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  1. 4 points
    “Hmm.” The musing sound was drawn out and thoughtful, which was one clue it could be dissembling. From what Autumn had seen, Jase didn’t usually take long to figure out what he wanted to do next - most of his focus was on ‘how’ rather than ‘what’. Her suspicions were further roused when he smiled at her before likewise laying back in the water. Here it came. Here came the one-liner laden with innuendo. “Pretty much anything, hmm?” or something similar. But he said nothing, just lazily sculling with his arms to keep himself in place as he floated looking up at the sky, narrowed eyes slits of emerald fire as they caught the late afternoon sunlight. Autumn tried to relax too, laying her head back in the water and feeling it flow past, but her mind kept poking at that ‘hmm’ like a tongue at a loose tooth. Finally she raised her head and all-but glowered across at her silently floating companion. “That’s it? ‘Hmm’? ‘Hmm’ what?” she demanded, feeling her lips twitch in a smile as she saw his mouth curve in a slight grin. Damn it. Damn him. Goddamn Jason Effing Bannon and his impossibleness. “Just ‘hmm’.” he said casually, raising his head to peer at her, his expression composed but for the faint crooked smile and his gaze full of mirth. “Why, was I supposed to say something else?” “‘Hmm’ is not an answer to the question.” Autumn returned somewhat indignantly, though she was pretty certain her own urge to laugh was showing as Jase straightened somewhat in the water, cocking his head to one side and regarding her with that faint smile that was smug and not at all charming. Teasing jerk. Reacting more than thinking, she brought one hand around in a sweep, splashing water at his face. That, at least, caught him by surprise. His eyes widened for a moment as he registered the movement, and he managed to half-turn aside so he didn’t get the brunt of it in the face, but it was still sufficient to make him blink, then turn back to regard Autumn for a long moment. Then, theatrically, he lifted a hand and slowly wiped his face, flicking the water aside before dipping his hand into the water and sweeping it towards her. The retaliatory splash was an obvious response, and Autumn turned away, laughing - only to catch a second deluge right in the face from an invisible hand that made her sputter. “Oh, now it’s on!” she announced, sweeping both arms forward and causing Jase to cover his face with his hands as sun-brightened sprays of water cast rainbows in the late afternoon light. Grinning he responded in kind, long arms scooping wave after wave at the giggling redhead. The naval warfare continued like that for some minutes, the two combatants wading back and forth in the creek as they hurled water and banter at each other in roughly equal volumes. “TK is cheating! Lame-ass!” Autumn yelled as she ducked and weathered a veritable tsunami from all sides. “Not my fault you didn’t know who you were messing with, scrub.” Jason replied coolly, only to end up spitting water as a cunning underhand shot from his opponent caught him square in the face. “Hah!” Autumn crowed - right as she felt a pair of impossibly strong hands grab her around the waist and lift her into the air before tossing her with a shriek into the deeper part of the creek. Surfacing with a roar of challenge that would do a tigress proud, she surged through the water and tackled the smirking jerkface who’d ducked her, hooking her arms around his shoulders and dragging him under even as she felt his arms loop around her to pull her with him. It wasn’t at all a calculated risk, because there was no calculation involved. Even at play, Autumn was competitive by nature, and when his arms went around her- either as a reflex on his part, or as an intentional decision to pull her along- it signalled a response to the challenge. The moment she felt Jase’s arms tighten, felt the shift in energy and the torque of his waist, they hit the water, already rolling. All sound evaporated, save for the surging of the water and the rapid, joyous pounding of her heartbeat in her ears. Vision disappeared in an instantaneous explosion of frothy white, and there was no equilibrium, no sense of up or down- just the sensation of the current all around, and the texture of his skin, taut over sinew and bone, beneath her hands. He had height on her, and reach as well, but there was no distance to be had between them, which rendered it temporarily meaningless. As he turned, using Autumn’s own forward momentum to roll her toward the creek bed, she mirrored the movement, arcing her upper body and twisting to continue the spin and deny him positioning. To her surprise, Jase did the same, the adamant grip of his arms around her waist compelling her to keep turning or be “pinned,” and pushed down to the bottom. At some point, the elastic band in her braid finally worked loose, and for several moments she could see nothing but the bright, coppery mass of her own hair. For what seemed like ages, the two young competitors feinted, rolled, and vied for any edge they could find: when Jase used the benefit of his greater height to simply stand up, Autumn hooked her foot behind his knee and pulled him off-balance. Pressing her advantage, she tried to use her body-weight to flip him, wrapping her legs around his midsection and throwing herself backwards; it wasn’t until he relaxed slightly, allowing her to pitch him forward that she realized she’d erred. Refusing to be caught so easily, the redhead unlocked her legs and kicked off the loose rock with one foot, her entire body contracting and uncoiling in a smooth, tight spiral as her fingertips slid from the hard expanse of her adversary’s back to his shoulders. With a measure of finality, she pressed him gently back against the rounded stones, just a few feet beneath the shimmering, sunlit surface of the stream. Her moment of triumph was short-lived, however. She had just enough time to catch the telltale curve of Jase’s lips as the water around them began to clear, and then- the impossibly delicate, almost feathery sensation of fingertips gliding, dancing up over her ribs. To her credit, she managed to weather the decidedly unsportsmanlike assault for almost a full 10 seconds before pushing off his chest with both palms and kicking upwards, a column of white bubbles following her rapid ascent. “Ugh, you suck so hard!” she laughed, choking and spluttering at no one in particular. Pulling her hair back over her shoulder as she tried to get her bearings, Autumn staggered back in the general direction of the shore. He surfaced behind her already laughing as his head emerged, even though the combination of water and his normally-shaggy hair were obscuring his sight he didn’t seem to have many problems navigating shorewards as he wiped his face clear. “Victory is mine.” he announced calmly, his eyes gleaming as brightly as the beads of water on his skin as he waded into the shallows. Autumn, having already procured her towel, considered diving for Jase’s and tossing it in the creek, but settled for giving him a narrow stare as she wrapped her own around herself. “You lost.” she informed him with a smirk. “You quit first.” came the inexorably calm reply. “You cheated!” “Cheating implies the breaching of an agreed-upon set of rules.” Jase held his hand out, his towel flying from the ground to his grasp. He grinned at her as he began to towel himself off vigorously. “There was no such agreement.” “Ugh. You suck.” Autumn reiterated, flicking water from her fingers at him. “Everyone knows tickling is cheating.” “You mean it is conventionally accepted that tickling is unfair.” Jase shrugged his bony shoulders, flashing another grin at her, then began towelling his hair dry. “Conventional is just another word for lacking in initiative.” He paused mid-towelling, considering something, then smiled at her, tossing the towel back towards his clothing. “For instance…” There was a faint shimmer in the air around him, a heat-haze that rose from his skin in the sunlight, causing his damp hair to rise slightly in the thermal updraft. Focused on Autumn, his eyes grew brighter still, the pale green shifting to a more amber hue as a cloud of steam rose from his skin moments before he appeared to burst into flame. Autumn made a short sound of surprise and took a half-step back. Wreathed in flickering gold, red and orange, Jase was untouched by the flame as, mercifully so, were his swim-shorts. The heat of his fire was a tangible thing, even from a couple of meters away Autumn could feel it on her skin. “This makes drying off easier.” he said conversationally, his eyes deep slivers of brightness as he smiled at Autumn through his aura of fire. “For you, too.” This was light-years away from the first time she'd seen his pyrokinetic abilities, when he'd burned away everything except the blood on his skin. The entire experience had been terrifying, and yet here she was: no monsters, no blood, no terror- just a sense of awe as she watched the fire lick unhurriedly over his skin, enfolding him like the arms of a jealous lover. He could see the brilliant flames reflected gold and scarlet against the sea in her eyes, and the half-step back became a tentative step forward, the heat reddening her cheeks as she approached. "Um, how far away, exactly, do I need to stand?" “A few feet is likely best, though I won’t burn you unless I want to - the fire is very much under my control, so long as I am under control, I’ve found.” Jason said from within the flickering dance of flames. “The cryokinetic side of my abilities operates on the same principles. The level of fine control possible takes some getting used to - I practice a lot.” he admitted with a small grin. “For instance, I can superheat areas of my aura to the point that it, theoretically, should vaporise incoming bullets, but I can also pick up a cold can of Coke without disturbing its temperature unduly.” She took another step forward, lifting one hand and turning her palm toward the burning aura that surrounded him, a tangible illustration of the otherwise invisible barrier between Jase and the rest of the world. The closer she got, the more uncomfortable it became, a sensation just on the edge of pain but not quite crossing the threshold into injury. It slowly evaporated the droplets of water that lingered on her skin, and as individual strands of her hair dried, they drifted lazily in the waves of heat that rippled around his body. “How do you practice something like that, out of curiosity?” she wondered aloud, not daring to approach further for fear her hair really would combust. “I haven’t had much luck, honestly, although the day everyone was at the Farm did help, and Tuesday was... let’s call it educational. Outside of that, though, it’s surprisingly difficult to convince people to let you experiment on them, when you’re not even sure what the result is supposed to be.” She grinned up at him through the shimmering wall of light and heat, trying (as ever) to gauge his expression; it was hard to see his eyes from where she was standing. “Although, I guess it’s probably easier when it’s something you can do by yourself.” Her fingers curled slightly, just at the limits of her tolerance, as if resting against a pane of glass behind which he was standing. I am Fire. The words sprang unbidden from memory, and she smiled, just a little, at the thought. Yeah. Yeah, you are. “I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, or if it goes both ways, but I get this odd feeling of….” she paused, eyes narrowing slightly as she searched for the right words. “Connection, maybe? Just by touching a person, I can almost feel them the same way I do my own body, like we’re sharing the same skin. I never realized how much you can tell about someone from just physical contact, and how they respond to it.” Shrugging, she traced the “surface” of his aura with her fingers, eyelids fluttering briefly at that knife-edge sensation as the nerves beneath her skin wavered on whether or not she was about to be burned. “Maybe I’m like Lona,” Autumn mused, an uncharacteristically thoughtful expression on her freckled features, “but backwards.” Remembering what had happened with the fight in the hallway gave her a moment’s pause as she considered what that might imply. “Other than a general awareness of the Shine, everyone seems to experience the subquantum differently. I can feel, as though touching it, every physical object around me out to about ninety feet. I can detect their motion relative to my own, their temperature, and so on. You possess similar sensory abilities to both Charlie and Avalon - you can sense living creatures as I sense objects, like with the snake, and you can read a person’s state of health, so it seems you have both of their gifts, perhaps not to the same extent and with personal differences, rather than sharing their focus.” Jase slowly let his fiery aura die out, the last flickers of flame seeming to dance into his eyes as they returned to their normal pale icy green hue. He pulled on his pants, hopping from one leg to the other in a reasonable display of balance before fastening them. “Huh.” Autumn stared at him for a moment, feeling delightfully warm and dry now as she pulled on her jeans. “You’ve thought about this a whole hell of a lot.” “I study other people’s gifts, and study my own, and each area of study increases my knowledge of the other, even when the gifts of others are outside the psionic arena. Like Cade or Marissa, who have a differing version of the Shine that makes them peak-human, or beyond, in their areas of focus.” Jase grinned slightly at her as he pulled on his boots, leaving them unlaced for now as he got to his feet. “The whole link to the theorised subquantum strata is fascinating.” “Okay.” Autumn narrowed her eyes. “You and Sean were babbling excitedly about that - I remember that word coming up once or twice while I was trying not to freak out about being there at your farm.” She smiled a little, remembering how geeky Jase had seemed in that moment, his normal reserve having been dropped in the excitement. “And you’ve mentioned it a couple times since. Care to give me the grade school version while we get everything set up?” “It’s pretty straightforward stuff, at least on the surface ‘what you need to know level’.” Jase smiled back at her. “I think you can even manage without crayon drawings.” “Ass.” Autumn snickered, flipping him the bird. “C’mon, let’s get to work.”
  2. 4 points
    The moment he stepped away, the terse whispering began. “Okay, when you said ‘Jason Bannon’ that is not what I was picturing.” “What are you talking about?” “I’m talking about that.” “Mom! Gross!” “No, I’m just saying!” “No, you are not just saying, because I am not having this conversation with you.” “Just- did he start working out, or something?” “Okay, seriously? Are we doing this right now?” “Autumn, all I’m saying is he just looks different, and I was wondering what changed, that’s all.” “Fine. Fine. What’s different, hm? Haircut maybe? He got a little taller? Not as skinny?” “Yes, probably, but he’s just more-” “Mom, I swear, if you say my friend is hot, we aren’t speaking until I graduate from college.” “No, no! ...But does that mean you think he is?” “Oh, look, mom!” Autumn called out pointedly, meeting her mother’s gaze with all the mortified fury the teen could muster. “All parked. Guess we should probably get going now. Loveyoubye.” She gave Dana a quick, perfunctory kiss on the cheek and tried not to be too obvious in her haste to depart. As she double-checked the tie-downs on their gear for at least the third time, the young redhead felt, more than heard, her mother coming up behind her. “Hey,” Dana murmured, pulling her into a fierce hug and catching her sole progeny off-guard. “I do love you, you know. Just be careful, okay?” “Mkay,” came the muffled reply, as her daughter returned the familial embrace in earnest. “Love you, too. Talk to you tomorrow.” “Talk to you tomorrow,” the older woman repeated with a faint smile as she headed back up the gravel path toward the house. Exhaling slowly, Autumn fished the key out of her pocket. She couldn’t really blame her mom for worrying; it had been ages since she’d had a friend over, and she’d been dating the last guy she’d gone camping with. This was different, though. This was Jase, who was her friend, who also happened to have really, abysmally bad taste in women, and who also was only coming because she had asked him, rather than the other way around. She swung her leg over the seat as Jase returned, shifting forward over the gas tank to give him room to sit behind her. “It’s gonna be awkward and maybe a little rough, but only for about 5 or 10 minutes, so just hold on tight and try not to fall off.” By the time the words had left her lips, and it registered what she’d just said, it was too late to take them back. Oh, for fuck’s sake… She did her best to ignore the warmth that flooded her face as Jase got comfortable, and felt fairly confident in her efforts to remain composed- Until he leaned forward slightly and ‘reassured’ her, his voice just audible over the idle rumble of the engine: “I’ll be sure to get a good grip.” “Yes” she replied, grimacing as she put the ATV into gear and they started rolling toward the road at a modest pace. “Please do.” The redhead raised one hand, waving goodbye to her mother as they reached the asphalt, and then turned to head further away from Shelly proper. As the forecast had predicted, it was a gorgeous afternoon, sunny and clear, and warm enough that Autumn’s beloved red hoodie was only tied around her waist. About half a mile from the house, she opened up the engine a little, speeding up gradually at first out of consideration for her taller passenger, but eventually settling into fourth gear, grinning into the wind as the scenery zipped past. “The turn-off isn’t far,” she called back, nodding somewhere into the distance and then shaking her head to get the hair out of her eyes as it came loose from her ponytail. They passed a gravel drive, barred by a wide metal utility gate, and then, a moment later: “Hold on.” Downshifting, she turned left and off the road, onto a path so overgrown and littered with leaves and the detritus of fallen limbs that it could hardly be considered more than a very sketchy trail. For several minutes, she slowly maneuvered them over buried roots, through copses of spindly evergreens, and around all-but-invisible washes and dry streambeds obscured by underbrush and dried pine needles. It would definitely have been easier to traverse the distance on foot- if they were backpacking. Maybe next time, she considered, wincing as the ATV jostled again. If there is one. And then, they crossed the threshold from tall, shadowy pines to an open sunlit space, cleared of trees, right in the bend of a slow-moving creek. As she brought the four-wheeler to a stop, the freckled teen suddenly felt unaccountably nervous, as though she’d just invited Jase up to her room while her parents weren’t home. Which, she hadn’t, obviously but it felt more… personal, than she’d expected, and she realized she wanted him to like it here. That thought gave her a moment’s pause; was it because she’d enjoyed the garden so much, because he was proving to be weirdly good company, or because the place was important to her? All three, maybe? “Whew,” she sighed, cutting the engine and turning to check on him. “Oh, hey. You didn’t fall off.” Banishing awkward self-analysis with a playful grin, Autumn hopped off and tucked the key back into her pocket. “C’mon. I’m gonna walk around, see what needs doing, and then we can unpack. You can come with, if you want, or just poke around on your own.” Raking her hands back through her hair as she walked, the energetic redhead pulled the elastic band out and held it between her teeth, quickly plaiting the windblown curls into a haphazard braid and re-securing the ends. After she’d made it a few steps toward the middle of the sunny camp site, she paused to stretch and take a quick visual inventory. The roughly circular clearing was littered with a thick carpet of pine needles over packed earth, courtesy of the few stately trees that had been allowed to remain, with the occasional scrubby clump of grass peeking out from below. There was a decent-sized fire pit near the center, though the depression was filled with a couple seasons’ worth of leaf litter and rotten wood, and roughly half a cord of logs lay in disarray near the trees between which they’d been stacked. Beyond the edge of the camp, the hard earth underfoot gave way to smooth stones along the shoreline; piles of driftwood had accumulated all along the edge of the clear, cool water, and with it whatever man-made trash had drifted downstream to be snagged there. It’s nice to be back, she reflected, but, man, this is gonna be a lot of work. Still… Glancing back in Jase’s direction, she caught herself smiling again. Least I don’t have to do it by myself. This is Autumn’s garden. That was the thought that went through Jase’s head as he glanced around the clearing, swinging down off the ATV with his usual deliberate grace. This site was special to the red-haired girl he’d decided to call ‘friend’, a place of importance. His pale gaze swept the surroundings as he moved, at first following Autumn, then meandering from her walkabout and finding himself on the pebbled beach of the creek, staring at the littered bank. He tilted his head up to feel the sunlight on his face, closing his eyes and reaching outwards. A faint pressure, different from the breeze currently playing in the pines, went around the clearing as he allowed his sense of touch to experience everything here. A few leaves curlicued up into the air from the detritus in the firepit, then dropped suddenly; a rustling touch brushed past Autumn’s hair; a light sprinkling of pine needles rained down from a couple of the trees. Jase smiled, his eyes still closed, and breathed deeply. This was different from the garden as Autumn was different from himself, he perceived. This was a natural place adapted by Man - Autumn’s family, possibly generations of them. The garden was nature curated, cared for, controlled - as it would have to be to have such a rich variety of plants from varying climes in close proximity. But the import of the place was the same - there was a fragment of Autumn’s identity in this clearing. He turned and moved up the bank from the creek, back towards the central area. “It’s beautiful.” he said in a tone that was almost dispassionate, but contained a trace of warmth recognisable to Autumn. “Peaceful, too. It suits you.” He tilted his head to one side, smiling at her. “Where would you like me to start? And are you averse to a little TK making the work lighter now and then?” he inquired with a faint grin. She laughed then, unreservedly, more than a little surprise mingling with the delight in her eyes. “You know, you’re probably the first and only person in my entire life to use the word ‘peaceful’ when describing me, so, thanks for that, I think. And, no,” the bemused redhead grinned, shaking her head, “I don’t mind. Whatever gets the job done is fine, so if that’s easier for you, I say go for it.” As the giggles faded, a smile lingered in their wake, and she took another look around. “I’m going to start with the firepit, I think, so we can get the fire started and let it burn down enough to cook by the time we’re hungry…” Drumming her fingers thoughtfully against her legs, Autumn glanced down toward the creek. “Mind starting down there? If you’re in the mood to flex your mind-muscles, that would be a good place to do it. Some of that driftwood is just old trees, y’know? Besides, it’s better to go wading now, before it cools down later.” She grinned over at him, and added, holding up three fingers at chest-level in the classic Girl Scouts salute, “I promise not to push you in.” There was a long, quiet moment then, as her eyes traced the treeline on the opposite side of the creek. “ And… yeah.” Her expression softened slightly, and a part of her wondered what her grandfather would have thought of Jase, of her bringing him here. “It is beautiful. Thanks.” The afternoon sun was warm on her face, and all around were the sounds of birds, of the wind through the trees, of the water rushing over stones… It seemed unbelievable, somehow, that she’d stopped coming, when so many of the best, most wonderful memories she’d ever made were right here. “Be right back.” She’d have plenty of time to think and talk when they were finished. For now, there was plenty to do in the last few hours of daylight. Autumn headed back toward the gear they’d stowed on the ATV and returned with a small collapsible shovel and a large canvas bag- the latter of which she tossed to Jase. “That’s for your basic trash, plastic and stuff, although I’m pretty sure you’re about 12 steps ahead of me there.” With a wry, self-deprecating grin, she unfolded the shovel and locked the pins into place. “Anyway… Thanks for helping. Let me know if you need anything, and I guess we can meet back up when we’re done and work on something else.” Autumn didn’t have much to say after that, none of the typical chatter- it just wasn’t necessary. She did hum, though, mostly fragments of old songs that were only played on classic rock radio, as she shoveled sodden, compacted ash and leaves and dragged crumbling bits of ancient firewood out from the mess. Ugh. Grimacing, she tossed the rotten, lichen-encrusted plant matter into the underbrush at the edge of the clearing and kept going. She hadn’t thought it would get this bad so quickly- or, maybe she just hadn’t thought. Either way, this mess was her responsibility, and although she really was grateful for the help, and for the company, the increasingly grubby teen had to admit that she felt a little guilty for conscripting Jason… Something-Something Bannon to help her deal with it. But… Glancing in the direction of the stream as she crouched next to the re-emerging bowl of hardened earth, she smiled to herself- he didn’t really seem to mind too much, so maybe it was fine. The visible trash had been first - sodden plastic wrappings, beer cans caught in the deadwood, waxed cartons used for juice or milk - they had all come whizzing obediently out of the water and into the refuse sack, crumpling, folding or otherwise compacting as they travelled. Then Jase had set the canvas bag left open to one side and focused on the driftwood. Smaller branches first, some still adorned with leaves, were tugged free of the tangle and laid in a neat pile at one end of the beach in the sunlight, then would come the larger bits- small pieces of dead timber from larger trees carried downriver, and more than a couple of broken-off trunks. There was a steady meditative style to the way he worked: quick and yet with an air of unhurried thoroughness, and he smiled to himself as he heard Autumn humming as she tended to her own task. This was a memory he would often revisit later: this simple little scene he would forever associate with companionship. The music of the brook and the woman, even if some of her humming was charmingly off-key as she occasionally huffed, tossing moldy old firewood into the brush. The birdsong distant beyond the babble of the creek. The sunlight throwing glints from the water and fire from Autumn’s hair, and how her waist had felt under his hands as he held on against the pitching of the ATV. He reflected with some amusement on the reactions of and the interplay between both Keane women. He also wondered, without sorrow or bitterness, about how it would feel to have that maternal connection: someone who would worry about simple little things no matter how old or competent their child became. His mind flashed back to the concern shown him by his mother; the way she had touched his face and studied it as though trying to find the boy she had run away from inside the man standing there. He theorised that Dana explained a lot about Autumn - her undemanding warmth of personality, her restlessness and need to test herself which was very similar to his own, yet possessed of a different tone and texture. She’d laughed when he’d called her ‘peaceful’, but she was. Not passive, not static, but contained and self-sufficient. A creek, always full of restless motion, yet restful to observe. He imagined that the same rich emotional depth she had shown when speaking of her grandfather, or when cradling him, or when she flamed bright crimson at his teasing, or even when she had charged into a fight with two seniors twice her size were (like the blushes) traits she had inherited from her mother. He compared that rich emotional texture to his own superficially binary state - remote, cold detachment or searing instinct - with little in the way of middle ground. With a groaning creak, the first tree-trunk lifted clear of the creek, a rain of water pattering down on the pebbles as Jase caused it to float up and away from the bank, closely followed by a second, then a third solid piece of timber. The tangle was more or less destroyed now, his TK grasping and bagging a couple of overlooked bits of trash, then conscientiously flipping some more small branches out of the moving water before they could be carried away. He nodded, satisfied at the clear banks of the creek, then sat down and removed his boots and socks, rolling up the bottom of the legs of his combat pants, before wading into the water. He probed around carefully on the stony creek-bed with both his feet and his Shine, now and then grabbing sharper rocks and tossing them to the far bank and occasionally locating and removing a broken piece of glass or metal which lay submerged. The water was warm enough for wading, or even for swimming still, not that the cold bothered him anymore than heat did these days. He wondered about that - the Shine and how it manifested so differently in so many people. With him, it seemed to make human concerns even more remote - removing any physical insufficiency, making frailty against the elements irrelevant, granting the ability to seal himself from harm or to deliver it with but a flicker of will. He paused his chain of thought, realising he’d used the term ‘human concerns’. Perhaps ‘physical concerns’ would be better, if exactitude was what he sought. He pulled a buried piece of planking with a couple of protruding nails up from the creek bed, floating it to the driftwood pile on the shore. Musing to himself he took his time with the work, wading back and forth thigh-deep in the water until, finally satisfied that the creek bed was clear, he turned to see how Autumn was getting on.
  3. 3 points
    The Keane Household. Thursday Evening. “So… I saw Nathan Crocker today, when I went to the bank.” Autumn, tucked comfortably into a corner of the sofa with two of their fosters- a two-year-old rust sable Shepherd named Dakota, and Lexi, an older female Pit with creamy white fur and tawny ears- glanced up from her phone at her mother’s non sequitur. Their two families had been friends for ages, since before either Autumn or Jacob were born… probably since before Dana herself was born. Just seeing the good-looking FWP Warden or his equally attractive son around town wasn’t unusual, in itself; Nathan himself had just paid her an unsettling visit the day before. No, what was strange was the way her mother had said it, as if she were leading up to something. “Oookaay?” the younger redhead replied, her tone a combination of acknowledgement and inquiry as she peered up at her mother. “That’s cool, I guess?” With a sigh, Dana leaned bodily against the doorway to the kitchen, regarding the young woman strangers often mistook for her younger sister. She could see so much of herself in her daughter- more than just the physical resemblance- but comparing what she remembered of her own teen years to what she could see of Autumn’s… Where was the sulking? Where was the grumbling about being stuck in the house, the restless flouncing about and complaining that she wanted to hang out with her friends? When she herself had been grounded as a teenager, she’d never missed an opportunity to bemoan the injustice of her exile, which in hindsight had probably not done her any favors. Autumn, though, was handling it with a surprising level of maturity; she didn’t seem so much indifferent as resigned, even straightening the garage without complaint. “It was ‘cool,’ yeah,” she replied finally, just as her daughter was about to go back to watching videos on TikTok. “He asked how we were doing since the hospital, I told him we were fine… We talked about Jacob a little bit-” The teen’s expectant expression soured almost instantly, the corner of her mouth turning down on one side in a look her mother knew Autumn had inherited from her grandfather. “-and he said he didn’t think you guys had any classes together this semester, is that right?” “Nah, we don’t,” came the flat, disinterested response. “Okaay. Well,” Dana hedged, “he also mentioned that Homecoming’s in a few weeks, and Jacob hadn’t said anything about having a date yet, so-” “I’m going by myself, it’s fine,” Autumn interrupted matter-of-factly. It wasn’t exactly the end of the world as far as she was concerned, not being invited to a dance by her ex, especially when things between them were super awkward. “That way I can eat all the snacks I want, dance to the songs I like, leave when I get bored, and nobody can complain.” Leaning her head against the back of the couch, she grinned a little at the older version of herself to soften the edge of her words. “Priorities, right?” The elder Keane blinked, a little taken aback by her daughter’s resolve, and her honesty. She was such a kid sometimes, and sometimes… With a twinge of regret, Dana smiled back. “Yeah. Priorities… Speaking of which!” She paused, marshalling her thoughts. "Autumn, I've been thinking about Tuesday - specifically about what I did and said on Tuesday. You understand that I was upset, right? And not really about the fight, so much, though it gives me the chills to think you might have been hurt: you were doing what you thought was right." Nodding, Autumn glanced down at the phone resting on her thigh as her smile faded, tilting it from side to side without really paying attention to the images on the screen. "Yeah... I mean, you were right though. I did get lucky, and it was probably kind of a dumb thing to do." "I was right in what I said with my Mom Hindsight at work, maybe." Dana smiled slightly at her daughter. "But... and this is not an endorsement as a mother, you understand... you were right in what you did. You helped a friend who was being assaulted with no thought to yourself. If I wasn't your mom, I'd have been cheering you on." She sighed. "I might have even done the same thing at your age. Maybe. So..." She took a breath. "Tonight is officially the last night you're grounded." She raised a hand forestallingly. "But you better not scare me like that again in the near future, Autumn Rae, or so help me..." That got her attention- not only the invocation of her middle name, which meant that her mother was being Really Serious right now, but that she was letting her off the hook early. "Wait," the younger redhead straightened, leaning forward as inquisitive blue eyes studied Dana's face with undisguised curiosity. "Seriously? So I don't have to stay home this weekend?" "No." Dana smiled at the sudden interest piqued in Autumn's gaze. "No, it's the last weekend of summer. I'm not such a monster I'd keep you indoors just because I got a scare." "Ugghhhhh," Autumn was up and off the couch before her mother could react, arms flung tight around Dana's ribs as the suddenly animated girl all but tackled her in a hug. "You're the best. Seriously. Literally the best. I thought you were gonna be mad at me until I was 40." "Ooof" Dana laughed, hugging her daughter tightly in turn. "My not-so-little girl. Ease up on my ribs, huh?" She kissed Autumn's forehead and rested her cheek against it. "You're growing up. I can't be mad at you for being you, or I'd never stop. Besides, who you are is pretty special to me, too." she said more soberly, stroking the red curls of her daughter's hair on the back of her head before withdrawing a little, smiling wryly. "So, what wild hijinks are you going to get up to, now that you're free?" "Wild hijinks?" she repeated dubiously, grinning in spite of herself. Oh my god, that was such a... mom thing to say. "I don't know, I was thinking maybe 'shenanigans,' instead," Autumn teased, eyes laughing as she twisted out of the way to avoid her mother's indignant swat, flinging herself back down on the couch to the surprise and dismay of the dogs who were watching with avid interest. "Seriously, no plans for anything crazy. No wild parties, or anything like that." "Well, good." Dana said with a fond smile. "Because your dad's coming back for Labor Day and I don't want to explain to him why you're in the sheriff's jail for some shenanigans gone awry." Assessing Autumn with a critical eye as she nodded her understanding, she paused for a moment. “Did you start doing something different to your hair?” “Oh, yeah,” came the somewhat distant reply; the mother-daughter bonding moment having passed, the younger of the two was back to scrolling through videos on her phone with one hand and idly petting a pair of drowsy dogs with the other as they settled back down. “Marissa showed me some stuff.” “Marissa…?” “Jauntsen. Remember, I spent the night there last Sunday?” “Wait, wait… That Marissa? The one who-” Dana spluttered incredulously. “Yeah. It’s fine now. Well,” Autumn amended, “mostly. She’s still kind of a bitch.” “Autumn Rae!” “Well,” she shrugged, somewhat chastened. “She is.” Almost as an afterthought, and without looking up from what she was doing, the young redhead added, “Oh, and if it’s cool with you, I was gonna head up to the campsite this weekend and get it cleaned up. It’s been a while, and I wanted to show it to a friend, see if they could help me a little. That okay?” “Autumn, you know I don’t care if you go up there, as long as I know where you are. You’ve been doing it since you were a little girl. I trust you.” She hesitated- It didn’t seem like she and Jacob were talking, but surely Marissa Jauntsen wasn’t the one going with her. That whole family was awful, and she doubted they’d do anything as unglamorous as camping. “But, you don’t normally take anyone with you. Who’s the friend?” “Mmm?” Autumn blinked, distracted, then looked up at her mother with wide, guileless eyes. “Oh. Jason Bannon.” There was a long, uncomfortable moment of silence in the living room, as Dr. Dana Keane reflected that perhaps she’d been a trifle hasty in lifting her daughter’s punishment early. “Oh,” was all she could say. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Friday Afternoon. Autumn had checked the weather a dozen times over the past few days, and according to the forecast, Labor Day weekend was supposed to be gorgeous, with clear skies during both the daylight and evening hours. It was perfect for camping- warm enough to splash around in the creek during the day if she wanted, and cool enough in the evening to sit by the fire. She had everything she needed: hammock, tent, blanket, pillow, insect repellent and first-aid kit, firestarter, sandals, dice, cards, towel, clothes, toiletries, hatchet, camp shovel, pocketknife, and a large, padlocked cooler… plus gas for the ATV. Except for the four-wheeler- a concession for whatever gear her guest might bring- it was exactly the same list she checked off every other time she’d gone. “Listen, just… Call me, okay? I’m just down the road.” “Mom,” Autumn sighed in exasperation as she organized everything in the front yard, taking stock of what she needed to tie down and where. “I know what you’re thinking, and seriously, it’s not like that. Look, he’s just helping me get everything cleaned up. He’s literally just a friend, okay? Not the future father of your grandchildren.” “Autumn!” The pretty vet’s face went as red as her daughter’s hair as she stormed down the steps from the porch. Laughing, Autumn ran to the other side of the four-wheeler to avoid the onslaught. “Mom, seriously, I’m kidding, I’m kidding!” she protested, still grinning as she fended off her mother’s swatting. “I’ll call you, I promise! If you wanna hang out for a little while, he’s probably getting his own stuff, and then he’s gotta come here first, y’know. Then you can yell at him, too.” Seeing the smile on her daughter’s lips, her enthusiasm for going back to a place that held so many memories of her grandfather, Dana relented, her embarrassed indignation fizzling away with the dim recollection of a child’s laughter. “Maybe I will,” she countered, smacking Autumn’s hip playfully with the back of her hand. After a moment, she added, more soberly, “I just… worry, you know?” I am too young for grandchildren, her expression read as she peered at her daughter. “Yeah,” the younger girl agreed quietly, sliding one arm around her mom’s waist for a quick hug. “I know.” “Now, c’mon. I’ll help you get everything strapped on before he gets here.” ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Dana Keane had a mental image of Jason Bannon that was based on the previous six years of the young recluse’s life, an impression shared by most adults in Shelly: shifty-eyed, perpetual boneless slouch, shady connections, spoke rarely and even then in a sullen murmur without meeting one’s eye - the sort of kid you worried about sending your child to the same school as. Whilst the dramatic changes in Jase over the summer had been noticed around school, word spread a little slower to the wider community not directly connected to the Shelly education system. So Dana was not really all that worried about Autumn potentially fooling around with such a boy - indeed, she was more worried that her daughter was hanging around ‘questionable’ persons: Marissa Jauntsen? Jason Bannon? And there had been that fight at school - also involving Jason Bannon - was her daughter falling in with a bad crowd? So when the soft growl of a muscle car caused both Keane ladies to look up from adjusting the load on the ATV, it was with a mixture of trepidation (Autumn) and puzzlement (Dana). To Autumn’s relief, Bannon didn’t bring the Charger roaring up the track, revving the engine in a cringey display of machismo - but then, she mused, she probably shouldn’t expect that sort of thing from him anyway. The low grumble of the V8 ceased as it drew up to one side of the track and came to a stop, and Jase got out. And Dana Keane felt a prickle of maternal unease. He was dressed as per normal in clothes a size too large - Army surplus combat pants and boots, with a plain white t-shirt under a grey hoodie. As the two women approached, he gave them a nod of acknowledgement and a faint smile as he hefted a large pack and a rolled up tent from the trunk of his car, then stepped forward to meet them. He seemed taller than Autumn’s mother remembered - or was that due to the fact he was standing upright? - and his previously hooded, shifty gaze was direct - unsettling in its calm appraisal of whatever or whoever it rested on. His dark hair was long enough to brush the lobes of his ears, and while it looked shaggy, it was a far cry from the ‘dragged through a hedge’ look he’d worn before, framing the brilliant pale green of his eyes in the outdoor-tan of his face. It looked as though in the space of the summer he’d grown from ‘teenaged boy’ to ‘young man’. Not that he didn’t wear it well - he wore it possibly too well for Dana’s comfort. “Just a friend?” Dana murmured out of the corner of her mouth. Autumn made a ‘shush’ noise out of the corner of her own as they came up to him. “Hey.” Jase said by way of greeting, giving Autumn a smile that reached his cold eyes, causing them to crinkle at the edges, then turning his attention to Dana. “You didn’t tell me your sister would be here.” he said with a faint accusatory air as his eyes flickered back to Autumn. Though his poker face was as good as ever, she could read the mischievous gleam of humor in his gaze as he continued, deadpan. “I’d have dressed up more, got a haircut, y’know?” Autumn groaned in disbelief, Dana blinked in surprise, and both women, almost in unison, turned the same shade of crimson. Ugh, the former sighed inwardly. Seriously? “Yeah, yeah,” the younger of the two grumbled, shaking her head. “We try to keep her hidden here, but tales of her beauty still spread far and wide across the land, and so on, and so forth, Mom- Jase, Jase, Dr. Dana Keane.” She paused, glaring daggers at him even as the corners of her lips twitched in suppressed laughter. “My mother,” she reiterated unnecessarily, pointedly leaning forward as if to warn off a rapacious predator from an appealing target. “Just Dana, will be fine,” the elder of the Keane ladies suggested, her hazel eyes simultaneously appraising and amused as she stepped forward. He was not at all what she’d expected, thus far, although it wasn’t entirely reassuring. Autumn got into a fight protecting this boy. “It’s nice to meet you. Autumn said you two were planning on heading up to the property to do a little clean-up and camp overnight.” She gave him a quick once-over, then smiled, extending her hand in greeting- a gesture the tall, strangely compelling young man was quick to reciprocate. As they shook hands, Dana took the opportunity (as all parents must) to embarrass her only child and get more information about the green-eyed interloper. “Do you do much camping, Jase? Or, do you prefer Jason? And, what about your girlfriend, mm? Does she mind that you’re going out into the woods alone with my daughter?” While Autumn went several shades of red and resisted the urge to step on her mom’s foot - hard - Jason didn’t even blink, holding Dana’s gaze with his own through the brief handshake. Even as she subjected him to a mixture of wary maternal and feminine scrutiny, the attractive veterinarian felt the weight of being studied in turn, a sensation her daughter was already uncomfortably familiar with when dealing with the Effing One. His manner wasn’t one of ease such as Jacob might have displayed, born from a lifetime of familiarity. It was utterly centered, composed, displaying no cues of either nervousness or eagerness to please, rather a distant watchful intensity that reminded the veterinarian of a half-wild creature deciding whether she was a friend or a threat. “Jase is fine, amongst friends.” he said with a touch of warmth, giving her a small nod as he let his fingers slide from hers. “I try to go camping at least a couple times a year, so when Autumn told me she knew a pretty spot she’d like to show me I said okay. And... I don’t have a girlfriend.” His lips twitched in a slight smile as Dana’s speculative gaze turned briefly to Autumn, who was currently experiencing the fervent red-faced feeling of wishing the earth would open up and swallow either her, her mom or Jase. Then he threw his blushing friend a lifeline. “Will the car be okay where I parked it?” he asked Dana, indicating the Charger. “I can move it if it’s in the way at all.” “So long as your dad doesn’t mind you leaving his vintage machine out in the elements overnight.” Dana replied, then indicated the two-car garage Autumn had just finished organizing the day before. “But why don’t you park it up in there?” “Mighty kind.” Jason smiled at that, both in response to the kindness and out of mild amusement. “The car is all mine, though. Spent the summer rebuilding her.” He added with a tiny note of pride in his tone as he set down his camping gear. “I’ll get her parked up if you’ll give me a moment.”
  4. 3 points
    "Well, we've been in classes together and so on since I moved to Shelly." Jason replied calmly, dextrous fingers and sharp knife making swift work of the tomatoes. "Aware of each other, without really talking." Dana nodded, setting the olive oil on the counter. Jason tilted his head to one side. "Do you have any balsamic vinegar?" he asked casually, causing Dana to think a moment before nodding and retrieving that bottle from the cupboard too as her guest started in on the onions. Dana checked the oven temperature and lightly oiled the potatoes before setting them on a tray. "But we started talking last Friday." Jason went on. "Autumn bumped her head on a door - it swung back into her face, to be exact, and one of my friends noticed the tumble. She grabbed me, because I have a certain level of medical knowledge, and we went to check on Autumn." He glanced up at her, giving a faint smile. "She was fine other than a bruise. Fine enough that she was giving me a hard stare for walking into the girls bathroom and caring more that she didn't have a concussion. I got her some ice for the bruise, then we invited her to sit down with us." The corners of his eyes crinkled slightly as he started arranging neat slices of tomato and even thinner sliced onion in the dish. "Not the best of starts. I really got the impression she thought we were oddballs and that I was up to no good." "I probably would have assumed the same thing if someone I barely knew followed me into the women's restroom," Dana replied a trifle archly, narrowly suppressing a smile. That did sound like Autumn, all right, or at least her propensity for mishaps. "So," she continued, adding a little coarse salt and pepper to the potatoes as she leaned over to examine Jason's handiwork. "You started talking on Friday, last week." With a little hm and a nod of approval at his progress, she turned back to her own preparations. "And, from the sound of it, not necessarily under ideal circumstances. Thank you for looking after her, by the way." Hazel eyes flickered once more in his direction, considering his profile as he worked. There was something unusual about Jason Bannon, though she couldn't quite put her finger on it. He seemed too... mature, really. He didn't give off the impression of being a drug-running miscreant now that she was talking to him in person, but he didn't quite seem like a teenager, either- didn't conduct himself like one, or move with that awkward semi-conscious lack of spatial awareness most of them had, didn't use the same slang terminology. "So how did you two end up getting close enough since then for her to invite you up to the creek?" He made a soft sound of amusement - a proto-chuckle of sorts. "Well, she hung out with a bunch of us at my home on Sunday, and left without her hoodie. On Monday evening she came to get it back, and then stayed to talk." Satisfied with his arrangement of the layers of tomato and onion, he inquired after a bowl and whisk and began mixing some olive oil and balsamic in the bowl, before slowly whisking them together. "I... I was having a bad day. Personal issues. Autumn was able to get me to talk about them - indeed, she was the only one who cared to talk to me about them." He paused, eyes going distant as he recalled the night - her warm hug, the conversation in the kitchen, the teasing and laughter. "I think..." he said slowly. "I think Autumn is the only person who really, really tried - and tries - to understand me." The words were matter-of-factly spoken, but seemed to come from a place of vast distance, or so it seemed to Dana. There was no self-pity there, or sorrow, but there was a sense of alienation, of a young life lived in apart-ness. He looked up from grinding some salt and pepper into the bowl, his gaze direct as he regarded Dana. "Autumn made an impact on me. I think that's when we became friends." He dropped his gaze and considered the bowl of dressing, then raised it to his face and gave it a sniff, pondering for a second before adding a touch more pepper. "And the rest is her defending me at school, then inviting me camping. And... I suddenly realised - we both did, I think - what was there." He chuckled again. "Perhaps it didn't exist until that moment, like Schrödinger's Cat. Until we opened the box and looked." He shrugged his lean shoulders. "I'm not really an expert on this sort of thing. Autumn is the first girl that ever kissed me." Leaning back against the counter, arms folded across her chest, Dana Keane listened quietly as Jason related the very brief series of events that had led, more or less, to finding the pair of them on the front porch. It was gratifying, in a sense, to hear someone- a stranger to herself- praise her daughter's character, as if in confirmation that she'd been raised well by people who loved her. And yet, that same maternal inclination, some completely mundane and yet unfathomable instinct, told her that this polite, well-spoken young man might have no idea what that felt like. The thought didn't lessen her worry for her daughter, necessarily, but his account did reinforce Autumn's insistence that they really had just been friends. ...Which, given the rapid escalation of their relationship, was more than enough to justify a measure of concern. A responsible 16 year-old was still a 16 year-old, after all, with all the dubious judgement that entailed. "Really?" she asked when he'd finished, one auburn brow raised skeptically as a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. Her keen hazel eyes appraised his height, the faintly Mediterranean cast of his features, the pale green gaze Autumn had remarked on more than once. "I find that hard to believe. You're a nice-looking young man. Surely my daughter isn't the first one to think so." "I never claimed that." A fin of humour flashed in the depths of his eyes, echoed in another of those small but genuine smiles as he glanced back at Dana, meeting her gaze once more without any of the discomfort that should be present in a teenage boy talking about such a subject with an older woman. No blush, no self-deprecating aww-shucks shrug. It was both impressive and somewhat disturbing. "I've known there've been girls that took interest in me, at least according to sources other than my own perceptions. I've not had a lot of luck following up on that, though." Giving the dressing a final whisk, he artfully drizzled it over the dish of layered tomato and onion. "Like I said - Autumn's the first who actually kissed me. And honestly, the fact that it was her meant more than the fact it was a kiss." He picked up the dish and moved over to the refrigerator, opening the door and selected a spot on the shelf on which to place the salad. Closing the door, he turned and faced Dana from across the kitchen, the corners of his eyes crinkling in a micro-smile. "You worry for Autumn." he stated calmly, arms hanging at his sides with a relaxed poise that had nothing of the defensive or bashful about it. "It's good: seeing that love you hold, the way you care. I won't hurt her, Dana. I'm not careless with my friendship... or other feelings." "Can you really guarantee me that?" she replied, head tilted slightly in an attitude of intent curiosity. It was a largely rhetorical question, born of the older woman's objection to what she saw as his naïve optimism. Although Jason Bannon had the manner of an adult, the bearing of someone considerably more mature than his actual age would seem to indicate, he was, she reflected, still a boy, after all. "That you won't hurt her." Dana shook her head slowly as if in answer to her own question, but remained leaning comfortably against the counter. "No," she continued, not unkindly, but with the certainty of one accustomed to promises and the fickleness of both circumstance and human nature. "You can tell me that you'll try not to. You can reassure me that you won't do it intentionally." Her eyebrows drew together in a little frown, an expression of thoughtfulness her daughter unconsciously adopted when considering a problem. "But, eventually, you will. Even if you're not careless. Even if you don't mean to." She was quiet for a moment, glancing past Jason and toward the doorway where Autumn had vanished to go upstairs. "I do worry," Dana agreed, moving to gather up the utensils to be washed and glancing up at her daughter's strange new companion. "She's my child, my little girl, the hardest and the best thing that's ever happened to me. And I know that, even though she'll be my baby as long as she lives, she won't be a baby nearly that long. So, I'd rather you didn't tell me something unrealistic, like the fact that you won't hurt her. Tell me how you'll handle it when you do." He focused on the question, on her words, and his brow furrowed in concentration as he gave the matter his full attention. As Dana kept one eye on him, he paced a few short steps, hands going into the pockets of his sweat pants, then turned and paced back. Then he went motionless, as if all extraneous energy had been turned off and the actual Being of Jason Bannon was elsewhere, eyes staring unseeingly at the counter-top in front of him. He didn't even seem to breathe. And then motion and animus returned, and his head came up, eyes glancing towards Dana once more. "I think..." he said slowly, as if analysing his thoughts as they were verbalised. "That people often hurt each other. Even those close to them, though that seems to be mostly selfishness, mistake or carelessness. I can eliminate carelessness as a cause for Autumn's pain. I can do my utmost to limit selfishness as a cause. But I will make mistakes." He frowned. "You're right. It is not so much a question of whether I will hurt Autumn - probability indicates that even with the best of intentions, I could upset her." He turned to face Dana, nodding as the analysis reached its conclusion. "I think that if I hurt Autumn I would handle it by assessing how, by discussing it with her, and by not repeating the mistake." Dana stared at him for a long moment, warm hazel eyes nearly as wide as her daughter's as she struggled with the conflicting urges to simultaneously laugh and weep. Both teens had said they'd met at school, but she was half-convinced her intrepid daughter had unearthed this increasingly odd boy from a government research lab. ...Something with extraterrestrials or artificial intelligence, maybe, like the television shows the girls at the office watched. The more he spoke, the less he seemed like the slouching thug from the rumors, but that wasn't necessarily reason not to be concerned. "That is an answer," she allowed with a sigh, her expression a strange commingling of resignation and amusement. "Although at least now I know for sure you were serious about never having had a girlfriend before. Speaking of which." Reaching up into one of the cabinets overhead, the svelte redhead pulled down a coffee filter and busied herself measuring grounds from an airtight canister on the counter. "Autumn mentioned you had a few," she paused, the corner of her mouth curving into a wry half-smile. "Quirks. So what should I know about you, Jason Bannon?" "Quirks." He smiled faintly. "I suppose I do." He relaxed, leaning back against the counter on his butt and hands, a lean symmetrical form in repose. "It's always a little odd, to describe yourself to someone else, isn't it?" Dana shot him a warm smile as she heard the wry humor in his tone. "Hmm. Things you should know..." Jason mused, his eyes on his girlfriend's mom as she set the coffee machine up. "I have an acute sense of smell and taste - which is one reason I like to cook and garden - specifically flowers, but I dabble with other growing things as well, like a vegetable and herb patch I've started at home. I tend to be - as you likely noticed - analytical. A lot of nuanced human interaction goes over my head." he admitted with a shrug. "I don't lie." "Really?" Dana raised a brow as she started the coffee to drip and turned to regard him skeptically. He just nodded, a faint smile at the corners of his lips. "Really. Outright lies offend me. I'm perfectly capable of evasion, concealment, half-truths, misdirection and letting someone jump to the wrong conclusion, though." he said with a small grin. "But the thought of categorically stating an untruth revolts me." He shrugged again. "It's just the way I'm made, I suppose. If I say a thing is so, then to the best of my knowledge it is." "Huh. Good to know." Dana wasn't sure she believed it, but other than a wry amusement at how she was reacting, he didn't seem to be playing with her. "Anything else?" "I speak six languages not including English and plan to learn more, because I like languages." he stated with another of his expressive, lean shrugs. "I have perfect recall of every moment of my life, every experience, sight, sound, smell and touch - both good and bad. I've never taken a proper intelligence test, but I imagine I would score fairly high, based on my speed of information absorption and comprehension." He considered. "I think that covers things you should know." "For a narrow definition of 'should,' I suspect," his girlfriend's mother observed dryly, having missed neither the emphasis of the term by repetition nor Jason's candid assessment of truth-telling. "But for now, since this is the first time we're talking, and Autumn will probably shower as quickly as she can to limit my opportunities to either ask something embarrassing or tell you something embarrassing, I'll take it." He seemed sincere enough despite the incredible claims he was making, or at least confident enough in what he was saying that it passed for sincerity, and yet if he was telling the truth it made his involvement with her daughter seem all the more unusual. Neither their interests nor abilities seemed to intersect, she mused, removing a pair of mugs from the rack as the coffee burbled in the machine. And yet, at least one shared interest seemed patently obvious, she remembered, still feeling more than a little voyeuristic at having seen them interacting in the doorway. "I am curious, though." Glancing briefly at the lean, green-eyed youth as she passed, Dana pulled a small container of heavy cream from the refrigerator. "All of that sounds fascinating, and while I'm firmly and unwaveringly convinced that my daughter is essentially perfect... because she's mine," the pretty veterinarian added good-naturedly. "The two of you don't seem to have much in common. Where's the connection?" "I think we have more in common than some might suspect." Jason replied calmly, smiling a little at her. "As I said before, we bonded over a single long conversation, and I find her to be curious, brave and warm. She's restless rather than studious, but she seeks understanding. We both enjoy hiking, camping and outdoor activities, finding the same peace and sense of pitting ourselves against the elements in the pastime." He smiled a little wider at a memory. "Last night-" "Am I going to want to hear this?" Dana said half-seriously. Jason grinned then, actually grinned - a flash of humor that transformed his composed features for a moment, making him seem his age, before fading to a smile with the mirth still dancing in his jade gaze. "I'm not that forthcoming." he remarked somewhat impishly. "No. We were talking, and I mentioned something about quantum theory in passing, and she recalled myself and Sean talking about it on Sunday last week, so she asked what it was all about. So I explained about the current search for the Grand Unifying Theory, the gaps and holes in it, and some theories about what might fill those gaps." He shrugged. "She listened, she asked questions, she was curious. She's not narrow-minded, interested only in what her immediate experiences provide. And nor am I. There's a commonality that goes beyond mere learning." His smile softened, just a fraction of warmth touching the cool shade of his eyes. "I find her amazing." "Do you," Dana observed/inquired quietly, honey-colored eyes narrowing speculatively at the subtle shift in Jason's expression. Autumn and Jacob had grown up together, were fond of each other, had been thick as thieves before the break-up and the rift that grew between them- but the word "amazing" had never entered the conversation. Now, in the span of a few minutes, both her daughter and this strange, moderately unnerving newcomer had each used that specific term- totally independently- to describe the other. It was simultaneously sweet and unsettling, the thought that the tall, spare young man who'd put such a light in her daughter's eyes might himself possess a bit of that same spark... especially when it had flared into existence so suddenly. "How do you take your coffee?" she continued conversationally, considering the way he'd described Autumn, the tone and the phrasing he'd employed. Had he really only known her for a week? Could he actually have drawn such conclusions on the basis of… What had he called it? ...A single long conversation? Most teenage boys, she reflected ruefully, would have used rather different words to describe the athletic young woman. ...Then again, Jason Bannon was evidently not 'most teenage boys.' "In a mug, usually. If I'm really jonesing, I just snort the grounds." Jason said casually as he crouched down and fussed over Lexi, who had come up and was sat at his feet looking up imploringly for attention. Dana noticed how intent and deliberate he was, the long slender fingers gently scritching behind the pit's ears, then down the sides of her neck as Lexi panted happily even as the slender veterinarian let out a snort and a musical chuckle at Jason's comment. He glanced up from the dog and smiled, head tilting to one side and eyebrow raised in wry humor, and a few things clicked into place for Dana as to why Autumn was so into the youth - other than the obvious. He was intent on whatever was before him, utterly present in each moment, took emotional topics seriously rather than deflecting with jokes or embarrassment, and yet was possessed of a curious dry understated humor. His eyes were glacial and icy on first meeting, but as he opened up they took on a richer, warmer expression which was only rarely echoed in his features. When he looked at a person he really looked, and they either felt an uncomfortable sense of being stared at by a wolf... Or they felt like they were the focus of his entire universe. Whoa. "Black and plain is perfect." Jason said as Dana stared at him in that moment, causing the normally self-possessed woman to start slightly and then nod, turning away and letting out a breath. She still wasn't entirely happy with the speed at which Autumn and this young man had evidently fallen into each other - but she understood it a little - okay, a lot better. And this is when he's sixteen and on his first girlfriend. Saints preserve all good women when he 'grows up'. As she poured the coffee, she heard the sound of footfalls on the stairs as Autumn tried to walk - rather than run - back down and prevent the maternal inquisition from squeezing too many uncomfortable facts from her boyfriend. "Apparently, there was a study that said someone who drinks their coffee black is more likely to be a psychopath," Dana teased as the sound of bare feet on hardwood reached her ears, skipping down the last couple of steps to the accompaniment of clawed canine paws clicking on the bright maple floor. She was just handing Jason his mug as Autumn rounded the corner with her Shepherd escort, the young woman's damp red-gold curls loose around her shoulders and her fair skin still faintly pink from the heat of the shower. Nothing was said about the faint purplish smudge at the juncture of the girl's throat and shoulder, just visible over the neckline of her shirt; her mother merely sighed, peering sharply at her daughter's new boyfriend over the rim of her cup as she took a drink. It could be worse, she reminded herself, trying not to think of the rising teen pregnancy rate and finding precious little reassurance in the way Autumn's gaze was drawn by some unerring feminine instinct to her boyfriend's face. "We've got a little while, yet, before dinner," she stated pointedly, glancing at the timer on the oven. "You guys are welcome to watch some television in the living room, or we can play cards..." Her voice trailed off, and a gleam of mischief sparkled in the depths of her hazel eyes. "Ooorrrr, I can bring down your old photo album! You know, Jason, we've got the most adorable pictures of Autumn from when she-" "Mom, come on, not cool!" Autumn protested vehemently, sweeping past both of them to grab a mug from the rack. She'd changed into a pair of dark green running shorts and a slightly oversized t-shirt, which Dana would normally consider a perfectly modest outfit to wear around an interested teenage boy; a quick glance at Jason and the direction of his gaze, however, left her with the unsettling feeling that it might not matter what she wore. "Since you're our guest, Jason, do you have a preference?" her mother inquired, putting the cream away as Autumn finished up. He had indeed been studying Autumn's shape, barely hinted at under the t-shirt but then more clearly outlined by the running shorts and the smooth musculature of her legs as she leaned to grab the mug from the rack. As Dana spoke to him, however the heat faded from his gaze as it shifted back to the older woman, replaced with a faint smile that touched the corners of his eyes. "The photos sound intriguing-" "Ugh!" Autumn glared at him over her shoulder, the pink in her features now nothing to do with the shower. "No. No way. Not unless you bring yours to the table too." she added with a crinkle of her nose as she smiled, imagining a small, grave faced ragamuffin with too-large eyes. Then the redhead blinked, turning back to her coffee as she remembered that she had, as a matter of fact, seen a young Jason - merely ten years old and newly arrived in Shelly - trying to get his hands around a boy's throat with a coldly intent expression in his eyes... and then turn and sink his teeth bone-deep into a teacher's wrist when he'd been pulled off. Before that, he'd been the quiet, shy new kid, and even though afterwards he never so much as got into a scuffle, the memory had stayed with Autumn if only subconsciously, to be pulled up only by the innocent random thought of imagining him as a child. Perhaps it had even contributed to her dislike of him, which seemed likely. Odd, how a fleeting moment of shock and fear could only be undone years later by a seeming random tide of Fate causing the two of them to enter each other's orbits. It did make her wonder, though - had he ever truly been a child, as human beings understood the term? "That seems fair." Jason smiled a little wider at the loose collection of reddish curls as they tumbled down Autumn's back, glinting with pinpoints of golden fire in the light. He wanted to bury his face there, to inhale the scent of her: wanted it so badly it felt like the most gnawing of hungers. "I choose TV, then." Dana hmmed quietly as though in disappointment. "Ah, well. Come by sometime when she's not home and I'll show you," the older redhead smirked, patting Jase lightly on the shoulder as she passed, coffee mug in hand. Although she wasn't entirely comfortable leaving the two young paramours alone for more than a few minutes, she did at least trust her daughter enough to make good choices. ...Or, failing that, not catastrophic ones. Autumn dropped the spoon she'd used to stir her coffee into the sink, nose crinkling as she made a face at her mother's back. "Keep it up, Autumn Rae" the pretty vet called over her shoulder as she headed into the other room. "One day it'll freeze like that." Abashed, the animated young woman took a sip of her coffee, the rose of her cheeks deepening further. Then, with the petulance of a girl half her age, quickly stuck her tongue out and gave a good-humored huff. "I've never figured out how she does that," she grinned, extending her hand. "C'mon. If you don't sit with me you'll have to fight the dogs for a place. They're spoiled." ---------------------------------------------------------------------- The TV chattered and blared as the hero fought the villain, who was extruding a whip of living fire from his hand, the movements of both combatants choreographed to heighten the drama and tension and sense of mortal peril the protagonist was facing. Flips, kicks, somersaults and shouts filled the screen with noise and action. As shows went, Wu Assassins was pretty good, both teens had agreed as they’d settled in to watch some thirty minutes earlier. It was a shame, then, that currently the artistry and action on the screen was being ignored. It was Jason’s fault- at least, that was Autumn’s stance on the matter. He’d put an arm comfortably around her shoulders as they’d nestled together, and then idly toyed with the curls of her glory of red-gold hair, running his slender fingers through it gently to stroke her neck and shoulder, causing tingles of warmth to race through her nerves. So strongly did Autumn feel that it was her boyfriend’s fault that she, in fact, felt the need to tell him between kisses. “It’s your fault.” she murmured softly, her arms resting around his neck, lips grazing his ear before her teeth lightly nibbled at the lobe, gratified to feel his reaction in the sharp intake of breath as well as in another, more tangible fashion. “Nope.” his reply was likewise a murmur as he kissed the curve of Autumn’s neck where it met her shoulder. His hands were loosely tangled in her fall of red hair, the scent of which he breathed in. “You’re the one that moved. And now we’re missing the show.” Autumn grinned as she withdrew a little to look into his eyes. True enough, she had moved first, swinging a bare leg over him and straddling his thighs so she could properly give him her attention - and he could give her his. “You want to watch the show?” she asked with an arch of her brow. “Don’t put words in my mouth.” His eyes were heated, dark with passion even as he smiled slightly. “I was merely observing we were- mmph.” he finished softly as Autumn pressed her body and mouth to his, arms tightening around his neck as though to prevent even the remote possibility he would try to get away - which, to be honest, was so remote as to not be worth considering. “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Dana wasn’t sure whether to laugh or scowl as she stepped into the lounge and saw the pair of them. At least he didn’t have his hands on her butt this time. Progress! The slender, pretty veterinarian thought wryly. Autumn made a sound that was half gasp, half giggle as she slid off her beau, trying to look contrite and failing miserably. She seemed lively, and happy, and it was good to see. Dana took a breath, counted to ten, then spoke again. “Okay. New rule, you two. None of-” she made a gesture indicating the pair of them and their misbehaviour “-that in the lounge, porch, dining room, kitchen or indeed anywhere in this house except the bedroom when I’m home. I’m not going to try and stop teenagers being teenagers, but I don’t want to walk into my own lounge and see it. Am I clear?” “Yes, mom.” Autumn nodded, somewhat soberly. Jason turned his gaze to Dana and nodded assent, or at least understanding, gravely. “Good! Now, dinner is a few minutes away, so both of you can come and help set the table.” She was unable to resist cracking a smirk, raising an eyebrow at them. “Take a moment to, ah, compose yourselves, and for God’s sake wash your hands first.”
