awkwardly. "I was gonna get some dinner going - Autumn, you want to stay for a bit?" It hadn’t been all that long since Devin had brought back pizza, but the prospect of finding out more about the laconic young man and his dad firsthand- and of getting a free dinner on top of that- was enough to make up her mind. Still red-faced, she nodded against Jason’s chest, and then, realizing that wasn’t really an answer, tried again. Turning her head so that her cheek was pressed against her companion’s breastbone, her flame-crowned head tucked beneath his chin, Autumn hazarded a smile at Gar. “Um, for a little bit, yeah, thank you. I could eat.” The gear the older man was carrying caught her eye, and for a moment she wondered what he and his friends got up to on their outings. It also struck her as a little bit strange, an interesting coincidence that both Jase and his father had gone camping on the same weekend. She inhaled, an involuntary shiver running hot and cold through her body as she breathed in Jason’s scent, and swallowed hard. Down, girl. “And, if you want, I’m happy to help out. I mean, I don’t know how to cook Provencal anything, but I’ll do what I can.” Gar chuckled slightly. "Oh, it's my turn to cook, so it won't be anything fancy or experimental. Fried chicken and mashed potatoes with some green stuff on the side. Come on through to the kitchen and I'll put you to work." he smiled good-naturedly at the girl before disappearing through the front door, leaving the pair alone again, though they could hear him opening closets and doors inside as he stowed his gear. "I'm going to take a shower. A cold one." Jason murmured, his lips moving against Autumn's coppery curls, taking a breath and letting it out again slowly. She could feel the warmth of his exhalation on her scalp as he lifted her down from the porch rail, then gently kissed her upturned lips, his eyes closing for a moment as he did so, then smiled slightly and led her inside. They parted ways at the foot of the stairs, Jason letting his fingers slip from hers as he stepped away, his eyes still on her, before turning and taking the steps up two at a time. As he disappeared round the corner of the stairwell, Gar stuck his head out of the kitchen doorway. "I'm betting you know your way around a potato peeler." he waggled the implement between thumb and forefinger at her. "Mind starting with that?" "Yeah," she replied distractedly, watching Jason quickly mount the stairs. She’d been in that shower herself, and it was hard not to imagine him there now beneath the spray, with that clean, faintly herbal scented lather on his- No. No, no, no. “No.” Autumn shook her head, echoing her own silent admonition to herself as she tore her eyes away from the staircase, a renewed wave of scarlet suffusing her skin. “No, I mean, I don’t mind. Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” She followed Gar into the kitchen, humming under her breath as she busied herself physically by scrubbing the potatoes he brought, and mentally by trying to think of how she was going to broach the subject of the letter and the talisman to her mom. Jason's dad seemed to be handling the crazy well enough; he didn't look quite as tired as he had the first time she'd met him, more alert and interested, and a little of the sadness in his warm hazel eyes had dissipated. In theory, having at least grown up with Owen's seemingly outlandish stories, Dana might be completely fine after an initial freakout. Or she could ship me off somewhere, the redhead sighed internally, glancing over to where the elder Bannon was prepping the chicken. "Hey, Gar?" She frowned a little as she dug out a bruised spot from the pale white flesh, still swaying slightly on her feet at the music playing in the background of her thoughts. "Can I be nosy for a minute? Jason's dad glanced over at her as he mixed the seasoned breading together, a curious expression on his face. He was perhaps a shade shorter and a lot broader of shoulder than Jason, his eyes more of a muddy hazel than vivid green, and his face was animated, warm and human compared to his son's remote outward mien. But there were similarities too, such as the quick intelligence, undulled by drink now, that gleamed in his eyes as he regarded his son's girlfriend. "Sure." he said after a moment, smiling. "What's on your mind, Autumn?" The expressive redhead took a deep breath, holding onto it for a moment as she decided how to start, and then exhaling in a sudden rush. "So, I've been kind of wondering." Tilting her head, she returned the smile he'd directed at her, nose crinkling slightly as the expression turned rueful. "I didn't really get a chance to ask last night, because, you know. Existential terror and all that." Still smiling, Autumn shrugged at that, a sort of nonverbal punctuation easily interpreted even by those not familiar with her. "But... How are you taking all this?" She gestured broadly with peeler in hand, indicating more than just the kitchen and the dinner preparations. "Since the hospital, I mean. Not Jason and me." The smile changed, broadened, and she could feel her cheeks growing warmer by degrees as she glanced quickly back down at the few potatoes that remained and picked one up. "I feel like I'm gonna have to tell my mom, you know? And I know you two are different people, but you kind of remind me of her, a little, and I was wondering how you've been handling the sort of... I don't know. The nightmare stuff, and having us all out here. Because it's crazy, right? And, I guess..." Autumn swallowed, shrugged again as she blinked back the sting that warned of imminent tears. "I guess I don't want to make her worry any more than she needs to." Gar nodded slowly as he started coating the chicken pieces, his expression contemplative as the fiery-haired girl spoke and for a long moment afterwards. The silence stretched out a little, and when Jason's dad did speak it was with slow deliberation. "Honestly? I've been scared almost witless." he confessed in a quiet voice. "Nothing new there - I was always scared about being a lousy dad, or that Jason was autistic. Finding out about him just gave me something concrete to be afraid of rather something from inside my own imagination." He sighed, brushing some crumbs of breading from his fingers over the bowl before grabbing another piece of chicken. "Monsters, conspiracies, ancient aliens stuff, psionic powers, and him being... different... they all worry me." "But he's Jase, you know? I can't stop him doing what he's doing. I'm not even sure that morally I should try. For all that he's only sixt-" The older man's voice wavered a little, but he continued to speak as he prepped the meal. "-sixteen, he's not a child. So if I can't stop him, all I can do is make sure he's not distracted by me, that I'm a help rather than a hindrance. And once I realised that, it got easier." He smiled over at Autumn, his eyes a little moist but with tears unshed. "And he has you, and the others - some of them, at least." Gar snorted slightly. "You guys aren't going off alone to fight monsters. You've got him, and he's got you." He shrugged. "It's a challenge, but I can't help if I'm panicking and trying to wrap him in cotton wool." Autumn was quiet for a few moments, finishing up the last of the potatoes and disposing of the peels as she mulled over his answer. It was the same earnestness he'd showed a week ago when she'd turned up looking for his son, hoping to retrieve the faded red hoodie that was even now tied around her waist- so very unlike Jase in terms of being openly emotional, but also very like him for being unapologetic about it, for listening, for taking her question seriously. Most adults wouldn't admit to being afraid of anything, or what they were really afraid of, least of all to a "kid." She was reminded again of that initial impression she'd gotten, the fact that she liked the slightly awkward, very human father of her now-boyfriend. He's a good dad. There was never a doubt in her mind, in any of the situations in which she'd seen Gar Bannon, that he dearly loved his strange, brilliant son, and that Jase would probably have been a very different person otherwise. Not someone she'd ever call a friend, at the very least, and definitely not someone she'd date, or get caught kissing on two separate front porches on consecutive days. Probably, he'd have ended up being exactly the way the twins described him, if not worse. "I think," she began slowly, beginning to cut the denuded tubers into manageable chunks as she considered her words, finally electing to follow on from something he'd just said. "Speaking as a friend, that we're pretty lucky, you know? We're lucky to have him, and also lucky he has you. He's-" She paused, the blade of the paring knife hovering for a brief instant over the half-deconstructed potato she was working on. He's what? 