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  1. The funeral was weird for Cassandra. For one, it was only her...second? Third if you counted the one she'd been practically a baby for way back when. She didn't count it because she had no real memory of it. So second. Why did that make it weird? She wasn't sure, it just felt weird. Everything felt off, like a room where all the furniture had been shifted two inches to the left since the last time you were there. Nothing was quite right. She felt hyperaware of the feeling of her clothes on her, and snippets of whispered conversations kept leaping up out of the buzz at her, like crazy fish trying to escape a net. And yet, when service was about to start her mom had to nudge her elbow to get her attention. Cass was lost in the weeds. She hadn't even KNOWN him. Not really. Why did that make it feel worse, somehow? Maybe because now she never would? Okay, sure, but...were you supposed to grieve for people you hadn't bonded with? Could you grieve for the potential of a friendship? Was what she was feeling grief? Cassie had grieved before, not even that long ago. Her dad, back when she'd thought he was dead. This wasn't like that. That had been a howling abyss in her heart that had expanded like a black hole gobbling stars, threatening to hollow her out. There were still radioactive places in her memories that she couldn't walk for fear of feeling echoes of that time, right after his funeral. This wasn't like that. It was...tighter. More focused. Something in her skin, not deep inside. It made her feel prickly, embarrassed. It was a sour, sullen emotion, stern-faced. Reprimanding. So she knew this one after all. Hello, guilt, my old friend. The service went on, Cass barely hearing it. The moment she identified what the feeling was, it seemed to rear up and whip off its mask. Immediately Cassandra realized why this was happening. When we went to fight the Dark, he was already gone. When we made our plans, talked it through...when we pulled together and got ourselves through it, he was dead. The Dark just creeped in, grabbed him, and took him out. And we barely even noticed. She took a deep, shuddering breath. It got worse. It was my job to see things coming. I was supposed to be the 'eyes.' But I was all tunnel-visioned on the fight. I didn't even TRY using my abilities before it happened. We all just assumed the Dark would wait for us to come attack it. But it's worse for me, because I didn't have to assume. I could have checked us all, every day. It might not have been perfect...the future is kind of hard to work out sometimes...but I could have saved him. At least maybe I could have. And what could she do with this now? Shrug and call it a lesson learned? Is that what Jase would do? Was that what she wanted? What would Devin do? Sink deeper into misanthropy, playing victim and aggressor at the same time; trying to have his social cake and eat it too? Autumn? Cade? She felt her mother lean towards her a little and put an arm around her shoulders, and Cass realized she had tears coming down her eyes. After a moment of hesitation, she let herself slump against her mother's shoulder. It made her feel a little childish, but...she was a little childish, wasn't she? And that had cost one of her friends his life. And it had cost the Fellowship one of their friends. Then she realized her mom was humming something, some old song Cass barely remembered. She sat up a little, and Teresa moved her arm to give her some space. "You doing okay?" she asked softly. Cassandra nodded. "Yeah." She was surprised at how dry her mouth and throat were. "I'm...going to get some water. Then...then lets go. Okay? Ugh, is it too soon? I just don't..." Teresa leaned forward to give her daughter a hug. "It's totally all right. Plenty of people have already left. You've been here for a little while. I didn't want to interrupt you." So Cassie went to the little table at the back of the place, where a few pitchers had been set up with cups nearby. The questions she had were still there, but they didn't have to be answered right away, she thought. All she could do now was try to grow up, so it wouldn't happen again...and when she did, she could remember Charlie and what he meant to her. Just because he was dead didn't mean all of his light had to leave the world.
    2 points
  2. It was hard not to be caught up in the emotional current of the service, to be aware in a very tactile way of the swelling tides of grief and hurt through the squeeze of her father's arm around her shoulder and the gentle pressure of her mother's cool fingers laced through her own. She could feel the sting of tears pricking at her eyes, the taut ache in her throat, the knot coiling in her stomach; all normal physiological responses to seeing Charlie's mother, pale and drawn, teetering on the verge of collapse, and to hearing the sound of quiet sobbing and murmured prayers among the onlookers. Intuitive empathy, her scary-smart boyfriend called it. But these weren't, Autumn knew, her own feelings, generated from some place of deep friendship and rapport with Charlie Cole because that... hadn't really been a thing, had it? She could probably count the number of facts she knew about him on one hand, even after several years of living in the same town: his parents were separated, he did something with the drama club, he had just started dating Sophia, and he was- had been, she corrected with a mental wince- touched by the Dawning Light. Or Radiance, or Shine, or... what-the-fuck-ever. And, really, if it hadn't been for that last part, she and Charlie probably wouldn't have ever really interacted at all. It was weird, and kind of uncomfortable actually thinking about it, but standing there looking at the huge spray of flowers on the lacquered casket as Devin spoke, the redhead didn't feel any overwhelming sorrow, or pain, or any of the things she was absolutely sure she was supposed to be feeling at a funeral. What she felt, instead, was the warmth of the sunlight on her face, and the reassuring presence of her family, Nathan and Jacob included, and, maybe... Maybe a little guilt, for not feeling more? Because as much as it sucked that Charlie was gone, a part of her kept insisting that they were all still here. Tawny and Sophia were still here. They'd survived to bury him, and that was important. And... There had been other families who'd grieved, and wondered, and lost over the years, the names of which were scattered throughout the journals she'd inherited. Was Charlie Cole any different from those others swallowed up by the Dark? The image of a small white shoe, forlorn and forgotten in the corner of a basement, flickered briefly through her mind's eye, and despite the weather, Autumn couldn't help but shiver a little. Dana's grip on her daughter's hand tightened briefly in response, a tactile check-in that the young vitakinetic returned in kind: Are you okay? ... Yeah, I'm fine, went the unspoken exchange, both women watching with red-rimmed eyes as Hannah Fuhrman struggled to keep her composure and Lucius Cole attempted a polite smile, taut as piano wire as he murmured his thanks to someone offering condolences. And there was that twinge of guilt again, because she was fine. They'd never know what happened to their son, and he'd never finish the school production he was working on, and they were- all of them- changed after what had happened... ...And as she and her parents trudged quietly away from the gravesite she caught sight of the Jauntsens in the little parking area, and Gar and Jase heading back, and a few of the others mixed in- probably on their way to the reception, to talk about shared memories and convey regrets. She wasn't sure she wanted to deal with all of that, the awkward conversations and teary reminiscing about someone who had equal space in her memory as an awkwardly artsy guy and a monstrous biological weapon against the Darkness. But all that wasn't really for her benefit, anyway; the sun was shining, and she was alive, and there was always coffee at these things and she was kind of hungry and that was... fine.
    2 points
  3. She was neither wroth nor ravaged by grief. The petite French girl watched, distant, and listened, attentive to the grieving family and friends of the departed. She felt rather calm, and truth be told, still a tad bitter. Kat had not been given much time to create any other sort of bond with Charlie than that of two teens sharing a similar, stressful situation - with its lot of perils, as the past days had shown. Today was a testimony to that very fact. However, no matter how little she knew him, he was - had been - she mentally corrected, one of them, and that itself justified the faint, but creeping sadness she could sense growing inside, fueled by the aching maelstrom of feelings twirling around the coffin, very much in contrast with the actual weather. The least she could do was to stand here, today, next to his, her friends. She winced and sucked on her own cheek, wrestling for control over her restless self. If she had to name one very unpleasant thing to her, it would have been to stand still. Her enhanced emotional radar was not helping at all. Fortunately, Devin's kind words provided her with a welcome, but barely adequate distraction. She swallowed, the saliva barely making its way past the now tight lump in her throat. Her distraught eyes stopped on a familiar face. Courtney was standing slightly apart from the bulk of the small crowd, humid eyes over the thin cherry line of her lips. Whether it was the ambiance, enhanced by their senses, or actual grief, both telepaths were holding it together, but Kat wasn't far from losing it, growing paler by the minute. The petite French girl squeezed her father's hand. "I'm... not feeling so good," she whispered with an unsteady voice. Josh squeezed her hand back, and they both turned away from the burial toward their car, one leaning on the stalwart frame of the other.
    2 points
  4. Cade stood with his family, listening through everything, all the words said to mourn his friend, who'd been taken from them by a malevolent force who'd possessed another child from the town, and forced yet more children to take that child's life to halt the spread of the evil that was growing here. It was so surreal, but Cade knew it to be true, he'd fought the horrors, alongside the fellowship. He'd seen the other world, had seen the horrors there, and had attacked Cody with the intention to take his life. There was a part of them that wouldn't let that go. He listened as Devin spoke, and allowed the ghost of smile to curl his lips. What Devin had said was completely true, and Cade envied the ease with which Devin expressed his feelings, letting go of the facade he wore the rest of the time, and was just honest. It was refreshing, and he made a mental note to thank him for that later. Everyone was there, standing with their families, and he felt a hand on his back small, gentle,almost like it wasn't there. That was his mother's, and he looked down, and she was trying to hold back her tears. Seeing one of her son's friends being lowered into the ground, after learning that this really could have happened to any of the children, that she could have lost her own son, it was very hard for Miyakko. her other hand was wrapped around Haruka's shoulders, and his sister held her mother's hand. He felt a larger hand squeeze his right shoulder, and knew that was his Father. Never one for a public display of affection, Some of the same thoughts were going through Ian's mind. He'd known about his son's activities since the hospital attack, and still, he hadn't stopped him. He could have lost his son, any number of them could have died, and there was nothing he with his training, his skill, could have done to prevent it. He felt the gaze of some in the crowd, knowing they sought answers for how this happened, why he as Sheriff hadn't prevented it. He couldn't have, to hear the kids tell of it. Even they didn't know until it had happened, long after anyone could have saved his life. Cade reached up and squeezed his dad's hand reassuringly, before dropping it to his side. They would keep fighting, keep training, and keep Living. The Fellowship had lost one of their own, and each mourned Charlie in their own way. Outwardly, Cade's face had returned to an imperturbable neutral mask, even if inwardly, he cursed his inability to protect his friend. If anyone bothered to look, they'd see the hint of resolve in his eyes. "Nobody Else." He said softly, so much that Even Ian had only barely heard it. Cade knew he didn't really have powers like the rest of them, but that wasn't going to stop him from doing whatever he could do to stand alongside his friends.
    2 points
  5. He didn't feel nothing. When compared to the emotional, mercurial Jauntsens, to his warmly passionate girlfriend, even to the very humanly logical Sean and Cassandra, it was easy to glance at the unperturbed, grave features of Jason Bannon as he studied all the graveside mourners and assume him to be untouched by this moment. It was not the case, but only those that knew him would understand that he did register the loss of Charlie, that his perfect recall was replaying every moment spent in the other teen's company. Every word, every inflection, every smile and laugh from every gaming session or movie hangout at Sean's house flickered before his mind's eye like a movie reel. He'd never been close to Charlie - never really had the chance to be. Most of their association had been with the mask that Jase had worn for the last eight years between him and the world. He'd spent the most time with Sean, and the other young genius might have perceived more to Bannon just from proximity, whereas Charlie had spent at most a few hours a week in his company. Only after the summer break, when everything had gotten weird, had Charlie ever really interacted with Jase, and despite the chilling, off-putting manner of the lanky teen, Charlie had tried several times to understand. Perhaps he, like Autumn, could have been a bridge to Jase understanding the strangely erratic behaviour of those around him. And now he was gone, murdered, his spirit devoured by a for-real monster. Jason didn't grieve, but he did register the loss, did regret the waste and the weakening of his circle. As when he'd heard the news of Charlie's murder, he acknowledged that he should have checked on his friend when he'd not answered his calls, should have driven over there and knocked on the door the way he'd done when Sean hadn't turned up. Perhaps if he had, Charlie would be alive. Or perhaps not. There was no logical way to know the truth of that; the only truth Jason knew was that he'd left his friend alone with their girlfriend for a weekend, and now they were dead. That was another thing, too. Charlie, next to him, had possessed perhaps the most combat-capable power set, and yet was dead. He must have been taken completely unawares, perhaps frozen for a moment from fear or indecision. The parallel was not lost on the young Teulu. He, too, had almost been killed without even understanding what was happening. And yet he had survived, and Charlie was dead. Luck, perhaps - his assailants had been mortal human beings, Charlie's an undying elder wraith. How would he, Jason, have fared if Cody/Arawn had come to the farmhouse that night, or even upon him and Autumn the prior night in the woods? Pride told him that he would not have died easily... but perhaps that was merely pride, or his instinct to fight speaking, and not logic. He listened as Devin said a few words, head cocked. The male Jauntsen seemed utterly sincere, entirely at odds with his usual flippancy. Why should he not be, though? Devin likely felt as responsible as Jase did for not checking on Charlie, or not doing something sooner - he just lacked Bannon's detachment from the immediacy of grief. A wry internal observer wondered if such words would have been said if the rogue marshal's bullets had placed him in the ground next to Charlie. It was hard to know with the Jauntsens, though he was reasonably certain Devin at least would not have wanted him murdered. Green eyes sought the pale, freckled face of his girlfriend next, standing nearby his father and himself with her own family, the Keanes and the Crockers both having turned up together, the adults likely feeling a mixture of relief that it was not their child in the ground, and - very humanly - guilt for even thinking such a thing. The idea prompted Jason to look at his own father, sober and grave in his dark suit, his eyes fixed on the coffin. Was his dad also experiencing that sensation? Probably. Likely most of the parents were, just like most of the other children would be glad it wasn't them. As the service ended, and the knots of people broke up, Jase gave his father a brief one-armed hug, prompting the burlier older man to respond with a rough bear hug of his own. "You okay?" Gar looked into his son's face, noting again the pale scar of the assassin's bullet. He didn't know why he asked - of course Jason was likely okay. Gar, on the other hand, really wanted a drink. "I'm fine." the lanky youth reassured his dad calmly, frozen jade eyes intent on the older man's face. "Are you?" "Need a drink. Will settle for a coffee though." Gar replied, quirking a smile. Father and son turned, heading away from the grave in step, taking their time and each deep in thought.
    2 points
  6. Marissa was overjoyed that it wasn’t raining. The cloudless sky and slight, worm breeze made her even more photogenic in the stunning dress she’d purchased just for this one event and her heels weren’t digging into damp, muddy ground and threatening to break her ankle with every step. It was no surprise that the Jauntsens turned up like it was a fashion of show, but unlike the residents of Shelly, they possessed style and class, money and refinement. Devin and her father, Carl, were in black suits. Three-piece Panama-style to best match the summer season. Clean shaven, with product in their hair and a well-cut suit, the two men looked great as single women and students, and some not-so-single women and students, would attest to in their DMs later all over Shelly’s social media circuit. Those same DMs would contain mostly spite and vitriol hidden carefully in back-handed compliments towards the Jauntsen women. Misti had decided on a knee-length leather pencil skirt with a blouse and suit jacket that complimented the ensemble perfectly. Marissa specially ordered an off-the-shoulder sweater dress, similar to the one she wore the evening before, that hugged her body so tightly in may as well had been brushed on using paints mixed from the jealousy and envy of the assembled onlookers. Her makeup was impeccably flawless, with her trademark dark maroon lips. She’d opted for her hair up in a tight bun, to better show off the curves of her bare shoulders. Marissa wasn’t really feeling the funeral. That’s not to say she didn’t mourn for Charlie, she did. His death was a tragedy and served as a stark reminder to the Fellowship that the stakes they were playing for were very real and the price they paid could be the ultimate one. Still, she didn’t know Charlie, not like Devin did. Devin and Charlie has actually talked, shared a joke or two; had at least bonded on some level. The one, and only, time Marissa had tried to bond with him (she did find him kind of attractive) he’d just simply stopped talking to her all together, resulting in her leaving their breakfast date in a confused and very frustrated state of mind about him. He passed on shortly after and they’d never had a chance to resolve their issues, and now they never would. Unlike Devin, she didn’t see that a negative. It wasn’t her fault he ghosted her in the middle of their breakfast date. His loss, not hers. Although still fighting with him, she hugged her brother as he returned from his kind words. When Charlie’s mother looked at her, as if to ask if she had anything to add, Marissa replied with a rather heartless, “I’m good.” With a dismissive raise of her hand and a stiff frown. She’d already cried her tears over Charlie’s loss and had ample time to recall how he’d behaved and frankly, she was already over it. It was tragic and sad, yes… but she didn’t know him at all. The whole service felt like one big stranger telling her their grandparent had passed; all she could do was say she was sorry for their loss and get on with her life. She knew her brother was sincere, she, on the other hand, could have mustered a kind word to save her life right now. What would she say? “He was weird, awkward and mercilessly sliced people apart under the responsible guidance of Jason Bannon without any compassion. He’ll be missed.” She didn’t want to lie though. He wouldn’t be missed. Here she was, at his funeral, already having moved on and thoroughly bored. Maybe if he hadn’t ghosted her, he wouldn’t be one right now. That was unfair. She breathed in and slowly and softly sighed, trying to clear those sorts of thoughts from her head. Charlie was a decent guy, she guessed, and she knew that her anger towards the Fellowship and her brother were just making her spiteful for the sake of spite, and why did Tawny show up without any makeup on? She thought she taught the girl better than that. After a few more words from other people began to clear out for the gathering of free food and pointless conversation hosted at Mr. Cole’s home. No one wanted to be in Mrs. Cole’s kitchen once they discovered how Charlie’s body was found. She was considering moving since the event, finding it hard to even be in that room of her house now. Way to go, Charlie. It had to be in the kitchen, right? Not the guest bathroom, or the attic? Some room no one ever goes into. Even now, she couldn’t help but chastise him. The twins were walking away from the service when Tawny approached them. Her complexion still carrying the palette of weariness and near-death tirelessly. “Devin?” She asked, noticing the way he didn’t even bother looking at her. “I-I was hoping we could talk.” “Well, hold on to that,” Devin said softly, not wanting to let their drama spill into the services. “Because it’s all you have left.” He turned to walk off then paused, turning back to her with his finger bobbing as a thought hit him. “And Jacob. Go talk to him. Let him tell you how none of this is your fault and I’m just immature and a waste of your time. Let him be your hero, because after fighting and bleeding and almost dying to save you, it’s obviously not me. Just pray he’s there the next time Darkness comes calling.” “You know he can’t hurt them,” tears began to well up in her eyes as the guy who had been her best friend for years, her first love, her love still, now spoke to her like she wasn’t even a person anymore. “Sounds like a you problem.” He walked off without another word and before he had to listen to any of her excuses or apologies or accusations. Marissa was an expert on cruel but watching this made her visibly wince. She’d never seen Devin so callous and cruel except to those who undoubtably deserved it, like Chet’s cousin when he black mailed her earlier that year. She would never admit that she had romanticized about Devin and Tawny finally getting their chance to be together. Whether it worked out or not, no one could deny that as far as couples went, they were an adorable pairing. That dream was going up in flames quickly, like Autumn in a weed field quickly. “He hates me.” The blonde’s tearing eyes met Marissa’s and all she could do was exhale softly and put on a faux smile. “Give him time,” she said, not really believing herself. As a fellow Jauntsen twin, she knew how proficient they were at holding, and enforcing, grudges. “We’ve all been through a lot. I’m not trying to minimize anything you’ve been through, but we’ve gone and are going through quite a bit too. We’re all a mess.” Wiping the tears from her eyes with a tissue she’d been given at the service, it barely helped. “Are we?” “Yeah, we’re fine.” Marissa deciphered the code of the unasked question of Tawny wondering if Devin hated her, did that mean she hated her too? “As long as I’m not some gateway for you to see or repair things with my brother. This one is between you two, I’ not getting in the middle of it.” They both knew that was a lie, but still traumatized blonde Marissa had called a neighbor and friend for years threw her arms around her. Marissa managed a genuine smile, her first in days as holding Tawny reminded her that she was still alive because of what she and her brother and the others accomplished together. The world was certainly falling apart if her line of thought was to suddenly act as a voice of reason. Swiftly she caught up to her brother. Neither stopped, they just walked as she talked. “That was shitty, and you know damn well it was.” “What do you care?” He shot back, never even taking his eyes off the path that led to their car. “Just one more body on the pile as you climb to the top, right?” “Fuck,” she huffed, pausing for effect. “Off.”
    2 points
  7. He wished it was raining. All those in attendance kept commenting on how gorgeous the days was and how God had cleared the skies so Charlie’s soul could find its way to heaven and all that nonsense. They kept saying how tragic it was and how such a bright light had been taken from the world far too soon. Okay, that part he could agree with. Charlie’s passing was too soon, and funerals weren’t for the departed, they were those left behind. Guilt ate away at his insides as he stood there, listening to the speaker, who obviously knew nothing about Charlie aside from what his parents had written on a few index cards. He hated that the most. Devin barely knew Charlie and yet still seemed to know more about him than this guy who was stammering and stuttering between kind words in a vain attempt to make parallels to bible verses and God’s word. It felt so disingenuous to Charlie’s memory. As stood, the sun in his face, he couldn’t recall where he was that night when was murdered. No matter how hard he thought about it, he just couldn’t remember. Was he with Tawny? At home drawing? The more he thought about it, less clear the events leading up to Charlie’s death became. He had tried to fill in the blanks so many times that now he didn’t know which his memories were accurate anymore and that just made him feel even more guilty for not being there. Logically he knew if he had been there, he’d more than likely be dead too, but he was grieving and felt like being there, even if he’d died too, would have been better than not being there at all. As the preacher preached, and the people cried, one by one he watched family and friends say a few words in remembrance, paralyzed by his guilt that he should have been there. He should have had Charlies back, they all should have, but how could they have known? That wasn’t what he wanted to tell himself. It was logical and there was no way any of them could have predicted that Charlie would be hurt; this wasn’t their fault. Inside though, he didn’t want to accept that answer either, not after last night. His fight with Tawny had left his world as bleak and dark, full of hopelessness and the harsh reality that dreams don’t come true. The angst and rage of teenage depression knew no bounds. Tawny had come to the funeral, too. Not far from him she stood silently next to Sophie. They’d been released from the hospital earlier that morning and as the whole would say, repeatedly for the next several weeks, they were so brave and courageous to drop everything and come to Charlie’s funeral so soon after all that had happened to them. Yeah, because they did so much, right? A war was raging across the cosmos, Devin now had the scars and bruises to prove it, but it was Tawny and Sophie and who were so brave because they managed to get kidnapped, cry and pass out. Great job ladies. She hadn’t put any effort into her appearance today, just a black summer-style dress that went to her knees and her long, blonde hair was worn loose over her shoulders brushed, but that was about it. Even while fuming mad at her Devin entertained more hot blonde goth fantasies than was healthy for any teenager, which he mentally blamed on her for looking so goddammed amazing. The poet in him blamed this perfect day on her, telling himself the world could never weep when a heart as warm and a smile as bright as hers could still bringing joy and warmth into the world. God, even mad at her she was still able to captivate and mesmerize him. It wasn’t fair. Nothing was fair, though, right? Life wasn’t fair. People weren’t fair. That’s why it was futile to waste time trying to make things better for everyone and he just needed to worry about himself. No one else cared, but since that was the case, he knew there was still a world to save, and he’d do it alone if he had to. He shook his mind from Tawny and straightened his jacket a bit as the last speaker finished. Devin stepped forward, approaching Charlie’s parents and silently asked them if he might go next. They both nodded, Charlie’s father seemed puzzled, knowing that Devin wasn’t apart of Charlie’s close friends. Still, neither saw the harm in it. He cleared his throat and again adjusted his jacket. The Jauntsens appeared at a formal event the way it was intended, not in jeans and boots like most of the mouth-breathing, ham-fisted residents of Shelly who showed up. Like everything in this small town, the Jauntsens made this funeral look good, classy, even. He stood and addressed those assembled. “I’m uh, Devin Jauntsen, although most of you know that already. I’ve never really lost anyone before, and this sort of thing is a new experience for me.” He took in a deep breath and sighed before continuing. “I’ve heard it said a lot today, that these services aren’t for the departed, that they’re for us. So, let’s make this about us for a moment.” Charlie’s father took a soft step, as if to ask Devin to not speak anymore and step down, fearing he might ruin the service in accordance with his reputation. Charlie’s mother, however, pinched the sleeve of his elbow, signaling to let the boy talk. “Look I, uh, I don’t really feel like I deserve to be here.” He chuckled half-heartedly. “In case some of you aren’t in the know, I picked on Charlie at school, a lot. For years I made his life at school difficult, and yet this summer he and I and some others all came together and started hanging out,” he looked shocked, like the thought of hanging out with Charlie was still something his mind couldn’t process. “None of us expected to become friends, but here we are, friends mourning a friend.” “Long and short of it, Charlie had every right and opportunity to call me out. To hate me with every fiber of his being, but… he didn’t. No matter what he was always in the moment and treated me like he wanted to be treated. He was kind, forgiving, respectful and he showed me how much of a better person he was, than I am. He set a bar that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to live up to.” Devin coughed into his hand, as he choked on those last few words. The moisture lining his eyes wasn’t acting or some prank. “It was like the past was never as important to him as the present. Now. What was happening then and there in that moment was all that mattered to him and if I was trying to not be a jerk, he made a bigger effort to see the person I was trying to be instead of the person I was, and sometimes still am.” He swallowed down the lump in his throat and stared at the coffin, closed because there was nothing more than a bucket of memories after Not-Cody got done with him. “I never had the chance to tell him that I considered him a friend after all our hang outs and debates and even our disagreements. He was great guy and he shined brightly enough that he burned some of our darkness away before he left us.” He looked to Charlie’s parents offered them a soft smile that pleaded of some measure of forgiveness and knew the Fellowship would get the reference. “He was a great guy, and I couldn’t be sorrier for your loss.” He stepped to the casket and his next words weren’t for the gathered, but for Charlie, wherever he might have been. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there, Chuck. See you on the other side, bro.” Clearing his throat, he composed himself before walking back to where his parents and sister were waiting for him in black within the sea of black that comprised all of those Charlie knew in life. His parents and sister hugged him gently. “Well said, son.” Carl haled him tightly with one arm, trying to comfort him as well as he was able.