  5. 3 points
    Not a dragon, then, the thought sprang up unbidden, and a part of her was oddly disappointed in the inability of the universe to make what obviously would have been the superior choice. Although he'd responded in the same near-clinical fashion she was accustomed to, attributing no more emotional weight to any of the words than if he'd been reading from a grocery list, a few of them caught her attention anyway: hominid; designed; deliberately evolved. Sure, the rest sounded like a rough description of the inscrutable young man whose hands she was currently holding, but... "Okay, so..." Autumn's eyes narrowed slightly in concentration as she worked to process exactly what all of them, in combination, actually meant. "A close relative of humans, selectively bred to be... what...? Warriors, or something?" "Yes. Apparently, long ago two highly advanced beings wanted warriors with traits similar to human psychopaths, but capable of teamwork and in-group loyalty, faster maturation and capable of more rapid reproduction. According to the history I've been given they took some humans and changed them on the genetic level. I am, if this is true, genetically further away from Homo Sapiens than the Neanderthal Man." He regarded her with a faint twitch of wry amusement at the corner of his mouth. "Apparently still compatible, though." "Mmm," Autumn nodded, lips pursed and intent enough on the rest of what he'd said that- for once- she missed the innuendo entirely. He'd answered her next question before she'd asked it: Why? and also implied that even he wasn't entirely sure if he believed what Ms. Forster had told him during her visit. ...Which, in all honesty, was probably the only real response someone could have to that kind of bombshell, followed immediately by a demand for proof- something she herself had been considering since entering her grandfather’s study on Thursday. It wouldn't be hard to find out if he really was genetically different- there were tests for that- but that wasn't the biggest issue here. Jason Fucking Bannon didn't need her, of all people, to point that out, so for a moment the redhead put aside all the other questions his answer raised. "I'm a little bit- okay," she amended, a slightly abashed grin curving her lips, "a lot curious, but before I ask you a dozen less important questions about the hows and whys..." The earnest young woman took a step toward him, squeezing his hands gently as she peered up into his eyes. "How do you feel about what she told you?" "I won't lie- Heh." He chuckled, a short breath of quiet amusement. "Can't, really. Turns out that's another change hardwired into us. Anyway." He sighed, intently examining her face and expression, analysing her tone and, most of all, feeling the reassuring squeeze of her hands, a tactile cue that carried more weight to his perceptions than any other. "It is a lot to process." he said more quietly. "I had built a foundation of myself as different, but human. Now... I'm not human. But it doesn't tangibly change anything about my life." he went on, frowning a tiny amount. "It's momentous, but doesn't have much practical impact on what is going on in my life... or who I care about. Whether I'm called Jason Bannon, or Jason out of Catheen of the Ddraig by Gareth Bannon, I still feel the same. I'm still me." "Still a fixed star," she agreed, turning one of his hands over as she lifted it, pressing a quick kiss to his palm and tugging him onward before letting his fingers slide from hers as she walked. The woman who was his mother- or had been at one time- could have been lying. She could be trying to manipulate him for some reason- why come back now, after disappearing for years? And even if it was true... and she couldn't rule out the possibility, not with all the other varieties of crazy she'd seen and heard recently... how did it fit in with everything else? What were these people like, the other half of Jase's family? "So," she glanced back over her shoulder at him, then returned her attention to picking a path over the growing number of half-buried stones among the leaf litter underfoot. "Out of curiosity, why tell me?" "I trust you. I plan to tell everyone, eventually, but I wanted you to be one of the first to know because I value your perspective and your kindness." he watched her pick the path and followed close behind, his eyes now and then lingering on the movements of Autumn's hips, or the tumble of her hair down her back, or the way she placed her feet, that curious mixture of the carnal and the purely aesthetic sensibilities informing his perceptions. "And, given you agreed to date me... It seemed fair. I would have mentioned it last night - almost did, in fact - but there were other things happening and I'm just selfish enough I didn't want them to stop." He concluded without any sense of shame in his tone. "It was one reason I was pretty insistent about the condom thing - despite really, really not wanting to stop. Because if it's true, and if my mother wasn't just spinning a line, my people have... let's call them 'highly dominant genes'." Autumn didn't have to turn around for Jase to gauge her reaction; even as she felt the blood rising in her cheeks, a slow suffusion of bright pink crept up the back of her neck, clearly visible beneath the sway of her long, copper-red ponytail. "Oh," she replied quietly, swallowing hard as she remembered the "other things" that were happening at the time. "I mean, I'm glad you told me. Not just because of that," his girlfriend added quickly, "but it is, um, good to know. Assuming she wasn't lying, though, I am really curious what else she told you about them- about you, too, I guess." "Mentally we mature faster than humans. Physically too, only not quite as noticeably. At least for the males." He found it helped to analyse what he'd been told, speaking it aloud for another's benefit. "Female Teulu - that's what they call themselves - mature very fast. Usually at childbearing age around ten years old, and they will look sixteen to eighteen or so. Four sets of ovaries, and it's very common for female Teulu to give birth to twins. They're also fertile longer - menopause takes place no earlier than fifty years of age." He ducked a low, thin branch, meeting her eyes as she looked back to check on him. "Longer lived, too. Barring accidents, Teulu can live in good health past one hundred years." He frowned a touch, eyes tightening as he considered something. "Some have very, very limited Shine. And they live in a clan-based system with each clan competing with others for members and resources. Very social Darwinist, very pragmatic. Violence is common even within clans, though such violence is governed by a code of behaviour that places the good of the clan first. The aggression and dominance hardwired into us means that a leader must be smart, strong and ruthless as well as good for the clan as a whole. They don't seem to prize kindness, or gentleness, or mercy. Cunning, intelligence, strength, pragmatic ruthlessness, physical attractiveness and fertility are the virtues they hold highest. My mother..." he paused again. "She claims she's a throwback to their more human ancestors, at least mentally. She can feel fear, and remorse. It's why she ran away from them, and from me." "Fuck," the otherwise wholesome redhead swore softly, pausing as she turned back to regard Jason with a mixture of awe and curiosity. "You weren't kidding when you said that was a lot to process. Holy shit. I mean, I guess it makes sense, if you're creating a race or species or whatever that are designed to kill each other, they'd need to be able to reach adulthood and reproduce quickly, or they'll just wipe each other out in a generation or so. I wonder how many actually make it to a hundred, though, if they're always at war." As his longer strides made up the distance between them, she smiled in spite of herself, a hint of rose lingering beneath the pale amber of her freckles. "If those are the virtues they admire, then, these... Teulu," Autumn repeated the unfamiliar word as best she could. "I guess you're a good example, hm?" "Perhaps." he allowed, the corners of his eyes crinkling a little as a playful smile quirked at the corner of his mouth. Coming abreast of where she waited, he too stopped, turning towards her and stepping closer with a commingling of playful humor and warm hunger in his emerald gaze. "I appreciate some of the human qualities I've experienced." he said frankly as he reached up and gently traced the outline of her cheek with a fingertip as his other hand slid over her waist above her hip. "Though I'm flattered you think I'm a good example of physical attractiveness." "Must be the pheromones," Autumn teased, though even as she spoke the words there was a familiar tension in her abdomen, a half-conscious urge described in the slight upward tilt of her chin toward him. Her eyes lingered, briefly, on the faint curve of his lips as he smiled, her fingers trailing lightly down his sides, and then she sighed, the exhalation a little shaky as she fought the urge to press herself closer. "I do, though," she admitted, a fresh wave of crimson staining her features. "Enough that if I'm not careful, you'll be the only climbing I get done today." Her blushing admission, her touch, the way her face turned up towards his and, most of all, the reflection in her clear blue eyes of the same hunger he felt, were almost - almost - a match to dry tinder. Or more precisely, fresh firewood placed across well-banked embers. He leaned close, watching the way her eyes flickered to his mouth then back up. The clean scent of her hair, warm with exertion and the sun, was itself a test of his control. "Can I assume you're okay with this news, then? Assuming it's all true, I mean." he asked her softly. A touch of deviltry glinted in his eye as he teased, "It's still not too late to run." Leaning up on her tiptoes, she pressed a slow, deliberate kiss to the corner of his mouth, her lips lingering there for a moment before she drew back to regard him a little more seriously. "Assuming it's true, it doesn't change anything about you as a person. Just what I know about you. And since I like knowing more about you..." Her voice trailed off and she shrugged, smiling. "The running might be fun sometime, though." The clear blue of her eyes deepened, the note of playful challenge stirring shadows there as she gazed up at him. There was a sense that she was walking along a precipice, taunting a force with the inevitability of gravity, but it was almost impossible to resist going right up to the very edge. "If you don't mind losing, that is." His own gaze was equal parts answering challenge, mirth and desire as he gently touched his forehead to hers, looking deep into Autumn's eyes as she felt rather than heard his chuckle. "I'm sure that whether I win or lose, it will be fun." he murmured. "For both of us." He still felt the tingling from the press of her lips and, unable to resist, he answered the kiss she'd given him with a fleeting, urgent one of his own, letting the furnace door of his amoral Want for this girl to open, just for a searing white-hot second, before slamming it shut once more. Taking a breath to steady himself, Jason slowly straightened up. "I really wouldn't mind being the only climbing you do today, but I only have so much control over this urge. It's very new, and very raw, and not at all gentle." He smiled faintly at her. "It's like a flicker of warmth when you're near, while we talk, but when we touch it flares up like a wildfire." Nodding in mute understanding, Autumn took a half-step back, her fingertips catching fleetingly at the fabric of Jase's shirt. The heat his kiss had sparked in her core smouldered, glowing embers threatening to flare into sudden, scorching life even as she stood there. That this brief contact alone was enough to ignite her nerve endings so acutely, so intensely, and so consistently was both thrilling and dangerous; just as the day before, kissing the green-eyed devil before her made it extraordinarily difficult to think of anything but kissing him. It certainly wasn't helped by the fact that he was so adept at describing how he felt, what he wanted... With a little, involuntary shiver, she licked suddenly dry lips and exhaled. "I think..." Focus, Autumn. "I think, probably, that 'to be continued' is gonna need to be continued pretty soon. And that I also need a drink, and to not touch you for a few minutes, although that is not what I want to do. So... Yeah. I can empathize. A little, maybe." Wordlessly, he offered her a bottle of water from his pack, the outside of the bottle taking on a sheen of condensation as it's temperature went down from warm-ambient to fresh-from-the fridge. As she took it with a smile and nod of thanks, he drew out one for himself, likewise cooling it and taking a long drink. Without words, and definitely without touching, but with more than a few lingering glances at one another, the pair continued on their way. Privately, and with his usual wry humor even when it came to internal analysis, Jason mused that it wasn't just his pheromones that seemed to be 'just fine'. He knew it wasn't just naked instinct that drove him - he'd never felt such an impulse towards abandon with anyone else in his admittedly short life. There was something about Autumn: no single aspect of her, but rather that combination of facets which together evoked this response. Strong, yet undeniably feminine. Kind, yet tough when need arose. Curious, open, and brave. Or perhaps, his wry internal observer mused, he was overthinking it. Analysis had its place, but perhaps his attraction for her and hers for him could not be so simply rendered into a chemical formula. What he did know was that the other complexities and concerns of his life were not on his mind as he followed his girlfriend towards their destination. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Saturday Afternoon. They were weary, dirty and dusty from the climb, but carrying a sense of quiet elation for having made it to the lookout point Autumn had described and, sharing some trail bars, jerky and water, sitting with their feet dangling over the edge and just gazing out over Shelly. At some point during their rest-break, Autumn’s hand had found Jason’s - or perhaps his hand found hers - and the contented, quiet joy of the moment took on a more tangible texture and feel as they sat together. Eventually they had stood, stretched, then followed the path from the top of the cliff around and down and back to the campsite, balancing over a makeshift log bridge across the creek further down, then picking their way along another game trail. Autumn, used to such hikes and with that tireless energy that was one of her signature traits, noted that Jason, whilst obviously feeling the exertion, neither complained nor insisted on taking extraneous rest breaks, instead keeping the steady pace she set. Striking camp, they packed everything away, setting the site to rights and policing their trash before tying the bundles and packs to the ATV for the return journey. It was a weird contrast to yesterday for the redheaded girl - whereas before she had been acutely aware of Jason Effing Bannon murmuring that he would be sure to get a good grip and trying not to let her face catch fire as a result, this time she felt a thrilling, tightening sensation in her abdomen as his hands slid around her waist and he leaned against her back. For Jase, too, the trip and the manner of it took on differing context, his tactile awareness of Autumn’s body against his and the scent of her hair now shaded with carnal and emotional overtones that transformed a simple, pragmatic hanging on so as not to fall off into something almost sensual. Somehow, Autumn managed to get them back to the Keane home without either crashing the ATV or stopping along the way; a testament to her willpower, certainly. Bringing the four-wheeler to a stop under the lean-to shelter, the two teens dismounted and unpacked the bundles. Shouldering his own pack, Jase helped Autumn with the rest of the supplies, carrying the storage chest up to the porch and setting it down as she did likewise with the cooler. From inside came the sound of excited dogs, and Autumn sighed, stretching her back as she set down her burden and turned to the lean figure standing nearby. “Thanks.” she told him, nose crinkling as she smiled warmly and stepped closer. “For the help with the campsite. And… for a great time.” she added with a blush suffusing her freckled face as she looked up at him. “I really had fun.” “So did I.” he observed quietly, regarding her with a slight smile, his pale green eyes vivid against the dark of his hair and the tan of his features. “You made it so. We definitely have to do this again.” “Yeah.” she nodded, feeling tongue-tied as he, too, stepped closer to her. Almost of their own accord, her hands came up to drape over his shoulders, then slide to the back of his neck, feeling the trailing edges of his shaggy hair. A dim warning light blinked unheeded in the back of her head - informed by the fact her mom’s car was there in the drive and that meant she was probably around somewhere. But more important was the curve of her boyfriend’s mouth, and the feel of his body against hers as they each stepped into each other, lips meeting as the circuit completed and fire surged along their nerves. His hands slid around her and down to her jeans-clad backside, their firm pressure causing her to inhale sharply in the kiss and then press even closer against him, eyes closing as her hands tightened in his hair, unwilling to even give him the opportunity to draw back. Somewhere outside the throb of their heartbeats in their ears, both teens were aware of a door opening but ascribed no special meaning to it - until the sound of a female throat being cleared intruded on their pink haze. “Well! Hello there!” Dana Keane’s tone was bright, almost cheery as she was confronted with her daughter locked in what seemed an incredibly un-platonic clinch with Jason Bannon. “I was just coming to see if you kids needed any help with the camping gear. It looks like you have things well in hand, though!” she commented, eyes flicking down to where Jase’s hands currently were.
  6. 3 points
    Sunrise did, indeed, come early. As the cloak of Night dissolved, her stygian velvet transmuted into the diaphanous lavender silks of Dawn, she extended golden fingers across the sky, reaching across rocky hillsides and pine forests toward a small clearing alongside a rushing stream and finding only a solitary young man preparing for the day ahead. Like the sun itself, he’d awakened easily and without fanfare, transitioning smoothly from sleep to full awareness without any of the attendant sluggishness or confusion typical of others his age. Stepping out into the early morning light, Jason Bannon rose from the low opening of his tent into a luxuriant, full-body stretch as he scanned the clearing, noting the lack of disturbance from nocturnal visitors as well as the reassuring crackle of the slow-burning fire nearby. As always, the temperature had dropped just after daybreak, but he was largely indifferent to such things, his bare feet silent on the cool earth and sparse grass as he padded across the clearing to gaze out across the water. There was no sign of activity from the neighboring tent, he noticed with some amusement as he passed, which meant he had some time yet to enjoy the simple pleasure of being alone in nature, free from the restrictions or demands of social convention. As the sun rose over the horizon, the rangy youth closed his eyes, savoring the suggestion of warmth on his face as a cool breeze wound across the hills, the sound of the stream in his ears and the crisp, clear air filling his lungs as he drew in a deep breath. The word that sprang to mind was “idyllic,” with all its connotation of transience and picturesque, natural simplicity. It was a simultaneously restful and invigorating experience, very different in tone from the trips he’d taken with Hank and his father and one he wouldn’t mind repeating on his own. A solo outing would be a good opportunity to explore and evaluate his skills, and Autumn had stated the previous day that he was welcome here. Though he surmised that she’d intended her words to mean he had permission to use the campsite even if she wasn’t present, it was usually more expedient to simply ask; perhaps he would do so, later. For now, there were matters of hygiene and biology which required his attention. Despite the absence of modern amenities, Jase had quickly determined that there was little real impediment to carrying out his normal routine. The wide-mouthed kettle Autumn had set aside the night before, ostensibly to make coffee when they woke, made a perfectly serviceable vessel for dipping into the brisk current of the creek; in applying a trivial measure of his pyrokinetic gift to heat the water contained therein, it occurred to him that he could probably be quite comfortable living this way if it ever became necessary to do so. The rote tasks of washing up, brushing his teeth, and shaving took on a subtly different character in the open air, surrounded by the morning chorus of birds, insects, and other creatures- there was no idle conversation, no unwelcome distraction, nothing extraneous or unnecessary. It was, as he had noted before, peaceful, for all the vibrancy and activity the place contained. He disposed of the soapy water some distance away from the stream itself, and refilled the container again to rinse the residue from his skin. The tranquil solitude, a welcome respite from the events of the week, lasted until the final vestiges of lilac and gold had all but faded from the sky. As he was pulling on his boots, a series of muffled curses and the agitated rustling of blankets from within Autumn’s tent ended with the bleary-eyed redhead stumbling into the clearing and emphatically asserting, despite all evidence to the contrary, “I’m awake, I’m awake.” Absently hitching up the waist of her pajama pants with one hand, she blinked at the tall young man who already looked as if he’d been up for hours. “Oh. Hey,” the semi-conscious girl murmured, smiling faintly as she raked her fingers through the disheveled curls that seemed almost to possess a will of their own. “Morning. Um…” There was a brief pause as she stretched and blinked again, and then gave talking one more try. “I’ll get coffee started, because I’m gonna need it, and then I’m… mm… gonna go get cleaned up.” She glanced over at the creek, considering- the water had been cool enough to be bracing, but not so much that it was uncomfortable. “Then breakfast. Sound good?” she inquired, turning blue eyes still clouded by sleep in his direction. It was curious, the wry internal observer that was (almost) always active noted, the myriad ways in which the emergence of Autumn from her tent affected him. Though he’d known she’d been in there, and indeed imagined her asleep with her glory of red-gold hair strewn around her face, the sight of her brought a faint smile to his lips - a smile of mild amusement at her dishevelled manner as well as a smile of simple pleasure at her presence. Also present was the faint surge in his blood at the sight of her as perfectly remembered kisses and caresses - indelibly associated with her presence - played out in the full-sensory theatre of his mind’s eye, accompanied by a distracting hunger for more of her that showed briefly in the gleam of the youth’s eyes. Autumn, still wrestling her brain into a full semblance of wakefulness though she was, nevertheless did not miss that look or its import, any more than a deer would mistake the gleam in the eye of a stalking lynx. Unlike the doe, however, she neither froze nor ran, but smiled with rose once more tinting her cheeks as the predator in question stood, stamping his feet down into his boots to settle them, then walked over to her. Jason leaned down, hands sliding with assured possessivity over her waist and hips and drawing her in for a quick kiss. “Sounds very good.” he murmured with a slight grin tugging at one edge of his mouth as he breathed in the scent of her, still warm from sleep. “Kettle’s filled up and ready to go. Want me to do anything while you’re getting washed up?” I have some ideas... “Mmhmm,” Autumn hummed almost immediately, still smiling up at him as she hooked her fingers through his belt loops, pulling him closer and leaning up on her tiptoes to steal back the kiss he’d taken. “We already agreed to wait, though, and I can’t think of anything else.” Her eyes widened as they met his, their clear blue depths even brighter against the deepening scarlet of her cheeks. “I mean, I can’t think of anything else for you to do,” she clarified, unable to suppress a slightly abashed grin. “Although- there’s eggs and cheese and stuff in the ice chest, and a skillet in the storage…” Her voice trailed off as she paused; this close, the fresh scent of Jase’s soap, or cologne, or aftershave, or whatever it was he’d used was nigh-intoxicating, sending delightful tingles cascading down her spine as her gaze trailed down to his chest. “...the storage, um…” Tucking an errant strand of hair behind her ear and exhaling, she tried again. Use your words, Autumn. “Sorry,” she admitted distractedly, trying to resist the urge to just press her face into his shirt and instead looking upward, focusing on the subtle quirk at the corner of his mouth. “You just- you smell really nice. But, yeah, anyway, storage container,” the flustered redhead finally managed. “If you’re hungry now, and don’t want to wait for me to finish.” “I’ll make you some breakfast too, while you’re getting cleaned up.” he stated in a low tone, plainly enjoying the effect he was having on her as he bent down and grazed his lips along her cheek to her ear, breathing in deeply, obviously enjoying the warm scent of her in turn before murmuring “We did agree to wait, but there’s plenty else I can think of to do…” in a tone that contained hunger and playful desire in equal measure that caused her abdomen to flutter and liquify. “Like hiking.” he finished as he straightened up once more, his expression deadpan except for the gleam in his eyes. “For instance.” Now that she was well and truly awake, Autumn could feel what seemed like every drop of blood in her body sweeping up into her face as a torrent of conflicting emotions- desire, disbelief, embarrassment, and mirth- all roiled through her simultaneously. He had to be messing with her... Had to be. It was hard to decide whether she wanted to kiss him, laugh, or call him a jerk- or maybe a combination of those. What was easy to work out was that she couldn’t just let such an obvious provocation go unanswered. “Hiking,” she repeated intently, slowly letting out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. This motherfucker. “Y’know, you are so right.” For all that she was blushing furiously, a faint smile slowly drew the corners of her mouth upward as she straightened visibly, releasing her hold on the waistband of his trousers. “Good call. I’ll get the coffee started, then.” Humming quietly as she turned and headed over to the firepit, Autumn swept up her designated fire-poking stick and repositioned two of the still-smoldering logs so that they were parallel to each other, not quite touching. Plunking the heavy kettle straight down on top of them, she busied herself with grabbing a couple of well-worn enamelled steel mugs, measuring the coffee out, and adding the aromatic grounds straight to the rapidly-warming water. “Just give that a little bit to really start boiling, like a serious, rolling boil, and then maybe…” The energetic redhead disappeared briefly inside her tent, reappearing a moment later with her towel. “Four minutes? Five? Depends on how strong you want it,” she added. “Pull it off the fire, give it another minute or two, pour a little cold water around the rim. Boom. Done. I should be out by then, but just in case.” She smiled over at him, her nose crinkling slightly as she turned and headed toward the creek. This. Mother. Fucker. So her completely, totally impossible boyfriend would never be flustered, Autumn reflected. So she’d never see him embarrassed, or probably anything less than composed. At least, she decided, he could still be “distracted.” “Be right back,” she called over her shoulder, the grin audible in her voice. “I don’t wanna make us late for hiking.” Without any further discussion or warning, his impulsive red-haired companion stripped off her t-shirt, tossing it aside as she walked away. A few steps later her blue-striped pajama bottoms followed, and then- nothing, because there was nothing else to remove. Just like that she walked down to the shoreline and draped her towel over a low-hanging branch, her bare skin bright as polished ivory in the morning sunlight, before wading into the bracing current of the stream and diving beneath the surface. It was exactly as cool as she’d remembered- refreshing, but not unpleasant. And, with luck, sufficient to put out the flames burning in her cheeks. He watched astonished at first, then with comprehension of the game as his girlfriend had shed her clothes and walked, naked as the woodland sprite he’d previously compared her to, away from him. On an impulse he followed silently at a short distance, watching her pick her way barefooted down to the creek, and as his eyes ran down her form Jason forever emblazoned the image of Autumn like that: a pale ivory flame crowned with elfin gold, the lithe strength of her limbs offset by the feminine curves of her body against waters lit by the risen sun, on his memory. He watched her dive into the water and turned, smiling, as he headed back to the fire. The temptation was strong to stay, to remove his own clothing and dive in after her, but he understood this game, enjoyed the exciting effect he had on her and she on him. A quote came to mind: “Hunger is good discipline.” He was hungry for her, as she was for him, and the playfulness felt right as they gently ran fingers over each other's nerve-endings to tease now and then. So he set about assuaging the other corporeal hunger, checking the storage container and finding various breakfast foodstuffs and the skillet. He kept an eye on the coffee pot as he fried bacon, now and then cocking an ear to hear the distant sounds of Autumn splashing in the creek. Tearing the sizzling bacon into pieces with his telekinesis, he set about preparing the other ingredients, humming quietly to himself as he worked. It was a simple pleasure, to work with his hands, but a profound one. He’d always enjoyed that tactile sense of connection to the world, a reminder that he was part of it and could enact upon it, whether that was turning raw ingredients into meals or restoring and rebuilding a classic muscle car. Perhaps that was as much the foundation of his particular manifestation of Shine as any other aspect of his character. When Autumn came padding up from the creek, barefoot and with a towel around her torso, she was greeted with the smells of coffee and cooking breakfast as Jason glanced up from his work. Green eyes glittered as he regarded her with a brief, intense gaze that did as much to shake off the lingering chill of the water as the campfire before he smiled softly and turned back to keep stirring the contents of the skillet. The flame-haired girl glanced around, noting that her t-shirt and pajama bottoms had been set neatly just inside the flap of her tent, before smiling to herself as she stepped in behind her crouching boyfriend and carefully folded her arms around his shoulders, making sure she didn’t interfere with what he was doing or push him into the fire as she leaned against him a little. Kissing his neck, she stayed like that for a moment or two longer, enjoying the warmth and scent of him, before disengaging and moving over to her tent to get dressed. She emerged a few minutes later, drying hair left loose, and smiled broadly as Jase set down a plate of scrambled eggs, mixed with bacon, tomato and cheese, piled neatly on her plate next to a couple of fire-toasted slices of bread. The coffee-kettle had been shifted off the logs, set on one of the broad, flat stones around the campfire and cold water added. “Mmm. I could get used to the service.” Autumn shot him a grin as she sat down, reaching for the enamelled mugs and preparing two cups of coffee. “Black, right? You know they say that’s a sure sign of a psychopath.” she teased, wrinkling her nose at him as she smiled. “I know. Sucks to be so stereotypical.” Jason deadpanned. “They do say that those who take their coffee black are more likely to be psychopaths… and that those who order a quad-shot, non-fat vanilla soy, extra foam with whipped cream and a caramel drizzle are most likely to be their victims.” “Hey, what’ve you got against whipped cream and caramel drizzle?” Autumn asked, laughter bubbling in her voice as she handed him his mug before taking her own and adding a little sugar. “That’s not coffee, that’s a dessert. There’s better uses for them than to put them on coffee.” he retorted, the edges of his eyes crinkling in amusement, sipping his drink before setting it aside and picking up his own plate of food. They ate in companionable quiet for a few minutes, enjoying the peaceful morning, the birdsong and sound of the creek, now and then catching one another’s eye and smiling. The horrors and dramas of the last week, the normal travails of teen life, and parents, and school, seemed very far away right now to both of them. Autumn, chewing thoughtfully, was mulling over how at-ease she felt around a young man whom, by every conventional wisdom, she should be steering a wide berth around. Who had gone, in the course of a week, from a boogeyman to a friend to someone she’d walk into danger for… and now to a boyfriend who made her blood sing with every kiss. Jason’s thoughts were more or less along similar lines, his constant self-analysis finding that the inclusion of this new facet of life was satisfying, pleasing - all the more so because there was no deception involved. Autumn knew who he was, what he could do and, he felt, understood him well enough that she knew she had little to fear. He could be himself - and she still liked him, was still attracted to him. He resolved that she should also know what he was, and probably soon. Last night just hadn’t seemed like the best time to bring up… well, aliens. Breakfast done, they cleaned up, put the fire out - a task made easier by the presence of someone who could just look at a fire and extinguish it - and after packing a few essentials and climbing gear, set out on their hike. They moved through the woods to start, following an old game trail Autumn had walked many times before. The last of summer’s warmth was still there in the kiss of the sun through the branches and leaves overhead, striking glints of light from Autumn’s hair and Jason’s eyes as they walked together side by side. Now and then Jason would stop and examine a particular flowering plant, or a fungus growing on a rotted log with brief casual interest before resuming, and at other times Autumn would stop and wordlessly point at a porcupine curled in the crook of a branch of a tree, or smile and nudge Jason to draw his gaze to a woodpecker clinging to the bark, drilling industriously for its food. Other times they spoke quietly - Jason’s enquiries prompting Autumn to talk about the Girl Scout activities she’d taken part in and the lessons her grandfather had imparted - a childhood learning to hunt, fish and shoot. “What, never?” Autumn sounded surprised, which she was as she glanced at Jason after his admission. “No.” he shrugged matter of factly. “Odd, I know. My father has guns, Hank has guns, and I’ve been to plenty of militia gatherings where I was surrounded by guns. But I’ve never handled one, or hunted.” “Never wanted to?” She asked, blue eyes studying him as they walked together. “I have, yes.” he nodded. “Hank always talked about once I was in Junior year teaching me to hunt and shoot… And I guess now that I’m getting training from him, guns will be part of that when he thinks I’m ready.” “Ready?” Autumn frowned. Most teen boys in rural Montana at least had some experience with hunting rifles. Jason’s face was calm as he shrugged once more, a surprisingly eloquent gesture on his lean frame. “I guess he’s treating me as a special case due to my - let's call it ‘lack of compunctions’. He’s teaching me discipline as much as combat skills. Restraint - to find the middle gears between doing nothing and going too far.” Glittering jade eyes turned to regard her as he smiled a little. “Mostly so far it consists of him painfully humiliating me to see if I can hold off from turning him into a frisbee.” “Yeah, but you held off from doing anything to those guys at school.” Autumn reminded him, her expression earnest. “And they weren’t just giving you a few bumps and bruises.” “True.” Jason replied. “But that was more to avoid being outed as having powers than because I genuinely didn’t want to hurt them.” “Doesn’t matter why you held back.” The redhead smiled at him. “Same with Dr. Cook - sure, you frightened the bejeezus out of him… and everyone else present… but you didn’t actually do anything other than manhandle him a bit.” She reached out and took his hand in hers without breaking stride, giving it a slight squeeze and smiling again as she felt his slender fingers return the clasp. “There’s worse people than you.” “Don’t let that get out.” came the dry reply, but Jason’s eyes crinkled slightly at the corners as he spoke. “It’ll ruin my image.” Remembering the conversation from the previous night, Autumn glanced at him from the corner of her eye as she tried valiantly to maintain a neutral, conversational tone. "Which image is that?" she asked impishly, sidestepping the crumbling remnants of a thick tree branch. "The unpleasant acerbic dickhead?" "Amongst other things." Jason replied with a faint, sharp grin that flashed long enough for her to notice then faded back into his habitual wry quarter-smile. He was quiet for a few minutes more, eyes glinting as they scanned the morning-lit woods, then said quietly "You remember I said my mother came to visit me." There was a brief hesitation, less a pause in her forward motion than a flicker, an eyeblink, as her pale fingers twitched where they entwined with his. She did remember, and remembered, too, how oddly cautious he'd sounded over the phone. "Yeah," his red-haired companion nodded. That he’d mentioned it at all suggested it was important, especially if he was bringing it up again. "Honestly, I wondered about that after you hung up. You said you thought maybe you understood her better... How did that go?" "It was civil." Looking up at the intricate patterns of the sunlight through the leaves and branches above he seemed pensive, and his thumb smoothed lightly over the backs of her fingers almost as though he were grounding himself in the Now rather than retreating from it. "She apologised, and explained herself. And, if she was telling the truth, she revealed something I am still coming to terms with." His eyes slid to regard her calmly and he drew them both to a stop, turning to face Autumn. "Can I confide in you? It's something that might be awkward, maybe? I'm not sure." His gaze studied her face, and the glimmer of the sun in her eyes and hair, as though storing them and this moment against what might come. She drew in a long breath, exhaling slowly as she focused on what Jason was actually saying, the almost imperceptible note of uncertainty in his voice, rather than the still-unfamiliar sensation of being so intently observed. This was the woman who'd abandoned him, left a small boy and his distraught father behind and simply disappeared once she knew what he was. What apology could inspire this kind of shift in his attitude? That's not the kind of betrayal you just move past, she considered, curiosity etching faint lines between her brows. Taking his other hand in hers, Autumn nodded again, meeting his gaze with a tiny smile. "I'm kind of a pro at awkward. And, besides, like I told you before. It's part of the rules that, as your friend, I have to listen if something's on your mind." His eyes met hers in that habitual, direct stare she associated with him, even though the context changed in small, profound ways when set against the events of yesterday, last night, and their currently intertwined fingers. "Well. It turns out I might not be a psychopath." He paused a heartbeat, then went on "In fact, if she was truthful, I'm not even human. Nor is she." Blinking up at him as morning sunlight filtered down through the canopy, catching the bronze in his hair alight and sparking the pale green of his eyes into captive emerald flame, Autumn had the sudden, mad thought that she could readily believe it. She searched his face for the telltale crinkling at the corners of Jase's eyes, the subtle twitch of his mouth that suggested he was teasing, but found no sign of either. "Oh," she replied. It would've been easy to make light of that seriousness, deflect some of the discomfort by joking that, really, it wasn't that surprising a revelation under the circumstances... But he wasn't being flippant, and regardless of how completely insane it sounded, she didn't think he'd just make it up, either. "So..." The blue-eyed young woman hesitated, unsure what the appropriate response to something like that was. "Um, so if you're not human, what are you?" His head tilted slightly, in that way that betokened some element of surprise or curiousity about a person's behaviour. She hadn't drawn back. She hadn't laughed, or scoffed as Devin had. It struck him again how resilient Autumn was - that stoic doggedness to see a thing through, then process it afterwards rather than freak out in the moment and try to combine said processing with the business at hand, a trait of some of his peers that frankly baffled him. “Apparently an offshoot hominid race designed and deliberately evolved for fearlessness, heightened intelligence and aggression, pragmatism, and similar traits that further survival and propagation." he said in answer to her question.
  7. 3 points
    He’d sat up and watched as she moved around the clearing, noting how her bright hair and pale skin loaned the lithe girl a sylvan quality, as though the banality of the everyday could not cling to her, not here - not in her garden. He felt this moment embed itself prominently in his memories - her quiet laugh, the way the fire’s light played over the curves and lines of her body as she bent and swayed, moving around the camp and picking up their clothing: a wood-nymph gathering scattered flowers left in the wake of a tempest. He wondered how this moment, this experience would change him, or her for that matter. Would this excitement, this playful hunger that yet stirred and lingered in them both carry through into other aspects of their lives? Or would it only be the magic of this place? He hoped it was the former. He found it hard to envision himself not wanting, in a quiet moment, to pull Autumn into a shadowed corner and kiss her until both their nerves were lit up as though a time-lapse photograph of a city’s streets at night, seen from above, streaks of white and crimson light rendering individual sensation meaningless in the patterns of desire. She came back to sit next to him, proffering the bottle and glancing at him when he didn’t immediately take it, and was struck by the intent, predatory way he had, she realised, been watching her ever since she’d stood up. He was motionless, unaffectedly naked as he sat, one knee bent with an arm resting on it, half-turned towards her with his manhood resting quietly against his thigh, yet his gaze was sharp, unselfconscious and, in its own way, as naked as the rest of him. Naked enough to make her own mouth feel dry and for parts low down in her torso to catch and tighten as he reached out and took the bottle finally, with a nod. “Thank you.” he murmured, taking a long drink as she busied herself sorting their clothes, then handing her the bottle in turn. She traded him the towel, which he patted himself with as he watched her drink, admiring the sweep of her throat and the scattering of freckles across her breastbone, the way her firm, high breasts were capped with pale rose. He remembered the scent and taste of her skin, the way his tongue on her flesh had made her gasp as he looked at her, and when Autumn lowered the bottle and glanced back at him her sudden renewed blush and her downward glance made him realise his cock had stirred once more. “You better get these on first.” she said, an answering hunger springing up in her own expression as she thrust his combat pants at him. “And fast.” He smiled, taking the garment and slowly standing. “If I must.” he replied, lazily stretching in a way that Autumn was pretty sure was calculated. At least partly so, she decided, feeling her fingers twitch with the urge to reach out and touch- “You must.” She pulled on her t-shirt, leaving the bikini top aside for now, and was simultaneously relieved and disappointed when, by the time she’d gotten the shirt on and her hair extricated from it, the baggy Army surplus pants had been pulled on and fastened, Jase drawing the belt into place. That was better, she decided. At least for now. Half-naked was better than all-naked, when it came to boyfriends who were dangerous in all sorts of ways, not least of which to her self-control. Jase settled back down beside her, pulling on his own shirt over his head and relaxing, leaning back on his hands and watching the fire leap and flicker, its light playing over his features, immobile as they were in repose. His thoughts danced and leapt as much as the flames, trying to make sense of everything he had experienced. One thing was easy to make sense of - he now knew what it was to be desired, to have that desire communicated through touch and word and caress. And more properly he knew what it was to desire in a real, tangible way. No distant fantasy, or idealised construct of desire. No ethereal dream born of inexperienced longing and a vivid imagination. It was revelatory, and breathtaking, all the more so because there had been a point where he had chosen to give his control to someone else, to set aside the chains that were also his armor and simply experience the moment in a series of sensations and, yes, emotions. If he had not been without fear, would he even have been capable of that level of surrender? That was an interesting paradox, indeed. “Penny for your thoughts?” Autumn nudged up against him, her hand sliding up his back to tickle the shaggy hair at the nape of his neck. He turned slightly, looping an arm over and around her, drawing her close as they sat together, his green eyes regarding her still faintly-rosy features. “Mmm. I was congratulating myself.” he told her, a faint spark of mischief in his eyes. “I have excellent taste in girlfriends.” “Oh, do you, now? That... is a bold statement,” she countered with a grin, unable to resist the sudden urge to lean up for a kiss- a teasing, too-brief caress of her lips on his- before she settled companionably against his side again, still smiling as her arm slid down to his waist. “Got any evidence to back up that claim?” It hadn’t even been a few hours yet, after all, and although there was the definite sense he was teasing her (at least a little) she was also pleased enough at the suggestion that she wasn’t inclined to argue the point- instead just leaning against him as she watched the frenetic movement of the orange flames burning low, her fingertips absently straying under the hem of Jase’s t-shirt to drift over his skin as he sat quietly next to her. He smiled at the warm press of her lips, studying the glimmer of her hair in the dancing light of the fire. This closeness, this intimate contact was addictive, as though the emotional warmth of the girl snugged against his side was sunlight on the icy slopes of his mind. He wondered if that was how it was for normal people: if the shimmering heat of others were something that only existed in their presence, and without it all was cold. Probably not, or at least not to the same extent. Some warmth would linger between contact, between times spent in the presence of a lover. For him, though, there was only the memory of the connection without the comforting sense of its presence. "More of a feeling. Though admittedly the statistical sample is small at present, I think the bar has been set pretty high." He nuzzled his lips and nose against her coppery hair, breathing her in for a moment. "You make me feel warm in the cold places." The ticklish sensation of his breath in her hair elicited a grin, her nose crinkling slightly as she squirmed in response. There was that honesty again, the unfiltered opinion of someone who had no idea what it meant to be self-conscious, or how deeply affecting that level of forthrightness could be; gods help her if he ever figured it out, since she’d probably give everyone within ten feet heat stroke. “I mean, you make me feel warm in all the places, so I guess that’s fair?” she admitted with a laugh, unthinking- -And immediately went still as her brain caught up to the words she’d just uttered. Oh. Oh, god. I said that out loud, didn’t I? Hazarding a quick peek up at his face, Autumn groaned inwardly as Jason blinked slowly, starting to smile. "I do, hmm?" She could only nod, her hands coming up to cover her rapidly reddening face as a muffled sound of agreement escaped from between her fingers. It was true, of course, in more ways than one, but how was she supposed to tell him that without sounding like a crazy person? How could she possibly explain what she didn’t fully grasp the limits of herself? The simple glow of pleasure, of uncomplicated and earnest delight she took in his companionship. The tangible, reassuring warmth generated by his actual, physical presence next to her. The very real, but less obviously tactile heat that smouldered even now at the very core of her being, kindled into hungry flame and stoked by proximity alone. ...And something else, a whisper of feeling that wasn’t quite any of those things, but which- nameless and formless- subtly comprised them all, and more besides. The implicit acknowledgement of that “something else” in her response was somehow more jarring than the fact that it existed- as if it had been perfectly natural, and not at all crazy to be so intensely attracted to someone so quickly. The mortified girl looked away from the boy beside her, unable or unwilling to meet his eyes in that instant, certain somehow that the penetrating quality of his gaze would lay bare her thoughts. In accordance with her nature, she instead took refuge in activity, casting about for something productive to do and finding few options remaining after their earlier efforts at cleaning up. “So, I’m gonna, um... Yeah. I’ll go grab some more wood,” she managed haltingly, her cheeks blazing scarlet in the firelight. “Be right back.” What am I doing?! Autumn asked herself, sighing as she got to her feet and set about the simple, blessedly uncomplicated task of making sure the fire would last the night. Why do I feel like this? I mean, we barely know each other but it feels... right. Like, scary-right. It took a few moments of searching to find a couple of logs of reasonable size and condition to keep the fire going, which, thankfully, gave the cooler evening breeze an opportunity to steal some of the heat from her face, and gave Autumn herself a chance to find a way to change the subject. “So, um, any ideas on what you’d like to do in the morning? Maybe a hike or something after breakfast?” she tentatively called over her shoulder, trying not to imagine Jase watching her with that not-quite-a-smirk that was somehow worse than an actual one. There was a brief pause before she added, more defiantly, “And for the record, Hmmm is still not an acceptable answer.” “A hike sounds good.” Jason said calmly, leaning back on his hands and watching his red-faced girlfriend recover her composure somewhat, his pale eyes watchful, studying her. He didn’t quite understand why she’d been embarrassed - to him, such unfiltered truth spoken straight from her heart seemed the height of charming, but he had observed people enough to know that they often felt vulnerable revealing themselves so nakedly. There was still that aspect of separateness, though. For him, vulnerability was a pragmatic, physical, tangible thing. To confide in the wrong person was to risk ostracisation, even institutionalisation: to complicate his life unnecessarily. Autumn’s embarrassment could not come from that practical consideration, surely? He wasn’t going to hurt her, or cast her aside for having genuine warm feeling for him- Was that it, perhaps? Did she think that by entrusting such feelings to him, by allowing herself to experience them, that she risked harm - emotional or otherwise? She wouldn’t be the first girl he knew to believe that - Marissa for instance, who had settled on Cade as a boyfriend because she needed to feel safe and in control. Emotionally safe and in control, as if by following her natural feelings she left herself vulnerable. Autumn obviously felt similarly - though she wasn’t preventing herself from following her desires, it still made her feel vulnerable to voice them. “Cool. We can take some climbing gear - if the weather holds there’s a nice rock face to go up where you can get a view over Shelly.” Autumn came back with a couple of suitably dry chunks of firewood in hand, setting one on the fire and the other next to it for later. As the flames licked up, she settled back down next to Jase, who shifted a little to face her, his manner serious as he reached out and took her hands in his, looking into her eyes. “Thank you.” he said quietly. “For letting me know how I make you feel. I can see it made you uncomfortable - and I’m curious why.” His pale jade eyes searched her ocean-tinted ones, searched her face for answers. “Is it me? Do I make you feel uncomfortable voicing such things?” he asked without nervousness or accusation, his head tilting slightly. “Because if you’re worried about what I think about it - I find it totally charming that you speak your mind and heart so fearlessly. And while I might find your blushes amusing, I don’t find your feelings for me funny at all.” His voice was quiet as his lips curved in a smile. “They’re… something I treasure.” "No!" Autumn replied quickly, vehemently, gazing up at him through wide eyes bright with firelight and emotion. "No, it doesn't- I mean, you don't make me uncomfortable. It’s not you. It's..." She pressed her lips together, holding her breath for a long moment before exhaling slowly to settle her nerves. Her voice was a little softer when she began again, the slow interweaving of her fingers through his lending her words the intimacy of a confession. "Honestly, the fact that you do say things like that makes me really happy. Because I feel like you're not just doing it to please me, or because you think you're supposed to, you know? People just say things all the time and don't mean them, either because they think that's what the other person wants to hear, or because it's…” Autumn shook her head, frowning slightly. “I don't know, convenient. Look, I just... I realized there were several different ways to take what I said, and that all of them were true, and I didn't want you to think I was weird or something since we were barely on speaking terms a week ago, and now all of a sudden I don't want to stop kissing you, and it’s kind of a lot, and I’m not totally sure what to do with that." Her eyes moved over his face, hope and nervousness and not a little fear churning in rough currents in their depths as the torrent of thoughts and words slowed, and finally stilled. "Did any of that make sense?" For a moment he was silent, his face expressionless in repose as his eyes took her in. In contact as they were, it was easy for her to feel his energy, to again get the experience of standing on a frozen lake with something massive, alien and primordial moving deep below her feet. Only… It wasn’t so unknowable, now. She’d felt the outlines of it, felt the cold waters grow warm as it drew nearer to the surface, felt the crust of ice displaced by its heated presence when they kissed. Familiarity helped allay terror, but there was still the healthy fear - not of what he would do, but that she wasn’t sure where the limits of what he was capable of doing lay. His code defined that, of course… But she wasn’t even sure of the details of that. What she was sure of was that he was unaffected, honest - if not always forthcoming - and was into her in a way she’d not experienced before, with no reservations or uncertainty about what he wanted. For Jason, it was a moment filled with analysis. He caught the warm waves of restless emotionality in Autumn’s Shine, felt them lapping against him as she spoke. He dimly wished, in that moment, that he could feel something more nuanced than physical desire, or intellectual regard for a person’s qualities. Some sense of natural justice told him Autumn deserved that rich warm complexity in turn… But then, she had also said that he was making her happy. That was strangely pleasing, perhaps because it was so unusual. His father had said he was proud of him before. Sean had said he liked him, or he made him laugh. No-one had ever said ‘You make me happy’ to him before. For that matter, he wasn’t even sure what happiness really was. Like sadness, it was largely outside his experience - the closest he came was contentment, or satisfaction, or mirth - but in his reading and studying of the human condition he had come across descriptions of the emotion. This warm sensation tickling the edges of his consciousness, making him feel at peace when he looked into Autumn’s eyes - the aforementioned warmth in the cold places… Happiness? Or perhaps as close as he could manage to come to it… But some of that wasn’t entirely true, was it. He had felt more than physical sensation under her touch, and now as he looked into her eyes. He wasn’t sure what it was, but ‘warm in the cold places’ was as accurate as any descriptor he could conjure. He considered, without fear of the prospect, that he would miss Autumn if she disappeared, or didn’t want to see him anymore, and the thought was a curious one that he turned over and over in his head. The intensity of sensation she had evoked was a reflection of the intensity of feeling she had stirred, he realised with a sudden cool rush of wonder. Perhaps, were he capable of fear, he would relate to her nervousness. Because it was a lot, this thing that flared and coiled between them. Finally he lifted her hands to his lips and kissed each of them gently, his eyes on hers. “It makes sense, now. Thank you for explaining it.” he said quietly, leaning forward and gently planting a kiss at the corner of her mouth, letting it linger there a moment before pulling back. “I’m not really the best judge of whether someone is weird or not, but I certainly don’t think this - what is between us - is a bad thing. It feels very natural. And-” he smiled a little, one corner of his mouth quirking upwards. “- I’m glad I’m not the only one that wants to spend all their time kissing the other.” He was feeling that urge right now, and gently pushed it to one side, though not without a small struggle as his eyes strayed to her lips for a second, his aesthetic sensibilities remarking how red they seemed after all the kissing they had already endured, and how delightful the curve of them was. “It’s dangerously distracting, this feeling. Especially when we should probably be getting some rest before we go for that hike tomorrow.” he remarked, making no move to let go of her hands or to stand up. “Mmhmm,” Autumn agreed without particular enthusiasm; tomorrow was the last thing on her mind, with the lingering sensation of his kiss and the rich gold-green of his eyes occupying her thoughts in a way that made the phrase ‘dangerously distracting’ seem somehow inadequate. “We probably should.” I mean, yeah, she conceded, he’s right. I don’t even know what time it is, and we should probably get an early start if we’re gonna go out far enough for climbing in the morning. It was likely getting late, and sunrise would come early, but… But he’d listened. But he’d called her ‘beautiful.’ But they were in front of a warm fire, under an open sky filled with more stars than the beaches and deserts had grains of sand, in a place she loved. “But I’m not really tired,” she added quietly, shifting closer on the blanket as she took Jason’s hands- still clasped in her own- and slowly draped his arms around her waist. “And… I’m not ready for it to be tomorrow just yet.” The admission was accompanied by a smile as she tilted her face up toward him, bright lashes framing the wide, clear eyes that met his with a mixture of anticipation and desire. His ardent girlfriend was struck again, in such dangerously close proximity, by the sense that she could almost willingly drown in the primordial flames contained there, the heat of which even now warmed her face and wound languidly through her veins. That wouldn’t be so terrible, would it, to be consumed in emerald fire, dissolved utterly by brilliant copper sparks? Even if Jase did tease her, or enjoy making her blush, he was also careful to give serious consideration to her questions, and even if he couldn’t really understand her feelings in an intuitive sense, he apparently appreciated that she expressed them. He was interested, intent and engaged in a way that Jacob hadn’t been, in a way that made her stomach tense and her mouth go dry with just a look; that alone was almost worth the immolation of Self, wasn’t it? She could feel the faint whisper of his breath this close, smell the lingering echoes of the vaguely herbal scent that rose from his fire-warmed skin and reminded her, distantly, of that glorious garden he tended so carefully. Untangling her fingers from his, Autumn’s hands slid up her lover’s arms and into his hair, weaving gently through its shaggy length as she tried to fix an image of this moment in her mind: the way the firelight rendered his features into those of some ageless bronze sculpture from antiquity, the glimmer of his eyes, and the faint curvature of his mouth, which she admired with an interest that was in no way academic. “So,” she added a moment later, still smiling through the rush of warmth suffusing her skin as she met his gaze once more. “Can I have you for a little while longer?” It was an earnest plea, mingled with playfulness and the warm energy that would forever be synonymous with ‘Autumn’ in his mind. Jason examined her soberly, letting his gaze roam her freckled features, not for the first time noting the fetching hue of deepening rose tinting her skin as he did so. Once more, he was struck by how direct and yet tender her expression of desire was - the way she told it in the depths of her sea-shaded eyes, the upward tilt of her face towards him, the warm sweetness of her breath and how she shifted her body just so to fit more perfectly within his arms, which tightened a little around her waist as he drew her closer. “I think” he said softly, not smiling as he gazed into her eyes. “That you will always have a part of me. Like a room in a house where you can step into it and know that it belongs to another.” “Well,” Autumn replied, her fingers absently moving through the tousled strands of Jase’s hair as she returned the gaze with a faint, soft smile, eyes wide and wondering as they met his. “If there is a room like that, I hope you’ll help me fill it up with lots of fun, interesting things, so it’s never empty or dark.” It was true, too. Jason was too open, too intently sincere for her to seek to deflect the unfamiliar emotions his words engendered with flippancy. She found that she couldn’t do that: not at this moment, not to him. The answer to that was a kiss which deepened and lengthened, their mouths slightly opening against each other’s. Not as urgent and needy as before, each taking their time, but echoes of the passion of earlier were there like glowing embers, lending a searing intense quality to even this tender moment despite the pair being mindful not to fan those embers back to full roaring flame. The kiss broke, Jason leaning his forehead against Autumn’s much as he had less than a week and more than a lifetime ago after she’d hugged him. How different things seemed right now, though. This closeness meant something, did it not? His awareness of her, the way her scent tickled his nervous system, the way her warmth permeated him… It gave a richness to everything, from the firelight to the sounds of the night creatures. He’d meant what he said, of course. He knew that, if by the tides of existence he and Autumn were to part ways, he would register the lack of her in his life. He would measure future lovers by the experience that was her - from her simple emotional honesty to her warmth, loyalty and courage to the way her kisses made his blood leap like the tides under the moon. It was so unlike the fascination he’d felt for Marissa that he wondered if the feelings were even akin. “I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then? But sucked on country pleasures, childishly? Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den? ’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be. If ever any beauty I did see, Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.” The words were softly spoken, unhurried in their cadence, the murmur of Jason’s voice as he recited the verse hypnotic as it blended with the fire’s crackle and the distant whirring of crickets. Autumn’s eyes were wide, and liquid with emotions he still wasn’t confident of fathoming, but the smile curving her lips was more reassuring. “John Donne. ‘The Good-Morrow’” Jason said by way of explanation. Autumn let her fingertips glide down from his hair to his cheeks, then clasped her hands behind his neck and kissed him briefly. “Is there more of it?” she breathed, smiling as he nodded and, turning her head to one side, nestled closer, her red curls against his chin, her ear to his chest, feeling as much as hearing his voice as he continued. “And now good-morrow to our waking souls, Which watch not one another out of fear; For love, all love of other sights controls, And makes one little room an everywhere. Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone, Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown, Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.” “My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears, And true plain hearts do in the faces rest; Where can we find two better hemispheres, Without sharp north, without declining west? Whatever dies, was not mixed equally; If our two loves be one, or, thou and I Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.” Her face hot with her blushes, Autumn was nonetheless grinning as Jason finished. Her fingers lightly grasping the hair at the back of his head, she tilted her face up once more and pulled his face down to hers for a sound kiss which deepened and lengthened, sighing her contentment and desire into his mouth as the two of them lay back together on the blanket. The sparks from the fire whirling up into the velvet of the night sky, the sounds of the creek and the chorus of night birds, all went unheeded as the pair focused all attention on each other. And though their clothing stayed on, neither of them slept for quite a while as they lay together, entwined and murmuring to one another between kisses, until well into the night.