'Different?' The man knows that. "Kind of amazing, honestly," the animated girl admitted quietly, unable to suppress the smile that spread slowly across her features. "And, thanks. I want to be honest with my mom, and she's kind of used to me doing everything on my own, so... maybe if it's not just me, it'll be easier." "Honesty definitely would be my first pick - but she's your mom. Ultimately, you know best whether you think she can handle it." Gar smiled a little at her. "I have to say, though, getting thrown in the deep end the way I was is not the best way to get introduced to the weirdness but it definitely cut through a lot of BS about what is possible. I saw what Jason can do, what all of you can do. As demonstrations go, it was effective." "Tell me about it." Autumn smiled, her nose crinkling slightly as she peered over at him. "My introduction was Jason holding a door shut on me, then pulling ice cubes out of tap water like a stage magician pulling ping pong balls from his ear." Gar looked at her askance, then snorted with laughter, Autumn's own merriment mingling with his as the two relaxed a little. "I think your mom will be okay. She seems a sensible woman - so she'll naturally assume you're insane and then that she's insane. But she'll get past it." Gar said as their chuckling faded. "I did." "Yeah." Autumn said thoughtfully, setting the knife down and dumping the chopped potatoes into the pot of water before turning and feeling her heart jump up into her throat as she noticed Jason standing in the doorway to the kitchen, leaning against the doorpost and watching her. "Shit! Sorry... sorry..." she apologised, feeling her face redden a little. Typically, he'd not made a sound as he'd come downstairs. Gar looked around at her outburst, then spotted his son and nodded. "Yeah. He does that. Been doing it since as long as I could remember." he confided in Autumn. "Hank likes to joke that if you can't hear anything, it means Jason's standing behind you staring at the inside of your skull." "I have to find some ways to entertain myself." Jase said quietly, with a faint smile. "And sneaking up on Hank was a great way to learn how to cuss." "Mhmm, unlike the rest of us who had to learn it from cranky old men and the internet," Autumn replied with a grin, staunchly refusing to acknowledge the flush of warmth that always surfaced whenever she realized Jase was observing her. She'd asked him about it when they'd gone camping- what he saw when looking at her so intently- but it couldn't be the same answer all the time, and surely there was nothing all that fascinating about mashed potatoes. Was there? She was tempted to ask again, but reminded herself that if he answered, he'd do it honestly, and that... might not be something Gar Bannon especially needed to hear. Or maybe even that she needed to hear. With Jason, it was hard to say. And, in fairness, it wasn't that she minded, really; it could be a little bit unnerving, that level of attentiveness, but also sort of flattering, maybe? Mostly, she was just curious, though that was true about a lot of things where he was concerned. "Have you guys been friends very long?" she asked instead, glancing first at the older man and then the younger with inquisitive blue eyes warmed by the presence of good company. She had a vague idea that Jase spent time with Hank, training, and that Gar himself was somehow associated with the militia. Neither thought was especially reassuring, but the rational part of her stubbornly maintained that she liked both the Bannon men, and for whatever reason, they both seemed to like Hank Graskle, so... Perhaps her judgement of him was as unjustified as it had been of the two in front of her now. As with everything else, there was really only one way to know for sure, and that started with asking. "Also, if there's anything besides potatoes you need help with, my hands are free." "Looks like dinner's under control for now. As for Hank... Since about a year after we came to Shelly, though I met him six months in when I hooked up with the Sons." Gar revealed as he set the pot to cooking and started warming up the oil pan. "We got along, but he's a private person, so it was a while before we were actually friends." He gave Autumn a knowing look, tinged with a little defensiveness. "Folks round here don't approve of him much, but he's a good guy, and for all that people like to snicker about 'militia crazies', Hank ethos is one of self-sufficiency and being prepared for the worst days rather than counting on the good ones to last forever. The Sons aren't right-wing uber-Christian neo-fascists or whatever. We're just a support network for each other: folks who feel that the system increasingly grinds up individual rights in pursuit of the greater good, and that sooner or later it will likely collapse, so let's get ready for it rather than panic about it. Actual revolutionary types get given the bums rush." "Mostly it's just a bunch of vets, men - and some women - sitting around discussing the best way to grow potatoes and keep livestock over sharing beers." Jason put in as he moved towards the coffee pot, preparing three mugs of coffee: black for himself, a dash of cream for Gar, and cream and sugar for Autumn. Gar's mug floated to set down next to the man as Jason stepped close to Autumn, offering her the coffee in much the same fashion as she had offered one to him earlier, sharing a smile with her as their eyes met. "Plus some paramilitary style training - which is what has most people nervous I would imagine." "I was in a bad way when I came here." Gar nodded, speaking quietly. "I felt like I'd been screwed over by the system, and was talking to all sorts of wackjob conspiracy theorists trying to get a sense of control of my life back. On the whole, I'm lucky I fell in with Hank. He helped get my head straight - sorta. I still crawled into a bottle for a few years, but at least I wasn't full-on nuts." He cleared his throat, smiling a little. "Anyway. That's the tale of the Bannons and Hank." Autumn nodded, smiling back as she leaned her hip against the counter and took a sip of coffee, rolling the taste of it around on her tongue even as she turned Gar's words over in her head. It was a lot to take in, especially when she really hadn't expected him to be quite that open and forthcoming about everything. Probably has something to do with Hank being his best friend, she reflected. People tended to be protective of the things that were important to them, and Jason's dad was much easier to read than The Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities. "Sorry. I didn't really mean for that to be a- a judgy kind of question. I just don't know much about him, and I've seen him a couple of times now, so..." She took another drink from her mug and rolled it thoughtfully between her palms, absently watching the creamy whorls of ivory and brown intermingle fluidly. "He does make me nervous." Glancing up at the elder Bannon, she managed an awkward smile at the admission. "But, you don't. And Jase doesn't." She paused for a beat, tilting her head back to peer at the tall, enigmatic young man behind her with a glimmer of laughter in the shifting blue-grey-green of her eyes. "Not always, at least. Unless he's trying to, and then it's pretty much guaranteed." Straightening, she added, "So, I feel pretty okay, I guess, taking your word for it until I find out for myself." "Which is all that can be reasonably asked." Gar nodded as he loaded the basket up with a few pieces of chicken and lowered it into the oil pan, watching the surface for a few minutes as it seethed and roiled. Turning then, and picking up his own mug, he smiled briefly at her and took a drink. The kitchen was silent for a little while, then, but it was a comfortable sort of silence; Gar keeping one eye on the stove as he reflected and sipped coffee, and Jason leaning against the counter next to Autumn, close enough she could feel his hip brushing hers, himself content not to speak. Autumn reflected on the way both men, young and old, seemed comfortable with silence and stillness, differing in quality though the feel of it was from each. Gar was the stillness of a forest glade - there was motion there, leaves and fronds stirred in the breeze, a sense of things happening out of sight but none of them particularly ominous. Whereas Jason was, of course, the frozen primordial lake: nothing appeared to disturb the stillness at all, and then you walked out on the ice and realised that you could see beneath it... and then something down there where the water was warmer stirred and looked back at you. "How are you handling all this?" Gar said into the quiet after a short while, glancing at Autumn curiously. "I mean, training to use your gift, being expected to fight monsters and timeless evils, not to mention Aeon and Branch 9 and Crossroads." He smiled wryly at her. "How does a nice sensible girl like you deal with this madness?" "You're assuming I'm nice and sensible." She grinned, a flash of fey humor in the wide, sea-colored eyes that sparkled at him over the rim of her mug as she took another drink. It was a fair question: she'd just asked him more or less the same thing, and he'd mentioned a week prior that he hadn't really been able to hold a conversation with his son's friends, so it stood to reason he'd be curious how the people Jase would be fighting alongside might be coping. Turning the mug in her hands, absently savoring the warmth of it in her fingers, Autumn considered that. A few of the teens- Jason included- had mentioned or alluded to the fact that all of them might not be coming home. What that meant to her, personally, was a very different thing than what it might mean to someone else. Especially when that someone else was a father who was, even indirectly, trusting her with his child's life. Oh. Well, fuck. Why hadn't that occurred to her before? Autumn wondered at that. Was it just because she wasn't a parent, and didn't think like one? Or because really having to think about other people in general still felt awkward and uncomfortable, like a new pair of boots that hadn't yet been broken in? Hmm. Aware that Gar was still waiting for an answer, still patiently sort-of smiling as the gears in her head turned (probably audibly), she nodded, acknowledging the question more seriously. "It is madness, yeah, like you said," she began quietly, studying the half-full mug in her hands. "Scary in a very real, nightmares-come-to-life kind of way. Which, mostly is fine. Fear can be useful, you know? Healthy. In most people," she amended, gently nudging Jason's hip with her own. "But sometimes there's no running away from what you're afraid of. Sometimes you have to walk toward it, I think. The worst that happens is what would've happened anyway, but you're on your feet and facing it, if that makes sense.” She smiled again, slightly. “That’s kind of what my grandfather tried to teach me. The difference in just being afraid of something, kind of letting instinct take over, and consciously respecting it. So, I guess, to answer your question, I just…” She paused, lower lip caught momentarily between her teeth. “I just do. Do the thing now, freak out afterward. Sort of like last night. Maybe I cry, or get sick, or go sit in my treehouse and smoke a little. Or a lot,” the redhead admitted with another little grin, “depending. But I also feel like maybe it’s easier for me, because it isn’t just me anymore. I do have a couple of friends now, which sounds kind of sad when I say it out loud, and I found out my family, my