    2 points
  8. "I will keep it in mind." he replied, with a nod of his head to further accentuate his acceptance of her words, though his eyes never left her face. "Though I can't make any promises about going too far when making amends." he added, a gleam of humor flashing a fin in the calm pools of his gaze. The smile spread from his eyes then, to a slight curve of his lips once more as he studied the vibrant copper-tressed girl on the branch, taking in how the golden sparks of light shone on the freckled ivory of her skin, highlighting the deeper rose of her lips and the darkness of her eyes in the half-light. "So..." he began, the word a slow, low murmur. "I was wondering if you'd like to come down here and make out under the fireflies for awhile." And there it was again, that completely unfiltered, unashamed interest that'd make somebody a fortune if they could ever figure out how to bottle and sell it to lonely people. Pheromones, she remembered distantly, dizzily, as she gazed down into the depthless, ageless green-gold eyes glittering up at her, except that this time there was no crackling campfire to blame for the rush of heat blooming bright beneath her skin. She'd never really thought of herself as fickle, before, but what other excuse was there for going from spitting mad to being ready to literally fall into his arms in a few minutes' time? Well, other-Autumn reminded her with scrupulous, nigh-unassailable logic. He did apologize. Mhmm. Aaand, he meant it, or he wouldn't have- -wouldn't have said it, right. Thanks. "Think you can concentrate enough to keep from burning the whole tree down?" she heard herself say, feeling her own lips curve in a mischievous, answering grin as her attention shifted from the brilliant gold-flecked lambency of her boyfriend's gaze to the shape of his mouth. The smile on that mouth was barely a hint at the edges, but the gleam of mirth in the Effing BF's eyes deepened as he paused for a moment, as if in consideration. Of course, he knew that the firefly effect was contained - none of the sparks could transfer heat: even if he lost concentration or passed out, they would simply fade away after a time. But he understood the mischief, the playfulness in Autumn's question, and so responded in kind. "Only one way for you to find out for sure." he answered, lips twitching in his own version of an answering grin, his tone teasing. "You're so right," she replied, a sudden impish gleam brightening the twilight seas of her eyes in the dim light; she might've forgiven him, but there was something to be said for occasionally, metaphorically, playing with fire. "So, let's see..." Autumn murmured, the slow to-and-fro swing of her feet more deliberate as she swayed a little from side to side, hmming to herself. "We... ask the question first, which we've done. We can't really do much background research to see what kind of results other people have gotten, since there's no real precedent, but we need to come up with a hypothesis. We could just establish what stimuli are likely to make you lose concentration, though, along with the temperature of these lights, and compare that to the amount of heat needed to burn green wood..." Tilting her head in a passable Bannon imitation, she regarded the lean young man whose kisses alone, in her mind, could spark a wildfire. "Or, if science isn't really your thing, we could go hiking instead?" "I was thinking of a more practical experiment. A field trial, if you will." Jase riposted, and then Autumn could feel herself being lifted carefully, but firmly off the branch and down into his arms with such smoothness she barely had time to laugh before she became aware of his arms around her, and his lean body against hers, and his lips right there coming down to meet hers in a firm, possessive kiss. For a few moments longer, the giggles continued as their lips met, and then her own arms came up and around his neck as the giggles became sighs. He was kissing her with barely restrained and poorly concealed passion, his mouth moving slowly against hers as his hands slid down her back to her hips. His teeth grazed her lower lip, drawing a small gasp from her before he broke the kiss, his eyes meeting hers from a mere few inches away. "Still want to go hiking?" he asked, his voice hoarse with the edge of desire as they stood in the waist-high grass under the spreading branches of the apple tree, the golden fireflies winking and flickering overhead. "Mhmm," came the almost immediate response, a drowsy, languid hum as Autumn rocked forward onto her toes, the fingers of one hand toying idly with a lock of dark hair at the nape of Jason's neck. "I even wore the t-shirt." The clean, quintessentially Jase scent she'd come to associate with him surrounded her, and, breathing it in, she leaned closer, unable to resist the temptation it posed. Definitely need to find a way to market this, she mused, if only to make a detergent she could wash her sheets in. And that thought led to another- that there might be more effective ways to make her bedsheets smell like this- and the liquid warmth rushing through her veins glowed with renewed heat. The tip of her nose brushed his; from this close, amid the shifting embers of the miniature galaxies spinning slowly above them in the darkness, his eyes were primeval forests rather than crystalline pools, their depths unexplored and only hinted at in stray firefly-flashes of sunlit gold. It would be easy to get lost there, she knew, just as surely as it would be possible to drown in the remote, icy waters within which that unknowable, ancient awareness swam. Whether warm and lush or glacial and unforgiving, there were no illusions in Jason Bannon's eyes, even considering all the enchantment and wonder he could summon up, and that he had done so for her. That meant something, didn't it? Maybe, yeah. It even alleviated that sense of unfairness a little because even though his thoughts were completely beyond her, his feelings, at least, were easier to understand. "Later, though," she murmured after a moment, her breath a tremulous whisper against his lips. Her palms slid down over his shoulders, his forearms, to clasp his hands in her own and, taking a step back she gently pulled him down with her into the tall, fragrant grass. Citrus and juniper mingled with the warm underlying scent of her skin and hair and the grass and earth beneath them as Jason willingly accepted Autumn's unspoken, yet insistent plea to join her in her makeshift bower. Their hands parted, his sliding up to her shoulder, trailing the backs of his curled fingers up the sides of her neck to gently bury themselves in her Titian mane of hair as they kissed again, and then again, each kiss a fresh spark that blazed as brightly in their young bodies as the faux-fireflies did overhead, and with far more incendiary a result. Autumn’s hands slid under his arms and around him, pulling him close, pressing her body to his and his to hers as though trying to eliminate all wasted space between them, even hooking one leg over his as she gave out a soft whimper at the intensity of liquid desire his kisses evoked. There was a sense of comfortable rightness, however urgent the floods of hormones were that cascaded through the two of them. This love-play was a curious mixture of languor and passion, as though they each, after the trials of the day, craved the close delights of intimacy more than the raw pleasure of carnality. That said, Autumn did not protest at the feel of Jason's hand slipping under her shirt and his fingers gently caressing her flesh, nor did he balk at the way her hips moved with slow deliberateness against the rigidity in the front of his jeans. But there was an unhurried, exploratory joy in these caresses and touches, for all the flashes of lightning they caused to tingle up and down the spines of the entangled teenagers. It was a voice calling their names that brought them, slowly, back to the realm of earthly, mundane things from their rapture in each other. Autumn uttered a soft groan as she recognised her mom's voice, coming closer as it called out again "Autumn? Jase?" "To be continued?" Jase murmured huskily, studying her kiss-reddened lips and desire-drowsy eyes. "Definitely," she breathed, gazing up into the shadows of his features, illuminated now and then by the dim, dreamlike glow of the winking fireflies. It was almost too perfect to be real, with the warmth of their entwined limbs chasing away the faint chill on the evening breeze, and the soft choruses of birds and insects in the distance, and the red-haired girl squirmed slightly in her boyfriend's embrace as she reached toward him, adding one more layer of sensation to the memory she was working to build. The dark, tousled strands of his hair slid through her fingers as Autumn pulled him close one last time, hurriedly pressing her lips to his in a brief, fierce kiss before scrambling up to her feet, brushing bits of broken vegetation from her jeans. "Over here, Mom!" Holding one arm aloft as she called out, Autumn reached down with the other, offering Jason a hand up as much to touch him again- to feel the texture of his skin and the strong, certain hum of his life beneath- as to help him stand. "So I can see." Dana's expression, clearly visible to her daughter as she approached within the illumination of the spread-out cloud of glowing motes, showed more clearly than her tone that she knew exactly what they had been up to. Amusement, exasperation and concern warred on the pretty veterinarian's features as she studied the pair of them, particularly their flushed faces and the strands of grass in their hair. "It's getting close to leaving time, especially as you have school tomorrow, so I left your dad and Gar chatting on the front porch while I came looking for you." she added with a wry quirk of her lips. "I think he's seen enough of you two canoodling for one week - possibly for the year." As she spoke, she glanced at the slowly swirling field of golden stars overhead, just within arm's reach, and despite the maternal pseudo-disapproval in her voice couldn't quite keep the wonder out of her gaze. Shaking her head slowly, she looked back at the two teens, noting that they were still holding hands. Huffing quietly, she shook her head again, plainly incapable of even-ing right now. "Let's get going, Autumn Rae. You'll see Jason again tomorrow." she not-quite commanded, gesturing for the two of them to follow her. Getting caught making out by her mom seemed a little less mortifying this time, thankfully, than when she'd found them on the porch. Or the living room. Or at the Labor Day picnic. A little. And though she could still feel the hot prickle of embarrassment creeping up the sides of her throat and over her cheeks, at least Dana hadn't actually seen anything- especially not where the young Teulu genius's hands had been. Or hers, for that matter, she realized, trying with some success not to grin in the midst of maternal scrutiny. Giving Jason's hand a quick squeeze before reluctantly letting her fingers slip free, Autumn sighed, a full-body exhalation that was as much movement as sound. "I know, I know," she grumbled in answer, falling in a few steps behind Dana and rolling the elastic band off her wrist, looping her unruly mane into a loose half-ponytail as they left the fairy-tale scene behind. And then, overcome by a sudden sense of deja-vu, she stopped, reached back, and grabbed his hand again. We thought the same thing last night, was the unspoken worry that wove her pale, freckled fingers once more through his longer, still faintly tanned ones. "Think you can bring coffee? To share, I mean. At breakfast. Since this morning got..." She swallowed uncertainly, then glanced up at Jase, her eyes tracing the faint line etched into his skin- near-invisible in the pale moonlight, but graven indelibly in her awareness of him. "Y'know," she finished lamely, grimacing a little. "Busy?" Jase asked rhetorically, quietly, his own expression sober as he nodded, his fingers gently tightening around Autumn's. He'd never really considered his mortality before - in that, it could be said, he was similar to most human teenage males. And though the remembrance of that experience of nearly dying did not fill him with fear, he keenly recalled the blackness he'd fallen into, the cusp of oblivion that would have ended all further experience, all existence of 'Jason Bannon'. And, too, would have precluded kissing his girlfriend under a field of fireflies, or sharing coffee with her in the morning. "I'll bring coffee for us both." he assured her as they made their way across the field with Dana, the older redhead pretending she wasn't listening in. Behind them, the fireflies winked out, slowly, returning their surroundings to their normal moonlit mystery. "And I'll see you at breakfast after my run." Autumn smiled at him as they ambled, still hand in hand, around the side of the farmhouse in Dana's wake to where Ian and Gar were waiting. Both older men's eyes immediately picked up on the held hands, but neither teen appeared to care as they stepped up onto the porch. "Thanks for having us over, Gar." Ian turned to the stockier form of Jase's dad, offering a hand, his tone warmer than it had been earlier that night. "No problem." The elder Bannon smiled back as he took the proffered hand, then gently shook Dana's in turn. "We'll have to do it again - only perhaps with more barbecuing and less earth-shattering revelation." "Oooh, barbecue would be awesome," Autumn enthused, releasing Jase's hand as, without preamble, she stepped forward and hugged his father, choosing artless action over just standing there uncomfortably while everyone sort of looked at each other. "This weekend, maybe? And thanks for the coffee," she murmured gratefully, smiling as the momentarily baffled man quickly recovered and looped an arm around his son's earnest young girlfriend in response. "Was nice to see you again, even if the meeting sucked. Have a good night, Mr Ba- Gar," the younger redhead amended, grinning somewhat abashedly as she withdrew. "And," she added, thrusting her hands into the pockets of her jeans to stop herself from reaching out again and slipping her arms around the tall, spare form of the young man who stood by, quietly watching the farewells. "'Night, Jase. See you in the morning." "Come on, you," Ian sighed, draping an arm affectionately around his daughter's shoulders and tugging her firmly away. "We still have plenty left to talk about and I'm sure the Bannons might want to get to bed sometime soon. Goodnight, Gar, Jason, and thanks again." "Goodnight," Dana echoed, smiling faintly as she drew Jase into another of her quick, nigh-unavoidable hugs as the young Teulu went still for a brief moment, blinking in- Autumn’s Bannonology study suggested- what passed for surprise. "And I haven't forgotten what you said when I asked about hurting Autumn," she assured him quietly, regarding the strange, inhuman young man with a sober, searching gaze before offering both men a brief wave and following after her family. "Bye!" Autumn's voice rang out one last time in the night, a pale arm flashing up as she turned back, briefly, before clambering up into the Jeep and vanishing from sight. "Nice people." Gar commented to his son as the two of them stood on the porch, watching as the Jeep reversed, turned, and headed off slowly down the track towards the road. Jase, characteristically silent, offered no disagreement as he gazed after the vehicle's tail lights, storing in his mind the face that had smiled out of the rear window at him before the Jeep had disappeared into the night. The Keanes were nice people, that was undeniable. As with the Cassidys, he found himself liking them, even in the face of Ian's suspicion, concern and paternal protectiveness which, he noted, didn't stop the man from being civil, even friendly at times. Gar gently clapped his son on the shoulder and turned to go indoors, leaving the lean young psychokinetic out on the porch, listening to the distant sounds of the Jeep and the occasional night bird call. He stayed there for some minutes more, alone with his thoughts, before turning and heading inside.
    2 points
  9. First Period: Chem Class (Kat and Sean) Hand on the combo-lock, Sean glanced over his shoulder at the accented voice penetrating the cacophony of the halls right before the bell rings. Tinny music came from the earbuds around her neck. "Morning, Kat," Sean replied, trying to smile around a yawn. Strong, slender fingers spun the dial on the lock with habitual ease. There was a soft click, then Sean grunted as he gave the lock several vigorous tugs before it opened. It was the same lock he had used since grade seven. It spun easy, but stuck sometimes. Still stiff from his unaccustomed morning activity, he yanked open the dented, green locker door - his head, Chet's help. "Already got your books? Bell's 'bout to ring for Chem." So saying, Sean reached up for the textbooks lined up neatly on the top shelf. He pulled out the thick chemistry textbook, but suddenly his slim hand seemed to lose all grip strength. The scarlet haired technophile gave a high pitched yelp as the corner of the textbook bounced off his prominent chest. His free hand flailed wildly as he tried to catch it, his other hand occupied with his thermos of coffee. Failing, he raised a knee to catch and slow the textbook's fall and give him another chance to collect it, but instead he ended up kicking it. The textbook slammed against the row of lockers, then slid along the linoleum for a few feet, before bumping into a pair of shoes. Sean sighed, his face almost as red as his hair, giving his hand a betrayed glare as he shifted and stooped to collect his book. "Sorry," he muttered apologetically to the person the shoes belonged to, the , buxom beanpole Kimberly, who gave the more endowed boy a commiserating smirk. Sean straightened up and stuffed the textbook into the satchel on his hip, next to his laptop, and turned back to Kat, nodding down the hall towards Chem class. "Mornings, right?" The petite French girl hid her smile behind her hand. "Mornings." She acknowledged. "I still need to get my books, I'll catch up." Turning around, she bounced off a rather large Senior, squealed, apologised and corrected her trajectory. A couple minutes later, Kat and her Shelly Sherpa entered the classroom, the buxom boy leading her to his desk on the side as she waved at a couple familiar faces. Reaching out for a chair, she settled her textbook on the table and slumped into the chair, empty eyes over surly features. The name Leviathan had come back to her mind, but she still couldn't figure out when she'd heard it. It has to be recent, she thought, wrestling with the morning fog seeping through her thoughts in disorder. If it had been for her, she'd have had a whole gallon of coffee. A voice brought her back to the land of the living, and she turned to Sean. "Wha?" "Ms. Lafferty said page 57," Sean said quietly, sliding her a pair of protective goggles and a set of plastic gloves across the black composite of the desk. He hadn't done the assigned reading yesterday, but he had read the textbook at the beginning of the year and remembered what was written. "It's just litmus paper tests. Not hard. Did this in previous years science classes. Guess we have to wait till later in the semester before we get to do exothermic foam reactions I guess." He nodded towards his thermos of coffee before slipping on the goggles over his eyes. The gloves went on with a snap. "Help yourself to some coffee if you like. I already probably had more than I should." He rolled his slender shoulders, then tilted his head to one side, then the other, trying to work out the tightness, then started setting up the experiment, making sure he kept a proper distance between himself and the various flasks and beakers. There had been... incidents before where he had inadvertently knocked things over. He didn't want a repeat. These solutions weren't particularly dangerous, but why take chances? Last time, fire had been perilous close to being involved. Kat stifled a yawn as she put on her PPE and Sean gave her a curious glance. "Didn't sleep well last night, Kat? The meetings didn't go well, sure, but they were still better than the Blight." "Bad dreams," she replied, shrugging. She opened her book to page 57, giving it a quick read. Nothing new. She realised these second Junior year classes were going to bore her to death. "So we're just dipping paper into acid? That's pretty basic..." She gave him the side-eye. "Get it?" Sean nodded at the mention of bad dreams. They all we certainly entitled to those, not just to due to the last few days, but the last few weeks. He'd had his own, but he tried to keep the inquisitive expression from his face. If Kat wanted to share, she would, if she didn't, she wouldn't. "I do use chemistry puns," Sean admitted wryly. He turned from his review of the worksheet to arch a dark red brow at the slighter redhead. The corner of his lips twitched with the effort of keeping a straight face. "But only periodically." He measured out the next substance in proportions according to the worksheet, gave it several brisk swirls with a glass mixing rod, then slid the flask over to Kat. A whirling tendril still reached halfway to the bottom of the yellow-tinted liquid still whirling in front of the girl. "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate." Kat gave the flask a funny look, wrinkled her nose, and, true to her earlier statement, grabbed a strip of litmus paper to dip it. "That's a mean-o acid." She said, comparing her strip to the scale, and noting the result. "I've been meaning to ask." She bit her lip for a second, and glanced at her friend, wagging another piece of paper in his general direction. "What are you gonna wear for Homecoming?" After a short pause, "...Designer genes?" Sean's pretty face scrunched as he groaned. If his genes were anything, they were defective, not designer. "That is just... just awful, Kat. Are you made of sodium and chloride?" He waggled his brows. "Because I feel a-salt-ed. Huh! Huh? How does that feel?" The petite French girl wrinkled her nose once again, her lips stretched into an irrepressible smile. "That's... hm... humerus. You've got nerve!" Sean blew her a raspberry then leaned over to see what Kat had written. "Horrible, just horrible. I concede to this punishment." Mechanical pencil scritching on paper, he copied the results in his own notebook, chewing on a lower lip. "But for Homecoming, uh, y'know, with everything that's been happening, I hadn't actually given it much thought," Sean admitted. "I know, I know, bad sherpa, but I haven't gone to a dance or anything like Homecoming before. I figure I'm gonna go this weekend, get some dressy pants and coat, and a nice shirt, or something." And hopefully have time to get them tailored to fit, if he even could find something on short notice in Great Falls. Really gotta talk to Devin 'bout this. Sean glanced instinctively around for the exasperating teleporter, though well aware he wasn't in the same class. "Probably in black or dark blue, I guess? Erm, unless you've already got something picked out? And want to match more, but it isn't necessary. This is just Homecoming, not prom." "I never went to a dance either, to be honest." She replied. "I'm thinking I'll wait till Friday before ransacking Great Falls." A coral lock slipped in front of her eyes, and she played with it for a while, leaning on her elbows. Dark blue, huh? she thought. That'd look great with his hair. Mine however... She glared at the lock she was fidgeting with, the color beginning to turn bland, a paler carrot. Emerald? Or a pastel green? Pastels look nice with my blonde. She shrugged. "Okay." Kat said on a light tone. Maybe she'd ask Marissa. Although she couldn't forget the words exchanged at the Jauntsens' the day before, they didn't mean she couldn't make friends with the Evil Queen of Shelly. Sean knew he was already pressing for time to get ready for Homecoming, and hearing his sister and other girls talk in passing through school, it was worse for girls. He considered which of the girls he knew who might be able to help Kat. Lona and Sara were gone, and he hadn't known Clara that much. Autumn, Cassandra? He glanced over to where they were sitting with Jase, giggling. Lilly? No, just like him, there was an obvious choice... "Don't wait too long, like I'm doing," Sean suggested. "Might be slim pickings, this close to Homecoming. Maybe scrounge up a shopping sherpa. Tess, maybe, or... Marissa..." Kat's pale brows rose up at the close echo of her thoughts, and Sean shrugged sheepishly in response. "I mean, if anyone can find you a dress and the right shoes on short notice-" "I know Homecoming is next Friday, Mr. Cassidy," Ms. Lafferty said, her tone dry, as she passed by, checking on the progress of her students. "But please leave the talk of dresses and shoes for after class? Or at least, until you've finished the experiment?" A twinkle the teacher's eyes and a bare curve of her lips eased the teasing reprimand. Sean was a great student, if perhaps occasionally distracted by his phone or class work not always on his laptop when the class didn't take much effort on his part. "Yes, Ms. Lafferty," Sean muttered, ducking his head, focusing intently on his notes as faint colour rose to his pale cheeks. Kat glanced away to conceal her amusement.
    2 points
  10. ( Collab w/ Dave) Lilly stood at her locker, having parted ways with Sean as they each made their way to their lockers to get ready for class. The athletic brunette stood there, looking at the text books leaning against one another in her locker, and for a moment could not remember which she needed to grab. It had been a long night, one which she would not care to remember, and she was certainly tired for the lack of sleep for a few days now. She certainly could have stayed home today, but a small part of her was determined to not let Enterich 'win', as it were, and hide in bed all day. Finally she remembered which books to grab and slipped them into her pack, closing the locker door with a sigh. As the door closed she caught sight of Marissa walking town the hall, strangely alone and... quiet? Subdued? Lilly managed a weary smile and a small, wave to Mari. Lily's brunette counterpart, the evil to Lily's purity, the dark to her light, certainly appeared to care less today than she ever had previously. Still, instead of just passing Lily by in the hall she opted to instead, narrow her eyes and then roll them in either frustration or irritation. Marissa didn't wave back at the sheepish attempt Lily had made to greet her. Instead she walked up to her and simply curled an eyebrow upward in her usual mocking appraisal. Still, she said nothing. Finally, she reached out and grabbed Lily by her arm and pulled her along, cueing her to follow. "Wow." She said lazily. "You look like hell." Lilly blinked in surprise as Marissa pulled on her arm, leading her by it. Be it the lack of sleep, the anxiety, mental fatigue or any other factors of combination of thing, Lilly's usual more friendly and diplomatic speech was nowhere to be found. "No shit. I haven't haven't slept, no real sleep, for days." she replied, her initial indignant tone quickly fading. "My head's still so messed up." "Seeing my sarcasm and raising me sass," the evil brunette almost grinned, but she wasn't in the mood for it, not today. "I like you better without sleep." She led her into one of the female restrooms where a few of their classmates has chosen to get ready for classes in front of the large mirror. There was a pause the two ladies entered, like it must be some manner of prank for Shelly High's star athlete and it's Goddess of Cruelty to be both be blessing their rest room at exactly the same time. After a slight pause to allow them a moment to marvel at the blessing of their presence, Marissa tightened her jaw line and authoritatively demanded. "Vacate plebs." "Now," she demanded a forcefully a moment later and the two watched as lower classmates practically stumbled over one another to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, some letting their faces remain half finished of makeup, and filtered passed them in a hurried line that refused to make any more eye contact than was humanly possible. "You didn't have to be mean to them," Lily added, he voice echoing slightly in the newly emptied school restroom acoustics. She led her over to the mirror and set her bag on the surface by on one of the sinks. "No, I didn't." She admitted. "Nor do you have to look like you just rolled out of bed without sleeping a wink for several night, yet here we are." She produced some concealer, a soft brush and a neutral colored headband and without asking simply began dabbing the dark rings under Lily's eyes. "People are always looking for weaknesses, Lily. No matter how defeated we appear, always look like you're winning." She dabbed away, prepping the concealment of her weariness with a light application. "This might take a second," She said after a few moments of silence. "It's not much but it will help, for today, anyway." "Thanks." Lilly simply sighed in unfiltered sincerity. She was caught off guard by the random act of kindness from Mari, not because she could not be kind though, a Lilly had seen that Marissa could be kind and was kind, her her own way, more often than it seemed the others recognized. In this case it was simply so unexpected. Here she was in the bathroom with Mari doing her makeup to try to help her look better. Some would say it was just Mari protecting her own image by making sure those she was around looked their best, or at least 'good' as it were, and to be be fair, that probably was a small part of it, but in the moment it just felt more like a genuine act kindness shared between the two young women. Lilly glanced at the mirror and then did a double take. "That's.. You're really good." Lilly said as she leaned close to check her seemingly refreshed eyes. "I mean, I shouldn't be surprised. Just look at you, not that you need makeup though." "More than you think," she replied coldly. She still, for all intents and purposes was dealing with her own issues and wasn't much for going into soul-searching with Lily in the freshman bathroom. "From the makeup to the work outs, beauty is not a maintenance-free gift. Like athleticism, neglect it and it neglects you. Still, my brother hasn't been getting much sleep either. He's still randomly jaunting about the house in panicked fits in his sleep trying to escape whatever it was that chased him for hours in that... place. I sympathize, I suppose. It messed him up pretty bad, and Enterich has been in my head too, to a lighter degree, I suppose as most things that make you revile in horror probably turn me on." Lily wasn't sure if that was humor or not, as Marissa's deadpan tone and expression were currently impossible to read. She handed her the brush and slid the hairband to her. "Fix yourself." As Lily began grooming Marissa placed the other items back in her bag. "I know it's just words, Lily, and I won't claim to understand what you went through, that's yours and yours alone to come to terms with, but everyday people are looking for weaknesses. In you. In me. Your problems? Twenty percent don't care, and eighty percent are glad they're yours, so no matter how bad it gets in your head always carry yourself like you're winning." "Get a boyfriend or something," she added suddenly, allowing herself a devilish smirk as personal topics like who Lily was dating she knew would make the prudish athlete flush in all manner of roses. "What about that guy you're going to homecoming with? He might cheer you up. Get you some, girl. Can't say 'happiness' without saying 'penis'. "Will?" Lilly asked as she stopped for a moment and turned from the mirror to Marissa, he cheeks flushed. "He's a decent guy I guess," she said with a shrug, "but there's just nothing there." Lilly turned back to the mirror as as she continued talking, "and besides, there's not exactly a line to date me, not after all rumors and crap that's been spread. I mean, yeah, they cheer me when i bring home a win on the football field, but it's like, I dunno, only because I'm useful to them. at least, that's part of what Enterich said, and to be honest, there's more than a little truth to it." Lilly lowered her hand with the brush and looked at herself in the mirror for a moment, meeting her own gaze before shaking her head, not wanting to dwell on it if she could avoid it. "Anyways," she sighed, "there's only a people I have any interest in, and the girl's bathroom is not the place to be sharing it." "Of course there is some truth to them, Lily," she rest her hip against the counter top, arms folded in constant appraisal of Lilly both physically and mentally. She'd read all of her mother's books on psychology and scarily understood more of how the the mind worked than most young women her age ever should. "If there wasn't then they wouldn't have any power over you." She didn't didn't preach the topic, she knew Lilly was smart enough to understand how her own head worked. She'd trained for the Olympics and more than anyone in Shelly knew the power of self-discipline and the mantra of 'just one more'. Still, like Autumn, a handful of Lilly's were born from Marissa's cruel pranks and selfish desires. "This, however, is high school, Lilly. Popularity and public opinion are mercurial, at best. I suppose a portion of that is my fault." Lilly knew that probably as close to an apology as she was going to get. "I can handle the rumors for you, I can squash the public option and fix your reputation by week's end." "The rest is on you, girlfriend." She was silent for a moment before narrowing her eyes and finally saying. "You know what? My afternoon schedule cleared up. Jacob would rather play twenty questions instead of coming to have a burger with me, so why don't you fill his place. Getting out might do you some good. Talking, even if it's about nothing in particular, might help. We will find Enterich, we will beat him, and we will show him why they name storms after women, but until that time comes we need to eat and talk shit about boys, so burger later?" "Well then he sounds like a dumbass." Lilly said with a faint hint of a smile tugging at the corners of her lips for the first time all morning. "Sure. These last couple of weeks have been..." she said, her voice trailing off a bit as she thought about things, but then shook her head, as if she were tossing them from her mind. "Chillin' with you over burgers and fries sounds great." Lilly looked at herself in the mirror and nodded. "And thanks for this too. What you said, the help, all of it. It really helps. Seriously." "Idiocy is not something this town lack in," she dismissively shrugged. "I'm friends with Jacob's friends and it's obvious he doesn't like me at all. I figured us getting to know each other better might help to clear the air. Oh, well. We miss a hundred percent of the shots we don't take, and he blew his." Lilly finished her hair and slid the band in place to keep her bangs out of her eyes. Marissa drooped the brush back in her bag as her athletic counterpart handed it to her. "I've only told you what you already know, but," she seemed to hesitant to express the next piece of her mind, but after a moment of hesitation she continued on. "You're welcome." She glanced at her phone and slid several messages aside. "We're going to be late." “What are you talking about? Marissa Jauntsen is never late, nor is she early. She arrives precisely when she means to.” Lilly said with a faint smile, looking for any sign of recognition of the quote she played off of from Marissa and then reached down, slung her bag over her shoulder and gave herself one last look over in the mirror with an exhale, as if she were steeling herself to step back out into a battle once more. Lilly wanted to say a little more, but with time being an issue, she set it aside for not. At the moment, there other things she needed to try and focus on to make it through the school day and make up for her prior absence. "Shall we?" Lilly asked as she walked over toward the door to open it for Marissa.
    2 points
  11. Autumn, Weekend following Labor Day/Ep. VI: Off-Camera: Autumn will be working on the tree house, trying to get it finished before the weather turns. She will also be reviewing the journals from her grandfather’s study, and working on If possible, a return visit to Browning to actually go through the museum and have a long, non-plot-related talk with Joe about her grandfather will also be on the agenda. Thursday: No school. Charlie's funeral. Later: Boarding school with Cassie. Friday: First date with Jase? Available after school. Saturday: Autumn will be paying a visit to the Project facility to try to help repair some of the damage done to the smilodon and assist with the extraction of the cranial implant. Saturday night, Marissa will be coming to the Keane house to discuss current events. Sunday: Open. Autumn will be working on personal projects like the completion of the tree house, and studying Chemistry and English. TBD: As discussed in Discord, a story or scene involving Cass and Autumn talking to Sean about the physiological and sociological realities of his unique, uh... "circumstance" would be awesome. Autumn can basically, at present, flail wildly in an actual fight. Some specific efforts at improvement in this area would be advisable. Following up with Sophia to see how she's doing. Talk to her parents about the weird tension with them over the last year or so. Chat with Nathan Crocker about his role. Talk to Mari about Homecoming, make awkward conversation. First date shenanigans with Jason. Birthday planning with Carolyn Cassidy and Gar Bannon. After Site B?: Propose the camping trip. Ongoing: Attempt to normalize things with Jacob- or at least start things moving in that direction. · Specifics will be determined by player input and interaction, and all of this is subject to change!
    1 point
  12. Thursday, 5th September It wasn't raining. Odd that it wasn't, at least to some of those attending the Shelly Cemetery to pay their respects to the departed Charlie Cole. Funerals should happen with the sky itself mourning, the rain helping to hide tears. They should only take place on dreary Fall days, not with a blue sky and the ebbing warmth of summer playing it's radiance over the brasswork on the coffin. Of course, the wiser heads knew that death was rarely convenient, and this - the violent murder of one little more than a child - was downright tragic. Perhaps the warm sunshine was more appropriate, given how Charlie had died at the hands of the Dark. As though the sun's rays purified him on his journey from this world. Coyote watched from a distance, his hands thrust into the pockets of his black jacket, ageless and remote sorrow in the dark forests of his gaze. It looked as though most of the town had turned out - Charlie had been well-liked, getting on with most of his peers, and even those who weren't necessarily his friends lingered around the edges of the cemetery, beholden to witness by curiousity and a strange sense that this fate could have befallen any of them. The dead boy's estranged father and mother stood on opposite sides of the coffin each with their own circle of support, each pale and stricken-looking, their eyes on the dark polished wood. The Ancient breathed in slowly, feeling the slow dissipation of the miasma that hung over the minds and souls of Shelly's populace. Some might have believed that the second death of Arawn, and the banishment of the Tree, would be all that was necessary to heal the blight on this town's soul. Not so, the Trickster knew. This was the final seal on the defeat of the dark, corrupt force that had infected Shelly since before history began. This simple, sapient act of coming together to grieve, to pay respects to the fallen. Not just Charlie Cole, but the thousands over the centuries who'd fallen prey to the Dark's avatar. The town was burying more than just one murdered child, coming together like this - it was burying all of them. Perhaps now healing could begin, and the scars could start to mend. Not just in the town itself, either. Coyote's eyes, preternaturally sharp, sought out the familiar faces of the Fellowship in the gathering, as the priest wound down the eulogy to the accompaniment of the quiet sobs of relatives and close friends. Some close friends of the departed, some more distant - but they were all here. The Trickster grunted, huddling in his jacket as though to ward off a chill, though the late summer air was warm. The cold was from within, he knew. "Not long." he murmured to himself, almost absently, watching the future unfold beyond his ability to control or steer it in the dynamics of the Fellowship and what waited for them. "Make better mistakes than we did..." he whispered to them, a plea more than an instruction. Or perhaps a prayer? He wasn't sure. He had rolled the dice, and that had taken most of what he had left. All he could do now was watch, and hope. After millenia of life, steering the course of bloodlines and nations in perhaps the best trick he'd ever played, wouldn't it be hilarious if the trick was as much on himself as those he'd intended it for?
    1 point
  13. Sean's stomach churned, and it wasn't just hunger after still being in the process of turning his new morning workout into a habit. He stood in a knot with his family, his father's hand a firm pressure on his shoulder, his mother and sister standing on Jack's other side, both in dark dresses with wan faces. His left leg tingled with pins and needles up to his hip, as though it was asleep, and his hands were balled into fists. The sun beat down, hot, remorseless, almost accusatory in the clear blue sky. His slacks, years old, were tight across the hips and under the black button-down he'd borrowed from his dad - the sleeves rolled up several times so they didn't cover his hands - there were trickles of sweat, back and front. Sean's jaw was clenched, eyes squinted to slits in the effort of retaining a stoic expression, but it was obviously a thin façade. With all his issues, plus a father who endured everything with blue-collar aplomb, Sean had learned early not to cry in public, and ingrained as it was, it was still a near thing. He's shed his tears in private. As a boy who looked like a girl, and had only grown more so with puberty, growing more curvaceous than most, he'd suffered. But he hadn't ever suffered much in the way of actual loss. The Cassidys were a small family in Toole County. Now anyway, generations past, there had been many more. Sean had an uncle on his dad's side he'd never met and knew next to nothing about, and his mom had a sister who visited once a year with his two cousins. His mom's parents had passed away before he'd been born and he could barely remember his grandmother on his dad's side. The only funeral he'd gone to was his grandfather's, when he'd been ten. But his grandfather had been going senile for a few years before, and his passing had, in some ways, been a relief. Charlie's death hurt. A link ripped out of the small circle of friends Sean had been surprised and blessed with finding himself with. Charlie had been there when he'd first started DMing RPGs. Always interested in the story and developing his character, Sean could always rely on Charlie to engage with any plot hook he laid out to get things going when the game started to wonder or go completely off-track. With his interest and training in drama, Charlie had helped Sean expand his storyteller's voice, as well as how better to structure the narratives of his games and campaigns, even if it was to go against convention. Now Charlie's life story was cut short. As were all the stories of the lives he might have played on stage or on the screen, all the characters he might have played in their shared games. It wasn't one life, one friend, gone, but the multitude he could have been. With learning about their powers, and the secrets buried in Shelly, an unconscious part of Sean had still seen it as a game, fighting monsters with psionic powers, where bad things could happen, but they weren't ever final. Until they were. Life wasn't a game, but both eventually ended. They had found the Dark, but one of them had lost before they had even fought. It wasn't fair, Coiled through the hurt and loss was a nauseating shameful guilt. Not-Cody could have taken any one of them, and the result likely would have the same - one of the Radiant going dark under terror and violence. Forcing himself to look at it logically, with his lifespan cut dramatically and uncertainly short with an equally uncertain recourse, if one of them had to be sacrificed to the Darkness, it should have been him. But shortened life or not, Sean was relieved, relieved, it hadn't been him. He wouldn't wish it on any of his friends, but he wasn't ready to die yet either. And it felt wrong, it felt perverse, to be standing here, watching Charlie's casket being lowered into the ground and covered with dirt and being grateful he wasn't one the in it. Devin spoke and more guilt piled up on Sean's hunched shoulders. He just couldn't bring himself to. What if he broke down in front of everyone? Charlie certainly deserved it, especially as the embarrassment would be only in Sean's own mind. And even if it wasn't, so what? But what if they saw his guilt, his relief, that he was still alive when Charlie wasn't? No. With the service coming to a close, the Cassidys went to pay their respects to Charlie's parents. Eyes downcast, he murmured a few awkward words of condolence with Charlie's father - Lucius Cole had never been comfortable around his son's intersexed friend. Sean was more at ease with Hannah Fuhrman, who'd always been kind to him when he'd gone over to Charlie's place, to just hang out before gaming or working on something for school. His mouth dry, voice ragged, Sean didn't even hear his parents' or Laurie's words. The Cassidys ambled disconsolately towards the parking lot. Sean took a deep, scratchy breath to collect himself, giving his leg a surreptitious shake every other step, trying to jostle it awake. His mother stepped up beside him, giving her odd son a one-armed hug. "How are you doing, hon?" Carolyn asked sympathetically. "Fine," Sean claimed, then immediately amended, "Not good. It cou-" ld have been me. "I'll be okay. I just need some time, mom." His mother gave him a look like she could read his thoughts. It didn't help that Sean knew there were people who could read thoughts. "It's not wrong that you're still alive, Sean. And it's not wrong to be grateful that you are." She smiled sadly at his sullen frown of disagreement. She nodded towards her Corolla. "You want to come with us? We can come back for your car later, or tomorrow." "No. No, it's okay," Sean assured her, reluctantly stepping out of her embrace, making a small flicking gesture towards the dark green Grand Cherokee parked a ways down the other lane of the lot. "I'll drive myself. I... need a bit of time alone. I'll meet you guys at the reception." Jack and Carolyn watched their son shuffled down the lot towards his vehicle. Laurie watched him too, then her parents. "I'll go with him." Before she'd taken a step after her brother, she was stopped by the outstretched arm of her father. "Give him this, Laurie, time to work things out after the service. We'll catch up at the reception, and if he needs us for more, we'll be there for him at home. He might fight monsters for real - and God knows I wish never expected to say that - but the ones inside are just as dangerous. And in the end, no matter how much support you offer, those ones, you have to fight alone."