  8. 3 points
    And, just like that, with no more than a look and the brush of his lips against her hand, Autumn forgot how to breathe all over again, her lower abdomen tightening with the force of her reaction in an aftershock, an echo of the cataclysmic pleasure she’d just endured. It lasted only for a moment, but she had a vague sense that it wouldn’t be the last time he would evoke such a reaction from her with such seemingly inconsequential acts. ...God, I am so, so not surviving until Homecoming, she mused, uncertain in that moment whether she would even be lucky enough to survive the night. As his doomed companion watched the tiny, fractional changes at the corners of Jase’s eyes, the near-imperceptible movement of his lashes, the subtle curve of his mouth, she was again struck by the need to break through that composed veneer, to see beneath the surface, to find out if he felt- or could feel- that same sense of connection that had made the whole experience feel so much more real, more intense, more… everything, really, than just a make-out session in the woods. What did this mean to him, though? Was it just an intellectual exercise for him, or maybe just carnal sensation, the sating of physical appetite? She was keenly aware of her need for this to be meaningful to him, too, to reach within the armor of the impenetrable, impossible boy, to touch his essential Self as he had touched hers. Her natural curiosity once more winning out over trepidation, the clear blue of Autumn’s gaze swept slowly over his face in a phantom caress as the backs of her fingers trailed from her lover’s cheek to follow the curve of his throat. It was an unhurried, languorous pursuit, tracing meandering arcs- now with her fingertips, now the blunt edge of her nails- that swirled down over his collarbone and along his ribs, the broad spirals drifting gradually lower and her smile widening incrementally with each sharp inhalation or flutter of his eyelids. Not so impervious after all, she realized, with a growing sense of triumph and her own power - she was doing this, coaxing reactions from his body that, for all Jason’s icy control, he could not suppress. The undisguised delight she felt at every reaction, however miniscule, was evident in the rapt intensity of her expression, the suffusion of warm color beneath her skin; whatever hint of pleasure she perceived in his responses was reflected in her features as she gazed up at him. She could practically feel the heat radiating from his bare torso, could almost chart the currents of his desire in the rise and fall of his chest as the shallow, rapid pace of his breathing mirrored her own, but it was the undeniable proof of Jase’s arousal, insistent and unyielding against her hip, that caused a tremor deep in her core which vibrated, ever so slightly, in the caress of her hand on the smooth skin of his stomach. Resisting the urge to glance down was an exercise in resolve, one she overcame only by the narrowest of margins, and only then by reminding herself that she had definitely already seen him naked, and this was totally no big deal. ...Okay, she admitted as her focus wavered momentarily to the feeling of his body pressed against her, maybe not entirely accurate, but still! Inhaling to steady her nerves and realign her thoughts, Autumn concentrated instead on the play of the firelight over his face, the warm texture of his skin, the faint vibration beneath the curious brush of her fingertips- more teasing than tentative as they roved inexorably toward the fly of his trousers. Intent on her features as she watched him, Jason could see himself reflected in the wide, ocean-dark pools of her eyes, could almost have tracked the movement of her hand by the changes in her expression alone. The rich color of her cheeks deepened by degrees, and he felt the gentle tug as she gingerly unfastened the button her questing fingers encountered, heard clearly the hitch in her breath and the soft sigh of her exhalation over the sound of each individual metal tooth parting as she drew the zipper downward. Jason’s heart had sped up a little throughout their intimacy thus far, maintaining a pulse that felt like a steady drum in his chest even as the delicious drawn-out tension of her slowly-moving fingers caused his breath to quicken and catch very slightly. Their eyes locked on one another, Jason felt a thrill he’d rarely experienced, a sensation he classified as a reaction to… not danger, exactly, but vulnerability. To Autumn, in this moment, he was vulnerable - not in the sense of physical harm, but in the sense that she could sway his reactions, dictate the pace of his heart and the quickness of his breath, strum his nerves as he had played on her own mere moments ago. And yet at the same time, looking into the depths of her naked soul - or so it seemed - she was utterly vulnerable to him as well. The sigh that contained a hint of expectant need, the way her teeth indented her lower lip and the red suffusing her features deepened even as she was the actor, rather than the acted-upon… Or was she? Was it that clear-cut? Jason doubted it. This was all so new to him that he wasn’t precisely sure where his sense of himself ended and his sense of Autumn began. Still lingering was the unfamiliar sense of savage possessive tenderness that had surged as she had tensed, arched and cried out in his arms. He had been acting upon her, for certain, and yet in her vulnerable surrender to his touch she had also acted upon him. This then, he realised with a flash of insight, was what it meant to connect, to be connected to another person, at least as closely as he could approximate the condition, and the realisation caused his eyes to widen and his breathing to stop altogether for a moment as he gazed down into the wells of emotional warmth that were Autumn’s eyes. “Are you okay?” she murmured softly, her hand stilling its tugging on his zipper as she caught the sudden change in the texture of his reactions. She could feel him there past the fabric and the metal of the fly, a tantalising solidity, and yet she paused, her other hand gently stroking the hair over his ears, her touch gentle and warm in a way that was not merely physical. That warmth- her warmth. The vibrancy that had drawn him to her. It entered him through that connection, radiant as the campfire that illuminated both the entwined lovers, and it warmed him in places that were habitually cold. Her touch, whether as a function of her Shine or simply the more mundane but no less wondrous alchemical properties of tender female contact, carried the same warm properties as her gaze. The moment of shock passed, but the warmth did not, and he smiled in answer to the question, the hungry flame coming back into his eyes redoubled. “I was just thinking… no, feeling that I am very okay.” he told the pretty redhead as he lowered his lips to hers. The kiss was a brush, at first, then a slightly firmer press as he let his own fire well up from inside, his mouth opening against hers, feeling hers open against his, their tongues gently teasing each other as he set aside the last of his tightly-held reserve, allowed the vulnerability of his own need and desire to manifest, his breath catching as he felt that utterly amoral and primitive urge set his mind ablaze. The last vestiges of his icy analysis melting away, Jason was left aware only of the feel of her in his arms, her skin on his skin, the contrast of soft breast and hard nipple pressed to his chest, Autumn’s hand pressing insistently against him through the material of trousers that were an irritating barrier. A faint growl in the back of his throat carried into the kiss as the hand that had been stroking the glorious tumble of Autumn’s hair slid around to the nape of her neck, slender fingers weaving into the base of her hair there and tightening into a gentle fist, anchoring her so he could possessively, even roughly claim her mouth with his, his heartbeat rising to a thunder in his ears. For the briefest of moments- the fleeting instant in which a match-head, being struck, might not yet be consumed by the flame- she was acutely aware of the specific word Jase had chosen, “feeling,” the way the odd gravity of his tone warped the other words around it by proximity alone. Aware that he’d said it earlier, as well. Aware that even if it wasn’t a singular, unprecedented expression, it clearly wasn’t one he’d used often. Aware that he… was about to kiss her, that she was already tilting her head to meet the hungry press of his lips with her own as the flame caught, and awareness of anything beyond him vanished in a dizzying swirl of sparks that shimmered behind her eyelids and over the surface of her skin. The soft rumble in his throat that sent a tremor through the core of her being, the surprising strength of his fingers woven tightly through her hair, the taste of his mouth on hers, the faint roar of her blood- or was it his?- that drowned out the crackle of the campfire and the murmur of the river: all of her attention was focused on what he was doing and how it made her feel, on how he responded, and the sense of near-tangible energy, the power inherent in that exchange. Still… Not enough. Impatiently, the redhead in his arms fumbled with the suddenly complicated workings of his pants, her fingers uncharacteristically clumsy with haste and want; with a low moan of frustration against his lips, she managed to slide her free hand between the press of their bodies to pull the fly taut while the other finally succeeded in getting the zipper down. There was no hesitation, no real consideration save the desire to touch him, and so she did, her fingertips gliding over him through the thin fabric of the trunks he wore. The muscles of his abdomen tightened as Autumn reveled in the heat, the thickness of him beneath her palm before sliding upward, under the waistband of the swim shorts, and inside. Leaning over her, Jason exhaled sharply at the sensation of cool, slender fingers encircling heated flesh, his rough kiss deepening to a bruising crush that ignited her blood into searing, liquid gold even as she arched against him in a wordless, desperate plea for more. “Off,” she gasped, drawing a ragged breath against his jaw and pulling ineffectually at his belt loops. With a muffled curse pressed against her throat, he shifted his weight onto one forearm above her, shucking both trousers and trunks and kicking the irksome garments aside, not at all concerned about whether they ended up in the fire, the lake, or a few feet away- only that they were gone. Her pale arms linked around the wiry youth’s neck as she rose to meet him, then rolled toward the fire, pressing his back firmly into the blanket; arranging herself over him, the flame-haired young woman paused to catch her breath, drawing back for a moment to take in the tall, spare form of her lover limned in flickering golden light. It was an arresting sight, and she leaned in to brush her lips fleetingly over his before shifting downward, her hair and the warm softness of her breasts skimming over his torso as she devoured with lips and tongue the course her eyes had set moments before. Autumn shifted to one side as the curve of her jaw grazed the hollow beneath his hip bone, her breath hot and slightly uneven as her mouth moved hungrily against his body, palms sliding down the lean expanse of his stomach to the tops of his thighs. The heat radiating from Jase’s skin felt almost cool against the flaming scarlet of her cheek, warmed not by any external source but by the dizzying, near-euphoric effect of his proximity alone; she marveled at that for a moment, nipping gently at the subtle demarcation between sun-bronzed flesh and the slightly fairer hue of his natural complexion before smiling and pressing an apologetic kiss to the faint mark she’d left. Without the relentless assault his earlier explorations had made on her senses, the ardent young woman focused anew on the sensory impressions conveyed through the sudden tension of muscle under her fingertips, the clean, appealingly male scent of his skin, and the oh-so faint taste of salt it left on her lips. It was a far cry from the nigh-incomprehensible chaos of before, rendered inchoate by raw need and the scorching delights of his touch- rather than a crashing wave of sensation, it was the slow rush of an incoming tide, waves of shared pleasure surging against the shore of her consciousness. As she tucked her hair behind one ear, Autumn rested her cheek against his hip, considering the tangible proof of his arousal with a combination of uncertainty and unvarnished desire. It wasn’t an issue of interest or even motivation, but of mathematics, a complex subject that had always daunted her in school but which now presented- in the form of her new boyfriend- both a frustrating dilemma and an irresistible challenge. Tilting her chin to glance up at Jason’s face, she caught a glimpse of his eyes, dark and intent on her features, and felt her stomach tighten deliciously in response. I’ll make it work, she decided quickly, catching her lower lip between her teeth as a frisson of excitement rippled through her at his expression. The feathery caress of her fingertips along the heated length of his manhood, inquisitive and exploratory as his own movements had been before, yielded a sudden, involuntary twitch that elicited a gasp of surprise and delight from the animated young woman; impishly, she repeated the gesture, stifling a grin as the novelty of his reaction briefly outweighed all other concerns. Relenting as she felt him begin to stir beneath her, his Titian-haired lover raised her head, rising as the playful delicacy of her touch resolved into a yielding grasp that almost encircled him completely. She inhaled, lowering her head to trail a series of soft, slow kisses along the underside of his shaft in what felt like microscopic increments, keeping her gaze fixed on his as her lips moved slowly upward. With a quiet hum of appreciation, the lively redhead swiped the flat of her tongue over the head, parting kiss-reddened lips to breathe a whisper of cool air across his sensitized skin. “You know… It’s not too late to run,” she murmured, regarding him with a glimmer of devilry in her lust-darkened eyes and pausing as if to offer him the opportunity. His eyelids fluttered half-closed at the contact of her warm wet tongue on his aching flesh, a sharp intake of breath followed by a drawn-out exhalation as his mischievous lover teased his nerves. At her words, his own heated gaze focused on hers and he smiled. "I prefer chasing to fleeing." His smile became a faint crooked grin. "Like you." Autumn hmmed again in satisfaction, the corners of her mouth curving upward as she pushed her hair back from her face and over her bare, cinnamon-flecked shoulders. Pale fingers once again encircled the base of his shaft, more firmly this time, giving him a gentle squeeze as she dipped her head and anointed him almost reverently with slow, deliberate strokes of her tongue. Eager as his companion was to return some fraction of the white-hot pleasure Jase had seared into her body, she reminded herself that after the torment he’d put her through, it was worth taking her time to see how far his mask of composure could slip; potentially making him squirm a little in exchange for the ruthless teasing he’d given her was just a bonus. The sudden thought of his voice, hoarse and breathless and desperate as it formed the word “please” sent a shiver of tiny sparks racing down her spine, rekindling the liquid heat in her belly. He could feel the shape of her smile for a brief moment as the warm, soft circle of her lips descended with excruciating slowness, drawing him carefully into the slick heat of her mouth. He’d propped himself on his elbows as Autumn had sunk lower, watching her raptly, and now his breath hissed at her teasing exploratory touches, and as her hand wrapped around him he felt his head fall back as though all of his tension, all of his capacity for tension, were concentrated in the pale fingers of the lover he’d not expected to discover. The touch of her lips followed, causing the warm rigidity in Autumn’s hand to jump slightly as a low murmur of surprised pleasure issued from Jason’s throat. With an effort of will, he kept his head raised, his fingers balling into fists as he watched her lovingly run her tongue along him, over and over, tasting every inch of him as though he were the finest of treats. His heart was a drum in his ears again as he watched her, noting how she never took her eyes from his, holding him mesmerised with her own hunger. She had given him the option to run again, teasingly, but both of them knew he would not - perhaps could not - any more that she would or could. Just like Autumn, it was not in Jason’s nature to run from danger… and the connection of mutual desire, of evoked emotions and the sheer hunger each awoke in the other was indeed a danger: fogging the mind, reducing judgement to ashes. The loss of Self, the inability to tell where he ended and she began - this, then, was the most delightful and thrilling of dangers. What would he do, to protect one who inspired such feelings and sensations? What would he not do, to keep her by him and prolong this firelit moment for as long as the stars burned? He saw himself reflected in her eyes, in her expression as she looked upon him, and for once he did not feel like an outsider - beyond the pane of glass that separated him from others. She did not perceive him as the necessary evil, the useful monster that, when all was over and settled, others would distance themselves from. She desired him, she felt for him, she wanted him... and she was unafraid. She saw the fire in his eyes, and wanted to dance in it. As her mouth slid over him he took a hissing breath, eyes fluttering shut and then opening almost as swiftly, keeping his gaze on hers as she slowly, so slowly slipped her tongue around the head of his cock inside the warm wetness of her mouth. Humming softly, Autumn bobbed her head a little, pulling back off him with a soft ‘pop’ of suction and kissed the side of his shaft once more, her eyes never leaving his, a lioness over her kill. His breath was coming harder now as he watched her smile, then take him between her lips once more, hmming in delight as he filled her mouth, tongue flickering around the girth of the welcome invader. She saw his jaw clench, heard the soft gasps her mouth was coaxing from him, his lean frame tensing as his pleasure climbed… and with another soft ‘pop’ she withdrew, stroking him gently with her hand. “Shit.” Jason swore, the word emerging as more of a groan that caused the red-head to smile wickedly at him, the amber of her freckles offsetting the pale rose of her face as she placed another delicate kiss on the prize in her hand. “Sorry, should I stop?” she asked, a hint of throaty chuckle in her voice as she watched his pale green gaze flash with a mixture of frustration and amusement. She nuzzled her lips against the tender skin of his manhood, peering around it at the expression on Jason’s face with a wide-eyed, ingenuous look in her eyes. Not giving him a chance to speak, she slowly licked up along the full length of him, flicking the tip of her wet tongue at the head and feeling a delicious tight zinging of pleasure in her core as he groaned, a deep, urgent sound of his need. It occurred to her that she had been his first making-out, the first girl he had pleasured, the first who had pleasured him… He’d never before experienced what she was doing to his nerve-endings, and with the realisation came a warm uncoiling rush of fresh arousal mixed with tenderness. She watched him war between maintaining his aloof control and declaring what he wanted, putting himself in her hands. “I’d… prefer you continue.” he husked, evidently deciding on the latter. Autumn smiled, kissing the swollen head once more as she tried, more from fascination than for any other reason, to get her fingers to meet around the base of his shaft once more, causing another soft groan to emit from her lover at the gentle pressure. He sucked in a breath as he discerned her playful intent, and faced with a choice of either withdrawing or pursuing the delightful pleasure to its end, he decided. “Autumn… please.” he murmured in a voice hoarse with need from a throat as taut as the lean lines of his body and the tremoring solidity of him in her palm, his eyes on hers. There were entire sections of libraries and bookstores devoted to the language of romance, to printed exaltations of love dating back to the advent of the written word itself, prose and poetry alike articulating in line after line, page after page, humanity’s most ardent erotic expressions. And yet two words, just two, from the young man she so desperately desired managed to convey more sincere urgency and impassioned need than any she could imagine being put to paper. She’d meant to tease him a little in playful retribution, to test the limits of his composure and his capacity to feel something; now, having achieved all that, Autumn realized with a sudden shock the gravity of what he had just done. He hadn’t simply abandoned his control, casting it aside in a moment of euphoric madness- she doubted whether he was even capable of such a thing. He’d handed it to her, to her, earnestly and in full trust, in two words. There was a startling purity in the raw need manifest in his gaze, a longing for something as-yet unquantifiable to him that she would have considered desperate were he anyone but himself. Show me, it demanded, a silent appeal for an answer to the question of what all of this meant, what it could mean; her smile widened slightly in response, the mischief in her eyes softening into something even she couldn’t readily define as she glanced up at him through the bright copper fringe of her lashes. “Well,” the lithe redhead replied carefully, weighing his request before adding, “you did say please,” punctuating each word with a soft press of her lips to the rigid length fairly vibrating within her encircling fingers. It didn’t matter that none of this had been planned or even considered before, the span of an hour or a week being equally meaningless when time was measured solely by the exultant percussion of her heart- it was happening now, and whatever came after would be… whatever it was. In this moment, there was only the faint taste of salt, the irregular rasp of his breath, and the flickering radiance spreading through her veins as that voiceless urge once more whispered through the haze of her thoughts: More. Power and control, lust and affection: these weren’t merely abstract concepts, but the currency exchanged between lovers, given freely and returned with interest. ...And, oh, Autumn had interest aplenty. With a quiet hum of pleasure she lavished a slow, hungry kiss over the head of his cock, ardent lips and adoring tongue caressing the swollen flesh with unreserved delight. Her attentiveness was almost worshipful in its intensity, as if through soft sighs and the heat of her needy mouth this sensual rite of connection and desire could somehow convey what she lacked the words to say otherwise. The unfiltered immediacy of his reactions- the gasps, the shivers, the tensing of his lean frame beneath her- only encouraged reciprocity, sending delicate frissons of pleasure racing along her own nerves even as she strove to heighten his. She was doing this to him. He wanted her to do this to him. He wanted her. Like called to like, his hunger provoking her own in slow, sultry waves that rippled across the glowing, molten pool rising inside her, carrying its heat outward in a rush of bright rose beneath the ivory of her skin. Her lips and hands worked in tandem, rising and falling over him in smooth, fluid motions and alternating between slow, gently twisting strokes that engulfed him in warmth and gentle friction and shorter, quicker ones that allowed her to focus on the delicate, hypersensitive nerve endings and drive him closer to the limits of sensation. The intent young woman could sense, rather than hear the change in Jase’s breathing as her fingers undulated in waves, a rhythmic counterpoint to the languid sweep of her tongue around the dense, heated length of him filling her mouth; squeezing her thighs together to assuage the dull ache building there, Autumn glanced up to meet his gaze once more. It briefly occurred to him that something fundamental had shifted in Autumn in the moments following his implicit placing of himself - for want of a better phrase - in her hands. His rudimentary understanding of her, which the sense of connection deepened and strengthened, perceived rather than sensed the softening of her mischievousness into something unquantifiable and outside of his experience. Even in his urgent need, his nerves electrified by the caress of the girl kneeling between his legs, his mind started to chase this new observed phenomenon, to decipher its meaning - and then her lips slid down over the head of his cock once more and he was left with a choice - to shut out all sensation and focus entirely on the abstraction of analysing the look in his lover’s eyes, or to live in the moment, to experience that which he had placed himself in her hands to experience. He chose the latter, and thought whirled away from him as the world became raw sensory stimuli, hotwiring his mind and body without the intercession of higher cognitive processes. Abstraction, always his companion, was gone now. That wry observer-mind who catalogued, analysed and filed every experience was nowhere to be found. Everything was white-hot sensation that entered Jason’s mind unfiltered, pulses of pleasure building within his body in tightening waves that moved in time with the stroke of her hands, the bobbing of her head - slow at first, the tingling brush of her hair on his thighs and hips a counterpoint as she swirled her tongue around the tip of him within her mouth, but then quickening gradually as Autumn’s own desire to bring him pleasure loaned urgency to her movements, coaxing gasps from his mouth and causing his belly to tighten and hips to twitch under her caress. Now and then she would take him as deep as she could into her mouth and hold him there, testing herself against him, the sensation of her throat working around the tip of his manhood causing him to groan - a deep guttural sound devoid of anything but yearning - before slowly sliding the tight suction of her lips back up to the head of his cock and resuming once more the steadily increasing rhythm of mouth, tongue and hands that could have only one design, one purpose. One culmination. His breath began coming in pants now, shortening perceptibly as a warm tightness began to grow in his loins, and though his eyelids fluttered shut now and then he always opened them again as though fascinated at the sight of the hungry-eyed redhead pleasuring him. As she glanced up towards him with his swollen head between her lips and their eyes met once more it seemed as though a spark jumped - from her blue eyes to his green and thence to his groin and then back up his spine in a series of lightning-strikes, exploding in his brain. It was so different from his past solitary pleasuring of himself - so mechanical and matter-of-fact by comparison - that he could not even process that his climax was on him at first. Jase’s teeth clenched, his body tensing almost painfully as his head fell back and a weak thought occurred to him, some dimly-remembered reading of advice on such matters that he should warn her, that it was polite to warn her, and he opened his mouth to do so but all he could do was call out her name with such a deep reverberating groan that she felt it as much as heard it and then his cock twitched powerfully in her hands and in her mouth as he came. There was a sense that some spring had been over-tightened and had now snapped and released its energy, propelled him over the precipice of the senses Autumn had lifted him to, and now he was moving through space, weightless, formless, a heated cloud of glowing vapor where once he had been a cold, distant star. Jase shuddered through the crest of his pleasure, every sinew on his body standing out as his shaft pulsed, over and over so it seemed to him, the sensations blurring together with the rhythmic feel of Autumn’s swallowing, his tortured gasps mingling with her delighted humming as she drank him down, her eyes on his pleasure-slackened features as he groaned again, looking unseeing up at the stars and the sparks from the campfire, momentarily mindless and aware only of the white-hot, drawn out jangling of his nerves, the gentle suction of her mouth, and the tender brush of her hands as they left his cock and lightly grasped his hips as much to embrace him as hold him steady. Eventually the pleasure subsided, the magnesium-flare of raw sensation cooling down somewhat, and as consciousness returned Jason blinked, realisation of Self coming back to him. He raised his head once more and looked down along his body at Autumn. “Holy shit.” he said, not with particular heat or emphasis but in a more hushed, faintly reverent tone such as one might use when looking up at the Sistine Chapel ceiling for the first time, or watching a particularly beautiful sunrise. The latter being an apt descriptor, in his mind, for the girl who had in a short space of time engaged his interest, kindled his friendship, earned his trust, sparked his desire, and quite literally blown his mind. His composure was largely returned, though his breath was still a little labored and his eyes still dark with desire as he regarded her, his cock still possessing some rigidity but quiescent now as she let it slip from her lips with a smile. “In case you missed it last time I said it - you’re beautiful.” he told her soberly. Impossibly, she felt her cheeks grow warmer at the unanticipated compliment, as if all the heat in her abdomen had suddenly rushed upwards, the deepening hue of her complexion visible even in the amber glow of the firelight. She was reasonably sure that wasn’t supposed to happen when you were already blushing, but some rules just didn’t seem to apply when Jason Whatever-His-Middle-Name-Was Bannon was involved. He had this knack for casually setting her on fire with some off-hand comment or pointed glance and just sort of observing the ensuing level of conflagration, and even worse, she couldn’t even be sure if it was intentional or not- sometimes it seemed deliberate, and sometimes incidental. Either way, she should have started building up an immunity or tolerance of some kind by now, but oh, no. While her body could theoretically ignore drugs and booze completely, things that could actually kill her, of course there was no superpower to resist being red-faced and just feeling like she was going to die. It was infuriating and impossible, and so was he, and the absolute worst part was that she kind of enjoyed it. Maybe. A little. ...Okay, okay. More than a little. Damn it, Autumn swore silently, trying unsuccessfully to ignore what felt like clouds of tiny golden stars zinging pleasantly along her nerves as she peered up at him, her face aflame. At Bannon the Impenetrable, with all the potential challenges and surprises that entailed. At her boyfriend. Shifting her knees to the outside of his thighs, the spirited redhead slid up the length of Jason's lean frame, smiling down into his eyes as the heavy curtain of her tousled red-gold hair spilled all around them. “I’m glad you think so,” she replied quietly, resting her forehead against his as she tried to match his breathing, savoring the warmth and solidity of his chest rising and falling against her own. “So, can I assume you’re okay, then?” she murmured, the fingers of one hand carefully threading through the dark hair over his ear. His pale eyes, warmed by the firelight catching their wide, dark centers, met her gaze. There was in that stare a pensive searching, questioning quality as he studied both her and the sensations she had sparked- and continued to spark- in his psyche. He brought a hand up, brushing his fingertips over her face - feather-lightly, as though tracing her features through glass - before gently cupping her cheek in his palm, feeling her warmth as he lifted his head and pressed his lips to hers in mute answer. As her eyelids drifted shut, Autumn’s awareness of the world shrank, leaving only the gentle pressure of his kiss and the slow, rhythmic tide of their breathing. Of the fact that her hand slid from Jase’s hair to cradle the back of his head, or that as she melted almost bodily against him she made a tiny sound of surprised delight in the back of her throat, the warm-hued young woman was completely unaware. Instead, she could pinpoint the incandescent awakening of every nerve ending he touched, a sensation she prolonged with the delicate brush of her mouth against his, with the tiny, fleeting movements of her reddened lips wherein a thousand flickering sparks of pleasure flared to life and scattered again as his kiss ignited them anew. It was indulgence, not urgency that whetted her appetite; even as his analytic mind worked to process and categorize the experience, her brilliant lover got the sense that she would happily continue in this leisurely vein until the sun rose over them. And yet… Without any notion of how much time had passed, she did finally withdraw with a soft sigh, nuzzling her cheek against his jaw as she opened her eyes. “To be continued,” she reminded herself aloud before smiling and pressing a kiss into the hollow just beneath his ear, her voice dropping to a near-whisper. “Hopefully soon, hm?” Autumn rose, then, gently releasing his head and- slightly unsteadily- getting to her feet. It felt like she’d spent the day hiking through the backcountry, her legs still a little shaky as the muscles protested the sudden shift back to verticality, and as she stretched to restore circulation and equilibrium the red-haired teen quickly scanned the campsite: her shirt and bikini top were almost on opposite sides, with Jase’s pants and shirt similarly scattered and in disarray. The sound of her quiet laugh drifted across the clearing as she shook her head, grinning, and set about retrieving their clothes, pausing to grab his towel and one of the open bottles of water on her way back to the blanket. “Here,” she smiled, handing over the bottle as she sank down next to him, sitting cross-legged and sorting through the clothes in her lap. “Thought you might be thirsty.”
  9. 3 points
    Naked torso time seemed a great idea, and Autumn sat up astride him as she, too, started to peel off the t-shirt that was the only thing keeping her skin from touching his - an unbearable barrier that would not be tolerated any longer. For a moment Jase watched as the pale skin of her stomach and ribs came into view, then an impulse seized him as Autumn’s arms raised, hands going behind her head to tug the shirt off - and he sat up with a smooth coiling of his stomach muscles and reached out, catching her hands behind her head as the t-shirt covered her eyes, just her nose and lips free beneath the edge of the material. The girl made a small sound of protest, but she smiled then, her arms tensing a little as though in playful struggle against his grasp. Jason let her feel his smile on her lips for a moment, then withdrew his kiss, eliciting another small sound of protest. Even in his inexperience, it was not in his nature to be passive for longer than necessary, and the sweet torments of Autumn’s touches, nibbles and kisses needed repaying, so it seemed. He drew back a little, studying her nakedness with a possessive, hungry gaze that the fair-skinned captive in his arms could practically feel like sunlight on her flesh. One hand still pinning her wrists, long fingers encircling them, he brought his other hand down to trace a fingertip along her jaw, across her lower lip - teasingly moving it as she sought to catch it in her mouth - then down the line of her throat. She had freckles down below her collarbone, a dusting of bronze in the firelight against the cream of her skin - currently flushed as her face was. He let the tips of his fingers play over the markings, teasing touches that made her shift a little in his lap. “What are you doing?” she murmured, smiling as she arched her body into his touch, trying to get more contact and catching her bottom lip between her teeth as her breath hitched, stifling a whimper. “Admiring you.” Jason replied matter-of-factly, sweeping his exploring hand down across her breastbone. Dipping his head, he kissed the base of her throat, then her jawline, then her lips briefly - too briefly - before once more trailing flame down the line of her throat. Another impulse seized him and he rolled slowly, chuckling as Autumn gave out a little yelp as she found herself laying back on the blanket now. The firelight played over her body, deepening the colours and lending flickering shadows to her contours, and the aesthete in Bannon’s soul marvelled for a moment, pondering the nature of beauty and how very subjective it was, how very enslaved to circumstance and company such things could be. “You’re beautiful.” he stated, smiling as he started to kiss her collarbone, lips finding each freckle and paying homage to it as they made their warm path down over her body, his tongue now and then flicking against her heated skin, his teeth gently nibbling, his whole attention focused on tasting her as she squirmed under his attention. Whatever his lack of experience may have suggested, there was nothing clumsy or boyish in the way he touched her, nothing shy or furtive in the leisurely exploration he was making of her body. She wasn't exactly virginal, and in her curiosity had found a lot of things on the internet she’d either gamely tried or secretly wanted to- but this was as far beyond the scope of Autumn’s expectations as Jason himself. A tingle of warmth rippled through her at the unexpected compliment, manifesting in a delicate wash of pale pink spreading just beneath the surface of her exposed skin; his particular brand of unabashed, unaffected sincerity was every bit as seductive as the insistent pressure of his hand on her wrists overhead. It was the newness of the sensations- the thrill of trading the ability to see what Jase was doing for the exquisitely heightened experience of the feeling itself, of sacrificing awareness for anticipation- that kept Autumn’s natural impatience narrowly in check. Even so, the contrast of hot breath and cool night air as his mouth moved over her skin was enough to test the limits of her willpower in a way that drew her taut as a bowstring beneath him, the space beneath her ribs hollowing slightly as her spine curved in a wordless arc of delight. Oh. My FUCKing. GOD! the still-rational part of her mind all but shrieked at the combination of teeth and tongue on sensitive flesh, though the high, plaintive note that escaped her lips wasn’t nearly so coherent. She couldn’t tell which was louder: the erratic, halting rush of her breathing, or the mad cadence of the blood pounding in her ears, but neither could drown out the voiceless, searing imperative of desire. More. The muscles along Autumn’s spine flexed as her hips rolled down against the blanket, pressing her chest upward in a half-conscious attempt to gain closer, more direct contact than the teasing kisses with which Jase was intently mapping the topography of her form in scorching lines. She wasn’t alone in her urgency. Whatever volcanic fires roiled in Jason’s soul seethed and roared in their chains, his arousal causing them to leap and dash themselves clumsily against his glacial self control to get at the girl - this treasure in his arms - who had taught him with words, each breath, each brush of her own lips on him, each caress of her fingers on his skin what connection truly was, what it could be. His own breath quickened at her cries, birdlike and pure despite the carnal demands they heralded, and his hot breath bathed her skin in rose as her blood too, so it seemed, surged upwards to meet him. He removed the slender hand pinning her wrists, yet a stronger grasp maintained Autumn’s helpless posture as his mind, powerful beyond the constraints of his young body, kept her in gentle imprisonment. Both hands were now free to touch her, to wreak havoc with her nerves as delicate fingertips tapped and traced a hidden pattern across her freckled shoulders and collarbone, a cipher for lovers punctuated by warm kisses as his touch moved lower, playing over the gentle swells of her breasts that the young woman’s body offered up with every rolling arc of her body. And now he focused there, taking his time with each caress, his eyes moving from the soft mounds to Autumn’s half-hidden face with the intentness of a musician regarding the conductor. Softly, very softly he trailed flame along her nerves: now with a warm brush of a palm, now with the pads of his fingertips as they traced the soft pink of her areolae. As she made soft, but steadily louder sounds of need and protest, he smiled a little and lowered his head, capturing one stiff little bud tenderly between his lips, kissing at first, then lightly scraping with his teeth to draw music from her before ‘soothing’ the tormented flesh with a gentle laving of his tongue. She tasted sweet, clean and female, a scent he was not unfamiliar with by itself but with richness added from the warm arousal that suffused the air from her pores. As his mouth paid languorous homage to her breasts, the green-eyed devil lightly raked his nails down across Autumn’s ribs and stomach, feeling the taut ivory of her skin quiver and warm further under his touch. Mischief seized him, along with a desire for further connection, and with a slight tug of his power the makeshift blindfold was lifted from the redhead’s eyes so she could look down and see the blazing emerald of his gaze on hers as he tormented her. Smiling as his fingertips teased along and just within the waistline of her jeans, Jason nuzzled his lips against her softness then switched his attentions to her other breast, flicking the tip of his tongue across her nipple before drawing it into his warm mouth. There was a moment’s disorientation as the collar of her t-shirt was tugged upward and away, and at first Autumn saw only a few orange sparks drifting like fireflies up into the vast expanse of dark sky above. Those trackless depths were scattered all throughout with the faint pinpricks of countless distant suns: glimmers of dying scarlet, coruscating points of sapphire, flecks of glittering, crystalline white, and- she glanced down, the scope of her vision shrinking- virescent gold, twin stars captured in corporeal form and rendered incandescent in the glow of the firelight. It was enough to make her breath catch as the alien, incomprehensible heat of Jase’s gaze slowly reduced any lingering reservations to ash. Had anyone actually touched her before? Maybe it was some shared resonance, some echo of their nascent gifts, that this, this must be the quintessence of contact, every atom set aglow by the merest brush of his fingertips. Unable to look away, to escape the dizzying sensory feedback of both seeing and being seen, Autumn’s wrists flexed against the invisible restraint, fingernails biting into her palms as she shivered at the intensity of the hunger in those pale green eyes. The languid, worshipful caress of Jason’s tongue drew a ragged gasp from her lips; it seemed unfair, somehow, that he could be so careful, so composed, when she could feel herself burning like a torch, dissolving from the inside out until all that remained was need, raw and desperate. More, it demanded again, and God, I want you, and she had no way of knowing if the sounds she made were words at all, or just formless, tortured cries in response to the all-encompassing warmth of his lips, his tongue encircling the aching bud of her nipple. As her fists knotted restlessly in the cotton fabric of her t-shirt, Autumn shifted beneath him, rearranging the tangle of their legs until she managed to get one of Jason’s knees between her thighs. Unable to touch him any other way, the captive redhead arched against him, twisting her hips in an urgent bid for friction, pressure- anything to get her body closer to his. What is the opposite of a sadist? Jase wondered with that always-present, wry analytical corner of his mind not currently occupied with sensual appetite for Autumn’s flesh under his touch, under his kiss. He was being pitiless, merciless in the sensation he was inflicting, but it was pleasure not pain, and to see Autumn’s flushed features transported in ecstacy, to know that it was he that was causing the alternately throaty and birdlike cries of wanton need was deeply, profoundly satisfying as well as arousing, the sensation burning like fine liquor in his belly and spreading through his body. He pressed his knee back against the arching pressure of her lithe body, fancying he could feel the heat there as the athletic girl ground against him, her moans lengthening and deepening as she rocked her hips back and forth. He trailed his lips in swift, light kisses back up her body from her breasts, arranging himself as he moved so that his knee remained in place for the hungry need of his lover whilst he caressed her flushed features with one hand before freeing her tumble of hair from the t-shirt that still shrouded it, red-gold waves spilling out across the blanket like the ransom of kings. The other remained lower down, fingertips dipping inside the waistline of her jeans and drawing small designs on the soft, tender skin of her abdomen. Her eyes were dark pools, wide as they looked up at him with raw emotion, portals to her depths which he studied, head tilting slightly as he regarded her, trailing his long fingers through her hair. Autumn flexed her hands against his telekinetic grasp again, wanting to reach out to him, grab his head and pull him to her. She moaned, a low keening sound of protest, as he dropped a delicate kiss on her lips and pulled back with a smile before she could respond. However cool and focused he seemed the detachment was skin deep, the near-delirious girl could tell with a feminine instinct that was as unerring as it was primal. Jason’s eyes blazed, his own features were darkened with the stain of desire. Almost intuitively, Autumn knew that if she could but touch him, she could scratch through that veneer of control and set loose what was inside. She arched her body, pressing her breasts to the warm smoothness of his torso and letting out a moan, a wordless command / plea that was emotion given form. Jason felt that demand and responded to it, pressing his lips to hers more firmly than before as, with a wordless relaxation of his will, he released Autumn’s bound wrists. The kiss Jase gave her, deep and sure, was a gift- one she returned fiercely and without hesitation the moment she was freed. All the energy that had been bound up with the restriction of Autumn’s movements uncoiled in a rush, her body rising up to meet him in a wave of hunger and warm flesh as she reached up with one hand, pale fingers tangling in his thick, dark hair to pull him close. There was no plea in the crush of her lips on his, no mute supplication in the claim her tongue laid to his own, and precious little consideration given to the need for air. There was only want, pure and unfettered, and the feverish pursuit of its fulfillment. Whoever she’d been moments before, who she might be in the moments that followed, if a future beyond this could even be conceived of- these were trivial, transient concerns that her mundane Self would have to address later. The burning brilliance surging through her- crimson as her own blood, golden as living flame- demanded tribute. It stretched through Autumn’s fingertips, through the fervent press of her mouth against his, through the friction of bare skin and the contrast of soft curves against taut muscle and bone, until she could feel the rush of Jason’s breath in her lungs, the hot pulse of his life in her veins… And, still, it wasn’t enough. Not by half. The near-mathematical symmetry of the lean muscle along Jase’s spine as her free hand snaked downward and around his side, nails grazing his hip beneath the swim trunks he wore. The tightening of his fingers in her hair, triggering an answering tension in the smooth skin he’d traced with arcane symbols of desire. The faint taste of salt on his shoulder as Autumn dipped her head, white teeth marking the tanned flesh there without playfulness or trepidation. The sound of her own voice, hoarse and hungry as her hips moved against him, breathing his name against his throat. It was almost overwhelming, the rush of awareness, and the needy redhead drank the heady mix of impressions in, exulting in the echoes of sensation she could feel returned to her. It was more than simply erotic or pleasurable; it was power, to savor the resonance of that vital spark in him thrumming in her own body. Could he sense it, too? some distant part of her mind wondered. Could he feel the heat beneath her skin, the faint tremor of anticipation in her fingertips as they plucked at the button keeping the too-loose combat pants around his waist? Maybe not, what remained of Autumn decided, leaning up to capture Jase’s lips in another bruising kiss. But she was going to make sure he felt something. All was Her, his focus narrowing as he felt his self-possession evaporate, his sense of Self a guttering defiant flame in a hurricane, now and then nearly being blown out altogether in the tumult of sensation, of connection. The scent of Autumn’s skin and hair, the taste of her tongue pushing insistently against his own and the feel - oh the feel! - of her body pressed to his as her fingers explored his skin. The wry observer was silent now, sheltering somewhere inside that guttering flame as everything became fire and hunger, caution and prudence drawn forth from his lean body as if with his breath from one of Autumn’s yearning kisses, to be scattered like the embers of the fire that whirled overhead as the two teens lay tangled in each others arms. Jase was hyper-aware of her fingers toying with the fastening of his pants, of the hungry heat of her body, of the so very perfect way in which their bodies seemed to flow together. Autumn’s murmur of his name against his neck seared his blood, set it to boiling as he ran his thumb over the embossed top button of her jeans before, with a nimble flick, he unfastened it. Autumn drew in a breath, feeling it, practically hearing the soft fabric sound as deceptively slender fingers dipped inside her jeans to stroke over the soft cloth of her bikini. She whined deep in her throat as a garment which, not long ago, she’d been concerned might be provocative now seemed to be a blighted impedance. His fingertips swirled down over her covered mound, and Jason could feel the warmth and humidity there, turning his hand to press it to her aching body, pressing against her through the cloth as his fingers stroked. His frustration mirrored hers, though. He wanted more than this, more of her and so, true to his essential nature he took it, slipping his touch back up, then down inside the swimsuit bottoms. He felt Autumn go still, one hand tightening in his hair, the other resting against his taut stomach, and he gazed into her eyes as she lifted them to regard him, her lips - rouged from kissing - opening in an ‘oh’ of soft anticipation. His fingers caressed her mound, gently tugging at the soft down he felt before straying lower still, seeking out her warmth. Even as his mind supplied the theory, his fingers and palm carried out the practical experiment, cupping the heated wetness, stroking the sensitive tips of his fingers over the folds he discovered. He softly kissed her panting mouth, nuzzled his cheek along her jawline, trailed his lips to her earlobe and, once there, whispered her name as an invocation while his hand learned, slowly, to play the oldest notes of pleasure on his lover’s body. The convergence of sensations had been almost dizzying, an exhilarating confluence of the real- the tactile experience of Jason’s skin, the steady drum of his heartbeat and the scent of something vaguely herbal in his tousled hair- with other, less tangible impressions of his essential vitality, bright as a bonfire in her arms and just as dangerous. With so much to delight in, the dull, sweet ache winding through her belly and the soft whimpers he coaxed from her lips were almost secondary considerations; until she felt deft fingers slipping with startling ease between the slick folds of her sex, Autumn had no concrete notion of exactly how eagerly her body had anticipated his touch. Her eyes widened up at him as the realization struck, desire and disbelief vying for supremacy in their depths, and she was dimly aware that if it were physically possible, she’d be blushing down to her toes beneath the wave of renewed heat washing over her. Instead, her shoulders pressed into the ground, hips arching up to demand yet more of his questing fingertips. Not enough. She trembled, panting, heedless of anything but how much she wanted him in that moment and how little of him she could actually have. There was no slow, measured climb toward some transcendent peak, despite the curious, exploratory quality of his caresses, but rather a rapid ascent only hastened by the invocation of her name: two syllables without any supernatural quality of their own, transmuted into a fey charm by the urgent whisper of a lover. The comely redhead shivered bodily at the warmth of Jase’s breath on her ear, her head dropping back onto the blanket as everything within her stretched toward the feeling of liquid tension building between her thighs, reaching feverishly toward the threshold of its release. Autumn’s fingers slid from his hair, wandering aimlessly across angular shoulder blades as the totality of her existence focused on the exquisite tease of his thumb brushing, almost incidentally, against the tender bud of her clit. With a near-frantic moan, she slid her free hand down over his, no longer satisfied with simply letting him dictate the pace of his own discovery. “Lesson can wait,” Autumn gasped, guiding him into the patterns she desperately craved. “I ca- han’t!” Her voice broke in a sharp, tremulous cry as one of those dextrous, sensitive fingers probed at her entrance before slipping inside, triggering the sudden contraction of her abdomen and a torrent of incoherent pleas to unnamed gods. All rational thought vanished, dissolving like hot ashes on the wind as her hips rolled faster, a frenetic rhythm that matched the insistent pressure of her palm on the back of his hand. She was already so close, breath coming in ragged gasps underscored by a soft, pleading whine, when she felt Jase shift slightly, followed by the brush of his cheek against the high curve of her breast. “Oh-” Autumn began breathlessly, heavy lids opening slightly in confusion. Then- “Ohhhh, FUCK!” as the tip of his tongue circled her nipple and he captured it between his lips. The ache, the heat inside her swelled, searing crimson and gold against the inside of her skin, and for a brief, terrifying moment the delirious teen thought she might actually be dying, torn shrieking from the world on a surging wave of incandescent lust. One hand clutched blindly, wildly at Jason’s wrist as her body tensed, muscles flexing beneath the rose-flushed ivory of her skin, while the other seized a fistful of the blanket behind him. Her eyes were wide, unseeing, as her spine arched, driving her bucking hips harder against his fingers; as the world went black around the edges, a high, keening wail escaped her lips, carrying the echo of his name through the night. It was revelatory: every part of the experience was sounding depths in his soul that even the acutely self-aware young man had not previously fathomed. Autumn’s body rose and tautened, her voice rising high, carrying his name in a wild paean of ecstasy under his touch while her feverishly clutching left hand latched onto his wrist in a futile attempt to anchor herself against the tempest coursing through her nerves. Jason felt in that grip the bruising strength of her rapture, his refined sense of touch reading the spasms of her wetness seeking to draw his fingers deeper, and as he watched her lovely features transported with pleasure the detached genius felt something within him stir, something possessive yet gentle that responded to the bold young woman who had reached out to and, if he was honest, into him. His other arm encircled her shoulders, cradling Autumn gently as she cried out and trembled against him, surging through the riptide of her delight, and Jason absorbed the simple fact of her being inside his awareness with a shock that resonated in the halls of his mind. It was startling, and discomfiting to think that just a week ago, he’d thought in his innocence such a thing could only be within the reach of one girl. But this intimacy was far beyond anything he had pictured. Such was the tumult of his own desires that he had no ready answer to why that was, and so he set the question aside and focused on the delirium of the Now, slowly moving his fingers inside his flame-haired vision, feeling her slippery wetness on his hand and grazing the pad of his thumb around her clit in unconscious time with the quiver of her inner walls. Autumn’s hands released the blanket and his wrist, coming up to cling to his shoulders and back as she raised her face to his, her warm breath and insistent, greedy tongue seeming to carry her soul into the kiss before she broke off to whimper loudly, her voice rhythmically rising in pitch, taking on an almost panicked note. Her thoughts were as leaves in a gale, the astonished realisation that it was happening again all she could grasp from the fleeting shreds of consciousness before her body was set ablaze once more. Already sensitised nerves sang as she felt her lower abdomen become a molten pool from which ripples spread out through her form, growing in intensity and becoming a series of moving walls of searing flame, each more heated than the last, each tearing a more loudly piercing melodious cry from her breathless throat. The series of cataclysms lasted forever and a moment, and left her twitching, gasping, a sheen of perspiration coating the rose stain of desire that flooded her face, throat and bosom. Autumn’s nails clutched at the skin of Jase’s back and shoulder, scoring his skin with red despite their pragmatically short length, before she managed to find purchase on her consciousness and bring one hand down to still the motions of his fingers inside her joyously spasming folds. “No... more...” she managed, though part of her did want more, wanted to see if there was an end to this soaring pleasure, wanted to burn up into motes, molten fragments like a meteorite breaking up from entering the atmosphere so fast. That need to be so consumed was intense – to be burned up by the flame of her lover, to forever cease to exist as Autumn and exist solely as a collection of white-hot motes of pleasure, yearning for his touch. It was terrifying and exhilarating. He was terrifying and exhilarating, even now as he acquiesced, gently slipping his fingers from her heated, needy sex, glancing down at the way her honey made his fingers glisten before his green eyes travelled again along the length of her euphoria-saturated form to meet her gaze again. His eyes burned still with his own lust, and there was an uncompromisingly possessive quality to Jason’s stare as he examined her, from the tumbling halo of firelit red and gold that framed her flushed face, to the dilated centers of her blue eyes, to her panting lips. Though his smile was oddly tender, even as it was still quintessentially Jason Effing Bannon: an expression equal parts satisfaction and amusement. “Told you.” He said matter-of-factly as he brought his hand closer to his face, eyes considering the slickness coating it before he, with seeming great attention to the process and equal enjoyment, licked the sweet evidence of her delight from his fingers as though it were a fairground treat. She watched with lust-dazed fascination as his agile tongue cleaned the digits that had brought her such pleasure, then his gaze turned back to her and smiled slightly, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he repeated what he’d said earlier. “Sort of loud. Noisy, even.” Autumn blinked up at him, her brain still reeling as it worked to assemble scattered, fragmented impulses and impressions into language and the basic structure of coherent thought- a process complicated somewhat by the sight of Jason adroitly licking the taste of her from his fingers. Not only was the display an extremely provocative reminder of the meal they’d just shared earlier, it suggested a number of other shared activities at which he might be equally adept, vivid images of which came to mind far more readily than the words she needed to describe them. Tilting her head and shifting a little closer to him, the sated redhead admired, wonderingly, the way the low flames nearby cast his features into sharp relief, warm bronze highlights contrasted with the near-black contours, and lent their glow to the hungry, wicked sparks of mischief in his eyes. It was enough to make her breath catch in her throat, kindling an answering flush of residual heat in her own expression as she considered his. “Sorry, was it?” she finally managed, still a little breathless but not at all apologetic as she reached up with a slightly giddy smile, her fingertips delicately following that line of demarcation between light and shadow that made him seem somehow otherworldly, unknowable. “I’ll try to be quieter next time.” "No need." The fire in the depths of his eyes was undimmed as he turned his head fractionally, kissing her fingers, his gaze not leaving her face. "Not on my account, anyway."