mom’s side I mean, has been dealing with this since before Shelly was a thing. So.” She was quiet for a moment, then hazarded a glance up from the swirling mixture of cream and caffeine. “Does that help? "Having a couple of friends isn't sad." Gar grinned at her. "Means you're discerning. Quality over quantity, right?" They shared a smile, then Gar took out the cooked chicken and put on a fresh batch to fry as he pondered. "It does help, though. Sounds like you're dealing with it right in my opinion. It's still sorta hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Jase here-" he indicated the Effing One with a wry smile, "-finds having a girlfriend more of a thing worthy of talking about than fighting evil beasties." "He does, hmm?" Autumn glanced at Jason, feeling her cheeks pinken again as she realised his eyes were on her, had probably been on her the entire time. He wasn't moon-eyed or anything, just... studying her. Intently. He's learning me, like I'm a language. she realised then, with a small smile, thinking about her 'Bannonology notes for dummies'. He was interested in her in pretty much the same way she found him fascinating - or at least, it seemed that way. "Oh yeah. Can't shut up about you." Gar's wink let Autumn know he was teasing. Jason's gaze flickered to his father, curiously, then he too realised that Gar was kidding around and smiled a little as he took a drink from his coffee. Dinner was comfortable and uneventful. Much as when Devin had come round a few days earlier, talk of Dark, powers and weird stuff was by common consensus not brought up. Gar ate ravenously, and the teens only slightly less so despite having had pizza not so long ago. They discussed the upcoming hunting season, school and sports and the plans for the Carousel festival tomorrow - turned out Gar and Hank would likely be there, grilling and chilling with other Shellyites. Jason made mention of the fact he'd be in Great Falls most of the morning with Sean, but should be back before the afternoon wore on too late, and Autumn tried not to think about what he'd said about buying condoms, because that way lay fiery-faced spontaneous combustion. Finally, with the meal over, Gar went to rest whilst the teens quickly cleaned up. "Once we're done here, I'll get you home." Jase said quietly as he scrubbed and rinsed a plate. He glanced sideways at Autumn, a faint smile playing around his eyes and lips. "We could go by road... or air. Which would you prefer?" Ohmygod! Ohmygodhohmygodohmygod! Pleeeeease don’t let him be kidding! The response was near-instantaneous, her decision requiring only slightly longer than it took for his words to register. "Seriously?!" Realizing just a moment too late how loud her startled exclamation was, she clapped the dish-towel over her mouth, wide-eyed. Even through the layers of cloth, Autumn’s girlish squeals of excitement were unmistakable as she bounced on the balls of her feet, with only the fact that Jason’s dad was trying to relax keeping her from actually jumping up and down right there in the kitchen. He’d told her on the camping trip that if he ever learned to fly properly, she could be his first passenger; and a flush totally unrelated to the anticipation of Jase making good on his word stole across her cheeks at the memory of the look in his eyes there in the firelight, what he’d said after, and whether the way he’d said it had meant anything… But the last, at least, was something for Future Autumn to worry about. Current Autumn needed a completely different kind of confirmation. The clear blue eyes that studied his features fairly shone with anticipation, searching his expression for some hint of teasing not betrayed by the Effing Boyfriend’s neutral tone. “Seriously?” She tried again, softer this time but no less urgently, dish-towel still clutched just under her chin in the event she needed to muffle another shriek. There was a pleading note in her voice as she leaned closer, and a suggestion of hopeful optimism. “You’re not just messing with me, are you?” His smile widened a little, which could be deliberate mannerism on his part, but the warmer hue to his gaze was unmistakeable. "I promised." he said simply, as though that explained everything, then paused, his head tilting slightly. "And even if I hadn't, I'd still offer. It's a nice evening." Another pause, his eyes almost luminous as they rested on hers. "And there's no-one I'd rather fly with." It was nothing short of miraculous that Jase managed to hold on to the plate- although certainly his ability to rapidly process visual information, in concert with the multitude of expressions he'd observed in the last few days, must have helped- as Autumn threw her arms around him in a fiercely exuberant embrace. Pressing her face against his chest to stifle the cheers of unadulterated joy, the energetic redhead thanked all the gods that hadn't incinerated her thus far for ignoring her pleas. He let go of the plate, which drifted onto the drying rack, because there were better uses for his hands, weren't there? Such as holding the copper-tressed elfin creature who was currently excitedly cheering directly to his heart as he felt her energy surge and roil and enfold him as much as her arms were tightly clasping him to her. It was a good feeling, this feeling. Warming without being consuming, a tenderness to it that was almost selfless - her happiness being a tangible state he could feel, or so it seemed - and important to him. He smiled slightly, resting his cheek against the top of her head as one arm enfolded her and the other gently stroked her hair whilst he reflected on that warmth which, he was pretty sure, he would always associate with copper curls, eyes like the sea, and a crinkle-nosed smile illuminating a freckled face. "You'll have to hold on tight, of course." he said with a faint teasing tone, his eyes closing as he breathed in the warm scent of her and felt her hair against his cheek. "Mm, are you kidding me?" Autumn grinned broadly and unreservedly, the change in her expression a tactile sensation through the fabric of his shirt as she hugged him with renewed enthusiasm. "You'd have to pry me off with a crowbar. Believe me, I don't plan on letting go." She could feel the sure, steady drum of his heart against her temple, and, breathing in the somehow green fragrance of his soap with the suggestion of his own scent just beneath, the lively young woman felt improbably, unequivocally happy. It was a feeling totally incongruous with the unsettling knowledge that in roughly 24 hours they'd be facing the stuff of nightmares, and yet the present and undeniable reality was this. Just, This, whatever it was, or meant- or didn't. And This was, really and truly, fine. Drawing back a little, she lifted her head and pressed a brief, but warm kiss against the side of Jason's throat, brushing her lips in a feathery caress over his pulse, and finally released him. "Come on. Let's finish all the boring stuff so you can take me home. I mean, I'm not in a hurry to be there," she conceded with a laugh, "but now I can't wait to go." They fell to with a vengeance, finishing up the dishes and wiping everything down. Between Autumn's enthusiasm and Jase's meticulous efficiency and second pair of hands, they likely set a record or two - not that they were actively counting the seconds anyway. There was rather an underlying sense of simple pleasure in each other's company that thrummed under the busyness, expressed in glances and smiles and the occasional soft-spoken exchange. Finally they were done, and Autumn waited by the back door, practically bouncing on the balls of her feet as Jase slipped upstairs to check on his father before returning, as noiselessly as he'd left. "Sleeping." he noted in answer to Autumn's expectant look, then opened the door and, taking her hand, led her outside. "Okay, how're we doing this- eep!" Autumn's question was cut off in a squeak as Jase turned, folded an arm around her waist and another behind her knees, and lifted her with his own arms as though she were a toddler rather than a healthy athletic one-forty. Almost on reflex, she threw her arms around his neck and shoulders, blue eyes wide with surprise as she stared at his face. Jason wasn't a ninety pound weakling, but still - to lift her in a bridal carry without even a soft grunt of effort was not something she would expect from anyone less built than Cade. "A new trick." he explained, his eyes gleaming iridescently with amusement at her shock. "I'm kinetically amplifying what my own muscles are capable of. Comfortable?" Even as she sought for words, she was aware that the two of them were rising into the air, Jason slowly turning in place as they ascended so she could look out over the panoramic view. They were ascending deceptively smoothly, before she knew it they were three times the height of the farmhouse and still climbing, the sun beginning to set in the western mountains and the lights starting to come on in nearby Shelly. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.” Autumn’s soft reply reflected something of the childlike wonder shining in her eyes as the earth fell away beneath them. There was a strange sense of unreality as they rose above the Bannon homestead without engines, instruments, or anything at all between them and the sky, or the ground, or the rest of the wide world around them- no artificial barriers, just… Potential. Possibility. The higher they climbed, the more dreamlike the whole experience seemed as her perspective shifted and the physical limitations of the world she lived in expanded. The farm. The roads she biked down. The fields and the woods and the surrounding homes, the hard line of the horizon interrupted by the distant swells of hill and mountain. It all shrank as the first few stars appeared faintly overhead, glittering flecks of prismatic color in a broadening expanse of soft violet. A week ago, she’d never have imagined this moment, the indescribable upwelling of delight and exhilaration and, oddly, peace engendered by the experience. No matter what happens tomorrow, she realized, I had this today. A sudden surge of vertigo played havoc with her vision as the bright-eyed redhead peered up at the infinite vault above and then downward, and then quickly buried her face against Jase’s shoulder as the world spun dizzily, disjointed from the slow turns he was making. She made a quiet sound that mingled groaning and laughter, her arms tightening a little around him until her psionic energies automatically compensated for the disruption of equilibrium. “You’re really- this is really happening,” the girl in his arms breathed rapturously, admiring as she gazed up at him the shape of his features in the twilight, the brilliance of his eyes, and then the seemingly endless scope of the late summer evening as it descended around them. "It is." His return gaze was no less intent than hers, taking in the shine of her eyes and the way the dying sun struck sparks of fire from her hair and loaned her ivory skin a glow that was outshone by the radiant joy in her expression. Her arms around his neck, her lips forming his name as she exhaled caused yet again that sounding, that chime deep within him that hinted, for an instant, at a deeper mystery than he could fathom. She was light and warmth and life and happiness - and holding her close, seeing that reflection of himself as she saw him bathed in that same warm emotion enriched him immeasurably. 'Granola can help', Devin had said, and he was right. Through Autumn, he connected with that human ephemera of warm happiness where before there had only been cool contentment or satisfaction. Through her, Jason understood a form of joy. "You are a series of revelations to me." he said softly, feeling that need to say more, to let her know how special she truly was. Instead he kissed her, a brief, sweet kiss that broke too soon for either of them, then smiled as he angled them towards the Keane home at roughly five hundred feet up, feeling her arms tighten and hearing her whoop of excitement whipped away by the wind of their passing. He kept their speed a steady forty miles per hour, both for comfort and because he did not want the trip to end too soon; travelling as as the crow flew meaning that the meandering of roads had little bearing on their course. And then Autumn was not just rising, but flying. Well, technically, Jase was the one doing all the work, and she was mostly just trying not to squirm so much that he dropped her, but still- flying. The closest she’d ever gotten to this feeling on her own was riding her bike, racing down a hill so fast she couldn’t keep her feet on the pedals and praying no one pulled out onto the road in front of her. Even then, though, she’d still been tethered to the earth, rooted by gravity to that mechanical assemblage of wheels and chain links and gears. Here it was just her, and the wind, and the warm reassurance of Jason’s arms as she laughed, pointed at places she recognized and wondered aloud what people would think if someone saw them, and tried in vain to keep the uncooperative red-gold curls out of her eyes so that she could see, damn it. Suspended between earth and sky, the restless teen again had that same mad, fleeting notion she’d gotten on the drive to Browning, that they could just keep going- that a part of her wanted to keep going, despite her family, despite the obligations and boring, mundane matters that demanded otherwise. How much broader the landscape looked from this height, and how very small Shelly, Montana seemed by contrast! Maybe if they got through this, she’d be able to see for herself what lay beyond the horizon, the edge of the world she knew. She could hope, anyway, and she did. Crazier things had happened, after all. Like this- because, honestly, dating Jason Bannon (much less feeling any type of way about him at all besides terrified) was kind of crazy, and she knew it. She was also at least a few hundred feet in the air, watching flat land slowly give rise to the hills and woods where she'd grown up, so... Eh. Crazy was kind of relative, really. "This is perfect, you know?" She leaned forward with a grin, her lips almost against his ear as she spoke over the sound of the air rushing past. "I'm gonna want to do this all the time now!" She felt, rather than heard, him chuckle as they began to descend and slow down, his eyes crinkling at the edges betokening good humor. He had followed her pointing finger, occasionally varying his course to bring them nearer to landmarks she'd pointed out, enjoying the the feel of her arm around his neck as she excitedly squirmed to look in every direction at once. He didn't think the chances of them being spotted were high - they were five hundred feet up and most of those capable of spotting them would be in Shelly, looking into the setting sun. Twilight and dawn were the times when the human eye was least adapted to dealing with the light and it was hardest to sort the real from the fantastical, which was probably why they were used as metaphors and devices in poems and tales. He spotted the Keane house, and near it the woods threaded with the bright ribbon of the creek where he had taken a chance and gambled a friendship for something more, and won. Perhaps they had both gambled, the thought occurred to him. Autumn was taking a chance, from her perspective. A calculated one, maybe... But then again, maybe not. For all his rationalisation of why he liked Autumn, why he was attracted to her, he realised that to be simply analysis after the fact. He was drawn instinctually to her bravery, emotional warmth and femininity, much as he was to Marissa's imperious manner, wit and beauty. There were many reasons why an attraction existed, for certain, but they were less important than the draw itself. And whereas one had rejected him, feared him, the other found him... amazing. Noting the car parked outside the Keane garage, he gently set them down a couple of dozen meters down the track that led off the property, then carefully lowered Autumn so she could stand. "We can do this again, for certain." he smiled at her, taking her hand in his and walking her towards her home. "I was wondering if you'd like to go on an actual date, also. Say... this coming Friday evening? Great Falls? Dinner and a movie?" His smile turned mischievous. "First class air ticket?" The worst thing about moments you never wanted to end, Autumn realized, was that they always did, eventually. Maybe that made them more special, though? After all, if you always got everything you wanted, you wouldn't appreciate any of it as much, would you? You might even start to resent it, or take it for granted that just because you wanted something, you were entitled to have it, or that it would always be there. The best thing, she decided, was that sometimes, with certain people, you had a lot of those moments, which was kind of the best of both worlds. Sure, the moments still ended, but you were almost guaranteed to discover new ones whenever they were around. Jase, she was finding, was apparently one of those people. They'd landed, of course. They were back on good old terra firma and walking toward her house; she could feel the rocks beneath the soles of her sneakers, their irregular shapes uncomfortable enough to remind her she was awake. Why, then, feeling his fingers intertwined with hers as he asked her out on a for-real date, could she almost swear her feet hadn't yet touched the ground? I guess he really was serious about the 'less casual' thing. The thought was immediately followed by the sensation of warmth spreading through her veins- gradual and pleasant, easy, rather than the quick rush of heat the intense young genius normally provoked with either his teasing or his kisses in roughly equal measures. "Friday, hmm?" She tried- and failed- not to sound too eager, her instinctive enthusiasm for the idea evident in the slightly higher pitch of her voice, in the reflexive tightening of her hand in his, and the suggestion of a bounce in her step as they headed up the drive. Dinner and a movie was a date date. Going to Great Falls meant it would be late when she got home, so her mom... and maybe her dad, if he stayed all week... might already be in bed. That flush of warmth grew warmer at the implications of being alone, after dark, unsupervised with Jason, especially if he was really serious about flying there. It had only taken a few minutes to get from his home to hers, and already she wanted to drag him up to the half-finished tree house and prolong the evening with fewer clothes involved. "I'd like that, yeah," she smiled up at him, her eyes reflecting the deepening hue of the sky. And yet... Would they be here, on Friday? She ran her thumb across his, memorizing the shape of his features, the almost luminous green of his eyes in the half-light. Of course he's not human. Just look at those cheekbones. Fuck. Maybe asking her out now was his way of expressing hope that they would be around then, defying the metaphorical darkness and the very real Dark by affirming his intent to live. "I'll ask my mom about it after tomorrow. You know, once we've had a chance to-" Exhaling, the earnest redhead shrugged a little, her smile fading slightly as the lengthening shadows stretched around them. "To work out the details. It's a weekend, but I'm sure she'll still wanna talk to you about it, you know? Especially if my dad's home." "Of course." Jase replied, still smiling slightly in the gathering dusk as the lights from the Keane home danced in the pools of his gaze and glinted on Autumn's hair. "If I know Dana, she will likely question me closely." His eyes glittered with laughter at the expression on his girlfriend's face. "I shall be circumspect in what I say." "Oh god..." Autumn had a sudden mental image of Jason calmly stating his intention to have mutually-enjoyable naked sexy fun-times with her, and the subsequent clanging of a convent bell somewhere in Europe. "Please, don't get me locked away in a convent." "If I do, I promise to come and break you out again." Jason's tone was matter-of-fact, and despite the traces of humour in his expression Autumn could readily imagine ancient, iron-bound oaken doors being ripped bodily from their hinges as the Devil himself stalked through a priory, sending nuns fleeing before him like a flock of birds before a hungry cat as he searched... for her. And there was another warm rush