    1 point
  14. Before... The bell rang, heralding the disgorging of classrooms full of students into the halls at the end of the day's fourth period. Lockers slammed, chatter filled the corridors as Jase made his way to his own locker, stowing his biology text- and notebooks and retrieving his laptop. A flash of coppery hair spied out of the corner of his eye brought his head around to see Autumn a bit further down, spinning the dial on her own lock and pulling the door open. He paused, studying her as he shut his locker and leaned against it, his scarred features outwardly expressionless - at least to those who weren't familiar with reading them. His cool green gaze ran over Autumn's features, lingering on the tilt of her freckled nose, the curve of her lips, the clear sea-blue of her eyes, all framed as they were by the riotous curls of gold-tinged copper that, as ever, seemed unconstrainable by the simple ponytail holder she used to tie it back. He was aware that he was staring, of course. Self-awareness was very much part of his makeup, and so he knew that this reverie as he gazed at his girlfriend was quite deliberate, and unashamedly so. What wasn't so deliberate was the slow rush of heat, of delightful tension, that he felt coursing upwards through his nerves as he watched her turn her head to one side in consideration and distractedly brush her hair back, exposing the slender ivory of her throat in a gesture that was entirely unconscious, yet seemed to him in that moment to be wholly erotic. His eyes trailed down the curve of her neck to where it met her shoulder then disappeared under her t-shirt, his keen memory reminding him of the smell and taste of her skin under his lips and teeth as though it were current sensory input rather than a memory of last night, under the fireflies in the long grass. Chemistry, or English? Pursing her lips, Autumn considered both options as she hauled her Environmental Science book out of her bag and slid it back into place amid the neat-ish row of texts and multicolored folders. She was a couple of days behind on reading for first period, but she also hadn't started looking up potential topics for her English paper yet, and they were supposed to have at least three sources by Monday. Hmm. Half-consciously tucking an errant curl behind her ear, the vibrant redhead swayed indecisively back and forth in front of her locker. Kat was in her class... Maybe she could talk to her in the next couple of days and see what she was planning to write about? With personal dramas and the whole 'saving the world' thing cutting into study time it was going to be hard to get an 'A' in either subject at the rate things were going, much less in both. ...Not that she was particularly upset about being distracted by non-school-related activities, at least in principle. It would just be nice if more of said activities involved things she actually wanted to do- things like going camping, for instance, the idea of which conjured up mental images of the last time she'd gone. Cleaning up the campsite, splashing in the creek, eating mouthfuls of steak next to an open fire, and sweet, fierce kisses under the stars. A little thrill of remembered heat ran through her at the memory, warming her cheeks as she grabbed her Chemistry book and slid it into her bag; maybe they'd be able to go again soon? The giddy little smile curving her lips broadened as Autumn pictured the way the firelight had sparked glimmers of gold in Jason's eyes, and a shiver of anticipation danced down her spine at the thought of seeing that again. Easy, girl, she reminded herself, exhaling as she closed her locker door and turned to head toward Study Hall. You'll see him this afternoon. ...Or now. Blinking, a renewed flush blooming in her cheeks, Autumn stared at the long, lean figure relaxing against his locker, limbs arranged in that near-boneless slouch he'd perfected. At the pale green eyes she'd just been picturing. At the shape of his mouth, the faint line of the scar etched into his skin, the outline of his shoulders beneath his shirt... Swallowing the sudden, unaccountable rush of nervousness, she hazarded a smile and focused on the fact that they were at school, in the hallway, in front of basically half the student body, and he was not a tree to be climbed. Now is good. This really wasn't the time or place, a fact which seemed wholly unimportant to Jason as their eyes met. The slamming of locker doors faded away, the bustle and chattering throng became indistinct, formless and colorless, all meaning, form and color instead seeming to be drawn into and contained within the lithe shape of the redheaded girl before him. Under his scrutiny she flushed, pale rose and ivory blooming under the bronze dusting of freckles, and the young Teulu was aware of a keen and above all hungry sensation uncoiling down his spine, something primal, bordering on savage that welled up inside him as his eyes devoured her. She saw it, too, Jase realised as Autumn's blush deepened, her clear gaze widening, her lower lip indented by her teeth as her breath seemed to catch. On some level, on the edge of conscious thought currently awash in hormones, pheromones and simple vibrant passion, she could see the burning hunger for her that flickered and danced, a consuming flame, in his eyes. To his heightened awareness of her, a barely perceptible tremor that owed little, if anything to fear vibrated through Autumn's body. He didn't want to wait until after school, he realised suddenly under the awareness of that need evoked by simple proximity to her. He didn't want to wait until such time as was socially acceptable to plunge his fingers through her Titian mane of red curls, to graze his teeth against her lips until they were reddened, to drink kiss after kiss from her as she gasped his name and clutched him close. And with the thought came action, motion, as he pushed himself away from the locker on which he leaned and approached Autumn, his eyes never leaving her. "Hey." he said quietly as he stopped directly in front of her, looking down into the sparkling blue of her eyes. Such a short utterance, yet murmured as it was it contained so much more than a greeting. "I burn for you. I miss you. I want you," all contained in a simple exhalation. Damn it, she swore to herself, feeling that intangible magnetic pull as her effing boyfriend- the Effing Boyfriend, in fact- drew closer. It was unfair, somehow, unreasonable that someone she'd spent years avoiding had suddenly become one of the people she most wanted to see. How was she supposed to think about studying, or class, or people, or... or anything when he was looking at her like that? And yet despite any lingering misgivings about their relationship, his nature, or whether any of this even made sense at all, the tentative smile curving Autumn's lips only grew at his approach, warmed by the firefly flickers of pleasure sparked by his very nearness. "Hey," she breathed in response to what was quickly becoming the habitual greeting, keenly aware that he was right there, that she could just reach up and touch him if she wanted to- and oh, how she wanted to. The fingers of her free hand practically twitched, tingling faintly with the urge to pull him close, to toy with the ends of his hair, to trace the curve of his lower lip or the line of his collar bone through the cotton of his shirt and watch those pale green eyes darken, to feel that clear, crystalline energy burning bright beneath his skin, beneath the press of her fingertips- But, that annoyingly contrarian inner voice derailed her train of thought. School. Right. School. Adjusting the strap of her book bag on her shoulder, Autumn willed herself not to close the remaining distance between them, all but digging her heels into the gleaming composite floor tile. "So." As soon as the word passed her lips, the red-haired teen realized she didn't really have much in the way of a follow-up. What could she talk about? She'd seen him at breakfast and in first period, so there was no point asking about his morning. Lunch, maybe? Her nose crinkled slightly at the thought. No, she'd save that for Study Hall, or even after. It wasn't like she didn't have plenty of time to talk to him, so... why was it so hard to come up with anything to say right now? "Chemistry," she murmured thoughtlessly to herself, gazing up into those glittering jade pools, and immediately regretted it. "I brought my book," Autumn added hastily. "To catch up on the reading from Chem that I missed. That's all I meant." Blushing furiously, she waved a hand near her face, trying simultaneously to cool the rising heat beneath her skin and dispel any thoughts about any other possible meaning- largely unsuccessfully. "Not the... you know," she added, exhaling. "The other thing." Frozen jade, thawed by fires that were anything but cold, roamed her features as that tantalising flush of rose flooded through the ivory that lay beneath the freckles. "The other thing?" he murmured, as his eyes studied the curve of her mouth. A hint of a smile curved his lips. "Ah, yes. I kind of want to explore the other thing, too." He reached out, running his touch down from her elbow to her hand, his fingers curling around hers before gently taking her hand in his. And then he was tugging her, gently but insistently, his eyes cutting back to meet hers now and then as he started to walk with her down the hall. It dawned on Autumn, through the haze of pheromones and hormones and the hypnotic and anything-but-cold gaze of her impossible boyfriend, that she was walking hand in hand through the halls of school with him, their fingers entwined, his darker olive with her freckled ivory. She should be embarrassed, should be mortified and imagining people snickering, expecting whistles and jeers even though nobody, realistically, seemed to be even noticing. But all she could think of was how warm his hand was in hers, and how warm she felt - that delicious sense of anticipation as she divined his intent making it hard to breath evenly. For Jase, there were no considerations for how others might view this thing. His focus was on his intention, and on the warm-hued girl whose hand was in his as he led her towards their destination. Every glance back at her was another snapshot in his memory, taking in the fire of her hair and the warmth of her blue eyes and the adorable crinkle of her nose. All else was, if not precisely meaningless, then at least temporarily irrelevant to the tall youth. There was a brief moment of confusion as he led her away from the lockers, away from the hall that led to the library and the classroom where they were meant to go, where she really-definitely-probably needed to focus on the reading she hadn't done... But that ever-present inner voice seemed quiet for now, its chiding drowned out by the dull roar in her ears, the featureless waves of background conversation and footsteps and locker doors as they moved, hand in hand, through the throng. Clearly they were going somewhere, Jason's long legs covering the distance with purpose, and she had a pretty good idea why they were going there. The thought sent another little surge of nervous anticipation zinging through her, a combination of all those glorious neurochemicals she was still learning the names of and the taboo nature of the presumed tryst. "Where are we-?" she asked urgently, the last word catching in her throat as Jase looked back at her and she caught that flicker of heat in his gaze. And then the 'where' didn't matter as much as the 'when,' her fingers tightening around his as she walked a little faster. At this time of day, the gymnasium was usually empty - after the last period, the area would flood with students turning up for various extracurricular sports and practices, but right now the large, spacious hall was echoingly silent, the retracted bleachers against one wall presiding over the smooth polished floor and racks of equipment as Jase and Autumn, hand in hand and casting glances at one another, crossed the chamber. The faint thud of Jason's boots and the squeak of Autumn's Chucks on the floor were all but drowned out by the thundering in their ears from two heartbeats racing from that surge of hormonal desire and anticipation. Empty, also, was the equipment locker, the door of which was set in one corner of the gym, where the larger equipment for gymnastics and the mats for wrestling were stored, amongst other things. It was locked (to prevent exactly what Jason had in mind - the school authorities still hadn't forgotten the time Rebecca the preacher's girl had been caught in here with two of the senior football squad), but locks weren't really a concern for the young rogue whose fingers were interwoven with Autumn's. As they approached the door, he pulled a small roll containing a rudimentary lockpicking set from one of the pockets of his combat pants, then paused as a thought occurred, and slipped the roll away again before focusing on the padlock. There was a faint 'click', then another, and the lock sprang open obediently as though the key had been used. Jason made a small sound of satisfaction and swung the door open and pulled Autumn inside. Immediately as the door closed behind them he turned to her, moving close as he gazed down into the storm-tossed blue of her eyes. His jade gaze was far from hard for her to divine, no matter how composed the olive-tanned features, that pale scar still fresh on his cheek, were. And then his lips descended to hers as he cupped her face in his hands, and the world dissolved into liquid fire. There had been thoughts, moments before- nervousness about being caught, curiosity about what'd been in the little rolled-up kit, surprise that the door had been left unlocked followed by a brief flash of insight that Jase might have used his power to open it from the inside- but in the instant his lips touched hers, that all evaporated, dissolved in the sweet, heated thrill of kissing him. Some dim, distant part of Autumn's mind registered the soft thud of her book bag hitting the floor, and the unerring kinesthetic awareness granted by her Shine told her that she was reaching up, rising onto the balls of her feet, but the lithe redhead was wholly unaware of the soft sound she made against her boyfriend's lips, or that her faintly freckled eyelids had drifted closed. In the absence of sight, all other senses seemed sharper, from the texture of his hair sliding between her fingers to the crisp, somehow green fragrance that lingered on his shirt and skin, along with the faint sweet-smoky aroma of the tobacco he grew, and some indefinable underlying scent that she recognized as belonging to Jase alone. The pounding of her heartbeat seemed deafening as it beat a mad cadence within her breast, and as the young vitakinetic's fingertips traced Jason's jawline, exploring the familiar features rendered mysterious in the shadows behind her eyelids, she could feel the echoing thrum of his own pulse, a strong, sure counterpoint to her own. "Did you miss me?" she murmured breathlessly into the kiss, a hint of mischief in her smile as her fingers trailed lower, following the sharp line of Jase's collarbone out to his shoulders and down the flat, hard plane of his chest. It was a ridiculous question, of course, but even if Jason Bannon himself didn't (or couldn't) make special note of her absence, well, she mused... At least parts of him could. "Always." he breathed back, softly kissing the delicious curve of her lower lip and then, because he had made a decision to always be forthcoming to her - not just honest in an exact way, but also volunteering truth - he added "I always feel your absence keenly..." his lips trailed along her jaw to her ear, his breath warm as he inhaled the scent of her hair and skin "..and always anticipate seeing you again." he finished, his hands finishing their slide down her body, caressing her back, waist and hips before sliding comfortably - and possessively - onto the curves of her ass, where they didn't seem inclined to move from. His mouth opened against the side of her neck, letting her feel his teeth graze her pale skin and his tongue taste her with a delicate brush before he moved further down, craning his head down so his exploring sense of taste and smell could savor the juncture of her neck and shoulder. Small freckles there each received tiny touches of lips and tongue as he attempted to kiss them all with uncharacteristic playfulness, and he was aware of Autumn's soft breaths and sighs as she pressed herself tighter to him, unbidden and not needing the pull of his hands on her rear to seek that closeness hampered only by the clothes the two teens wore. Jase raised his head, turning it and capturing Autumn's lips in another, fiercer kiss, his teeth nipping at her lip. That always present wry observer that was part of his mind noted the elevated levels of arousal he was feeling, the unusual primal drive and draw towards the ardent young woman in his arms, the fact that aggressive instincts were being repurposed almost as though a gear had been shifted from 'fight' to, well, 'mate'. And it had to be her - always her. He knew this deep in the blazing, molten core of his being that, no matter what transpired, no other female could move into the space she now occupied. Something in his inhuman soul chose Autumn, and whether it was pheromones or simple compatibility, he wanted no other. Autumn... was melting. Or at least, that's how it felt when Jason's teeth grazed her lower lip: that she was melting from the inside, dissolving outward from the very center of her being as the sparks shimmering beneath her blushing skin flared suddenly into living flame, consuming conscious thought and reason. It didn't matter that they were at school. It didn't matter that someone might catch them. It didn't even matter that he was supposed to be coming over later, or that there were things they needed to talk about, or that she wasn't going to be able to catch up in Chem if they didn't get to Study Hall, like, right now. The only thing that mattered in that instant was that he made her feel like the white-hot core of a star, like the center of his universe. The only thing that mattered was that he made her feel like she, Autumn Rae Keane, was the only thing that mattered. "Me, too," she whispered against his mouth, delighting in the warm firmness of his lips and the teasing brush of his tongue against hers as the kiss deepened. "I missed you, too." Murmurs of pleasure and soft, hmming sighs filled the quiet equipment locker between playful nips and slow, sweet expressions of desire, her lips tingling with even the faintest contact, the gentlest whisper of his breath. Her hands, trapped between the press of their bodies and clutching the fabric of his shirt, fumbled blindly with the folds of lightweight cotton, tugging the hem upward until she could touch the warm skin beneath, and with an exultant squeak Autumn splayed her palms flat against his stomach. This wasn't the time, and definitely wasn't the place, but... Fuck it, she decided, for neither the first nor last time in her adolescent life. Why not? Her pale fingertips slipped just below the waistband of his belted combat pants, circling round to the front and seeking by touch alone the buckle impeding her exploration. It was easily found, Jason making no effort to impede her progress and, indeed, trying to step back a little to allow her more access, only for the energetic redhead to slip her spare hand around the back of his neck and pull him closer with all the strength of her athletic young body, refusing to allow his lips to part from hers. She could read the patterns of desire and arousal in his aura, as tangible as the hardness she could see distorting the line of his zipper when she broke the kiss with a gasp and glanced down, biting her lower lip. Oh yes. He wanted her - No. That wasn't sufficient to communicate the sensations she was experiencing. He. Wanted. Her. would be a better way to put it. The want was tangible, and she was the focus of it, and it reinforced that sensation she had of being the star at the center of his universe, intensified it to such a degree she thought she would forget how to breathe. Was this how it was for him? she had to wonder, getting a clearer feel of the deeper fires that composed Jason Bannon, fires she had seen in his eyes but never felt in this immediate way that made her melt and catch fire herself. Something in her lower belly went liquid at being so wanted even as something in her soul exulted in the knowledge that it was her who was desired to that level of heat and passion that made everything that had come before Jase in her young life seem tame by comparison and, she knew deep in her heart, would likely never be equaled again. How could it be? What human being could desire so... so... wholly and unreservedly, without moral compunction or civilised tenderness? It was like being desired by a force of nature. Jason moaned softly as Autumn's hand flipped open the buckle and the top button of his pants and slid inside both pants and shorts, her freckled fingers curling around his already thickening length as the girl made a cooing sound of pleasure into their kiss. He had not had release since their camping trip, and the ache for her was overriding his caution and logic. Every touch, every kiss, every noise of pleasure or murmur of her voice made him feel as though the flames he wielded so devastatingly were under his skin. It was too hot in this room, his senses told him. Too much confining clothing. And so he broke his lips from hers this time, breathing heavily, peeling off his shirt over his head and casting it on the vaulting horse before cupping her face in his hands and giving her another soul-felt kiss. Yes. This. More of this. It wasn't so much a conscious thought on Autumn's part as a sort of biological imperative driven by adolescent hormones and the illicit thrill of what they were doing: a need/desire to feel more of his skin on her skin, more breath-stealing kisses, more of his fingers gently curving around her flushed, feverish cheeks and sliding up into her hair, just... more. It was dizzying, this sense of connection created merely by touching him, so that she could almost breathe his breath and feel his heartbeat in the too-quick thrum of her own pulse through her veins, her senses implausibly alive with the reciprocal hum of shared Radiance. Leaning up, the lithe redhead steadied herself with a hand on Jason's shoulder as her lips met his in a series of brief, hungry kisses, each one lasting until the threshold of what felt like fiery dissolution before she drew back again, and again, and again, squeaking softly in surprised delight as she felt him twitch against her palm and the gentle caresses of her warm fingers. "Is it hot in here, or is it just you?" she whispered giddily, breathlessly in the stifling heat of the charged air, and then gasped aloud as Jase lowered his mouth to the curve of her throat, his hands tightening in the loosened mane of burnished copper curls that framed her face. "Just you," came the quavering confirmation as she shivered at the graze of lips and teeth and tongue just above the collar of her shirt, the heat of his breath drawing a flush of vibrant rose from beneath the pale skin there as she reached down with her free hand, fumbling with his zipper. The sound of the metal teeth separating was soft, barely audible above their breathing, the quiet gasps and deep, heartfelt groans of need and pleasure, but she could almost feel the torturous slowness of their parting around the distended fabric, and with a little huff of frustration she withdrew her other hand to hasten the job. The next few moments were a blur of motion and pheromonal intoxication: nudging him back against the tall stack of folded mats, opening the fly of his combat pants, trailing her hands down his chest, his stomach, the leanness of his frame etched in her mind as a physical representation of mathematical precision and efficiency. And then she was kissing him again, and then tugging her own t-shirt off and dropping it, forgotten, at her feet, the heat from their bodies shimmering in almost palpable waves as, slowly, her lips traced the downward path her hands had followed moments before, marking the tactile geometry of point and line and plane in their descent. He groaned softly, his fingers loosely buried in her thick copper curls as she sank downwards, glancing up at him as she kissed lower and lower, the softness of her breasts and the faint scratch of the cloth of her bra, pressing against his skin, brushing tantalisingly over him Autumn dropped to her knees. Her blue eyes studied the challenge he presented, though less daunted now and more determined, even anticipatory as they flicked up to meet his burning green stare. Her hands gently moved on him, the touch exploratory at first yet firming, fingers grasping him as she leaned down- The door to the equipment locker opened, and with a squeak of mortified alarm Autumn froze for a second, not moving. The stack of mats Jason was leaning against hid her from view - but the tousled head of her boyfriend was clearly visible above them, his eyes narrowing in annoyance as he turned his head towards the door. Of course he was annoyed - not scared, not alarmed, not worried about getting into trouble or videos going up on the internet: annoyed. "Alright, you two." The crisp female voice wasn't familiar to Autumn - wait... it wasn't..? She risked a peek around the edge of the mats and saw the blonde hair and pale blue eyes of Ms Forster, the new Biology teacher and, oh, yeah, Jason's totally-an-alien mother. The girl repressed a groan. Bad enough to be caught by a teacher. Worse that it was Jase's mom. "Whatever state of undress you're in behind there, get it corrected and step out here." Ms Forster went on, her piercing gaze not missing the red-faced redhead as she peeked. Jase locked eyes with the older woman, but decided that, here and now, she had the authority of a teacher at the very least, regardless of how he viewed her maternal authority. He beckoned his shirt from where it had been cast aside and pulled it on as Autumn likewise picked up her top and shimmied into it, still crouching. Then he bent down and pulled his pants up, re-zipping them carefully and not without some difficulty. "You're both due in Study Hall ten minutes ago." Ms Forster told the two of them as they stepped out of the equipment locker, Autumn red-faced and Jase... well... Jase, apparently unperturbed, only the faint flush of passion darkening his features any indication of what they'd been up to. Autumn felt like she had it written all over her expression. "Get there right now and no more needs to be said." Was she trying not to smile? It was hard to say - though Autumn was aware that Jason's mom was not exactly like others of her kind, she still had an excellent poker face. Fuck. What had been an exhilarating sensation of warmth and anticipation was suddenly an uncomfortable stinging heat beneath the scarlet surface of her skin, each freckle a burning pinprick etched there by the point of a red-hot needle- or at least, that's how it felt to Jase's much more expressive girlfriend as she shouldered the strap of her messenger bag again and tried, vainly, to straighten her t-shirt and pretend what had almost happened... hadn't. There was no pretending, of course; Autumn wasn't a theatre kid, and didn't have Marissa's perpetual poise, and no matter how she tried to finger-comb her hair back into something like a normal ponytail, it wasn't cooperating. Her heart was a jackhammer inside her ribs, and a knot of nervous tension twisted itself in her belly, verging on nausea. What if her parents found out? What if Ms. Forster, or whoever she was really, decided to use this against her later? Fuck, fuck, fuck. Even the occasional subdued squeak of her sneakers on the gleaming tile floor seemed to be mocking her, and she couldn't shake the feeling that- Wait. As the two teens exited the storage room, the only actual human among them had a sudden idea, and the soles of her Chucks made a plaintive sound of protest as she stopped almost mid-stride: if she'd helped Lilly counter the fear and anxiety Enterich had inspired in her, why couldn't she do it to herself? Jase's mom wasn't exactly a demon... probably wasn't a demon, she amended with a heavy dose of mental snark, but the whole biological response to the situation was similar, right? Elevated levels of cortisol and adrenaline, diminished cognitive function, all of that fun neurochemistry stuff she sort of half-understood from an academic perspective, most of which was from Googling it the previous night. It was so much easier to just feel/intuit what was going on, and the frustrated redhead could've kicked herself for never thinking of it before. Ignoring the Biology teacher's disapproving glance, Autumn reached out and took Jason's hand in her own- partly out of pique, as an act of defiance, and partly from the desire for the stabilizing clarity of his Shine, a cool counter for the tempestuous energy currently running hot through her veins. With a thought, just a quick re-centering of her awareness on that vibrant internal world of visceral systems and electrical impulses, the young vitakinetic reached within for once, marvelling for a moment at the bizarre experience of actually feeling the coordination of every cell and nerve and bundle of muscle fiber... and within all of them, a tiny spark, an impossibly microscopic glimmer of light and life. Her fingers twitched, eyes widening slightly as her vision shifted and the tension in her athletic frame slowly dissolved, the furious blush visible from hairline to collar dissipating on the slow exhalation of her breath. It's fine, she repeated to herself, less a habitual glossing-over of a bad situation now than a mental decree, an exercise of will made manifest with the application of her powers. And, with a little start as her initial panic subsided, she realized that it actually was fine; she didn't feel like crying or throwing up, and the fact that other people in the school, in her class, might know she was making out with her boyfriend instead of going to Study Hall... kind of didn't matter as much? It didn't completely not matter, but there was also a worrisome little notion in the back of her mind that she didn't really want to find out what that was like, either, so she pressed no further. "Sorry," she breathed, squeezing Jase's hand a little tighter for just a moment and refocusing on the world outside herself. "We must've lost track of time." Jase's lips twitched as he felt Autumn take his hand, her Shine brushing against his as her color settled from furious beet red to a faint hint of pink while the redhead took a deep breath and let it out. This close, his expanded awareness could tell him she was doing something, but not what, though logic could provide possibilities. Some manner of self-regulation: controlling the chemistry to control her panic... yes, that would make sense. And he was impressed that she'd reasoned that out herself whilst under stress, communicating this by giving the ivory fingers entwined with his a gentle squeeze in turn. Then he glanced at his mother, head tilted faintly as he watched her. Ms Forster had also taken note of how quickly Autumn had gathered her composure - and her handclasp with Jason - though it was hard to discern how she felt about either, her only visible reaction being a flick of her gaze to their joined hands, then their faces, followed by a faint sigh. Disapproval? Resignation? Frustration? Concern? Autumn wasn't sure what that look meant - Jase's mother was more expressive than he was, but still a hard read. "Yes. I guess you must have." Forster shook her head slightly, gesturing to the two of them to move and following along, the three of them headed for the library. * * * * * The other students in the study hall session hadn't noticed Ms Forster slip away, but when Autumn and Jase wandered into the library with the blonde Biology teacher behind them like some sheepdog it wasn't hard for two and two to be put together. Some snickered and smirked, there was a faint buzz of muttered conversation and sending of DMs speculating on what the disheveled pair had been up to, but the novelty of this gossip-fodder would only hold the attention of the most dedicated chatterers for long. Under Ms Forster's watchful eye, the two of them crossed the library and slid into chairs across from Cassie and Beth, nodding greeting as they pulled out their books. Autumn shared a faint shrug and rueful grin with Cass, a faint pink tinge still in her cheeks as she pulled out her Chem textbook, and Jase... Well, he was as composed as always, despite the glitter in his pale eyes as they glanced at Autumn, then met the gazes of the two across the table. "So..." Autumn murmured brightly to Cassie and Beth as she attempted to head off any comment or inquisition. "What's up, guys?"
    1 point
  15. Across the room from Cassandra and Beth, by the back wall, Cade sat down next to Sean, who had graciously once again agreed to help him study in his weaker areas. Cade wasn't dumb, but he wasn't a genius like Jason or Sean. A lot of things came easily to him, and he quite liked history. Mathematics, however, was a weakness, as was chemistry. Cade sighed. "I wish I understood all of this a bit better on my own, that I didn't have to keep bothering you to help me with this Sean." Cade was a bit preoccupied with what had happened at lunch, but it was done. "Thanks for this though. I've got to at least do decently academically to continue with everything else. You've always been able to help me get it enough to do that." There was no boasting, no mocking tone, The big Montana teenager meant it, and as far as guys went, Cade had always treated him normally. "Not a problem, dude," the buxom boy said, glancing up from blithely typing on his laptop to flash Cade a quick grin. "Always happy to help a friend." Sean had set himself up with a semi-circle of electronics on the table. Laptop in front of him, for the day's homework. Wacom Tablet between him and Cade, set up to scrawl equations to help his big friend. And his phone on his other side, discretely keeping track of how ReGenesis was doing, occasionally replying to questions or comments, and sending out his own. Most people would be distracted, but bouncing from one thing to another kept Sean active and animated. Sean TAed a computer class at Shelly High, but mathematics had always come so easily to him that, at first, trying to help Cade with it had been frustrating. Even if he didn't fault Cade not being as swift as he was with working through a problem, or not remembering a particular equation, Sean couldn't see how it wasn't obvious to Cade how to figure it out. It had taken him a while to understand Cade - and most people really - didn't see numbers and equations he way he did, which in part was why the logic and artistry in coding came so intuitively to him. Through trial and error and online research, he'd learned how to teach Cade math, or at least various techniques to figure out what worked best for him, instead of just giving him the answers. Doing so had ended up helping him improve as a TA in Computer Applications too, when his fellow students weren't scoffing at or ignoring the oddest boy in school, anyway. Sean flitted between his own homework and helping Cade with his. He'd broken down the bigger problems into smaller ones, with tiny hints along way, stepping stones for Cade to follow towards the overall solutions. Showing his work had always been tedious, but Sean could see how it helped a teacher see if a student understood how to find an answer. Cade working at his deliberate pace, Sean noticed he was somewhat preoccupied. "You okay, man?" "No, I'm not," Cade said quietly. "I've been thinking about a lot of things. Realizing some truths and my own failings." He sighed. "We've been friends a long time Sean. I know you said not to get involved, but looking back on it, of everything you endured, I can't help feeling that I should have done more to help you out. You've been a great friend to me, always there, and I haven't." It was something that had bothered Cade for a long time. "I am your friend, and I did what you asked, but I still feel I should have tried to stop it." His voice was low, keeping the conversation between the two of them. "You always help me, and I can't really think of too many times where I returned that favor." He had put a stop to a some incidents over the years, ones he just couldn't ignore, but by and large, Sean had said he'd handle things, and Cade let him do it his way. Cade had gone to him for help far more than the reverse. He still was. This was very uncharacteristic of Cade, he seldom admitted when something bothered him, especially like this, though over the years, Sean was perhaps the only one who knew that things did bother him. Sean looked at Cade askance. He was a curious guy, but he didn't like prying into his friends' business, being of the opinion that if they wanted to share something, they would. Probably an outgrowth of his own stubbornness of not wanting to be seen as weak, as less than he was, finding it hard to ask for help, wanting to manage things on his own, if he could, even if he had friends willing and suited to help. You know, if he wanted to inexpertly psychoanalyze himself. He was working on trying to improve himself that had nothing to do with these fantastic capabilities they had found in themselves. "Cade, friendship isn't some ledger where we tally everything up and see if we're even," Sean said, his sweet voice somber. He shifted awkwardly in his seat, guiltily thinking about Jase for just a moment, unable to stop himself from wondering if with his... genetic wiring, that was exactly how Jase saw relationships, and if the ledger became too unbalanced... Sometimes, Sean worried he wasn't actually that good of a friend. "Those are business relationships. I'd be a real dick if I didn't help out a friend with something that was so easy for me. Long as neither side find the friendship completely one sided, that's the thing, right?" Sean took a deep, self-reflective breath, then planted an elbow on the table, chin resting in his hand. He began doodling on his tablet. "Making things unnecessarily harder on myself isn't on you, Cade. We're good." He arched a wry brow at the much larger boy. "I'm one to talk, but you might try not bottling everything inside. Sometimes, let people see that something bothers you, see you angry or upset. In some cases, the squeaky wheel does get the grease, and that isn't always a bad thing." On his tablet, he began doodling a quick football, with lines and numbers, and had to restart when his hand began to tremble, turning it into an indecipherable scrawl. "Let's see if relating a math problem to sports will help with retention." Cade nodded. "Yeah I know. It's just how I've been raised y'know." He smiled "Still, you've been a great friend Sean, and if there is actually something I can help you with, just ask." He turned his attention back to the math problem with a sports theme, and watched. Once he was asked to solve the equation, he did so, in half the time that he would have done so normally. "It's that easy?" he asked quietly Simply changing the approach had seemed to help, even if it did put a slightly heavier burden on Sean, forcing him to think that way. "Why did we never think of this before?" "You didn't play football before." Sean answered him smartly. Cade chuckled. "Yeah, guess I had to go full Jock..." The next few problems saw a repeat of the first, Cade's ability to answer vastly improving if he could visualize it in some way using his sports knowledge. Thankfully Cade played a variety of sports, so there was more options to pull from. The clacking of Marissa's heels (hooves?) echoing in the hollow halls of the school announced her arrival yards before she actually entered the room. Books clutched tightly to her chest, she stormed in like a she was ready to confront the world with a huff and fierce attitude. "Maybe if you weren't such a colossal asshole." "Says Mayor Bitch of Lazy Bitch Town." Without missing a beat Devin strolled in behind her fuming and just as much on fire as his twin sister. "Language," Ms. Forster addressed the two of them with stern look that almost begged them to test her, but there was the faintest hint of a smirk on her lips and a glint of amusement in her eyes. "I understand siblings fight, but there is a time and a place and this is neither... sit down, both of you." Devin rolled his eyes and sighed, giving his books a disruptive toss on the table so they made as much noise as humanly possible. Marissa spun her head so fast in an effort to ignore their being chastised that her hair whipped, and like her brother she sighed and found a table as far from him as she could from her brother and sat down. "Sooo, for Homecoming, you and Maris-" Sean started to say to Cade, but as if her mere name was a summons, there came a clacking, a rapping, on the Study Hall floor. Sean glanced over his shoulder and shook his head minutely. He might bicker some with Laurie, he and Teagan had more or less ignored each other, but he didn't know any siblings who were as contentious and yet there for each other as the Jauntsens. "Hold that thought, Cade, gotta see Devin for a sec." Sean leaned over and fished a stack of papers from his satchel on the chair next to him. With another sheet of paper folded over them to keep them together, Cade couldn't make out what there were, save for some bits of colour at the edges. Rolled up loosely in his hand, Sean hopped off his chair and headed over to where Devin slouched in his seat. Noticing that Kat had come in while he'd been working with Cade, a wide grin spread across his face as he veered towards where she was sitting with Andrew, almost a skip on his step. He leaned in from behind her, and confirmed, "Dark Blue." "Sean!" Kat almost squeaked, whirling around with an almost guilty expression on her face. "Sorry, Kat," Sean apologized, believing he'd startled her. "Didn't mean to interrupt. I can show you later, if you want, 'less you want to keep it a surprise?" He gave Andrew a nod, the other boy once again wondering about Red-Head Sex Cults for a moment. "Andrew. I'll leave you two to it." Sean tilted his head towards Devin. "I was just passing by." Sean sat down at the table across from Devin, laying his sketches flat and sliding them towards him, slim fingers smoothing the edges that had been crinkled by Jauntsen's casual care. "Here's your drawings back, man. Made some good copies with the Faculty printer. Thanks again. When I get around to DLC or expansions for ReGenesis, or a new game, can I fish you for some ideas or concept art?" Cade couldn't help but notice the entrance of the twins, even as Sean had been about to ask about his homecoming plans with Marissa. Watching Sean make the circuit from where Kat was sitting with Andrew, getting a surprised look for whatever he said, and then moving on to Devin. He couldn't hear what was said, and he looked back over to Marissa. She didn't even spare him a glance, and he sighed. He'd fucked up twice already today, and he wondered if a third time would be the charm, or a total strikeout. He didn't know what to say to Marissa, she'd already shot him down, so maybe it was best to just leave her be. He turned back to his work, which he admit he probably wasn't going to be able to focus on. He let out another sigh.