  10. 3 points
    Oh my god. He’s even weaponized honesty, Autumn realized with some incredulity, unable to keep her gaze from dropping to the slight curve of his mouth as he smiled, and reflexively catching her bottom lip between her teeth. “Yeah,” she agreed with a small, answering smile of her own, not yet daring to meet Jase’s eyes again. They were too green, too intense- how had she ever thought them cold, when they could smoulder like banked coals, or blaze as searingly bright as any bonfire? “I really… really like kissing you, too,” the redhead admitted… And I also really, really like the way you move when I touch you, and the way your skin tastes, and how your breath feels against my ear- It wasn’t like she’d never been attracted to someone before, never felt the giddy, heady rush of chemicals that signalled desire and the urge to act on it. It wasn’t the first time Autumn had ever wanted to spend hours kissing someone, to explore them with her eyes and hands and lips until she found all the places that made them gasp for air or twitch convulsively at her touch. She just didn’t remember feeling it with such a heightened sense of urgency, as if every glance or grin Jason Bannon aimed in her direction might end with her just pouncing on him in a less fatal version of a NatGeo mauling on the Serengeti. Even now, just sitting there with a water bottle in her hand, condensation dripping onto the blanket- We’re having a conversation. Time, place. Behave, Autumn. He’s behaving, see? We’re both behaving, she admonished herself, taking a hasty swallow of cold water and wishing in vain it might take some of the heat from her cheeks, as well. ...And you don’t want him to think you’re some kind of… sex-crazed maniac, or something. Do you? I mean- NO, Autumn. The answer is NO. You do not. ...Ugh. Okay, fine, I guess. Beyond the physical attraction, which was evident and undeniable, there was definitely… something, mixed in with all the teasing, the taunts, the uncertainty, the playful challenges and serious conversations. Maybe it was just that he had no expectations, no specific idea of what or who she was supposed to be and thus no inclination to try to fit her to that mold. Maybe it was that he’d done a good job so far of keeping her on her toes- she’d felt scared, frustrated, amazed, entertained and amused, delighted, desired- but not once had she felt anything close to bored. Or, she considered, aware suddenly of the strange, intangible pressure of Jase’s attention, maybe it was the implication that this might only last until Marissa got her shit straightened out, so there was no good reason not to just see what happened in the meantime. Fuck it. Why not? “All right, Bannon the Magnificent. The Amazing,” she added with a slow smile, acknowledging the exuberance of her earlier exclamation. “Let’s go to Homecoming, then.” She had the satisfaction of seeing his eyes gleam, the edges crinkling in an understated smile even as he remained otherwise outwardly composed. “Alright. But we’re going to have to set some ground rules.” he deadpanned, taking a drink of water. “Ground rules?” Autumn raised a brow, not missing the glitter of amusement in her [boyfriend’s] eyes and working to keep her own smile under control as she noted him shifting a little closer, turning so he was sat alongside rather than facing her. “Very important ones.” Jase nodded soberly. “I have a reputation as an unpleasant acerbic dickhead to maintain so, and this is important, no PDA.” “No PDA.” Autumn nodded slowly, as if mulling it over as she shuffled on her backside a little closer, her right hip and his left hip almost touching. She ran a hand up his back over the shirt, feeling the lean tautness underneath, and gently brushed her fingers through the ends of his shaggy hair at the nape of his neck, noting how he took a slightly deeper breath as she did so. “Right. Why?” “Because it’s distracting.” Jase was doing a good job of maintaining his impassive expression, though there was a twitch of humor at the corner of his lips as he turned his face towards hers. “Mmhmm. So I really shouldn’t be doing this, then.” Autumn stated rather than asked as she brought her other hand up and wove her fingers into his hair over his ear. Jason leaned closer to her, his arm sliding around her waist as his lips drew close to hers. “Definitely not. This is an excellent example of what not to do.” he said with mock-sternness moments before his lips curved in a smile. Autumn was flushed, and lovely, and right there inches away, her own mouth curving in an amused grin, the scent of her warm and enticing this close. “Good, I’m glad I know what not to do.” she said, slowly letting her hands slide from his hair and moving as though to disengage - only to be pulled gently back in and kissed, his lips sparking a rush of heat through her body that consumed the playfulness like jet fuel. It wasn’t that he was a practiced kisser, though he learned fast, a corner of her brain mused as the rest dissolved into a pink and crimson haze. It was that he kissed, and touched, with a hundred percent of himself in the gestures - the kiss was hungry, but patient, as he savored each tiny movement of her body, each sigh of response. He was mapping her, playfully experimenting to find just the right pressure of lips and tongue and teeth to make her gasp. Jason felt hands lock into his hair again, the almost painful tug at his scalp serving as a delightful counterpoint to the warm, sweet softness of Autumn’s mouth. His arm around her waist drew her closer yet, pressing her body to him as the two teens turned more towards each other. His free hand found itself gliding over the outside of Autumn’s thigh, feeling her warmth through the jeans before coming to rest on her hip, his touch gently teasing above her waistband, sensitive fingers exploring the smooth skin under the edge of her t-shirt. Finally the kiss broke, both of them breathing hard, both of their features at least somewhat flushed as they leaned their foreheads together, gazing into each other’s eyes. “So…” Autumn’s voice was husky as she studied the green pools of fire she wanted to plunge into and be consumed by. “Any other rules?” “There were some.” Jase’s voice was likewise low and a little taut with contained desire, his lips twitching in a smile. “But you distracted me before I could formulate them, and now I’ve forgotten.” “Oh.” The redhead was not at all contrite, smiling back at him. “I made you forget something? It couldn’t have been that important then.” “Utterly trivial.” Jase agreed, breathing deeply as he let his gaze play over her reddened lips, her adorable freckles and finally the blue waters of her gaze, deep and warm. “First rule was pretty stupid too.” “Hmm,” came the quiet, somewhat serious reply, as though Autumn were considering whether to agree with him. For someone who hadn’t liked the idea of being touched by other people, Jason’s responsiveness to simple physical contact was a little surprising, she mused, her smile softening a little at the almost imperceptible movement of his eyelids, his dark lashes fluttering slightly at the sensation of her hands moving through his hair. ...Then again, maybe it was the quality of the contact itself, the context, the nature of the connection it imparted. Fascinated by his reaction, she kept her eyes on his- relishing the warmth and heat there, the flash of citrine and emerald somewhere deep below the surface- and exhaled slowly, her breath trembling with the effort of remaining focused. “Not stupid,” the young woman murmured, her voice low and soft as her fingertips threaded themselves delicately through Jase’s shaggy, fire-bronzed mane, tracing the near-perfect symmetry of the outer curve of his ears and the sides of his throat. “Maybe just… not my favorite.” She wanted to kiss him again; it would only require a token gesture, little more than a tilt of her head. Their lips were practically touching already, she realized abruptly, as her hands drifted down to his chest and she felt the sudden intake of his breath inches from her mouth. “I’m sure we can figure something out, keep you from ruining your reputation,” she continued, all but transfixed by the way his eyes changed even as she watched. “Stupid.” he reaffirmed, feeling drunk off her breath on his lips. This closeness was dizzying - not merely the proximity but the intimacy inseparable from this most simple and primal of wants. He raised a hand to gently caress her cheek with the backs of his fingers as he drew in a breath that tremored, just a little. He was very aware of her hands on his chest, which in turn felt his heart thump like a bass drum against the taut skin and sinew of his frame. It wasn’t nervousness - couldn’t be nervousness. Rather he felt so alive that he would burst, as though his lean body was too narrow a channel to contain the surging passion that stirred and uncoiled. In his eyes, the copper flecks became fireflies, catching the light of the fire as well as flaring with some inner furnace. She kissed him then, leaning in against her hands on his chest and pressing her lips to his for a long, languorous moment, delighting in the way his breath caught yet again - that she was doing this to him, even as her own nerves sang and blazed with the sweetness of his return kisses and the feel of his warm palm on her cheek. Eventually their lips parted once more, and she smiled up at his face close to hers. “You sure you’ve not done this before?” she asked with a teasing arch of her brow, red-faced but smiling feeling his hand resting on her ass. Jase shook his head, his gaze intent on her face. “You are the first person I’ve made out with.” Jase replied, and she studied the subtle not-quite vibration in his manner, tension such as a steel hawser might be under on a suspension bridge. “Hey… Are you okay?” she asked, looking into his eyes, reassured somewhat by the way they regarded her that he wasn’t having second thoughts. He seemed very serious, as though struggling with something. “It’s… a lot.” he allowed with a small smile. “I feel like my whole Being is pulled as tight as a bowstring. I feel a little out of control and crazy” He breathed deeply, letting the breath out in a soft sigh. “I hope that’s normal.” Given his enthusiasm, the intensity with which he’d reciprocated every kiss, every touch and shared breath, it had been easy for her to forget how confusing and overwhelming it could be- even for someone with a more conventional way of interacting with the world. The warm pink of her cheeks deepened as she remembered exactly how strong those desires had felt earlier, and a part of her wondered what it was like for him. Did he actually analyze everything as it happened, or just sort of… go with it? He’d mentioned needing to keep everything carefully controlled, not to let his… what did he call them?- proto-emotions, his urges, override his reason, so how did that work in a situation like this? She couldn’t begin to even guess, although it might be interesting to ask later, when they weren’t so… Distracted. “Very normal,” she nodded, taking his hand in hers and pressing it gently against her chest, marveling inwardly at the length of his fingers curving over her collarbone. At the very least, if she couldn’t write a thesis on the subject of mutual desire and surging hormones, she could demonstrate the principle. “See?” He could feel the pounding of Autumn’s heart through her shirt, the staccato rhythm quickening just before she leaned forward and brushed her lips across his. It was more caress than kiss, and yet that fleeting whisper of contact was enough to send a shower of sparks flaring behind her eyes and a rush of warmth across the surface of her skin. “It is a lot, yeah. Even for me,” the blushing redhead admitted quietly, lowering her forehead to Jase’s shoulder, “like earlier. I just...” She shrugged a little, her free hand sliding down to his side, exhaling against the hollow of his throat. “I couldn’t think about anything else, you know? Or maybe I shouldn’t call it ‘thinking,’ exactly. It’s, um… Mmmm,” she hummed, a quiet little murmur of pleasure at the subtle, clean scent of his skin, his hair as she breathed. “Totally, completely normal.” Hey. Focus. Not a sex maniac, remember? She grimaced a little in protest at the intrusive thought, leaning back in an attempt to extricate herself from the seductive combination of sensual impressions enveloping her- the slightly ticklish feel of Jase’s fingers on her waist, the faint smell of the soap he used mingled with something intrinsic to his own chemistry, the heat of his body pressed against hers. For a long moment, the only sounds were the occasional snap of the campfire and the distant drone of insects in the trees, and Autumn drew in a slow, deliberate breath, giving herself a count of four to steady the racing of her heartbeat against his palm… and then another. “If it’s too weird,” she managed throatily, glancing up at him through the pale red-gold of her lashes, “or too much, or too fast, or… too anything- now, or next time, or whenever- would you tell me?” Swallowing both the urge to go further and the attendant nervousness of naked honesty, she added, “Because… There are a lot of things I would really, really like to do with you, and none of them are less intense than this.” “Same.” he murmured, his voice low, almost throaty. He blinked, then smiled a little self-deprecatingly. “Let me try that with words: I feel the same. The key word being ‘feel’. It’s- no, you’re kind of… amazing?” he finished with a tiny grin. “Seriously.” Autumn stared up at him for a moment, feeling like her face would never cool down. Was this her fate, to go through... however long she dated Jason Effing Bannon... the shade of a tomato and with the urge to grin like an idiot? And was it bad that she didn’t mind that at all? She leaned forward and rested her forehead against his collarbone, nuzzling her face against him as her arms wrapped closely around him. Turning her head to press against his chest, hearing the drum of his heart and acutely aware of his hand on her breastbone, seeming to sear her even through the cotton of her t-shirt. He ran his other hand up her spine to the nape of her neck, softly running his fingers through her glory of red-gold waves, a touch that was as gentle as it was sensual. “I will always tell you if something is too much.” he promised soberly. “And count on you to do likewise. Because this is an all-new type of hunger for me to explore, and I have an active imagination as well as a small library of works on sensuality stored in my mind.” His lips curved in a mischievous smile as they dipped to brush against her ear, his voice keeping to a low murmur.. “I’m curious how far down you blush. I want to hear you whimper my name more. I want to taste your skin and spend whole days learning how best to drive you out of your mind through touch. I want to devour you.” His teeth gently nibbled at her earlobe as his voice dropped even lower to a whisper. “Metaphorically speaking, of course. It’s not too late to run.” Fucking hell, where did he learn that? had been the initial, shocked reaction to the tickle of Jase’s breath against her ear, a line of white heat arcing down her spine in galvanic response; either he was dramatically understating the scope of the “small library” in his head, or he was a terrifyingly, devastatingly, thrillingly quick study. Never had anyone ever sent actual shivers racing through her body with words alone, but something about his tone combined with the inescapably direct way he gave voice to his desires… He meant it, Autumn realized, breath catching in her throat even as she tilted her head, heightening the exquisite rasp of his teeth grazing her skin. It wasn’t flirting, or some kind of posturing in an attempt to sound sexy or daring. He genuinely wanted to do those things and- this was the part that melted her insides into so much molten, liquid flame- he wanted to do them to her. And, ohhhhh, did she want him to. Turning to face the one being she knew to be more dangerous than mundane wolves, or nightmarish hellbeasts, or even ageless dragons, Jason Bannon’s girlfriend had shifted her position slightly, settling one knee on either side of his hips as he murmured against her ear- “It’s not too late to run.” -and paused. Autumn didn’t so much stiffen in his arms as straighten intently, the muscles in her torso elongating slightly with the slow, deliberate change in her posture. She hadn’t pulled away; he could feel the soft press of her breasts against him, the tension in her thighs as they brought her upright to meet his gaze. The turbulent blue-grey of her eyes, alternately shadowed and illuminated by the flickering gold of the firelight, met Jason’s with a glimmer of recognition as she leaned back, the corners of her mouth describing a faint curve. The young woman pressed almost bodily against him wasn’t glancing coyly in his direction, deflecting the taunt with laughter, or trying to pin him with a half-hearted glare: her gaze was direct, open, and in that moment, wholly unafraid. “You’re absolutely right,” she agreed, watching his eyes on her face with a sense of growing anticipation that carried over into the phantom smile playing about her lips. “Did you want a head start?” The pause was tiny, microbial in scale as lambent green eyes, dancing with firelight both reflected and internal, regarded her from a face that was almost statue-like in its immobility. Beyond the playfulness and honesty, beyond his desire for Autumn and the pleasure he took in her company, there was a depth in Bannon’s soul which she’d brushed against before - hence his interest in the lively redhead - but now she had sounded most thoroughly. A creature alien to fear, he did find it interesting to study in others, and those he approved of the most were those who had the strength of desire - be it for knowledge, or other things - to overcome it. Autumn was steadfast in her efforts to confront her fear, boldly stepped into the dark to see what might be there and to learn of it. How many teens- hell, how many adults did he know capable of that so consistently? She didn’t care that it scared her, or made her uncomfortable - or more correctly she would never let that alone stop her. “I get the impression I’d not make it very far.” Autumn’s boyfriend replied, playfulness mingling with the hungry fire in his gaze, though his features were composed - save for the flush of his own arousal darkening his already-tan face. That wasn’t the only clue to his arousal, either, a fact Autumn was pleasantly, nay searingly aware of in her current situation. “Mmm, probably not.” Autumn shifted a little and not with the aim of getting comfortable, thrilling at the sudden darkness of his gaze as his pupils dilated and the way he tried to hide the sucked-in breath. Her hands on his chest felt his pulse jump and she grinned, leaning forward and pressing against him. “You’d just tire yourself out, and that would be a shame.” She leaned closer and nipped at his chin. “For both of us.” “Unless I cheated.” he agreed with an offhand air, leaning back on his hands to support her weight against him, even as he trailed invisible fingertips over her scalp and down her spine under the shirt before smoothly caressing around her waist and up over her ribs, grazing the material of the bathing top she still wore. It was her turn to gasp now, the pressure teasingly brief and causing her to catch her bottom lip between her teeth as it ended, her gaze half-lidded on his. “But that would be a shame too, when there are far more fun things I can direct my energies towards.” He brought his hands up then, sliding them around Autumn’s waist as he rolled back to lay with her atop him as their lips came together once more. He was acutely aware of her body, the mixture of strength of her arms as they hooked around his neck and the soft pressure of her breasts against him, the scent of her flaming fall of hair surrounding their faces, the taste of her tongue on his. His hands glided up where his telekinetic ‘hands’ had gone before, warm fingertips grazing the bikini top, then slipping underneath the bottom edge, his touch exploratory yet unhesitating as he caressed the soft white skin he found there, delighting in the texture as well as in the soft sounds she made into their kiss. Slowly, he ceded more control over his conscienceless, amoral Want for this girl, letting that core of fire out of its icy chains to spill over into every heated press of his lips that claimed Autumn’s before tracing the line of her jaw. There was something to be said for the virtue of patience. ...Something. Probably. By someone else, at some other time- an old, dead Greek maybe- but not by Autumn Keane, and certainly not when the warm, deft fingers of someone she desperately wanted to be naked with in the firelight were moving over her skin. “It’s not cheating if I let you do it,” she murmured against Jase’s mouth with a grin, and then promptly shivered, her breath a sharp hiss drawn through even white teeth as the pads of his questing thumbs brushed across the points of her nipples. As a cascade of bright, hot sparks erupted within her at his touch, her hips rocked against him in an involuntary spasm, eliciting another quick breath at the feel of his body between her thighs. The tip of her tongue sought his, and then, restlessly, the angle of his jaw, the base of his earlobe; reaching back with one hand, the impatient redhead tugged at the knots securing her bikini top, unceremoniously pulling it through the collar of her shirt and tossing it nearby. Beneath the relentless exploration of Jason’s hands, her pale skin was aflame, his fingertips leaving searing trails in their wake that melted through her veins to pool, molten and liquid, in the center of her being. Everything was warmth and need- heat coursing through her every nerve, light burning behind her eyelids, the hunger to consume and be consumed in turn almost all-encompassing in the forefront of Autumn’s mind. There was no way to touch him enough, to be satisfied with the slightly salty taste of his skin on her tongue, or the quiet rumble of his voice against her ear when her teeth followed the same line across his shoulder in a series of tiny nips and breathless kisses. She braced herself over him on one forearm, the thick tumble of her hair around them catching the light of the fire, and tugged the hem of his shirt upward with her free hand, her gaze drifting from his eyes to the play of firelight over his skin. There was nothing soft about Jason Bannon, no excess or superfluity in the lean, spare muscle and sinew of his form, and yet Autumn’s fingers practically twitched with the desire to trace the sculpted lines of his torso, roving from his chest downward in a slow, inexorable descent of light, feathery strokes and the teasing rasp of her nails across his stomach. Her touch felt cool to his fevered skin, even whilst trailing greater heat in its wake, awakening nerves across his taut skin and causing his body to tense and his breathing to become more laboured. He felt her nipples against his palms, a sharp contrast to the softness of her high, firm breasts which his fingertips caressed with deliberation, learning which areas drew the deepest moans or loudest whimpers of passion from the living flame that undulated over him. A caress over her ribs that would have tickled a less-heated Autumn into giggles drew forth a plea-like invocation of his name cut off and muffled as she buried her open mouth against his shoulder, teeth scraping the skin there as her hips rolled against him in an almost bruising jerk and her fingertips dug into his stomach for purchase. She drew up and stared down at him, kiss-bruised lips slightly open and desire-drenched features suffuse with rose, and he smiled as he squirmed a little, lifting his shirt up and off over his head without much difficulty before returning his hands to her waist, caressing the skin there.
  11. 3 points
    The second time he said her name, the words themselves barely managing to pierce the heady fog of desire clouding her thoughts, it finally registered that Jase was actually saying something of import. “Fuck,” she swore with quiet intensity, stiffening slightly in his arms as she struggled to focus on something, anything other than the heat of his body and the feel of his hands anchoring her to him. As much as Autumn wanted to rail against his appeal to sanity, to protest that she didn’t care and it was fine, she did and it wasn’t. That was the reality of the situation. Of fucking course he didn’t have condoms. Why would he? She’d invited him out to go camping, for crying out loud, which was exactly why she hadn’t brought any, either. Suddenly acutely aware of the fact that she’d maybe almost just had sex with Jason Bannon, that she had definitely wanted to, and that she actually had just totally been all over him- that she was still all over him- the redhead squeezed her eyes shut, burying her face against his shoulder. “Yeah,” she murmured, quiet resignation in the soft, slightly raspy reply as she caught her breath. “Me, either.” Where scorching need retreated, the cold, unfamiliar sting of self-consciousness crept in, and yet Autumn found herself clinging to him still, wrapping her arms tightly around his chest and selfishly committing every nuance of Jason’s physical presence to memory as best she could. Whatever happened next, this moment, this feeling at least, was hers. “C’mon,” she sighed when she couldn’t stand it any longer, lifting her head and gently tapping his side in a bid to be set down. “Dinner should be almost done. I’ll grab napkins.” She hadn’t actually died earlier; she sort of wished she could now. He caught her eye, easy enough as he was still holding her off the ground and their eyes were roughly level, and she realised he was studying her expression with a calm concern in his gaze, almost clinical if it weren’t for the residual warmth still there. “Hey.” he said softly. “This isn’t ‘not happening’, it’s just ‘to be continued’.” He examined her face a little more, eyes lingering on her kiss-reddened lips and flushed cheeks, then smiled slightly as he met her eyes again. “That is,” he said more quietly, “if you want it to.” Autumn blinked, startled at his suggestion, then licked her lips, nodding as the high color in her cheeks deepened further. "Yeah," she replied so quietly it was scarcely more than a whisper. "Yeah, I really do." His smile widened a little, and he gently kissed her lips as he lowered her to the ground, her legs reluctantly releasing his waist so her feet could touch down. The pretty redhead made a soft little sound, her arms tightening around his chest as though to hold herself up for a moment before she finally relaxed her grip and, smiling now, slowly stepped away on legs that felt more than a little shaky. Jason kept his hands on her waist for a moment longer, his gaze somewhere between warm and unreadable as he watched her take a couple of coltish steps towards the fire before her equilibrium returned. “Good.” Jase said as he moved to join her by the fire, calling a bottle of water to his hand and cooling it with a thought, condensation forming on the sides of the plastic before her eyes as he unscrewed the lid and went to take a sip, then paused, considering for a moment before offering it to her. She gratefully took a drink and passed the bottle back with a smile, took a moment to tie her hair back for safety, then crouched to check the foil packages. “Because,” the emerald-eyed monster said as he sat beside her, watching what she was doing keenly. He grinned, studying her profile and the curve of her hips in her jeans. “I think we’ll need to be further away from your house. Sound carries, especially at night. And though I’m no expert, I’m thinking it’ll be sort of loud. Noisy, even.” She should be immune to this stuff by now, Autumn reflected as she felt a heat in her face that had nothing to do with the fire. For heaven’s sakes, she wasn’t a virginal choirgirl. She’d just been climbing him like a stepladder, had felt his body reacting to hers as much as hers reacting to his. And yet with a line that from any other boy would have been met with an eye-roll and a ‘sure, buddy’ snort he could set fire to her skin. Hell, he could do that with a look. “Make yourself useful and fish these parcels out of the coals.” she said over her shoulder at him, trying to narrow her eyes sternly and having the effect ruined by the mirthful sparkle in their depths. “If you insist.” Jase smiled, then gestured in unnecessary theatricality, the two packages gliding from the coals and coming to rest on the ring of stones around the edge of the firepit. Shifting position to kneel beside Autumn as she turned to grab napkins, he deftly brushed errant embers from the parcels and then carefully opened them. Fragrant steam billowed forth, and both teens heard each other’s stomachs growl as the scent of herbs, butter and garlic mixed with the smell of cooked meat and vegetables. “Damn.” Jase nodded approval. “Smells good. Worth remembering this trick.” Taking another sniff appreciatively, he settled back and watched Autumn, taking another drink of water. “It is,” she agreed pleasantly. “I have a fork if you want it, by the way. If you let it cool a little, the pieces are also big enough to just eat with your fingers.” Glancing back at him again, Autumn grinned. “That’s how we did it at Girl Scout Camp. Bunch of eight-year-old girls sitting around a fire, singing songs and stuffing our faces like savages. Good times. Oh,” she added, as if an afterthought, then leaned over Jase’s shoulder where he sat near the fire. “And you did bring up a good point. About the sound, I mean.” When he turned to regard her with the arched brow that- in her mind- was rapidly becoming emblematic of the detached, analytical young genius, a very un-Girl-Scout-like smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “So I guess I’ll just have to think of a good way to keep you quiet,” the mischievous young redhead murmured as a fresh wave of crimson stained her cheeks, and then kissed him again- briefly, but in earnest. It was the same as before- from that single point of contact a spark flared into life, spreading liquid heat through her veins that had nothing whatsoever to do with the nearby fire. Having succumbed to the temptation to kiss him once already, the impulse to do it again was almost irresistible- but, then again, she hadn’t really tried to resist it in the first place, had she? ...And, truthfully, she wasn’t entirely sure she would be able to stop kissing him if she got started again, especially not when he was looking at her that way. Reluctantly, Autumn managed to tear herself away and headed to the cooler to grab something very, very cold to drink. Is this okay? she wondered, grimacing a little as she rummaged in the ice for another bottle of water. Unpleasant as the chill felt, the frigid water was bracing, clearing away some of the residual endorphins. She hadn’t just almost kissed Jason Bannon this time, the mere thought of which had kept her up most of the night a week prior. Autumn couldn’t help but feel a twinge of uncertainty over the lingering sensation of physical need: she didn’t exactly have a great number of friends, and this definitely complicated things. The last guy she’d been involved with had also started as a friend, and tacking “with benefits” on, and the sort of weird presumption that they were then dating, had kind of… ended badly, and she wasn’t interested in a repeat performance of that particular show. Jase was Jase, though, not Jacob, the blue-eyed young woman reminded herself. Pulling a full bottle from the cooler, she twisted the cap off and nudged the lid closed with her elbow, turning back to find him watching her again. In spite of herself, she smiled a little, swiping the fork she’d mentioned from a small collection of tools nearby and heading back to the blanket to wait for their dinner to cool. Whether it was actually a bad idea or not… it was nice having him there, she decided. Maybe not peaceful exactly, but interesting. Challenging. Fun. They ate in relative silence for awhile, Jase using the fork at first but then setting it aside and copying Autumn, plucking morsels from the parcel with his fingers and popping them into his mouth with relish. He ate with evident enjoyment, taking his time to enjoy the meal as he sat facing his… girlfriend? Was that right? Did the term fit? Or perhaps that was something formally acknowledged, rather than implied. How strange it felt, rolling the term around the crystalline halls of his mind. A friend who happened to be a girl was nothing new. Lilly, Avalon, even Clara and Marissa fell into that category. Of all of them Autumn was the one who’d most sought to comprehend him: though the others had certainly made efforts, ranging from sincere to token, to understand facets of him, or why he did a specific thing, Autumn was the one who’d sat down and wanted to try and understand as much as possible. The act of observation changes both the observer and the observed - a standard principle of physics, and perhaps it was no different here. Thermodynamics of trust and desire, he mused, chewing a tender piece of sirloin. In order to observe me, she had to let herself be observed in turn, and that act of observing her fear caused me to wish to lessen it… Why? Trust given by a friend should be treasured, that is the code. And how do we treasure trust? - we extend it in turn. “You’re staring at me.” Autumn said as she finished taking a drink, smiling warmly at him. “I’m watching you.” He replied calmly, the corners of his eyes crinkling a little. And he was - the entire time he’d been working on analysing his responses he’d been storing every little detail of her, and this moment. “Does it bother you?” “No. Yes.” she laughed a little, her cheeks rosing again. “I do wonder what you see, though.” "Something unexpected, but welcome. Alchemy of sorts. In just a week, suspicion and fear on your part and detachment on mine have transmuted into friendship, trust..." he smiled at her, his eyes taking on that faint hungry quality that warmed their coldness. "Desire." An answering warmth rose in her cheeks and she nodded, glancing down at the food in her hands with a grin of pleasure at the memory. "Unexpected, definitely. Not that I minded, I guess. I mean, obviously." The red-haired girl laughed at that, hazarding a look at her companion through the fringe of her lashes. "But, yeah. I have to admit, I'm having more fun than I thought I would." The firelight flickered across his lean, high cheek-boned face and reflected in his eyes as he nodded soberly, the faint smile still playing around the corners of his mouth as he regarded the rose tinting her freckled ivory features. "It is fun. You're fun - and not just to tease, but to talk with - and to kiss. And to think I was on the verge of swearing off physical relations altogether not long ago." he added with a wry quirk of one corner of his lips. "Swearing them off?" Autumn blinked incredulously at him as she leaned forward, eyes wide and faintly luminous in the warm glow of the nearby flames. "Without even knowing what it was like, without even experiencing..." She shook her head, her free hand gesturing expansively at the world outside the faint ring of firelight. "Any of it? Why?" "Pique, perhaps." His smile widened a little at her reaction, head tilting to one side as he considered. "Monday was a bad day before you showed up. Bear in mind I was also on the verge of leaving Shelly after scorching a big ‘fuck you’ into the sports field: my mood was... poor." He finished with a slight understatement. Sitting here, that state of mind, that cold anger and disdain and the sense of being just done with it all, seemed very far away. In fact, as he studied Autumn's shining blue eyes, he was aware of a flicker of warmth that was unusual, something he took at first to be the embers of the recent flare of desire - but possessed of a different quality. "Anyway, I’d find abstinence pretty tough now. Thanks to you, I get what all the shouting is about" "...before you showed up." The idea that she had helped- that despite being utterly terrified of the brooding and dangerous young man and totally out of her depth, she had somehow still made an awful day a little better- was every bit as warming, as gratifying as the glimmer of interest in his pale green eyes. Before Monday, if he had disappeared, she would've been more worried about reprisals or delayed vengeance than why he'd gone, or whether he was all right. Now, though, things were... different. She grinned around a mouthful of steak as he grew quiet again, meeting his gaze with an expression that was equal parts mischief and promise, and shook her head once more- slowly, deliberately. "No. Not yet, you don't. That was just a kiss." He didn’t blush, merely blinked once, then cocked his head slightly to one side and smiled at her, raising an eyebrow. The redhead pursed her lips, considering. “You don’t get flustered, do you? I am never going to see you blush, or be lost for words.” “Embarrassment isn’t something I feel. I do experience a pause as my train of thought gets derailed, but there’s no real flustering there. I blink, adapt, and that’s it.” Jase tilted the foil packet at one end, draining the juices from the meat and vegetables into his mouth, then licked his fingers clean. “You blinked just now. So… I derailed your train of thought.” Autumn smiled widely, trying not to focus on his tongue cleaning his fingers. “I’m claiming that as a win.” “I blinked earlier too, when you said my pheromones were fine and again when you called me amazing.” Jason corrected evenly. Autumn went red as she recalled, looking down at her meal abashedly. “Well… Yes. You are.” She said, glancing at him through her lashes. “And they are.” “So it seems.” he nodded, folding the foil into a square, then wiping his hands dry on a napkin, his eyes never leaving her features. “Soooo, that’s three blinks, which I am claiming as blushes, for me.” Autumn pronounced, lifting her chin in triumph. “Versus twenty-three for me.” The Effing One returned. “Including full blushes, times lost for words, and those delightful little blushes where just your cheeks go rosy.” “Doesn’t matter.” Autumn tossed her head, smiling even as another of the aforementioned little blushes stained her skin. “I’m a redhead, a girl, and with a normal brain. You are Bannon, Greatest and Chiefest of Calamities. A blink from you is worth… twenty blushes. At least.” He rubbed his chin as though considering that, his eyes narrowing, then nodded. “I suppose, seeing as it’s the price of being amazing.” he said with a faint sigh, as though conceding a defeat. Autumn giggled around a mouthful of food, nodding in agreement, and he smiled at her. A sudden notion struck him and, evaluating it in a split second, he saw no reason not to go with it. “So, assuming you haven’t gotten tired of my amazing self by then, would you go to the Homecoming Dance with me? As my girlfriend, I mean." he clarified. “That…” she began slowly, the expression on her freckled features a curious mixture of surprise and confusion. “Out of all the questions I would ever have expected you to ask me, that one wasn’t on the list.” “Really?” Jason seemed mildly curious about that, his head tilting slightly to one side as he regarded her. “I suppose it was presumptive of me. It came to me while we were eating - we get along well, we are different enough to be interesting to one another, I enjoy talking with you a surprising amount…” “Surprising, huh?” Autumn narrowed her eyes at him as she finished her own meal, wiping her hands on a napkin as she set the folded foil in the trash bag. “Surprising, how?” What, had he expected to be bored? “I don’t usually enjoy talking to most people this much.” he said with a small smile. “It’s something I do, because it’s necessary as part of the interaction. But with you it’s entertaining - and not just because you blush like a sunset. You’re lively, emotionally honest and open, enthusiastic about life. You have an active mind: you’re curious and not content with just banal explanations - in that we’re very alike. I think you’ve a lot of very attractive qualities.” His smile widened slightly, his gaze studying her features intently with a heat in its depths that caused Autumn’s stomach to tighten. “And our chemistry seems to be… compatible.” Autumn had been trying resolutely not to blush under that scrutiny and his words, though she’d felt the heat rising in her face regardless as her blue eyes studied his features in turn. When he mentioned their chemistry, the blush burst its dam and coloured her cheeks deep rose, though she didn’t look away. Yes, she wanted him. Her lips remembered that last kiss just before they ate - her body remembered that kiss, short and sweet as it had been. And judging by the way he looked at her, with an intent unveiled hunger in his eyes as they met hers that - her feminine intuition screamed - had nothing to do with his stomach, he felt that too. The look wasn’t affected, she realised. It was raw desire without conscience, shame or hesitation, and the force of it was making her breath catch. “Okay.” she managed. “But I thought you didn’t date.” She had to deflect his attention a little, deflect that gaze that heated her like he was setting her on fire - metaphorically and in the best way possible. “I didn’t.” Jase shrugged, his smoulder relenting a little as he took a drink of water. “I was wearing a mask, hiding myself and keeping everyone at arm's length. Dating would have been counterproductive.” “That’s one reason.” Autumn said with a faint air of triumph. “Hmm?” “Don’t ‘hmm’ me, Bannon the Impenetrable. Three reasons - don’t think I’ve not been paying attention. You always have three reasons.” Her gaze met his challengingly, and she was gratified to see a flash of white teeth as he grinned. “Very well - I also didn’t feel the need for physical connection before.” he allowed, smiling at her with a good-natured gleam in his eyes. “It just seemed… irrelevant before the summer. I didn’t like people touching me, and whilst I liked looking at pretty girls, it was more aesthetic than carnal.” “Late bloomer.” Autumn teased, smiling. Jase nodded, shrugging a shoulder as he smiled back. “Hopefully worth the wait.” he said slyly. “And the third reason was Marissa.” “Right.” Autumn blinked, feeling a dash of cold water to the brain at the mention of that name. “Don’t you love her, or something?” Jason sighed at that, a pensive look entering his eyes as he looked up, watching sparks from the fire rising into the air. “I do - I’ve been drawn to her for a long time. But I’m not going to hang around pining for her - I’m not even sure she’s a wise choice for me. She has made it plain she will never seek to understand me beyond the limits of her own fear. Perhaps that will change - but that is entirely up to her. Any further discussion will come from her initiation.” “So… You’ve moved on?” Autumn blinked. “Yes. I plan to live and enjoy the experience, like I said in my kitchen on Monday. While the matter of Marissa’s true feelings works itself out, one way or the other.” “One way or the other?” “Yes. Either she likes me in truth, but she’s playing a game or doesn’t know her own mind, in which case she’s going to need to grow up and elevate her thinking a little. Or it will come to light she has no special attraction to me or can never accept me - in which case I shall treat the whole matter as a learning experience.” “Wow. I mean, yeah that makes perfect logical sense, but still…” Autumn peered at her stoic friend. “And you don’t feel sad, or angry, or anything?” Jason said nothing, just shook his head with his eyes on hers. The redhead sat back slightly, considering him with slightly narrowed eyes. Bannon. Dating Bannon. Jase as a boyfriend - not just a friend with bennies, but a for-real, dating… “What does being a boyfriend or girlfriend mean to you?” she asked earnestly, leaning forward again. He looked thoughtful. “Someone who is a good friend, who you are also attracted to and want to make space in your life for.” he answered in a measured tone. “I see a lot of high school couples who don’t really seem to be friends at all - they just ‘date’ which, from overheard conversation, seems to be only hanging out together to fumble in each other’s clothes. Not that I don’t see the attraction, but what I picture is something less… casual? As I said, we seem to get along really well. I like you, and I trust you. And you’ve said similar to me.” He smiled faintly. “And I really, really like kissing you. I just want to see where all that goes, if it could lead anywhere, rather than assuming it means nothing.”
  12. 3 points
    He’d blinked as she announced his pheromones were ‘fine’, though a smile curved his lips as he watched her pace, gesture and speak, her exuberance as warming as the campfire. She obviously felt the same way as he did about his gifts, and the display of enthusiastic and active imagination was… reassuring. He wasn’t alone in how he felt about these things, he mused with a smile. He got to his feet, stretching muscles still a little taut from the horseplay in the creek earlier, just as Autumn finished her passionate statement. “What you can do, how natural it is for you, that’s- it’s amazing. You’re amazing, you know?” He blinked again, pausing mid-stretch to gaze at Autumn. He’d never really heard such sentiment from others before. There’d been implied praise, respect or admiration once or twice - more often had been the sensation that his nature daunted others, scared them. But never such unreserved warm sentiment, boldly expressed. He studied her as she stood, hands still resting on her loosely tied back red-gold tumble of hair, frozen for a moment as she realised he’d turned that laser-focused attention to her and replayed the last few moments in her head, her blue eyes widening as a faint blush spread across her pale features, suffusing the skin under the freckles with rose. “Um… For a cheater, that is.” she managed without much conviction as he straightened up, still regarding her expressionlessly, a corner of his mouth quirking as she tried to look everywhere but at him and failed. “So… My pheromones are fine?” he asked, the smile growing a little as he remembered what Hank had said, only a few days ago: I say she looked interested. Not 'tongue-hanging out' interested, but probably wouldn't say no to a movie and burger. “Oh god… shut up!” Autumn groaned, her hands coming down from her head and covering her face. Of course he’d focus on that to tease her. “I didn’t mean- I meant- Ugh!” “It’s okay.” Jason’s voice came from closer to her, and she lowered her hands hastily to see him standing nearby, within arm’s reach, studying her with an expression in his eyes that was equal parts warmth and interest, his gaze depthless. He’d moved as always with that neat, silent grace that was as mildly disturbing as it was impressive. “I like you too, you know.” Which was true. She wasn’t Marissa, but the comparison was as between a rose and an orchid - you couldn’t judge one by the merits of the other. He’d loved Mari, but she was unavailable, by her own insistence and choice. Marissa’s loyalty and feelings shifted like a leaf in the gale of her own volatile fears and insecurities, devoid of objective logic - she was perhaps only truly loyal to her brother. Autumn might not have been as objectively beautiful, regal or captivating, but she had energetic vitality and warmth, a charisma of her own that was all her own. And she was honest, brave and constant - weighing instinctive fear against reason and balancing the two. As he considered her as a person, so too did he consider her physically. She was healthy, attractive - with that fiery red hair and deep blue eyes, with pink lips the same shade as her blushing cheeks... and, he realised as he applied his rudimentary people skills to her manner, she was attracted to him. He’d never admit it to Hank, but privately he marvelled that his friend had possibly been right. Which was strange, since Autumn was one of the most well-adjusted of his circle of friends and associates. She knew him like few others did, understood him like few others had bothered to try to do… and she still was attracted to him. How interesting. “When I do learn to fly properly, you are invited to be the first passenger.” he added with a smile, taking a step closer and reaching up to tug a stray strand of her hair back from her face, his fingers gentle and warm on her cheek as he took yet another step closer, looking down into her eyes. There was no wicked mirth in his gaze now, no teasing crookedness to the warmth of his smile. He seemed very intent on her, as though approaching a skittish young horse, his eyes studying her lips, her features, her eyes. “I promise, I won’t let you fall.” Oh, god, was all she could think. I’m dead, aren’t I? Autumn was beginning to lose count of the number of times Jason Bannon had killed her, stopping her heart with embarrassment and shock, or stilling the breath in her lungs with fear and anxiety… But this was an altogether new kind of death, and had she possessed his clarity of remembrance, it was one she’d gladly have re-lived over and over again- sweet and sharp and hot as it spread through her veins, drowning her endlessly in the fathomless green of his eyes. It was fundamentally unfair, the effect just a look could inspire without any special effort on his part at all. First, they were friends, which meant that, all teasing and joking aside, there were rules that couldn’t be broken...There were rules, weren’t there? Boundaries that couldn’t be uncrossed? She felt sure that there were, which made the slow, inexorable progress of dying this time more agonizing than all the others. Second, by his own admission, he had never dated. He had confessed, without reticence or rancor, that he loved Marissa- in the present-tense, not past. He’d spoken at some length about his difficulty understanding people, how they related to one another, how to read them, so there was no doubt in the mind of his new friend… He didn’t know. He had absolutely no clue what he was doing to her right now; how could he, when he’d never experienced it? He couldn’t possibly be aware how devastating those eyes were at close range, couldn’t have intentionally weaponized the curve of his lips when he smiled- couldn’t conceivably have calculated the precise angle at which to tilt his head, the timbre of his laugh, the exact pressure of his fingertips, or the faint scent of his shampoo, lingering even after the creek- “I know,” she managed from beyond the grave, only dimly recognizing the voice as her own. It was hard to concentrate on forming words when the rest of her brain was distracted with thoughts of what else her mouth should be doing instead. “You didn’t before, remember? I trust you.” And… she did. For all his strangeness, his distance, his inability to relate, for all the unease he could generate in herself and others, all the wrongs he’d done and that had been done to him… Autumn realized that she actually believed it. Trust was a big part of friendship, right? The silence that followed couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, but if time were measured instead by the rapid pounding of her heart against her ribs- loud enough in her ears to be heard from town- it would have taken roughly a year of her life. “See?” she asked finally, raking a hand back through her hair with a quiet, self-deprecating laugh. “No pheromone problem. They’re totally fine. So just, um- the flying thing. You promised, so, call me or something when it happens, okay?” He was aware of the elevation of his own heartbeat, a slight variance brought about by proximity and the wide, deep pools of Autumn’s eyes as they met his own. She was all warm shades - the faint tan of her freckles, the copper of her hair, the blood-tinged skin of her cheeks, all limned in flickering firelight, and Jason, with his new awareness of his nature, was conscious that within himself lay a deep hunger for that warmth, a want that was as aesthetic as it was biological, as carnal as it was cerebral. It was a powerful instinct, on par with his violent ones and just as merciless. He felt a faint ironic amusement that his mother hadn’t warned him about this one. There was no reason not to, that was the trouble - or rather, the answer. She obviously was attracted to him, didn’t have a boyfriend (that he knew or cared about). However he viewed Marissa, she had made it plain repeatedly that she could not, at least currently, comfortably grant him the kind of open emotional honesty, devoid of game-playing, that the young woman currently blushing before him could. And he did like Autumn personally - she was exuberant, curious, asked questions even when she was afraid of the answers. And he remembered when she’d held him, the feel of her fingers in his hair, just to take away the pain he’d not even realised he was experiencing, driving back the cold. He remembered how it had felt to realise that she had charged in to help defend him. “I’ll do that.” he murmured, aware that he was likely once more risking rejection, risking a friendship, but nevertheless his fingers on her cheek became a warm palm-caress as he dipped his head towards hers. He remembered Devin’s advice - or the essence of it: to let her choose, and so he moved his face slowly towards hers, giving Autumn plenty of time to halt the process- He didn’t have to move very far as she leaned forward to meet him, the fingers of both hands tracing the sharp line of Jase’s jaw and threading through his dark hair. She’d been taught never to look away from dangerous creatures, but it didn’t really matter at this point, did it? She was already dead, and there was no need to think about trivial things like consequences. As her lower lip brushed against his, Autumn hmmmed quietly, a soft sound of pleasure in the back of her throat, and pulled him closer. It was as if the heat from the fire crackling nearby had been transferred into her skin, burning bright and hot but without pain, and when she pressed her lips to his- gently, but insistently- it was with every ounce of warmth she possessed. Again she kissed him, deeply and without haste, drinking in the feel and the scent of him in her arms- a leisurely, unhurried pursuit that nevertheless left her short of breath and trembling slightly with its intensity. Jason’s first ever kiss had been calculated, a deliberate measure to shock Clara into some kind of emotional reaction as much as curiousity about the sensation. His second - Marissa - had been an act of impulse, pushing past what he saw as mixed signals to try and coax truth through action rather than words. This, though, was utterly different. Autumn’s warm passion was, in its way, equal to his own. She had closed the distance between their lips, her own hunger forming the circuit that now lit up his nerve-endings. It was unlike anything he had experienced before. It was, in fact, his first true kiss, no purpose or motive other than the kiss itself. His hands slid down and around Autumn’s waist as she leaned up and into him, her t-shirt riding up a little allowing his slender fingers to glide over warm skin as he returned her kisses, absorbing lessons in each tiny movement of her lips and the sparkler-flares of sensation it set off down his spine before responding in kind, moving his lips against hers in motions that were at first tentative, yet as she hmmed and pressed against him grew bolder. His head span slowly, his normal sense of detachment, that separation from everyone dissipating like frost in sunlight as his mouth opened in response to hers and the overwhelming sense of connection, of feeling desire and of being desired, filled his veins with molten gold. Autumn’s fingers tightened instinctively in his hair, all rational thought and reservation transmuted into so much ash. First the tip of her tongue, then the edge of her teeth caught at Jase’s bottom lip, savoring the taste of his mouth as though the kiss were merely a precursor, the aperitif before hunger consumed them both. With a quiet whimper against his lips- not of protest, but frustration- her fingers skimmed down his back, tracing the length of his spine before sliding under the hem of his shirt and up again. They explored the taut, warm texture of his skin, the feeling of lean muscle shifting underneath, and though her attempts to press the length of her body any closer to his were hindered by physical limitation and the laws of consensual reality, the ardent young woman’s earnest efforts persisted. The sound of their breath and his own heartbeat was deafening to him, his entire world narrowing to focus on the girl shifting in his arms. Her touch on his skin made his breath catch as she pulled him against her, and on impulse he gave back the sensation, his hands sliding around to the curve of Autumn’s back and then upwards, feeling the strength there as the muscles of her waist and back tightened and relaxed in time with her movement and breathing. There was a sincere hunger in her kiss and in her embrace that resounded within him, found an answering need, his tongue gently teasing against the tip of hers in response. A response that might as well have been a spark to gunpowder, the kiss deepening so that they were practically breathing for each other now as Jason’s felt the roaring furnace of his core unfold, melting away the edges of his reason. With a faint grunt of effort, he slipped his hands down, over and under the taut curve of her ass and hoisted Autumn up so that her face was level with his own, if not slightly higher. On instinct, her strong legs went around his waist and she clung to him in turn as their lips and tongues danced, each lost in the taste of the other. A thought occurred to him and he acted on it, supporting her weight with a touch of his telekinetic gift to allow his hands to roam up her back once more, one hand coming up to tug away the hair-tie and allow her Titian locks to fall around her flushed features. A muffled squeak of surprise and delight escaped Autumn’s lips as Jase lifted her off the ground, and he felt, rather than saw, her smile against his mouth. It was so tantalizingly close to being enough, almost- but not quite. As the weight of her hair, all loose, tousled waves of red and gold fell around them, she leaned back slightly, and the eyes that regarded him with naked desire were dark as storms over the ocean. She swallowed hard, her fingertips moving, feather-light, down the sides of his face, over his well-kissed mouth, and across his shoulders. Exhaling, she dipped her head to his cheek, breath warm against his skin, as first her lips, then her teeth grazed his earlobe. More, some voiceless urge demanded, and she was only too willing to comply, trailing heated kisses down the side of his throat and gasping as her hips shifted against his abdomen, squeezing his waist with her thighs. Every inch of her, every atom, felt incandescent, aflame with a blazing need his touch seemed only to stoke; she wanted, needed him to know it, but the only word she could conjure in the chaotic surge of sensations was his name, murmured like a plea against his shoulder. The exertion of will, of self-control, was second nature to Jason. As he had previously explained to the girl currently moving against him in a most distracting way, there was no conscience or natural hesitation to his thought process, so presence of mind was as necessary to his liberty and survival as it was to the general good of people around him. He buried his face in the juncture of Autumn’s neck and shoulder, lips kissing the warm skin they found there as his hands gently yet urgently explored the athletic young woman’s back before going lower to her butt, clasping her tightly to him as he sought to anchor himself. He took a deep breath, which hindered his efforts at self control more than helped since all he could breathe in was Autumn, warm desire rising from her skin along with her body heat and the faint perfume of her deodorant. Her heart thudded against his past the thin barrier of their clothing and the warm softness of her breasts, and as she murmured his name the fire in his core roared up, flaring around the icy fastness of his thoughts. He had never wanted anything or anyone like he wanted her right now, to shuck the annoying clothes, to feel her warmth as close as two people could get. The blanket was right there, the fire was warm enough to take the faint chill from the air. They could… He could... ...Not fuck this up. Autumn trusted him, a thought which his mind seized onto, an anchor-point. He had no condoms - had not expected to need them and, in typical inexperienced fashion, didn’t carry an emergency couple in his wallet ‘just in case’. And his friend (whom he was very attracted to and desperately wanted in the worst way) probably didn’t have any either. She might not care now, judging by the whimpers of physical need and the way she was softly biting at his shoulder through the cloth of his t-shirt, but it was still not a good decision for her to take. It would have been a poor decision even if he had been a human man - with his ‘aggressively dominant genes’ (to coin his mother’s phrase), there were unknown quantities at play, and he needed more information before making a mistake. “Autumn.” His voice was so hoarse from lust that her name came out as a sort of growl at first, then he coughed and tried again, his cheek nuzzling against her hair. “Autumn. I don’t have any protection with me.” God she smelled good, and that rolling thing her hips were doing, her backside flexing under his hands… He didn’t want to let her go, but didn’t want this to go beyond their control right now either.
  13. 3 points
    And they did. As they got the campsite fit for purpose, Jase laid out the current theory of quantum forces as the underpinnings of all creation, including the massive gap in the theory as it stood right now. He then went on to explain how the existence of a subquantum layer of reality filled in that gap, providing a unifying force tying everything together. Then, with a few short examples from his observations of various members of the Fellowship’s gifts, he demonstrated how the psionic level of reality and the subquantum layer had to be one and the same, and that it was a layer where the normal rules of time, space and physics were malleable and subject to the will of the psionically gifted. Indeed, it could be considered the level of reality that consciousness and willpower existed on. The realm of the soul, for want of a better word. By the time the exploration into the foundations of all reality was over, Jase was sitting by a crackling fire that had been laid in the pit Autumn had cleaned out as the flame-haired girl paced around the campsite. The contrast between them was notable - one a picture of stillness between one considered, purpose-laden movement and the next, the other constantly shifting in restless tandem with the activity of her mind as it took everything in. The afternoon had progressed into early evening, though there was still plenty of light from the sun as it dipped towards the horizon. “So.” Jase leaned back on his elbows, raising a brow at Autumn as the firelight danced on his composed features. “I won’t ask if you have any questions, because I know I still do and I’m pretty sure you’re not that easily satisfied either. But does the explanation help, at least?” Something about the act of just moving around made it easier for her to focus. While the rest of her had been arranging firewood to promote airflow, setting up her tent, and stretching the brand-new hammock she’d gotten at the start of school between the usual trees, her brain found itself free to concentrate on what Jase was- with an impressive degree of patience, and without crayons- trying to explain. He understood the subject matter well enough to be able to convey it simply, without condescension, and without seeming bored. If anything, assuming that her study of Jase Expressions for Noobs was accurate, he actually seemed pleased to be sharing information. He could also just be humoring her- she was still in the early days of her anthropological observations after all, so it was difficult to tell. “It does help,” Autumn agreed slowly, still processing Jase’s elementary unpacking of what was, essentially, a theory of everything. “It gives me a place to start, anyway. And, yeah,” she grinned, tossing a twig into the fire, “I have questions. There are always questions, every time we talk about something. Well,” she amended, the smile audible in her voice as she headed over to the cooler. “About something serious, anyway. And then you answer them, and then I have more. It’s like I’m in class, but actually paying attention.” A cold water bottle appeared in front of his eyes as the red-haired girl walked up behind him, nudging him gently with her knee. “Thought you might be thirsty after the lesson, Professor Bannon.” As he cracked open the seal on his drink, she carried hers over to the striped wool blanket spread near the fire and finally settled down. “‘Professor,’ is it now?” her companion inquired as he took a long drink of water, the bottle going slightly cloudy with the formation of tiny ice crystals within to adjust the temperature. “Mhmm. You can’t be a high school science teacher.” Cutting her eyes at him as she tilted her head just slightly, the redhead took a sip from her own bottle and added with a smirk, “You’re not old, bald, ugly, overweight, or divorced, and you haven’t given up on life yet. Sorry,” she shrugged, as if there was nothing she could do. “You don’t meet the job requirements. Go teach some hot college girls first, get involved in a couple of scandals, come back when you’ve had your midlife crisis.” “Well, I admit the thought of fooling around scandalously with college girls has its appeal.” Jase smiled slightly, causing Autumn to experience a pang of anxiety on behalf of her college-aged sisterhood. “Older women, and all. Experienced hands on my tiller.” Autumn turned bright red even as she snorted around a mouthful of water, thankful not to have another choking coughing episode like the one in his kitchen this time. It was the way he delivered the cheesy double-entendre utterly deadpan, with just a hint of a pause before the word ‘tiller’. She didn’t dare look at him, knowing that he’d be wearing an expression of mildly amused interest in her plight that would cause her to lose her shit entirely. Instead she took a deep breath, finished her drink, took another deep breath, then unable to help herself she glanced sideways. He was watching her with the exact expression she had expected, only as he noticed her look at him he raised a solitary eyebrow archly, then winked. “You-” she wagged a finger in a passable imitation of her mother scolding her. “-are totally…” “Utterly.” he said with an air of agreement, nodding as he scooched over to sit on her blanket. “Couldn’t agree more. Though I think I’ll pass on having a midlife crisis. They seem tedious.” “You don’t ever stop and re-evaluate everything in your life and who you are?” Autumn glanced at him again, smiling a little. “I constantly re-evaluate everything in my life, especially lately. As to who I am, that doesn’t change” Jason stated somewhat somberly as he stared into the fire. “That’s why having a friend who understands that is important.” he added with a sideways smile. “Mmmm,” she nodded, taking another drink as she weighed his words quietly, rolling them over in her mind as the fire crackled and snapped softly in the amber glow of the fading daylight. “I can see that. Sort of the idea that who a person is, at their core, can’t really be changed in any fundamental way. Especially so for you, maybe,” Autumn allowed, leaning over for a moment to bump his shoulder with her own. “I don’t know that I necessarily agree completely, but your boots are too big for me to walk very far in.” Smiling, she gave a small shrug. “I mean, I know that I’d like to think that what I feel as ‘Autumn,’ in my head, is a fixed point. That I could use that to navigate through life, knowing as long as I kept it in sight, I’d be fine.” She paused, wondering (not for the first time) if it was Jase’s presence, or something in the atmosphere that made her feel oddly pensive. “Other times, I think about whether that’s really true, or just what I want to think is true, you know? Honestly, I wonder if the ‘Autumn’ I think I am isn’t something I can chart a course by, but just a compass needle that points somewhere else.” She frowned at that, her eyebrows knitting together in consternation. “Physically, we’re different people all the time. New skin, new bones, new blood, all of it. And, I know that other things about me change, too. Have changed, even just in little ways.” With a quick sweep of her hand, she gestured toward Jase himself in acknowledgement of their nascent friendship. “Maybe even in ways I haven’t noticed yet, because I’m too busy actually doing it. Like, not knowing you’re getting taller until your clothes don’t fit anymore.” There was a moment of quiet as Autumn took another drink, and then offered him a slightly abashed smile. “So, not that you asked, but that’s what I think.” Then, a moment later, “Professor.” He smiled a little at the adornment, shaking his head, but his mood was reflective as he considered her words. It was certainly true that one adapted to changing situations. It was also true that the core of a person, at least himself, was not all that malleable. He wondered if that was due to the malleability being a function of intuitive socialisation - one adapted to fit the circumstances, up to and including the infamous Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages could experience something very like love towards their captors and vice versa. Did his knowledge that he was not human, that he was of a different species entirely, change who he was? Or merely how he perceived that who. “I think both are true.” he said eventually, after a comfortable silence in which both teens were considering. In response to Autumn’s glance his way, he half turned towards her, his gaze assessing. “You - Autumn - are the point of reference: the star if you will, that you steer by, and you are also the compass needle. For you, each acts on the other. Most of the time, the needle points to where you already know you should be as dictated by the position of your central star. And sometimes it points to a place you haven’t considered, and the solid point of reference shifts, but remains Autumn.” He smiled at her, the expression reaching his firelit eyes. “For me, perhaps it’s the same. I don’t know. I still feel the same as I did before the summer, the party, the powers. I have elected to drop my mask, so I appear changed to others, but I don’t know if I’ve changed inside. I fought a hellbeast, then went and ate pizza, cheered Lilly on at the game, brutalised Liam all in the same evening, and I feel no different as a result of those things. It’s like the central star that is me doesn’t shift, even as new facets of it come to light and everything I do is in relation to it.” He turned his gaze to the fire again, its light shining off his shaggy dark hair. “Right now I feel different, though. Less cold, more warm. Peaceful.” He glanced at her, meeting her eyes. “That’s your doing, I think. And thank you for that.” That gave her a moment’s pause, the conversation suddenly veering off in a direction she would never have expected… Which, to be fair, wasn’t unusual on its own, but both the openness of his admission and the fact that he was directing it at her left her momentarily at a total loss for words. “I mean, you’re welcome, but… I don’t think I’ve done anything you would need to thank me for. Seriously.” Sliding a couple inches closer, she nudged his shoulder again. “Apologize for, maybe, for being a dirty cheat-” Autumn caught herself, pursing her lips. “For… taking unfair advantage of the unwritten nature of a rule,” she corrected, unable to resist glowering up at him in mock fury, her eyes fairly aglow with humor. “But, not thank me. You’re right, though, you do seem a little different. It could just be this place, you know? It is peaceful, here, and it just kind of melts into you, every part of you, into your bones. Something in the air, or the water, I don’t know.” Smiling, she looked beyond the fire to the stream, where the encroaching twilight gazed down at its reflection in the slow-moving current. “It’s probably my favorite place in the world. I’m glad you like it- hopefully, everyone else will like it, too.” Taking another long sip of water, she thought about that for a moment, the idea of bringing so many people- people like her, who were also very unlike her- here. Would they appreciate it? Would they be respectful? She’d been to plenty of overnight parties where that wasn’t the case, and she knew she would be taking a risk, inviting the others… But, it was something new, something she hadn’t tried before, and- she didn’t have to look over at her companion to know he was there, a feeling of warmth and vitality suggesting his presence- thus far, she seemed to be having pretty good luck with new things. She’d been prepared for the sleepover at Marissa’s to blow up in her face, and fully expected to get the Cora treatment when she’d gone to pick up her hoodie, hadn’t she? Maybe this would be the same. With a crinkle of plastic, she drained the last swallow of water from her bottle and fished the cap out of her pocket before glancing over at him and smiling encouragingly. He didn’t seem to mind the quiet, not filling the silences with pointless conversation- which was a fortunate thing this far out from Shelly itself. “Are you hungry yet?” she asked, getting to her feet and screwing the bottle cap back on, eyeing the fire speculatively. “It’s almost burned down enough to cook, so whenever you’re ready it should be fine. If not, I brought cards and stuff, in case we got bored.” “I’m always hungry.” Jase looked up at her with a sharp grin that put Autumn in mind of a fox when someone said the word ‘chicken’. “I don’t think I’ve ever cooked on an open fire before - not counting marshmallows and Smores - but I’ve read about it. Dad and Hank usually set up a portable gas grill.” He watched with interest as Autumn, shooting him a smile, extracted two fair-sized foil parcels from the small cold-bag and brought them back to the fireside. “Cubed sirloin with veggies and red potatoes.” she said in answer to his curious glance. “We bury them like so...” Autumn knelt down, handing him one of the packets and picking up a stick, poking a depression in the glowing coals toward the edge of the fire before depositing her foil package carefully, then pulling the coals over. She turned to see Jase imitating her almost exactly… except that the lean youth was using his bare hands to scoop red-hot embers aside, then carefully pat them back into place over the parcel before dusting his hands off. Autumn's first, instinctive reaction was a momentary flicker of panic: bare skin, live coals. Oh, shit! She took a half step toward her friend, then hesitated. He was- fine? Startled, she watched Jase for several seconds, wide-eyed, and took a few deep breaths to slow the rapid surge in her heartbeat. It was strange, she marveled, to see how seamlessly he'd integrated his own powers into his life, as if they were simply part of who he was intrinsically, rather than just something he could do. He seemed perfectly at ease, like he'd done this a thousand times before. For all she knew, maybe he had. At the same time, it was a stark reminder of how inarguably strange Jason Bannon was, something she'd conveniently pushed to the back of her mind while they'd played in the stream and gotten the camp site in order. He was a person, sure, but also more than that. Different. Chewing her lower lip thoughtfully, she shook her head. It's fine, the redhead reminded herself, as something else occurred to her. "Cheater," she grumbled under her breath, viciously jabbing her newly-designated poking stick into the coals. “Oh, there are rules for that too?” Jase responded with a hint of a smile. Autumn stuck her tongue out at him, then smiled as she sat back, regarding him with a mixture of friendly good humor, curiousity, and a tinge of exasperation. “Just trying to figure out how you do that.” she said, squinting a little at him over her smile. “Thermokinetic diffusion?” “No. I mean - do it so easily. Like it’s not even a special effort. No big ‘ta-da’.” Autumn’s freckle-speckled nose screwed up slightly. “It still kind of freaks me out, this ‘Shine’ thing.” “I’m not unique there. Devin thinks nothing of teleporting to Athens for pizza or Bangkok for Thai food, or even teleporting his dresser to him to change clothes.” Jase shuffled around to face her as he spoke. “Charlie shifted his head into a reasonable copy of a female newsreader’s and scared the country girl glow out of Tawny’s cheeks.” He smirked as he remembered that. “I wonder if Devin got around to fully explaining to her what the hell is going on yet? Anyway, that was the first casual use of his powers I’ve ever seen Charlie make, so there’s hope there - though his timing and the company present could have been better.” He rolled his eyes, then pondered, his gaze on her features. “Most of the others seem to be getting more relaxed about it, but I don’t think they put a lot of thought into how their powers could be used. For instance you share Charlie’s gift to an extent, which means you might be able to physically adapt to extreme heat enough that you, too, could pick up a red hot coal.” He shrugged. “I’m pretty sure that Sean spends a lot of time reading people’s texts and emails as they go whizzing through the air. At least, I would if I were him. Same with Sara’s telepathy - I’d be constantly skimming people’s moods and surface thoughts, hoping to understand them better.” “Cheating.” Autumn grinned at him, poking his arm with a finger. “Working imaginatively to overcome a limitation.” Jase responded, grinning back at her. “If I had yours and Charlie’s gift, I’d grow gills and go swimming. Or experiment with altering my own pheromones. Or anything, really. The key is first, establish How my powers work. Then ask the question ‘what else can I do?’ Let the imagination soar, and don’t be afraid.” He paused, considering that. “Easy for me to say, perhaps. But doesn’t make it untrue.” Something in her eyes had lit up when he started talking about what he would do with other people’s powers; although she’d made a valiant and concerted effort to keep still and listen quietly, when he finally grew quiet, all the energy she’d been holding came out in a rush. “Okay, okay, but!” Hopping up to her feet suddenly, Autumn took a few steps to get her thoughts in order, then turned to face him again. “First, trust me. Your pheromones are fine. No problem there.” Her cheeks flushed slightly in the firelight as she gestured expansively in his general direction, but she grinned anyway. “Also, what if you don’t need to be able to grow gills to do that? Like, what if you just used one of your force-fields to make a bubble around yourself? I mean, you can breathe inside them, right? And then, if you can’t swim because you’re not touching the water, just… Airplane yourself.” She paused for a second, her expression suddenly serious. “Please tell me you’ve tried that, because if not, I don’t know that we can be friends. Not the underwater part, I mean, but flying.” "I have tried." Jase admitted with a small smile. "I can do it, but at the moment it causes the kind of headache I associate with psionic strain. Like lifting too much with your arms can cause them to hurt." “Seriously?!” the restive redhead all but crowed, bouncing on the balls of her feet as she laughed. “That’s so freakin’ cool, though! I mean, yeah, you could probably do all kinds of crazy stuff with Sean’s abilities, or Sara’s, or whatever, but you’re learning to fly. When you figure out how all this works together, how to do it without hurting yourself, you could go anywhere, see anything, and nothing could hurt you. Like…” Resting her hands on top of her head, she paused, reflecting long enough to breathe amid the torrent of words and thoughts. “Devin can go anywhere, which is awesome, but can he survive there? Under the ocean, or, or in a volcano, or… hell, in space. I can’t even imagine having that kind of freedom,” she breathed, though her expression of rapt fascination rather suggested otherwise. “What you can do, how natural it is for you, that’s- it’s amazing. You’re amazing, you know?”