right there, the realisation that the Chiefest and Greatest of Catastrophes was not only impossible and impenetrable, but implacable. He would come for her, she realised as she glanced at his profile. Because she was his, because he cared, because he had promised... pick whichever reason you liked. They had reached the bottom of the steps leading up to her porch, and already both teens could hear the barking of the dogs start up inside. Jason glanced at the front door, then turned to Autumn, giving her a brief, too-fleeting kiss on the lips. "I'll see you tomorrow at the Carousel." he murmured... And then was gone, rising up into the dusk in a rush that further tousled Autumn's wild copper curls as, a second later, the door opened to show her mom, peering out at whatever had the dogs roused and spotting her. "Welcome home." Dana looked a little askance at her daughter, who'd been staring upwards when she opened the door and looked properly windblown as though she'd been riding her bike without a hair tie. "Everything okay, sweetheart?" “Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.” Autumn smiled, quickly mounting the steps as she tucked her hair behind her ears. “Just a long day, and I think I ate my weight in fried chicken. Apparently Jason’s dad’s a really good cook, too,” she added, closing the door as the two Keane women went inside, the dogs milling around their ankles in an excited bid for attention. “I wonder if that’s where he learned it from? Huh.” Dana paused just inside the door, a slight frown drawing her auburn brows together as she regarded her rosy-cheeked offspring dubiously. “I thought you four were headed out to the reservation this morning?” “Yeaaahhh, and then afterward we all went and ran around at his place, the farm on the other side of town.” Shit, I totally forgot to say anything. Fucking hell, Autumn. “Sorry, I know I should’ve called, but I kind of… didn’t think about it.” She grimaced, thrusting her hands into the front pockets of her jeans and rocking back slightly onto her heels. “Mhmm. I didn’t think about a lot of things when your father and I were dating, either.” Dana plucked an errant blade of grass from her blushing daughter’s hair, twirling it bemusedly between her thumb and forefinger. “Mom, no, no,” Autumn protested, withdrawing her hands to wave them as if warding off some invisible assailant. “It wasn’t like that, I promise.” Beat. “Also, gross.” Her mother’s amusement was evident in the slow ascent of a single eyebrow and the twitch of her lips. “It’s only ‘gross’ because we’re your parents.” “Well, yeah. That’s exactly why.” The younger redhead’s expression- brow furrowed, the corners of her mouth turned down as she shook her head- was the perfect non-verbal representation of the ‘ugh’ that found its way into so many of her conversations. Did all parents feel compelled to casually remind their kids that they had, at some point in the ridiculously ancient past, made out? Or even… Blegh. No. No no no no no. Suppressing a shudder at the horror of such imaginings, the energetic young Girl Scout knelt down, rubbing furry canine sides and scratching behind ears in an age-old ritual to restore wholesomeness and peace of mind. “All right, well. Speaking of your father, he called a little while ago and said he’s on his way in. He should be here around eleven, midnight at the latest. He also told me not to let you stay up this time.” Dana grinned, gently tousling her daughter’s already-disheveled mane even as she scrutinized the tell-tale signs of sunburn on her fair skin. “But you and I both know that’s not going to work, so how about this. Since you were late, and since you didn’t text me, you can go take the dogs for a run and make sure they’re fed. Then go get cleaned up and changed, because you look like you’ve been playing in a field all day. Don’t wrinkle your nose at me, young lady,” she laughed, as Autumn did just that, rising to her feet as the dogs settled down around them. “I didn’t tell you to roll around in the grass, did I? Once you’ve had a shower, put some aloe vera gel on that pretty face of yours, and after that we’ll do popcorn and AMC on the couch until your dad gets here. Deal?” As punishments went, playing with the dogs was pretty light, so she didn’t think her mom was actually mad. She’d been honest, after all, and it had also been a while since they’d just hung out and watched old movies together. It was an easy decision to begin with, made easier by the sobering thought that they might not get another chance to do it. Which… they were going to have to talk about, and soon, but not until she brought the letter and the talisman home, at least. “Deal.” “Did Jason not feel like saying hello?” Dana glanced meaningfully toward the front door, and then back at the restless girl he’d returned home. “Oh. Yeah, he kind of flew off in a hurry.” Do not leave it there, Autumn. Do. Not. Trying unsuccessfully not to grin at her own bad joke, she quickly added, “He should be at the Carousel sometime tomorrow, though. His dad, too. I think you’d like him. Gareth Bannon, I mean. He reminds me of you, actually.” She paused, considering her general impression of the man thus far. “Super smart, but down-to-earth, too, you know?“ Dana did not know, and in fact had a very different impression of the elder Bannon based on things she’d heard; as she watched her daughter re-braid her hair, pale fingers deftly weaving the windblown strands into a much tidier plait, it was hard not to be swayed by the girl’s conviction. She was sixteen, after all, and so for at least a little while, she knew everything. “Mhmm,” the thoughtful veterinarian hummed noncommittally. She’d heard a lot about Jason as well, prior to the weekend, and while he did seem a little different he was also polite, and surprisingly respectful of her and, more importantly, of Autumn. While not thoroughly convinced, she had to concede that it was at least possible some of her concerns were unfounded. With a smile, she smoothed back a few of the stray curls stubbornly refusing to lay flat at her daughter’s temples. “Well, maybe we’ll go say hello. It’d be nice to see who’s looking after my girl when she’s over there, hmm? Now go on, or we’ll still be standing here when your dad gets home.” With a delighted grin, the vibrant young woman seized her mother in a brief but fierce hug. “Thanks, mom. We’ll be back in a little bit. C’mon, guys!” As if they’d been waiting for a signal, all four dogs jumped up and dashed for the door, bounding excitedly back and forth until their two-legged companion led them out to play in the purple twilight.
  5. 1 point
    As Autumn watched Cassandra pedal away, the reflectors on the spokes of her wheels catching the light, the redhead shuddered at the sensation of icy, intangible fingers trailing down her spine. It was just a glint of flickering brightness against the shadows lining the road- not even the right color- but again, the image of a child's shoe appeared unbidden in her mind, and the saccharine sweetness of the ice cream lingering on her tongue was suddenly bitter ash in her mouth. Her mother was waiting for her; she, like the pretty reporter, would get to go home tonight. But, as she nudged the kickstand up and placed her feet on the pedals, it wasn't toward home that her handlebars turned. Not yet. It was nearly 11:30, after what seemed an eternity spent racing down country roads between pale, moonlit fields, that the building came into view. Even then, some instinct kept Autumn from looking back the way she'd come, now that she was more familiar with that sense of creeping unease at her back- dread- than she'd been the first time she traveled this path alone. Instead, she let that feeling spur her forward, overriding the dull ache in her lungs and the burning in her thighs. What had once seemed to her the lair of Shelly's most fearsome boogeyman was now simply a house rising up from the surrounding farmlands; having seen the den of an actual monster, the Bannon farm was an inviting sanctuary by comparison. Muscle memory applied the brake as gravel crunched beneath her bicycle tires, dropped the kickstand and carried her up the porch steps. There was as little thought in the movement as there'd been in leaving the diner parking lot, for once no inner dialogue or contemplation on the ride. Similarly, there was no real consideration of the time, or circumstance, as she knocked quietly at the door. Quiet rumble of male voices from inside, a scrape of a chair, a footfall. The door opened, revealing Gar Bannon, a plainly surprised look on his face at the sight of the young woman. He started to speak, then peered closely at her face. "Autumn." Whatever tone of surprise he'd initially intended to speak her name with was muted, overlaid by concern at something he saw in the shadowed pools of her eyes. "You, uh, here to speak to Jase?" Swallowing past the sudden tightness in her throat, the red-haired girl nodded. "Hi, Mr. Ban- Gar," she corrected herself for what would likely not be the last time. She liked Jason's dad, and despite knowing he'd been present for their last encounter with the nightmare hellbeasts, it seemed wrong somehow to relate the combination of otherworldly and mundane awfulness that brought her to his door. "I'm sorry to bother you, I know it's late. Would it be okay if..." She rubbed her palms against her thighs to still their trembling, the polite smile on her lips taut. Uncertain. "Is, um- is he still up?" "If he's not," Gar stated gravely, stepping aside and waving her in. "He'd want to be, I'm sure." His gaze was filled with questions, but with a stoic practicality that seemed very much like his son's he set them aside and focused on the matter at hand. Closing the door, he went to the foot of the stairs and called up in a low, but carrying voice. "Jase?" There was a pause, then a door opened somewhere above them. "Yes?" came the familiar tone, crisp and alert-sounding, curiosity a faint note rather than the substance that the word suggested. A creak of floorboards, a shadow moved on the wall above the bookcases that lined the staircase. "Autumn's here. You decent?" Gar smiled faintly, winking at the girl. There was another pause. "Sure." Now