    1 point
  16. The trip up to the Bannon Farm was without incident. It always seemed to be that way, Autumn couldn't help but muse as she sat behind her parents in the back of their car. Whatever fears or excitement were intertwined with her visits to the lonely farmhouse atop the rise in the land overlooking Shelly, the actual getting there was uneventful. No thunder and lightning casting the Bannon home into stark relief against the grey sky, no portents such as crows lining the telephone wires watching, waiting for something to need their services - whether as psychopomps or as carrion disposal. It was to all appearances a normal, if slightly shabby, house on an unremarkable plot of mostly disused farmland, the porch light on, a welcoming island of golden radiance in the dusk. The Keanes were following Gar's jeep as it turned off the road and headed up the dirt and gravel track, though more than once Ian and Dana would cast a glance at the mirrors, at the sleek black Charger following them in turn, its dimmed headlights the baleful eyes of some beast carved from the gloom of the coming night. As they rolled to a stop alongside Gar's vehicle, the Charger turned and followed a smaller dirt track to behind the house, over to the smaller of the two barns. "Come on up." Gar told Autumn and her family warmly as they exited their car, waving them to follow as he led the way up onto the porch and round to the side door which, Autumn knew, led to the kitchen. "Jase will be a minute or two putting his car away, so we can at least get comfortable." The kitchen was much as Autumn recalled it. Decent-sized, clean, and maintained, saucepans on hanging racks, every surface wiped, every knife put away in the block. Two plates with their cutlery were stacked by the sink, two glasses beside them the only signs of recent use. A fair-sized table, large enough for six, with chairs occupied one half of the floor space next to a long, low window the sill of which was covered in small plant pots containing various herbs. A three-row bookshelf on one wall contained a variety of recipe books, and all the usual kitchen appliances and gadgets were present, including a filter coffee pot. It was to this Gar headed after flicking the lights on, smiling over one shoulder at the Keanes as he got five mugs down from the cupboard. "Go ahead, grab a seat. I'll get the coffee started - unless anyone wants something else?" he offered, pausing a moment to regard the three of them. Ian made to raise his hand out of habit, but his wife gently pressed his arm down again, shaking her head. "No, ah, coffee's great, thank you," Dana replied smoothly, eyes wide as she silently implored him not to ask the maybe-recovering-alcoholic for a beer. He stared at her for a moment, then- Oh, shit. They'd talked about this at the field the day before, hadn't they? About Gar Bannon apparently sobering up recently? Grimacing in mute comprehension the keen-eyed entrepreneur nodded, sinking into one of the nearby chairs. "Wait 'til we get home," she murmured, giving his shoulder a reassuring squeeze before letting her hand slip away again. "Sounds ah-mazing," his daughter enthused, visibly cheered at the prospect of real coffee after gamely giving the medical center's commercial brew one more try. She paced restlessly behind her parents, fidgeting with a loose strand of serpentine copper snaking over her shoulder as Dana likewise took a seat at the table. "The Bannons seriously have the best coffee. I don't know what kind of voodoo they do on it, but... ugh," she sighed rapturously, grinning across at Gar as he busied himself with the coffee pot. "So good." "So I've heard." With a bemused eye, the pretty vet watched as Autumn roamed the kitchen, very obviously trying not to be too obvious about the fact that she was waiting for Jase to finish up outside. "You have a lovely home," she continued, both of the elder Keanes giving the kitchen a quick appraisal- or, at least, Dana's was quick, little more than a polite, cursory scan that noted the overall impression of tidiness she wouldn't have expected from a pair of bachelors. Ian, on the other hand, assessed the window frames, the fixtures and fittings, the smoothness of the ceiling and the level of the floor underfoot with a sharp, professional eye. "It is nice, yeah," he nodded agreeably, leaning back to get a better, broader view of the room. "Looks pretty solid. Old farmhouses like this usually have good bones. You guys done any kind of reno work or improvements?" "Bits and pieces, over the years." Gar replied, nodding at the window that ran along the wall next to the table. "Couple years ago, storm took out that window good, so we got the whole thing rebuilt, new frame and all. Had to fix the plumbing after that, too. Re-roofed the north side last year. We've been lucky: Jack Cassidy helped us out at just over cost. Oh, and there's all the shelves we had put in." "Shelves?" Ian asked curiously. Gar smiled, motioning to Autumn's dad to step over to the doorway that led to the rest of the house as he flicked the light switch in the hallway outside. "My God." Ian's tone was surprised enough to cause Dana to likewise get up and peer over her husband's shoulder. Trailing behind, Autumn smiled, knowing already what they were going to see. Bookshelves. Lining the staircase, lining the walls of the hall, floor to ceiling with only an occasional break here and there for electrical outlets. Shelves packed tight with books of all shapes and sizes and subjects, in no particular order but nevertheless tidily stored. It was like looking into a library from the kitchen doorway. "We did the lounge, the dining room, and the upstairs hall. Jase's own room, too." Gar admitted, shrugging at the Keanes with a smile. "They're mostly his, truth be told. He's... uh... a reader." "Has he read all of them?" Ian asked with a faint hush to his voice. There was something almost daunting about the filled shelving, that weight of knowledge, surely more than one person could reasonably work through and comprehend, especially a teenage boy. "Most of them." Jason's voice intruded on the reverie from a few feet behind the party clustered in the kitchen doorway. True to form, he'd padded up behind them silently and was watching them, head tilted slightly, green eyes gleaming. "Recently I've had more important things to do, so I got a little behind." "'Most of them,' he says," the realtor repeated wonderingly, momentarily setting aside fatherly concerns about Jason Bannon having 'more important things to do.' Dealing with interdimensional monsters and aliens and government agencies and... and... whatever else fell under the general heading of 'Insanity' in his 43 years of experience was, Ian Keane decided, a reasonable excuse for not keeping up with the Genius Overachiever's Book Club. It probably had nothing at all to do with Jason being sixteen or so years old, dating his energetic, impressionable, also sixteen-year-old daughter. Maybe. Hopefully. "Well," he added dryly, interrupting his own train of thought and glancing over his shoulder at the young woman in question. "If you're going to be tutoring her anyway, maybe some of that will rub off on Autumn. We've tried getting her to read more, but she's always treated it more like a punishment than anything." Before the girl herself could protest, Dana spoke up, a hint of fond mischief in her warm hazel eyes as she regarded her daughter. "Which is odd, considering this afternoon we got an Amazon delivery of a copy of-" "Oh, good!" Autumn chimed in abruptly, a sudden flush of warmth and high, vivid rose blooming beneath her skin. "I was waiting for that. I'll, uh, get it when we get home. Thanks." Fuck, she swore internally. I can't believe I forgot about- "What?" her mother asked innocently, considering first the impassive, inscrutable boyfriend and then her furiously blushing child with a knowing smirk that tugged at one corner of her mouth, one elegant eyebrow arching skyward. "Sweetheart, you're sixteen. There's nothing wrong with wanting to learn more about-" "Mom!" the horrified redhead all but hissed, as Dana, laughing, relented. "All right, all right." Pulling Autumn close, the grinning veterinarian held her in a one-armed hug for a long moment, kissing the top of her dishevelled hair and giving a quick wink to a thoroughly bewildered Ian, who seemed visibly torn between asking what was going on and talking about the built-ins again. "Let's focus on Jase's collection then. Did he inherit this love of books from you, Gar, or is that something he gets from his mother's side of the family?" There was the slightest pause as Autumn and Gar both thought about Jason's mother's 'side of the family', then Gar leaned a shoulder comfortably against the wall and shrugged. "Bit of both, maybe?" He said with a smile as he glanced at his son speculatively. "I like to read, but if I had to nail it down, I'd say he got his hunger for knowledge mostly from his mother. She'd read everything from history and philosophy to current affairs, always seeking to understand more than she did. I'd find her with her head in my biochemistry textbooks and journals, even - Jase is kinda like that... only turned up to eleven." The elder Bannon gestured at the bookshelves lining the hall. "Other than our favorites which get kept, that's a rotating population of books. Most of those you see there Jase only got and read in the last year or so. When he's done, we donate them to charity or libraries, then go out and buy second hand books from the same places." He shrugged at Ian and Dana's expressions, grinning self-deprecatingly. "I guess it's a bit strange, yeah?" "Everyone's got their own strangeness. It's better than having muddy boots trip you up when you walk in the house." Ian smiled slightly. His wife nodded, nudging Autumn as the younger redhead's freckled features flushed pink. "Or having a teenager who apparently cannot study or do homework without loud music and dancing around her bedroom." Dana added slyly. Autumn reddened further, then cleared her throat and stepped out from under the maternal arm. "So, hey! Coffee smells great. Why don't I go and help Jase with it?" she asked brightly, noticing that the silent, green-eyed Effing One was drifting over to the coffee pot as it finished filling. Without waiting for the go ahead, she moved up next to him, brushing his hip with hers as she smiled sideways up at his impassive features. He flashed her a small smile in return, passing over the cream and sugar as they floated from the fridge to his hands. "Pretty sure my parents are gonna try to trade me for you," she mused, adding a spoonful of sugar to her mug and slightly less to Dana and Ian's as she turned, watching the adults over her shoulder for a moment. "If they ever see how clean your room is, I'm done for." Ian sighed, craning his neck slightly to peer back into the kitchen from whence they'd come, watching the two teens busy themselves with filling mugs and murmuring to each other. He could see the shape of his daughter's smile in profile as she cast a brief glance up at her more reserved beau, but there was something more than just the normal paternal wariness behind his eyes as he considered not only his little girl's immediate happiness, but her future, as well. Even without weird powers, Jason himself really was a little strange- too grown-up by half, too attentive, too inquisitive, too... Different. Not bad, per se, if his treatment of Autumn and his response to the Jauntsens' acrimony was any indication, but... He glanced again at the book-lined walls and exhaled again, as Dana peered up at him. "Keep sighing like that and they'll put you to work at one of those wind farms." Sparing a faint smile for her husband, Dana turned back to Gar and nodded. "And donating books back once you've read them sounds like a practical way to manage things, especially if you're that voracious a reader. Otherwise they'd just take over the house." She hesitated then, wondering if it was all right to ask why he'd used the past-tense when referring to Jason's mother, and why neither of the teens had mentioned her at all. There had been rumors, of course... But those rumors had also painted Jase as a drug-running criminal mastermind and Gareth as a drunken wreck; neither of those, as far as she could tell in the moment, seemed accurate. "It really is an impressive collection," she added, electing to err on the side of caution for now. "And that coffee really does smell amazing. Now that we've had a chance to relax a little after that godawful meeting, I could definitely use a cup." "Coffee's up!" Autumn announced as if in answer to Dana's words, her and Jason bringing the prepared mugs over to the kitchen table as the adults drifted back from their contemplation of the unusual decor. Seats were taken, appreciative inhales were made, coffee was sipped. "Wow." Dana looked down at her cup, then at her husband. "That's-" "Really good." Ian confirmed, relaxing somewhat into his chair as he finished his wife's thought. "I mean, it hardly needs sugar." "Right?" Autumn hmm'd happily as she took another sip from her mug. "I could live here just for the coffee." Gar chuckled, shaking his head. "Jase again." he gestured to his strange son. "He's finicky about food and drink in the home - though I've seen him down three corndogs and five portions of deep fried ice cream at fairs." "Ugh, five?" Autumn made a face, her nose wrinkling as she grinned at her boyfriend. "I feel sick after two." Jase smiled faintly back at her, his green eyes tightening at the corners as he returned her amused glance over his own mug of coffee, emblazoned with the phrase 'I run entirely on coffee, sarcasm and inappropriate thoughts.' There was a moment or two of comfortable, contemplative silence as everyone relaxed, mugs in hand. "So..." Gar said after the moment had passed, leaning his elbows on the table's wooden surface as he cradled his mug in both hands, looking at Autumn's parents sympathetically. "How're you guys holding up after the recent revelations? Better than I did when everything first broke on me, I bet." "After yesterday, I think most of it was..." Ian started to sigh again, but caught himself, casting a surreptitious glance at the auburn-haired woman beside him as she took another slow sip of coffee. "It was a little easier to swallow, but I’m definitely going to need some time to digest it all, if you take my meaning." "Mmm," Dana agreed, setting her mug down as she nodded. A pair of delicate parallel lines appeared between her brows as she focused on the table in front of her, and Autumn had a sudden vision of herself, years hence, frowning in that same, thoughtful way. "I had a bit of an advantage over Ian," she admitted, her teeth catching at the inside of her cheek as her voice tightened. "Dad talked about old family legends and things, the Enemy, Blackfoot myths, crazy local stories and superstitions my whole life." Slender fingers, curled around the reassuring warmth of the cup in her hand, drummed idly against its side. "I didn't believe him, of course. And then he died." Her lips thinned into the ghost of a smile as she looked up, swallowing the taste of the bitterness that lingered on her tongue in defiance of the sweet black brew. "And then last week Autumn came home with letters he'd written, that he'd locked up in an office we'd never been able to open, and yesterday I found out that it wasn't-" Drawing in a deep, shuddering breath, Dana steadied herself as Autumn leaned over, resting her cheek against her mother's arm. "That it wasn't so crazy. I mean, I have a rose made of ice in my freezer that your son just pulled out of nothing and nowhere while we sat at my dining room table." "That-" Autumn cut in, then paused, straightening as she studied her mother's face; Dana was struggling, but holding together, and the younger redhead pursed her lips. Her wide, sea-colored eyes were uncharacteristically serious as she weighed her options, and made her choice. "It wasn't just the letters. There are journals in there... Tons of them, some of them going back before Shelly was Shelly. I was thinking of bringing them up to the house and... if it's okay..." Glancing across at her inscrutable, inquisitive boyfriend, she tried not to think too far ahead, to just ask. What was the worst that could happen? "I thought Jase might want to come by tomorrow, after school, and help me go through them. Maybe we could see if there's anything else in there that might help." Her parents exchanged a glance with each other, then looked at Jason, then at Autumn, who tried not to flush under the scrutiny. Dana looked back at her husband, frowning slightly at the doubtful hesitation on Ian's face. He didn't like the idea, that much was obvious, but couldn't frame a refusal out of thin air. "I'd be happy to help." Jason put in calmly, his gaze showing a flicker of interest. "Primary sources from people who were aware of the Enemy going back as far as your family does locally? It might prove very useful." "I..." Ian started, then paused as he regarded the glacial eyes of the young man across the table from him. "Before we agree to anything" he said cautiously but firmly, holding a hand up slightly as Autumn shifted in her seat. "I think we should discuss something that was brought up in the meeting." "Liam Day." Jase replied, his gaze unwavering as he nodded. Ian nodded in return. "Of course. What would you like to know?" "Your side of things." Ian said. Dana nodded slightly, her eyes on Autumn's face for a moment before shifting her attention to the composed youth. Gar remained silent, his expression tense. "Liam attacked Lona Wilson, sought to rape her." Jase said, matter-of-factly. "It suits some to frame her account of events in doubt, but I saw the bruises and scratches she suffered. She was expressing reluctance to go to the police, possibly because she just wanted to forget about it, or possibly because she felt she wouldn't be believed and it would be drama she didn't need. Whatever her reasons, I knew that Liam Day had a reputation for spiking drinks and generally trying to prey on girls as young as sophomores when he himself graduated last year. His attack on my friend made me angry." "I don't pretend what I did was heroic, or justice. What I did was vengeance, or perhaps punishment. I wanted to hurt him badly enough that he would never contemplate such an action again, to make him feel as helpless and afraid as he made Lona. Did I go too far?" He paused, considering, his pale eyes distant for a moment as he thought. "I think so, in retrospect, yes. I would not handle such a thing in the same way again - not out of any consideration for a rapist, but simply because it alarmed and disturbed my friends, and placed them in a difficult position." For several long moments, silence reigned over the cozy farmhouse kitchen as those present weighed the grave import of that declaration. There was different, after all, and there was distant, and then there was the remote, almost inhuman way in which Jason Bannon had reflected on and described Liam Day’s brutalization. Even Dana, who had begun to develop a sort of nascent fondness for the quiet, quick-witted young genius, felt an icy frisson skitter up her spine on delicate legs; there was no regret in his voice, no remorse in his expression, no sense at all that he gave any thought to the living human target of his wrath. By most accounts- even ones not laced with enough venom to make the local rattlesnake population jealous- the Day boy was unlikely to ever walk, or even speak again. Strange or not, what kind of teenager could do that and apparently feel nothing? Wordlessly, she turned again to her daughter, and only then was the stillness broken as Autumn’s head fell forward onto the table with a quiet, despairing groan. He’d told the truth, of course. The young redhead couldn’t fault him for that, even as she buried her face in her arms and grit her teeth, choking back a scream of impotent frustration. It was the way he’d told it, calmly and conversationally in that infuriatingly rational, quintessentially ‘Jason Fucking Bannon’ manner. That’s not how human beings- at least not ones that weren’t fundamentally broken in some way- dealt with trauma. But he’s not human, is he? No. And he never will be, Autumn. You might as well be dating a wolf... A wild thing that’s only civilized for as long as he wants to be. And that, too, was a truth she couldn’t fault him for, however impossible it made him. Ian was still trying to process Jason’s callousness toward another person- not to mention his tacit rejection of civil authority- when Autumn groaned and half-collapsed onto the table, and the movement jarred something loose in the paternal mechanism of his brain. Liam Day had been targeting sophomores last year, apart from Lona Wilson… Last year… “Autumn.” The utterance of her name was tense, terse, thick with a sudden anxious worry he refused to put words to just yet. “Last year, did-“ Exhaling again, he took a drink of coffee and, not for the last time, wished it were something a little stronger. “Did he ever, I mean-“ “Liam?” She lifted her head, her face flushed from being pressed into her forearms and silently venting her frustrations into the table, and peered at her father as if he’d just asked her about the chemical composition of rocket fuel. “Oh, god, no. He’s always been gross, but he never touched me.” One shoulder twitched upward in an indolent shrug as Autumn sat up again, turning from Ian back to the creamy swirls of caffeinated salvation in her half-full cup. “I-“ Ian hesitated again, then shook his head, idly rubbing the bridge of his nose. “All right. We can… talk about that later, I guess. For now just- just let me clarify, Jason. You attacked Liam Day. You didn't go to the police... Regardless of what he had or hadn't done, you used these powers of yours to ruin his life, and that… That doesn’t bother you?” "Interesting turn of phrase: 'regardless of what he had or hadn't done'. As if my actions took place in a vacuum, as if there was no context, no cause or effect." Jase's tone was mild, but his eyes narrowed faintly. "It was not 'regardless of what he did'. It was entirely based on what he did. I didn't walk out at random and attack a target of opportunity to satisfy some urge - Liam did. Unfortunately for him, his target was my friend." "But it doesn't bother you." Ian repeated, a not-quite-a-question. Jason looked at Autumn for a long moment, a flicker of something in his gaze, then at Dana, his head tilting slightly as he absorbed her expression, then at Ian, meeting the older man's eyes. "I handled it poorly. Would I handle things differently, in retrospect? Yes, as I have said. Do I feel any empathy or remorse for Liam Day? No. His actions defined him as my enemy." he said with slow precision. He glanced at his father's taut expression. "We may as well put all the cards on the table." he stated, looking back at the Keanes. "You would likely find out sooner or later, and I don't want secrets or omissions between us." His eyes rested on Autumn for a moment. "Whatever the truth costs me." "I'm not human, you see." He nodded towards the Keanes’ daughter, her eyes wide as she gazed at him then at her parents. "Autumn knows this, and Devin. It's possible, indeed likely that the Project suspect it." He smiled faintly at the blankly incredulous expressions on Dana and Ian's faces. "I know, I look like a normal young adult, but I'm genetically a little further removed from homo sapiens than they are from homo neanderthalensis." Dana looked sideways at Gar, who was watching intently. "Is this a joke?" Jason's dad shook his head. "No joke. But he definitely gets that from his mothers side of the family." Gar said softly. "I only found out about it myself the other day." "So what are you?" Ian asked, skepticism warring with wariness in his expression and body language. Oddly, Autumn answered. "An offshoot hominid race designed and deliberately evolved for fearlessness, heightened intelligence and aggression, pragmatism, and similar traits that further survival and propagation." she recited, smiling faintly at the surprise that flickered for a second in his gaze. "Yeah. I remembered." she told him, blinking back a moist feeling in her blue eyes. This was it. Any moment now, her parents would drag her out of there, forbid her from seeing him…
    1 point
  17. Exhaling, Autumn ticked off a count of four in her head, resolutely holding her ground despite the intense laser-focus of those bright green eyes- eyes that sometimes felt like a slow-motion dissection in progress, and sometimes like the heat of a blast furnace directed at her face. It's fine, she reminded herself. He doesn't get the nuanced stuff, right? He's still learning how this works, so just... Just... explain the situation. "Wrong in the sense of being inaccurate?" she began, glancing over at the table and trying to keep her voice low. "No. Well, maybe." The redhead frowned and lowered her phone, considering the fact that Tawny and Sophia were the only ones she'd helped in that way, and they couldn't be sure the effects were permanent yet, or even stable. "Probably. In the sense that you volunteered me for something without saying anything to me about it, though? Yeah. Yeah, that's kind of wrong." "Oh." Just that, as he considered. "I did stress to her that I wasn't volunteering you." he remarked, thinking. "Merely that you were possibly a solution and she may wish to seek you out." He paused, considering the taut unhappy expression on Autumn's face. "I didn't consider that you might feel obligated to help." He studied her in that intent way of his. "Is that why you are upset? That I didn't suggest it to you first?" he asked, eyes narrowing in thought. Sighing, Autumn tucked her phone away in her back pocket and dragged a hand back through the rebellious coils of copper atop her head, fingers buried amidst the loosening strands that were gradually working their way free of her ponytail. It felt too easy, this simple, straightforward process of acknowledgement and apology. And, sure, it was nice not to argue, or have to go through a lot of stupid drama and misunderstandings and all that, but... It kind of just seemed clinical. ...Which, yeah, made sense considering the lack of intuitive empathy, and she definitely didn't hate the fact that he listened and took her seriously when she had a problem. Is it always going to be like this, though? she wondered. Like, if they dated for a long time, would it eventually get easier for him, or for her, to speak the other's metaphorical language? "I just," she murmured, peering up at him as if eye contact alone could convey emotional nuance and content. "I don't mind helping, if I can. I just want to be the one who decides if and when and how I do it. Like with the marshal. I did that because I wanted to," the expressive redhead insisted, leaning in a little more as the sound of the adult voices in the background quieted a bit. "I made that choice on my own, for my own reasons. Look, I get that Lilly's your friend, but honestly, I barely know her at all and she hasn't said a single word to me since she disappeared for her competition or whatever. Not one, Jase. Not when we were all here at the farm, not at the picnic. Nothing. Maybe she feels awkward because I'm dating you now." With a shrug, she dismissed the thought. "Honestly don't know, and mostly don't care. That's a Lilly problem. The Autumn problem is that I don't want other people, even my friend or boyfriend, offering me up. Tell me what's going on, or what your suggestion is, and let me decide." Wide blue eyes, their depths flecked with glimmers of gold and green and shadowed with grey, searched Jason's angular features. "Does that make sense?" "It does." he said, his eyes never leaving hers as his hand came up to brush at a coppery curl that lay against her freckled ivory cheek. "I apologise. I didn't think of it as offering you up, but I can see why it might feel that way." "As for Lilly... She expressed that she didn't feel comfortable necessarily approaching you, that you seemed distant to her." He pondered for a moment. "I don't understand why she hasn't spoken to you before now either. I pointed out that so far as I knew, you had no problem with her, and you were willing to heal the hands of the person who shot me, so I doubted there was any level of animosity that would prevent you from at least considering helping her." He hesitated at the change in Autumn's expression, his own eyes blinking in momentary confusion. "I... shouldn't have said that either, should I?" he asked slowly, realising that there was another blip appearing on the threat radar. For a moment, one that felt to her as if it stretched on interminably, Autumn didn't respond. She simply stared back at him, eyes wide and incredulous as her pupils shrank to tiny islands lost amidst a turbulent grey sea of anger and confusion. Why would he do that? Anyone else might have gotten off with the excuse that they just didn't think, but Jason? He had reasons for everything he did, it was all a conscious, considered choice. Wasn't it? "No," she managed finally, exhaling the single syllable on one long, shuddering breath. "No, you shouldn't, and I'm not sure why you thought it was a good idea. Not only is it none of Lilly fucking Pryor's goddamned business," she hissed through clenched teeth, "or anybody else's, it's not your place to tell people about what I do, or don't do. Especially not when I deliberately didn't fucking tell anybody, my fucking parents included, because the millisecond it gets out that I healed her and she talked, unless Enterich is gone, she's probably dead," the redhead seethed, her inner voice's screams of frustration reaching a piercing crescendo as she railed against the impenetrable, inscrutable inhumanness of her boyfriend. "I thought we had an agreement, an, an..." Her free hand twitched, fingers flexing in a restrained motion that- in different circumstances- would have been an outflung arm reaching for the words she couldn't quite find. "An understanding," she whispered sharply up at him, a liquid, shimmering veil of emotion welling up in her eyes. This was stupid, and Autumn knew it. It might even be unfair, all things considered, when earlier that morning he'd nearly died. And getting angry wasn't going to help- it was rarely productive, even with normal people who had normal brains in normal arguments. If anything, history seemed to suggest that directing emotional outbursts at Jason Fucking Bannon tended to go badly for whatever unlucky, intemperate idiot was doing the emoting. And yet, despite knowing that, there was nothing she could do to stop it. "We don't tell other people's stories. Not unless we have to. Did you really think I needed a goddamned character reference that fucking badly?" "It wasn't about giving you a 'character reference'." he replied calmly, though not without a tightening at the edges of his eyes. "It was about convincing Lilly to seek help. She was the victim of a supernatural attack on her psyche, one that shattered her confidence and courage, leaving emotional scars even I could detect." He kept his gaze on Autumn's, his tone level and quiet as, nearby, their parents chuckled at some quip. "To reiterate: I shouldn't have approached her without talking to you first. I placed you on the spot, and in your words, offered you up. That was thoughtless of me. I didn't, however, tell her any details about who shot me, or that she talked, the extent of the damage to her hands or indeed anything about the situation other than the fact that you healed them." He paused for a moment, considering. "Ideally, were I able to do it over, I would have approached you first on the matter and then let you decide how to approach Lilly. I tried to resolve the situation and persuade Lilly of the wisdom of seeking help as efficiently as was prudent, but I didn't stop to consider your feelings on the matter." His lips twitched in a slight frown. "I didn't mean to cause offence." Everything was wrong. The whole day- not just these last few minutes of tense, quiet argument, or even the last few hours of finger-pointing and venom-spitting- had gone completely sideways and upside-down and awful. They'd barely made it out of the hellscape of Arawn's blighted nightmare world the night before, and then, somehow, all the bad things that hadn't already happened the previous week all fell together in one godforsaken day; she might have laughed at the ridiculousness of it all if she weren't already furious and exasperated and about to cry from the sheer overwhelming amount of what-the-actual-fuck. It wasn't even about Lilly, or Marissa, or any one specific thing, it was just- "If you had just- uggghhhh," Autumn groaned, the soft subvocalization little more than a low, throaty exhalation as she pressed her hand over her eyes, blocking out the sight of her boyfriend, his kitchen, and their families for a moment. Yes. 'If he had.' But he didn't, that inner Autumn grudgingly pointed out. He didn't, and unless he's thrown together a time machine in the last few days, he can't. So... So...? So, deal with it. The redhead's arm fell limply back to her side. "- the worst interview of my life. I'm not even kidding," Ian swore cheerfully, leaning back in his chair with one hand held aloft and the other resting on his heart. "I was totally unprepared, totally out of my depth, and to make things even worse, it wasn't even for a paid position. They wanted a damn intern." With a rueful chuckle, the native New Yorker tipped back his mug, draining the last of the coffee within. "So when I slunk out of there, I thought, 'I wonder if that cute redhead and her friends are still up at that coffee shop?' And," he added, shrugging slightly as he smiled at his wife, a hint of boyishness lingering around his eyes, "I guess I hadn't used up all my luck yet that day, because they were." "I need some air," Autumn announced suddenly, turning away from her boyfriend and the maybe-annoyed, maybe-thoughtful expression suggested by the subtle narrowing of his pale eyes. Was he angry? Disappointed? Offended? Did any of those descriptions even apply to him? It was hard to tell, and she didn't really feel like adding another entry to her 'Bannon For Dummies' notes at the moment, or listening to the story of how her parents hooked up a hundred years ago. If nothing else, she could ask him once she'd calmed down enough to deal with conversation again, but for now... She needed to move, to walk under the stars in all their glittering, indifferent glory, to do something with the restrained energy and emotion practically vibrating along every nerve and sinew. "Just headed outside for a minute," she explained, setting her coffee cup on the counter and offering the adults what she hoped might pass for a smile. "Back in a bit." "Oh..? Okay." Ian looked round from the conversation, smiling in slight bemusement as Autumn headed for the door. Dana, with her more sensitive maternal antennae, frowned very slightly as she scrutinised her daughter and the silent, still figure leaning against the kitchen counter. Autumn was already stepping out of the back door onto the porch that ran around the farmhouse, however, and Jason was watching her leave with only a faint tilt of his head to mark any expression before his gaze shifted unerringly to meet the older redhead's. Not human, the thought came unbidden to Dana as she met that depthless, intent pale stare, and though she was almost immediately ashamed of the atavistic chill that prickled the back of her neck. At least she knew, now, why the strange young man was so strange. And there was a curious quality to that knowledge, as though believing him to be perhaps autistic or just 'different' had made him less threatening whereas, now, she knew his oddness marked him as a predator. Not in the sense of behaviour, as humans might refer to other humans as 'predatory'. But as a function of his nature, like a wolf, or a big cat, perhaps? A cat, Dana decided as she studied that impassive, scarred face with it's lambent green eyes that saw much and gave back little. You couldn't be certain what was going on behind that gaze - all you could go off was how he acted. Oddly, thinking of him as an intelligent two-legged predatory animal helped, as though that was somehow easier to process than 'genetically engineered alien warrior'. "So how did you meet your wife?" Dana heard her own voice say, then caught herself and looked at Gar wide-eyed. She'd asked the question innocently, almost autonomically, as a way to distract herself from the silent youth across the room. "Oh... I'm sorry-!" "No, it's fine." Gar interrupted her, raising a hand slightly. "Seriously. It's... Not as sore a point as it used to be. We've..." he cast a glance over at Jason. "We've actually been back in touch recently." "Really?" Dana also glanced at Jason, who was silent, unmoving... unmoved, even. "Yeah." Gar smiled a little. "So I don't mind telling the story. It was in college - we had a couple classes together and she was eye-catching, but aloof from everyone. She didn't hang out with girlfriends or boys, didn't laugh or smile. She just showed up, did the work, asked questions - good ones most of the time - then left to go God-knows where." Jason stirred, whatever contemplations that had been going on in his head obviously done with for now, and as he watched his father smile faintly as he told the tale, he silently thanked Dana for providing the additional distraction. Quietly, unobtrusively, he slipped out of the kitchen door after Autumn. "...So my friend ran a ju-jitsu class on campus, and I was getting pretty good at it, helping out with the teaching. So when the gorgeous blonde from class showed up wanting to learn I was naturally assigned to coach her like any other beginner..." His father's voice fell away behind him as Jason stepped, soft-footed, into the late summer night, letting his eyes adjust as he glanced around, looking for his girlfriend. The evening air was blessedly cool on her flushed skin as Autumn jogged quickly down the handful of wooden steps leading from the wraparound porch to the lawn, her gaze sweeping across the dark sea of overgrown fields as she circled around the side of the house. The moon, nearly half-full, glowed pale over the southwest horizon like the heavy-lidded eye of some distant celestial observer- seeing all, revealing little- and for the redhead who instinctively sought its position against the deepening darkness of the night sky, that was... mostly fine. Better an uncaring universe than an actively malevolent one, after all, even if the events of recent weeks had given her a growing sense of uncertainty about which they actually lived in. 