  14. 3 points
    It had taken longer than she’d initially hoped, but- covered in gritty ash, sand, and tiny flecks of bark that she brushed from her jeans as she stood to survey her work- Autumn had finally completed the Great Firepit Excavation of 2019. “Yaayyy,” she cheered softly, shimmying in a little personal dance of celebration, “we have a hole in the ground! Yaaayyy!” Cleared of debris, the roughly circular depression in the ground was a little over a foot deep, and perhaps three feet wide, ringed by large stones claimed in previous years from the depths of the creek. She exhaled, still smiling and flushed from both exertion and a sense of personal accomplishment; it was such a small thing, a tiny, but necessary step toward getting the campsite back in order, but, still, it was progress. Now we just need to clear the ground, and figure out what to do with the snake when we sort through the wood, get the fire st- Uh. It was like a song playing in the background, the kind of thing that went unnoticed because she was busy doing homework or helping in the kitchen, and before she realized it- she’d be singing along, and couldn’t remember when she’d started, which verse she’d picked up on. It just sort of happened, the sound gently insinuating itself into her mind until, finally, the rest of her brain caught up. There was a snake coiled watchfully among the well-seasoned firewood. Jase was a few feet from shore, standing in the creek. A pair of rabbits… birds overhead… mice, spiders- oh, god, so many spiders! Blinking, she glanced in the direction she felt her companion would be, and- although he wasn’t stationary- he was exactly where she’d expected. In the week or so since she’d discovered that she was different, like some of the others at Shelly High, Autumn had more or less tried not to think about it too much- mostly because of all the awful things that had come along with it, like hellbeasts and getting punched in the face. This wasn’t frightening at all, though. A little hard to process, but not inherently creepy- just a different sort of kinesthetic sense, like being aware of her own body moving through space. It wasn’t at all what she’d seen before, when everyone was practicing at the Farm. That was so specific, so unique to the person, to see the energy they radiated and how it moved through their bodies. This was so much… Bigger, maybe? Almost overwhelming, until she found that by concentrating on one thing- Jason, for example- she could make the rest sort of fade out, while whatever she focused on became clearer, sharper and more alive in her mind’s eye. Holy shit, this is wild! Okay, okay... Um… Let’s see… How far out does this work? “So, hey,” she called, unable to wipe the smile off her face as she paced carefully around the clearing, hands out at her sides. “I think I’m banned from playing hide-and-seek. Like, forever.” Grinning like a child with a new favorite toy, she walked the perimeter of the campsite, trying to work out at exactly what point the odd feeling of life faded into an indistinct haze. Maybe… 100 feet, or so? Autumn guessed, and then laughed to herself, a little excited and a little incredulous at the same time. As the sensation of the snake at the edge of her awareness disappeared, the redhead paused, and retraced her steps until it reappeared. Cool. Yeah, I think that’s right. And, hey. At least it’s useful. It occurred to her, then, that this was what she’d experienced in the hospital, when she and Cassie had gone downstairs and the worlds had flipped again, or overlapped, or… Whatever. “Okay,” she murmured, kneeling a few feet from the pair of trees where the stack of firewood had toppled into a shadowy pile perfect for any number of insects and small animals to make their home. “So… who are you, exactly? Are you friendly, or are you bitey?” Autumn had been taught to demonstrate a healthy respect for all creatures, even those not normally considered dangerous, so she weighed her options carefully. Out of the 10 species of snake native to the region, only one was technically venomous, and most of the others were sufficiently shy or docile enough to be safely relocated, but a 1-in-10 chance was still a chance. The last thing- well, one of the last things- she wanted on this trip was to get bitten by a rattlesnake and have to endure Jase’s teasing about needing the venom sucked out. And, as if on cue… He’d moved so quietly, somehow padding up behind her without disturbing any of the dried needles or foliage, that if she hadn’t felt him draw nearer she’d never have known he was there. The thought was a little disturbing, but equally impressive; it occurred to her that he might be a good hunting partner as well, when the elk and mule deer seasons opened in a few weeks, and she made a mental note to ask him about it. Maybe he was right, and just “doing activities” together would help banish the lingering uneasiness she still felt around him. “Hey.” She glanced up over her shoulder at his approach, giving the tall, wiry youth a quick smile. “We have a visitor. I’m trying to decide if they can hang out with us, or if they’re gonna be one of those annoying, grumpy neighbors. And I think…” Her voice trailed off, eyes losing focus with the shift from one type of vision to another. The shape of the head was the most important part, and since she had no idea if there was a way to work out more details, it was probably enough. “Yeah, I think we’re good. ...Probably. Just to be safe, though, would you mind doing the telekinesis-thing, and move those two logs right there? I know you’ve already used it a lot, so if not, I can just grab a stick or something to nudge them and get her to come out.” "It’s no strain or problem." he smiled slightly, nodding toward the two logs she'd indicated which obediently lifted, very slowly, away from the ground. “No matter how many times I see that, it’s still hard to believe. Although, honestly, if I could touch things at a distance, feel them without having to actually disturb them, I dunno. It’s kinda cool,” she admitted, getting to her feet in case the snake was startled enough to be aggressive. “Ohhh, look at you,” the redhead all but whispered in admiration. She didn’t share Cade’s gift with animals, but that didn’t stop her from striking up a one-sided conversation anyway. “Aren’t you beautiful?” she breathed, smiling. “Hope you don’t mind, we’re just gonna do some renovations to your house, here, but you’re welcome to stay if you want. If not, that’s cool. We’re kind of on the big and noisy side, huh? Might make it hard to get dinner tonight.” Cautiously, carefully, the pair re-stacked the fallen logs, keeping a watchful eye on the pretty little garter snake that was also watching them. By the time they were done, she of the gilded stripes had retreated into a narrow gap between two of the largest logs on the bottom, where neither party was likely to annoy the other. “Nice job,” Autumn smiled approvingly at Jase’s share of the work. “We can use those last few to get the fire started. I’m gonna go put this away and get cleaned up a little before we unpack the rest. Cool?” Scooping up the camp shovel she’d abandoned by the firepit earlier, she banged it a couple of times against the bottom of her boot before folding it up again and returning it to the ATV. She paused for a moment, debating the relative merits of rinsing her face and hands with some of the bottled water she’d brought, versus just going over to the creek… and it occurred to her, mid-consideration, that the only reason she was even thinking about it was because she wasn’t alone. Okay, no. That’s... It shouldn’t matter. Why should it be any different just because someone else is here? Don’t make it weird, Autumn. Rolling her eyes at her own self-consciousness, the animated young woman rummaged around in her pack until she managed to extricate a towel and headed down toward the water’s edge. The Goddamn Bannon did good work, she had to admit. The bank was clear, and all the driftwood and branches that had blocked access to the water had been relocated into a relatively neat pile further down the rocky shore. It was beautiful: the sound of the stream, the heat of the afternoon, and the fresh, clean smell of sun-warmed pine on the breeze. Aaaaand, her, covered in ash, dirt, and sweat. Grinning as she untied the much-beloved hoodie from around her waist and draped it over a nearby branch, Autumn couldn’t help but laugh, imagining the picture that would make if some nature photographer happened by. Next, the hiking boots and socks came off, and were carefully set aside, farther from the water’s reach, followed- after a moment’s hesitation- by her t-shirt, and then her jeans. She’d worn the two-piece swimsuit underneath, purchased over the summer, for entirely practical reasons, and this was a very practical sort of situation. ...And yet, it was still a little odd taking off her clothes with someone who wasn’t a relative less than 100 feet away, but- hadn’t she also told Marissa that the reason she enjoyed coming out here so much was the freedom? Autumn considered that for a moment as she shook the loose dirt from her clothes and set them aside. Superficially, the purpose of the trip was to clean up the camp site, but the whole idea was to get to know her new friend better, and for him to become more familiar with her, as well. How was he going to do that if she did things differently just because he was there? Eh, she decided with a surreptitious glance back toward the clearing. He’s seen boobs before, and I’m not naked enough that Instagram would ban the photos, so fuck it, I guess. The water was satisfyingly cool as she entered, but not at all cold, and when she’d waded far enough that it eddied around her pale thighs, she bent down, quickly splashing the dirt from her face and scrubbing it off her forearms. It would have taken twice as long if she’d tried to be more careful, used water from one of the jugs or something. It would also have been a lot less fun. Once she was satisfied that all the freckles she could see were actually part of her skin, she took a long, deep breath, bent her knees, and let herself sink down to the bottom. He’d watched as she gently spoke to the garter snake, his eyes studying her profile intently as she restacked the logs, leaving space for the small reptile to find a safe, comfortable nook. Then he’d given her some privacy as she went to clean up, turning instead to sort out his camping arrangements. His low, sloping Backpacker was technically a two-man tent, but only if they were horizontal - perhaps a single person could sit upright in the thing. It was minimalist: lightweight and waterproof, good for temperate weather during Spring, Summer or Fall, and packed up into a neat, small roll-bag that could be clipped onto the Army surplus pack he’d come with. He unpacked it, eyeing the ground for a good spot and telekinetically ensuring it was free of rocks and sharp, pokey sticks, then set the tent up with an ease born of equal parts practice, perfect memory and having as many extra hands as he needed, noting with some satisfaction that the whole process had taken him maybe eight minutes, and when it was done he was a safe distance from the firepit with the flap of his tent facing towards it. He stashed his pack in the tent, setting aside a flashlight and a roll of toilet paper just inside the flap, then his head tilted as he heard the sounds of splashing from the creek. Smiling to himself, he grabbed a towel from his pack and, straightening, ambled in the direction of the creek and the sound of watery relaxation. So it was that when Autumn surfaced from the sunlit water with a small whoop of enjoyment, the first thing she saw as she scooped her length of soaking red hair from her eyes was Jase, who regarded her with a small grin, then dropped his towel on the pebbles and began to peel off his t-shirt. “You’d better be wearing trunks.” Autumn said warningly as Jason’s lean torso came into view. He was not muscular, but what muscle he had was defined, taut over bones that seemed too large for the sparse flesh currently adorning them. As she had noted before, he was utterly unselfconscious, chuckling as he started to unfasten his belt, the sound of his amusement causing her to be grateful that the water was just cool enough to take the edge off her blush. “If I wanted to heat the water to boiling point, I could do it more efficiently than by causing you to blush so hard your hair combusts.” he retorted, dropping trou to reveal that yes, he was wearing trunks and no, they weren’t indecently tight Speedos, rather being a loose set of swimming shorts that came down to mid thigh. Without further ado he waded out into the creek and performed a shallow dive, surfacing after a few moments with a wide grin of pleasure, then turning to Autumn, his green eyes shining. “Thank you for this.” he said soberly, despite his smiling gaze. He’s impossible, she realized suddenly, her infuriated denial of the possibility of her hair combusting because of something he said dying on her lips. Or perhaps she only remembered it suddenly, as if she’d somehow forgotten: there was no good way to “handle” Jason Bannon, because everything about him resisted being handled. ...And, if she was completely honest, confronted by the proximity of someone she'd almost kissed a week prior, when he was fully-clothed and not dripping wet… her hair spontaneously catching fire was the least of her worries. “Honestly? You’re welcome,” she replied after a moment’s thought, the corners of her eyes crinkling slightly as she smiled, ignoring the sudden influx of warmth into her cheeks. “And, I don’t mean like... The courtesy thing, where somebody says ‘thanks,’ and you say ‘you’re welcome,’ because that’s what you’re supposed to do, and all that. I mean…” Hesitating, her clear, pale eyes flicked over Jase’s shoulder to the camp site up the shore, and then back to his face. “You’re welcome. Here, I mean. This has always kind of been my place, but I, um. I don’t mind sharing it. With a friend.” The taste of the word was still unfamiliar, and she was pretty sure she couldn’t be more out of her depth with someone if she swallowed stones and sank to the bottom of the sea, but… Was there any better reason to try something, than that it was hard? In her eyes, every time Jase opened his mouth, or looked at someone, he shifted the goalpost a little bit, daring them to go after it, watching to see if they would. It was awkward, and sometimes intensely uncomfortable- case in point, she reflected, resisting the almost physical urge to duck underwater again beneath the weight of that burning green gaze- but also incredibly exciting… a game where people had to figure out the rules in the midst of playing. Maybe she would never really understand him. Maybe she couldn’t. Maybe there was no way to “win,” given how completely, impossibly, impossible Jase was, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t still a lot of fun to try. She tipped her head back into the current with an indulgent sigh, letting the current tug at her hair as she watched a bird wheel slowly across the enormous, otherwise unbroken expanse of blue overhead. “So, friend, now that you’re out here, what do you feel like doing? I still want to get everything unpacked before it gets dark, and get a fire going, but I’m open to suggestions. Staying out here is a completely valid option, by the way. Or a nap. Or a long walk. Pretty much anything.”
  15. 2 points
    Early Saturday Evening, The Bannon Farm "Here he comes." Hank said to Gar without looking up from the chessboard, taking a thoughtful sip of beer as the growl of the Charger's V8 filled the air. "$20 bucks." he added with a wry grin before essaying a hesitant knight move. "Sure." Gar's response was swift, both verbally and on the board as he shifted a pawn with a click before sitting back, leaving his friend scowling as he tried to spot the new pattern. "Why'd I ask you to teach me this game again?" Hank complained as the kitchen door opened and Jason breezed in, humming something under his breath. Hank shot Jase's father a meaningful smirk, but Gar just patiently tapped the edge of the chessboard as he looked at his son. "Have a good time?" he asked as Jason, noticing the chessboard on the kitchen table, grabbed a glass of water and came over to study the game. Keen pale icy green eyes examined the board for an instant before moving to Gar's inquisitive stare. "Yes." Jason nodded, a faint smile on his lips as he also noted the opened pizza boxes. "You two?" "Oh, we got the machinery tuned up. And one of the Sons has a patented soil mixture he's going to share with us for grow beds. Apparently he can get a single tomato plant to yield close to a hundred and fifty tomatoes." Gar explained, Jason's expression changing to one of interest. "I'm thinking when you get the time you can check it out, see what you think." "Sure." Jason nodded, grabbing a slice from the open box nearest to him. "Might be something I can use for my hothouse. Provided there's no long term toxicity effects..." "So what did you guys get up to?" Hank asked with a smirk that could not be more obvious. Jason sighed around a mouthful of pizza, chewed, and swallowed. "We cleared up the camp site, swam in the creek, cooked on an open fire, went hiking and climbing, and then her mom invited me to stay for dinner." Jase's stare was unwavering as he met Hank's eyes. "Also, you're about to lose your king's bishop." He appended as he got up from the table. "Is that all?" Hank asked the slender young man's back as he went to refill his water glass. "No." Was all Jase answered as he left the room. Gar stared, then looked back at Hank as the ex-Marine crowed triumphantly and held out his hand. Muttering, Gar dug a twenty out of his pocket and slapped it into Hank's palm, then got up from the table. "Jase?" The utterance of his name brought the young genius up short as he ascended the stairs. Half-turning, he looked back down at his father's expression of earnest concern. Gar paused, considering. This would have been a difficult conversation even with a normal teenage boy, but the shining chips of green ice glimmering from the shadows of the staircase were calm and intent. "Were you, uh, careful?" "Yes. In fact, because I didn't have condoms, we held off from going the whole distance." Jason answered with a shrug. "I'll likely be going to get some on Monday." "Oh." Gar reflected that, on the whole, it was better than only one side of the conversation feel awkward, right? "So... Look, I'm not an expert or anything, but if you need someone to talk to..." His voice trailed off. Of course his son didn't need anyone to talk to. "I mean... Uh, Autumn's a really nice girl." he said, feeling helpless in the face of that calm, expectant stare. "She is." Jason nodded, then paused and studied his father's expression intently before appearing to make a decision and turning, coming back down the stairs to sit on one of the bottom-most, his face level with Gar's. "It's very new for me, this sensation. Very intense. It's distracting and odd to me, and hard to control." He admitted, regarding his father. "And it just happened, too. We were talking, and then... Fwoosh." "Fwoosh?" Gar echoed, sitting next to his son and musing that it was strange that the same self-possession that made Jase so daunting at times also made some conversations far, far easier. Jason nodded, smiling faintly. "Fwoosh." he repeated. "It was like... I had a similar moment with Marissa once but she drew back, so the spark didn't catch fire. But Autumn didn't draw back - I went to kiss her and she kissed me." "Right." Gar nodded, trying to set aside the discomfort of the conversation and focus on being a father. "Well, I guess it's a good thing, right? This fwoosh?" He smiled a little as Jason nodded soberly. "It feels very good. Just... it also feels like a LOT." "Yeah, it can." Gar chuckled softly. "It definitely can, with some women. But that's good, Jase. That's living right. Your mother..." He paused, taking a breath and letting it out. Jason looked at him, studying his father's face and eyes, a blind man still with an imperfect knowledge of Braiile. "Your mother made me feel that way. Like I was the center of a star." He gave a soft snort of laughter. "Yeah, fwoosh indeed." "Do you regret that?" Jason asked, eyes narrowing. His father shook his head sadly. "I regret that she left us. I wonder why she did it. But I'm not going to regret loving her, not anymore." Gar said slowly, his hazel eyes distant. "I did, for awhile. But I know she cared about me, kiddo. You can't fake the fwoosh." he added with a nudge. "Did you ever upset or hurt mom?" Jason asked softly, his gaze pensive. "I ask because Autumn's mom asked what I would do if I hurt her without meaning to." "Oh, we had some rows." Gar nodded. "Worst was before we were engaged. She was a strong-willed woman, and didn't like to talk about where she came from or her family. That bothered me a bit, so I pressed, and she up and dumped me." "What did you do?" "I apologised." Gar said with a smile. "With a lot of flowers, right there in her college classroom in front of everyone. I tried to get a buddy of mine to play a guitar so I could serenade her, but in retrospect that would have probably made it worse. I apologised, and told her I didn't care about her past, and that I only cared about being in her future." "But your curiousity was natural." Jason stated. "She could have been hiding something dangerous to you." "I chose to trust that, if there was something that could hurt me, she'd care about me enough to tell me." Gar replied quietly. "And if I couldn't trust her that much? Well, then I had no business saying I loved her." He looked at Jason's thoughtful expression and smiled a little. "I'm glad you had fun this weekend, Jase. Are you and Autumn dating, now?" "Yes." Jason nodded, eyes still deep in thought. "She's agreed to come to Homecoming with me. And we'll probably be dating a little before that, too. If we can stop kissing each other long enough." he added with a sly grin. Gar coughed, the cough turning into a laugh. "Christ, son! That is too much information." He nudged Jase, smiling, and stood. "I'm going to get back to the chess game before Hank eats the pieces." "I heard that!" Hank called from the kitchen. "I know!" Gar shot back, grinning as Jason, still thoughtful, stood and moved up the stairs. He glanced up at the lean shape of the youth as it eclipsed the stair light, and hoped that, whatever was going on inside the expanses of Jason's mind, it was not beyond his baffling son's ability to handle.
  16. 2 points
    2019 - Monday, Labor Day, early afternoon Normally, Sean’s attitude to musical priorities when he was driving was that ‘Driver selects the music, passenger shuts his cakehole’. But Jason had asked, politely, if he could play something he’d purchased on his smartphone, and so the bluetooth speaker was currently resonating with the primitive harmonies of one of the weird Nordic-folk-rock-electronica bands he was wont to listen to. It wasn’t bad, all things considered, and Sean did find his fingers tapping to the drumbeats and wondering if he should do something similar as atmospherics for his games. “What’d you say they were called?” he asked his friend, who was currently leaned back in his seat, eyes closed and in an attitude of listening as though his whole being was being transported - which, Sean mused, was probable with Jason. “Heilung.” came the softly-spoken reply, and the vibrant-hued young man nodded as he made a mental note. “It’s weird. But okay.” he noted with a wry smirk. “Kinda grows on a person.” The smirk widened as he glanced at the still-in-repose Jase. “Sort of like you.” “I’m an acquired taste.” Jason deadpanned, his eyes still closed. “Many don’t bother, and that is their loss.” Sean laughed softly, watching the road and the distant mountains that, he knew, likely contained Site B. “Assuming it’s all true…” he began. “Would you ever want to go and be with your people? Are you curious how you’d fit in?” “I am curious.” Jason admitted calmly, his green eyes opening and gazing at the road and mountains in a similar fashion. “But they are my species - you, and the others of the Fellowship, you are my people.” Sean drummed his fingers on the wheel in time with the drums in the music. Strip out the vocals, compose something in the same vein, it could work as ambient music for a new event in Regenesis. He’d set up the game to generate the main plotline events in somewhat random areas and order, and then to select a certain number of side events - some of which did tie into the main plotline - from a much larger number to give the game much more replayability, without being to rely on what you learned from a previous playthrough. Extra events just added to the experience. For a good role-playing game, sometimes you had to play to expectations, and sometimes you had to subvert them. He’d gotten some good pointers from Lady Meru about story and plot structure and construction. Some he had known, of course, but her advice had led him to reevaluate some and stop disregarding others. “You don’t know just how grateful I am that I had friends - people - like you and the others in the gaming group the last several years, Jase,” Sean said, trying to keep his voice light rather than saccharine. Sometimes, just seeing his friends had been the only reason he was able to drag his ass to school through all the shit he got. It sucked that so many of them seemed to be moving away lately, just as all the incredible weirdness was building up, even if he couldn’t quite fault them for it. “If you ever need anything, man, seriously, just name it.” Sean looked over quickly at his friend as they were driving through Conrad, the low houses and building somewhat obscuring a clear view of the mountains. “Jase? You have any expectations or hopes about what you might find about or among the Teulu? If you ever go to… wherever they are?” 2015 - April, Afternoon, Shelly Elementary It was an especially pleasant day for mid-April and Phys. Ed. was outside today, the teacher having decided on soccer after a few laps and warm-up exercises. The grass was more green than brown, if not by much, the white lines of the football field badly faded, and nowhere near lush yet. Sean was on the sidelines, sitting in the bleachers, along with Sophia Fingleman sitting next to him, the aluminum benches warm under them from the sun. Him, for his chronic ‘medical’ issues, her, for suffering ‘girl issues’. Sean didn’t know if she was lying, but he didn’t object to her company. He was supposed to be working on an independent study, since he couldn’t participate in the physical aspects of the class. But he’d already finished it, and was just pretending to be working on it, when he was actually working on writing up a D&D setting and campaign, luckily able to pull up PDFs of the books on his smartphone, though barely needing them since he could recall most of it from memory. He’d been surprised that Sophia was interested in RPGs too and she sat close, Sean pleased to show her his notes and a few rough sketches. The nets were set up the width of the field instead of the length, to make it more manageable for the 11 and 12 year olds, and to help pick up the pace with less open ground between the goals. Sean and Sophia only had to dodge two black and white balls that had been kicked wide… by accident or on purpose. Glancing their way from time to time while trying to keep his main focus on the game, Jason marvelled that nobody really seemed to notice the extent of Sean’s changes. Yes, Sean had grown adept at dressing to conceal his figure, but sitting next to Sophia, it seemed particularly obvious to Jason. Sean’s face held the same feminine lines and curves as Sophia, undisguised by his short, bright red hair compared to her long, dark auburn. Despite slim limbs, Sean’s torso looked bulky from his layers. His vivid red hair was already darkening, dampened by rising sweat. There were the occasional rumours and comments about his girlish features, but most of the students just thought he was getting pudgy, or downright fat, influenced by his non-participation in gym class, and maybe diabetes or something. There were a few mentions that if Sean kept blimping out, his moobs would end up growing as big and girlish as Sophia’s boobs. Jason really couldn’t see how the other students could believe that. True, he was aware of what was really going on with Sean, but still, it seemed so obvious, especially if you just paid attention. He’d read up about Change Blindness, and figured their classmates had just grown so used to Sean’s feminine features and the changes were gradual enough, they just couldn’t see it. Engrossed in their dungeons and dragons talk, which had shifted to their favourite fantasy series, Sean and Sophia didn’t notice Courtney coming up behind them after leaving the bathroom. The action on the field had picked up, whipcord slim Jason with the ball, striving towards the goal with silent intensity with a more verbally intense Autumn Keane right on his heels. Courtney glowered at the two redheads as she stalked up behind them with a bully’s stealth, her sneakers barely a whisper on the bleachers. Still slim as a boy, Courtney detested Sophia on sheer principle for blossoming before her and so extravagantly, uddered like a cow trying to draw all the boys with all the milk she had to offer, for all that Sophia didn’t flaunt what she had. But it was the girl-faced pigboy that was really riling Courtney at the moment. She’d overheard a comment that even he probably had bigger boobs than her, and that she wasn’t going to stand. She was going to make sure everyone saw the pork belly the little shit was trying to hide. And like fuck his hair was a nicer shade of red than hers. Suddenly, there was a muffled, yet piercing, furious shriek from the bleachers, and the soccer game staggered to an uncertain halt. Jason whipped around to look, recognize who that shout belonged to, Autumn colliding right into him. Sean was standing up in the bleachers, twisting and writhing violently, Courtney up on the bench a step up behind him. He’d been completely blindsided, and before he knew it, his head and arms were tangled up in his meticulous layers of shirts, Courtney using her leverage and holding on to them so tightly he couldn’t get free. The clips on the elastic bandages binding his chest got caught on his shirt with the force Courtney had yanked it up, and the bandages had practically exploded off his chest from the pressure they had been containing. There was not doubt about what Sean had been hiding now. Sophia’s mouth dropped open in speechless shock at the sight of the slim waist, flaring hips, and overfilled bra of the boy she’d been talking to. A strange boy, to be sure, but still a boy… she thought? Courtney was not so speechless. “No. Fucking. Way! You have tits?! You’re a titboy?!” Sean’s response was undecipherable yet vehement, his struggles so energetic and panicked, that he would have tumbled off the bleachers if Courtney hadn’t had a vice grip on his shirts pulled up over his head and tying up his arms. “Hey, watch where you’re-” Autumn had started to say to the odd boy as both of them staggered and righted themselves from the collision. She’d been enjoying the effort of catching up with him, had been looking forward to tackling and skillfully removing the ball from the silent, aloof Jason’s control, only for him to suddenly lose interest in their epic duel, the ball rolling heedlessly onwards as he stopped dead and turned unerringly towards the disturbance on the stands like a hawk sighting prey. Cade Allister had already picked up the ball from beyond Jason’s lean shape and was heading back up the field. But the Bannon kid didn’t seem to care, and Autumn found herself addressing his back as he instead loped off the field, giving the impression of dismissing her, the game, the ball and everything else from his strange world. Sean, struggling in Courtney’s grip, saw him coming with conflicted feelings. There was a sense of shame that he needed rescuing, relief at being rescued, and a dull cold dread that Jason would… be Jason. Terrifying three boys, roughing up a couple was one thing for a ten year old, even with a couple of deep, savage bites thrown into the equation. For a twelve year old boy to attack a girl with that kind of intense ferocity would likely land Jason an expulsion, regardless of circumstance. Whilst Sean might fantasize about Courtney crying snotty tears and gasping for breath right now, he didn’t really want to see her hurt. Also adding to the emotional conflict was the look in Sophia’s eyes. She was looking at him like he was a freak, drawing away from the conflict rather than trying to intervene, as though she didn’t want to be involved. Sean grit his teeth, determined not to bawl as Courtney kept jeering for a few seconds more before the lean shadow of Sean’s friend fell over the two struggling kids. “Let him go.” Jase said simply, his eyes not wavering from Courtney’s. The words were calm, inflectionless… much as two years ago he’d said ‘Let’s not.’ to Chet and his compatriots. Courtney, though, was intent on her discovery, her blood up from a mixture of outrage and fascination. Present, also, was the sense of her own feminine impunity from attack by boys. Boys didn’t hit girls - the rules punished them far more severely. “Your friend has tits, Bannon. You know about this?” she huffed, trying to keep her grip on the squirming Sean. “He your secret girl-boyfriend?” “Just my friend. Let him go.” Jason repeated, just as calmly with a little more force. “I won’t say it again.” “Oh?” Courtney grinned, reaching around and squeezing one of Sean’s breasts, making him yelp. “Whatcha going to do?” “Courtney Adams!” the voice thundered from behind Jason as Miss Mannheim, one of the Phys. Ed teachers supervising the soccer game, came storming up the bleachers. Jason was the only one that didn’t jump at the welkin-ringing shout, instead smiling very, very faintly as the colour drained from Courtney’s face. “Wait for that.” he answered quietly as the red-faced coach arrived, glowering ferociously. A tall, well built woman, ex-Army and still looking as though she was capable of killing a man with her bare hands - or failing that, her thighs - Beth Mannheim was currently looking like she wanted to warm up by killing Courtney. The red-haired girl quailed and let go of Sean, Jason immediately stepping forward and pulling his friends shirts down to conceal his un-boylike physique. He’d figured that one of the players suddenly leaving the pitch would call attention to the goings-on, and, failing that, he would have taken matters into his own hands - though that would have been a sub-optimal outcome. “Thanks.” Sean panted quietly as Jason picked up his things and handed them to him. Courtney was being dragged off by one powerful hand on her shoulder, Mannheim still fuming audibly. He took several deep breaths, noting the stares from people who’d seen and determined that he would not crack and cry. Not until later. And besides, the sound of Courtney on her way to a detention was certainly something of a balm. “Someone had to step in.” Jason’s tone was cold and his gaze withering as he glanced at Sophia. “It’s what a friend does.” The busty girl shrank a little under the gaze, then straightened up and sneered back sullenly. “Whatever, freak and freakier. You two probably should date - weirdos together.” Sean’s face reddened, with anger rather than shame, and he spat back “He’s my friend, Sophia. You should be so lucky when you get some ‘tard bothering you someday that you have a friend who’ll step in too.” “Though that seems unlikely. Friendship requires a sense of loyalty.” Jason added clinically, then dismissed Sophia from his attention altogether. “You good?” he asked Sean calmly. “Yeah.” Sean said with a small smile and a nod. What the hell if people were staring and Sophia was giving him the freak-look. Times like this were when you found out who was your friend, and who was just a person you hung out with. “Yeah, I think I am.” 2019 - Monday, Labor Day, early afternoon “I don’t hope, Sean.” Jason said matter of factly. “I plan, I set goals, I set myself targets to achieve, but I don’t hope. I deal with things and people as they come at me, not based on how I would like them to be.” “Okay. Okay. Poor choice of words.” Sean grumped, but he smiled slightly. Jason grinned back. “On the upside, I don’t get dejected if my plans don’t work or I don’t hit my goals either.” he shrugged. “I just adjust and move on in less time than it takes to tell it.” “So… Answer my question in a Jase context, then.” Sean challenged. “Based on what I know, I am planning for the eventuality that my species will be hostile to my friends. It’s reasonable to assume that, if we’re careful, we might be able to learn a lot though - they are supposedly technologically superior to humanity. I’m planning for many contingencies - they will want to recruit me, they will want all of us as breeding stock, they will seek to subjugate or capture one or more of us, they might even offer alliances. I’m not expecting any single thing except, perhaps, that it will be interesting.” “Interesting.” Sean huffed quietly. An alien offshoot of humanity, with none of the conscience or moral restraints, smarter and more violent. And Jason was raised human - he’d likely be ‘soft’ compared to a properly raised Teulu. “Interesting.” he said again as the two of them gazed out at the sun-washed hills and pastures they were driving past as they headed back to Shelly. “Yeah. What isn’t, these days?”
  17. 2 points
    2019 - Monday, Labor Day noon, lunch They settled on burgers for lunch, and were seated in the Roadhouse Diner waiting for their orders. Jason had been quiet since Sean’s revelation, and Sean likewise had been chewing over Jason’s. “You know that I’m going to see you get to where you need to go.” Jason stated rather than asked, causing Sean to smile faintly. There were worse allies to have when mounting an assault on a shady secret laboratory site than Jason. “Yeah. I know.” he nodded, sipping at his drink through a straw. “Just… don’t do anything precipitous, okay? We’ve got to deal with the other matter first, like Cassie said.” Jason nodded calmly, and Sean grinned as a thought struck him. “Hey. Maybe if what we find can sort out my problem, perhaps it could restructure your DNA too.” “Why would I want to?” Jason smiled slightly. Sean chuckled. “Yeah. After all, you’re ‘superior’.” he smirked, teasing his friend a little. “Yes. But that has nothing to do with being an alien.” Jason replied with a faint flash of teeth as he grinned. Sean made a rude noise as the server brought their well-stacked burgers over. Sean squirted ketchup over his fries and after the server left to see her other patrons, he looked up at Jason, his eyes twinkling in mirth, defiant of their respective issues. “Y’know, you can’t tell Cass you’re an Alien. She won’t be able to resist the headlines.” “‘They Walk Among Us!’” Jason intoned, hand sweeping to indicate a blazoned headline. “‘Shelly Coronet Exclusive: Genetically-engineered love god walks the earth, by ace reporter Cassandra Allen!’” “‘Love god’?” Sean sniggered around a mouthful of fries. “Dude makes out in the woods and now he’s Casanova. Sheesh.” Jason smiled faintly at him, eyes glinting with good humor. “Got to say, though,” Sean admitted, finishing his mouthful and gesturing towards him. “You seem different ‘cause of it.” He was going to say ‘softer’, but the memory of the counter exchange in Walgreens stifled that word. ‘More relaxed’, maybe? A thought occurred and he leaned forward as much as his bust would allow. “What about Autumn? Does she know about…?” He indicated Jason with a wave of a hand. “Yes.” Jason nodded gravely, eyes going distant for a moment as he then smiled a fraction. “I thought it only fair, considering she’d agreed to date me.” “How did she handle it?” Sean asked, fascinated, then blinked as Jason’s eyes took on the gleam he associated with a smirk from anyone else. Sean rolled his eyes and sighed. “Yes, I know. Phrasing. Now spill.” “Didn’t seem to faze her at all.” Jason said matter-of-factly, shrugging before picking up his burger and taking a bite. “Wow.” Sean blinked, again feeling a surge of envy that Jason had found someone who accepted him peculiarities and all. But stronger than that was a sense of happiness for his friend. “That’s some girl. To think she didn’t like you much last week, huh?” Jason nodded, chewing steadily as he examined Sean with his usual, uncomfortably direct stare. It reminded Sean of how Jason had used to look at everyone when he first came to Shelly, before he’d adopted mannerisms and a mask to try and hide himself. “You will have a chance, too.” Jason said quietly after washing down his mouthful with a gulp of soda. “We will get you fixed, Sean. If the technology exists to correct your DNA, then it can feasibly also help you settle on a gender. You might be able to choose male or female, and live and love accordingly.” He tilted his head a fraction, examining his friend. “It would be good to see, I think. This acceptance, the warmth in the cold places I experience - I’d like you to know what it’s like too.” 2014, October 30th, Bunnee’s “I don’t understand why.” Jason was quietly insistent, the closest he got to expressing real worry, it seemed. He was even frowning slightly, lips in a straight line as he peered at Sean from under the messy fringe of his hair. He was sitting in what had become his customary slouch, bent over a burger which he was eating with both hands, chewing steadily between speaking. “I just don’t wanna.” Sean shrugged, trying not to meet that green stare and instead looking out the window. “Halloween is your birthday. You love Halloween.” Jason wasn’t leaving it alone, doggedly hanging on like a quiet pit bull in a death-grip. “You don’t want to have a birthday?” “I’ll be having a birthday.” Sean forced a smile, looking back at his friend. “I just won’t be trick or treating. I… don’t feel like it this year.” Jason stared hard at him, actually lifting his head from it’s lowered slouch and glaring directly at Sean, who shifted in his seat. Jason’s glare wasn’t hostile, but it was definitely a lot. “No.” he said after a moment. “No?” Sean was confused. “No.” Jason reiterated. “You did not want to go swimming. You have been avoiding going outdoors ever since the summer. You avoid sports and PE class with a note.” He pointed his burger at Sean accusingly. “Something is wrong.” Sean scowled, his appetite gone, and let the rest of his burger fall with a plop, a ketchup speckled french fry jumping from his plate and rolling across the booth table. He glowered out the window and went to cross his arms defensively before hesitating, then balling his hands into fists and thumping them on the table. Sean was silent for a long moment, his jaw tight, but he was tired and angry and scared and hadn’t been able to talk to anybody who wasn’t family. Finally, he turned back to Jason, glanced towards the bathroom, gave his head a minute shake, then nodded at the burger in his friend’s hand. “Fine,” Sean ground out in his high, clear voice. “Finish your burger, and I’ll show you. At the barn.” Jason simply nodded, undeterred by his friend’s evident turmoil and finished his burger and fries with quick, economical bites. Sean just stirred his fries with a fork and took a few desultory bites, before pushing his plate to the side and finishing his soda. The boys finished their meal, leaving cash on the table. Jason counted out exacted change and a precise percentage for a tip, while Sean just slapped down enough bills to cover his share without caring about getting any change back. They waved at Bunnee and Max in passing, and then reclaimed their bikes locked up at the bike rack out front of the diner. The boys pedaled back to Sean’s home, dirt and gravel crunching under their wheels the only sound between them. Sean was still using the same bike he had since he was nine, but Jason had a new one - well, new to him, it was secondhand - he’d gotten for his birthday. At the Cassidy residence, Sean led Jason past the rambling, one story farmhouse to the barn that was being converted into a playroom and den for Sean and his siblings, though so far, only Sean was really making much use of it. Sean hopped off his bike before coming to a full stop and let it fall, the back wheel continuing to spin with a slowing clicking sound. Jason was more fastidious, coming to a complete stop and using the kickstand. The sun was an orange ball, still its own height above the horizon when Sean barged into the barn, Jason following at a more sedate, even-tempered pace. The front half of the barn was one big room, but the rear half still had sections separated by half walls, repurposed stalls, though not all the former stalls had found new purposes yet. Sean closed the blinds on each of the newly installed windows as he stalked past them towards the rearmost left stall. Sean reached up on his tip toes and pulled the string descending from the bare bulb. Harsh white-yellow light flooded the stall, their short shadows shifting at the hanging lightbulb swung gently. Sean took a deep breath, then spun around to face his friend. “What do you see when you look at me?” Sean asked. Jason tilted his head slightly, then gave Sean a cursory once over. Sean had hit his growth spurt early and had been one of the tallest boys in class. But now, he was at best only average in height, and that was changing each year, with the other boys in his grade matching and then surpassing him. He had been slim, but seemed to have put on notable weight in the last year, perhaps from being less active. “I see you, Sean. With your recent lack of physical activity, you are getting fat,” Jason replied with blunt honesty. Sean snorted bitterly. “I’m not fat. Look closer.” Jason did. Sean’s hands and forearms were slim, the fingers delicate, his complexion uniformly pale. His bright red hair was less than an inch long, but didn’t disguise the fineness of his features or the attractiveness of the lines of his face, the large, strange eyes with their long, dark lashes. Jason pictured Sean’s sisters, contrasted them with his friend and noted the resemblance between them was more than familial. Where the voices of the other boys in their class were beginning to warble and crack, Sean’s voice stayed smooth and sweet. More than once, he was asked to join the choir. “You have distinct phenotypically feminine features.” It was an open truth, but few ever actually openly remarked upon it except to be mean or cruel. Jason didn’t mean to be either, he was only stating a fact. Sean blinked. He knew what phenotype meant, because of the doctors, but he was surprised Jason knew it. “It’s sooo much worse than that,” Sean didn’t quite wail, squinting his eyes tightly as he always did to keep them dry and tear free when there was anyone to see. He shrugged out of his baggy, zip-up hoodie, then his loose flannel shirt, then the shirt was wearing under that. With each layer removed, Jason could see his friend getting slimmer and slimmer… mostly. Sean’s jeans hung off hips that were noticeably wider than what appeared to be a notably thin waist. And there was something strange about his chest. When Sean pulled off his tight undershirt, Jason found his chest bound tight with ace bandages, but they didn’t hide the white straps going over Sean’s slender shoulders. Sean was almost gasping as he unwound the bandages, hiccuping in his self-consciousness. It was bad enough showing his parents and the doctors. Laurie had spied on him once, and Teagan had made one teasing comment before getting grounded. But this was his friend, the first time he was showing somebody who didn’t need to know. He tossed the lengths of elastic bandages aside and locked his eyes on a point just over Jason’s shoulder as he let him get a full look. Sean was wearing a plain, white bra, and it wasn’t a training bra, as it was filled out with the unmistakable, if unfamiliar, bulges of breasts. Jason had been intensely aware of the growing and developing physical changes of his fellow classmates, especially the girls. Some girls were developing faster and more dramatically than others. Sophia Fingleman, for example, had been receiving particular attention, lately, from both girls and boys, both good and bad, for being as well endowed as most of the underclassmen, and several of the upperclassmen. Remarkably - and for most other people, disconcertingly and/or disgustingly - Sean had been hiding a figure at least as curvaceous. “I’m turning into a girl!” Sean wasn’t sure what he expected. From any other boy his age, shock. Or snickering. Or disgust. Or a mixture of all three. He held his gaze at that point on the far wall past Jason’s shoulder, not wanting to see his friend’s eyes when- “That seems biologically unlikely.” “Huh?!” Sean blinked and looked at Jason’s face. The green eyes were calmly appraising his body and features, and Jason’s own face, as devoid of youthful softness at the age of twelve as it had been when they first met, was smooth save for a slight furrow of concentration on his brow. Jason’s gaze met his. “I said-” “I heard you.” “Because it is unlikely that you would suddenly turn into a girl.” Jason said with the firm authoritativeness of a boy who knew how development was supposed to go. "Gaah! It's not sudden, it's still happening, day after day. It's not really turning into a girl, just looking like one and having the same hormones and stuff." Sean huffed, a little piqued that Jason had, characteristically, totally ignored the dramatised interpretation and gone right for the crux of the matter. “The doctors say it’s called Chapelle Syndrome, or something. Like, my body is producing girl hormones more than boy ones, but it’s still also producing boy ones.” Jason was staring at him, curiosity in his eyes. “That’s interesting.” “It’s really not!” Sean huffed, trying to cross his arms over his chest and having to opt for folding them under his protuberances. “It sucks, and it’s scary. I don’t want to be a girl, Jason!” “But you’re not. You’re neither, and both.” “I want to be me.” Sean felt tears start up, and tried to ignore them even as he felt their wetness trail down his cheeks. Jason’s head tilted to one side, brow furrowing again as he considered something, then he stepped forward and put a hand on Sean’s shoulder. “You are still Sean. What you look like doesn’t change who you are. Not to me.” he said quietly and firmly. “You are, and always have been my friend. I look at you and that is what I see.” The hug was awkward as it was sudden. Sean was torn between returning the hug and keeping his arms folded across his lower chest and opted for returning the hug, regretting it almost immediately as he felt his breasts press against his friend’s skinny torso. Still, for Jason to offer a hug was a major concession, and so Sean endured it for the brief moment it lasted. “Okay.” he smiled wanly as they parted, Jason stepping back without seeming at all perturbed. “One, never do that again.” he joked, smiling so Jason would be sure to get it. His friend smiled fractionally in return. “Two, you can’t tell anyone.” “Won’t they find out eventually anyway?” Jason asked with his usual coldly brutal logic. “Yeah, maybe. But I’m not ready for that yet.” Sean sighed. “And three… can you help me re-wrap these things? My mom usually does.” “Aren’t they sensitive? Doesn’t that hurt?” Jason inquired calmly. “Yeah. It hurts.” Sean admitted ruefully. “But… It’s better than people knowing. And don’t give me the ‘logically that seems flawed, Captain’ treatment.” he pointed at Jase, doing an impression of Spock. “Kirk didn’t have breasts.” Jason replied, a glint of humor in his eyes as he moved to pick up the bandages. “I won’t tell anyone. But I think this is something you need to accept.” “Yeah. Maybe one day I will.” Sean sighed.