there was curiosity in his voice. Gar gave Autumn a nod and indicated the carpeted stairs. "Thank you," the subdued redhead replied, her gaze following the neat rows of books she'd noticed the last time she was here, though she'd had no reason then to venture upstairs. Now, suddenly, Autumn was conscious of the state of her hair, the film of sweat and dust and... probably worse that clung to her skin and her clothes, but it was too late to turn around, wasn't it? She was here, even if she wasn't entirely sure why, and the only thing to do was climb. Ascending the steps slowly, she noted the sheer number of volumes present as well as the apparent variety of subjects covered; while most of the books downstairs were related to cooking or practical household concerns, these seemed more esoteric. A few sets of what looked like very old encyclopedias, noteworthy for their impressive leather and gilt spines, stood next to well-worn science textbooks, botanical field guides, and ones marked with characters she couldn't even read. It occurred to Jason's brand-new, very first girlfriend that he'd probably read all of them more than once. Reaching the landing at the top, Autumn unzipped her jacket and exhaled, counting to four. He was standing on the landing, in the dim gold radiance cast by an overhead bulb that picked out the bronze tones of his hair and features and warmed the glacial pallidity of his gaze as it studied her. His head tilted slightly, something she now surmised was a deliberate visible cue rather than an unconscious one, something he added for the benefit of others. Part of his 'peopling'. "Autumn." He didn't smile, despite the warmth in his voice as he uttered her name, the glittering interrogation of his gaze at odds with the warmth also there as he stepped towards her. "Jase," she replied, and took another deep breath, her fingers tangling themselves in the fabric of her hoodie. Even with everything that had happened, even with the uncomfortable way her t-shirt was sticking to her skin, there was something about those cool, not-wholly dispassionate jade eyes that made it difficult to think of anything else. Focus, Autumn. "Listen, I know it's really late, and I kind of just showed up, and we've only been dating for like a day, but I have a favor to ask." She paused, then amended, "Two favors. If it's okay, I would really like a shower, and a hug. In that order." There was another pause, another slow exhalation. "Please." A half-beat of her heart and then "Okay." The word was simply and sincerely spoken, without fanfare, and Jason half-turned, gesturing towards a doorway. "The bathroom is there. One moment, and I'll get you a towel." He started to move towards a closet, his manner composed. So composed, in fact, that Autumn experienced a weird but not-unpleasant sense of surprise. "Wait." she managed, causing him to stop and look at her. Then she wondered why she'd spoken up. It was just odd, the way he accepted without questioning or demanding to know what was going on. Jason considered her a moment as she stood, silently trying to put into words the question in her blue eyes. "You're upset." he said by way of answer to the unvoiced query. "Shower first, hug second. My curiosity can wait." He turned and retrieved a large dark blue towel from the closet, along with a matching washcloth. "I'll get you something to wear. Leave your clothes outside the door and I'll get them cleaned up." He led her to the bathroom door, then handed her the towel and cloth. No argument. No inquiry. No demands. Just... "Okay," and "I can wait." As if the explanation for her completely unreasonable request- after showing up unexpectedly in the middle of the night- was less important than the fact she'd made it. Autumn blinked up at him, surprised, in the soft golden light, her eyes the murky, indeterminate grey-blue-green of the ocean in the wake of a storm, and then nodded as he pressed the bath linens into her hands. She'd half-expected to be pinned to the wall by that piercing crystalline stare, questioned in precise and excruciating detail about why she'd shown up and what had happened, but... "Okay." At least for the moment, she didn't have to explain anything, to really even say anything at all, except- "Thank you," she breathed, cool fingertips lingering just a moment on the backs of his hands as she took the towel and turned, closing the bathroom door quietly behind her. For the span of several heartbeats, the redhead sagged back against that door, the thick wood panel reassuringly solid against her shoulders and spine as the reality that she was safe slowly penetrated the fog of apprehension she'd been moving through all night. With that recognition, a growing awareness of physical discomfort replaced psychological unease. She was sore. She was sweaty. She could actually feel the grime on her skin, and although being in the Old Town Hall had effectively granted her temporary immunity to its smell, she was pretty sure no one around her could boast the same. Ugh. Her nose crinkled in displeasure at the thought. In less time than it would have taken to list the layers of clothing she was wearing, she'd managed to tear them all off- opening the door just enough to confirm no one was watching before leaving them just outside. As Jason found something for her to wear and explained to his father, briefly, that she'd be staying for a little while, Autumn did her best to scrub away the physical residue of the night. At least she wasn’t sick, this time. The hot water was a soothing balm to both achy muscles and jangled nerves. It rinsed away the faint traces of earlier tears as well as the ones that spilled out unbidden beneath the spray, and banished the visible evidence of the girls’ adventures down the drain in a dark swirl, surrounding her in the clean scent of unidentifiable herbs and green, growing things. Jason’s soap. Jason’s shampoo. She lingered there a few minutes longer than was strictly necessary, the idea of his smell on her skin warming her as thoroughly on the inside as the shower was outside, and by degrees, the red-haired young woman felt herself relax. Wringing the water from her hair and combing through the damp curls with her fingers as she finished up and dried off, Autumn drew in what felt like the first full breath she’d had all evening. One of Jase’s oversized t-shirts and a pair of shorts with a drawstring waist lay on the counter, neatly folded, and she allowed herself a little smile as she pulled them on, her still-pink cheeks flushing a slightly deeper shade of rose as it occurred to her that her underwear had gone with everything else she’d been wearing. Although, she reflected with a faint grin, the most effective way to deal with most of it… except her hoodie… was probably just shoving it in a furnace and walking away. Between the fries, the ice cream, the exertion of the ride, and the luxury of a shower and clean clothes, she could almost convince herself that things were okay. Almost. As she stepped out of the bathroom, Autumn’s eyes caught on a sliver of light escaping a half-open door across the way. Padding across the carpet, she peeked inside, rapping her knuckles against the door frame in a quiet knock. “Jase?” The room was another library, shelves lining the walls from floor to ceiling and broken only by a closet door, the large sash window and a desk in one corner. The center of the room was largely dominated by a low bed consisting of a king size mattress only slightly set above the floor - a futon style, she thought it was called. As her eyes took in the room, it's lack of pop culture posters, or art, or photos, the lack of clothing strewn about and, most notably, the absence of eau-de-sock, it struck Autumn that this was by far the tidiest teenagers - especially teenage boy's - room she had ever seen. The only marked disarray was the couple of piles of books next to the bed - which the room's occupant currently sat on, long legs stretching out in front of him as he leaned back against the wall, reading by the light of a lamp. Jase looked up as she knocked, smiling slightly in that way he did - the faintest of crinkles at the corners of his eyes as they took in her freshly-washed self. Heat flickered in the depths of his gaze as it rested on her pink-tinged cheeks, but all he did was close the book he'd been passing the time with and set it aside, watching her as he motioned for her to enter. "Come on in." he invited. A touch of a wry smile graced his lips. "I believe you would be the only person other than my father who has." "Thanks," she replied with a faint, answering smile, pleased at the inclusion in such a select group as she stepped over the threshold and into the decidedly un-hoardlike inner sanctum of Bannon the Magnificent, he of the spear-like claws and teeth of swords. Then again... Scanning row upon row of books, it occurred to the curious redhead that the library in the rest of the house wasn't singular at all. It must instead have spilled forth from this room, the accumulated knowledge of minds great and good and simply novel overflowing down the stairs and into the kitchen and- she assumed- probably elsewhere, as well, like so many gold bars and gleaming gems amassed for his pleasure. A cave of wonders, of mysteries and secrets, treasures for the brilliant young man's keen intellect to peruse at his leisure. "It suits you." Autumn's footfalls were silent on the rug as she closed the distance between them, hesitating for little more than the span of a heartbeat before she perched on the edge of the bed next to Jason, feet on the floor. The camping trip had been one thing, but this was his room. Girlfriend or not, there were rules for this kind of thing, right? Some kind of protocol to be observed? Angling toward him, she turned slightly, pressing her lips together as her eyes moved thoughtfully over his face. She'd just seen him earlier that evening, had spent almost two full days with him, but in that instant it didn't feel like even that had been enough. "So, um, the hug. Should I just...?" Meeting Jase's gaze, his companion gestured vaguely toward him as if asking permission. His head tilted slightly, the wry smile widening for a moment and revealing a hint