'I need some air,' she'd said. Space to move, room to breathe. And wandering through the unfamiliar environs rendered stranger still by the faint moonlight, Autumn found precisely that. Sure, she'd been to the Bannon farm before, but the presence of others and preoccupation with the days' activities had always been something of a distraction. Now, with some distance between herself and any other humans- or near-humans, for that matter- it was easier to think. ...Or, more to the point, easier not to think. Not to think about walking nightmares, near-death experiences, conspiracies, school, alien gods, or even just sort-of-alien geniuses who said and did stupid, infuriating things because their mental calculus didn't provide for emotional variables or normal human expectations. Ugh. Wincing a little as she tugged the elastic band from her hair, Autumn gingerly rubbed her scalp where the ponytail holder had been pulled free of an unruly snarl of curls. "Ow," she hissed sharply, running her fingers carefully through the tangled locks as she navigated the shadowy yard. The barn that housed Jason's miniature Eden loomed as a massive black shape nearby, along with the smaller one for the Bannons' vehicles and machinery, and, further on, a pair of gnarled trees whose leafy boughs stretched out in silhouette against the distant star-flecked sky. Rolling the elastic band onto her wrist, the redhead shifted course and, hands thrust into her jeans pockets, wandered toward them. Probably fruit trees? she guessed as she approached, given that they were near-ish to the farmhouse, though in the dark it was impossible to tell what kind. Running her hand lightly over the trunk of the larger one, she could feel the faint hum of energy there beneath the bark, the not-quite-vibration of healthy arboreal life intersecting with her own, the tenuous barrier separating them, and smiled a little, despite her frustration. On impulse, the energetic redhead glanced up into the boughs overhead and, with a little jump, grabbed hold of one of the low-hanging branches. It was a good tree, she knew, with an instinct born of a youth spent clambering into- and falling out of- many like it. Kicking her feet up against the trunk for leverage, she hauled herself up onto the limb and sat astride it, legs swinging as she leaned back against the solidity of the living wood behind her and closed her eyes, letting the scents and sounds of the summer evening carry her away from herself for a moment. It had taken him a few minutes to work out where she'd gone. Jason had silently circled the porch in the gloom, letting his eyes get used to the darkness, and had seen no sign of her in the immediate environs of the farmhouse . So he'd stopped for a moment, thinking, then had drifted around to the rear of the house, pale eyes searching for movement near the barns or- Yes. There was a lithe shape currently scrambling up into the apple tree that grew out of the uncut grass just beyond the vegetable patch. It seemed very Autumn-like: that restless burst of energy, fueled by her irritation, driving her to activity, any activity. Motion, warmth and energy where he was stillness, cool and contained. He pondered that contrast as he silently padded through the night toward her, his fingertips brushing the ends of the long grass, his eyes on the shape now relaxing against the trunk, legs idly dangling down. He could pick out the faint glints of copper in her tumbling hair in the moonlight, and mused that their natures weren't so easily defined as opposite - after all, in the right (or wrong) circumstances he could be furious, searing heat without limitation or conscience. She occupied the middle ground between the binary of his own nature, but there was more to the two of them than a simple balancing act, wasn't there? He stopped a few metres away from the tree, silently studying the lines of her upturned face, glowing ivory in the pale light of the half moon. Yes. Yes there was. There was attraction, desire, a sense of enjoyment of one another's company. He took pleasure in her smile... and her being upset left him with a sense of disquiet that was faint, but profound. He recalled his words to her in the hospital earlier that day: "You matter to me" True words, spoken sincerely. She mattered to him - her happiness mattered to him. It occurred to the detached young near-human that his life was richer, more textured for having her in it. Could she understand that? Did he even fully understand it? Perhaps she still thought he had feelings for Marissa, it occurred to him as he watched her profile. After all, they had gotten together with the understanding that it was possible Marissa would decide she wanted him after all... But the lean youth realised he no longer even felt conflicted about that possibility, as he had perhaps 24 hours ago. He didn't want Marissa Jauntsen, for all her imperious beauty and grace, for all her pride and calculating nature. Once, yes, he'd found her admirable, if confusing, but that time was days in the past now. She might not be his enemy, she might even become a friend again, but when compared with the warm passionate energy kindled by the tousle-haired, freckle-faced redhead in the tree Marissa seemed a cold, distant star indeed. Perhaps too similar to himself - in that respect anyway. But Autumn... she created something else within the searing core of his being. A desire for warmth, and to warm in turn. He focused, tiny motes of golden-orange light beginning to form in the air in front of him as he gently fed energy into the molecules and atoms there. A balancing act - heat that would warm rather than burn, fire that wouldn't ignite whatever it touched. The motes swirled in the air before him, growing in number and brightness - hundreds, then thousands of them. In theory, it was similar to the firenado he had called down on Arawn/Cody. But the heat was diffuse, the individual motes of fire contained rather than blending into a roaring, terrible, destructive inferno. Instead of that, there was a swarm of literal fire-flies, their radiance flickering and dancing in the night as he cast them out and up, into and around the branches of the tree, letting them dance there like a galaxy's worth of golden stars around his girlfriend. The subtle swirls of color behind Autumn's closed eyelids brightened as she sat there amid the leaves, vaguely aware of the progress of an ant ticklishly exploring her bare forearm. Her whole world, it seemed, had shrunk from the contemplation of her own exasperations and worries to simple sensation: the rough texture of the bark through her t-shirt, the hint of a cool breeze whispering across her face, the weight of her feet swinging lazily beneath her, the occasional soft call of a night bird seeking its mate. Flickers of warm sunlight filtered through the deep, drowsy currents in which her mind had been drifting, drawing her back toward awareness. And it was warm, she realized, eyes flying open as she straightened suddenly and- -immediately froze, wide-eyed at the luminous points of incandescent gold whirling in incomprehensible constellations through the night air around her. "Oh, holy fuck," she thought/gasped simultaneously, reflexively tightening the grip of her thighs on either side of the branch beneath her as the world contracted in shock. Smothering the instinctive flare of panic at being encircled by a shower of sparks, she sat perfectly still for a long moment, clutching the tree limb, barely breathing. "What the hell...?" she whispered finally, when the crown of the apple tree didn't erupt into flames and no pinpricks of scorching heat seared her skin. Tentatively raising a hand, the awestruck redhead trailed her fingertips through the scintillating, swirling display, leaving the tiny, flickering lights to eddy and spiral in the wake of her movement. Whatever they were, they didn't seem dangerous, and though she could feel faint traces of residual heat, they weren't actually hot. "They're like... little stars," she murmured, a broad, childlike smile slowly curving her lips as she shifted on the branch, steadying herself to gaze up into the glimmering lights weaving through the darkness. It wasn't the weirdest thing she'd seen lately, not by a long shot- but it was among the coolest. Leaning forward, Autumn pushed her hair behind her ears and turned this way and that, trying to take in the contrast of brilliant orange and gold against the velvet shadows beyond; as a sudden thought struck, she fished her cell phone from her pocket and straightened again, snapping a quick photo of the incredible phenomenon. "Where did you come from?" she wondered aloud, as she might have asked a stray dog that found its way to her doorstep. As if in answer, the dancing motes of golden flame swirled and spread out, some remaining near the wonder-struck girl as the rest created their shifting, scintillating constellation centered around the tree in which she sat. The light they cast was less concentrated now, and Autumn could make out a lean figure quietly moving through the grass below the branch she was perched on. He gazed up at her, golden sparks reflected in the green depths of his eyes as the fiery motes swirled over his head, striking glints of dark and light bronze and from his skin and hair. "You like them?" he asked quietly, studying her expression with that intent way of his, head tilted slightly as he took in her reaction. "I wanted to show you... how you make me feel. When you smile at me. When you fought for me. When you held me, a week and a lifetime ago, just over there on the porch bench." His eyes left her face for a moment, glancing at the slowly moving miniature starfield he had called into being before his gaze fixed on her again. "Wonder. Joy. Warmth. You give those things to me, just by being in my life." He paused, trying to gauge her expression. It was kind of unfair, honestly, if she thought about it- and, for just a few seconds, she did, looking down at him looking up at her. Cheating, a little rebellious part of her mind, still fully dedicated to being annoyed with him, asserted hotly. After all, even if a normal human boyfriend might still have upset her for exactly the same reason, he wouldn't have been able to conjure up a scene like this or utter those words without stuttering and making it sound like total cringe. Jason meant it, though, she knew, just as he'd meant he didn't care if the marshals lived or died, that he struggled with relating to people, and that he loved Marissa Jauntsen. And that... was also kind of unfair, wasn't it? One day she'd have to explain to him that it was possible for normal human women to misunderstand those sorts of comments or thoughtful gestures, especially when combined with his characteristically straightforward delivery and the near-hypnotic pull of those green eyes. Some future girlfriend- not her, of course- could easily get the wrong idea, and so one day she'd need to warn him. Just... not today, she decided, ignoring the accompanying little twinge of guilt for the sensation of warmth his gaze kindled within her. "First, I don't like them," Autumn clarified, carefully slipping her phone back into her jeans pocket. "I love them," she enthused quietly, that giddy, guileless smile returning for a moment. "I mean, just... Wow." The last syllable was a soft, almost reverent exhalation as she leaned back against the trunk of the tree, lifting her gaze to watch the silent dance of the miniature candle flames flickering and flaring around them. "You know?" Glancing back down at the tall wiry form of her boyfriend for confirmation, she grinned in spite of herself, shaking her head in disbelief. "Every time you use your powers for something new, I keep thinking, 'That's amazing. I don't think he could possibly do anything any more amazing than that.' And then," she shrugged with a quiet huff of laughter, "you do." He smiled slightly, a crinkling of the edges of his eyes emphasising the pleased glow of the reflected fireflies as his lips curved for a moment. He glanced around at the field of stars circling the tree under which he stood and in which Autumn sat, and then raised his face once more to her, head tilting in curiousity. "And second?" "Second," she sighed, swinging her leg over the branch to face him directly, "apology accepted. I mean, you didn't really have to go quite this far," the redhead added with a bemused grin, a flash of humor in her eyes captured by the twinkling of the airborne embers around them. "But." Bracing her palms atop the limb on either side of her hips, feet swinging in a half-conscious expression of the energy that animated her, Autumn leaned forward slightly, meeting his gaze as the weight of her hair tumbled forward over her shoulders. "I appreciate it. So, thanks for that. For this," she amended. "Just, y'know. Please try not to just decide things on my behalf in the future, unless you have to. Like, I'm bleeding to death and need a transfusion or I'll die, or something."
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  18. "Designed by who?" Dana asked. "The Ancients, or Precursors if we use Devin's term. Two of them, Coyote and Arawn, wanted weapons against the Darkness, a long time ago. Before Arawn got corrupted or their vessel got stuck here, if I'm any judge. So they used humans as the base, and then used their technology, or perhaps their powers - who knows - to genetically engineer a warrior race. The other Precursors found out and didn't approve, from what I gather, and sealed the new race away in another dimension." Jason took a sip of his coffee. "Glossing over the unimportant details, my mother escaped that place and came here, met my father, and the usual thing happened. So no, I'm not an alien." "Fearlessness, aggression and pragmatism..." Dana mused, feeling those prickles down her spine again. "Traits of a psychopath." "I thought I was, for a long time." Jason nodded. "There are differences, though. I'm capable of in-group loyalty: like a wolf to his pack, or a lion to his pride. The good of those I care about is important to me. More to the point, I am capable of caring about others, fiercely so." He sighed softly. "But I am incapable of intuitive empathy, of remorse, of fear or pity." He looked at Autumn's parents. "I always wondered how I would broach the subject with the two of you, whether it would become necessary, how you would react. In case you were wondering, none of you have anything to fear from me. I... care about Autumn. A great deal. She is more special to me than perhaps even she realises - because she has always sought to understand me, always helped me to understand her. And you have been nothing but kind to me." For a moment, he looked as though he would say more, but he fell silent instead, taking a drink from the mug in his hand, the pale cold pools of his eyes glimmering with some undefined feeling. "Jesus Christ," Ian muttered, shaking his head as he leaned on the table, chin in hand. He sat like that for a moment, scrutinizing the faces of the others assembled and studying, in particular, the aloof countenance of the young man opposite him. Maybe, he allowed, what Jason had said was the real, honest-to-god truth. It wouldn't necessarily be the strangest thing he'd heard so far that day, what with talk of spaceships and ancient gods and dark spirits, and Autumn certainly seemed convinced; she, at least, was easy enough for the canny broker to read. Even if it were true, though, where did that leave them: at the mercy of a young man who was, by his own admission, a minor variation on the theme of psychopathy? “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to that,” he admitted, nudging the handle of his mug where it sat on the table, turning the near-empty cup in a slow, irregular circle. “I really don’t. You’re telling me you’re part of some near-human warrior race that can’t feel fear or regret, that can't empathize with other people, that’s designed on a genetic level to be more aggressive… But we don’t have any reason to be afraid of you? I’m not trying to be the asshole, here, but where’s the boundary between this in-group loyalty, and Liam Day? You’re dating my daughter, for crying out loud, and sure, you care about her, but... What happens when you two-?“ “Dad.” Autumn cut in, frowning worriedly, “Just… Just listen for a sec, okay? Anybody, anybody can do terrible things, really awful stuff. And…” she hesitated for a moment, remembering Cassie’s face as the seer had described the fate of the young boy in the basement of the Old Town Hall. Her stomach twisted and she swallowed hard before adding, a little more quietly, “And they do. Just regular people. All the time, even here in Shelly. Maybe they’re sick, or had too much to drink, or had a bad day at work, or.. or they’re just broken inside, somehow. Being human- or not- doesn’t make them any better or worse, any more or less dangerous. The marshals who shot Jase were regular people,” she continued, the openly expressive teen’s eyes bright and liquid with emotion. “Not psychopaths, not Teulu, not special. And they shot him in the head, tried to kill him, just because somebody else told them to and they were scared.” “Sweetheart,” Ian began, but Autumn shook her head, her loose ponytail swaying exuberantly as the elastic band that constrained it struggled to remain in place. “Jase is always going to be Jase,” she insisted, her gaze fixed on her father’s. “Not panicky, not defensive, not violent for no reason. As far as I know, he's never hurt anybody who didn't earn it. He may be more like a wolf, or a lion, than a dog or a housecat, but he’s not some crazy rabid animal just waiting for a chance to bite somebody. Trust me,” the redhead added soberly, only a faint tremor of emotion underscoring her words. “I may not ever know everything there is to know about him, or even close to it, but I'm sure about the last part. Because not only would I not be dating him otherwise, but I’m pretty sure the meeting earlier would’ve been smaller than it was." As she took a long, deliberate sip of coffee, Dana held up a slender hand in wordless interruption. “Before we go any further down this road, there are other things I want to talk about. We can discuss dating and morality once I’m satisfied we’ve dealt with more immediate concerns. All right?” she asked, eyebrows raised in maternal challenge as she gazed intently at both her husband and daughter. “Fine,” Ian sighed in frustration, leaning back in his chair as a chastened and somewhat abashed Autumn nodded, cupping the still-warm mug in both hands to steady them. “Good,” she replied briskly, the emphasis on that single syllable a stone lid closing with sepulchral finality. “Then, now that we’ve finished with the Inquisition for a little while, Gar, what would you like to know about us?” "Oh... uh..." Gar fumbled for a moment, torn between gratitude towards the slim vet for the change of topic and being out of practice with making normal polite conversation. Jason didn't really do small talk and Hank's was a mixture of laconic hmm's and grunts along with the occasional expletive-laden wry observation. Jason's dad took a breath. "Uh, okay. First up, anyone want a top-up on their coffee?" he hazarded, getting to his feet and heading over to the pot. Dana smiled at him, holding out her mug as he came back. "Please, and thank you. It's wonderful." "Specialty place in Great Falls. I've got their business card around here someplace if you want to check it out." Gar said as he poured for Dana, then Autumn. Ian hesitated for a moment, obviously uncomfortable sitting across from the laser-green stare of his daughter's boyfriend, but good coffee was good coffee, and he could foresee the evening being troublesome enough without his being pointlessly rude. Autumn was definitely digging her heels in over her pet alien, and he was experienced enough with Dana's moods to know that, whilst she was concerned, she was not guaranteed to be on his side if there was a parent/daughter set-to. He nodded to Gar, pushing his mug forwards and mouthing his thanks. It was good coffee, after all. "So..." Gar said as he settled down into his chair once more. "I guess the big question comes from the obvious: how'd you two meet?" He smiled faintly. "I know the Kavanaghs go back generations here, and Ian sounds like an East-coast man." He tilted his head curiously. "College sweethearts?" he ventured, sipping from his mug. "Yeah, actually," Ian nodded, visibly relaxing as the subject shifted from supernatural, existential, and potentially ecclesiastical worries to something normal, something familiar. Eyeing his wife’s profile for a moment, the thought surfaced, between ruminative sips of coffee, that perhaps he was wrong about the familiarity. There were subtle differences in her features, in her bearing, suggestions of time’s relentless march and the shifting tides of emotion that he hadn’t noticed before. She looked more like Caroline, he realized, even as Autumn- watching Jason with the avid intensity of a child trying to suss out a stage magician’s secrets- looked more like her than he remembered from his last visit. Everything seemed to be changing around him, on macroscopic and microscopic levels. Was he also changing? he wondered. What would his college-aged self think of the man he’d become? It was an uncomfortable thought; even so, there was a hint of expectation in Dana’s eyes as she turned and looked at him, resting her chin on her hand in a way that remained etched in his memory, somehow unchanged and unchanging, even as the memory of the habitual gesture unraveled the patient weaving of the years. "At least, she was in college at the time,” he added quietly, the pale slate-blue of his eyes warming slightly at the thought. “It’s a boring story,” Dana remarked, although the subtle quirk at the corner of her mouth and the soft wash of pale rose beneath her skin belied her feeling on the matter. “It’s a gross story,” their daughter muttered emphatically into her mug as she braced her elbow on the table, cheek firmly ensconced in palm. Ignoring the pointed criticism from his female audience, Ian tilted his cup toward their host, wordlessly refocusing on the question Gar had asked. “I was 22, I’d finished my brokerage licensing six months prior, and I didn’t have a job yet. I was running out of money, and it was cold.” “It was February,” Dana reminded him teasingly, watching him as she lifted her mug to her lips. “February is cold in New York,” he replied, somewhat defensively. Laughing, his wife seized on the opening he’d provided, shaking her head in robust denial as she wagged a finger in his direction. “Oh, no. I distinctly remember you telling Mom you didn’t know what cold was until you moved here.” “That was just-” he began, visibly affronted, then checked himself. “I was just trying to make conversation, and I was nervous and didn't know what to talk about besides the weather. Your mother could be terrifying.” This last admission was uttered softly, soberly, as if the canny entrepreneur were imparting some secret in great confidence. “Must be hereditary.” Autumn’s eyes were wide and guileless over the rim of her mug as she tipped it up to her lips, attentively studying the titles of the cookbooks on the shelves. Ian choked back a startled laugh as the Keane matriarch levelled sharp, unamused glares at both of her charges. “Anyway,” her father continued with a grin, helpfully warding off any immediate maternal retaliation even as his wife's scowl confirmed his point. “It is cold in New York. It’s just a different kind of cold here. Sort of a-“ “Ian Michael Keane, so help me, if you say it’s a dry cold you are walking home, mister.” The threat was undermined somewhat by a tremor of laughter in Dana’s voice as she mock-glowered at him, then sighed and shook her head again, eyes sparkling as she turned back to Gar. “I’m so sorry. I can’t take him anywhere.” The older Bannon smiled at Dana, his usual air of sad-eyed stoicism lifting for a moment as he threw a wryly sympathetic glance at Ian. "We moved here from the Northwest - I know what you mean about the winters here. But on the upside, at least there's a spring, and the summers aren't all clouds, rain and mosquitoes and last more than one week a year." He glanced at his son, who was silent, watching and listening as he always did when people he was interested in were... being people, his eyes shifting from face to face as he studied their reactions, analysed their words and tone. Those eyes drifted over to meet Autumn's gaze, catching the guileless redhead staring at him avidly, and a faint arch of one eyebrow and twitch of his lips betrayed Jason's smile as Autumn's cheeks turned pink, though neither teen dropped or shifted their gaze for the longest moment. She only looked away, finally, with bronze-flecked cheeks glowing to match her hair, when Ian cleared his throat in that vaguely disapproving paternal way- the auditory equivalent of The Look his wife had perfected. Swiping away the wildflower-strewn lock screen on her phone, Autumn distracted herself from those observant green eyes by tapping out a pair of messages while her father continued. To Cass: [Hey! Totally short notice, I know, but are you still down for the skateboarding thing this week?] To Lilly Pryor: [Hi. I don't know if you have my number already, but this is Autumn Keane. Anyway, if you're gonna be around, next time we're all at the Bannons' or whatever I have something for you.] "...finally got an interview. They weren't a big firm, but the way I saw it, it was at least a foot in the door, right? So there I am, on a Tuesday morning at the beginning of February, standing on the sidewalk outside this little coffee shop. And I'm just- you know, you stop for a second, you don't have a mirror, so you just use a window to make sure you look half-decent. I'd just gotten a haircut the day before, so it still felt weird, and I was just checking, you know? Was my hair sticking up? Was my tie straight? That kind of thing." Almost before she could set the phone back on the table, it vibrated in her hand. That was fast, she mused, wondering which of the girls had been so quick on the draw. From Cade Allister: //Hey autumn, I spoke with Ms. Giles, and got the same deal you were told, I can go help with the cats as long as I get my parents' permission. I don't know when you're planning to go, or ask your own folks, but as I'd said, I'd like to be there to help, even if all I can do is provide moral support, and keep him calm. Maybe we can coordinate this for later in the week?// Chapters, my guy, the redhead sighed to herself, pursing her lips as she turned over possible responses in her head. It sort of made sense for Cade to tag along, at least insofar as he seemed to be good with animals in a weird Dr. Dolittle kind of way, although it was hard to know what he could do while the smilodon was unconscious and- hopefully- getting its natural hardware untangled from whatever Klein's scientists had added artificially. Also, the idea of hanging out with Marissa's fake boyfriend was kind of- Bzzzt Another notification. Glancing somewhat guiltily up at the adults, Autumn slid her chair back from the table, scooping up her coffee as she murmured a quick, "Sorry," at the interruption and retreated to the periphery of the room. From Cass: //Yeah! Thats just the distraction i need right now! What day is good 4 u?// Hmm. That was a good question. In theory, tomorrow afternoon was supposed to be spent going over her family journals with Jase, but now that her family knew about the whole Teulu thing, about the fact that he wasn't human... A knot of anxiety twisted uncomfortably in the pit of her stomach, warring with the near-ambrosial warmth of the Bannons' coffee. "...So anyway," Ian continued, nodding at his daughter in acknowledgement, "it gets cloudy for a second and I can see through the glass, and there's this girl on the other side." Dana shook her head, smiling at the memory as she took another sip from her mug. "And she's just..." The cool, distant blue of the businessman's eyes warmed, his expression softening. "Just wow. Really, really just... Freckles, gorgeous eyes, and the cutest nose-" "Ian," his wife admonished him firmly, but without rancor, as the older redhead's rosy cheeks demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that Autumn came by her blushes honestly. The girl herself, pacing idly around the edge of the kitchen as she remained glued to her phone, gave a soft ugh of protest and glanced briefly heavenward. Gross. "All right, all right. So there's this totally adorable girl, and the worst part- the absolute worst," Ian grimaced, "is that she's making faces back at me. I was so embarrassed I could've walked into traffic." Bzzzt The sound of Dana's laughter filled the kitchen, then, interrupted only by her vehement protests. "Ian Keane, you know good and well I wasn't-" "Let me finish," he interjected, grinning as he held up a hand to forestall further comments from his furiously blushing bride. "So as I was saying, I was horrified. How long had she been sitting there making fun of me, knowing I couldn't see her? I'd been nervous before, about the interview, but after that..." From Lilly Pryor: //Do you think we could meet up some time before? I think I need your help.// Autumn's brows knit together in a frown as she paused mid-step, head tilted slightly. What in the world would Lilly Pryor need her help for? It wasn't like they'd ever been more than tenuous acquaintances, at best, and after the way she'd acted on Sunday... With another soft, almost inaudible ugh, the outdoorsy teen tried to imagine happier, more pleasant things, like the smell of wood smoke, sunlight filtering down through the canopy of leaves overhead, the sound of the creek running over the rocks along the bank, and slow-burning kisses from a boyfriend with smoldering jade eyes... Okay, maybe not that much happier, she reflected wryly, turning away from the table as the tell-tale sensation of warmth crept inexorably up the sides of her face. But at least the thought itself was distraction enough. Taking a long sip from the swirling mixture of tan and ivory in her mug, Autumn peered at her screen and began thumbing through responses to the texts she'd gotten, proceeding in the order in which they'd been received. To Cade Allister: [Um, sure? It'll probably be this weekend, I can text you when I have more info. I'm aiming for Saturday, but it depends on when my dad can be here.] Her parents, despite the revelations of the last couple of days, were being very- almost conspicuously- chill. She wondered if seeing what their daughter was capable of- beyond tinkering with a patch of grass- would change that. Using her powers on a living thing... Only one way to find out, I guess. In spite of herself, the young redhead grinned as she tabbed over to the conversation with the plucky blonde journalist. The idea of learning how to skateboard from Cassie had been kind of a spur-of-the-moment thought, just something new to try, but being able to just hang out with somebody and 'do activities' without any expectation seemed more and more appealing by the day. To Cass: [Yes! Okay. Um, Thursday, maybe? I know there's other stuff going on, but would be nice to just not think about it.] And then, since the Amazonian athlete hadn't given her anything else to go on yet... What kind of help? With what? Jesus, Jase was more forthcoming than this. At least he would- Grimacing, Autumn mentally applied the brakes to that train of thought. It wasn't constructive or kind, and if Enterich really had screwed with her, maybe Lilly wasn't feeling like herself. It's not like the Girl Scout had any historical evidence to compare it to, after all. To Lilly Pryor: [Um, maybe? Like, at school, or...?] "...that she wasn't actually teasing me. I guess I had some-" "Spinach," Dana clarified, still grinning as she cast a surreptitious glance over at her daughter, pacing the kitchen with her face buried in her phone. Idly, she wondered what had the girl so fascinated, when any other time she'd be fixated on the laconic young man across the table. Did it have something to do with the discussion about his mother, or the argument...? Hm. "Some spinach in my teeth, yeah," Ian conceded sheepishly. "Probably from the omelette, earlier. I finally got it, and I guess she could tell from the look on my face, because she just started laughing, and scribbled something on a napkin. And when she held it up to the glass, it just said, 'Good luck!' with this little smiley face. And then I had to actually, genuinely run, because I was about to be late for the interview," he concluded with a shrug. Gar chuckled, glancing at the grinning Dana. "Hey, at least you told him, right?" he quipped, causing Dana to snort from restrained laughter as she leaned fondly against her husband. "He was totally cute checking himself out in the glass, though." Dana confirmed, taking a drink from her mug. "Spinach and all. My friends all thought so too." "Yeah, yeah." Ian mock grumbled, smiling a little. "Laugh it up. So anyway, later on..." Unobtrusively, Jason slid out of his chair as the adults talked and moved over to the fridge, ostensibly to get a cold bottle of water to drink, but it was largely a convenient pretext for him to lean against the kitchen counter and watch Autumn as she paced, chewing adorably on her lower lip as she considered the screen of her phone. He wondered, idly, who she was texting, what was being said - but that was largely just so he had a context for the flickers of expression in her wide blue eyes and eminently watchable features rather than from any real interest in what others were saying. Now and then he glanced towards the kitchen table, regarding his father sitting with the Keanes, listening to them talking about how they met. He found the story interesting, for more than one reason. It was an insight into the younger people Autumn's parents had once been. It was a story about meeting and bonding with another person. It was... normal, and wholesome in some way that he felt was positive, but was still working on defining why, exactly. It was curious - he assumed that most couples had a 'first meeting' story, but it had never mattered to him before. Jack and Carolyn Cassidy, for instance. A working, stable marriage with three kids, he'd often considered the Cassidys as a good example of how to 'family'. How had they met? Would he, in years to come, sit around a table and share the story of how he'd met Autumn - by walking into the girl's bathroom and scaring her silly? It occurred to him that he already had shared that tale, with Dana, who'd found the anecdote wryly amusing. So, was his and Autumn's random encounter a 'meet cute'? He'd have to ask... From: Lilly Pryor: / Jase said I should talk to you about getting help with the... nightmares... I've had the last couple of days..// ... From: Lilly Pryor: // I dunno. Ask him. He just said you could help.// The screen, with the messages still on it, was held up in front of his face as he lowered the bottle of water from his lips. Jason gazed at the exchange between Lilly and Autumn, then at Autumn's face, then back at the messages again, his brow furrowing slightly as he tried to work out what was amiss. Because something was amiss. Autumn wasn't flushed or angry-looking, but she seemed to be expecting something from him as she stared hard at his face. Jason's nascent relationship radar detected the blip, but couldn't for the life of him work out what it was. "That seems correct..." he said softly, shifting his brilliant emerald stare from the phone's screen to Autumn's gaze. "She complained of having night terrors, and I suggested you might be able to help, due to your gift." He tilted his head to one side. "Was I wrong?"