  18. 2 points
    2019 - Monday, Labor Day morning, shopping. “So, that’s the Huawei P30 Pro dual-SIM, earbuds, charge cord, car mount and charger, glass protectors, matte black case, two pay as you go SIM cards and a bluetooth speaker.” Sully said as he packed each item into the bag and then rang it all up on the till. “Which comes to... Five hundred and ninety five dollars. Gotta love Montana’s zero percent sales tax, amirite?” He grinned at the slender form across the counter from him. “Cash or card?” “Cash.” Jason drew a billfold from his pocket, counted out six hundred-dollar bills, and smiled faintly as he slid them over to Sully. “Keep the change.” “Thank you.” Sully grinned again as he deposited the cash in the till, then turned back to the two teens. “I might close up early.” “So where to now?” Sean asked as the two friends hit the street outside. Jason pondered for a brief moment between one step and the next. “Barnes and Noble for sure - I’m looking to find some tapes and books to learn German.” he proposed. “And Walgreens is on the way. I need to stop in there.” “Oh?” Sean gave his friend a sidelong glance. “Something important?” “Yes.” Jason said with his usual unflappable mien, then as Sean shrugged and raised the bottle of water to his lips decided to explain further. “Condoms.” Sean barely managed to turn his head in time to avoid spewing water all over Jason. A hand went to his chest as he coughed, trying to hack up the water that had gone down the wrong way. "Is this... for some... experiment?" Sean wheezed, bountiful chest heaving. "Define 'experiment'." Sean chuffed one more time to clear his throat, then wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his wrist before looking up at his friend. Jason’s expression was inscrutable, barring a bare curve of his lips. "You mean you..." "Hmm?" "Who?!" Sean didn’t seem to notice or care that his gorgeous voice was rising into a girlish, gossipy squeal, anymore than Jason opening the door to the Walgreens for him, distracted by his friend’s revelation. "I'm not sure your surprise is complimentary." "Yeah, okay, it’s not,” Sean admitted as they headed towards the healthcare, taking a deep breath to collect his composure. “But... Who?!" Jason's expression remained almost impassive, the gleam in his jade eyes the only real sign that he took some strange alien amusement in his friend's surprise and curiosity. "It's no huge secret." he said as they ambled in the direction of the right aisle - at least, Jason was ambling: Sean was walking at his normal comfortable pace, not for the first time envying those with longer legs. Jason turned his pale gaze on his friend once more. "Autumn." Sean's vibrant, multi-hued eyes widened, then flicked side to side, reviewing the interactions between Jase and Autumn over the last few days. Yes, Autumn had made an effort to get along with Jase, and he remembered seeing her talk to his dad, but he was still surprised. Jason wasn't exactly a 'playah' and it hardly seemed their relationship could have gotten this far this fast. "How? When?" Sean asked, giving Jason a nonplussed sigh when his taller friend increased his pace just enough that Sean had to hurry his every second or third step. He peeked down one aisle, then the next, giving Jason a nod. "This one." "Friday night, while we were camping. As for 'how'..." He gave Sean an amused look. "The usual way, I imagine." "I didn't mean that." Sean protested, actually drawing a chuckle from his friend before Jason's gaze turned contemplative. "It was just a... realisation. We'd hung out, and cleaned up the campsite, swam together in the creek - oh, and you've got to see the place, Sean. It's peaceful and quite lovely. You might even enjoy the great outdoors for once." Jase grinned slightly at his friend, who made a 'pff' noise and flapped his hand. "Never mind camping. Autumn. How?" "It just happened. We were sitting by the fire, talking about powers and the weird stuff... and then I realised she liked me - as in liked me, liked me. And I realised that I found her attractive too, so thought 'Why not?'" Jason shrugged his lean shoulders. "I went to kiss her and that was that." "Uh-huh." Sean was doubtful. On the other hand, he had witnessed stranger things lately, so who was he to doubt. Sean stuffed his hands in his pockets as Jason picked up a different box and began reading its merits, then compared them with a third brand, studious and unhurried in his selections. Sean could feel his face starting to redden as the occasional shopper glanced at the two teens standing by the contraceptive section, the boy seeming so diligent in making his decision, while the one who looked like a girl appeared to be impatient. Jason of course paid no heed to the attention. Sean started browsing for something to do instead of just standing there. Lube, nope, didn't need to look at that, or at the prophylactics with Jase. Other side of the aisle. Band-aids and ace bandages. Boring. Tampons, aaaand I'm done. Sean folded arms, disgruntled, waiting. Jason continued his analytic study of condoms. Sean wondered why he didn't just do this online and then order them from Amazon like a normal person. Then he noticed something about Jason's selections. "Magnums? Really?" Sean drawled, arching a brow. Jason glanced meaningfully down at the red-head. Down at his particularly prominent protuberances. Sean followed his gaze. A faint, melancholy frown crossed Sean's beautiful, delicate features, as he considered his distended hoodie hiding the view of his feet and his slender shoulders slumped. "Touché." Sean pulled out his phone, flipping around on it, still and silent for a moment as Jason perused his panoply of prophylactics. "Um, did you talk about this with Autumn first? I dunno, don't you think she might find it a bit presumptuous if you surprise her with condoms?" "Our chemistry seems very compatible." Jason's tone was clinical as he considered the merits of ribbed versus studded latex sheaths, then he shot Sean a sidelong smile. "So much so that it was perhaps a good thing that I didn't have any condoms with me that night. Depending on point of view, of course." "Really?" Sean's tone was not disbelieving, exactly. He knew Jase, and knew that lying was not one of Jason's quirks. Or exaggeration either, for that matter. Jason merely nodded. "Without going into explicit detail, yes." His friend wasn't exactly smug, or overly preening, but there was an echo of thoughtful satisfaction in his tone as he looked back at the packet of condoms in his hand. "I asked her to Homecoming, she said yes. I have a girlfriend." This last was said with quiet solemnity, as though it were a revelation of epic proportions for the detached youth. Which, Sean realised, it would be. An outsider of sorts himself, ever since the big reveal of Jason’s psychopathy he’d wondered what it would be like to be so set apart that he could not even feel loneliness at how apart he was, to share only shallow similarities to the emotional bonds and feelings of normal people. No wonder Jason was so savage in defending or avenging those he considered his friends: his sole connection to human existence, people he chose to care for by some criteria known only to himself. No wonder connecting with someone, to be involved romantically with them, and to feel that chemical attraction given and returned was such a milestone. Despite his envy, he appreciated the gravity of his friend’s revelation. “Congratulations, then, man, and good luck.” He chucked Jason on the arm in a bro-move, though it looked a bit incongruous coming from him. “To you. If Autumn said yes, she knows what she’s getting into.” Sean didn’t have to force the smile, but it was bittersweet. He didn’t imagine he’d be going to Homecoming. His friends were beginning to pair off, but he didn’t see anyone who would want to with him with him. It was fine when they went to dances and events as a group, but now, he’d just feel like a fifth wheel. Besides, what would he even wear? That last suit he’d worn he’d been ten, and it obviously wouldn’t fit now, even if he was barely an inch taller, and he couldn’t buy off the rack. Jason seemed satisfied with his selections - a more than sufficient collection, to Sean’s mind - and they headed to checkout. Along the way, Sean indulged in a little impulse buying. A 6-pack of Pepsi, since it was on sale. A jar of Nutella - they were out at home. And a box of double-stuffed Oreos, just because. They got in line behind a blue-haired old lady who was checking her lottery tickets and scratchers, who was complaining at how little she’d won and demanding that the cashier pick better scratchers that she was spending her meagre winnings on. The cashier, a tired looking blonde in her twenties, was polite and smiled, and dutifully agreed she would pick better. Sean and Jason could see the strain on the poor woman’s face restraining herself from rolling her eyes. They weren’t in any particular rush and the old lady seemed more than half way done at least, so Sean perused the candy racks while waiting, adding a bag of skittles to their items on the conveyor belt. When it was their turn, the cashier’s pleasant, patient demeanor began to fade when she got a good look at them, her professional smile shifting into a scowl, and the purchases they were making. She openly scoffed at the neatly stacked boxes of condoms and their size, moving to place them behind her. “Sorry.” Her tight tone was definitely not sorry. “You’re kids.” That she was barely a decade older than them didn’t seem to matter. “I can’t sell these to you.” She leaned in conspiratorially towards Sean, glancing down briefly at his chest before her dark eyes met his, clearly conveying she thought him a slut. “I’m doing you a solid, honey. You’ll be happier keeping your legs together rather than finding out your boy here is lying about how big he is…” The scathing look she shot Jason implied that she’d been fucked over by her high school sweetheart, and presumed every other high school guy was planning to do the same. “... and then just to be polite, you let him get it on, and end up preggers. Nuh-uh, be kids and wait a few more years before fu - messing up your lives.” Uh-oh. Sean glanced at Jason, who had hitherto radiated an air of laid back patience, and inwardly the intersexed young man groaned as he saw the cold eyes become emerald laser beams focused on the woman’s face. “Jase…” Sean started, but his friend had already stepped right up to the counter. “Thank you for the potted history of your own underwhelming existence.” The chilly tone was wind coming right off the Arctic Circle, containing razor sharp ice crystals that flayed at the cheeks and stung the eyes. “Now, to be clear, you are refusing to sell me the condoms I am willing to pay for due to my age, correct.” He didn’t lower his voice, didn’t seem at all self-conscious that other shoppers were starting to queue behind him. “That’s right, Romeo. So go get-” Jason slapped his driver’s license down on the counter, the sound making her start. “I am sixteen, near seventeen. The age of consent in Montana is sixteen. Moreover, anyone of any age can purchase condoms for any reason. There is no law against it.” His tone remained at a slightly projected pitch. “There are laws against discriminating against people based on their age, however. Would you refuse to sell condoms to a sixty year old woman?” His stare pinned the woman’s eyeballs to the back of her skull and stapled her tongue to the roof of her mouth. “Now… Sue.” he said with a glance at her name badge. “You also are implying that I am lying about the size of my penis - not that it is any of your business. I shouldn’t have to drop my pants in order to satisfy your prurience. You are impolite, high-handed, and also displaying a certain level of misandry - the assumption that I am exaggerating being based on the fact I am male.” He placed his hands on the counter. “So now I am going to give you a choice. Keep your parochial small-minded bitter commentary to yourself, do your job and ring me up. Or call your manager down here and we will make it their problem.” Sean flinched in unconscious empathy with the poor woman - even if she had been obnoxious, Jason’s stare and utterly composed, no-fucks-given excoriation was uncomfortable even when one wasn’t standing in the impact zone. It was like watching someone run face-first into a wall on a blooper reel or something - you had to wince, but there was also the urge to laugh. His girlish lips twisted slightly as he restrained a smirk - fortunately the hapless shop girl was staring at Jason as though he’d dropped a rattlesnake on the counter. “Uh… Right.” she said, sullenly dropping her gaze and placing the stacked condom boxes back on the counter. Though she was obviously mortified, she didn’t hesitate or delay in getting everything rung up, wanting the eerie lean youth and his busty trollop out of the place as soon as possible. “Dude.” Sean breathed as they exited the Walgreens and ambled down the sidewalk. “There’s time I wish I was a psychopath. That was awesome.” He started giggling. “‘Thank you for the potted history of your own underwhelming existence’.” Jason glanced down at him, smiling a little and shrugging. “What if I wasn’t?” he asked after they’d passed a few more shopfronts. “A psychopath, I mean.” In answer to Sean’s quizzical look, he briefly - or at least, as briefly as possible - explained what his mother had told him, which yes, also necessitated telling Sean she was in Shelly, and who it was. Sean wasn’t sure which news was more important. “Of course, I plan to make use of the Project’s gene labs and test myself.” Jason finished. “I’m not planning to take everything she says as gospel, but if she’s right and there’s a variance in the DNA…” “... does it really change anything?” Jason’s buxom buddy finished. “For you, I mean. Not that your mother’s back and seemingly genuine about being a part of your life again. That’s awesome, if it’s something you want, something you want to give a chance, sweet.” A nonplussed expression crossed Sean’s face and he shrugged awkwardly, reflecting on just what he had thought about Ms. Forster. Finding out she was his best friend’s mother made those thoughts somewhat uncomfortable, more than her claim she was an interdimensional alien, apparently. “I mean, ‘bout the alien stuff and your own... peculiarities. You might now know there’s something more to you than just a random series of genetic expressions, but you’re still you. You just might have some psychopathic elven aunts and uncles and cousins now.” Jason noticed Sean peering oddly up at him from the corner of his vision, in a way he couldn’t quite decipher. “What?” “Teulu sounds sort of Welsh, to me. I was just wondering if I’ve completely missed your ears being pointed all these years,” Sean teased. “Have you told your dad yet about your mom yet, or where she’s from and what she is yet?” “No. Not yet. He’s trying to recover himself since the events at Marias, and I’m concerned how it might affect him.“ Jason glanced down at his friend anew. “You seem rather more accepting of my potential heritage than I was expecting.” Sean’s shoulders slumped as he looked away. He shoved his hands into his pockets, his bag of purchases hanging about a slim wrist and bouncing against his leg. “You already said you were going to confirm before accepting, so I don’t have to tell you that.. “ Sean took a deep breath, and let it out in a long, slightly shaking sigh. “You guys all hate Dr. Cook, but I just… can’t. I can hate some of the things he’s done, but not him. He did - he has - helped me. I spoke to him after the quarantine, after what he’s told me, I can’t discount the possibility of aliens. That alien conspiracy guy meme is all over this, you see…” The two disparate friends made it back to Sean’s Grand Cherokee by the time Sean was done recounting what Dr. Cook had shared with him. Sean placed his bag in the backseat, closing the door and leaning back against it, arms crossed. “... and it looks Site B is my only chance.” Sean looked up at his friend, his uncanny eyes bright and intent with a self-bitterness he couldn’t quite hide from his friend. “You might come from self-aware brain-washed Bourne-like super soldiers, but at least your DNA isn’t trying to kill you.” 2014, July, Cassidy Residence “Did you want to go swimming?” Jason asked as he tried to resist Harley Quinn’s unrelenting assault with Martian Manhunter. He and Sean were sitting on the edge of his bed, playing Injustice: Gods Among Us. “No,” Sean replied tersely, redoubling the digital ass kicking he was giving his friend. He had more experience with the game, but he didn’t usually abuse his extra familiarity with a game to mercilessly destroy his friends. He wouldn’t throw a game - wanting to win as much as anyone - but rather kept it to a level that would push his opponent, give them time to learn and experiment. But he was having none of it now. “Why?” Jason asked, unperturbed, simply switching to another character for a rematch, while Sean stayed with Harley. “The weather is nice, we could bike to the pool at Johnson Memorial Park.” “I don’t want to! Ugh!” Sean almost threw his controller at the TV when Jason managed to get in a lucky counter and follow it with a combo, putting Harley down in the first round of the match. Sean tossed the controller on the bed. “We’ve played enough, I don’t wanna play anymore.” “Okay.” Jason turned off the Playstation, placing both controllers on top of the console. He’d noticed his friend becoming more moody and surly the last few weeks. “Now, I would like to point out, would be a good time to go swimming.” “I said I don’t wanna,” Sean groused, pulling his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around his legs. “I don’t even know how much we’ll do stuff this summer. I’m going to be going out of town, even out of state, a couple of times.” “Oh? Vacation?” Jason felt a vague sense of… something. Sean was just about the only friend he had made at school, and while he was used to entertaining himself, he had become habituated spending time at the Cassidy’s. “No.” Sean’s girlish features contorted into a pout and he glanced away. “I’m… sick, or something, and I’m gonna go see some doctors in Helena, and Chicago, and maybe New York, ‘cuz the doctors here don’t know what’s wrong with me.” “What’s wrong with you?” Jason gave Sean a frank appraisal. “You don’t look or sound sick.” “I don’t know,” Sean said, and for the first time, Jason thought Sean was… not exactly lying to him, but not telling him the truth. “My parents are probably worrying over nothing.” Briskly and without giving Jason a chance to respond, Sean hopped off the bed and began heading out the door. “I’mma gonna get a Pepsi. You want something to drink too?” “Yes.” Jason slid from the bed to his feet with his usual contained grace and followed Sean out of the room without saying anything more, his green eyes on his friend’s back as they went down to the kitchen. Sean had been moody of late, and whilst Jason had read that puberty could make neurotypical people erratic and temperamental, it seemed vastly out of character for Sean to be evasive or curt with him. Perhaps he was re-evaluating his friendship with Jason. Or perhaps it was nothing to do with Jason at all, and he was worried about something else. It would fit the pattern better : doctors, specialists perhaps. For a condition Sean didn’t want to discuss. Unheeding of the lean silent ghost following him, thinking Jason was just waiting on the bed, Sean went through into the kitchen, hearing the sounds of girlish laughter from outside - Teagan and her freshman buddies, playing out in the summer sunshine - a water fight from the sounds of things. He sighed grumpily - Teegs would let him join in, but Sean didn’t want to lose his baggy sweater right now, especially in front of gossipy high school girls. He bent over and peered in the fridge, grabbing a Pepsi for himself and cataloguing what else was in there that Jason might prefer. “We got some ice tea, if you waah-SHIT!” he’d turned his head to call back down the hallway and seen Jase right there, three feet away and regarding him with that serious, figuring-things-out-look he sometimes got in his eyes. “Jase! Man! Don’t do that!” “Do what?” Jason asked, still with his brow lightly furrowed as he examined his friend. “And ice tea is fine.” Sean glowered as he grabbed the jug from the fridge and got a cup down from the cupboard. “Sneak up on people. You coulda given me a heart attack.” “Is that what is wrong? A problem with your heart?” Jason asked calmly as he took the cup and jug and poured himself a drink. Sean blinked as his friend glanced at him, head tilting slightly to one side. “No! It was just a figure of speech, Jase.” Sean huffed, unable to stop himself from smiling a little. “Oh.” Jason nodded, still focusing on Sean as he took a drink from the cup. Lowering it, he went on. “If you want to talk to me about it, you can.” “I know.” Sean said more quietly. “I just don’t want to talk about it… not until I know more about it, or know it’s real, you know?” He watched Jason ponder that for a second, then nod. “When I know I need to talk about it, I’ll definitely tell you.” “Good.” Jason seemed satisfied, and they smiled at each other as the sounds from outside shifted and came closer- “Hey guys!” Teagan Cassidy, athletic body currently wearing a bikini and a soaking wet t-shirt, came bounding into the kitchen closely followed by her friends who, it has to be said because Jase and Sean were present, were all noticeably dressed the same way. Whilst not possessed of Teagan’s degree of athleticism, her friends were all involved in various sporting activities and, especially when soaking wet and bright-eyed from merriment, were distracting to boys on the cusp of adolescence. Even, Sean noted, to Jason. Which was weird. Jason didn’t historically notice girls - not as girls. They were just other kids he shared space with, whom he didn’t treat any differently than boys - almost everyone was held at polite, chilly arms length. While other eleven and twelve year old boys were sniggering and taking their first steps into adolescent courtship, egging each other on to be the first to kiss a girl or go on a date, Jason seemed serenely unconcerned. Sean had put it down to his undiscussed autism. But all of a sudden, as he tried not to stare - or at least, not get caught staring - at some of the bodies to which wet t-shirts were clinging and looked at his friend, he noticed Jason was studying them over the rim of his cup, green eyes as unabashedly intent as a cat watching birds bathing in a fountain. They seemed unaware, chattering excitedly about boys, or a sports meet, or plans for the weekend as they came over, bustling around the fridge and grabbing drinks, and Sean noted with a sense of vicarious embarrassment that Jason was watching them bend over to peer into the fridge, or lean against the counters, studying the curves of their bodies with a gaze that was both remotely appreciative and, though he wouldn’t think this until reviewing the incident later, somewhat intensely predatory for an eleven year old boy. He nudged his friend, and Jason merely switched his gaze from the girls to him as though he’d been disturbed watching television or a sunset, with no embarrassment at all. They went back to ‘Injustice’, drinks in hand, as the kitchen behind them rang with the chatter and laughter of the sophomores.
  19. 2 points
    2019 - Monday, Labor Day morning, on the road “Yeah, that seems good.” Jason mused, taking a swallow of Coke. “Perhaps we can persuade the Aeon people to share that communications tech with us.” He smiled in his usual wry fashion. “At least the stuff they were handing out to Etienne and their other agents - that not-quite-a-phone we found of his.” “I wonder if they work on the same basic principles as the weird radio from the trailer,” Sean added, flicking on the turn signal and shifting lanes with a quick glance in the mirror for the upcoming off ramp to Great Falls. “But what I really want…” There was a lustful burr to the shapely boy’s dulcet voice, “... is some of that holography tech. Gaming night and video games would be so sweet.” As the music changed to a minimalist composition of soft percussion and what sounded like singularly drops of something into some manner of liquid, Sean went off on a tangent about the progress he was making on his video game. Jason let his friend babble on, long familiar with how Sean’s particular brand of genius benefitted from jumping from one topic to another. With greater understanding of his own abilities and how they manipulated software, the coding on FBG (Fallout-But-Good, codename), was taking an exponential leap forward, in efficiency especially. He could get more using less memory, which drastically eased rendering and loading times, and would mitigate crashes and errors - also helped by him not being a lazy coder. “... do away with zoning, and don’t even need to use cinematic cutscenes anymore. I can get it all done using the game engine, just zooming and playing with the camera angles to get the best shots,” Sean explained, sounding almost giddy, as he wove through Great Falls on the familiar route to Sullivan’s Computers & Electronics. Sean had a great deal of respect for what the gaming industry had accomplished, but believed now, imagination and innovation had taken a backseat thanks to the executives and sales folk for the sake of the investors. Games from the biggest publishers were coming out nearly half finished - if that in some cases - and riddled with bugs. He was just one person, he couldn’t write, code, and test as fast as they could, or at least, he shouldn’t have been able too. On the other hand, he didn’t have stakeholders to answer to and publisher executives medling to squeeze every bit of money from the game at the expense of the game and the players. And he now had an insight into the digital world they just didn’t have. He could see a game forming that could be a turning point in the industry, one that could rank in the greatest and most influential game lists for years. One of those games that remained pristine and flawless in nostalgic eyes. “... and picture that in 3D holography, yeah?” Sean finished as he parked in the lot of the small srip mall. “I can,” Jase replied, forming the scene in his mind palace. “Evocative. But do you believe you’ll have the time to work on this with all that is happening with Proteus and Crossroads?” “You still make time for your flowers, Jase. I can make time for this,” Sean countered, his forearms on the steering wheel as he stared out the windshield thoughtfully. “I’m still looking at what comes after Proteus and Crossroads, Cody and Kline and all that stuff. Making video games might be a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a dream that isn’t lost me with everything that’s going on with us. A dream that has actually grown with it instead.” “I get it, Sean.” Jason looked over at his friend with his inscrutable gaze, and enigmatic grin. “Just wanted to know how important it was to you.” Sean rolled his eyes with familiar exasperation, but grinned. Jason had changed since summer, but then again, they’ve all had. Still, Sean was about the most used to him. “You could’ve just said that, man,” Sean groused. “But then, where would have been my fun?” Jason said, the bare curve of his lips deepening faintly, verdigris eyes glinting. The boys exited the Jeep, Jason with economical grace, Sean with more of a hop, due to his modest height. A pair of women, two or three years older than the Shellites leaving a yoga studio gave Jason a casual glance of interest, the blonde giving a shudder when she noticed his eyes. When their attention slid over Sean, who was straightening his hoodie and was once again considering the graphic on it being a little too on point, the blonde scowled, while the snorted a giggle, something sounding like ‘udders’ drifting over to the boys on the air. The hoodie was loose, but not shapeless, and regardless, Sean’s curves were much too pronounced to hide. He didn’t even try anymore. He just shot the girls an arched brow, then led Jason into Sullivan’s. “Hey, Sean!” the pudgy Sulli called in friendly greeting to one of his best customers, and occasional subcontractor for computer builds. “And friend,” Sulli added somewhat more neutrally when he noticed the lanky boy who was clearly accompanying Sean, guessing he wouldn’t have much time to geek out to pop culture and electronics with the intersexed youth. “What can I do you guys for?” “Phone shopping.” Sean told his tech-savvy friend with a grin. “My man Jase here has decided to join the 21st century and leave behind smoke signals and semaphore.” A slight bit of ribbing at Jason’s expense - Sean knew his friend was far from incompetent with technology, circuitry, electronics, computers and the like: he simply didn’t share Sean’s fascination with them to the same degree. Jason merely smiled at the good-natured teasing, his cold eyes crinkling a little at the corners as Sean went on. “I’m his spirit guide on this quest.” “Well, if Sean’s your guide, I’m guessing Android?” Sully smiled at Sean as he got his keys and moved along to the phone display cases. He gave Jase a professional shopkeeper’s appraisal. “What’s your budget look like?” “Money is no obstacle, within reason.” Jason responded calmly as he moved to examine some of the sleek-looking phones. 2013 - March, Weekend, Cassidy Home Sean busied himself with washing the lettuce as a quiet argument went on behind him. Outside, the grill was heating up as the family took advantage of an unseasonably warm early Spring day to properly cook steaks and burgers. Inside the kitchen, things were also heating up. “He bit that boy, and Mr Polanski. They both needed stitches.” Mom said with low, worried severity. “He was defending Sean, Mom.” Teagan said with a dismissive snort. “Mr Polanski lets Chet and his cronies do whatever - either because he’s blind or because he doesn’t care. Jason stepped up, you know what I’m saying?” “Alan’s mother said he still has bruises on his neck and has woken up with nightmares several times.” Carolyn fretted. “You can’t tell me that’s a normal scuffle between boys.” “Good. Alan should keep his hands to himself!” “Teagan Cassidy!” “What?! It’s true, mom. Chet and his friends are little shi- bullies.” Teagan moderated her words, if not her tone. “I don’t care if Sean’s friend gives them all screaming night terrors. Hell, I’ll hug him when I see him.” Sean’s older sister was fiercely protective of her little brother, and it showed. “Heh. He might bite you.” Laurie giggled. “Oh, don’t even joke.” Carolyn said severely. “What if he has serious problems?” “He does, mom.” Sean turned around, facing his sisters and mother, his father at the far end of the kitchen staying out of the discussion. “He’s got no mother, no siblings, his dad is a drunk. He acts like he doesn’t expect any kindness from anyone, but he always sits with me, and talks with me about all sorts of stuff. He’s super smart, just quiet. And he’s not mean at all.” “Tell that to Mr Polanski.” “That was an accident. Jase said he thought it was Chet.” “Oh, so he thought he was biting into a boy’s artery. That makes it so much better.” Carolyn’s tone was heavy with irony as she turned to her husband. “Jack, talk to your children please?” Sean’s dad looked up from the marinade he was mixing, considering his wife, then looking at Sean. “Our son invited his friend to our cookout.” he said in a level tone. “I see nothing wrong with that. Whatever you heard from other moms doesn’t count for much, Carolyn. I trust Teagan and Sean when they say those boys are bullies. Maybe Jason does have issues - but denying him our son’s friendship won’t help with that.” Carolyn let out a small sigh. “I know, I know. I’m just worried about-” “Trust Sean, sweetheart. He knows good eggs from bad.” Jack looked round as the front doorbell rang. “Speaking of…” “I’ve got it.” Sean dried his hands off on a dishtowel and scampered to the door. Opening it he saw Jason on the porch, a plastic container under one arm and with his satchel slung around his narrow shoulders. He gave Sean a tiny smile as the redheaded boy greeted him. “Heya Jase. What’s in the box?” “A gift.” Jason said enigmatically. Sean chuckled and swung the door wider, letting his friend in and leading him to the kitchen. “How’d you get down here? Dad give you a ride?” “My father’s sleeping. I walked.” Jason said as he followed Sean into the large family kitchen, noting the surprise on everyone’s face as his words registered. “You walked?” Carolyn sounded mildly aghast. “That’s..” “Three and a half miles, roughly.” Jason supplied helpfully as he put the blue plastic container on the table at one end. “These are for you, Mrs Cassidy.” “But that’s dangerous!” Carolyn said concernedly. “I’m careful.” Was all Jason replied, with a slight shrug. Teagan came round the table and popped off the lid from the container. “Oh hey, brownies.” “My first batch.” Jason told her with a smile. Teagan shot her mom a meaningful look, then turned and leaned over, giving Jason a hug. Sean saw his stoic friend’s eyes widen a little in surprise, swivelling towards Sean as though seeking answers for this strange behaviour. “Uh. Thanks. But they’re only brownies.” Teagan giggled, giving the skinny boy a slight squeeze, then released him. “No, that was for protecting Sean.” She hesitated, then gave him a kiss on the forehead, making him blink. “That was for the brownies.” “Say, these look good.” Jack peered into the container. Carolyn came forward then, shooing away her husband’s reaching hand. “Off, you. Jason said they were for me. Right, Jason?” she asked him as she put the lid back on the container and moved it to the fridge. “That’s right. And whoever you choose to share them with” he asserted with a faint smile. Carolyn came back over, giving him a slightly awkward one armed hug. “Thank you, sweetie. We’ll share them after dinner.” “If we’ve got any room.” Laurie grinned. Jason glanced around at the various tasks the family were doing, contributing to the meal, and frowned a little in consideration. “Can I help?” he asked. Jack and Carolyn exchanged a glance, and Sean smiled as he saw his mom’s expression. Whatever doubts she had about Jason or his issues, his mom had a huge heart. And it had gone out to his friend. “Sure. Ever grilled before?” Jack asked, getting off the stool he was seated on and bringing over a tray of steaks to set beside the bowl of dry marinade. “I need someone to coat these thoroughly. You up for that?” “I have seen it done.” Jason replied as he clambered up onto the stool and rolled up the sleeves of his sweater.
  20. 2 points
    2019 - Monday, Labor Day morning, on the road. “Something internet-capable, with a camera capable of taking decent imagery and enough memory to be worthwhile. Reasonably up to date and modern. I also want a VPN on there, a good one.” Jase gazed out the window at the road ahead, his manner relaxed as he reeled off his requirements. “And thats just the shop-bought aspect. I will need you to use your skills and gifts, too. I want the thing unbreakable - if anyone so much as tries to bypass the passcode I set, I want the phone to delete all data stored and reset to factory settings. If possible I want the number hidden from trace attempts or call recognition software and hardware. Ideally I want to be able to call a person, or access the internet, and have no-one know it was me that did it unless I want them to.” “That’s a big ask.” Sean frowned a little, mulling over how it could be done. “Any reason?” “I like my privacy. I don’t like the idea of people being able to look over my shoulder whenever someone suitably high up in the FBI or NSA feels like authorising it.” Jason shrugged, smiling a little. “The alternative is buying up a bunch of burners, but that would get inconvenient for everyone else.” Sean’s head bobbed along to the music - acoustic guitar with an underscore of drums - as he considered the ask. A hair-trigger factory reset wasn’t hard - he knew Jase wouldn’t forget his password or anything - but simply slipping up would be on him. And he could suggest several great VPNs, or give Jase access to his own. The rest though… he’d been exploring his capabilities, had had a great deal of experience just last week, and was working through how his powers interacted with both hardware and software. Could he figure out a way to allow a smartphone to interface with any telecomm network invisibly? “You’ll wanna go with an Android, purely for the customization options,” Sean said, reaching back for a bottle of Pepsi, but couldn’t reach while keeping his eyes on the road. He gave his friend a put-upon glance and with a thought, Jase telekinetically retrieved a bottle for him, even unscrewing the cap. Sean nodded his thanks, and took a sip. His screwed the cap back on and plopped the bottle into the cup holder before continuing. “Samsung Galaxy, Pixel, OnePlus all have what you’re looking for. Can even go with Huawei - I can clean out anything the Chinese Government has left behind. The VPN and super buff password/factory-reset protocol, I got ya,” Sean assured Jase with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Hopping onto a network without anyone noticing unless you want them to… that’s going to be trickier. I can do it, but getting a smartphone to do something similar… I’ll have to tinker around some and do some testing, but I’m pretty sure I can figure it out.” He shot Jase a small smirk. “This isn’t just to get out of paying a monthly phone bill, is it?” “Not only that, at any rate,” Jason replied with inscrutable mirth. “Riiiiight…” Sean drawled. “Anyway, you might want a public phone as well as a private one. Actually, I could partition your phone with a hidden way to switch between public and private mode.” He pursed his full lips in a contemplative moue. “Actually actually, I should probably do this for all the Fellowship’s phones. If I can figure out that radio from the trailer, I might even be able to skip the cell grid entirely, when calling each other, anyway.” 2013 - March, Afternoon, Shelly Elementary THWACK! The rubbery, textured, not-quite-pink ball hit Sean in the chest like a cannon ball, knocking him clean off his feet and onto his back. The rest of the class ‘oooohed’ at solid hit. Gasping, trying to catch his breath against the pain, he squinted at the sunlight filtering in through the high windows of the gym, trying to hold back tears, a terminal sign of weakness in any grade-school aged boy. A shadow fell over him. Through his blurring sight, Sean could just make out the stocky form of Chet Walker. “Not so tall now, are you, Cassidy?” Chet growled in a low voice, reclaiming the dodge ball. “Now, let’s hear you squeal like a girl for your boyfriend.” And squeal Sean did, when Chet reached out with a thumb a forefinger to give him a purple nurple. Sean rolled over onto his side, hands going to his chest, almost gagging with how much it hurt. His body covering what he had, Chet backed away, trying to look completely innocent. “What happened?” Mr. Polanski demanded, coming out of the attached office, annoyed at the disruption. He’d been trying to catch up on marking papers while he let the kids destroy themselves at dodge ball. “Dunno, Mr. Polanksi,” Chet said, “Sean just got hit hard by the ball. Knocked the wind out of him.” “Sean, go to the change room and catch your breath. The rest of you, five more minutes, then it’s time to change out of your gym clothes.” Sean glared at Chet through brimming eyes, who returned with a shit-eating grin and feigned throwing the ball at him, making Sean flinch. At Chet and his friends chuckled, Sean hobbled to the change room. In the change room, Sean knuckled the tears from his eyes, then looked at himself in the mirror. Tentatively, he pulled up his shirt, then the one under it, and the one under that. He’d always been on the slender side, but lately, his chest had started to look puffy and swollen and he wondered if he was getting fat. He didn’t need that - looking like a girl and being fat. Now, one nipple, swollen and tight, was dark red, almost verging on purple from the purple nurple Chet had given him. It looked bad, and still throbbed with a dull, blunt pain. Should he go to the nurse? Cautiously, he touched it and hissed in through his teeth, shocked at how the pain suddenly sharpened. “I only got one,” Chet said with adolescent threat. Sean whirled around, not having heard Chet enter the change room. The door banged open behind the stockier boy, as a pair of his friends followed him in. Chet grinned. “Let’s make that purple nurple a matching set.” “Let’s not.” The words were quietly spoken, without a trace of excitement or fear, as Jason’s slim form slipped into the changing rooms behind the three. He’d been on the sidelines, tagged out earlier in the game and watching the other students with his usual detached interest. ‘That creepy kid’, as he was known, was oddly and unfairly not a target for Chet and his ilk, beyond the occasional snickering taunt or rude shoulder-slam which he appeared to absorb with the same cold-eyed attentiveness as he did everything else. In truth, Jase had marked every single taunt, every single shove and minor act of petty cruelty that was usually passed off as ‘boys being boys’. He could cite, chapter and verse, the exact time, date, and circumstances of each and every single one. His neurology was simply not equipped with the kind of emotional processing that normal kids possessed which enabled them to laugh off such treatment, or grumble and cuss about it, then leave it in the past, a necessary component of social cohesion bonding. He’d been waiting for Chet, or one of the others, to try and push things further than they had with him so he could exact stored up revenge for every slight to his dignity, but they never did, perhaps sensing in some rudimentary fashion that there was easier prey. Chet’s assault on Sean, it had occurred to Jason as he’d watched the bully and his cohorts furtively follow the girlish boy to the locker room, could perhaps be a pretext. After all, Sean had invited him round to his house once or twice, and was always friendly and civil when he saw him at school. In an abstract fashion the boy-who-wasn't appreciated such kindness and courtesy. Sean was a ‘friend’, was he not? At least so far as Jason understood such things. And friends defended friends. That was socially acceptable, if not always strictly within the limits of the rules. The rules did not bother Jason overmuch, but he had a nascent urge to camouflage himself socially. Not so much to 'fit in' as to 'blend in'. But he disliked Chet. Disliked the sniggering jackals that walked at his heels. And competing with the urge to disguise his nature was another, older urge. He wasn't exactly sure what to call it, but it was best described as an urge to correct the other boys mistaken apprehension regarding their place on the food chain. Chet and the other two boys, Alan and Finn, turned to look at Jason who was standing very still, watching them in that eerily intense manner he sometimes had. Or rather, watching Chet, his head tilted fractionally to one side as though considering something. “Shove off, Bannon.” Chet blustered, unamused at having his game spoiled. The new kid gave him the creeps - everyone knew his dad ran with that crazy militia and had been jailed for murder or drug-dealing or something. He also didn’t act right, at least so far as Chet’s understanding of the world dictated. Right now, in the prelude to a dominance contest Bannon should be nervous, his voice a little more shrill, perhaps trying to stand a little taller and puff out his chest. Instead he just stood as he always stood, a little bonelessly, slouching slightly, no shifting of his feet or balling of his fists. “Dude’s just going to stand and stare.” Alan sneered, stepping towards Jason. “Fuck off, faggot. Or we’ll give you a swirly once we’re done nurpling your girlfriend.” The only effect this seemed to have was Jason’s stare switching targets, from Chet to Alan. “Ooh, whatcha gonna do?!” The boy stepped forward some more, closing to just out of arms reach, some subconscious instinct perhaps warning him about coming closer. At least until Chet spoke up. “Yeah, let’s swirly the thrift-store reject. Grab him.” At the urging of his leader, Alan failed to heed that dimly-heard instinct and instead stepped forward once more, grabbing Jason’s skinny shoulders. Jase’s fingers twitched once, and his pale eyes gleamed. Right before he exploded into sudden, violent motion, hands coming up and locking around the larger boy’s throat. Alan yelled in surprise as surprisingly strong slender fingers tightened in a death-grip. He tried to pull away, but succeeded only in dragging the slender figure with him as the pair of them, tethered by a pair of scrawny-seeming arms, fell over a bench, landing on the floor. Alan tried to yell for help, but only succeeded in expelling more precious air from his lungs. He flailed punches at Jason’s ribs and stomach, but the leverage was bad and the panicked blows had little force behind them. Chet and Finn yelled and moved to help their friend, Chet trying to prise Jason’s fingers from their hold and Finn looping an arm over and around the skinny boy’s shoulders, trying to pull him away. Sean, still momentarily stunned at the sudden viciousness of the most un-schoolyard of brawls, saw Jason turned his head and bare his teeth, biting as hard as he could into the fleshy part of Finn’s forearm. Finn screamed, a high note of pain, and released his grasp only for Jason to likewise release his hold on Alan’s neck, turn with blood on his lips, and go for Finn’s throat in the same way. Alan sobbed as he sucked in air with hoarse gasps, tears running down his young face as, kneeling beside him, eyes wide with shock, Chet watched the Bannon kid bear Finn backwards by sheer vicious determination, the two of them crashing through the door to the changing rooms and emerging into the gym hall. They staggered through a cluster of girls nearby, who squealed and yelled in surprise as Finn strove to keep those hands from his throat, stumbling over someone’s foot and sprawling on the floor with Bannon atop him. Jason’s face was a mask of intent concentration, as though he were working on a tricky math problem rather than attempting to choke the life out of another child. He brought a knee up into Finn’s stomach, causing the other boy to gasp and his grip on Jase’s wrists to weaken... “That’s enough!” Mr Polanski shoved through the crowd that was gathering, moving past a wide-eyed Autumn Keane and not ungently propelling Cassie Allen out of his way. “Jason, Finn, knock it the hell OFF! Hey, I said- AHH-OW!!” He’d been in the process of yanking Jason bodily off his quarry, and in front of the entire gym class Jase turned under the grasping hand, agile as a young weasel, and to the gasps of horror and surprise of the onlookers sank his teeth deep into Mr Polanski’s wrist.
  21. 2 points
    ...Fuck. Autumn froze, her whole body tensing- even her breath stilling for a moment in that instinctive response to being caught doing something she really shouldn't have been doing. Or at least, that she shouldn't have been doing on her front porch. Guiltily, the red-faced girl slowly broke off the kiss, her fingers sliding from Jase's hair as she bit her lip and wondered (not for the first time) if she could be lucky enough for the earth to just open up beneath her and swallow her whole. "Hi, mom. So... We're back." "So I see. Safe and sound." Her mother's voice was still upbeat. "Hello again, Jason." "Dana." he said pleasantly, nodding as though his hands weren't still on Autumn's rear. He tilted his head a tiny amount, studying first Autumn's reaction, then her mother's raised eyebrow, and nodding once more as though he'd figured something out, he slid his hands from his crimson-faced girlfriend's butt to her waist. "We were just saying goodbye." he stated calmly. "Nonsense!" Dana's smile widened as she looked from the oddly composed youth to her daughter. "You must be starving. Why don't you stay for dinner?" A sense of growing trepidation slowly eclipsing her embarrassment, Autumn's wide blue eyes darted from her mother's too-bright smile to her boyfriend's characteristically impassive expression. This did not bode well: they'd only just started dating, and this was not how she'd wanted her mom to find out. The younger of the two redheads wasn't particularly worried that Jase would be rude, but having dinner with your date's parents was usually a thing that happened later, and also usually not right after they'd seen you all over each other. No, if someone had to die on the altar of Dana Keane's maternal ire, she'd rather it be her. Swallowing her nerves, she turned to her mother with a quick smile. "No, no, really, it's cool. He was just leaving, and I'm sure he's got stuff to do at home." "Oh?" Dana glanced once more at the calm jade pools that were Jase's eyes. She was calculating on a sense of embarrassment, and on the tendency of people to make excuses and jump at the chance to avoid socially awkward situations. In essence, her entire strategy in this instance was indeed to send Jason packing with a sigh of relief and a sense that he'd narrowly escaped disaster. Unfortunately, she had only a faint idea that he was unusual, or that lying was not one of his facets at all. So when she met his eye, still smiling, and asked with an arch tone of disappointment "Do you, Jason? Have things to do at home?" she had no clue that a sudden realisation on Autumn's part was causing her to experience something akin to existential dread. "Nothing pressing." Jase replied politely. "I'd be glad to accept your invitation, Dana. Thank you. Provided you are happy for me to clean up and change - I’m a little dusty from the hike and the climbing." Somewhere in the back of Autumn's mind a primal scream of impotent, wordless frustration rang out, manifesting in the real world as a tiny, despairing squeak barely audible over the conversation. There was no all-consuming abyss underfoot, no cavernous, chthonic maw welcoming her into the depths of oblivion. Of course there wasn't. Her only hope now was that Dana wouldn't think to ask what Jason's intentions were with her daughter. A shiver of unease raced down her spine at the thought. "Oh," she replied, exhaling. Breathe, Autumn. It'll be fine. It's fine. It's just dinner. "I guess I can get this stuff put away while-" "Oh, I don't think that's necessary." Dana turned to her daughter, her sharp hazel eyes untouched by the pleasant smile she'd affected as she noted that neither of the teens had completely disengaged from the other yet. "We can take care of all that after dinner! Besides, I could use some help in the kitchen if we're going to have company over." I'm dead. "Sure," Autumn agreed unhappily, wondering if any of the Fellowship would visit her grave, and what kind of flowers they'd leave. "Yeah... I can do that." "Great." Dana waved them both in, noting with some relief that the two of them finally removed their hands from each other as they stepped across the threshold. "Jason, there's a bathroom just down the hallway here on the left. You go ahead and get cleaned up while us girls decide on what's for dinner. And don't mind the... dogs?" Her puzzlement was due to the fact that the dogs were not currently alternating between barking excitedly and throwing themselves at Autumn and the strange person in welcome, as was their usual wont. Instead they were watching curiously from a short distance away, doggy eyes intent and tracking Jason as he removed his boots so as not to track dirt into the home. Dakota's ears were pricked up and forwards, and Lexi was sitting still. They didn't seem scared, or hostile. Just... watchful. "Mind? I like dogs." Jase said with a small smile, turning towards the two animals and slowly crouching and extending a hand, palm up, in silent invitation. There was a curious manner to it, a deliberateness in the gesture, and Dakota took a step closer, then a few more, sniffing lightly at the proffered hand. His tail wagged then, hesitantly, then with more confidence as Jason slowly moved his other hand to scritch the Shepherd's ears. Apparently reassured, Dakota turned and pressed against Autumn in his more usual hello as Lexi also came forward, sniffed Jason's hand, and relaxed as he petted her neck and shoulders. Standing, he shouldered his backpack and smiled at Autumn. "I won't be long. Then I can help Dana while you get cleaned up." he promised before moving off down the hallway and disappearing into the downstairs guest bathroom. "Hey," Autumn murmured, smiling a little in spite of herself as the sable Shepherd demanded attention. Burying her fingers in the thick fur around his neck and kneeling to smooth her other palm over Lexi's side, she watched thoughtfully as Jase departed. That was... different. None of the Keanes' fosters were aggressive, but it was easy for people to mistake their energetic, vocal enthusiasm for hostility or a territorial nature, and yet they'd been mild as milk in greeting a newcomer. A stranger. Specifically, Jason Bannon, who, she conceded, was kind of strange by most standards. She was still smiling when Dana spoke again, breaking the comfortable moment of relative silence. "So." It was a single syllable, but carried a wealth of emotional context. It was the sound, like the old movie said, of inevitability. "Is there anything he doesn't eat? Allergies, or anything like that?" The pretty veterinarian's tone was carefully neutral as she waved her daughter along toward the kitchen. A little confused that this was her approach, and no less uneasy for the apparent reprieve, Autumn followed. "I don't think so, no," she answered cautiously, tugging the drawstring of her hoodie restlessly back and forth as she considered the question. "I mean, I'm pretty sure he does most of the cooking at his house, since his dad works nights, and he always brings his own lunch." "Does he?" her mother asked, checking the freezer to see what they had on hand. "Like what? Burgers, spaghetti, that kind of thing?" Those were safe guesses, considering their age, and that, if the rumors were true, Jason came from a single-parent home. Even so, she was a little surprised- most teenage boys didn't bother. Autumn frowned slightly, shaking her head as Dana glanced in her direction. "No... Um, more like... Provencal-style country mutton stew." As soon as she uttered the words, the redhead remembered the ingredients, and, blushing furiously, immediately regretted it. Dana blinked, peering at Autumn narrowly as though the thought crossed her mind that she was being made fun of in some way. Autumn's blush wasn't that of someone caught in a lie, though. She actually seemed embarrassed by something else entirely, and her words had possessed the ring of sincerity. "Okay. So. He cooks." Dana glanced back into the freezer, then removed a frozen casserole she'd stored last week. "He restores classic muscle cars." She closed the freezer door and, setting the dish on the counter, moved to turn the oven on before reviewing the vegetable situation. "And, because I am choosing to trust you'd not lie to me, Autumn Rae, yesterday he was just a friend." She motioned to Autumn. "Lets get some potatoes baking, and while you get them ready you can tell me how things came to the point I witnessed at the front door- oh, and that you were careful last night." "Mom!" Autumn exclaimed, utterly mortified and cognizant of every freckle as a tiny glowing ember smouldering in the blazing scarlet of her skin. "We didn't- It wasn't like that. I mean, I know I joked about no grandchildren, but, seriously, that didn't happen. And he really was just a friend," she insisted as she picked out three decent-sized potatoes from the bin and laid them on the counter. "We just started talking last Friday, so the idea of dating wasn't really a thing." Pulling a paring knife from the block, the flustered young woman washed her hands in the sink, then started removing the eyes and carving out bruised areas as her mother busied herself with the other sides. She frowned, jabbing the point of the knife into the dull brown flesh and twisting. "It just... We were having a good time, cleaning the camp site up and talking, and it just sort of happened." "Hmmph." It was a good 'hmmph', rich in subtext and shading, with a hint of thoughtful appraisal thrown in for good measure. Autumn, her gaze studiously on the work her hands were doing and still red as a tomato, was not aware of the slight smile on her mother's lips as she weighed her daughter's reaction and words. "Just happened, hmm?" "Yes." Autumn muttered, still coming to terms with the swift changes in her relationship with Jase herself, which he’d also found surprising. What had he called it? Alchemy. "Okay." Dana relented a little as she worked on her side of the counter space. She smirked a little as she glanced at her red-faced daughter, unable to resist mixing a little teasing with the interrogation. "So, is there anything I need to know about Jase, other than he's apparently quite the kisser?" Oh, god. "Well," she began tentatively, struggling to focus on the potatoes rather than the fact that, yes, Jesus holy fuck, he was 'quite the kisser.' "He's honest." Small understatement. "He's the smartest person I know- which, yeah, this is Shelly, so it's not saying much, but seriously. Umm... speaks several different languages, likes poetry..." Autumn paused, holding the knife blade still for a moment as she thought about what she actually knew of him. "Doing things with his hands, I think, really. Cooking, working on the car, gardening- Oh!" A sudden smile brightened her flushed features as she thought of his private Eden, the reason she'd invited him out in the first place, and she turned to regard her mother, leaning one hip against the counter as she did so. "The indoor garden he's built is incredible, mom. Lit-er-a-lly one of the most gorgeous things I've ever seen, plants and flowers from all over the world. Honestly," she shrugged one shoulder, still smiling. "He's kind of amazing." Her mom blinked as the casual query seemed to unearth a gold-mine of revelations, not least of which was Autumn's gradually shining-through enthusiasm as she moved past the mortification of parental teasing and warmed to her subject. Amazing was not a word Dana had ever expected to hear used to describe a teenage boy, especially by her own daughter. The conflicting emotions of happiness that Autumn had found someone who made her eyes shine so positively, and nervousness that the source of that shine was someone she and other Shelly residents had widely considered to be a bad seed warred in her hazel eyes as they appraised her daughter. "Wow." she remarked, following it up with a thoughtful "He does sound amazing." She arched a brow. "Sounds like someone thinks he's just about perfect, in fact." she added in a tone that was teasing, but couldn't quite hide her concern. Autumn sighed, blue eyes rolling heavenward as she turned back to finish cleaning up the last of the potatoes. "He's not perfect," she replied, exasperated, as if her mother had just said the most ridiculous thing in the world. "He's funny. He's smart. He's good at a lot of things, and I'm having fun getting to know more about him. He has..." Pursing her lips, the red-haired girl set the knife aside, raking the bad bits off the counter and into her open hand before heading to the trash can to throw them away. "He has a lot of good qualities, I guess. I'm happy we started talking, and I hope we're friends for a long time." She rinsed her hands again, and the knife as well, before putting it in the dish drainer. "He does have a few, um, quirks, though." That was good for a maternal brow-furrow, and Dana was just opening her mouth to ask what 'um quirks' Autumn was talking about when both Keane women caught the sound of the bathroom door opening down the hall. Dakota, who'd been sitting in the kitchen doorway watching the food preparation, glanced in the direction of the opened door, his tail thumping on the carpet a few times before a cleaned-up Jason appeared round the corner. He'd obviously washed himself clean of dust as much as was practical, damp hair swept back from his forehead, the wet ends trailing against the sun-darkened skin of his neck as he bent from the waist to give Dakota another ear-scritch in passing. And he'd changed his clothes, replacing the dirty combat pants, tee shirt and hoodie with a white sleeveless tee - that showed off, probably incidentally, the lean symmetry of his shoulders and arms - and... oh no... grey sweatpants. "Hi." he said in greeting as he set his pack down in the hall, then wandered into the kitchen. He gave both of them a faint smile that reached the corners of his eyes before studying the kitchen, what they were doing, and finally returning his green laser stare to the ladies themselves. "Is there anything I can do to help?" "Hi," Autumn replied automatically, her voice oddly distant to her own ears. It was, to be fair, difficult to hear over the sudden surge of blood rushing to her face, the dull roar almost indistinguishable from that of a nearby bonfire. Certainly she'd seen him wearing less clothing, but that wasn't the point. The point was that... Was... It occurred to her, dimly, that she was going to need to breathe soon, as her eyes traveled slowly from the damp strands of dark hair that brushed his ears to the sharp line of his collarbone. "Autumn?” She could just see a faint mark there- not quite a bruise- and shivered, just a little, at the memory of making it. Beyond that, her gaze continued its leisurely descent, pausing at the outline of- “Autumn Rae Keane!" She blinked, inhaling sharply as if startled, deep blue eyes focusing on her mother's slim fingers as they snapped in front of her face. "What? Oh. Yeah... I should, um, go get cleaned up." "Do that." her mother not-quite-ordered, pressing her lips together to avoid further comment or, conversely, laughter at the expression on Autumn's face as she'd stared at the youth in the doorway. She watched as Autumn moved towards that doorway, sharp eyes not missing the way the athletic young woman slowed her pace and glanced up at Jason's face as she drew near, like a flower turning towards the sun. Even her torso seemed to lean a little, as though drawn by some magnetic impulse. And the attraction was plainly not one-way - his eyes tracked her with intensity and focus, his face turned towards her as she drew abreast of him and one freckle specked hand came up to brush across his upper arm near the shoulder, feeling the vitality of his body and the connection of his Shine for a moment with the air of a connoisseur savoring wine. "Hey." Jason said softly in response to her touch, a verbal caress of his own. "Hey." Autumn smiled back, clear blue eyes meeting jade green, and Dana felt a slight warmth behind the skin of her face as she watched them gaze at each other, averting her eyes and clearing her throat. There was something unrelentingly, uncaringly pure and untamed about the way they looked at each other. "Jase? Autumn tells me you know your way around a kitchen - you okay with whipping up a tomato salad?" At her mother's voice, Autumn dropped her hand from Jason's arm and, more slowly, her eyes from his and slipped past him, remembering to breathe now as she hurried up the stairs. "Sure." Jason moved to the center isle counter and selected a thin, sharp knife from the block as Dana set down the tomatoes and some onions before him, along with a dish. He seemed totally at ease, that same sense of self-possession that had struck Dana when he'd arrived yesterday like a king’s mantle around his shoulders. He glanced at her as she studied him, meeting her eyes with no sense of hesitancy as he began to thinly slice the tomatoes. "Thank you again for inviting me, Dana." "Not at all," the slim redhead replied smoothly, despite a resurgence of the vague, unsettling feeling she'd experienced the day before- that as she'd scrutinized the tall young man going out into the woods with her headstrong daughter, she herself had been considered. Still... All of her children, both of the four- and two-legged varieties, seemed to approve of him, so maybe that oddly direct gaze was just one of the 'quirks' Autumn had mentioned. "It's been a long time since Autumn's had anyone over," she continued conversationally, piercing the potatoes with the tines of a fork. "Especially someone new." Dana reflected on that for a moment, one fingertip tapping on the counter as she gathered her thoughts. When was the last time? Besides Jacob, who was practically family and had an open invitation... And she'd certainly never seen her girl look at him that way. When she was in junior high, maybe? Hm. "She mentioned you guys just started talking recently." Dana glanced briefly over at her daughter's new beau as she pulled a bottle of olive oil from the cabinet. "How did you two meet, if you don't mind my asking?"
  22. 1 point
    "A very little key will open a very heavy door." -Charles Dickens, 'The Strange Gentleman' "Never open a door that you can’t lock again." -Persian Proverb Thursday afternoon, 29th August. The keys to the other house- once her grandparents' house and one day hers, but always the "other" house- had been in the same place they always were, hanging on a little hook by the phone in the kitchen. There were at least a dozen of them, most made of old brass, all linked on a ring with a bright yellow tag that read "Oasis Bar & Casino" in worn red letters. (The Oasis was a little hole in the wall dive on Main Street near the hardware store, with a big sign that read "DANCING;" though Autumn had never been inside, she'd always wondered if anybody in Shelly actually went there for that purpose.) Some of the keys, she knew, went to the front and back doors, to the shed, to the gun safe and the liquor cabinet. One used to belong to her grandfather's pickup truck, and one fit the padlock on the heavy utility gate across the gravel driveway. The others, though, were mysteries, an assortment of keys in shapes and sizes that didn't seem to correspond to any of the doors or security locks in either home. She and her mother had talked about it after the memorial service, when they'd cleared out most of the miscellaneous clutter and bric-a-brac Owen and Caroline had amassed in all their years together; the furniture had stayed, of course, in part because most of it had been custom-built, but much of the home's contents had been either sold or donated. Sitting at the dining room table afterward in the oddly-silent house, Autumn and Dana had gone through the keys one by one for no other reason than that it gave them something mundane to focus on, something to take away the feeling of being gutted and hollow for just a few minutes more while they drank the coffee other people had made. One of them, they decided, was probably for a post office box. Another, smaller and well-worn, looked like it would fit a locker- maybe the one he'd used at work. There was no way of knowing, obviously, and as a result the keys that couldn't be accounted for acquired an appealingly mysterious provenance. In those few stolen moments of distraction from the reality of their loss, the two Keane women proposed increasingly fantastical origins and purposes for them: a safe deposit box containing the deed to a lost mine; a secret door at the Veterans' Memorial that led to a nuclear fallout shelter; a vault in the Highlander Self-Service Laundry that contained all the missing socks that had ever disappeared from Shelly dryers. Those keys, with all the stories attached to them- both remembered and imagined- now jingled in the pocket of her hoodie. Looking back on that afternoon as she strapped a couple of boxes onto the back of the four-wheeler, it occurred to Autumn that in sorting out the keyring, she didn't think her mother had ever mentioned the door in the basement. She couldn't remember whether she'd ever seen it herself growing up, couldn't picture where it might have been... but then, she'd never had much reason to go down there, either. The refrigerator and the television and the fireplace and her grandfather's big chair were all upstairs, and there was no tidy, fenced-in yard for a playground but all the hills and wild places all around the cabin to keep her occupied. Why would she have wanted to go poking around for secret libraries when there were trees to climb and fox dens to find and clouds to watch? Mom must've known about it though, she reflected, frowning as she went through the motions of closing the garage door before stepping back out into the warm, late-August sun. I mean, she lived there as a kid, and she was the one who went through the basement. If she'd cleaned it out, I'd have seen all the books and stuff, so... Did she not want to tell me, or was it just more than she felt like dealing with at the time, or what? If Autumn's thoughts were of a somewhat murkier cast than normal when she started up the road, muddied by the prospect of unearthing family secrets and prodding at wounds not yet entirely healed, the ride up to her grandparents' property proved restorative. She took her time, letting the low rumble of the motor drown out everything else and focusing instead on the road ahead, the wind lifting her hair, and the sharp scent of pine filling her lungs. It was the closest she could get to flight- at least, without demanding another airplane from Jason Goddamn Bannon. The memory of that feeling- of swooping and circling over everyone's heads just a few short days before, of the sound of laughter ringing out bright and free as if to spite the encroaching darkness- brought a smile to her lips and a pleasant warmth to her cheeks as the gate came into view up ahead. Into the driveway. Downshift. Brake. Out came the ring of keys, down went her feet onto the gravel. With a little fiddling, the padlock popped open, and the rusted metal gate followed suit; Autumn nudged the ATV forward again, then barred the way behind her. She'd done it countless times before, but never with this same sense of... nervousness? Anticipation? It felt a little like pedaling down the road to the farm on Monday, wondering the entire time if it was a good idea, knowing it probably wasn't, and still being unwilling to turn around. Maybe Nathan was screwing with her, but maybe he wasn't. Maybe her grandfather really did know about the Dark- Warden Crocker had, so it wasn't all that crazy an idea. Maybe... Autumn swallowed hard as she brought the four-wheeler to a stop in front of the two-story log house Owen Kavanagh had built decades ago for his freckled, flame-haired bride. Maybe he could still help. Leaving the boxes for now, his granddaughter hopped off the ATV and followed the stacked stone retaining wall up to the front of the house. The darkened windows that greeted her might, in any other context, have seemed sinister- here, though, they only suggested dormancy. Another key unlocked the front door and she crossed the threshold into the mud room without hesitation, nudging the door shut with her heel. It wasn't remotely the first time she'd been here in the year since Owen had passed, but every time she walked through that door Autumn could swear she smelled fresh coffee and the faint scent of pipe smoke. Today was no exception. Smiling despite the sudden liquid blurriness of her vision, the redhead pulled off her shoes and left them there, padding in her sock feet down the rug-covered hallway. "Hey, Grandpa," she called out quietly, her voice sounding taut even to her own ears as she passed the open kitchen. It was a silly habit, but one she couldn't seem to break just because he wasn't here to answer anymore; it would probably feel weirder if she did stop. Of course there was no coffee in the house, and no one to make it, but she couldn't help but glance over just the same. "Brought back that tackle box Dad got from you, and some other stuff we borrowed from the shop. Sorry it took so long." Exhaling in a long, shuddering breath, Autumn blinked, pausing at the broad entryway to the living area and dining room to switch on the lights. "So, um. Nathan Crocker came by yesterday," she continued, the keys jingling softly as she thrust her hands into the pockets of her hoodie. Moving past the big wood-framed sectional couch and the enormous stone fireplace mantel crowned by dusty pheasants, she headed toward the utility room and the stairs down to the basement. "We talked about you a little, and he, um. He said you knew about all of this, the stuff that's going on? Which, y'know. I was kind of surprised, because you never said anything, and Mom never said anything..." The house was silent in response, save for her breathing and the faint rhythm of her footsteps. "And, I mean, I guess I get it." She shrugged, flipping the toggle switch for the lights to the stairwell and opening the door that led to the lower level of the house. "It's crazy, right? Like, how do you even bring that up in conversation? 'Heard ya had problems with that Jauntsen kid again. Evil little bastard. Ya know, there's a chance he might be possessed by an ancient force of darkness that corrupts folks and makes 'em do some twisted shit. What do you think, m' girl? Seen anything like that?'" Sighing, Autumn headed down the stairs. "Yeah, Grandpa. Yeah, I have."