of dimple in each smooth cheek, then Jason simply held out a hand to her. "Come here." It wasn't quite a command, and wasn't quite a request, and contained warmth of emotion not usually present in his habitually precise and clinical manner. She took the long, strong fingers in her own, folding her hand around his, letting him draw her to him as she shuffled closer until she felt his arm slide around her shoulders and tug her into an embrace. "You never need to ask to touch me." he murmured with his lips on her damp hair, his free hand stroking the ends of her curls, fingers toying with them. "That privilege is yours." In answer, Autumn simply nodded, pressing her face against his chest as her other arm curled around his side. Her fingertips slid under the hem of his shirt, finding the warm, bare skin of his back beneath the cotton and exhaling a long, shaky breath that seemed to come from her toes. Her eyelids drifted shut at the feel of Jason's breath on her hair, the pressure of his arm, the dextrous fingers entwined with hers; although she didn't feel the least bit sleepy, it was the first time since she and Cass had left the basement that she'd seen nothing at all when she closed her eyes. That alone was worth the ride through the dark Montana night. "Same," she murmured against his collarbone, drawing her pale legs up onto the bed and all but melting against the reclining youth. The awfulness was still there, that haunting chill that whispered that things weren't at all okay, and that they might never again be okay, but at least for the moment it seemed distant, muted by the heat radiating from Jase's lean form next to hers. "You have really good hugs, you know?" his potentially biased girlfriend opined quietly, her thumb moving lightly over his knuckles. "For an alien." In the diamond-etched crystal prism of his mind, Jason was hard at work analysing Autumn's appearance, manner, and possible reasons for being here. He was also focused intently on the feel of her wet hair, cool on his fingertips, and the warmth of her touch on his skin. That connection, that sense of being touched and the vulnerability of being close to another, was deeply personal to the strange young man - which is why he tolerated very few people within arm's length. It was also fair to say that Autumn's proximity, after his earlier wrestling with the remembrance of their sensual play of the night before, was performing an excellent job of undoing the locks of his self-discipline like a practiced seducer's fingers would unfasten the buttons on a shirt. "It must be part of the genetic superiority." he joked softly. "Intelligence, aggression, fearlessness... and really good hugs." He breathed in deeply, his eyes half-closing as he struggled with the urge to change the nature of his caresses, to seek her mouth with his and draw out gasps of pleasure, to bury his fingers deep in her hair and crane her head back so her ivory throat would be laid bare for his lips... He breathed out again, feeling his center stabilise once more. It was apparent to him that Autumn hadn't come seeking sex. She had seen something, or experienced something, that had upset her deeply and needing comfort she had come... to him? Perhaps. Perhaps she had also been scared, and so wanted a sense of protection? It was hard to say with any certainty, at least for him. So he concentrated instead on what he did know. Autumn wanted to be held. That he could do, and so his arm snugged her closer as, in a gesture of comfort he'd seen others do, he softly kissed her forehead. "Mhmm," the redhead agreed, smiling in spite of herself at the gentle brush of his lips. Even in this, she realized, Jase was a fast learner, and a part of her wondered what he'd be like when he was older, more experienced with life and women and, well. Everything. That was a question for future Autumn to answer, though, as current Autumn had more pressing concerns. "Must be. The other stuff just makes it hard for people to figure that out. Lucky me, huh?" Shifting slightly in his arms, she tilted her head back to catch Jason's eye and smiled, one corner of her mouth curving upward. "Probably all the Irish in my family." Even under questionable circumstances such as these, it was impossible to remain completely unaffected by his nearness, the firefly glimmer of gold in his gaze, the lingering hint of tobacco just underneath the verdant, crisp scent she'd come to associate with Jason Bannon. Feeling her face growing warmer as she studied his features, the blue-eyed teen caught her lower lip in her teeth, biting down just hard enough to remind herself that was definitely not why she'd come out here. Probably. Then again, it hadn't really been a conscious choice on her part, had it? "You said earlier you were curious," she stated, focusing on the here-and-now of those pale green eyes. "And you've done both the favors I asked for, so I kind of owe you some explanation. Would it be okay with you if we stayed like this while we talked, though?" Neat white teeth worried at her lower lip, causing it to redden enticingly, and Jason almost lost his struggle there before getting control once more, remonstrating sternly with himself and more than a little concerned. This was not like him, to feel so easily pulled like this. "It's more than okay to stay like this." he said in answer to her question, his eyes studying her upturned features with a gaze that was half analytical, and half appreciative. "And you can give as much, or as light of an explanation as you choose right now. I kind of get the impression the scouting was... unpleasant?" Autumn snorted softly in something like laughter, though there was nothing at all to laugh about. It was just easier, preferable to the alternative, which was to start crying again. "Yeah. The two of us went to Bunnee's, after," she explained, resting her cheek against the smooth plane of his Jase's chest, turning his hand over in hers and studying the faint marks on his palm, the whorls on the pads of his fingertips as she traced them with her own. "We talked about it a little, but I don't think either of us have really processed, yet. There's a lot of pieces of ideas kind of floating around in my head right now, and I don't know how much help it'll be. If at all." Exhaling, the animated redhead frowned, rearranging herself again as if to get closer. When she began again, her voice was quiet, distant in the way it had been when she'd spoken of her grandfather on the porch a week before. "It was a lot like Cassie said when she described it, but worse. The darkness, the smell... Awful. Cody wasn't there, though. Just us, and all the, um." Her voice wavered, a sudden shiver prickling the freckled skin on the backs of her arms. "The animals he'd killed. There were a whole lot of them, and not just in the basement, and most of them had been there for a while." There had been so many of them, their little bodies just mangled, brutalized and tortured and then discarded like trash... Her eyes darkened, lashes trembling slightly at the memory as she fixed her gaze on the lines encircling the base of his thumb. Focus, Autumn. You have to be able to talk about it. She inhaled, counting silently in her head and holding the breath before releasing it again. "He wasn't around, but it felt like... If you walk into a room where someone was just standing, and you know that they were there? Like, there's no hot coffee cup, or lit cigarette, or anything to give you a definite clue, just that feeling. They just stepped out, but they might be back any second. Sort of like that." "Well, that settles the matter of where we go to find him." Jason murmured, part of his mind examining the description of the place. Mangled, tortured animals. To him, no more than distasteful, and more so due to the apparent senselessness, but from recent experience he knew it was more than that for his girlfriend. He gave her what he judged was a reassuring squeeze, and upon feeling her make a small noise, tighten her embrace of him and press her face into his chest assessed that the comfort was well-received. "Tomorrow, if you feel capable, I'd like you and Cassie to do a floorplan of the place for us to study. To describe it so that we're as ready as we can be. We know we're on a clock with taking him down, so the sooner we prepare the better." "But that can wait till tomorrow. This is hug time." he added with another small kiss on the top of Autumn's head, breathing in his shampoo mingling with the warm smell of her hair - of her. His scent on her. Odd how that affected him so strongly, causing not just arousal but also provoking urges of protection, of possession. Mine, the urges rumbled, and the diamond-clarity of Jason's thoughts resolved to keep a strong watch on that, lest it come on him at a bad time, or lead to... unproductive confrontations. "Was there anything more? Either of you get hurt?" he inquired with mild concern. He had initially assumed that, if that was the case, Autumn would have led with it. But people were strange sometimes - it would not surprise him for Autumn to disregard a wound in her distress over the dead animals. "No, not hurt. Freaked out, scared, angry, yeah, but not hurt. The place sounded like it'd fall on our heads the whole time, but it seemed pretty solid. Some of the old stairs were out, broken railings, stuff like that, but I mean, that's what you expect, right?" She sat quietly for a moment, weaving her pale, cinnamon-flecked fingers through Jason's long, tan ones. The actual physical aspect of the place was easy to describe, just a practical assessment of its construction and how time and the occasional vagrant or animal incursion had changed it; its effect, however, wasn't quite so simple for the earnest young woman to relate. "I know we'll probably talk a lot more about it tomorrow, and Cass took a lot of pictures, so you guys can see exactly what we found- there were drawings all over the place, but not like graffiti. More like creepy cave paintings of the… monster, I guess? That she talked about. Cody, or the spirit, or whatever. Skull, antlers." Wait. Autumn leaned back suddenly, straightening to meet Jase’s eyes. Whatever questions or ideas she had about the meaning of