    1 point
  19. First Period: Chem Class (Cassie, Autumn & Jase) "Okay, settle down." Ms Lafferty's voice rose over the hubbub as the bell rang signalling the start of the class. There was a buzz in the air this morning, she noted, likely due to the drama of the last few days. She herself had been shocked at hearing of the murder of Charlie Cole, and the kidnapping of two young women - all of whom were students of hers. It just wasn't the sort of thing one expected in Shelly - at least in her limited experience of the last four years. Her gaze was drawn to the trio currently settling into their seats at one of the front lab benches, two of whom hadn't been present at yesterday's class. Nor had Marissa Jauntsen, for that matter. An attack, break-room rumor had it. Or rather, she corrected, staring at the pale new scar on Jason Bannon's right cheek, another attack. Twice in two weeks the young man had been sent to the hospital, and when that was stacked next to the murder/kidnapping of Labor Day and other rumors she wondered what sort of place Shelly really was, under the idyllic surface. "I'm reasonably sure most of you did the required reading last night regarding acids and bases." she went on, her gaze moving away from Jason and sweeping over the rest of the class. "So today we're going to do some practical experimentation, so you can see the principles in action." She pointed to one of the lab-partner pairs. "Will and Terry? Could you come and help me with the equipment trolleys, please? Each bench gets one tray - everyone gets a pair of gloves and goggles." As her conscripted help doled out the equipment for the day's practical, she paused at the trio's table. "Cassandra, you were here yesterday's lesson. Help Autumn and Jase out - I'll give your bench a little more time to get things done." Then again..., she mused as she met the impassive glittering stare of the tall lean youth say between the two girls, recalling that test in the first week, with it's too-advanced questions. The one young Mister Bannon had aced. "That is, if you need it." she added, almost as an afterthought. Or was it a challenge - she wasn't too sure herself. She restrained herself from asking if he was okay - obviously he was, or he wouldn't be in school, right? And anyway, what she really wanted to know was 'what happened?' And that was crossing a line, wasn't it? Saying nothing more, she moved away and headed over to Marissa and Cade Alister's bench, to give them the same extension. "I... did not do the required reading last night," Autumn muttered, a guilty flush stealing into her cheeks as she glanced at Cass, gingerly accepting the offered PPE as the designated equipment carts made their rounds. " I didn't know there was any. Do you have any idea what we're supposed to be doing?" she whispered, blue eyes flicking briefly up to Jase's features, and then at the pretty blonde's. "Okay," said Cassandra, putting her book on the desk. "So last time we talked about the pH scale, and how it's kind of backwards. More acid means it goes down. And it starts at seven instead of zero because scientists are kind of lame. And we talked about concentration and how to measure it, which I think is what we're supposed to be doing here. We should have some of that special paper...somewhere..." She rummaged around on the desk until she spots a beaker with strips of litmus paper. "Here we go." Then, "Yeah, it's going to be a boring one I think this time. Sorry. I was hoping for 'melting stuff in vats of acid,' but looks like that's not on the next test." "It'll be fine." Jase's murmured reassurance to Autumn was matter of fact as he pulled on his goggles, and positioned the beaker of litmus strips where they could all reach it, amusement glinting in his green eyes as he glanced at Cassie. "Do you really want to melt stuff in acid? Because if you do..." "I mean, if it's a choice between that or watching paper turn colors..." Cassie paused, as if recalling who she was talking to. "But otherwise, not really?" Then she looked at the beakers. "Maybe a little." "Honestly," Autumn admitted, her nose crinkling slightly as she peered at the quirky young journalist through the lenses of her protective eyewear and tugged on her gloves, "I'll take boring all day long today. Bring on the colored paper." Cassandra obligingly started setting up the beakers, carefully pouring fluids from labeled flasks into each one, then mixing water into each one in proportions specified on the handout they got. She chuckled on stirring them with the glass stick. "I like the little noise these make. It'd be kinda cool if you could make glass tougher so it didn't break, then use it for drumsticks." tink tink tink "It's weird that our stomachs are full of this stuff." "One pH hydrochloric acid, to be precise." Jase opened his notebook, idly flipping a pencil around in his hand as he watched Cassie mix the solutions. "This stuff's closer to lemon juice in strength." "Well, it doesn't smell nearly as good," Cassie comments, wrinkling her nose. "What's in your stomach is diluted, anyway," Autumn countered thoughtfully as she watched the eraser of Jase's pencil twitching back and forth, her toes skimming over the tile floor with every restless swing of her feet. "It's not concentrated enough to be dangerous. It is kind of weird, though, to have it just sloshing and churning around inside us. Speaking of, did you get to eat breakfast this morning, Cass?" The redhead grinned a little, reaching over to grab some of the test strips if only to be doing something while the other half of Team Pluck set up the day's experiment. "Technically yes," Cassandra replied evasively. "I did eat a thing. I was in kind of a rush though. Do you think hash browns go bad? I wonder if I could make a whole bunch of hash browns and just store them by the door so I can grab one as I go out." Then she frowned. "Bacon'd get them though. He'd find a way. Hm." Frowning as she regarded her friend more seriously, Autumn shifted a little in her seat. "They one-hundred percent would go bad, yeah. Maybe a box of Pop-Tarts or something? Packs of trail mix?" Cass shrugged. "You gotta toast pop-tarts. Trail mix could work maybe." She stared at the beakers for a moment, then shook her head. "I'm going to have trouble focusing on this. Someone elbow me if I zone out." Smoothly, Jason reached over and moved the flasks to in front of him. "I've got it." he told her in a quiet tone. "You just make the notes. Did you have trouble sleeping? Is that why you were in a rush?" "And since when do you have to toast Pop-Tarts?" the redhead asked skeptically, peering sidelong at Cassie as Jase rearranged the table. "You just rip open the package and eat them. I mean, sure, you can toast them, but you don't have to." The face Cassandra makes at Autumn's suggestion is a mask of horror. "You do that? Really?" Jase also paused, staring at Autumn for a moment's pause as he blinked, slowly. "Anyway...uh...I slept mostly ok, I guess, but I just wanted to get to school early. I've only got another day before I have to have an article ready for the paper and I figured I could get some work done before Leila got in." Cassie rolled her eyes. "But she apparently has an apartment in the room somewhere." Giving her boyfriend a quick, one-shouldered shrug accompanied by the arch of a copper brow, the red-haired savage gave him a defiant little smirk. And? her expression seemed to say. "Oh, gross. And we've been so busy with the... uh... Extra-curricular stuff, you haven't had time to work on it." Nudging the pretty blonde a little with her shoulder, Autumn offered her a faint smile of encouragement. "Still, you've got 'til tomorrow. It's just the beginning of the year, no big deal. As long as it's not some crazy expose about Shelly's history, aliens, and human experimentation, I think you're good. Just, like, do a fluff piece about the oceans being on fire and someone with cancer crowdfunding their chemotherapy. It'll be fine." Cass winced at that. "So...what if it was?" she asked. "Not saying it is. Just...what if it was?" Jason turned his gaze on Cassandra this time, the corners of his eyes narrowing slightly as he examined her expression as though peering at her through a microscope. "Um. What?" It was Autumn's turn to look at her friend, all levity draining from her voice. "Even hypothetically, that's... Wow." "I just...I know. Okay?" Cassandra said. "I know. It's dumb. I should just do what you're saying, write a stupid story about something dumb, because it's just a school paper and who gives a shit? That's exactly what Leila was saying." She pauses. "...I think. Anyway. I know. It's just...ugh, you know? Like...uuuuuuugh." "Does Leila know anything?" Jason asked. And there was this to be said about his manner: it was very still, very calm. A pool with no surface ripples. "I mean..." Autumn began- and then paused, exhaling as Jase interjected. Cassie shook her head. "I haven't told anyone anything. But don't you think... I mean people have died over this. People will go to funerals, and never know why. The whole town has been at the center of this and no one's ever known, and that just feels wrong." "That's not specifically what he asked, though," the redhead commented quietly, surreptitiously glancing over at their teacher and back again. "Whether you told her or not, do you think she knows anything?" "You guys, she thought this whole thing was a sex cult," Cassandra sighed. "She's totally clueless. That, or a pretty good actress." "Mmm," Autumn nodded, a tiny furrow appearing between her brows as she frowned, teeth catching at her lower lip. Cassandra seemed to finally catch the mood and frowns. "Why? What makes you think she'd know something?" Jason relaxed, though the only clue to this was a faint sense of animation returning to his expression. "Or suspect. There are rumors flying around - and a lot of us have been skipping classes. How plugged in is Leila to the rumor network?" "That's why she thought we were in a sex cult," agrees Cass. "She's plugged in enough to know we're in on something. But she doesn't really...care?" Cassandra wrinkles her nose again. "She actually wanted in, so...there's something we can throw into the acid right now." "I mean," Autumn suggested with another shrug, resolutely not looking at her boyfriend as a faint pink flush crept up the sides of her face. "You could just write about a sex cult. I'm sure there's plenty of room for one." Cassandra waggled a little glass stick. "Thought about it, but it turns out that is actually against the bylaws for the newspaper here. Buncha prudes." "So, back to your other question..." Jason started laying out strips of litmus paper in accordance with the worksheet's instructions. "About it feeling wrong. Do you mean you want to tell the story?" "Hell yes," is her immediate reply. "After all the bullshit we've seen and gone through, and what this means for the world...of course I do. And, obviously I know no one will believe it except crazy people, and that'll make me seem crazy too. Like I said. I know. I've been thinking about this a lot. But like, even more than I want to tell people, I don't want to lie about it. I don't want to cover it up. Just pretend it didn't happen. Gaslight the planet into thinking nothing happened." Peering over at the paper Jase was working from, Autumn squinted at the upside-down print and laid out her test strips in a mirror of what she could see from her side of the table, glancing at Cassie as she explained her feelings on the matter. "So is the issue how to do kind of both things, or...?" Noting Autumn trying to decipher the worksheet, Jase gave her a small smile and turned it 180 degrees towards her. "I think, sooner or later, the story will break itself." he said quietly. "I can't imagine all of this, statistically speaking, staying quiet forever." "Not if Aeon has anything to say about it. Or Branch 9. They'll just...sit on it. Like they always have. I don't think any of this is really a big change from the way they see things. Just another development." Cassandra shakes her head. "It's just that I've been on the other end of this. I spent almost a year researching Crossroads and trying to get a straight story, and getting nothing but runarounds and lies and fake leads and... Now I feel like I'm being asked to participate in that." "Well, yeah, because the people running Crossroads are working with Enterich. Or he's working with them. They can't get away with anything if people know about what they're up to." Tilting her head thoughtfully, Autumn mulled over that idea. "So, this article. Is it going to be just, like, tinfoil hat stuff, or are you giving them receipts? Because I mostly agree with you on the whole ethical issue, but is telling the whole truth going to help, or hurt?" "Every answer you give will lead to more questions. There won't be such a thing as only giving the high points of the story." Jase added, his eyes flicking up to study Cassie. "That will lead the world to our doors, for good or ill." "Yeah," Cassie sighs, deflating. "And it'll read like science fiction anyway. Like I said. It's a dumb idea. I know." She picked up a litmus strip and dabbed it into a beaker. "It's just been bothering me, and...it's making writing this article really hard." "Nnn-hnn," Autumn shook her head. "Not a dumb idea. Just not something I think you should have to decide on your own, and in only a couple of days. Like you said, it's a huge deal, and the worst-case scenarios for both arguments are fucking awful. Is there any way to write a lead-in, or..." Gesturing vaguely with a gloved hand, she made a face. "Like a filler article, or something? I mean, yeah, it probably will get out at some point, I just don't know if now's a good time. Or," she amended, "what a good time would look like for something like this." "That's just it. When's a good time? The arguments aren't going to change." Cass shakes her head. "I don't know. I only ever started doing any of this because I wanted to find out the truth about how dad died. Now I know the truth. I don't know why any of this still matters to me. I should be done with it now. I don't owe anyone anything. Shit." She pulls the overexposed litmus strip back out and drops it in to the little sink at the edge of the desk. "Your tone implies that it does still matter to you, even though you cannot find a logical reason why." Jason made a couple of notes as he examined a strip of litmus paper, set it aside, and reached for another one to dip into a second flask, carrying the testing out with casual precision. "Perhaps the only person you owe it to, then, is yourself?" "Or... How about this?" Fiddling with her pencil as she squinted at the colored strips and the corresponding chart on the desk, Autumn pursed her lips. "Could this article tell the truth in a way that gets people to ask their own questions? Like, not naming names or pointing fingers, but looking at historical patterns and rumors, and letting people believe or not until you decide how to handle it?" "Because people in Shelly... kind of know something's up. At least, some of the families do," she added quietly, considering what she knew of the Kavanagh history and wondering how these public revelations might change things. "Have for generations." Cassandra opened her mouth to point out the problems with that, then closed it again. She looked off to one side, almost visibly thinking. "You know, at first I was going to say that would still attract attention," Cass says finally, "But...it's different. They wouldn't be asking how I knew, they'd be wanting to tell me things." Abruptly she reaches over to Jase's notebook and tears off one of the pages underneath the one he's working on now. Then says, "Jase, I need to borrow this for a second," as she took a pen out of her backpack and started scribbling on the note paper. "Would you like all the compiled research I did into Shelly's history?" Jason asked, unperturbed by the casual vandalism of his notebook. "It's the stuff I presented - in condensed form - at that meeting in Bunnee's. My notes have various statistical signifiers - pointing out that Shelly is unusual for many reasons, not least of which because it's so small despite being a natural crossroads in the roads and railways." "That would save me a ton of time," Cassandra agreed. She sits up higher and looks at the notepaper, then nods and folds it up. "Okay, it passes the test. I think you saved my butt, Autumn. I owe you a...I don't know, a cheeseburger? What's the going rate for a butt these days?" "And there's the interview with Laughing Joe, too, if you want to talk about the kind of mythical, cultural side of stuff, as well." Smiling sideways at the inquisitive blonde, she pretended to consider the question, tilting her head to and fro with a mock-sober expression before declaring, "Cheeseburger sounds good. After boarding school tomorrow?" "Yeah, that's good. Also, are we still on for the skateboarding thing?" "That's what I meant," Autumn laughed, discarding one of the blue litmus strips and grinning as she wrote down the result. "Yeah." "Oh shit, boarding school," Cass laughs. "God, I get so tunnel visioned." "I'll Google Drive the files over to you at lunch." Jase told Cassie. "Along with my summary." "Mmm...maybe no summary. Just the raw research. I might get tempted to crib. Bad form." Cassie flashes Jase a smile. "Can't do ALL my work for me, ya know?" He nodded, approval flashing a fin in his depthless jade eyes. "Alright, then." he replied with the faintest twitch of a smile as he glanced back down at his worksheet. "And," Autumn added, "if it helps, we're gonna look into some old journals I got from my grandparents' house tonight, family stuff that goes back before Shelly was Shelly. It won't be useful for an article tomorrow, but maybe for this ongoing investigation you're doing? Y'know." Casting another sidelong glance at Cass, she nudged her friend again. "The lead-in for your Pulitzer." The smile Cassandra turned on Autumn is quite the reversal from her earlier cloudy mood; a crepuscular ray shining through. "That would be both badass and awesome, much like yourself. I feel like...tying it to a family will make the whole thing kind of...resonate? Feel real? Not just some kind of 'I'm just asking questions' internet conspiracy bullshit kinda thing. That's definitely going to be something I have to watch out for. Will you guys mind reading it over too? I feel like you'd be ok telling me where I fuck it up." "Wait, seriously?" the expressive redhead squeaked softly, eyes widening at the suggestion. "You'd let me read it first? Holy shit, Cass, that's... Um, yes, definitely! Thank you!" Jase's head tilted slightly as he studied Autumn's reaction, then glanced at Cassie. "Of course. I'd be happy to go over it." "Hell yeah!" Cassandra held up a hand for Autumn and Jase to high five. "You guys are the best. Lets melt some shit for science." "Ahem." Ms Lafferty's cough brought the celebration to a standstill, as the teens looked around to see her standing at the end of their bench with a faintly disapproving expression. "Melting... 'stuff' is not the objective here, Ms Allen." she admonished with a raised brow. "Can I assume from the high-fiving that you've finished the experiment already, then?" "We definitely made a breakthrough," Cass reported with a grin. Conspicuously studying the paper in front of her, tapping the eraser end of her pencil on the tabletop, Autumn choked back a laugh. "It's, uh. Still a work in progress, ma'am," she managed awkwardly.(edited) "Cassandra apparently really likes science." Jason said, as deadpan as only he could manage, only his friends spotting the sly glint of ancient humor in his eyes. "We should be done soon, Ms Lafferty." "Good." The Chemistry teacher paused a moment longer, eyeing the suppressed smile on Autumn's face and the grin on Cassie's. They were more informative than the blank poker face of the young man sitting across from them, but she decided to let it go this time. "Carry on, then." she added, turning and moving off along the rows of benches.
    1 point
  20. Someone was shoving needles into her brain. It didn't hurt - but she could feel the cold, sterile metal probing through the soft tissue, seeking the right spots for them to do their work. Auditory, droning tones rose and fell in the background, like a muted dentist's drill that changed pitch and speed radically. Lights, of different colours and intensities, flashed on and off in front of her eyes. Nearby, a voice was speaking, coldly clinical. "At this time, roughly eighty percent of Leviathan's labour force, fifty percent of Leviathan paramilitary forces, and twenty percent of Leviathan field intelligence assets have undergone the procedure..." She could remember who she was. Remember her friends back in France, remember her mother, remember the heated kisses she'd shared with Courtney and the terrifying battle against an antlered demonic being. But she could feel the emotional import of those things being stripped from her pre-frontal cortex under the weight of the droning, the lights, the chemical fog from the needle in her arm. "...These are for the most part stable, but are of course observed..." The speaker was right next to her, their voice in her ear. She could remember everything about being Kat Barras, but all of the old connections, the old emotional ties were being severed, cruelly ripped away. She existed now in order to serve Leviathan. To play her part in bringing in the Great Order. She would kill on command, steal, seduce, betray all trust placed in her, at the behest of her new masters. She saw Courtney, tied to a chair, the white cloth covering her eyes complementing the white formal dress she was wearing. Bright red hair tumbled around pale shoulders, and Kat looked down at the knife in her hand as she walked, slowly, towards the bound girl. The knife came up, a crimson line was drawn across the throat she'd kissed adoringly not three days ago. More crimson fountained out, splashing over the white gown, washing around Kat's feet. She felt no horror at her act. On the contrary, she felt calm. Those she served had ordained the action. The voice spoke up again from behind her. "Hail the Great Beast." Yes, Kat thought. Hail the Great Beast. Beep. Beep. Beep. Her alarm rang in the early morning. Kat sat in her bed, mouth open in a silent scream, bathed by the coral light of the sunrise peeking through the window. Her breath was heavy, and so felt the air in the room. She yanked aside the crumpled sheets, drenched in sweat, as the nightmare came back to her, her brains playing the video tape at a high speed. Suddenly, she didn't feel so good. The petite French girl rushed to the bathroom in her pajamas, her stomach all cramped up threatening to splatter gastric acid everywhere. She knelt there for a couple minutes, face looking down at the throne till the nausea disappeared. Just a bad dream. Fifteen minutes later, she was running down the stairs like teenagers do, in sports clothes, in a morose mood but "ready" for her morning torture. Forty-five minutes later, her muscles feeling like limp rubber after the workout with her dad, Kat tore herself out of the shower with an effort of will and, getting dressed, made it downstairs just in time to say goodbye to her father as he headed out for work. Tess was in the kitchen, yawning and sleep-tousled as she poured herself a large mug of coffee. Seeing Kat slump into the chair at the breakfast table, she smiled wryly and poured a second mug, sliding it over to the petite girl. "Thanks." Kat groaned as she stretched out her hand to get the cream and sugar. Tess shook her head, chuckling. "Kudos for trying to keep up with your dad." she said, saluting Kat with her mug. "He invited me to go running with him once. Never again, girlfriend. I'm sticking to yoga and tennis." Concern warred with amusement on the lovely older woman's face as she sat down across from her boyfriend's daughter. "Seriously, though: you okay?" The petite French girl took a long sip, and the mug remained on her lips for a while, the brown liquid reflecting the ceiling lights, olive onto her pale skin. "Nightmare," she told her mug, the sound of her voice, muffled and amplified at the same time, bouncing off the porcelain as if in a miniature stairwell. "Mixture of Brave New world and Silence of The Lambs, with white robes and knives to spice things up... kind of nightmare." She added, setting her coffee back on the table. "I..." Her head had sunk into her hands. She could feel the welcome warmth of caffeinated liquid running down her oesophagus. "Leviathan..." She muttered for herself. The name felt familiar somehow. The overwhelmingly dark red flowing over bright white came back to her mind, and she shook her head in disgust, drowning the remnants of the nightmare in cream brown. "I'll be okay. I guess." She shot her Dad's girlfriend a half-smile. Tess nodded a slightly dishevelled head, when her eyes caught sight of the kitchen clock. "Alright, honey. Eat up, don't wanna miss school." 8AM Kat waved goodbye to her dark-haired friend as the car drove away, leaving her to another day at school. Her shoulders dropped as she turned toward the building. At least she didn't feel as banged up as the day before. She grabbed her earphones and made her way to the lockers, Anthony Kiedis taming her wandering thoughts enough for her not to get lost in the crowd of students roaming around the corridors, but not enough for her not to almost literally bump into Sean. "Oh, hey, Sean!" She said, removing her earphones.
    1 point
  21. Cassandra scarfed a breakfast bar and a glass of OJ (the OJ first because it tasted hella gross if you ate it AFTER the OJ) on her way out the door the morning of September 4th. There was a very specific reason why. She made good time on her bike and chained it to the fence of the bike enclosure rather than walking it in and picking a loop of metal in the concrete. It saved a couple of minutes. A couple of minutes, along with some more from skipping breakfast at school, that she could use to get started on an article for the paper before Leila came in. The plan was foolproof. She even peeked in between the slats in the window to the 'newsroom,' while shading her eyes, and verified that Leila's bag wasn't on her desk. Cassie got her key out and let herself in and locked the door behind her and sat down and turned on her little Mac laptop, all ready and engaged and just bursting with news and stories to tell... ...and then had to delete her first paragraph. It sounded crazy her first try. How could it not?! It was talking about pretty crazy things. Cassandra tried another couple of drafts, but none got past midway through paragraph two. Okay, step back. What was the official story again? There'd been a murder at the old town hall, police were investigating? Right, well, a little boring but it was a solid starting spot. Cass started typing...and then stopped. Unease fluttered in her fingertips. They felt tingly. A little numb. It didn't take much introspection to figure out why, because the answer was echoing in her brain. If I do this..if I print this...then I'm spreading a false story to help cover up real events because some shadowy government agency wants me to. If she did this, she was one of Them. They were everywhere in conspiracy circles. Cassandra knew Them well, from when she'd been looking for something, anything, to explain what had happened to her dad. The government, both national and international. Globalist billionaire cohorts locking down world resources. Secret societies. If you went deep enough you could throw Satanists and aliens onto the pile. THEM. The ones pulling the wool over everyone's faces, to protect the status quo from the baleful eye of public scrutiny. Not caring who couldn't breathe because of it. And if she thought about it, why did she feel a need to protect Aeon? Branch 9? Obviously not Crossroads, but...were they that different? Did she KNOW Aeon didn't have labs full of human subjects? It wasn't like they'd ever been given a full tour. Crossroads and Enterich and Cook had spun off of Aeon after the fact, but how much of their agenda was set before the breakup? Shit. SHIT. Click. "Cool. That is going straight to the spank bank." Cassandra's agonizing was interrupted by the bored-sounding voice of Leila from off towards the little hallway that led to the bathrooms. She looked over, eyes wide. Leila waved her phone at Cassie and laconically explained, "I think I managed to capture the exact moment when you realized what a hack you are. It was majestic." And though Cassie had spent the entire semester coming up with internal excuses for Leila, she was way past her threshold right now. She spun in her seat and fixed the student editor with a stare that wouldn't have been completely out of place on Jase's face. "What is your problem with me, Leila?" she asked, and though she was angry she didn't ask angrily. There was force behind the question, but not any attempt to threaten or intimidate. "You've been giving me nothing but shit all year...and not just like, editor-shit either. That thing with the camera was fucking uncalled for, and it's not the first time." At this Leila rolled her eyes up to look at the ceiling and said, "Finally. Jesus. I thought you'd go the whole year." She went to her desk and sat atop it to return Cassandra's aggrieved stare. "Alright, first and foremost, it's because you're pissing me off. Second it's because I don't trust you. Third...because it's fun. And don't worry...I will elaborate." Leila reached over to turn her computer monitor towards Cassandra, and tapped her mouse button. Keynote popped up, with a slideshow on it. It was titled, 'X Things I Hate About Allen.' Leila shrugged. "It's a work in progress, but I'm not letting that stop me from doing this. So, slide one. How you're pissing me off." "You're a fraud," she explained, moving the cursor over that line on the bullet points. "Everyone else in school seems like they forgot, but your freshman year you skipped like half your classes. You didn't give a shit about school, about journalism, about anything but getting high and falling off skateboards with your slacker boyband harem. Then your dad dies, which is...okay that's legit tragic...and you fall off the planet for most of that year, and then you show up...Cassandra the go-getter. Going to class and getting into activities and all that, and everyone buys into your redemption arc." She tapped between her eyes. "Except the ones who pay attention. You show up to class but you don't pay attention and your grades are kind of shit. You join the paper, but I have to constantly ride your ass to get you moving, and you never, ever, FUCKING EVER, talk to me about what the fuck you're doing." She took a deep breath, visibly calming herself. "...which is fine. I don't have a horse in the trainwreck of your life, except for one thing. My grade for THIS is based on how well the WHOLE PAPER does. Which means you're in a position to fuck it up for me. That means I can't just ignore you, and that pisses me off." Cassandra, more than a little taken aback, opened her mouth to try to respond but Leila cut her off with a scowl and a neck chopping motion. "Not done yet. You asked, so I'm gonna answer." "Anyway, why I don't trust you is kind of...tangled up in there, but yeah. Whatever this big change you're marketing in yourself is, it's skin deep, Allen. You're still not taking any of this seriously. Which is, again, you know it's fine except now it's affecting me. Worst of all you're super deep in denial over it? Every time we talk you keep trying to talk like fucking Lois Lane or something and if you can't even be honest with yourself, what does that mean for everyone else? Uh...number...three? Yeah." She moved the pointer down. "Right. It's fun. So, here's the thing. About ninety percent of school I don't care about either. It's literally just smoke and mirrors. Everything we do here will get crumpled up and smushed down and result in exactly one important thing. Our senior year GPA. That's all universities, or employers, will look at. Literally all. Nothing else matters. All the drama, all the...bylines, all the gossip...it's completely meaningless. We're all trapped in Plato's fucking Cave, Allen. Watching the shadow puppets. We may as well make the show entertaining." Leila lifted her hands and made funny gestures, as if a light was shining past them onto a wall. "If you weren't in a place you could hit my GPA, I would still give you shit, because why not? Besides, maybe it'll do you some good. I mean, if you can't keep it together when a high school girl pretending to be an editor gets on your case, how the fuck do you think you'll do with an actual editor?" Cassie sat silently for a second, then asked the only question that still made sense. "...you actually put together a Keynote for that?" The final slide showed some clip art of a hand flipping the bird out of the screen. Leila looked at it and nodded. "Yeah, I'm super pro at this job. It's like your annual review or some shit. 'Needs Improvement.'" "That's oddly touching. Thanks, Leila. I mean, you know, eat shit? But also thanks." The student editor snorted and sat down at her desk, pushing her monitor back around to face her. Then she said, "One more day, by the way." Cassie nodded as she got back to work. For whatever weird reverse-psychological Jungian-Freudian archetype bullshit reason, Leila's tirade had not made her more angry. It had kind of...done the opposite? Somehow? "I know," she replied. "I'm on it."