  23. 1 point
    Saturday : Power-Gaming Introduction Waking up before the alarm goes off. Sliding the alarm off right when it goes off. Yawning. Sitting on her bed. Standing up on the wooden floor. Opening the window. Staring at herself in the wardrobe mirror. Down goes the shirt. Down go the shorts. More staring. Panties on. Sports bras on. Sport shorts on. Sport shirt on. Kat went down the stairs, ready to meet her daily fate. The grim shadow of her tormentor casted a strange shape on the hall, projected by the tall and athletic figure of her father. “Hey, Dad.” Said her hoarse and sleepy voice. The man who was her father seemed well awake, alert and on the lookout, as he was every morning. “Hey, baby girl. Ready for some scouring ?” “Whatever.” She replied, with a cute yawn revealing a cuter set of white teeth firmly aligned on her maxillary and her mandible, half-hidden behind soft pink lips neither too slim nor too thick for her heart-shaped warmly-toned features. His daughter was definitely getting some tan, with the beautiful weather they had had these last weeks, Josh thought. He would not be surprised if enough sun exposure would reveal her mother’s freckles on his daughter’s for now smooth skin. He knew too well how the weather was generally, in Brittany, far enough from the sea like Rennes was. A grey sky punctuated by timid periods of cowardly sun. He also knew too well how much time his daughter spent inside, rather than being out there, enjoying the weather. This was partly the reason why he insisted on this morning jogging. To instill a bit more life in Kat. Since that incident with the Jaffré boy, she had progressively closed in on herself. Each time he visited, his daughter only seemed more and more the ghost of herself. She had never been much of an outside person, always much of a pale little girl who abhorred the sun, but it was getting worse. When Isabelle had called him and asked for him to take care of Kat this year, he had seen an opportunity to put back a smile on her sweet face. And according to him, there was only one good way. Action, rather than words. “Oh, I’m gonna wake you up.” He said with a grim smile, and his daughter shuddered. Then both of them went into the sunny morning. -------------------- Running. Panting. More running. More panting. Death. Rebuff. Surpassing. She was bent, hands on her knees, butt against tree, spitting the lungs out of herself. Blood was pumping hard and loud from her heart to her face, her limbs, everywhere, on and on. “Top.” Her father snapped, and she reached for her throat, her pulse, and began counting, mimicking her father as he stared intently at his wristwatch. “Stop.” He snapped, fifteen seconds later. “How much ?” “Forty,” she replied in a wheezing voice. “Better than yesterday. And on a little more than one and a half mile.” He nodded approvingly. “See ?” He added with a wink. He stared at her for a moment. She progressed faster than any runner he had trained with, even if it was on a smaller scale. Something in her strides was… off. Lighter. Graceful. Even when tired and hammered by the effort, his daughter found a way to move those legs that felt… light. Maybe that had to do with what those kids were able to do. He remembered Major Taggart warning him that his daughter had shown abilities, ‘yet unquantified’. “So, I’m making progress ?” Kat gasped out, pulling him out of his thoughts. “We’ll see after the sprint…” He replied, and his daughter rolled her eyes, leaving the tree and following him on the way back home. -------------------- Sighing. A gentle moan under the caress of the warm water, streaming from her hair down to her shoulders, sliding along the bend of her back, the curve of her butt, warming and relaxing the growing muscles in her butt and legs. Her body was adapting rather well to the treatment it endured every morning, partly thanks to the teenager’s voracious appetite, and partly thanks to the teenager’s mindset. After every torture session, she felt alive. Tired, but alive. And after each breakfast, she felt a newfound surge of energy. It felt good. She wanted more of that. Kat lifted her chin to meet the shower flow face to face while it washed away the thin layer of sweat covering her body. Relaxation. -------------------- Today, she decided that this morning, she would focus on the other side of her powers. Knowing she was a telepath, and having received a couple pointers was for sure a couple steps forward, but there was this other thing. Thanks to her getting used to telepathy, she had a rough idea of where to dig for the other side of the coin She was sitting on her bed, cross-legged, controlling her breathing. It was easy to find, really. The world turned darker, but nothing really changed, and she blinked, surprised. She felt like something had been turned on, but she could see much difference. She turned it off. Then on, then off again. She rubbed the back of her head, perplex. She retreated in her jungle-mind, and opened the chest casually, fumbling around, occasionally dismissing parasite thoughts buzzing around her like mosquitoes. Suddenly, her vision turned darker, once again, but this time, something else was there. Like juxtaposed to reality. Like water rippling into matter. She frowned. That was a third Third Eye. Confused, she shook her head and turned it off, rising to her feet to take notes. On her desk, her phone buzzed, and as she reached for it, she accidentally bumped it off. “Shit !” Time seemed to slow down as the mobile phone fell to its inevitable demise, the word slowly forming on Kat’s lips, and she reached for the device. Dull slapping noise. Kat blinked twice as she straightened up, rising her hand in front of her eyes, staring at the phone, stuck to her open hand. She shook it. The device remained immovable. She shook it again, swearing in a low voice. Still there. Then she realized something was actually happening. Intuitively, she turned the second version of her Third Eye on, looking at her hand. Information flooded her, and she gasped, slowly recoiling and sitting on her bed, puzzled. “That’s awfully convenient,” she muttered to herself. She understood a couple things. First, the sensory stuff she had used in the hospital was actually what she was using right now. She could feel it. Second, it seemed to actually work on powers. Third, if she focused on a detected power, it gave her a rough understanding of what was happening. Fourth, she actually had changed gravity’s pull on the phone from the Earth to her hand. Roughly. It felt more complex than that, but she didn’t have the words to even explain it to herself. She extended her hand palm down above the bed, then turned the thing off, and the phone fell onto the bed. It confirmed her second postulate. She had to take notes. Things were getting sooooo much more interesting. --------------------
  24. 1 point
    Saturday, August 31. Evening. Cassandra rode over to the intersection across from the Old Town Hall at the appointed hour...the one she and Autumn had agreed to over a flurry of texts that was...on her bike wearing suicidally dark clothes. This mission called for stealth. They had to be sneaky. Glancing around she didn't spot Autumn, and with another look at her watch she realized why. The bike ride from her house to here was apparently shorter than she'd estimated. That, or she'd been riding pretty fast without realizing it. That meant Cassie had a few minutes to herself. It felt oddly uncomfortable. It felt like she was wasting time, like any minutes spent not making tangible progress towards the goal was a failure. Why? Well, because there was a timer, and not a very long one. And the Man in Black had made it pretty clear there was cause for haste. ...and that led her back to the Man himself. No sooner than she'd summoned up his image in her head than pieces socked together in her head, and her eyes widened. Holy shit. No way. It fit though. It did. It was pure speculation on her part, and the only evidence was circumstantial at best. But...it fit. It explained at a stroke all her questions. Why had he come here? Why was he so invested in their success? What did he hope to gain from their efforts? She looked around, half-hoping to spot that too-tall, lanky figure ambling along down the street under the nearby streetlamp. There was nothing though. Then, somehow, Cass heard the distant metal rattle of spokes and gears and sat up straighter to twist around and look. A lone bicycle rider was approaching, flitting between the lengthening shadows of dusk. They didn't have much daylight left, but that was good right? Sneaky? Even if it would magnify the creep factor as well. Cassandra waved at Autumn as she rode over towards her and as she came up alongside her said, "Hey! Okay do you have everything you need? I brought some extra stuff just in case."
  25. 1 point
    Cassandra nodded and whispered back, "The basement's where his...lair is, I guess. But yeah, lets take a look around before we head down there. When I was doing the vision quest thing, I didn't stop and look for details. But...well...I don't feel like Cody's here, but he could come back any time so lets not take too much time doing it." She started her phone camera recording, and swing her flashlight around a bit, checking to see how it was dealing with the low light. Not great...the 'image' was grainy at best, and most of the time was just not useful. When Cass flicked the flashlight on though, it worked fine...the beam landing nearly right on the center of the camera's field of view. It taken her forever to get that alignment right. The flashlight winked out again, but she left the recording running for audio. "Okay, room by room, we stick together. Lets start with this one." She motioned towards the room closest to their point of entry and moved towards its doorframe...testing each step before putting weight on it to try to minimize squeaking.
  26. 1 point
    No backing out now. Not that she would have- probably not even that she could have, if she'd wanted to. Grimacing slightly at the musty smell of decaying wood and creeping mold, Autumn exhaled quietly and unclipped the sturdy little tactical flashlight from her belt. Even in broad daylight, there was no way to tell what color it had originally been painted, so scuffed and abraded was the aluminum; it had seen its share of adventures, and the redhead felt a little better just feeling the metal grow warm in her palm. With her thumb on the button, she pointed it downward, clicking it quickly on and off to make sure- one last time- that it was working before they set out. Directed at the floorboards, the bright strobe of the blue-white beam wasn't quite blinding, but it was enough to make her wince. Maybe next time I shouldn't wait until my eyes are adjusted to the dark. ...If, y'know, there is a next time. There were, after all, plenty of reasons there might not be. Rather than focus on any of them, however, Autumn blinked rapidly to clear her vision and gave herself a quick final check-over as Cassie did the same. Multi-tool. Camp knife. Crowbar. Pepper spray. Flashlight. Everything she might need quickly was either in hand already, or near to it, and the rest was bundled up in her backpack and out of the way. Maybe none of it would be necessary. Hopefully none of it would be necessary, she reminded herself, but it was always better to have and not need, than need and not have. There could be very mundane, practical problems quite apart from those of Not-Cody and whatever hellish things might be hanging out in his creepy AF bachelor pad- the websites she'd looked at for UrbEx resources put wild animals, vagrants, and structural damage at the top of the list of hazards. She guessed those people had probably never spent time in Shelly, or they might have prioritized a little differently. "Okay," she murmured, her voice barely audible in her own ears over the steady, rapid drum of her heartbeat. "On the up-side, I don't think we have a lot of ground to cover, and it should be pretty hard to get lost in here. We just need to do a quick check, see what's up, and move on. I know you said you were looking through to wherever Cody was, but do you remember, or did you see, where it connected to our side?" Even in the shadowy interior of the building, Cassandra could just make out the way her freckled companion angled toward the sagging doorframe, all her attention directed toward the darker rectangle in the decaying walls. "I was thinking we're gonna want to be as thorough as we can, so nobody's blind-sided when we come back here." There was a brief pause, after which the redhead added, her thumb idly rubbing the button on the end of her flashlight, "Hopefully."
  27. 1 point
    Sure enough, the window was there, the board across the lower half hanging loosely on it's bent and rusty nails. Autumn was pretty confident she could just take the prybar and take the whole damn board off with one good pull... but that would leave too-visible a sign that they had been here. Cassie, careful of stray nails, pulled the loose edge of the board aside, allowing her redheaded companion to slide agilely through the gap, wrecking bar in hand. Autumn's hiking boots hit the floor inside lightly and she took a pace into the room, allowing Cass to enter behind her as her own eyes adapted to the dank gloom within. The sight that met her eyes was not reassuring. This had likely been an office once, but the Old Town Hall had been shut down before even telephones were commonplace. Warped floorboards creaked underfoot, the wallpaper was rotted and hanging off in patches, giving the place a leprous look, and the paintwork - what there was of it - was similarly mold-covered and patchy. Worse, though, was the feeling of wrongness about the place. That oily, slick, sickly feeling she had felt when in the burned woods of the Other Side and earlier this week, when the monsters had come hunting in the Marias Medical Center was here, like a spiritual(?) tar stain on the cloth of reality. Perhaps most shocking is that, this time, the sensation was not surprising. It still sucked, to be sure, but the wrenching shock of the laws of nature being twisted, whilst still unsettling, did not leave her as rattled as last time. There was a soft grunt and shuffle from Cassandra as she slid through the window, straightened and looked around, and Autumn could see on her friend's face that the 'Eyes' felt the sensation too. The pair looked at each other and, barely perceptibly, nodded, each taking a deep breath and steeling their resolve. To Cassie's senses, the place had a 'they just stepped out' feeling. The Old Town Hall was not a large building. A hallway and four rooms on the ground floor, and a large open office space above. And, of course, the basement. The place felt lived-in, despite it's derelict and rotting facade. Not-Quite-Cody wasn't home right now... she thought so, anyway. She was pretty sure. Almost. Like, ninety- eighty- Uh, seventy percent sure.
  28. 1 point
    "Most of the ways in are boarded up, but there's a window around back," Cassandra said in a hushed tone. She was frankly rather impressed with Autumn's array of gear. She really was a Girl Scout, it seemed like. "Lets bring the bikes up to the side of the buildings, over by those bushes. We can just lean them there. Shouldn't have to worry about anyone stealing them from here." She dug out her own flashlight, which had been modified with one of those dashboard mobile phone holders. It made the tool a little ungainly, but it let her attach her phone to the flashlight with the camera facing forward so she didn't need both hands. Despite this Cassie said, "Lets not use the lights at least until we're inside. I don't know if he's home. I don't think he is...but he could have come back since I did my woo-woo thing." Bikes left nestled in an overgrown bush, Cassandra then led Autumn around the Old Town Hall building, navigating the unkempt grounds like someone who'd been there before, making a beeline for the window she'd discovered where the boards were just stuck loosely onto it, not preventing it from being opened. "Okay. I'll hold the window open for you, and you hold the pepper spray or that wrench thingy as you go through...just in case there's trouble. I'll be like three seconds behind you."
  29. 1 point
    2019 - Monday, Labor Day morning, around 7 am There had been a mist hanging low over the fields an hour or two earlier, when he’d first sat down on the porch seat with his satchel and a cup of coffee, watching the rising sun and smiling slightly to himself as it turned the sky a vivid red-gold with hints of rose. Now the mist had been burned away, the sky taking on a richer blue as the sun ascended, and the cup was cold and empty at his side. An observer would have not seen the youth move since he’d set the empty mug down, instead resting his hands on his thighs with his gaze turned inwards, so perfectly still he seemed to withdraw from the present. In truth he was meditating on the energies of Radiance, or Shine, feeling the tickle of it from the tall grass in front of the house, the occasional brighter sense of his father asleep upstairs in the house, the rich glow that permeated himself. The weekend had come with revelations, and the slow-moving moments of quiet reflection allowed him to re-examine them all. Including the shimmer from the bracelet around his left wrist where Autumn had fastened it yesterday before his duel with Devin, like a sign of courtly favor from a maiden on the arm of her knight. He'd studied it intently, trying to determine what it was made of but, lacking spectroscopic equipment or similar tools, could do little but guess. It was too light in hue to be copper, too lightweight to be gold or brass. He wondered if perhaps it was some otherworldly alloy - given it's origin that was possible. It would remain, by necessity, a mystery for now. The other bracelets Autumn was safeguarding would be handed out tonight before battle was joined. Perhaps, after the fight against the Tree was done, there would be time for proper study. The sound of an engine - not the growl of his own Charger, but the whisper-like purr of a car made for more modern sensibilities, intruded on his reverie. Jase turned his head, seeing Sean’s Trailhawk rolling up the dirt track to come to a stop in front of the farmhouse, and raised a hand in greeting as he stood, gathering his satchel and loping down from the porch. His friend smiled at him and waved him round to the passenger side, grinning as the door clicked open and the lanky teen slid into the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Some ambient flute and string music Sean was experimenting with for his current design project filled the car unobtrusively, and a bag of snacks and drinks was tucked down just behind and between the front seats. “Jason Bannon, getting a phone!” Sean’s smile was wide as he glanced at the naturally composed features of his friend. Girlish lips twisted in a smirk. “Anyone else, I’d say it has to be a girl behind such a radical move. For you? God knows. Something nefarious, probably.” “Perhaps it is also a girl - or a boy.” Jason replied softly, one corner of his mouth quirking as the edges of his eyes crinkled, though he didn’t look at his friend, instead regarding Trailhawk’s interior curiously as Sean turned the Jeep around and started back down the track. “Many things may be true at the same time, after all.” “Philosophy before eight am. Great.” Sean mock-grumped, side-eying the inscrutable one. “So is it a girl?” “Perhaps I just feel the need to be able to connect.” Jason returned Sean’s gaze with one of his own fathomless stares, though he was still smiling a little. “Secrets and philosophy before eight am.” Sean pouted, though he smiled as well. There seemed something… relaxed about Jase this morning. More so than his usual unflappable calm. Has to be a girl. Or else he’s developed that bio-plague he’s always ‘joking’ about… “Are you going to tell me at all?” “Perhaps.” Jase sighed as he got comfortable in the plush seat, playing with the reclining controls. He glanced sideways at Sean, lips curving in another sly smile. “Nice car, this.” “I like it.” Sean radiated self-satisfaction, possessiveness and delight in having his own vehicle filling the jacked up SUV in a way his modest stature couldn’t. He turned onto I-15 and headed towards Great Falls, his slender fingers drumming on the steering wheel. “And there was never a chance I’d snag the Tesla. ‘Sides, no way this baby is getting stuck in a Montana winter, unlike that roadster or some other cars I can care to think of…” He flashed his friend a quick, teasing grin. If the Grand Cherokee wasn’t as pristine as Jase’s restored classic muscle car, and wasn’t the latest model, it still had decades of motorive advancement on the Charger. Sure, the interior was kind of worn and it could stand to be repainted after Sara had helped him - okay, he had helped her, at little - with the obvious repairs, but it had most of the modern conveniences, like heated seats, and rearview camera - admittedly, after-market - that Sean had wanted. Most of. He hadn’t been looking for something that could off-road like a beast, but now that he had it, he rather enjoyed it, even if he needed the running board to be able to climb inside it. Jase smiled slightly, shrugging one shoulder even as he let his slender fingers play over the upholstery on the inside of the door, making a tactile connection to add to his other sensory impressions. “If my car gets stuck in the snow, I’ll move it.” It was a great day for driving, the sky was clear but the sun wasn’t glaring, and the wind was light or non-existent. After having to beg or deal for rides or cycle around town on the same bike since he was eleven, Sean loved driving, and took whatever opportunity he could to do so, despite having had Little Bigfoot hardly more than a week. “I know I just got her, but I have looked a bit at what it would take to convert her to electric.” The shapely boy glanced over his shoulder, then shifted into the left-hand lane and picked up speed to pass a languorous landboat going ten under the speed limit, the 5.7L Hemi V8 rising from a whisper into a powerful purr. “It’s pricey, especially for the specs I’m looking at, but considering...” Sean snapped his fingers and an actual actinic spark crackled, “... certain considerations, there would be some great advantages. But I’ll have to finish Regenesis or Annwn will need to go viral before I can afford it.” Jason nodded occasionally as his friend spoke, his sly smile widening just a bit. “Her, hmm?” “Pshaw!” Sean scoffed with a roll of expressive, exasperated, exotically hued eyes. “Appearances to the contrary, I ain’t into riding dudes.” He gave the steering wheel a slap. “Little Bigfoot is simply a big girl.” “So, phone?” He arched an angled brow at his friend, changing the subject “You looking for some ancient Nokia flip phone that can barely find the internet and takes a thousand years to type a text, or something more current, like, from the last decade?” 2012 - November, Morning, Shelly Elementary “We have a new student joining us today, children,” Mrs. Durham said in her gentle, infinitely patient voice. “I’d like you all to say hello to Jason Bannon, who has just moved to Shelly with his father.” Next to Helen Durham’s stocky, solid form stood a slight figure with a mop of brown and downcast eyes dressed in well-worn, oversized clothing. Helen was going to place a comforting hand on the new boy’s shoulder, but she could sense the taut tension in the boy and caught the sudden, watchful intensity in his eyes whenever someone invaded his personal space, and so relented. There was a chorus of obliging Hi’s and Hello’s of various enthusiasm, and a few waves. Sean was one of the ones who waved. In the last few months, he’d had a big growth spurt, and now he was one of the tallest kids in grade four. Unfortunately, despite his vivid red hair cut short, he still looked more girlish than boyish, though his parents promised that he’d start filling out soon. Some of the other kids were starting to tease him about it. It didn’t help that most of the other taller kids in his grade were also girls, like Sara Hutchins, who at least could boast being more solidly built than he was. “There’s an open desk next, Sean. Why don’t you take it, Jason? Sean is a smart boy, and he can show you where we are in the lessons for today?” The skinny figure in the oversized clothing cast one glance at the teacher, then moved without a word towards the empty desk. The rest of the fourth grade class regarded him with the curiosity due to all new things as he passed several rows in a head-down slouch. Todd Asper, from the row behind Sean, snickered. “Watch out he doesn’t think you’re a girl and fall in love, Cassidy.” “Todd Asper! Am I going to have to move you up here again to stop you whispering?” Mrs Durham’s voice rose a little. “Eyes on your book, please. The only people who should be talking are Sean and Jason right now. And if your quiz results aren’t better than last week, Mr Asper, you will be moved to the front of the class for the rest of the school year.” Amidst a chorus of ‘oooh’ from the other kids directed at the luckless Todd, the Bannon kid slid into the seat next to Sean’s, setting a worn-looking leather satchel on ground after extracting a dogeared, second-hand copy of the textbook, a couple of pencils and a notebook from it’s recesses. Sean studied the new kid for a moment as he got situated, finding him odd somehow, beyond the oversized army-surplus clothes and the dire need of a haircut or, failing that, a comb. He was skinny, sure, but his features even lacked the residual childish softness of a normal ten or eleven year old’s, seeming severe and drawn by comparison. Even his mouth was severe - a straight line with no expressiveness to it, as if he never smiled or laughed. His ethnicity was likewise enigmatic - sharp cheekbones and narrow eyes, olive skin and dark hair. “Hey. I’m Sean, but I guess you already figured that out.” Sean essayed a greeting as he leaned over, meaning to break the ice with the apparently shy kid. He wasn’t sure if it was the greeting or the movement, but Jason lifted his head from contemplating his desk then, turning and meeting the effeminate boy’s eyes. Sean had been about to offer his hand, but paused. There was nothing shy in the stare currently scrutinising him. Wariness, perhaps. Watchfulness, definitely. But no nervousness, no shyness, no ‘oh hey someone’s being cool to me’ relief. It was strange, an effect heightened by the icy pale green of Jason Bannon’s eyes. They were reflective, giving nothing away except, as the stare continued, mild interest and curiosity. “You have central heterochromia. Oddly vivid colours.” Was perhaps the strangest introduction one fourth grader ever made to another. It was, however, the first words any student in Shelly Elementary had ever heard Jason say. The accent was also hard to place - American but at the same time not - possessing a sharp precision as if every word was considered for a microsecond before being spoken. The angular features tilted slightly, a flicker of something behind the green eyes indicating a remembrance of correct behaviour. “And I’m Jason.” “Pleased to meetcha.” Sean offered his hand, feeling the bony slender fingers grip it, shake once, then release. “And you know what heterochromia is.” He stated rather than asked, regarding Jason in an assessing manner for a moment as the skinny boy shrugged non-committedly. “Well, let’s get you caught up.”
  30. 1 point
    Sean pushed off from leaning against his car, giving Kat an apologetic shrug. "I think this is cooler. Like one of those flameless lighters. More efficient, all the heat without the flame" Sean nodded down the length of the strip mall towards Sulli's Electronics at the end, then shifted to Kat's side so the cigarette smoke wouldn't blow in his face. He glanced casually about as they started walking, making sure nobody was paying undue attention to them. "So, it looks like you can do something like Jase, just in a different way. Instead of making flame directly, you might have to agitate molecules to combust." He pointed at the cig dangling from her lips. "And make flame that way." They reached Sulli's and stood a bit away from the door to let Kat finish her cigarette before heading in. A frown appeared on Kat's features as she asked, "Isn't it what Jason is doing ? If I heard correctly," she puffed, "he uses telekinesis, right ? So he'd be agitating the molecules to heat them up. What I did didn't feel like... telekinesis. One moment, the air was cool, and a moment after, it was hot. It almost felt like I had an energy reservoir and I tapped in it to allow the combustion. Took me a while to figure it out..." She rubbed the back of her head, before adding, "Thinking about it, if I had tried too hard, I might have burnt the cigarette to ash." She drew a last time on her cigarette before stubbing it out against the floor, her eyes scanning her surroundings to stop on a public trash. She got rid of the butt and nodded at her friend, who opened the door of the shop. There was an electric chime as the door opened. Sean waved Kat ahead and followed her in to Sulli's Electronics and Computers with a sense of familiarity. The shop was probably the place he had visited most often outside of Shelly and had that aura of welcoming clutter that the best mom and pop stores held, despite it being neat and tidy. Behind the counter at the back the facing the door was a somewhat short man, only two or three inches taller than Sean, somewhere between stocky and rotund, who had probably crested forty years of age. He looked away from the monitor he was looking and seeing Sean, he smiled, crows feet at the corners of his grey eyes creasing his smooth face. "Oh! Sean, good afternoon," he called out cheerily. "What brings you out today? I wasn't waiting on a build from you to put out on commission was I?" "No, not this time, Sulli," Sean replied, with a relaxed ease Kat noticed was rare from Sean. "But I am looking at putting together a gaming rig." He put a slender hand on Kat's slight shoulder. "This is Kat, a new friend and student at Shelly High. She heard I had a thing for computers and decided she needed a new setup. And you're the best for parts, Sulli, so I brought her here." "Sean's too kind," Sullivan said, offering Kat a boyish grin that belied his age. "I'm just diligent and a little compulsively thorough when looking for suppliers. Pleased to meet you, Kat. What do you need?" After greeting the man back, Kat pursed her lips into something close to a cute pout while she thought about what she exactly wanted. If she picked her components carefully, she might get an even better rig than the one she left in France, and for a better price. "I'm looking for at least 4 GB of video memory, a solid processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a soundcard decent enough for music recording. For that last thing, I really don't know if I can get that integrated to a computer or if it has to be external, but I need it either way." As she spoke she raised a finger for each demand, waving her hand when specifying how important the sound card was to her. "I never really liked how my recordings sounded with a laptop, so I wanna make sure I get something nice." With an amused smirk, Sullivan began taking short notes, then his eyes met with the petite redhead's as he asked : "Do you have any... brand preferences ?" Kat shook her head. "I don't really know better than both of you would," she replied, "I'm open to suggestions." "Well, if you're willing to trust us, I'm sure we can get you everything you'd like, and under budget," Sulli with a smile as he began pulling up his inventory on the computer. "Especially with the employee discount, hmm?" Sean said with a grin, arching a brow. "I suppose if I don't, you'll just coincidentally buy the same components, Sean?" Sulli replied with an exasperated tone, but his pale blue eyes twinkled. Sean nodded. "Fine then. Let's start with what I have on sale and clearance and go from there. It was almost like another language, as Sean and Sullivan debating the merits and specs of various brands of components, versus what Kat needed, and what she wanted. Sean was clearly in his element, but made the effort to explain to the more petite redhead what he was talking about. "You could get a better soundcard, but overall, you'll probably be better of with an external DAC," Sean said. "Especially for recording. You'll also want to invest in a good mic or two - that'll help a lot and save you time in sound editing. And baffling for wherever you end up recording - that'll stop echoes. I learned that the hard way." So in his element, Sean completely shut down a guy who had seen the two attractive redheads and tried to mansplain computer builds before Sullivan could intervene. The guy looked to be in his twenties, some sort of tech-bro. He'd given Kat a look that suggested he thought she was cute, but too young, before turning his attention to Sean, or more often, his chest, as he tried to impress him with his knowledge of video games and computers. It didn't take long before Sean had him retreating out of the store with his tail between his legs. In less than an hour, Kat had all the components for a PC, with better specs than she had asked for, and under the budget she had set for herself, giving her leeway to get a new microphone. The components made a surprisingly compact pack, fitting inside a box easily handled by either Kat or Sean. Thankfully, Sean already had a spare computer case, so Kat didn't need to a new one. "Thanks, Sulli," Sean chimed as Kat paid. "And just so you know, I'll probably have Regenesis done sooner than later. Been making amazing progress lately" Kat put her wallet away, and box of unconstructed computer held protectively in her arms, sidled up to Sean, mouth spread wide in pleasure. "Ready to head back and put your new PC together?"
  31. 1 point
    "Yeah, I've been drawing and painting for ten years. I started with stick figures and then my mom made me take classes, because my stick figures were way too pretty." She snorted, then added, "I can show you when we get back." Sean nodded in agreement, and the conversation went on about Sean's games, the one he had already made, and the one he was currently working on. The two teenagers took back the short conversation they had had in Art the last Thursday from where it stopped, discussing concept arts Kat was currently looking at on her phone, commenting what Sean's new monsters could look like. Later on, the petite redhead discovered, with interest, that Sean actually did all the voices and a large part of the music for his games, and the conversation turned towards editing softwares. "Since you got this... crazy voodoo stuff, do you actually use any editing software ? Or do you crack yer whip n tell the bits where to go ?" She asked with a half-mocking grin. "A little from column A, a little from column B." Sean pursed his lips, head tilted slightly, then amended with his own self-deprecating grin. "Okay, a lot from column B, especially the last few days. I've been working on the game engine for the last two years. Not to brag, but I think it's pretty good and robust, with variable applications. I saw what Unity and Unreal were doing and made my own version. And I've programmed a modified autoencoder and a generative adversarial network to better modulate my voice for different characters. And since my little recording area in the barn isn't the best, I have to do a lot of post production stuff to clean up the music and voice work. But now?" Sean glanced at Kat sidelong, his grin widening as he made a whipcrack motion before his hand went back to the wheel and he shifted lanes in early preparation to get off the Interstate. "The software is still there, I can just exponentially make it do so much more, so much more efficiently. Look at my phone" Kat looked down at the smartphone in her hand. The concept art for something Giger-esque with too many legs faded away to be replaced by a string of black zeroes and ones on a white field. "Assume that is what the coding for any software I use looks like," Sean said. "Now, I can make it do this. Same software, just able to bend it into new shapes." The ones and zeroes, shifted, melted, tightened and writhed into new patterns and shapes. They were still strings of ones and zeroes, but were now being used like a continuous strand of paint to form gorgeous representations of Julia sets, ordered chaos. Kat blinked, just realizing it had taken her a moment to notice that the image on the phone wasn't just black and white, but was a panoply of complementary colour, which added another layer to the complexity of the coding. "It's sorta like that. Has your own psionic awakening helped you with your art? And I would like to see it when we get back." "Uh..." The petite redhead stared amazed at the screen before her eyes. "Can't tell yet. But holy shit, that's cool !" Hearing about a power and seeing it in action was totally different, she mused. "I did learn more about the... non-telepathic stuff. Remember about how I talked about molecular structure ?" Her curvaceous friend nodded, focused on the road. "Well," she went on, "I think it's waaaaaaay more than that. I have a theory, but it's batshit crazy, and needs a little bit of context." The svelte French girl closed her eyes, massaging her temples, then took a deep breath and fumbled in her bag, pulling out her notebook. "First -and I'll keep on using that term until I find a cooler one- I have three Third Eyes. One is telepathy stuff, like... your mind is unique -in several ways -" she added with a chuckle, "and I was able to tell you were in the street before you parked your car, earlier. The second one is weird to describe." She closed her eyes for a moment and turned the one she was talking about on, glancing at her friend. "Like, if I use it right now, you're like... shining, and there's this weird feeling of something all around." She turned it off and went on. "But that's not the most interesting one. The last one, from my conclusions, allows me to see when and where people do stuff related to Shine. If I focus on one of them, I can tell what they're actually doing. And that's how I discovered that I can manipulate energies. Earlier, I litterally bumped my phone off my desk and Magneto-ed it right back to my hand." Kat was getting excited just by talking about it, and she reached for her jacket, pulling out a lighter and a pack of cigarettes, before turning to Sean, doubt in her eyes. "Uh... Can I ? It's your car so... I feel like I should ask." There was the faintest crinkle to Sean's nose. "Would you mind waiting until we get to Great Falls? It's only about another twenty minutes. It's just, y'know...?" She nodded and stuffed lighter and cigarettes back into her jacket, reaching instead for a pack of chestnuts coated in chocolate from her bag, ripping the top open and stuffing a couple of these in her mouth. "These will do for now, then." She said after swallowing her snacks. "Right, so my theory is : this... other power I got is just about breaking the laws of physics, as in, the physics we're taught in high school. That's my wild guess. Hell, I changed how gravity applied to my phone for a moment, a couple days ago I tried to densify air ! That's lit !" Sean chortled at Kat's wondrous enthusiasm, his slim, strong fingers drumming on the steering wheel. "Funny you should mention breaking the laws of physics. Jason and I have been working on a grand unified theory. We suspect our psionic powers operate on an underlaying, er, layer of physical reality as we know it, a subquantum stratum, one that's more... malleable to conscious influence. We aren't breaking physics, I think, so much as being able to trick it." The two redheads leaned to the side as Sean pulled onto the curving off ramp, coming back upright as they entered Great Falls proper. Sean rolled to a stop at a stop sign, then turned right. "At a guess, it seems like like you're able to manipulate fundamental forces and molecules? Atoms, maybe?" His dark brows furrowed, considering what Kat had told and what he knew of how the powers of the rest of the Fellowship functioned. "More generalized compared to specialized like me, where I can only manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum. Broad instead of deep. Hmm." Sean had his car only for a little over a week, yet he drove through Great Falls with a sense of familiarity. He'd been going to Sulli's for years, first for video games, then for computer components, and finally to sell his own PC builds on commission. "I wonder what else you could do. Clara - she's kinda sisters with Lona - has powers sort of like yours. She's able to... kinda buff or debuff how well others can use their own powers. I wonder if you can do that too, Kat." The car parked close enough to the shop Sean had in mind, and they both got out, Kat grabbing her bag and her jacket. She pulled out a cigarette from her pack, tucking it between her lips, then stopped her motion before lighting it up. She looked left and right, then glanced at Sean with a childish grin. "Combustion ?" She had to try, after the talk they had had. She set her lighter back to the pocket where it belonged, then placed her thumb and index finger around the cigarette's tip, much like one would hold a coin to show it. With a bit of focus... There we go. She could feel the air she 'held' between her fingers, the thing she called her powers flooding her brains with molecular structures. The cigarette is the fuel, air is the oxidizer, all I need to do is to give it a little nudge... After a moment of watching Kat staring at her nose like it insulted her, Sean was about to tell her they should probably start walking, but suddenly the tip of the cigarette began glowing red, producing a thin line of smoke. Kat's hand fell to her thigh, then she took a draft. "Hey, you did it !" Sean tried, but the petite redhead seemed disappointed. She picked the cigarette between two delicate fingers, and grunted after a puff. "I was expecting a flame... So much for boasting about it..."
  32. 1 point
    "Hello there !" Kat's soft voice rang through the kitchen. She was all jeans, blouse and booties, her leather jacket under her left arm, and a discreet layer of make-up adorned her smiling features. She waved at Sean before scooting over the fridge, grabbing the orange juice and pouring herself a large glass. "Sorry for taking so long, I only realized it was 2PM when I, uh, heard your car." She rubbed the back of her head, then swallowed a large amount of her OJ. Tess glanced at the petite redhead, curiosity and mild amusement in her eyes. "When should we expect you to come back? This evening ?" She asked, hiding a mischievous grin behind a sip on her coffee. Still ashamed about the evening before, Kat first looked at her feet, then glanced at Sean, asking for help. "Hey there yourself, Kat," Sean replied, raising his mug of coffee in a greeting salute to the svelte French girl. Sean finished his coffee with a couple of quick sips then slipped off the kitchen stool. He reclaimed his plastic bag and tucked it a bit awkwardly under his arm, his turquoise and jade eyes flicking between Kat and her father's girlfriend. He got the sense there was something going on between them, though didn't know enough to even guess at what. "Weeeell, we're only going to Great Falls to pick up a few things. An hour there, an hour at most to shop, and an hour back, we should be back by five, six at the latest," Sean answered Tess, with a slight bit of hesitancy. "A few hours afterwards to put it all together and run a few tests, we should have it done by this evening." His uncanny gaze shifted back to Kat. "Is that alright? If you have something to do with the family this evening, I can put it all together at home and drop it off tomorrow morning, Kat. No probs." Tess shook her head negatively, hmm-ing over her mouthful of coffee. She swallowed and replied, "It's alright. I was teasing the little damsel over here about last evening, when she arrived two hours late for dinner. Take your time, but please Kat, this time, text me when you're on the way back from Great Falls, a'ight ?" The smaller teen rubbed the back of her head. "Yeah, I'll try not to forget this time..." She finished the rest of her OJ, then turned to her curvaceous friend. "Let's go? Laters, Tess!" "If she does, I won't," Sean assured the dark-haired beauty Kat's dad was dating, giving her a small, two fingered wave. "Later." Sean lead Kat outside to his SUV, unlocking the doors with a thought rather than the fob in his hand. He put the plastic bag of parts behind the driver's seat, then climbed up behind the wheel. Kat climbed up into the passenger seat with more athletic grace than Sean had. Sean brought the Grand Cherokee to life, put it onto gear, and carefully manoeuvred out of his parking spot on the side of the street, since someone had decided to park right behind him instead of using practically anywhere on the rest of the block. Starting on the way to Great Falls, he arched an amused brow at his passenger. "Damsel, hmm? What were you doing last night that you were a damsel? in some sort of distress, I presume, and who saved you?" "Ugh..." The petite redhead sighed. "I was having a great time with Courtney, and at one point, I just... lost track of time, I guess..." The delicate pink coloring her cheeks told there was more to it, but she didn't go on the details, except... "Oh, yeah, right. At first, we were talking about telepathy. She made me a deal: she'll share her insights on... stuff, 'cause she was part of the Project, right? So she maybe trained her abilities a different way than you did, et caetera, but in exchange for her help, I'd get her in the group training session, including the one on Sunday... Would that be... possible ?" "Ask Jason," Sean said a touch sharply, turning his attention fully on the road. "I'm doing something else, tomorrow." He hadn't made definite plans, but he suddenly decided what he was doing tomorrow, so it wasn't really a lie. He could even claim it as a personal training session. Despite himself, noticing Kat's soft blush, he couldn't help but wonder what Kat meant by a great time with Courtney, and why'd she lose track of time. "I'm sure Jase will take your reasoning into consideration, and see the logic in allowing Courtney to attend." His lovely tone turned grudging, his lips pursed in something dangerously close to a pout. "If you want, I'll ask Jason myself on your behalf." The French girl took a moment to compose herself, cherry-red lips still haunting her thoughts. "I'd ask him myself, but I don't have his number..." She'd sensed her friend's change of attitude more than she'd noticed it, as her telepathy was more and more becoming a part of herself rather than a tool. She glanced at Sean, wondering. "Is there... something? Between you and Courtney? I mean... she didn't seem to like you much..." Her curiosity was piqued. "If I'm out of bounds, sorry for asking, but if I'm ever to throw a party some day, it could help to know who hates who. I've had my lot of drama back in France," she added, a hint of weariness seeping through her soft tone. Kat saw Sean's hands tighten on the wheel, his abundant chest rise and fall as he took several deep, calming breaths. His silence was telling, as were the pings of emotion Kat couldn't help but catch radiating off him. "It's... It's okay, you're new here, to the dynamics of Shelly High," Sean said coolly. Kat could tell the coldness wasn't meant for her, just the history. "Yes, there is 'something' between me and Courtney. It's because of her everyone at school found out I was growing these!" Sean arched his back, making the very obvious even more obvious. Not like I could've kept them secret for much longer. "She didn't like me much before, she hated me after, and her and her goons just got worse as time went on. And I haven't grown to like her any over that time either." Getting on I-15, and passing the outskirts of Shelly, Sean gave Kat a level glance when he had a moment. "Look, I have no right to say or even suggest who you want to be friends with, Kat. Just be careful with her. Just because she's part of the weird too, doesn't mean you can trust Courtney. She's always been about herself and her own gratification first and foremost. I haven't seen anything to change that." Sean clearly had emotional wounds, and while they were scarring, they were still tender. Sean's mouth tightened into a thin line. "I'll still call Jase for you and make the request on your behalf, if you want, though." The petite redhead glanced at her friend in realization. She would have never guessed. Teens can be utterly cruel. Still, Sean offering to call Jason and ask if Courtney could join the training session meant something. She offered an apologetic smile to the driver. "I'm sorry they gave you hell." She meant it. The car remained devoid of conversation for a minute, then Kat broke the silence. "You could call him now and put him on speakers. How's that sound ?" "Sure, that's fine," Sean said, only having to feign a little bit of the cheeriness, before shifting the pitch of his voice to make a hands-free call. "Call. Jason. Home." <Did you say Call Jason Home?> "Yes." <Calling Jason Home.> As the phone dialed, Sean returned Kat's apologetic smile with a wry grin. "And thanks, but you don't have anything to be sorry for. You weren't there or involved." "Gar," came a gruff voice through the speakers. "Hello, Mr. Bannon. It's Sean. Is Jason there?" "Gar," Jason's father reiterated for his son's strange, feminine friend. "Jason's out." Pause. "He'll be back this evening. Six. Seven." "Thanks, Mis - er, Gar. I'll try back around then." There was a click as Gar hung up, then a softer blip as Sean's smartphone ended the connection. Sean gave Kat a one-armed shrug. "Guess, we'll call back." Wanting to shift the talk about from Courtney and almost anything Courtney adjacent, Sean switched to something Tess had mention. "So, Tess mentioned you paint and draw? I do a bit too, but mostly work digitally and with animation myself. I've made one game and am almost done another."
  33. 1 point
    She was lying on her bed, like a starfish, once again fiddling with telepathy while quietly digesting lunch. She was amazed at how far her perception of minds could extend to. She was currently stretching it to a rough hundred and fifty feet, but felt like she could do double, with some effort. She now made sure to be very delicate with her handling of minds, after Courtney had given her pointers, the day before. She retracted the immense web her mind had become to focus on the neighbor, the one with the oak and the squirrels. He wasn't currently home, but his wife was. Boredom, tranquility, and... was she listening to some music ? That had to be blues. The loud purr of an engine distracted her from her mind analysis, and she reinstalled her spying web, catching the familiar scent of the driver's mind. Sean. Shit, what time is it ? 2PM already ? Sean came to a gentle stop as he parked on the side of the road, then clambered out of the jacked up Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. He loved his vehicle, knicks and scrapes and all, but even he had to admit it was awfully high for someone of his modest height and was eternally grateful for the solid running boards it was equipped with. Kat could hear the knocking on the door and the soft footfalls heading towards it, recognizing the gait as Tess'. Tess opened the door to find a very striking figure standing there, a redhead with an undercut hairstyle and odd eyes, wearing a black t-shirt, faded olive cargo pants and an unzipped blue hoodie with yellow trip with 101 imprinted high on the left, that did nothing to conceal a remarkably curvaceous figure. "Hi, I'm Sean," the teenager said in a rich, sweet melodious voice, switching a heavy plastic bag holding various computer components from one hand to the other. "I'm here to see Kat. I'm helping her build a gaming rig - a computer - for her." "Oh." Tess' eyes widened in astonishment as she realized this was the boy Kat had mentioned. This was far from what she was expecting however. "Oh! Yes, of course, please, come in, Sean. I'm Tess. I'll go let Kat know you're here." The dark-haired woman went up the stairs, gently knocking at the teenager's door. "Honey ? Your friend, Sean, is here." She could hear some fumbling, and opened the door, curious. "Is everything alr-" Kat was standing in front of her wardrobe, wearing nothing but slim blue jeans, and bras. In one hand, she held a white and bronze sailor top, and in the other, a flowered blouse in chocolate tones. Tess chuckled. "The blouse will do fine..." She rolled her eyes and added : "I'll tell him you're getting ready." She was already halfway down the stairs when she heard a yelled "Thank you !", and chuckled once more. "Kat's getting ready upstairs, she shouldn't be long. Would you like anything, a drink maybe ?" She told the young boy once she reached the hall. Tess caught Sean glancing up the stairs, then hid a grin as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other with a hint of boyish impatience with the female 'getting ready' comment. That was the same, at least. "Yeah, sure, I'd like that. Tess," Sean said, still just a tad uncomfortable using an adult's name, even if Tess didn't look that much older than him. "A cup of coffee with too much sugar would be great if it's not too much trouble, but water is fine." "Oh, I can make you some coffee, no problem." With a short gesture inviting him to follow her, she went to the kitchen and proceeded to make some coffee, throwing a quick glance back at her guest. "So, you... share some classes with her ?" She asked, busy with a filter. Sean took a seat at the island, turning on the stool so he was sitting sideways to the island, so he didn't have anything 'personal' pressing into the edge or plopped on the surface. He sat his bag by the base of the stool. "We share Chemistry and Art in the morning," Sean said, trying not to feel slightly self-conscious. Tess was young, not all that much older than him or Kat. He was used to how most adults reacted to him when they knew, their obvious and not so obvious tells about what they really thought about him. Tess was being very polite and gracious that when he caught the occasional slip up and noticed the wondering in her eyes or posture, it was a little jarring. "But I've also been showing Kat around the school, making sure she knows where everything is, knows how things are done, officially and unofficially, and has the little extra bit of paperwork. That kinda stuff." The dark-haired woman turned back towards the teenager, leaving the machine to drop water onto the coffee by itself, and flashed a charming smile to the strangely shaped boy sat by the island. "How nice of you !" Of course, she already knew that, she remembered very well the conversation she had in the car with her boyfriend's daughter. "Oh, speaking of Art, did she tell you she draws and paints in her spare time ? I've seen some of it a couple days ago, and it looks pretty good." She added with an approving nod, before grabbing a mug from a cupboard, and setting it in front of Sean, along with the sugar. "You'll dose it the way you like it, eh ?" "Thank you," Sean said with a smile and nod, dumping in enough sugar that most coffee connoisseurs would call it a felony. Sean took a sip, and smile in satisfaction as the sweetness and heat of the coffee. "I didn't she drew and painted. I draw some and paint miniatures, but most of my artwork is done digitally." "Interesting," Tess murmured, making her self a cup of coffee. "Just art to share, or to sell?" "Sell, sort of. I mean, I'm on several sites. And I have done some concept art. But it's more for my roleplaying games and the video games I've made. I've done one, and am almost done with another." Sean's grin widened in private delight and amusement. "I've made a lot of progress lately."
  34. 1 point
    It had been a couple of hours since the low rumble of the Charger's engine faded into the distance, but the parting words of the green-eyed devil who'd tamed that growling beast still rang in Autumn's ears: "Care over curiosity." For all his stoicism and evenness of temperament, there was a note of something she thought she recognized as concern in Jason's voice as they'd said their goodbyes on the front porch. Keeping that in mind, she'd considered carefully what to wear, what to carry- although she'd never broken into a building before, a little Googling suggested that most "urban explorer" kits consisted mostly of common-sense gear anyway. Well, common-sense for someone who went on solo hikes into the Montana woods for fun, at least. She’d dressed for practicality in dark green weatherproof, rip-stop climbing pants and belt, with a long-sleeved button-down shirt over the requisite tee, the ever-present hoodie, and hiking boots, her hair French-braided and covered with a navy bandana; Marissa would have been apoplectic at the mere sight. Everything else fit into a backpack, and the heavy pry bar would just get strapped to the frame of her bike once she got outside. The only issue she really agonized over was whether or not to bring the bracelets her grandfather had been keeping... but without knowing how they worked, or whether they’d cause a reaction like the one Cassie’d had when she came in contact with Devin’s, it was hard to justify the risk- even if they might be useful. “Mom, I’m going out,” she called as she jogged lightly down the stairs, shouldering the small, lightweight pack after reviewing its contents one last time. “Out?” Dana inquired, her head appearing over the back of the couch where she and the four other residents of the Keane household were relaxing after the unexpected events of the evening. “Yep! Remember, I said earlier I was going to hang out with Cassie Allen for a little while?” “Don’t you think one adventure in a day is enough?” the elder redhead retorted dryly, reflecting on her first meeting with the intense, inscrutable young man who’d just left earlier. Disquieting as the pretty vet found him, the fact that his presence seemed to have put her daughter in high spirits was undeniable. “Nope!” came the breezy reply as Autumn swept into the living room and gave her mother a cheerful kiss. “And don’t worry. Cass is cool. She’s on the newspaper, good student, wants to be a journalist. We have Chem together, with Jase,” she added by way of explanation. “She’s one of the people I want to invite up to the camp site later, if everything works out. Actually,” she paused for a moment, considering. They had planned to go to the Rez, hadn’t they? “We’re getting together with a couple of the others from school tomorrow morning, so I can just have them meet up here and introduce you, if you want?” “Sure,” Dana agreed with a faint smile, hazel eyes sparkling. It was hard to say no to that face, so open and earnest and obviously excited, as much as her protective maternal instinct might urge her to do so, particularly after that business at school, and the medical center. “As long as this introduction doesn’t turn out the same way the last one did.” “Hey,” Autumn protested, her cheeks growing warm under her mother’s bemused scrutiny. “It’s current year. Besides,” she added impishly, her own blue eyes warming with mischief, “even if it did, there’s no chance this one could possibly give you grandkids.” “Oh, for- Autumn Rae!” the woman too young to be a grandmother spluttered, her attempt to sound indignant failing miserably in the face of her daughter’s teasing. The adventurous teen just grinned in response, her nose crinkling slightly as Dana sighed in mock resignation, trying not to laugh as she shook her head. “Fine. Go on, then, and don’t be out too late.” “I won’t,” the younger Keane reassured her, pressing another quick kiss to her mother’s forehead and looping an arm around her shoulders in a brief squeeze as she turned to go. “...And keep your phone turned on!” Her mother’s voice followed her out of the room. “I will,” Autumn called from the hallway, the laughter evident in her voice even across the house.. “And be careful, and remember I love you!” came the inevitable reminder, followed by the familiar response. “I know, I love you too!” Within just a few minutes of the door closing behind her, she was on her way down the narrow road that wound between acres of shadowy pines dotted with hidden glades. The long, solitary ride to the Old Town Hall was quiet and uneventful as the sun sank inexorably toward the horizon, wooded hills giving way to the seemingly endless miles of flat, unremarkable farmland. It was, more or less, the same trip Autumn made almost every morning, though typically with a greater sense of urgency after having overslept. This time, there was no rush, and by the time she got to Shelly proper she could just begin to feel the muscles of her calves and thighs growing warm. Despite the deepening twilight and the ominous nature of the task before the pair of intrepid explorers, it was a clear, beautiful late summer evening. Her spirits buoyed by the prospect of being able to contribute to the group’s efforts and help unravel some of the mysteries surrounding them, the redhead drew in a deep lungful of clean air and pedalled a little faster. The thought that a certain someone would be going with them in the morning was totally, absolutely not lingering in the back of her mind, keeping her cheeks warm despite the rush of wind past her face. Nope. Not even a little. Catching sight of a dark-clad figure near the next intersection, just outside the circle of light cast by the street lamp, Autumn lifted a hand in greeting as Cass waved her over. “Hey,” she replied with an enthusiastic smile, putting one foot down to stop herself. “I think I’m good. I looked up a couple of websites on urban exploration, and the only things I didn’t bother with, apart from all the camera stuff, were a respirator and coveralls. Light, snacks, water, first aid, and tools… Um, pepper spray, too, just in case someone’s living in there. I’m not really sure what to expect, to be honest, so I tried to pack light in case we need to get out in a hurry.” Nudging the kickstand down, she knelt next to her bike and unstrapped the velcro bindings keeping a sturdy-looking two-foot wrecking bar tight against the frame. “This, um, wasn’t on any of the lists,” the perpetual Girl Scout admitted a little sheepishly. “I just didn’t know how locked-down the building would be.” She glanced across at the silent, derelict building, suppressing a shiver. "Do you think we should hide our bikes somewhere? I haven't really done anything like this before."
  35. 1 point
    She blew a strand of coppery hair from her face, blue eyes pondering the lockbox for a long moment, fingers fidgeting with the key-ring as she sought a likely fit for the small keyhole. For a moment that stretched too long she wondered if perhaps the key wasn't there, then sighed in relief as she found a promising prospect. She slid the key into the lock - and hesitated. Protections for warriors, the letter had said, not 'weapons'. Still, she mulled, some people considered weapons to be protection too. Fuck it. The contents of the box were almost underwhelming. A bundle of woven cloth, which unfolded to reveal number of plain-looking bracelets made of what looked like old copper, faded and worn-down swirling patterns etched into their surfaces. Almost underwhelming, except that Autumn had seen a similar bracelet recently - on Devin Jauntsen's wrist. They looked - no, felt - old, and as she tentatively reached out and picked one up, it seemed to weigh more than a simple thin band of copper ought to weigh, and caught the light in an odd fashion. She held it on her palm, considering, feeling the warmth of the thing permeating her skin - a warmth that was both physical and spiritual, it seemed. Devin had, apparently, been given his bracelet in the Other World, by a woman(?) in armor who'd saved him from a beast. At least, that was how Autumn understood the story from the Cliff Notes. And now her grandfather had been storing a box full of - she counted - an even dozen of the things, passed down by the local Blackfeet for gods-knew how long, against some future where the 'warriors' would come who would need them. Her mind spun a little at the scope of it, similar to when Cassie had been talking about how the Man In Black had been affecting events for centuries or longer to produce the teens of the Fellowship. A crazy thought occurred - was he behind this too? It was nuts - not everything was down to Mr Black or aliens... Or was it? She put the bracelet back in the box. The one on Devin's wrist had apparently nearly killed Cass, so damned sure Autumn wasn't going to distribute these things until she had more information. She sat back in the chair, staring at the dully gleaming circlets of metal, throwing back glints of light like red gold. Protections for warriors. Were she and the others warriors? They fought monsters. They fought evil motherfuckers in underground labs. They rescued people. They stood against the Dark. And Autumn was as much part of that as any of them - perhaps more so, if the revelation of her family roots and history in the area were anything to go by. "Warriors." she said aloud, testing the word then snorting. "Riiight." The crisp white rectangle of the other letter caught her eye, sitting on the blotter next to the lockbox. The letter her and her mother were to read together.