those primitive scrawls, their origin, or what they might suggest about the historical goings-on in Shelly could wait until everyone was together. That was just details. It might help them come up with a working hypothesis, or add some color to the outline of events they were sketching, but it didn’t seem immediately useful. …Except in one instance. "Not just drawings, though. There’s a big one, on one of the walls down in the basement, and we’re pretty sure that’s the Door,” she added soberly, a subtle emphasis on the last word. “Cassie felt it there, I think, and-“ The redhead blinked, wide, dark pupils constricting sharply at the memory of the marks on the floor, the rust-red flecks on Velcro, the fluorescent stripes, as she tensed. “-and there was a little boy’s shoe, and… And that’s- the wall is where the blood stopped,” she finished tautly. He remained silent for a moment, his eyes on hers as he absorbed everything. A Door, audibly capitalised. A boy's shoe. Blood. Autumn's pupillary constriction and the way the colour drained from her ivory skin, throwing the dusting of freckles into high contrast. The way her voice tightened and the tremor in her fingers around his. "That'll do for now." he decided softly, tugging her back to snuggle against him, resuming the gentle stroking of her hair, fingertips lightly brushing strands back from her cheek and ear, resting his jaw and cheek on the top of her fiery curls. "Did I tell you yet today that I admire your courage?" he murmured with a soft smile that would have astonished practically everyone in the Fellowship, except possibly Sean. "Don't feel brave." Autumn muttered, her eyes closing as she listened to his heartbeat against her ear and breathed in his scent. "And yet you are. You're scared, and do what needs to be done anyway." Jase said firmly, his voice still low as he dropped another kiss on her brow. "I'm not an expert, but I'm pretty sure that's the definition of bravery most people agree with." "Mmmm," his girlfriend hummed noncommittally, too preoccupied with allowing him to spoil her for a little bit longer to contest the point. This wasn't at all what she'd expected, this tenderness in his manner- Jason was clinical, pragmatic, and, yes, passionate, if the last twenty four hours had been any indication, but this was an entirely different sort of intimacy. For all its strangeness, though, the feeling of gentle fingers in her hair, the rise and fall of his chest, the warmth of his breath on her skin and the faint resonance of his Shine interacting with hers... It felt pleasantly familiar. He'd offered actual comfort- not empty platitudes or reassurances that everything was going to be fine, but simple physical presence. Connection. He'd told her not so long ago that if she ever had a bad day, he'd be right there, and she was pretty freaking sure that tonight qualified. ...And he was true to his word, wasn't he? He listened. Even if it wasn't something he knew anything about, or had any experience with, he'd actually been there. It wasn't just something he'd said to make her feel better. "Okay, Professor Bannon," Autumn conceded after a moment, inhaling tobacco, something crisply botanical, and what she could only identify as 'Jase' under that. "I'll take your word for it." Releasing his fingers, the freshly-showered young woman wrapped both her arms around the laconic youth's spare, wiry torso, her hands sliding beneath the hem of his shirt as she attempted vainly to get closer to him. The journals, the trip to the reservation, talking about the basement and how to handle it- all of that could wait a little longer, she decided. At least until tomorrow, and that seemed, at the moment, to be very far away. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- It was a little while later. Jason had recited poetry to Autumn - poetry in various languages, spoken in a soft voice - as she'd cuddled close, and whether it was his voice, or choice of poems, her emotional exhaustion, his smell or some mixture of them all she had fallen into a doze, lips curved in a faint smile as she occasionally made 'mmh'-ing noises and wriggled as though it were possible to snuggle closer. "His spots are the joy of the Leopard, his horns are the Buffalo's pride." Jase said softly, smiling a little at the drowsing redhead as he quoted Kipling. "Be clean, for the strength of the hunter is known by the gloss of his hide. If you find that the bullock can toss you, or the heavy-browed Sambhur can gore-" Whatever came next was interrupted as a text tone went off from Autumn's phone and her eyes snapped open. "How'd that get here?" she asked, blinking a little. What time was it? "It was in your hoodie. I retrieved it when you put your clothes outside the bathroom." Jason explained, passing it to her without glancing at the screen. With a murmured 'thanks,' Autumn tapped her phone, visibly reluctant to shake off the reverie as she sat up with a little huff and swiped away the broad field of wildflowers that appeared on her lock screen. Maybe Cass was checking in, or her mom, or- "Oh. It's from..." Copper brows knit together in confusion as she checked the name. "Marissa." There was a hint of a question in the word, a note of surprise, and then she tapped the screen again. [Wow, heard from Devin you're sleeping with Jason? Nice, Autumn. Nice.] "Wait, how did- ?" she murmured, re-reading the text one more time. Fully awake now, the companionable warmth she'd been drowsily enjoying seemed to rush suddenly upward, flooding the girl's bronze-flecked cheeks with scarlet. It didn't really bother her that Marissa knew, but she'd meant to tell the beautiful fashionista herself, and... Autumn had never actually been congratulated on making out with a guy before. This whole 'having a female best friend' thing was a little different from having a guy best friend. Huh. Grinning in spite of herself at the prospect of being able to actually talk to another girl about things like this, of having a 'bestie' who wouldn't show up to threaten the guy she was seeing, Autumn leaned back against Jason's chest. Still blushing, she tapped out a quick reply. [No, not sleeping! Will tell you about it tomorrow!] Marissa's response was almost immediate: [Can. Not. Wait.] The redhead's smile widened as she read the emphatic reply and set the phone on the bed, her rosy flush deepening by degrees as she peered up into the pale green eyes in such close proximity to her own. "I guess the cat's out of the bag with Marissa. Apparently Devin said something to her about us." "Devin knew we were going camping. Though it's improbable he knows what happened there." Jase noted, running his thumb along Autumn's lower lip as his palm caressed her cheek. He paused, reflecting. "I did ask him if perhaps your behaviour towards me indicated attraction. I wasn't sure, and didn't want to presume and make another mistake." "You talked to Devin about me?" Autumn asked, embarrassment warring with the little skip her heart made at the confession. "Not by name - I just described the behaviour and asked his opinion. Though he might have put two and two together." Jason smiled a tiny amount. "He's far from blind or stupid." "You're taking girl advice from Devin?" Autumn didn't know whether to laugh or be aghast. Jason shrugged, smiling. "He was pretty helpful. Said the best way to find out was to test the waters. It didn't occur to me to do so until that moment by the fire, though." He lightly brushed his lips over hers. "I'm glad I did." he murmured against her mouth. His pink-cheeked companion was glad, too; in fact, she spent the next few minutes communicating her satisfaction at the arrangement with quiet enthusiasm, heated kisses stealing the breath from their lungs and ardent caresses igniting incandescent sparks along their nerve endings. That it went no further was a testament to Jason's strength of will and Autumn's fear of being sent off to a remote convent on a mountaintop in Eastern Europe, and before the hour was too late to be considered "wholly unacceptable" by weekend standards, he offered to drive her home. Unlike the last time she'd visited, there was no argument or debate over whether she'd traverse the dark roads on her bicycle. As she changed back into her own clothes, somewhat reluctantly relinquishing the t-shirt he'd loaned her, she was silently grateful not to have to make the trip on her own after everything that had happened that night. "Oh, hey, I forgot to mention it earlier." Twisting her still-damp curls up at the nape of her neck, Autumn rolled the little elastic band off her wrist and looped it around the knot to secure it in place as she sat on the edge of the bed, getting ready to leave. "My mom said if you guys come by around 8:30 or so, we can all have breakfast before we head over to the Rez. Normally I'd just text you, but, you know. Sort of not an option." She grinned over at him, nose crinkling slightly as she leaned down to pull on her hiking boots. "Nothing crazy. Waffles. Bacon. Probably whatever fruit she picked up from the farmer's market. Coffee, of course. Wanna come?" A smile curved Jase's lips. "Having me over twice in two days for a meal? People will talk." he teased her, enjoyed the renewed dark rose that flooded her cheeks even as she smiled back at him. "What do you think they'll say?" she asked, playing along. Jason pretended to consider as he stood, moving to shuffle his feet into his own boots. "Probably that you're leading me astray by means of feeding me." He gave a small grin as he opened the door for her and followed her down the stairs. Autumn chuckled as Jason quickly told his dad - and Hank, who was still trying to beat Gar at chess - that he was driving her home, and as the pair headed out onto the porch, collected Autumn's bike, and headed over to the smaller barn she nudged him with an elbow. "Is the food method working?" "Definitely." Jason nodded, deadpan. "I'm totally led astray." He popped the trunk of his car and helped her hoist the bike into it, giving her a smile across the roof of the Charger as they moved to the driver and passenger doors. "Now let's get you home before Dana rescinds the offer to feed me."
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