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  22. "And I mean it. Straight home," Ian Keane reiterated, cool blue eyes narrowed slightly against the morning sunlight as he regarded his still-sleepy daughter. The response was a grumbled assent punctuated by a soft huff as Autumn finished unstrapping her bike from the rack and lowered it down to the paved parking lot just behind her father's silver Range Rover. "No detours, no hanging around after hours," he added firmly, frowning a little as she sighed, tightening the ratchet straps on the crossbar down again. "And remember what I said about Jason coming by: Not past ten. And I want you to-" "Text you when I-," the drowsy redhead nodded, her features scrunching up as she stifled a yawn with the back of her hand and rocked forward onto her toes, the bicycle frame bouncing lightly against her thigh. "Mm. When I get there. I will, Dad. I promise. Thanks for bringing me." "You're welcome, sweetheart. Be careful today, all right?" Leaning in, he pressed a quick kiss to her temple, pushing the haphazard braid back over her shoulder and giving her a quick visual check-in for confirmation. "Mhm, you, too. See you tomorrow?" "See you tomorrow." "Hey Dad?" Autumn asked, palms resting on the handlebars as she watched her father walk away and feeling, for some unknown reason, a vague apprehension. Nothing was going to happen today, probably. Not like yesterday, or the day before that. But, still... "Hmm?" Pausing as he opened the driver's side door, Ian glanced back at his not-so-little girl, her features framed in a halo of copper flame as she smiled, freckled nose crinkling. "Love you." He paused at that, at the simple, slightly embarrassed public admission of his teenaged daughter, and broke into a broad grin. "Love you, too," her gratified father replied. With a quick jingle of keys as he waved, Ian ducked back into his new SUV and started the engine, then slowly made his way through the line of parents dropping off their kids near the front doors before disappearing, ostensibly on his way to meet a client in Helena. The queue seemed longer today, Autumn noted, the Shelly natives no doubt keeping their offspring a little closer now amid the swirl of rumors surrounding Charlie and Cody and the sudden appearance- and subsequent disappearance- of a mysterious serial killer in their midst. And that was only a tiny part of the truth. If they knew the rest, how many of them would even have let their children leave the house? It was a small miracle her own folks were taking it so well, especially after finding out about Jason the night before. She'd half expected them to pack her off somewhere, or ban him from the property, or pull her out of school altogether- which would've completely made sense, all things considered, and they had had a few choice words when they'd gotten home after visiting the Bannon farm. Plus there was that godawful fucking meeting, and the picnic, and... Well, everything, basically. But, she admitted, rolling her bike up onto the sidewalk toward the row of upright racks near the entrance, they seemed to be trying, at least. Rumor, gossip and snatches of conversation and laughter buzzed around her head as Autumn, still blinking sleep away, made her way to her locker and dumped her bag inside before scooping up her books for first period- Chemistry- the thought of which was good for some color in her cheeks and a slight increase in the spring in her step as she headed to the cafeteria. There was still time for breakfast, and Jase had promised to show up with a thermos of coffee. …After which they'd have Chemistry together in, she snorted to herself in abashed amusement, more ways than one. Had she mentioned that her parents were awesome and trying really hard? They really were, especially where Jase was concerned. "Mornin', A-Rae." The familiar tone, the familiar nickname announced Jacob as he fell into step with her, book bag slung over one broad shoulder as he assessed her with a bright grin that belied the careful expression in his eyes. He was a morning person - not merely someone who woke up with a minimum of effort and fuss, like Jase, but rather someone who was at their most energetic and cheerful first thing in the day, barely even needing coffee. Ugh. "I was wondering if it'd be okay if I sat with and asked you something over breakfast?" he said, leaning conspiratorially closer as they walked through the halls. "Y'know. About all the... stuff going on. I tried to grill Bannon over it but he said there were unwritten rules about you guys telling each others friends and families." Jacob made a face. "Can't really argue with that, I guess. By the way," The warden's son nudged Autumn playfully. "Your new boyfriend is weird. Not bad weird." he went on hastily, shrugging. "Just weird." Giving her tall, once-and-future friend a sidelong glance, the redhead chewed over that sentiment for a moment as they headed toward the cafeteria. 'Bad' was definitely a subjective kind of thing where Jason Bannon was concerned, because while the potential existed for him to be very, very bad indeed, he was choosing not to act on it; a couple of weeks ago she wouldn't have been able to maintain eye contact with him for more than half a second, and she was pretty sure her parents had some totally reasonable (if, in her opinion, inaccurate) misgivings about the fact that she was dating him. ...Well, in fairness, they probably had misgivings about her dating anyone who wasn't a known quantity, like Jacob. But that ship had sailed, and apparently docked in Tawny Harbor, and that was a good thing, right? That he was happy? Peering up at Jay, Autumn nodded at his assessment. That they both were happy, she amended silently, or at least as much as they could be with all this craziness hanging over their heads. "He is, yeah," she admitted thoughtfully, one corner of her mouth curving upward as the pair of teens wove through the crowd to take their place in line. "Super weird. But interesting, and a lot of fun. He's-" She paused, her clear, sea-colored eyes narrowing speculatively as she glanced up at Jacob again. "Hey, listen," the earnest young woman began, smile fading by degrees. "Is it... Is this weird? Talking about, y'know. New boyfriends and stuff. Does it bother you?" "A little?" he said with a wry tilt to his lips. "And, being honest, a week ago it'd have been worse. But all the weirdness, all the scary stuff... It really made me think about what's important." he went on in his straightforward, honest way. "And it's important that we're friends. We were friends before we sort of fell into dating, and though that ended sorta... messy-" "Yeah." Autumn muttered as she nodded, grabbing a plate from the stack and slipping it onto her tray as she remembered how messy things had gotten. "-yeah... but the point is, you're happy now. And so am I. And really, us being friends again is more important - to me anyway. And it's pretty plain from watching my friend with her new boyfriend that she's pretty damn into him. So I’m not gonna be a dick and pretend like it's not a part of your life, y'know? Even if he is weird." Jacob went on, grabbing a carton of OJ and a plate of eggs and hashbrowns as he followed her in the line. "So you're good with being friends," she stated simply, eyes flicking up to his face again before glancing back at the food on offer. Grabbing a spoonful of fried apples and a waffle, Autumn pursed her lips and added a couple of strips of bacon to her plate. "Oooh, crap. Can you grab me a milk? Thanks," she added, grimacing as Jacob gave a rueful shake of his head and reached back along the line, a bemused server helpfully settling the red and white carton in his grasp. "Thank you!" she called down to the cafeteria worker, giving her an abashed little wave as she forged ahead, feeling the warmth rising in her cheeks as the rest of the line alternately snickered and rolled their eyes. "Thank you," the ruddy-faced redhead murmured more quietly, flashing her companion a quick smile. "No problem," he replied easily. "And, yeah. I'm good with being friends." The handsome athlete paused for a moment, considering something as they cashed out and scanned the cafeteria for an empty seat. "Are you?" Blinking up at her oldest friend, Autumn hesitated for a scant few seconds, astonishment writ plain across her features. "I mean... Yeah? That's been one of the worst parts of-" Gesturing with her free hand as she balanced her tray on the other, the red-haired teen waved in a sort of ill-defined circle, indicating something beyond the scope of words. "You know. This. It was just like, everything happening at once, and we weren't talking, and I guess I kind of missed that." "Window seat." Jacob nodded towards an empty table and the two of them stepped smartly, trying to bag the decent spot before someone else did. "And yeah, same." he went on as they settled in across the table from one another, sliding their trays into place before sitting. "The worst part about it all was that suddenly, my friend wasn't around anymore. And when I saw you with Bannon at the Carousel..." "Oh god..." Autumn went deep red under her dusting of freckles as she recalled exactly how she'd broken the news to Jacob. "Don't remind me!" "No, listen." Jacob waved away her mortification. "It didn't bother me like I thought it should. Like, there was a teeny little phantom pang of jealousy, sure. But mostly I was kinda..." He waved a hand, glancing out the window as he wrestled with the awkwardness. "Glad. Like 'wow, she seems happy, that's awesome'." He glanced back at her, smiling a little. "Which is when I decided that, yeah, I'd see if I could be happy with Tawny. But also... it kinda pushed on me that you've changed some, and I missed it because I was too busy trying to remember when you were who you used to be rather than seeing who you are now." "I'm different?" Autumn blinked, fork halfway to her mouth, considering. Her mom had said something similar, not too long ago. About how she'd changed somehow. "Yeah, you are." Jacob grinned at his friend's confusion. "I dunno if it's the-" he dropped his voice "-Shine, or your new friends, or the things you've had to do. But you're different, A-Rae. It's a good difference, though. I think. Not pod-person, body-snatcher different." "Mmm," she replied as she rested her cheek in the palm of her hand, a mouthful of waffle and butter and spiced apples delaying further discussion of the matter. It was a sober, thoughtful "mmm," a contemplative sound mirrored in the distant expression in her eyes as she likewise gazed out the window and watched the flocks of birds swirling between treetops arrayed across the manicured lawn. She didn't feel any different, but was she? The question reminded her of another conversation she'd had not that long ago, about the way it was easy to miss changes sometimes because you were the one living them moment to moment. Maybe that's what was happening with her. Hell, with everyone, all the time, but especially now. "So." Taking a sip of milk, Autumn dismissed that thought for the consideration of her future self and turned her attention back to the familiar-yet-unfamiliar face of the young man seated across from her. "Change of subject," she announced, spearing another bite of cinnamon-spiced fruit and waffle goodness with her fork. "You said you wanted to talk about the, uh. Local news. Where should I start?" "Well, I kinda know the stories, right? The family folklore about the Enemy, and some of the secret stuff that happened in Shelly before..." Jacob motioned with his fork before taking a shovel-load of bacon and eggs with it. "Sho." he said around the mouthful. "I guess what I want to know first is when: did the stories stop just being stories for you? How'd you get sucked into all this." "Well, about-" Autumn made a show of checking a watch. "-two weeks ago, I walked into a door." "Like the door you were talking about Monday night with our folks? The hell-place door?" "Nope." Autumn smiled despite her flush of embarrassment. "That door over there. I wasn't paying attention and it swung back and caught me in the face, knocked me on my ass." Amidst the snickering, she outlined that first, strange meeting with Jase and Clara, how they'd checked on her, then performed miracles, then told her she was like them. And how, almost before she could check her progress, she'd ended up skipping class to go into the woods, nearly gotten eaten by a monster, and seen even more weird miracles - like Marissa Jauntsen hugging her and saying they should be friends. "That wasn't quite the craziest thing that I saw that day." she finished, swiping a section of waffle through some spiced apple residue on her plate and steadfastly refusing to think - overmuch - about Jason naked and covered in blood and fire. "But it definitely was the capstone on a day of 'what the fuck?'" she grinned self-deprecatingly. "Jesus." Jacob breathed, sipping at his OJ. "So you and the super-friends-" "Fellowship." Autumn corrected, taking a gulp of milk. "Right. You tracked down and fought the Enemy - I overheard that from the living room when you all were talking in the kitchen." Jacob admitted, toying with his drink. "So what I want to know is: What happens now? And is it true you can heal with a touch, or was that my concussion talking? What exactly can you all do?" "So," she began tentatively, balancing her fork on one tine as she twirled it against her empty plate. "I'm not sure about the whole, 'fighting the Enemy,' thing. What I mean is, it might be bigger than just that one part we saw. And so, honestly, I'm not really sure what happens now. Like, there are still some things we need to do, to hopefully deal with it once and for all, but after that...?" Her voice trailed off, one shoulder twitching upward in a helpless shrug. "I wish I knew. Life sort of goes back to normal, I guess. For a given value of 'normal,'" she added, remembering the talk she'd had with her mom. Jacob nodded, chewing a bite of greasy, salty hashbrown as he considered that for a moment. "Makes sense. I guess what 'normal' is does look different after all this." "You are not kidding," his breakfast companion agreed ruefully, her lips curving into a faint grin. "As far as the, uh." Casting a surreptitious glance around, she leaned in slightly, resting her chin on her elbow. "The healing thing, yeah. It's..." She paused, her features scrunching into something like a grimace. "How can I say this? It's easier to take things apart than to put them back together. You were tricky," she admitted softly, studying her childhood friend's features with an odd mixture of feelings both sentimental and clinical, simultaneously assessing his current health and reflecting on how worried she'd been when they'd found him in the woods near Champion's Field. "Lots of swelling, bleeding on the brain. I'm just..." Exhaling sharply, Autumn glanced back down at her plate, shoving grim thoughts firmly aside. "I'm just glad you're okay." "Makes two of us." Jacob replied softly, catching her eye. "Still, it's a hell of a gift you got. Gotta say, I'm a little jealous." he added with a grin. "Not about the fighting monsters and stuff, but, you know... Being super." Autumn snorted at that, rolling her blue eyes expressively. "Puh-lease." She waved away the 'super' comment. "I'm not even sure how I feel about it from day to day. Sometimes it's scary as hell, and sometimes it's really cool." "Only sometimes?" her friend asked, eyebrow raised skeptically. "Okay, mostly more cool than scary, especially lately. I just..." Autumn gestured with her fingers. "I'm not sure what to do about having these… gifts. Not really. How is it going to change everyday life? Is it even going to? That sort of thing." "I suppose so." Jacob mused, rubbing his chin in thought and looking like a younger version of his dad in that moment. "Maybe-" A tray was slid into place next to Autumn's. "Morning." Jase said as he relaxed into the chair beside her, setting a thermos of coffee down between them as he poured syrup on his pancakes. His shaggy hair was damp from the showers after his run, a few beads of water here and there still on his skin as he regarded both his girlfriend and her friend with his usual air of composed faint curiousity on his scarred features. "Morning," Autumn smiled, angling her chair to face both guys a little more comfortably as she nudged her boyfriend's knee companionably with her own. "You're just in time. We were just talking about terrifying super powers and how having them may, or may not, change the world as we know it. We started with mine," she added somewhat distractedly and then trailed off, her attention caught by the dark ends of Jason's hair as they clung to the nape of his neck. He'd just come from a shower... Had he gone running, maybe, and cleaned up after, or just taken his time getting to school? "So we didn't... Um..." Autumn. Hey. Hey! You're staring. Mhmm. She could almost smell his soap, or cologne, or whatever it was past the cloying sweetness of syrups and baked goods, that clean, vaguely herbal scent that made her want to lean over and breathe it in, or maybe just steal one of his shirts or something. Seriously? her inner voice chided her. You. Are. At. School. Oh, for- Jesus fuck, Autumn, could you not- "Autumn?" Blinking as the sound of her name broke through her reverie, she turned to peer blankly at Jacob as his fork struck the tray with a clatter. He dropped his face into his hand with a muffled, "Oh my God. I can't even," choking back an incredulous laugh at the expression on his best friend's face. Another moment passed as the slow realization- accompanied by an inexorable wave of bright crimson flooding her face- finally settled in. "Oh my God," she echoed in a despairing hiss, resolutely not looking up at Jason's face as she very slowly, very deliberately, straightened in her seat. "Oh my God, I'm so- Oh my God. Um." Flailing verbally for some way out of the situation, some escape from the fact that she'd just had her face pressed against Jason Goddamn Bannon's shoulder at the breakfast table- in the cafeteria, of all places!- like some crazy person, and reminded suddenly that people had probably already heard about the way she'd enthusiastically greeted him at the picnic on Monday, Autumn grabbed at the thermos he'd brought as though it were a rope thrown to a shipwreck survivor adrift at sea. "Oh, look. Coffee!" she exclaimed, fumbling with the lid and swearing silently to herself as she poured a cup. "So, guess we know what your super power is, huh?” Jacob asked Jase with a grin, giving Autumn a sly, teasing glance. The crimson-faced redhead glared at him and Jacob felt a short, sharp strike to his shin, hard enough to make him wince a little as Autumn glanced out of the window, sipping her coffee and pretending nothing had happened. "Turning up with coffee." Jase replied with a slow, deadpan nod as he poured himself a cup, then offered the thermos to Jacob. "I'm good, thanks though." the warden's son said, holding his hand up forestallingly. "I want to be able to sit still in first period, which I won't if I'm wired." He explained with a smile. "If there's any left at lunchtime, I'll definitely take you up on it." "If." Autumn agreed pleasantly, turning back from contemplating the panorama outside the window now that her face had cooled somewhat - only to freeze like a deer in delicious jade headlights as Jase leaned towards her this time. If she could have formed a coherent thought, it would likely have been 'If he kisses me here I'm going to end up climbing all over him at the breakfast table.' but all she was capable of was 'Umm...' as the olive toned, scarred face came closer still... and then his lips brushed her freckled cheek and a fresh wave of delighted pink spread from her hairline in sync with her smile. "I'm psychokinetic." Jase explained to Jacob as he straightened up, cutting a forkful of pancakes and taking a mouthful, washed down by coffee as Autumn's friend mulled that over for a moment. "So that's like telekinetic?" "Same thing, pretty much." Jason allowed. "The devil is in the detail of the word. Telekinesis is one of the things I can do - moving things. But my control over kinetic energy goes down pretty far - I can control the motion of molecules - slowing them down or speeding them up." "So that would mean... making things cooler or hotter?" Jacob hazarded, recalling some thermodynamics from Physics last year. Jason nodded. "But how does that work?" The young athlete asked, fascinated. "How do you do it?" "Still working on figuring that out." Jason shrugged, taking another bite of his breakfast, syrup clinging to his lips as he ate. "I have theories, but no way to coherently test them yet. We can all feel the energy - Shine - that we tap into, and some of us can feel it in detail, but there's a ton of 'what if?' and 'don't know' still to clear up." "There's other names for the energy, whatever it is," Autumn added, pouring the last bit of milk from her carton into her coffee. "Dawning Light's what the Blackfeet call it." Jacob nodded; his own trip to the reservation and subsequent talks with his father had given him at least a rudimentary framework, of sorts, to support what he'd been hearing over the last few days, which was more useful now that he had some direct experience. "But, yeah. For me, it's all about dealing with living things, or I guess," she frowned, teeth catching momentarily at her lower lip, "just life in general, and all the processes that go into that. People, animals... plants, even, to a certain extent. Healing is a part of that, but just a part. I'm hoping I can learn more on Saturday when I go in with Mom and Dad, maybe see what else I can do, or find better ways to do it. There's kind of a range of things that go into these... abilities, y'know? It's like how Jase can start a fire, or make a drink cold, or give people airplanes, or-" Inhaling as she caught sight of the pale line etched into her boyfriend's skin again, she gave a wan smile. "Or stop bullets." "Bullets?" Jacob repeated, the deep furrow of a frown creasing his forehead as he put two and two together. "Hang on a minute. You mean-" He gestured toward the scar cresting Jason's cheek, a faded mark he'd assumed was a remnant of their fight with the Enemy. "That?" "Yes." Jason inclined his head slowly, not at all self-conscious of the scar. "We have more mundane enemies. One of their... agents sent some people to kill me yesterday." "Holy shit..." Jacob breathed, his eyes widening as he looked at the scar more carefully. "They shot you in the-" "Side of the head." Jase finished, half-turning his head and lifting the hair a little so the other young man could see. "I can put up forcefields that blunt kinetic energy and disperse it. I was a little slow getting one up because I didn't see the attack coming until almost too late. It slowed the bullet enough for it to merely fracture my skull and glance off rather than drill right through." He let his hair fall back into place and went back to eating. "Fuck." Jacob stated, blinking both at the evidence of the attack and at the matter-of-fact reporting of it, glancing at Autumn. "If it hadn't been for Autumn, I'd likely be dead. And if it hadn't been for Devin, I'd probably have died before Autumn could save me." Jase agreed, his pale eyes examining Jacob. "The world contains more than monsters. There's humans who want to control, or contain us. Failing that, I believe they will try to destroy us." "Sure you don't want any coffee?" Autumn chimed in, offering her friend both a sympathetic smile and her cup as he again declined with a polite shake of his head. "Suit yourself." Taking another sip, she nodded her agreement with Jason as she glanced in his direction, trying to focus on the subject matter at hand, and not to think about the fact that he'd actually kissed her for a change; even if it was only on the cheek, she could almost feel the phantom pressure of his lips against her skin, a faint tingle of memory. Not for real, obviously, but almost. Turning back to Jacob and more pressing (if less appealing) concerns, she pursed her lips, nose crinkling unhappily. "The whole situation is complicated, I guess, and to be honest I'm trying not to think too much about that right now. But it does kind of go with what we were talking about earlier... the 'what next?' stuff. Just having these powers might not change our lives much, but-" Movement over Jay's shoulder caught Autumn's attention and her eyes followed, tracking the distant clatter of empty plates and trays being dropped off as increasing numbers of students pushed back their chairs and filtered out of the cafeteria in small groups. What time was it? she wondered, realizing she hadn't looked at her phone at all yet that morning. Sliding it from her pocket as, catching her air of urgency, Jacob glanced at his watch, the two childhood friends immediately came to the same conclusion: the first bell was about to ring. "Crap," they muttered, almost in unison, and grinned. "Okay," Autumn laughed, simultaneously relieved not to be discussing assassins and hellscapes so early in the day and frustrated that they hadn't been able to finish talking. "We'll talk more later, yeah?" "Yeah," the future FWP administrator agreed, smiling as the trio gathered up plates and bags. "Sounds good." With a quick check of his own phone and a brief wave, Jacob melted into the surging crowd. Jason shoved the last mouthful of his breakfast into his mouth and stood as he washed it down with the last swallow of coffee in his cup. A tap on his arm brought him face to face with Autumn, who smiled up into his eyes as she proffered the other thermos cup lid. "Thanks." the young redhead told her boyfriend, nose crinkling as he nodded, smiling back and screwing the cup into place. "Uh..." Autumn's eyes found the smear of syrup on his lower lip and locked onto it. "You've got a little something..." she murmured, suddenly once more keenly, painfully aware of his nearness as she lifted a hand to indicate the offending condiment. Jase, hands full of book bag and thermos, licked his lower lip in a gesture that sent an electrical shiver down Autumn's spine. "Better?" he asked, glancing around to ensure he hadn't left anything behind as he stepped away from where he'd been sitting. Fuck it. Slender, strong hands gently cupped his jaw, Autumn's fingers playing over his smooth and scarred cheeks as she brought him round and down to face her, her mouth hungrily searching out his. The kiss was brief, her tongue gently playing over his lower lip, sucking gently before she let him go, gazing up at him with a smile. Someone, somewhere else in the cafeteria, wolf-whistled. Jase stared at her for a moment, taking in the pink cheeks, the blue eyes dark with desire, his senses afire with the sudden fierceness of her kiss. "Thanks." he murmured, smiling slightly. "Mmm. No problem." Autumn breathed back, stepping a pace away so as not to be tempted to go further. Later, though, she mentally promised herself. And him. "We'd, uh, better get to Chem." "Right." Jase nodded, shoving his thermos in his bag and falling into step with her as they dropped off their trays and left the cafeteria together.
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  23. The grey of predawn was broken by a pale sun rising above the horizon, a faint breeze keeping the morning cool still. Despite the chill, Sean's rich red hair had already darkened with effort, sweat stains beginning to spread at the small of his back and the pits of his shirt. Sean's huffing breath was the only sound beyond the rustling of the leaves behind the Barn as he strained to finish one last push-up. He could barely remember the last time he'd done a push-up, but he'd certainly been carrying less weight on his chest then. Lilly had told him to just do as many as he comfortably could, and while having no illusions about how athletic he was - or nonathletic, rather - he didn't want to come across as a complete wuss. Slim arms trembling, he finished one more. Gasping, heavy chest heaving, Sean sat back on his heels and shook out his arms before grasping a water bottle and chugging it, wishing it was coffee or an energy drink. It was way too early to be this active. He looked up at the taller, far more physically gifted teen. "I... lost... count. How many was that? Twenty-nine? Thirty?" He dumped some of the water on his head, brushing it through his damp hair with his fingers. "Just tell me whatever's next doesn't need my arms." It had been another difficult night for Lilly. For the last couple of nights she had actually begun to dread falling asleep, because sleep did not offer the, restful, peaceful respite it usually did and instead would drag her back down into a pit of her fears which Mr. Enterich had so expertly drawn to the surface and magnified. Eventually though the long fingers of fatigue would grip Lilly and she and drag her back down until she inevitably would startle awake once again, heart racing, body covered in sweat, tears racing down her cheeks, or some combination there of. Finally, early in the morning, she showered, packed her backpack, dressed and waited for her mother who, after she had instead on going to school today, relented but only if she drove Lilly herself. Begrudgingly, Lilly had agreed and eventually the pair had made there way into town to Sean's house, after Lilly had explained she had agreed to help him improve his fitness. Now she was here, at least physically, if not all together mentally. She was much more subdued as well, her usual smile gone for now, replaced with an almost passionless mask. "Eleven." she stated simply as she brought her full attention back to the present and her friend. At Sean's frown she shook her head and raised her hand. "Relax. We all start somewhere, so don't concern yourself with what others can do or feel bad about where you are. You've already taken the biggest step, and that's deciding to address your personal fitness. So you run your own race and don't concern yourself with others." she reassured him before continuing, "The goal for now is to just get you functionally fit, so nothing crazy to worry about. Most of that will be simple circuit training. Essentially simple cardio and exercises in small reps, and no real equipment is even needed, so you can do it here or anywhere. And nothing I am gonna give you is gonna to destroy you, but it will be a workout." "For example, Sprint here to there," Lilly said as she pointed a fence post a distance off, "and come back, plank for fifteen seconds, then do fifteen squats, then sprint there and come back again, then fifteen crunches and fifteen push ups. That is one full circuit. Try to do the fifteen of each exercise, but if you can't, then don't kill yourself trying. Just move on to the next one and keep going. With time and reps you will do better and better." Sean nodded his understanding, though with the distant look in his eyes as he recovered from his push-ups, Lilly at first wasn't sure if he had heard her. But he had, and was all for not needing any extra equipment and being able to to do the workout and exercises pretty much anywhere. "Okay, I got it," he said, nodding again and steadying his ragged breathing. If he noticed Laurie giving him a long pointed look as she walked to the Corolla with their mother, he gave no sign of it. Sean looked up at Lilly, arching a put upon brow. "And I'm suppose to do this every day?" Lilly lips curved minutely with wryness. "Well, sure, you can have a cheat day here or there, or a regular rest day, but yeah, pretty much every day, Sean. Look, how often do you write code, software, any kind?" "Every day," Sean admitted. "Some, at least, barring any sort of exceptional circumstance." "This is the same. You just need to make it into a routine. It'll get easier, you'll get better at it, and eventually, it'll just be a part of your day. But until then..." The superhuman athlete nodded towards the fence post. "... it starts as hard work. Now run." Sean gave a shirt straining sigh. "I hate the running the most." But gamely, he sprinted towards the post and back, and worked his way through the circuit. His form started out rather terrible, Lilly giving him suggestions and sometimes using a hand to correct him. He couldn't quite prevent himself from stiffening when she touched him, despite knowing she was helping him, especially when she was still working through her own troubles. Asking her to demonstrate was way more enlightening, even if it was blindingly obvious he'd never be in Lilly's league no matter how much he worked at it. He wouldn't even reach Teagan's level, and maybe not Laurie's - not without out a lot of chemical aid and perhaps psionic cheating, perhaps. But being able to see the bioelectric activity through Lilly's nervous system, that awareness seeming to expand to better understand the play of muscle and tendon, certainly helped. He had to adapt of course, his body just couldn't move the way Lilly's did, it was basic mechanics. But by the time he finished his circuit to Lilly's satisfaction, he didn't feel like a fish flopping around on land anymore. He didn't push himself as much as he had at first, just getting the hang of the movements and exercises, keeping his sets balanced and planning on gradually increasing them. Still, when he was done, he was tired, and they were almost running late. Sean barely had time to clean up a little, change his clothes, fill a thermos of coffee and offer Lilly one,, and grab a banana for breakfast before they had to go. Loose and leaden limbed, it took more effort than usual to climb up behind the wheel of his Grand Cherokee. The pair of unlikely friends were quiet on the drive to school, Sean glancing at Lilly covertly from the corner of his eye as he pushed the speed limit. She'd been uncharacteristically somber this morning. He understood way, some, and felt another pang of guilt. "I never thought you had abandoned us, Lilly," Sean said when the silence became too overbearing. "I just figured something came up that you believed needed your attention more. And I never thought you might have been in trouble, like, real trouble. I mean, you're... you. Even before all this..." He waved an encompassing hand, "it seemed like you could handle anything." Sean frowned in contemplation and self-recrimination. "But after Charlie, and now what happened with Jase, and Enterich, any of us are vulnerable. We - I - should have checked on you. Even to just say hi and see if you could make it to gaming. And I'm sorry for that." He exhaled tiredly. "Dunno if our weekly gaming sessions are even going to continue now, with everything that's going on." Lilly, who had been looking out the passenger side window as they drove, turned to look at Sean for a moment. "What could've possibly just 'come up' that was more important than a battle against the Darkness for the soul of Shelly, or reality, or whatever, that I wouldn't call or text one of you to let you know what came up and why I wouldn't be there, and that I could handle by myself? Like, seriously dude." Lilly let that question soak in for a moment and shook her head. "I'm not angry with you or the others. At least, I don't think I am, but right now I'm so worn out that almost don't know if I am coming or going, so who knows? It just... hurt. I mean, we all kinda thought the same about Charlie. None of us really checked up on him either, me included." she explained, adding, "But we also hadn't just heard about one of being killed right before either." Lilly sighed. "Anyways..." Lilly said, refocuses her thoughts as best she could. "I believe you. It's fine. It was a mistake. They happen." she said to ease her friend's fears. "We just need to do better, all of us, me included. So don't worry about it. We'll do better."
    1 point
  24. The following takes place during the Labor Day celebration... Lilly watched the exchange between Marissa and the adults at the table and sighed to herself. Things were clearly not well between Marissa and Jase, and did have a point, even if it was not brought up in the most tactful of ways. 'It's often not what you, but how you say it.' appeared to be a lesson that Marissa had never learned, or was choosing to ignore for any number of reasons. In the end, just Lilly and Hank were let at 'Camp Bannon' as it were as Lilly watched Marissa walk off. "She means well, even if she does not show it in the best of ways. I think she's just not used to caring about people so she gets a bit overly protective or something. I dunno." Lilly said to Hank. "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Hank responded, to which Lilly nodded. "Yeah. I know. We all have issues. I just hope we can get some of them worked out before it's too late." she replied. "You mean like you and throwing your tryouts?" Hank asked. "Yeah, that's one, at least." Lilly said, lifting up her sunglasses to sit on her forehead, holding her hair back and out of her face. "I just didn't know how to tell them. I mean, yeah, it's been weeks since we started getting these... abilities, but it's still happened really fast, you know?" she said, almost looking for some agreement. "And before I knew it, it was time to leave for the tryouts and I still didn't know how to talk to them. It's like, I didn't want to disappoint them for giving up or whatever." "But you didn't give up, did you? I don't know too much about you, but from what I do know it's pretty clear that you're no quitter." Hank said as his calm, some might say cold or calculating, eyes looked her over. "Yeah, I guess, but I couldn't tell my parents that I am dropping a dream I've had, and worked so hard toward, for years because it's nowhere near a level playing field anymore because I can... because of what I can do , you know, now. It's cheating." Lilly said and then added, "Or at least it is to me." with a shrug. "Probably not a fair competition, no." Hank drawled, shrugging. "Cheating might be a strong word - there's people at the top of their game who can go into a competition pretty much guaranteed to win. Are they cheating because they started with an edge, then worked hard to improve it? Like that Phelps guy, the swimmer who won all those gold medals. I read that the dude was something of a freak of nature even before all his hard work. Something about his bones or some shit. I dunno. For what it's worth, I agree that you did the right thing not competing. If it was a life-or-death matter, then things would be different - screw the other guy. But in a sport?" He shrugged his shoulders again. "I think you made the right call." "Thanks." Lilly said, finding at least some solace in his evaluation of her choice. "But yeah, I tanked them because I didn't know how to talk to my mom and dad about everything. I knew I should, and I even wanted to, but I didn't know how to or where to start. I didn't want to disappoint them, which I guess I did anyways, though they took it better than I expected when I finally did." "But that is totally different from tell them about the other stuff. I mean, my dad is a Lt. Col. and head of base security. His reaction... Like, I don't think he is in on anything that's been going on, but I suppose there is a slight chance that he could be. I dunno. And even if he is not, I really, really, really doubt he would be on board with, uh, our plans for the evening, and I don't what to have to defy him. I tell myself that it is best to just do what we planed and then ask for forgiveness later rather than permission now, but even that doesn't sit too well with me. Sometimes you just got to suck it up, I guess." Lilly said with a shrug. "Part of growing up." Hank took a swig from his beer, then gave Lilly a serious look. "And kid, some advice from one who knows. Don't go tellin' all and sundry who your daddy is and what he does. People who know, know. People who don't, don't need to. Hell, even some of those who do know don't need to. Now sure, I'm just friendly ol' Hank, your buddy's dad's buddy. But there's people with no sense of humor who'd pitch a shit fit if they knew you were talking to me, let alone talking about who your dad is. When you're dealing with O5's and base security issues, there's no such thing as innocent conversation. You could cost your father his clearance, get him transferred to some career-killing out of the way posting where it doesn't matter what his big-mouthed daughter says." He sighed. "Look, I'm not being a hardass for the hell of it. You're still a kid, but with all this secret conspiracy stuff you've got to grow up fast. Grown-ups rules. People get killed or get their lives ruined for this shit. Like little Miss Sunshine there threatening to burn down the village if people won't play her games. Pretty sure she's just blowing air because she's pissed Jase shacked up with Red - if she was really scared of him she'd run a mile, not sit down across from him, eat lunch and talk shit, let alone want him to talk to her. But if she gets pissy enough to actually start trying to blow things up in the press - that's escalation. And she won't control where the shrapnel lands." "As for your problem?" He sighed again, checking his bottle and finding it empty. With a grunt, he tossed it into the trash, then fixed Lilly with a stare. "Think on this - if you die tonight, your folks will never know what happened to you. They'll never know how dangerous things are here. And you won't be able to help them after the fact." He spread his hands. "Don't they deserve to know? No matter how hard it is?" "And if he forbids me to go? Or even worse, goes sticking his nose into things and draws the attention of the wrong people? Because of his position he has a much greater chance of doing so. I mean, he's a very smart guy, but judgment has a way of being clouded when it comes to family and I don't think he'd take well to his little girl being experimented on." Lilly said, shaking her head. "And even if he is cool and takes and well and all of that, I'm not so sure I even want to bring my parents into this. I 'm not sure any of us should, to be honest. Telling them changes things and, I dunno, exposes them... pulls them into something so much bigger... ugh. The whole thing is just a big damned mess." Lilly groaned in frustration as she lifted her hand to run her fingers through her hair, but found the sunglasses that she had forgotten about on her forehead, which she promptly pulled off and tossed onto the table. Lilly closed her eyes and ran her fingers through her hair, pushing it back from her face as she sighed. Her brow then furrowed for a moment and she looked up at Hank. "And Mr. Graskle, My father already told talked to me about security and all of that. I don't go telling everybody who my dad is and what he does. I know better than that. I told you to give you a better since of my situation, and only because you are a marine, since 'there's no such thing as a former marine', right? And you are 'in the know' with us and, on top of all of that, Jase seems to trust you and, for whatever reason, he's always seemed to been a pretty good judge of character." "But I do honestly appreciate you looking out for me though." she said as she looked up at him. "There's just not many people I can to about all this. Like, there are some things I wanted to ask my dad, but it would have seemed really odd, so I didn't" she sighed. "Dunno about Jase being a good judge of character." Hank snorted with a smile. "Look, Lilly. I'm not sayin' you don't have reasons for keeping this from your parents. Seems you have thought about it. I don't agree with your reasons, but it's not my parents or my life. You think none of the other dads or moms are going to try and forbid these kids from going? You think that'll stop them? The way Jase tells it, you guys have a duty. You are literally the only ones who can do what needs done. You can't control what your dad does." He pointed at her. "You can only control what you do, and trust that if you give him the right information he'll make the right choice and not be a dumbass. You know: treat him like an adult." "And if you can't trust him to be that way... Maybe you're right in a practical sense not to tell him. But it's still not right in a moral sense, kid." Hank sighed. "Or at least, I don't think so. Look. If I had all the answers to all of life's hard questions I wouldn't be living alone in the woods." He grinned wryly. "Treat him like an adult? But he's my dad." Lilly said with a roll of her eyes and a small grin peeking through, which faded quickly. "No seriously. I get what you are saying. I do. I just... I dunno." she sighed. Lilly picked up her sunglasses and fiddled with them a bit idly, looking down at the them for a moment as she thought to herself. "I'm gonna go with them tonight. That's non-negotiable." Lilly said with conviction. "I just don't want to have to do it in defiance of my parents. And yeah, I guess that is a bit selfish, probably in several ways. Call duty or whatever, but I'm gonna be there for my friends and do what needs to be done." Lilly looked up at Hank, regarding him as she chewed on the corner of her bottom lip for a moment before speaking again. "But even that kinda bring up other stuff. Like... I assume you have seen some action on deployments. I mean, you got that look and demeanor. It's that or a front, and I doubt Jase would be big on somebody frontin' like that. So, like, if it's okay, and you don't might talking about it, like, in generalities or whatever, not anything about any actual specifics or operation stuff, do you mind if I ask you question about it?" she asked, somewhat pensively. When she mentioned action and deployments, Hank's expression of jovial, folksy humour altered somewhat, the grin fading away to a smile as his eyes took on a wary expression she knew well. Her dad used to get a similar look when she was a little girl, whenever father-daughter conversations strayed towards active service he'd seen, before gently and deftly changing the subject or insinuating that some topics were better saved for when she was older. Hank's eyes were flintier and more guarded, and the teen suddenly got an intense feeling that the hard, calculating look in the dark eyes was closer to the 'real' Hank, not at all softened by however many years he'd been out of the Corps. It wasn't a mean stare, or cruel. But there was a clinical coldness to the look that reminded Lilly keenly of Jase, measuring and weighing her in some balance. But the smile was still on his lips as he shrugged, eyes not wavering from hers. Whatever calculation was performed behind the rough-hewn features was evidently in her favor, for when he spoke his tone was calm. "Generalities, perhaps I can help with, for someone standing shoulder to shoulder with a kid who's practically my nephew. So have at it, Lilly. I don't mind you asking the questions, so long as you don't mind me picking and choosing which ones I answer." "Well, there's really only one, really. Or to start, I guess." Lilly said as she fiddled with her sunglasses again, looking down at them as she worked to give a voice to her concerns. Screw it, just ask. "How do you handle the fear?" she asked, looking back up at Hank again. "I mean, it's always got to be there right? Because you know that you are heading into mortal danger. And, like I said, I'm going to be there tonight and do my part, regardless, but how do you handle it?" "Like, what you and Mr. Bannon saw was bad enough. But we're going into the lion's den, to pick a fight on it's turf. I'm not sure if the others have thought much about what we're going to do. You know, like really thought it through... or maybe they have and they just try not to think about it... or maybe it is just the 'invulnerability of youth' or whatever. Hell, maybe I am overthinking it. I dunno. It just seems... I dunno." Lilly sighed, looking back down at the sunglasses she was fidgeting with in her hands. "You're overthinking it, alright." Hank held up a knife. "Pie?" At Lilly's mute nod, he cut a slice, plated it, and slid it across the table to her. "First thing you've got to realise is that most of the people you're in the shit with are just as scared as you are. You think Marissa's not even more tightly wound than normal? Shit - her being a raging bitch just now could be at least fifty percent cope. That Cassie girl? She focusing on her mom to push her personal fears out of the spotlight. Pretty sure same applies to all of you. Well, almost all." he amended with a shrug. "Soldiers drill to counteract the effects of fear and panic. They're still scared, but they've done the actions over and over so much in training that the body knows what to do even while the brain is flipping out. You don't have that luxury, not really. So you're going to have to be more intuitive about it." Hank leaned back and fished himself out another beer. "Talk about your fear to your friends. They ain't gonna laugh at you. It doesn't need to be a group therapy session: just bring it up over a drink or in a quiet moment during a card game. Fear is worse when everyone thinks they're the only one feeling it. Dark jokes are good, too. Gallows humor, they call it. Sitting with some guys I knew waiting for the green light, the talk would raise the hairs on your head. Laughter kills fear." "Sounds a bit..." "Sociopathic?" Hank grinned mirthlessly. "Yeah. A bit. Fluffy sensitive feelings don't win battles or wars, though. Being able to drive down the fear, to face it and laugh at it, and then focus on what you are doing in the moment: that's what keeps you alive longer. Final piece of advice, though..." He raised a finger. "Right before the action starts, take a moment and breathe deep, in and out, nice and slow. Your heart will be racing - slow it down, steady your nerves. It helps prevent the panic from too much adrenaline at the wrong moment." Lilly slowly pressed the tines of the fork into the edge of the slice of pie as she watched the crust flake and crumble beneath the pressure and thought about what Hank said until the fork finally separated the narrow corner from the rest of the slice. "I understand what you are saying. I'm sure it'll help." she said with a nod as she slipped the pie-clad fork into her mouth and tasted it, letting the flavors roll over her tongue, picking up on small nuances that most would miss. "We'll just have to play it by ear, kinda like a busted play in football." she added through the corner of her mouth with another nod. as she thought about it. "Like you said, we don't have the benefit of training and repetition to develop muscle memory, as it were. The thing we do have though, is each other. We've know each other for years, and some of us all of our lives, so as long as we can stay together, unified in task and purpose, the team will be greater than the sum of it's parts." Lilly said as she broke off another piece of pie with the side of the fork. "Though that also... I mean, I have another question, but I totally understand if you don't want to ans-" Lilly said, stopping herself mid sentence. She had already soured Hank's at least somewhat jovial mood somewhat, and did not want to do anymore damage for the time being. "You know what? Nevermind." she said, shaking her head with a pleasant, if subtly forced, smile. "So now I have, what? ..a few hours to figure out how and where to tell my parents about me and this stuff, sneak out of needed, and finish my prep?" she thought aloud and took another bite of the pie. "Do you have any advice on any that, or anything else for that matter?" she asked, looking up from the pie to Hank. "Everything's easier with backup. Teamwork has many uses." Hank pointed out. "Getting grounded shouldn't slow down a girl who has a friend who can teleport. Demonstration of strange powers is a good way to cut through the disbelief. Corroboration from a second source helps add weight to what you tell them." He smirked. "High school teens can arrange a party under the parents radar with less notice than a few hours. Technically, this ain't much different." Lilly could not help but grin a little at Hank's comment. "Actually, throwing together a party under their noses is kinda how all of this started in the first place." she mused and took another, larger bite of the pie. "But I see what you saying." she sighed with a nod. "So I guess I need to go find them and figure out how to tell them and who is free to help. I'd be lying if I said I was looking forward to it, but I guess it will also be a weight lifted from my shoulders too, and they might help tonight too." she added, nodding to herself as she stood up and finished the pie with a couple of rather un-ladylike bites before tossing the paper plate and plastic fork into the trash. "Thanks Mr. Graskle, for the pie and the advice. It's really helped." she said to Hank with a wave and strode off back into the crowd to find her parents or any of the Fellowship who might be able to help with her 'talk'.