  36. 1 point
    Owen Kavanagh had been gone from this world for more than a year, his ashes scattered at Logan Pass just as the dawn broke over Going-to-the-Sun Mountain one morning in late June. It was exactly the farewell he’d asked for, an informal gathering of two small families and a wary flock of bighorn sheep watching from the mist-veiled hillside. The somewhat fussier to-do had come a couple of weeks later, an obligatory ritual to satisfy the townsfolk’s compulsion to foist their condolences and casseroles onto people who didn’t necessarily want either. The clutching hands of near-strangers, the almost metronomic litany of sorry-for-your-losses, the forest’s worth of paper fashioned into mass-produced sympathy cards- all well-intentioned gestures that, ultimately, seemed shallow and meaningless. For them, life would go on. And yet, even now, something of her grandfather lingered in this room, in every amorphous whorl of dark-grained wood and whisper of aromatic tobacco that rose from the plush carpet, her toes sinking in with each step. It was a bittersweet feeling, this flicker of wonder at the mysteries the place contained overlaid with the emptiness of loss, the uncomfortable tightening in her chest at odds with the warmth of her affection for someone who could no longer share it. Autumn stared at the envelopes on the desk, eyes tracing the neat script she recognized from documents they’d shredded, and from half a dozen birthday cards kept in a box of treasures under her bed. Deep blue ink on crisp white paper stared back at her. Sit, it bade her, and she did, unthinking, sinking into the wooden chair that gave only a half-hearted creak of protest after long disuse. As Autumn glanced at the first envelope, the one addressed to herself and her mother, her fingers practically twitched with the urge to reach out, to open it, but she hadn’t come here for sentiment alone. She’d come for the journals, to see if what Nathan had said was true. This is what she reminded herself, that there was a point to all of this, a purpose. Her grandfather’s notes, the historical references he’d collected could be useful, could maybe help them figure out what was happening in Shelly and why… And, maybe, if they were lucky, how to stop it. For all the strangeness of feeling surrounded by the presence of someone she’d known and loved in a place she’d never been- and it was strange, and strangely reassuring- there were more pressing issues to deal with first. Priorities. “To Whomsoever Opened The Door,” she murmured, smiling in spite of herself. “Still putting on your good manners for company, huh?” She took up the second envelope- after all, she was the one who unlocked the door, so it should be totally fine. Right? Right. Opening it, she took a deep breath and drew forth two sheets of stationery folded together. There was no date, no emblem or monogram, just faint grey horizontal lines on paper that felt heavier, more official somehow, than the kind used for normal note-taking or correspondence. Exhaling, she leaned back in the chair and began to read. “To Whomsoever Opened The Door,” she repeated quietly, and in the stillness of the room the young redhead could almost hear the words in her grandfather’s rumbling voice. “Obviously, I’m not here to greet you in person. A source of great sorrow to me, but not so great as the sorrow I feel in leaving my family in sadness and without protection. Unless my old friend…” She paused, frowning at the name that followed, and hazarded a clumsy attempt at pronouncing the unfamiliar arrangement of syllables. “...my old friend Askuwheteau was wrong- and in all the time I’ve known him, he never has been- you have what the Blackfeet call the ‘Dawning Light’. Either that, or the protection his grandfather gave mine doesn’t work and the whole lot of them have been laughing at us this whole time.” Huh. ‘Dawning Light.' Pausing, Autumn considered the sound of it, the way the words felt in her head. She had to admit, it sounded a little better than “the Shine,” which reminded her unpleasantly of that old horror movie with the guy who went crazy in a hotel, tried to kill his family, and froze to death in a hedge maze. Ugh. Suppressing a shiver, the girl pushed the thought aside. So far, what she’d read seemed to fit Nathan’s story- that people from their families who underwent ...whatever this coming-of-age ritual was... were supposed to be protected somehow from the Dark and those influenced by it. “Pardon, stranger. I feel death coming, and it makes me bitter.” There was no warning, no way to prepare for the shock of reading that admission aloud. The words swam before her eyes as if blurred by a surge of warm waves in clear blue shallows, remnants of which dripped silently down her cheeks. No. No, no, no. Absolutely not. You do not have time to cry right now, Autumn! Get it together. This is important, her inner voice chided her, and despite the sudden, sharp aching in her chest, practicality demanded she focus. Blinking rapidly as if to banish the upwelling of the emotional sea within her, the heir apparent to this increasingly strange legacy quickly skimmed the rest of the paragraph, her eyes catching here and there on certain words but not stopping to process them fully until she reached a passage that seemed safer. Less personal. “A man who is like a son to me has also been entrusted with this, but I am asking you as well, though I have no right…” Okay, yeah. That would have to be Warden Crocker, who’d said he’d come on her grandfather’s behalf- as much as she loved her dad, her grandfather had been as much a part of Nathan’s childhood as Nathan was of hers. She paused, as a sudden thought struck home: if Nathan really had been asked directly by her grandfather to talk to her, that meant he’d been carrying this around for almost a year and a half, along with everything else he was dealing with at home. Oh, god. Her heart sank a little at the realization, made heavier by a twinge of guilt at the little selfish surge of resentment she’d felt when he’d dumped all this in her lap yesterday. “...See that my granddaughter goes to the Reservation,” she continued soberly, “and meets either with Askuwheteau - ‘Laughing Joe’ they call him - or with whoever is in his place. Tell them she is Owen Kavanagh’s granddaughter, and they will know what is to be done.” Well, she conceded, ‘Laughing Joe’ was definitely easier to pronounce, at least. It was nice to have a name she wouldn’t be likely to screw up when she asked for him. When she’d talked to everyone at the bleachers, earlier, she hadn’t been entirely sure who she was looking for, and Sophia seemed nice, but she wasn’t like them and Autumn didn’t really know her, and Devin had freaked out, and things had just been kind of… weird. Though, she guessed they’d been weird for a little while now, hadn’t they? Or Weird, even; the memory of her phone call with Jase, brief though it was, brought a sudden rush of warmth to her cheeks. With a quick shake of her head, Autumn tried again to concentrate on the task at hand, toes drawing formless designs in the carpet as she swung her feet. “In the bottom drawer of my desk is a small lockbox. One of the keys on my old key ring opens it. If you are what I hope you are, what Laughing Joe thought you’d be, then what’s in there is for you. ‘Protections for warriors’, he called it.” A thrill of excitement raced through her at this new revelation, sea-colored eyes intent on the bold blue script as she leaned forward, eliciting a faint creak from the old chair. The letter didn’t specify what they were, or how they worked, and apparently this friend of her grandfather’s wasn’t sure, either- just that they’d been passed down to him ‘against a time promised when warriors would come and drive out the Darkness.’ Frustratingly, there was no further explanation of the nature of the protection, the warriors they were meant for, or the fact that it suggested some kind of prophecy. She’d just have to find out on Sunday, which, in that moment, seemed a lifetime away to the restive red-haired girl. Her grandfather did, however, mention the journals she’d come to find, although apparently they hadn’t been of much help to him. Maybe it would be different for the Fellowship? Sure, they were still trying to piece things together themselves, but Nathan had said on Wednesday that he’d never actually seen some of the things she’d described, so maybe that perspective would give them some kind of advantage reading through the old records. “A final favor I ask of you, stranger. A favor to a dead man, who will not be able to repay it.” Autumn’s voice wavered threateningly, that telltale stinging behind her eyes again as she exhaled slowly and forged ahead. “Take the other letter on my desk to my daughter and granddaughter, along with the talisman that hangs above the door of my den. Tell them that it was my wish for them to read the letter together and to follow the instructions therein.” Unconsciously, her gaze drifted up to the strange beaded object above the doorway, its outline luminous in her mind’s eye, down to the envelope with her name and her mother’s name on it, and back to the letter trembling faintly in her hands. Why? The dull, hollow feeling of grief and the flickers of pleasure at happy memories were familiar to Autumn when thinking of her grandfather, were easily processed, but this frustration Ms. Kyleson had conjured yesterday… this anger, was still relatively new, and as she felt her face grow hot a part of her couldn’t help but wonder why he’d done all this. Why didn’t he ever say anything when he was alive?! How could he just… just push that responsibility off onto other people, like Nathan, and this random person he was blindly trusting to do what he asked? Why would he trust a total stranger to find out who she and her mom were, and deliver his message? What if he’d been wrong, and no one had ever said anything, or found the room?! How were they even supposed to have found it, anyway, or gotten the keys, or put all of it together? “Fuck,” she groaned, leaning back abruptly to rest her head on the back of the chair. “Sorry, I know I’m not supposed to swear, but seriously, Grandpa. Seriously. This isn’t fair, you know?” Only silence answered her. Closing her eyes, the faint scents of smoke and long-unopened rooms filled her awareness, along with the solidity of the chair she was sitting in and the soft, dense pile of the carpet beneath her feet. There couldn’t be an answer, of course, to any of it. It was as pointless to ask as it was to be angry at someone who wasn’t there, and there were plenty of other things, other people more deserving of her ire. She knew that. The knowing didn’t make it any easier. With a sigh, Autumn opened her eyes again, staring up at the painted wood ceiling before sitting upright and returning her attention to the paper in her hand. “May the Dawning Light guide your path, and may you always know your star,” she breathed finally. It seemed unnecessary to read his signature aloud, especially after such an uncharacteristically poetic line. It reminded her a little of camping trips they’d all taken when she was younger, when both families had all been together, and her grandfather and Joe Crocker had told her and Jacob stories about how the constellations came to be, and how to use them to find your way if you were ever lost in the world. Truth be told, she was feeling kind of lost, and she wondered for a moment exactly how long she’d felt that way. ...Or whether, if it hadn’t been for the events of the past few days, she would ever even have noticed. Still, she kind of liked the sound of it, almost like a prayer, or a benediction. May you always know your star. “Thanks, Grandpa,” she murmured, smiling a little. “I’ll be sure to keep an eye out. For now, though, let’s see what these ‘protections for warriors’ are.” Reaching into the pocket of her hoodie, Autumn pulled the plastic keyring out again, bits of brass and nickel silver jingling musically in a quick, bright chime of encouragement. To her surprise, the wooden drawer slid open easily, empty but for a slightly weathered metal lockbox that seemed to shimmer with soft luminescence as the inquisitive teen lifted it out almost reverently and set it on the desk.
  37. 1 point
    The distraction was proving more than he could handle. After showering and throwing his laundry into the washer, Jason had tended to his hothouse, spending a good hour wandering the rows of flowering plants, testing soil pH and nitrogen levels, before giving a brief examination to the tiny kitchen garden plot he'd recently planted for fresh herbs. As the last of the day's light faded into evening he'd roamed back into the house, grabbed a book and settled down on the porch to read "A Romance of the Three Kingdoms." At least, that had been the plan, but without some necessary task to busy himself with he found his mind's eye drifting from the epic prose detailing a turbulent period in Chinese history and dwelling instead on pale ivory skin, stained with rose and dusted with flecks of bronze. He'd frowned as he'd caught onto the disruption of his focus, a certain wry amusement warring with the sensation of unease similar to that he'd noted when he had become aware of the sheer physical draw Autumn had possessed following that first passionate kiss. That temptation to abandonment, the sheer strength of the struggle against his normally insurmountable - or so he'd assumed it to be - Will had been concerning. And then, later, he had lost all sense of Self - surrendered it, in fact. And yet, the notion didn't trouble him as much as it should, when he considered the memory of desire-darkened blue eyes and kiss-reddened lips breathing his name... Jase sighed, setting aside the book as he realised he'd once more drifted. Rising from the porch bench, he paced a little, stopping at the rail and gazing in the direction in which lay, he knew, downtown Shelly. And the Old Town Hall. Which Cassandra and Autumn would be investigating tonight. And why should they not? Both girls were capable. They had uncovered Cook's kidnapping of Etienne, had found their own way down into the Project's underground facility without aid from anyone else. Between Cassandra's clairsentient gift and Autumn's ability to detect and influence biology, as well as their more practical skills, they should be fine. Just fine. "Fuck." Jason swore softly, unusually agitated. Autumn was capable. She wasn't helpless or lacking in wit or bravery. But Cassie's description of the monster Cody had become was not a pleasant image. And yet... To insist on being present, to insist on protecting Autumn, was that to imply a lack of trust in her own ability? Of course it wasn't, he told himself as he paced back and forth. It was a natural desire, to protect that which you cared for. He'd felt similarly, albeit less strongly about it back when Cass and Autumn had announced their scouting mission, before the revelations of Friday evening, before that first kiss... Only now the feeling was more urgent, as was the sense that if something did happen, he would be too far away to help. It was frustrating, and it was easy to isolate that the simple significant difference was that now, Autumn was more than a friend. Possessiveness? Care? Or just a strong desire to keep her healthy and well so that he could experience more sensation with her? All three, he decided, letting out a snort of self-directed wry amusement. Scooping up his book, he moved back indoors, past the kitchen where his dad and Hank were drinking beers and bickering over their chess game and upstairs, to flop back onto his bed and stare at the ceiling. Obviously reading was out right now, with the memory of her so strong and demanding in his mind. He could practically feel her weight against his arm and her breath tickling his skin as she rested her head on his shoulder, could smell her hair and the warmth of her skin... This was, putting it mildly, crazy. He, who prided himself on his Will and focus, to be affected by another person in this way. Witchcraft! It has to be! he mused ironically, amused at the way that such feelings -and they were feelings - seemed to bypass his icy self-control. He closed his eyes, attempting to focus, to clear his mind and to walk the hallways of his memory palace so that he could set things in order- -and found himself back beside the campfire on Friday evening, feeling the warm silken glide of Autumn's skin against his, the press of her lips and teeth against his neck as her hips undulated- "Shit." he groaned quietly as his eyes shot open. He sat up, staring at the far wall as though the blank paintwork would provide a solution. "Shit." he said again, with more feeling. He wasn't going to quit. He would get this distraction under control. He would process the memories and perfectly recalled sensations, and store them somewhere in his memory palace where they would not be able to break out and wreak havoc on his focus. His wry self-observation noted that the processing would probably call for several cold showers. It was going to be a long night.
  38. 1 point
    //DISCLAIMER// The Ride The petite redhead’s crystalline laugh chimed along the road as she felt the wind run through her hair, warmed by the sun. Although her exuberance wasn’t the only reason for her laughter, she did enjoy this collision with raw elements - those being rather merciful on such a sunny afternoon. Lifting rather quickly from Shine and powers, the conversation had turned around Shelly High’s, quite substantial in content, rumor mill. After noticing the petite redhead’s closing features hearing what was being told about her friend Sean, Courtney had decided to change target, seeing that Kat didn’t take the mockery about the boy’s appearance really well, instead choosing to unleash the fruit of teenage boredom on the blonde reporter, Cassie, on Charlie, Autumn or Jason, to the shorter teen’s amusement. Most of those Kat didn’t really understand, given that she was completely new in the landscape and knew close to nothing about the people living here, but it was certainly fun hearing teenagers blabber about mind-boggling theories, some of these couldn’t be taken seriously even out of context. “Okay,” Courtney grinned. “This is a soft one.” She quickly glanced at her passenger. “Sean part of Anonymous?” Kat chuckled, then actually considered the rumor. “To be honest… After all that’s been going on… a real shitfest by the way… I wouldn’t even be surprised if he was.” Courtney pressed on, her grin widening. “Him hacking the NSA, the CIA… Disney???” “Why Disney ?” The petite redhead replied, giggling. "You know, I don't think they realize that they might be close to the truth." “Oh, and also, he’d be spying on everyone through Shelly’s security feed.” “Creepy…” A couple minutes ago, the Senior high school cheerleader had refueled at the pump station, and Kat had bought some snacks. She was currently busy with a bar of Snickers, and after swallowing a rather large portion of the chocolate bar, she turned to the driver. “Kay, what about Autumn?” “She’s probably a witch, or a Wiccan or whatever. Nobody spends so much time in the woods for,” and Courtney made air quotes with one hand, “reasons. Also, some say she turned down her parents when they offered to buy her a car.” She rolled her eyes and added, “Girl Scouts… Savages traipsing around with twigs in their hair and spending more time with animals than with human beings…” The petite redhead snorted first, then raised a curious eyebrow at the comment, but Courtney shrugged it off. Then, “Jason ?” A shiver ran along the spine of the bustier redhead at the thought of a pair of green cold eyes. "Smart. Cold-blooded… Well, you were there when he was talking to Cook and the other Project peeps. Deals weed, but is really cagey about it - sheriff would love to get him but hasn't found any evidence. People say rival weed dealers just disappear. I've never seen what he's thinking, and believe me I've tried. And he's, uh, gifted." She made an unmistakable gesture groinward. "Saw that with my own two eyes." Her grin was equal parts mischief and salacious. Kat rubbed the back of her head, her cheeks suddenly heating up. “Yeah… “ Something in the tone of the smaller teen raised suspicion in the cheerleader’s mind. “Yeaaaaaah ? Cmon, Kitty, spit it out.” Courtney shot her a teethful grin. “Ugh, fine. Back on Tuesday, before I left with my Dad… Jason was sittin’ there, and… these grey sweatpants, I swear… Like a plaster mold on his junk.” "Right?" Courtney grinned wide. "I swear he had no idea that every pair of female eyes in the room was looking at him sideways... Except you. You might as well have had a neon sign over your head." Half-laughing, half-growling, the petite redhead replied, "Stop it ! It's embarrassing enough to think about..." The car engaged on the Main Street, passing by the swimming pool, climbing the road to a small hill past town limits. They passed a lone house, then engaged on a dirt road large enough for a car and a half. She parked the car off the road and Kat raised a curious eyebrow, as the driver got out of the convertible and pulled a large blanket out from the trunk. “What ?” She asked, then slightly shook the rolled blanket. “Cmon, the weather’s perfect for a little sunbathing.” She shot her an impish grin. “Besides, you curious about Jason’s weed?” She added, her free hand diving between her breasts, pulling out a joint. “Nobody lurks round these parts, Kitty.” Kat chuckled, shaking her head in disbelief, then pushed the passenger door open, jumping to her feet and following the gorgeous redhead to where she was setting the blanket down, some fifty feet away from the car. She watched as Courtney set her cherry-red heels - matching her lipstick, Kat thought - aside and slowly unbuttoned her cream-colored blouse, dropping it on the blanket, revealing the red bra one could’ve guessed under the translucent fabric, then sat down, extending her long, round legs, her pale skin - it reflected golden undertones as it drank the sunlight - contrasting with the crimson skirt stopping half-thigh. She was holding the joint, waving her hand so the petite redhead could see it. She patted the blanket on her side, enjoining Kat to come and sit. “Kitty, I’m not gonna eat you.” She said with a playful wink. <Yet.> She added, her voice ringing in Kat’s mind with mischief. She then burst in laughter as a warm pink invaded the petite redhead’s cheeks, who finally decided to sit on the edge of the blanket, removing her sand-grey booties and her socks. Kat composed herself, then pulled a lighter out of her jacket, before setting said jacket next to her booties and finding a spot to sit, closer from the weed, and Courtney. Kat felt like she was entering a lioness’ lair, and she was the prey.
  39. 1 point
    The petite redhead half-gasped, inhaling her companion’s breath in doing so, yet did not recoil, and time seemed to slow for a short second of uncertainty. Courtney could both feel and sense doubt in Kat’s reaction, but the very reason Kat chose to follow Courtney out of Bunnee’s swept it away, as the slender teen shifted her weight to one arm, moving a timid but delicate hand to the naked shoulder of the other girl. She closed her eyes and returned the kiss with piqued curiosity, exploring the shape of her lips with her own. Courtney’s mouth slightly curved into a triumphant grin as she pressed on, her palm cupping the thinly clad pixie’s cheek. She folded her legs to sit up, freeing her other hand to brush it up against Kat’s nape and slowly tilt her head backwards, and tossed a leg across the French girl’s waist, setting her knees on each side while her fingers ran along Kat’s neck and shoulder blade, summoning shivers in their wake. At this point, Kat needed to remember how to breathe, her heart racing and stealing way too much oxygen from her lungs, and as she softly broke off the kiss and opened her now fairly bloodshot eyes, she didn’t regret the sight of the crimson-haired beauty haloed by the sun who was towering her, staring at her with hungry eyes. She was in for all of it. She had been bad at catching the hints, even if she pinned that on the weed, and as she was about to voice her comment, a voracious kiss sent it into oblivion, lighting up some -if not many- red lights in the petite redhead’s mind while she laced her arms around Courtney’s neck. That’s Bannon’s regular weed. The high was doing a formidable job at keeping her breathless, as an unstoppable flow of sensory input overflowed the teen’s frail focus and blew her mind - the cherry scent of Courtney’s cherry-red lipstick as she bit on her upper lip, the floral aroma, jumbled with fruity sweetness, of her skin as her mouth trailed on her cheek, pecking here and there, mingling with the intoxicating smell of strawberry her hair released as it brushed on Kat’s nose, while Courtney’s warm lips explored her jawline, then her neck, extorting a rattling sough of gusto from the petite redhead, who buried her nose in the crimson mane, drunkenly and avidly breathing its smell. Kat’s fingers hardened on the cheerleader’s shoulder as she pulled herself closer, feeling white teeth playing with the skin of her neck, and a shiver ran along the spine of the petite redhead, feeling much like a prey being toyed with by a predator, followed by Courtney’s fingertips, dancing up the alignment of vertebrae until they stopped on the clip of her bra. Click. The sound bounced and echoed throughout Kat’s buzzing jungle-mind, and black bra joined blouse, jacket, blue jeans and sand-grey booties on the floor as Courtney pressed on her assault on the smaller teen with an impish grin, a scrupulously manicured nail tracing the outline of the tattoo on Kat’s shoulder, quickly followed by lips burning with expectation, pecking on the small dots of ink darker than midnight, in contrast with pale skin in desperate need for more sun - and more caresses. A rasping sigh lost itself in the sudden cooler breeze picking up, unable to smother the warm embers awakening in the petite redhead’s innards, as Courtney’s mouth began moving lower and lower while her hands did their magic, riding up the slender teen’s ribs, brushing against the soft and mellow skin of her humble breasts and wringing another appreciative groan inside Kat’s throat. A firm hand slowly pushed her back to lay down, two brown eyes locked into hers, glistening with hunger - Kat could hear the beating sound of her blood pulsing to her temples, could feel the heat slowly invading her cheeks, the soft fabric of the blanked under her back, the long forgotten feeling of someone else’s hands on her skin. A familiar face, framed with short and dark hair, flashed in her mind, and for a split second, she felt ashamed, then scolded herself. Why should I care about an ungrateful demanding asshole ? The thought shattered, replaced by something more raw, commanding she gave her attention to the Now. The touch felt electric, violently soft, Courtney’s lips blowing a short, smooth kiss to the tip of her nipple, causing the svelte French girl to inhale sharply, her chest heaving as her mouth opened in a silent gasp. That… was new… Take that, Erwann. And then it came back, again, and Kat ran a hand into the cheerleader’s hair, gently pulling her head closer as if asking for more. The cherry-red lips parted on the mellow, pale skin of her breast, and a mischievous tongue darted, nimbly flicking on her pink, erect tit, coaxing a doleful moan from the petite redhead, before venturing on her sternum. Courtney’s hands were roaming around Kat’s ribs, her fingers tracing the intricate lines of the Celtic patterns, so dark that they seemed to drink the sunlight. The soft caresses left shivers in their wake, hands dancing on skin in a sort of back and forth strangely mimicked by the petite redhead’s pelvis. As Courtney’s tongue traced a burning line to her collarbone, Kat lifted a knee to push on her buttocks, cupping her cheek with a hand and lacing the other arm around her back, and planted a fierce kiss on her mouth, rolling on the blanket to gain the high ground, her grey eyes darkened with lust and mischief drawing a wry smile on the crimson-haired beauty’s features. The latter didn’t expect this playful show of strength from the svelte French girl, whose body was beginning to adapt to the rough - at least in her eyes - training she endured every morning. Kat’s breathing was sharpening, matching the pace of her beating heart supplying the heat necessary to ignore the now cooler temperature of the evening. The sun was now close to the horizon, and the occasional breeze running across the area had turned into a mild but constant flow, playing with the coral locks falling before Kat’s eyes as she bent over the gorgeous body laying below hers. The petite redhead blew them off without a thought, picking another soft kiss from Courtney’s cherry-red lips. She thrilled when the other girl’s hands locked onto her waist, pulling her closer, and then began, in turn, exploring her companion’s skin, with lips reddened by kisses - and lipstick - and shivering hands, slipping those under the strap of Courtney’s red bra and pulling them off her shoulders, her mouth following the faint mark they left till it reached her breasts, venturing near her cleavage then backing off towards her neck, her lips, stretched by an excited grin, landing there a humored peck. She could feel the vibration of Courtney’s soft whimper of protest in her throat, could not ignore the warmth of the arms laced around her waist, pulling her closer and closer till her chest was pressed to the other girl’s, and a third time, she voraciously pressed her mouth onto Courtney’s, while the scent of her skin once again blew her mind in a colorful blast of floral aromas. She timidly poked Courtney’s lips with a flick of her tongue, as if asking for right of way, her breath spreading its warmth in a silent but excited giggle, and the snug barrier opened, greeting the intruder with renewed interest, Courtney’s tongue suddenly leading a heated dance while her arms released their lock around the petite redhead’s chest to get rid of the bra straps, one of her hands then sliding down Kat’s back to rest on her buttocks while the other began brushing against her belly as Kat broke off the intense kiss and took a deep breath. Delicate fingers caressed around her ombilic in concentric circles, going lower, and lower, surreptitiously sliding inside her panties, inch by inch, kindling the aroused heat overrunning the slender teen’s whole body. Kat’s stomach suddenly produced a malcontent growl, depicting how much she lusted for the crimson-haired beauty, but also reminding her that weed generally made people hungry for food. This had the effect of a cold shower on her, and the sudden change in her expression startled the cheerleader, whose fingers stopped at the very boundaries of the petite redhead’s forbidden fruit. Courtney raised an inquisitive eyebrow. Kat swore in French, and reached for her jacket, pulling herself out of Courtney’s warm embrace, and fishing her phone out. “Fuck !” She swore again, noticing the hour. “I’m. SO. Late ! My dad’s gonna kill me.” A wicked giggle chimed in her back, and she glared at the gorgeous beauty staring at her, resting on her elbow with her bra pulled down around her belly. “Oh, that is adorable.” A mischievous smile crossed the cheerleader’s features as she watched the petite redhead dressing up as fast as she could while letting go of a profusion of profanities that would make a French sailor turn pale. She sat down and adjusted her own bra, before grabbing her blouse with a frustrated sigh. A few moments later, both of them were dressed, and Courtney was slowly walking back to the car, the blanket now rolled and folded under her arm. “Hey, Kitty, I’ll drive you home.” She offered the slender teen who followed her with worry painted on her face and apparent lipstick marks on her lips. “Thanks…” The petite redhead replied, rubbing the back of her head while heading towards the passenger door, her jacket thrown over her left shoulder. “Your dad’s gonna look at you funny if you don’t do something for these,” Courtney pointed at Kat’s lips and shot her an impish grin, and a warm pink flushed the French girl’s cheeks, who grabbed a tissue and her phone from her jacket, and tried making the obvious less obvious, after sitting in the car. The Senior high school cheerleader closed the trunk, and took a couple strides, reaching the driver seat. An awkward silence floated between the two young women, broke an instant later by the taller redhead. “Hey, that was fun !” Courtney gave her a warm smile, her eyes studying Kat’s face. The statement lingered on the petite redhead, who was thinking about what had just happened, and drew a faint smile on her lips, stirring up something warm in her chest, slight reminder of the intense heat that had driven her crazy a couple moments ago. She glanced at Courtney, her grey eyes shining with appreciation and her cheeks still flushed with a charming pink, in contrast with her pale carnation. “Yeah, that was fun !” As the engine started, a wider grin stretched Kat’s lips as she added : “Guess now I know where to look for weed…” Another wicked giggle echoed through the nearby woods as the car made its way towards town.
  40. 1 point
    Instinctively, Sean moved forward to catch his collapsing friend, immediately regretting the decision, but too late to get out of the way. Cade had more than a foot on him and probably like a hundred pounds and while Sean was many things, strong wasn't one of them. Sean grunted managing to cushion Cade at his own expense, air escaping his lungs, as he was pinned to the ground by Cade's spasming mass on top of him. I am so glad he is unconscious right now, Sean thought as he squirmed out from under Cade, who finally went still. Sean checked on his friend, to make sure he was still breathing and that his pulse felt okay - which was about the limit of his first aid skills. Then he brushed himself off and straightened his shirt, looking around to make sure no one else saw what happened. Cade groaned and slowly opened his eyes, to find Sean leaning over to look down at him, a glass of water in one hand and a small bottle of Advil in the other. "You've been out for 'bout five minutes, dude," Sean said, proffering the water and pills to Cade. A wry grin curved one side of his mouth. ""So, would now be a bad time to tell you I can make myself or someone else immune to electrical discharges? I mean, if I had, we wouldn't have found out how effect the tase rounds were. Probably." Cade sat up, bracing himself on an elbow, giving Sean a long, nonplussed look. He shook a couple of Advil into his hand, threw them in his mouth, then took the glass of water and gulped it down. He looked at Sean again, his expression level. Sean's grin began to waver. "You're despicable..." Cade said with a fair Daffy Duck impression.
  41. 1 point
    The basement was divided into two parts. One was a storage area - the shelves largely empty now, having once contained stacks of the cans, jars and bottles that had contained Caroline Kavanagh's preserves, pickles and self-canned soups which were legendary, the recipes for which were all in the large bound family cookbook her mother kept on a shelf in the kitchen in pride of place, as befit a tome four generations old before it had come into Dana Keane nee Kavanagh's hands. With cobwebs glinting in the late-afternoon sun that slid through the high, narrow window in the south wall, the basement seemed eerily just-emptied, as though everything had just been moved yesterday and the spiders had moved in overnight. Autumn was not sure whether it was the fact she spoke to the house as though her grandfather was still here or not, but there was a sense of life in the house - an aura, though her pragmatic side hesitated to use such a... term... Waitaminute. Auras weren't New Age BS. She could see them - the life force of living people, such as with Jase when she'd healed him at the hospital. And there was another type of aura, too. Her skill at such things was rudimentary, but she took a breath of the slightly stale cellar air and focused for a moment as she'd been shown last Sunday, letting her Shine be her eyes, seeking out other things that shone. The house glowed. It wasn't a golden blaze, like the other teens in the Fellowship. It was dim, faint silvery radiance, permeating the house with a gentle warmth, a tracery of Shine that limned every stone and board emanating from a single point which, the flame-haired girl determined with a widening of her eyes, lay beyond the door of her grandfather's den. She stepped forward, examining the lock and trying the first key that looked as though it might fit, then the second, and then the third. The third did the trick - but Autumn felt a faint tingle under her fingers as the lock turned and somehow knew that the key would only work for... someone like her. For a moment, the sense of the prescience with which the lock had been constructed and imbued left the girl with a faint tremble in her nerves, as much of wonder as of trepidation. Her grandfather had known that someone with Shine would come - or had determined that only someone with Shine needed to see beyond this door. Without more than a moment's hesitation, Autumn swung the door open. And stepped into a room it felt like her grandfather had just stepped out of. As she fumbled on the light switch, the thickly-carpeted floor underfoot and the carved wooden chair and desk and cabinets came into view. The place was permeated with her grandfather's sensibilities - simple things, elegantly made, warm wooden shades and paintings on the walls of various wilderness scenes. The Shine which permeated the house came from over the door, on the inside, where hung a strange-looking talisman with beads, feathers and claws dangling from the leather thong which fastened it out of casual reach. But to Autumn's still active 'Third Eye', there was another source of Shine in the bottom drawer of the carved walnut desk. On the desk blotter were two envelopes, unglued and laid carefully next to each other, both marked in her grandfather's hand. She studied them for a moment. One was addressed to 'My Daughter and Granddaughter'. The other was addressed to 'Whosoever Opened the Door.'
  42. 1 point
    "Seriously, Deejay?" Marissa scowled at her brother, whom she was still livid at, before leaning forward to see past him and on to Cassie. "Okay, yes, you definitely need to see me because you are not showing up on my brother's arm looking all hobo-licious." She shook her head dismissively. "Wow. Way to rebound." "Stop, okay?" He shook his head, visibly irritated. "Just stop. I asked her because I want to go with her to Homecoming. She's sweet, and nice and... she seems to be the closest thing to stable I can think of right now. My girlfriend leaves Tuesday and I'm never seeing her again. I don't want a rebound, I don't want a replacement or a fling, or quickie or a friend with benefits! I want to take a hot date to the dance. I want to dance with her. I want to laugh and joke, and not be alone in a world that's trying to tear my legs off and kill me every other day. And when it's all said and done I want to take her home, kiss her hand and thank her for a nice evening. I want a few fucking hours of normal. Is that okay with you?" "Wow," Marissa's face contorted into pure snark. "Chill. I was just fucking with you, Jesus." He inhaled and buried his face in his hands before brushing them up and back through his hair. "Well, I'm not in the mood to be fucked with right now, okay?" He shook his head in a manner that hinted to him attempting to just shake off the last few moments. They'd seen Devin irritated, he was an angry teen who'd ruined a few of their social lives on numerous occasions. Even Cassie had never completely dodged his abuse in the past, but now he just seemed to be on a tangent. Something was eating away at him and he didn't seem too keen on sharing what it was. "Look, let's just get back on the whole Cody thing," He looked to Cassie, then Autumn. "If you guys are going to recon Cody, do I need to be there? You said I could help you see better. Can you pierce the world barrier without me?"
  43. 1 point
    "If we don't face it, we die anyway." Jason said in that calm, matter-of-fact manner of his. "It wants to eat us, Devin. We are being hunted. If we fight it head-on, at least we will be together, eyes open and on the opponent, and it will have to work for it's dinner. Personally, if I am going to die, that's the death I choose. You-" and he indicated the male Jauntsen "-have no right to make it for me, or any of us, whatever your fears." His eyes were still chips of green ice, his voice still that quiet, level tone. He didn't raise it - he seldom, if ever, raised his voice. "But I don't plan to die. I plan to kill the thing that wants to kill me. I plan to make it suffer for daring to think it can treat me as prey." A feral glimmer kindled in the depths of his gaze as it moved from Devin, to Marissa, to Autumn, to Cassie and so on around the group. "It's true that I am... different. But you- all of you - are my friends. If I could slip away and kill the thing that threatens you without endangering you, I would." He shrugged eloquently, spreading his slender hands. "But I can't. I need you. You need me. We need each other. As Marissa said, it's perhaps unfair that it falls to us, but it has fallen to us. And fairness is not on the periodic table. The universe is not composed of hydrogen, carbon and justice." "Now, we could all walk away. We could run from Shelly. Put the work of the Man In Black to bring us to this point to waste. Perhaps the parasite will not grow strong enough to pierce the walls of our world in our lifetimes." His lips twisted in a sardonic smile. "It won't be our problem if, after a few more cycles of pain, death and terror, it breaks through and eats every living thing. Hell, even our children might be dead by then." He narrowed his eyes at Devin. "But I am not fleeing. Just like you did not flee when we fought that monster in the woods on Friday. You stood with me, I stood with you - and we made it hurt. We - all of us together - frustrated it's purpose. Yes, you got scars." He leaned forwards, eyes hard. "Own the scars. They are yours. They are on your living body because you survived. And then, in the hospital, you kicked some Dark-spawned monsters to death wearing expensive sneakers. You - we won that fight. All of us. Kids coming into our power, becoming warriors." He jabbed a finger at Devin from where he sat on the fringes of the group. "You don't have to be afraid of the Dark, Devin Jauntsen. It has to be afraid of you. Of all of you." He smiled then, a wry quirk of humor. "Of all of us. So: let's set aside the 'do we, don't we?' question. Because we definitely are going to have to face the Dark, and it might as well be on our terms. What we need is the next steps - gearing up, reconnaissance, and deciding what the battle plan will be when we get in there. It seems the skull-entity is our actual target, but I don't think that whatever Cody has become is going to let us walk up to the skull with a hammer." He glanced around. "Thoughts?"
  44. 1 point
    Devin supported her as best he could, offering a few comforting words to her to remind her she was still on the bleachers and safe with the rest of the Fellowship. With his currents distractions he was certainly a different person; warm, comforting, almost a decent guy without time for quips or unwanted advances on his peers. He held her hand and gently rubbed her back as she regained her senses allowing her time to compose herself. A small part of her considered maybe peeping into Devin's Shine to see what alien had possessed him so she could properly worn the others that something had taken a hold of their fun loving and annoying pervert. When she covered her mouth her hands and stopped talking enough to begin composing herself on her own, Devin uncharacteristically stopped comforting her. No quip, no squeeze, he didn't even try to cop a feel or keep his are around her. When his phone beeped he checked it and decided that Sean's mental texting was simultaneously both the coolest thing and the most annoying thing at the same time. He inhaled, visibly annoyed by whatever Sean had text him. His eyes were like daggers and for a moment Sean thought Devin might pounce like he did on Chet and break his nose too. "I don't need therapy, Cassidy. Sorry, Doctor, the reason I'm all messed up is because interdemensional demons nearly tore my leg off and I blew myself up to prevent myself from being consumed by one of them... good thing Bobba Fett was there to inject me with nano machines to save my life." He gave Sean that look of sarcasm that questioned if that's what he wanted Devin to say to the therapist. "Dude, I know you've had it rough. Close minded fuckers are everywhere and assholes like me didn't make it easy one you, and I can't say I'm sorry enough for that, but this isn't the same. When you have to decide to blow yourself up to keep one of those things from disemboweling you then you can try and relate to why I don't want to be responsible for being the guy who sent everyone there. What if one of us doesn't make it? Aside from Jason, the rest of us have to live with looking at their parents and sibling grieving a missing child who will never be found and live with that guilt and pain and secret for the rest of our lives. You don't think of those things. None of you seem to be thinking like that. This is life and death shit and... we've been treating it like it's just another video game or some shit. I was too, honestly, it was all shits and giggles... now I see my leg in the mirror every time I take a shower and... I can feel it. I can feel it all over again. I don't want any of you to go through that, I don't want to be responsible for opening the door that got any of or all of you killed." "Fine," Marissa shrugged. She completely dismissed her brother and his issues. "You want to stay here and be a little bitch, that's on you. 'What' can fuck off and 'if' can blow me. Sean makes a fine point: if we can save Cody, we try and save him, but saving all of Shelly takes priority over him. You guys might not want to here it, but I dare someone to argue the point. It sucks that this duty was put on our shoulders, but here we are. We'll need weapons and a game plan. When do we do this?" "No," Devin said flatly. "You're not going." "Excuse me?" Her neck craned in response to the personal insult. The normally composed Marissa slipped straight into a defensive posture. No one had ever seen the twins disagree like this before, they were usually inseparable. "I do not recall asking for your permission, Devin. Nor needing it." Her lack of use of his nick name was certainly obvious. "You're my only sister, your not going there without me," he shook his head. "I'm not arguing this with you, Marissa." "You can't stop me," they were beginning to get loud, people from the field were starting to look into the bleachers to see what the commotion was. You talk all that inspiring shit and then you pull this? Fuck you, Devin. You want to be a little bitch, that's on you. The rest of us have shit to do." "You want to open this can of worms, bitch?" Yep they were going to war. They'd never the twins this intense on each other before. Tensions were obviously high, but for the twins to loose their composure, at school of all places, was a dire portent of what could lie ahead of them. "Fine, let's fucking do it-" "Enough." Jason said, barely raising his voice but the wave of cold chilled them to the bone. "I don't care what problems you two currently have. What ever wild hair is currently up your asses, consider it plucked. Marissa is right. We need a plan and a time. Whether or not either of you will be present is not relevant. You have from now until then to fix yourselves. This, however, is not the forum for the two of you to hash out your problems. Exercise some discretion, for once." "Those things are going to fucking kill you," Devin's eyes panned the collected Fellowship. "You want to run off to die, that's on you."
  45. 1 point
    Sean had slapped Devin's pointing finger away from his face, giving his former bully a scowl, but in his two-toned eyes, there had been a reluctant sympathy. There was more had wanted to say, but not to everyone - not to anyone, really - especially not now when there was more to discuss. But it might help Devin. Devin had felt his phone vibrate. The top-heavy teen hid a reticent squirm under retrieving a pair of clementines from his cooler bag and packing away the remnants of his lunch before. He had something he could add to the discussion about the thing at Site B, but he agreed with Autumn that it would just be a distraction from the Cody situation. He just didn't agree for the same reasons. He wasn't as good a dissembler as, say, the Jauntsens, and he was afraid if he started to talk about what Dr. Cook had told him, it would inevitably lead to why he had to go to Site B, and he certainly didn't want to make it about him. There was so much danger to go around, not only to him, but to the rest of the Fellowship, and possibly their loved ones too, it felt entirely conceited. Sean narrowed his eyes in thought, trying to puzzle out the pieces. Cody had always been a shit to him, so he found it hard to feel much sympathy for the monster he had apparently become in actuality. Though he supposed it they could pull him back from the Dark, it would be a genuine victory over it, and it might even weaken the Dark, if it fed, was strengthened, but the misery it inflicted and urged others to perpetrate. "We're going to have to circle back to these Aliens and Site B later - if these aliens are so scared that we would develop psionic powers that they put some sort of shield over the entire planet, why didn't they just destroy the life-bearing capability of the planet instead? Or the planet itself? If they can do one, they should be able to do the other." Sean waved the thought away with a shake of his hand, and started peeling his clementine before he continued on the tangent, as intriguing and irritating it was. He nodded at Charlie and Autumn, and tried not to think if what he was going to ask might be a possible solution to his own problems. "But, if destroying this, skull-spirit-entity-thing does release it or the Dark's hold on Cody... Charlie, Autumn, do you guys think if you linked your respective powers, you might be able to, er, restore him to something like Cody Classic? I know, it's thinking ahead, but if there is a chance to do something like that, it'll change how we go in to engage him."
  46. 1 point
    "Sean will be watching us." Jason said, turning towards Cass, holding out a hand. "May I?" She hesitated, then divined his intent and offered the plastic envelope to him. Jase reached out, then paused, his lips curving in a slight smile before he walked over and gently took the protected photograph from her fingers. It took a second before she realised what had happened, but by then he'd already turned away and was heading over to Sean. "Jase... the power generator for this place? It's atomic, advanced - way smaller than a normal reactor. Hell, it could probably power most of Shelly. It reminds me of the trailer- What's this?" Sean asked, looking up from where he was busy pulling up schematics as Jason held the photograph in front of his face. "Cassandra's father. You've got eyes in the complex and it's a high tech place - check and see if his face is in their security logs, and then if he's in the building at all." "Sure." Sean nodded, studying the picture and then, with a touch of his Shine, digitising a reproduction of it on the screen before him, then adding some three-dimensionality. "Might take me a few." "You've got a few." Jason turned and walked the photo back over to Cassie, offering it to her in an almost courteous manner. The pretty blonde smiled despite herself, shaking her head as she tucked the photo away. "You know I meant no using your powers on people, or against people." she said, looking up at the impassive features and the gleaming jade eyes. His lips twitched a little, that wry, ageless reptilian amusement back in his expression. It was hard to remember that he was only sixteen years old, looking into that gaze. That gaze was ancient. "What is perceived to have been said, what is actually said, and true intent are often not the same things, even for me. Regardless, I gave my word, and I keep it to the letter." he said with just a hint of pointedness that was not so much addressed to her as it was to the room in general. Cassie regarded him, blue eyes full of wary curiosity. She opened her mouth to say, or ask something when Sean spoke up. "Found him." He pointed at the holo-display and a security file image appeared. "Says here he's part of some experiment - no name, just a serial number, and no details what it's about." "I bet Etienne is probably undergoing it right now." Devin said darkly. "Some MK-Ultra mind-jacking shit. Ms Giles said Kline was involved with that stuff." "Logs say he's currently offsite at somewhere called 'Site B'. Checked out a day ago with a bunch of others." Sean said, looking at Cass. "We can always go back for him once we figure out more." "Site B?" Taggart asked sharply, looking at Giles. "That's our other project site." Annette nodded, standing. "While our brave friends here attempt a rescue, I'm going to go and seek permission to discuss Site B. I think it's best done sooner rather than later." So saying, she made to leave the room, stopping at the door. "Major, have your men place Dr Cook under arrest, please. Don't harm him unduly." She left, and a few moments later Doctor Cook was escorted from the room by two Airmen. Taggart looked at the three other adults in the room, nodding once, then at the unlikely-looking strike team. Or perhaps not so unlikely looking, he mused. The Charlie kid seemed mild as milk, but had carried himself pretty well in the fighting upstairs, the Jauntsen boy was mouthy and annoying as hell, but damned if he couldn't get a herd of cats moving in one general direction, and the Bannon kid - Okay, the Bannon kid was chilling to the point of terrifying, and yet had acquiesced readily to a promise not to use his powers in this room or to kill any opponents on the raid without quibbling or raising objections. That was just plain weird. One thing did not match up to the other thing. Taggart cleared his throat to get their attention. "Time to go." said Devin, giving Marissa a hug then walking over to the door. "Chuckles, snargle her garthog later. Cade, Jase... Granola - I mean," he corrected as Autumn scowled. "Autumn. You in?" Autumn nodded before she even really thought about it. Jason had said she'd be of use, and while she still held some doubts, she had healed him up. Besides, it just wasn't in the restless redhead's nature to sit on the sidelines while friends went into danger, even if said friends were best described as walking hell waiting to be unleashed. "Yeah, I'm coming." she said, tugging once at the drawstrings of her hoodie before thrusting her hands in the pockets and moving over to the group by the door. She threw a considering glance at the pair on the couch as she passed them: the new girl, Kat, seemed to be a little unglued and, of all people, it seemed Courtney was offering aid. Personally, knowing the girl was a telepath with megalomania and narcissism was not reassuring, but there was nothing to be done about it right now. Behind her, Charlie gave Sophia one more kiss and practically swaggered to the door like he was ready to take on Tyson in the ring and win. Cade stood up, hugged his dad, then turned to Marissa who threw her arms around his neck and gave him a fleeting kiss before pushing him mock-playfully in the direction of the waiting group. And Jase... Was standing right next to them, having moved over to where Taggart was waiting in a neat, unobtrusive and almost silent fashion. He radiated none of the tension or excitement felt by the others, even the phlegmatic Cade - a harmonic like the faint whisper of a lightly-struck tuning fork passing between them, each member of the team picking up a little of the others' excitement - except for Jason, who seemed impervious to it, a calm pool of ice cold water whose mere presence muted the tension just a little, like a finger pressed to the vibrating metal. "You're going to miss me, I know you are." Devin said to Cassandra with his best devil-may-care smirk. Cassie rolled her eyes. "Not near as much as Lona will. So be careful." she shot back, ignoring the kiss he blew as they left the room. Taggart led the five of them down the corridor, past the control room and into a large, open space that was currently uninhabited. There was a roll-down door at one end large enough for a van or truck, and the room was plainly meant as a loading bay. He turned to them, looking at Devin as he backed up some. "This is it." he said. "I''ll keep it free for your return and have an EMT team standing by. How far back do I need to be?" Devin glanced around, then shrugged. "Hell if I know, dude. Best be outside the doors, in case. This is breaking new ground, feel me?" Taggart nodded. "Good luck." he said, then turned and hustled from the room, leaving the five of them looking at each other.
  47. 1 point
    Tuesday Afternoon - Marias Medical Center Directory, directory... Okay, seriously? she grumbled inwardly, pressing the ice pack to her bruised jaw and grimacing as two of the facilities staff rolled past with a cart of cleaning supplies, chatting about the previous night’s episode of “Mindseeker.” It was more or less the same tone the orderlies and deputies had used when talking about the “Bannon kid”- I have no personal investment in this subject, and don’t really care what happens, because it doesn’t affect my life in any real way. It stung, a little, that until recently she’d thought of Jase that way herself, and the realization was enough to quench the nascent flare of indignation on his behalf. Maybe she’d get a chance to check on him before she left, say hi to his dad or something… Jason was in pretty rough shape, and based on their talk at the farm, Gar might not handle it all that well. Autumn mulled that over as they walked, her sneakers quiet on the polished floor. The two girls had been wandering the hallways for several minutes without running into either a reception desk or someone they recognized, and while that meant no one had stopped or questioned them yet, it also meant there was no clearly-designated person to ask directions. It seemed a little odd that, despite the number of people in uniforms busily milling about, no one had offered to help them thus far, or done more than give the teens a cursory glance. Were clueless-looking teenagers such a common occurrence at the medical center that no one noticed them anymore? Maybe everyone was just crazy busy, or just super uncomfortable interrupting someone who was on the phone; for all Autumn knew based on the rumors she'd been told, they were being monitored from a closet stuffed full of computer equipment somewhere, so nobody who worked there cared about underage trespassers. Under the circumstances, it's not that she particularly wanted special attention, but the pointed lack of it seemed either rude, creepy, or both. "Oh, for crying out loud, did they design this place to be confusing, or what?" Autumn muttered under her breath, restlessly scanning the signs and pinboards that occasionally interrupted the otherwise sterile, featureless walls. The whole place was immaculate, clean and contemporary, and if she'd never heard anything about Dr. Cook or the sinister-sounding "Project," she probably would have been impressed with the setup. "Deeefinitely a possibility," the pretty young journalist next to her replied airily, rolling her eyes for dramatic effect and miming a talking mouth with her free hand. The redhead grinned at that, in spite of the twinge of pain it caused, and returned her attention back to scanning the hallway for anything that might help them navigate the maze of white corridors. There was something compelling about Cass's improvised performance, a certain degree of confidence, as well as the aforementioned "pluck;" even if the inquisitive blonde wasn't sure what she was going to find, exactly, she still needed to look, and that was a sentiment Autumn could definitely appreciate. As they approached another intersection, a large, glass-covered rectangle caught her attention and she paused, tapping Cassandra on the shoulder. "Hey, ask if three o'clock is okay," she suggested, meeting the other girl's gaze before darting a glance in that direction: just around the corner was a directory of the ground floor and quick reference of the other areas of the medical center. Holding the ice against her cheek, Autumn took a deep breath and walked over to examine the names and numbers listed there, feeling a tiny knot of anticipation coiling eagerly around itself in her stomach. She was nervous, sure, but it was like the feeling just before getting on a brand new roller coaster, or leaning out to rappel down a ledge- once you started, you were committed, regardless of what happened. And, there it was, near the top of the list, in crisp white plastic letters on a grey background: Dr. J. Cook. Diagnostic Medicine. East Wing. And, conveniently enough, a little further down, Vending. “Think he’s in there?” she asked, slate-colored eyes scanning the board for other useful points of reference as Cass appeared next to her and covertly snapped another pic. “One way to find out,” the intrepid reporter grinned, and the two girls wasted no time heading further into the complex.
  48. 1 point
    As the orderlies and doctors fussed about with Jason, Cassandra took advantage of the relative calm near Autumn to sidle over to her. Under the guise of commiserating with a friend, gently touching the ice pack and looking sympathetic, she murmured to the redhead, "Hey...how's this doing? Getting low yet?" Before Autumn could reply, Cass shook her head and said even more quietly, "So, I'm thinking as long as we're in here...want to snoop around some? I figure a couple of teenage girls could look for an ice machine just about anywhere in a big confusing place like this."
  49. 1 point
    "Why is it I always get hit in the head when you guys are around?" Between the clamor of the assembled crowd and the incoherent moans of Curtis Denicott, all the sound in the hallway had merged into a featureless wave of noise, rising and falling in patterns that seemed completely meaningless to the shaken redhead; if her gaze hadn't been drawn to Bannon as he moved, laboriously, to retrieve the lunch he hadn't gotten to eat, Autumn probably wouldn't have realized he'd spoken at all. She stared at him for a moment, some of the choleric tension in her expression easing into concern, and turned wide eyes on Cassie as if to say, "Is he serious?" It was an absurd question in ridiculous circumstances, and despite the grimness of the situation (or perhaps because of it), she found herself laughing somewhat dazedly in response as she pushed carefully off the lockers and took a few tentative steps toward him. "Are you okay?" she asked, smiling faintly, then blinked down at the tall, well-thrashed young man seated on the floor, and blinked again, eyes stinging as she processed how very not okay he looked. What kind of fucked-up question is that? He just got his ass kicked by two guys a hell of a lot bigger than he is. He's pretty fucking far from okay, Autumn. Jesus. "No," she amended, cautiously sinking to her knees on the blessedly cool floor in front of her friend, settling so that her face was roughly level with his. "That was a stupid thing to ask, wasn't it? Can I-" Gingerly she reached out, still trembling from the adrenaline rush, and rested her palm on the back of his hand in what she hoped was a reassuring gesture, concentrating on steadying her voice as well as her nerves. "I'm just gonna check you real quick, is that okay?" The reserved youth nodded once, very slightly, pale green eyes- brighter, sharper somehow in contrast to his bloodied features- considering her in the same focused, eerily attentive way he had at the farm the day before. Even with all the other distractions, she could still feel her cheeks growing hot under the intense scrutiny, and silently prayed to any gods listening that nobody would notice in all the chaos. Reaching up with both hands, his new friend brushed the hair from his face, lightly running her fingertips over the brow bone and resolutely ignoring both the audience and the proximity of the sharp, glacial eyes she was studying. She couldn't feel anything unusual there, or across the top of his cheekbones, although his left pupil was slightly larger than the right, which she was pretty sure they'd told her in first aid could be a sign of concussion... With a sigh, Autumn remembered what they'd worked out on Sunday, focusing for a few moments on the faint, icy thrumming of Jason's energy beneath his skin, beneath her fingers, and allowing it to resonate with her own- and grimaced, suddenly, as she became acutely aware of all the injuries he'd sustained. Bruising around his ribs, but nothing broken, lacerations, and oh goddamnit a mild concussion- "You got hit." The redhead blinked, startled at the sound of Jase's voice. It wasn't quite accusatory, she thought, but maybe something similar, and not quite a question, though there was a hint of that in the tone, as well. It was almost... childish. Maybe he was having trouble concentrating? "Yeah, I know, so did- Hey," she protested as he reached out, carefully nudging Autumn's chin to one side to regard the angry red and faint purple that had slowly begun to obscure the freckles on the side of her face. "So did you. A lot," she added, gently tugging his arm back down and away, glancing briefly over at Cass to confirm she was making- or, hopefully, had already made- the necessary calls. "So try to stay focused for me, okay? We can't both do this at the same time. If you wanna look me over later, O Impenetrable One, fine, but let's concentrate on you for now."
  50. 1 point
    What the actual fuck?! Before Autumn had even managed to cross the few meters between them, before she'd had time to register movement or shout a warning, Jase disappeared behind a wall of man-shaped muscle and rage, and for a moment it felt like all the oxygen had been sucked out of the air. The sound of his body hitting the metal lockers, the shouting, the impact of knuckles and elbows on flesh, the frenetic thudding of her heartbeat in her chest- it was all a dull, strangely distant roar, as if she were hearing it underwater. Stop. STOP IT! She couldn't get the words out, couldn't force them past the almost painful tightness in her throat. It was like a nightmare, trying desperately to scream when she could only manage a whisper that was quickly swept away by the tumult and chaos, the vicious currents of violent geometry. He can't fight them both off, not at the same time! ...And yet, the memory of what he could do- what he had done at the trailer, what he had, by all accounts, done to Liam- blazed into life at the forefront of the terrified redhead's mind as her friend, her friend hit the floor. She had the vague sense of something moving, a torrent surging not behind her this time, but through her, and realized she was running. "Knock it the fuck off!" The lively young woman's voice, choked and angry, was almost unrecognizable in her own ears, and as Mark glanced up, the heels of her hands struck him solidly in the chest, sending him staggering back a couple of steps. The surprise in his eyes at having been hit, having been moved at all, lasted only an instant, being quickly replaced with an unrelenting malice that seemed utterly alien within the structure of a human face. Autumn had just enough time to process that, shock registering on her own freckled features, before he grabbed her wrist in a meaty hand and twisted. A jagged lance of pain shot up her arm and arrowed down into her fingers as she gasped, instinctively moving to alleviate the pressure, but the older boy just grinned and turned it farther, until she was almost on her toes, a sudden wash of tears brightening her eyes. "Mind your own fucking business," he ground out through clenched teeth, and the redhead whimpered, clutching his arm with her other hand as if she could somehow stop him from snapping her wrist through sheer force of will. With her newfound awareness, she could actually feel the strain on the delicate bones and ligaments as they approached the breaking point, the sensation drawing a tortured cry from her lips; just when she thought they would snap, a sudden rush of crimson bloomed in her mind, deep and intoxicating as any wine she'd ever tasted. It sang through her veins as it spread, hot and eager, racing furiously, gloriously, through her fingertips and into the thick forearm of the brute holding her. The sound was quiet at first, lost in the chatter and whooping of onlookers, but gradually grew louder, more intense until it was all she could hear: a quiet, almost girlish moan transmuted into a guttural howl of anguished rage as the nerves in Mark Belcher's arm shrieked in protest and failed, his primitive brain temporarily overwhelmed by its own capacity to experience pain. Flinging Autumn aside, he stumbled, nearly losing his balance as he shuffled, disoriented, across the blood-spattered floor. Dizzy and disbelieving, the redhead regained her footing and blinked down at her hands: apart from some redness that might turn into bruising, there was no perceptible difference, but she could sense it, whatever it was, just beneath the surface of her skin. She glanced in Jason's direction to confirm he was all right, when a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye reminded her with sickening clarity that there had been two aggressors. An explosion of blinding white agony filled her consciousness, obliterating any sense of coherence or equilibrium the freckled teen possessed as Curtis cold-cocked her solidly in the jaw, his fist nearly large enough to cover the entire side of the young woman's face. She hit the ground, hard, sliding backward on the waxed tiles as the brief moment of silence resolved into a chaotic chorus of distant voices. Her hands scrabbled dazedly for purchase on the cold floor, every survival instinct in her brain warring with the almost total loss of spatial awareness. Get up! it hissed/screamed in some primal, wordless demand, but her vision was all swimming light and dark and smudges of color, and there was no "up" to get to. There was no conscious thought, no plan or consideration when his shadow loomed over her- only impulse, bright and sharp as the taste of blood on her tongue. The lumbering darkness in front of her deepened in warning, and, desperately blinking away the tears clouding her eyes, Autumn planted her palms on the tile and kicked. The first time her foot met with his shin, she was rewarded with a grunt of pain, but little else. Vague shadows resolved themselves into the shape of a face, an arm, a fist- Gritting her teeth, the redhead screamed in defiance and kicked again, her vision washed in scarlet as the sole of her shoe connected with something that shifted unnaturally under her heel. In that split-second, Autumn knew, intimately, the fragility of ligament and bone, felt the upwelling of crimson exhilaration humming through her, and- I want you to know how proud I am of you, the wasted, parchment-skinned figure whispered urgently up at her from his hospice bed, a terrifying whistle beneath his words. Don't ever forget that. Curtis shrieked, a haunting, agonized wail echoing through the crowded hall as he crumpled to the floor not far from his intended victim. As he writhed, howling in helpless anguish and clutching feebly at what he knew were the shattered remnants of his knee, the dishevelled teen's freckled features tightened in grief and anger. Choking back the sob that clawed at her throat, Autumn slid backwards, bracing herself against the lockers as she slowly worked her way back up to her feet.
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