    1 point
  25. Lilly stared at the man as he spoke, her eyes slowly growing ever wider as his words burrowed into her mind, finding that deep, down place where she buried her fears. A few had come near the surface when she had spoken with Hank, but they too had been sinking back into the depths, only to be dragged back into the light by Mr. Enterich. How he could know of the other things, the fears she had kept buried and never expressed to anybody, was not even a concern to her as the rest of the crowed seemed to fall away, darkened and desaturated into the background leaving just her and Mr. Enterich. "Wha-" was all she managed to stammer before she seemed to choke on her own words. She could call plays over the sounds of the crowds and the other teams' shouting on the field, but now her voice had left her, seeming much to the amusement of Mr. Enterich. She tried to lift her hands to cover her mouth, her face, but she couldn't. Her prodigious strength was stripped from her, Leaving her arms feeling like they were made of lead, while beneath her feet the ground began to feel like quicksand, making her feel ever smaller... weak... insignificant. Somehow she managed to stagger back a step from Mr. Enterich, her legs weak and shaky, but the space seemed to provide a hint of breathing room. She had to get away. Get away from him, from the crowd, from their eyes. She could see it now, how they looked at her and secretly judged her. Sure, they liked the football team winning, and if that meant they had to tolerate her for a couple of years, then they would, and once she had graduated, if she would even graduate, then they could stop giving her polite, forced smiles and fake support, because that is all they did... tolerate her... humor her. Nobody wanted here there, not really, but the backwater, redneck hicks were so obsessed with their stupid teenage football game, then they would bit their tongues for now and deal with the girl who acted like boy and probably wanted to be a boy. Who hadn't heard the steroid rumors? She had to get away. Forcing another backwards step, Lilly backed away a little more, only this time, instead of her foot finding more quicksand, she found solid ground. Wet, slippery, solid ground causing he foot to slip, sending her landing on her backside. A few people looked over, curious at what had happened, but could only see Lilly scrambling back to her feet and walk away briskly, on the verge of running, pushing her way through the people. Once she slipped past the outermost picnickers she scanned the area off to the horizon searching for some bastion of safety or escape route. The faded blue paint of her rusty, '57 Chevy pickup caught her eye almost instantly, even through the blurry wetness that was begging to set in. She found some more strength in her legs and propelled herself toward the tuck. Sliding to a stop beside the pickup, Lilly swung open the door and hopped in here she fumbled in the pockets of her short overalls for her keys and finally fished them out, stuck them in the ignition and brought the truck to life. With a jerk of the stick and a stomp of the gas pedal, the engine revved and the truck sped away. And the truck pulled on the road the usual rattling and bouncing was even more noticeable due to due to the silence coming from the old speakers of what passed for the sounds system in the pickup. Lilly glanced down at the tape deck through her blurriness encroaching her vision. She reached down and twisted with the volume knob to no avail. She ejected the tape and shoved it back in, but it has no effect. Lilly needed the music, or anything else for that matter, to try and distract her, to keep her from dwelling on the thoughts that were swelling in her head, breaking her down bit by bit, moment by moment. Frantically she fiddled the virtually antique tape deck, her panic frustration growing by the second, even resorting to hitting it with her fist, but nothing changed the unending silence that poured from the speakers which only made her own sobs and sniffles that much more pronounced. The lack of perpetually blaring 80's rock and metal made the silence more intense and made the cab of the truck feel even smaller, making her feel even more alone... or more alone than usual if she were honest with herself. Ever since she and her friends got their abilities it seems like they drifted farther and farther from her. Was it because she simply was not on their level and was, instead, more like dead weight to them? When they can red minds and teleport across the world and conjure ice and fire... what use was she to them? Even tonight, what could she really do? Punch The Dark in the face? No. That was ridiculous. The best she could hope for would be to take a hit for one of her friends, to die protecting the actually useful ones. Her abilities were nowhere on par with theirs. Fully exerting to lift a plough is nothing compared to Jase casually lifting his entire car with his mind just to tinker with it. So really, what good was she to them? They would give forced smiles and talk to her when she approached them, but when was the last one of her 'friends' called her to even hang out? She hear of them getting together for things, hanging out a Jase's, or the Jauntsen's, or wherever. But that was the thing. She always heard about later... The more she thought about them, the more Mr. Enterich's words seemed to ring true. The rest of the drive, even the day for that matter, all seemed to blur together. The silence of the drive back to the base made her feel even more isolated and alone and allowed her mind to dwell ever more intensely on Mr. Enterich's words, so that by the time she managed to reach the front gate of the base, she was a sobbing mess with tear streaked cheeks. She could remember the surprised and concern on the guard's face, parking by the shack, sitting in a little waiting room all alone, always alone as a guard made a call...
    1 point
  26. By the time Cassandra got in, her mom was already home for a change. She'd taken most of the afternoon off, since she'd have had to have left a bit early anyway. Thus, Cassie was greeted with a distracted, 'Hey kiddo,' from the living room, which startled her for a second. "Hey mom," she said back as she cruised past the living room on the way to her bedroom. Her tone was an excruciatingly well-practiced nonchalance, that formed an almost solid and concrete impression of a perfectly ordinary day, in which nothing particularly important happened and certainly nothing worthy of concern or discussion... And Teresa accepted it at face value largely out of habit. Bacon, however, wasn't having it. The dog was up off the floor in front of the couch like a shot, weaving expertly around the coffee table and interposing himself between Cassandra and the door to her room. His ears perked forward and he wagged his tail...but the whine escaping him was tense and anxious. Cass kneeled down and cooed, "Aww, what's the matter? Mom watching scary movies? Do you need a hug? Animal protective services?" She did reach out to give Bacon a hug; the german shepard being big enough to make such a gesture possible. The moment she touched him though, Cassandra froze. Worried. Bacon was worried about her, worried sick. She wasn't well, she wasn't right, and unbidden in her head she could see...well no, not see...but she could smell something rising up...a smell like sweat, only a little worse. Salty, sour, dank. Her brain instinctively tried to turn it into a picture, and what she came up with was a dark old basement that had been made into a locker room but then abandoned after murders had taken place there. The smell of fear, but not just any fear...the slow kind of fear. The rot that ate you from inside. The sudden realization that it was her smell brought her up short, and she yanked her hands away from the dog. Bacon whined again, his tail thumping the floor, and he pressed the top of his head against her neck and chin. For a second Cassandra was back in the Dark. Skulls crunched under her feet, and it wasn't a dog pressing against her. It was something else, fleshy and tumorous, biting at her with teeth that had no business being where they were... With a horrified yelp she scooted backwards away from Bacon, managing to catch herself on the heels of her hands so she didn't just flop over onto her back. Teresa looked up, and immediately felt a stab of not just unease, but fear...and for some reason, guilt? That made no sense though, so she stuffed that away and got up. "Are you okay? What happened? Did Bacon trip you? Even asking it though she could tell that wasn't it. The body language was wrong. Everything was wrong. "Cassandra?" she asked. "No," Cassie said as her breath returned. "I'm f..." she broke off, unable to say the word she'd intended. She wasn't fine. Bacon's big anxious eyes bored into her, and seeing herself in them she couldn't say the word. "I, uh...I just...had a second there... I felt scared even though there was no reason for it.It was just Bacon though." It was on instinct more than anything that Teresa leaned down to give Cassandra a hug. Instantly she knew it was the right thing to do, because her daughter immediately turned to return it, her arms unexpectedly tight. "Do you want to talk about it?" Teresa asked gently. "Can't right now," Cassie demurred. "Meeting. Maybe later?" "There's still plenty of time before the meeting," pointed out her mother. "No pressure or anything. Just...whenever you want to. Okay?" But when Cassandra decided to let go, she couldn't. So instead she said, "Actually...maybe now's good." Then Cass took a deep, shivery breath and went on, "I need tell you about what happened the other night. And...when I do, I just...just please keep remembering that we made it out okay. It's over, it's done..." A flash of Enterich's face popped into her mind, smirking. Over and done, are we? What a relief. We wouldn't want to have to go through that again. Even with as much time as they had, they were almost late to the meeting. =========== On getting to the conference room, Cassandra realized there wasn't really a place left to sit that wasn't near the Jauntsens. She went up to the seat by Dana, and her mother took the one between her and Misti. Cassie didn't say anything, or meet many eyes as she came in. A sharp eye might have seen a little bit of puffiness around them that implied some tears had been shed. Teresa, on the other hand, gave everyone a reserved smile as she went around to her seat and said, "Hello, I hope we didn't hold everyone up. We got off to a little bit of a later start than we'd hoped to...some last minute family business came up. Under the table she reached over to give Cassandra's hand a squeeze. She'd suggested just canceling, but Cass had been rock solid firm that they had to go to this. There wouldn't be a make-up day if they missed this exam. Cass returned the squeeze and then got up to get some water for herself and her mom just ahead of when the meeting started for real.
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  27. “Is there anything else you want to tell us?” Ian asked soberly, glancing up as the soft, rhythmic sound of bare feet descending the stairway stopped at the sound of his voice. Dana, likewise, looked up from her plate of half-finished spaghetti expectantly. It had been nearly an hour since Jason had brought their daughter home, almost half of which she’d spent in the shower after reminding them about the meeting at the medical center and chasing the dogs around the yard to burn off some nervous energy. “Go Take A Hike!” the pink-cheeked girl’s bright blue t-shirt cheerfully suggested, and knowing more or less which families were meant to be in attendance, the older redhead wondered idly if the choice of attire was deliberate. Autumn paused at the foot of the stairs, her towel and still-damp hair draped over her shoulders, one hand reaching automatically downward to rub the top of Zephyr’s head as the golden-furred Shepherd mix padded over to greet her. It was a loaded question, of course. What her father really meant, she knew from experience, was: “Is there anything you’d like to confess now, before we hear it from someone else?” She’d already told them some things, sure- not about what happened with the Marshal-Formerly-Known-As-Dale, obviously, or the whole Coyote/Man in Black thing, or the fact that her boyfriend was apparently, maybe, an interdimensional alien, or about the Crossroads prison conspiracy- but the immediate stuff. Things they’d actually needed to know. Priorities. And since no one had ever bothered discussing anything specific that they didn’t want discussed, Autumn had a feeling it was going to get pretty tense. “The short answer,” she replied after a moment’s uncertainty, visibly uncomfortable at the quiet scrutiny of her parents from the adjoining room, “is ‘yes.’ Probably,” she amended quickly. “But, honestly, that’s why we’re going to this thing in the first place. So much has happened in the last week or so, I couldn’t cover everything if I wanted to. There’s stuff I don’t remember, or didn’t think was really important, or wouldn’t be able to tell you without getting into a whole other conversation just to explain how we even got to that point. Plus, some of it happened before I even got involved. And… some of it’s not my business to tell you anyway,” the earnest teen hedged, acknowledging the promise she’d made to them at the Carousel. “So this way you get to hear all that kind of firsthand: who everyone is, what’s been going on. Just…” Smiling slightly at the feeling of a cool, wet nose pressed against her palm, Autumn focused for a moment on the dog at her feet, kneeling down to rub a happily squirming Zee’s neck and shoulders vigorously with both hands. “Just try to keep in mind that, um.” That all of this is crazy, and so are most of the people involved? “Some of it’s gonna be a lot to deal with, and I’m not really sure how much everyone else has told their families, you know? So… expect chaos.” “Fantastic,” her father sighed, shaking his head as he tore off another bite of garlic bread and Dana poured herself another half-glass of wine. A little later... “…I’m just saying, we don’t really know what kind of people these-“ There was a moment’s pause as their escorts stepped away and Ian stopped in the doorway of the conference room, blue eyes quickly taking in the measure of the room’s occupants. “Oh.” The conversation he’d been having with his wife ended abruptly on that awkward, monosyllabic exhalation as he realized that some of the people he was referring to were already present. “Evening,” the entrepreneur added after taking a heartbeat to recover, smiling affably and continuing through the door as Dana and Autumn followed him in. “Ah, you must be-“ “Annette Giles,” the poised Aeon representative replied, rising smoothly from her seat as the Keanes approached and the traditional handshakes and parental courtesies were observed. “Of course, of course,” Ian nodded, still smiling. “Autumn’s told us…” The smile turned wry as he glanced over at his daughter, the dry sarcasm of his tone unmistakable. “So much about you. And this is my wife, Dana, and this-“ “Dad,” the younger redhead murmured in bemused exasperation, nudging her father with her elbow. “She knows who I am.” “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Giles,” the elder Keane woman interjected with a smile, clasping Annette’s hand warmly in her own as Autumn and Ian exchanged a quick flurry of playful nudges and hushed exhortations to quit playing around. “The pleasure is mine.” Her reply seemed genuine enough, as far as Ian could tell, although he couldn’t quite put his finger on the faint accent that marked it. “Please, make yourselves comfortable while we wait for the others.” Ian nodded, turning back to the few other folks arrayed around the table, glancing from the Allisters to the two men sitting with their backs to the door, and then the well-dressed foursome at the far end of the room from Annette Giles. Were there really enough kids involved to require that many empty chairs? he wondered, approaching the older man seated nearby. “Hi, I’m-“ He stood there for half a second, hand extended as he caught sight of the lanky, slouching figure he’d somehow missed before, and realization dawned. “He’s my dad,” Autumn supplied helpfully as she ducked around his arm, smiling at Gar and, beyond him, at the remote youth sitting next to him. “Ian. And this,” she indicated the taller, svelte redhead who likewise offered the Bannons a smile, “is my older sister. Ow!” She complained, grinning even as she rubbed the spot on her side where Dana had pinched her. “My mom. Dana. Mom, Dad, this is Jase’s dad, Gar Bannon.” "Nice to meet you at last." Gar had risen from his seat a trifle awkwardly, as though he hadn't expected the courtesies, but his smile was genuine as he took Ian's hand in a firm clasp and shake. The differences in manner were noticeable between his nervous warmth and his son's composed, though equally genuine faint smile-and-nod of greeting to the Keane clan. "Likewise." Autumn's father said by way of introduction as he returned the handshake. He'd heard around town that Gar was a drunken bum and a bit of a nut, but the hazel eyes were clear and alert, the face was shaved and hair was combed, and he was dressed in standard Montana-casual of plaid shirt and jeans rather than the 'prepper chic' of Army surplus clothing Ian had been half-expecting. Beyond him, Jase unwound from the chair he'd been inhabiting and stood. Ian looked at him. "Good to see you're okay, Jase." he remarked, a heartfelt enough statement. Sure, the kid was odd, unnerving and, worse, was dating his little girl, but Ian didn't actually wish him ill. Dana moved forward and shook Gar's hand, still smiling, as Ian stepped back. "Autumn's told us a little about you." she confided. "Thank you for making her welcome at your place." "She's a real pleasure to have around." Gar replied, his smile widening a little as he winked at the younger redhead, who smiled widely through her faint blush. Dana cast an amused doubtful glance at both of them, but said nothing as she stepped a little past Gar and gave Jase a quick hug. "I'm glad you're okay too." she told the lean young man, studying the scar that ran from over his ear down his cheek. It looked months old - Autumn's 'gift' at work undoubtedly - but was still noticeable against the bronze-olive tan of his face. "Thanks." Jason replied, giving her a slight smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling a little, as Dana stepped back. His pale jade gaze found Autumn, the smile still lingering in his eyes. "Hey." he said to her softly. “Hey,” the freckled vitakinetic replied quietly, the faint rose in her cheeks deepening by degrees, and it was only the light pressure of her father’s hand on her shoulder that reminded her where she was. Tearing her attention away from the frosty green eyes that threatened to swallow her where she stood, Autumn nodded politely at the Jauntsens, her enthusiasm dimming slightly as the older Keanes likewise offered the somewhat infamous family a cordial- if distant- smile and wave of greeting. Carl and Misti reciprocated with the faux-friendliness of experienced socialites; if Autumn hadn't seen their behavior at the hospital first-hand, she realized, she probably wouldn't have known they weren't sincere. Gently, but inexorably, her parents steered her back towards Annette, pausing for a moment to once again observe the obligatory semi-formal ritual of greeting with the Allisters. Ducking away from the guiding paternal hand, Autumn continued around the table a little further before taking the seat directly opposite Jase and settled in, waiting for her less-impatient family to catch up. They were still missing the Cassidys, Allens, and... Barrases? Was that right? Slipping her cell phone from her pocket she frowned a little, scrolling through her contacts as her toes skimmed the floor. “Really?” Ian murmured a trifle archly as he sat next to his daughter, earning a bemused smile and shrug from Dana as she took the chair to Autumn’s left. “Really,” the youngest of the Keane trio confirmed, switching her phone to vibrate and placing it face-down on the table.
    1 point
  28. Pointing out that Jase not really being capable of caring had more to do with biology than courtesy- or reminding Marissa that the "other priorities" she'd mentioned basically consisted of everyone trying not to go crazy or get murdered- wasn't going to get her anywhere, Autumn conceded with an inward sigh. And since Marissa seemed more than capable of shifting a given conversation to her benefit, even a simple, straightforward statement about any of the topics she'd raised could be twisted and transformed in the beautiful socialite's flawlessly-manicured hands as she moulded truth and fiction like a sculptor with so much clay. It didn't help that no matter how much she claimed to not want to talk about him, Shelly High's teen queen kept adeptly turning the subject back to Jason Bannon, almost as if she were daring the redhead to contradict her, or to bring him up herself. Is she? Autumn wondered, copper brows arrowing together briefly in a frown. Marissa could be low-key trying to pick a fight, or to restart the conversation/argument from the training session, or to figure out whether Autumn was going to completely bail on her. Or... none of those things. Or all of them. "If you're going for Lana, try putting your hair up, maybe? The way you just had it. Draws attention to your eyes, I think," she noted as Marissa tested out various hairstyles in the mirror, having averted her eyes politely as she'd finished changing clothes. Even if neither of them was embarrassed, it still felt weird to just watch. It would've been easy to hate the girl for her wealth, her beauty, the sheer enormity of her presence; it was easier to hate her for her personality, though, her best friend acknowledged with a mixture of guilt and resentment. In moments like this, when Marissa was being honest, that seemed unfair. Maybe she really did consider Autumn her only friend. And that just made it harder to tell if the girl she'd seen behind the mask at that sleepover was the real Mari, or if the selfish, self-centered Mantis was. But after the attack that morning, Cassie's revelations, Dale's recovery, and this absolute shitshow of a "meeting," it was kind of hard to find the energy to care. Even being angry had mostly subsided into impotent frustration, and obviously, Marissa felt more or less the same way. Or didn't feel. Or whatever. Hell, maybe they were all... not coping. Maybe that was okay. Or, maybe it was better to just keep moving forward, even if it meant some things got left behind. "And, yeah," she agreed finally, half-consciously reaching for the drawstring of her hoodie before she caught herself and sighed; that was gonna be hard to get used to. "Yeah, I'll text you. I was thinking of doing a thing this weekend, like a camping trip for everybody, but..." With a rueful half-smile tugging at one corner of her mouth, the restless red-haired girl shrugged again. "I guess we'll see. Anyway." She glanced toward the window, through which the late afternoon sunlight filtered in a hazy golden glow. "You need to get ready, and my ride's waiting, so... See you at the next catastrophe." The crooked smile faded, replaced with a slightly more genuine, if taut one, as Autumn gave a quick wave and headed back downstairs.
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  29. Jase pinched out the glowing butt of his smoke, exhaling a final plume into the air, then glanced sideways as the Jauntsen manor's front door opened and Cassandra stormed out. The pretty blonde's face was a mixture of red and livid, her features set in a weary half-scowl that the usually detached young man analysed and classified as 'so done with all this shit right now'. Her gaze moved over him, her jaw tightening a little as she walked down the path and started to pass him, clearly intending to make her own way home. "Do you want a lift?" The question was simply and quietly asked as Cassandra drew abreast of him. "It's no trouble." he added, noting what he took for hesitation in her expression. Cassandra was barely down the driveway before she realized that she'd overcommitted to this dramatic storm out. The Jauntsens weren't in the middle of nowhere by any means, but they weren't particularly close to her place. Or a bus stop. She'd probably have to hike all the way back to the town center before she had her bearings enough find a way home. Going back in now would be...just...no though. And calling her mom almost as bad. But hey, walking was exercise right? Cassie held onto that fragile resolve right up until Jase asked if she wanted a lift. She nodded and went around to the passenger side, then let herself in. "No Autumn?" she asked. "She'll be out in a bit." Jason gestured to the single bench seat in the back of the Charger as he opened the drivers side door and slid with his habitual boneless grace into the driver's seat. Green eyes glanced at Cassie, giving her the sensation of being analysed - but not wholly clinically. There was a glimmer of something else in the otherwise glacial expression. "I'd imagine she's trying to talk to Marissa." He paused for a moment, then his head tilted faintly in curiousity, the scar on his cheek showing starkly against the olive tone of his skin. "How are you?" Cassie flapped a hand as she pushed in past the passenger side seat into the backseat area. "Still kinda mad. Kinda at Devin and Mari. Kind of at myself. I just...had this self-image, you know? Like I'm someone who can talk people down, or get people to think about things, or themselves, or...whatever. But I'm not. That's not me, and I should know that by now, but I keep doing this kind of thing." He considered that, half-twisting in his chair to watch her as she settled into the back seat, absorbing her words and turning them over in the prism-like halls of his mind. "Sometimes our image of ourselves and our ability is coloured by what we desire. I am curious: why do you want to be that person? I can understand why a reporter would want to be able to draw people into talking to them, but I get the impression there is more to your desire than simple curiousity." She shrugged, then said, "I guess because I can't fight, and still want to think I can get people to do what I want. So...can't threaten or force people, so I need to be able to persuade them. Annnnd I guess if I'm blisteringly honest, maybe because I secretly think I'm the hero of my own story, and I need to be able to make things happen. So...ego." "Interesting." Just that. No judgement, no amusement. Just a faintly thoughtful subharmonic to the young genius's tone. He straightened up, his eyes finding her in the rear view mirror. "Threatening or forcing people isn't an ideal solution. I rarely do either for that reason. I actually like your approach, Cassandra. Use of reason, of logic, rather than leverage, would yield better results if you are dealing with the same people long-term." He sighed slightly, relaxing in his seat. "The downside is that human beings are largely dictated to by their fear, or their desire, or their ego-" he smiled faintly at her "- unless they make an effort to adhere to principle. Reasoning only sometimes reaches the unreasonable. For what it's worth, I don't think you should give up. Even if people are frustrating, they can sometimes be rewarding too." "I'm not giving up. Just...tactical retreat for now." She waved a hand and turned so she was lying across the back seat rather than sitting up in it. "When I'm mad I tend to switch from the 'reason and logic' approach to the 'threaten and force' approach. I'm still bad at it, but I don't want to lose friends over it." Jason absorbed that without apparent reaction, falling silent then as the two of them sat in the car, the lazy afternoon sunlight outside making golden patterns on the walls of the large house. "For what it's worth, I still think I was right to have us come here," Cassie says after a moment of pause. "Even you. It might seem like we didn't accomplish anything, but sometimes gestures like this mean more than you think. Especially with someone like Mari." She hesitates just a second and adds, "And Devin." "Personally, I do believe it was a benefit for me to come here." he replied calmly, his pale eyes glinting with hints of frost. "I found out exactly what they think and feel about me. The mask was removed, and now I can cease to be confused by all the apparent contradictions. They were never really my friends - I was merely convenient, until I wasn't." "I think it's more complicated than that," Cassandra says. "I think they're just...really bad at having friends, you know? They don't have much practice. And they probably feel like it makes them...I don't know. Weak or vulnerable or something." "Really?" To his credit, or perhaps as a result of his natural reserve, Jase's tone was more rhetorical than genuinely incredulous. "They see me as a mad dog who not only can't be trusted judgement-wise, but cannot be trusted intent-wise either. Marissa is apparently legitimately afraid that I will kill her or Autumn for a wrong word or action. I am described as 'threatening or setting on fire anything or anyone' that does not conform to my standards. She tells me that we are friends, even after my mistakenly kissing her after misreading her cues, and then goes to seek out Cade to feel safe around me because apparently I terrify her." His tone remained dreadfully calm throughout the recounting. "In her own words, I am an abuser and the sort of person who torments helpless animals. And finally, my word once given has no credibility." He smiled, a thin cold smile, his voice taking a sarcastic tone. "Because yes, I am the one with a penchant for lies, tormenting people, and bullying others." "And yet, one of us was shot in the face as a result of the other one deciding not to warn them." He stared out of the window of the car, his features unreadable. "I am bad at being a friend, Cassie. Naturally bad at it. But I try to rise beyond that." "Because you're not afraid of having friends," Cassandra replies gently. "You just haven't had them before." "As for the rest..." she shakes her head. "I don't know. Obviously there's issues, but it all seems to me like it comes from that basic fear. I just don't know how to help with that." "Nor do I." Jase's tone lost the frozen edge as he sighed and leaned his head back against the seat. "I just know that humans almost inevitably try to drive away, contain or destroy what they fear." "Or...or...they grow past their fear. It can happen. It's just not easy." He considered that, eyes crinkling at the edges in a slight smile. "Yes. Like Autumn did." Cassie nods. "Like most of us did, truth be told. About one thing or another. And in the end, Devin and Marissa did go with us to the Dark. There's something there. It's just...without an emergency, without something to make it personal, they kind of slip back into their old habits." "I can't really do anything about that. I have people who actually enjoy my company, who think me trustworthy, who like me - the real me, not the mask I have worn for most of school. Which is an interesting experience, and one I enjoy. Why should I concern myself with those who do not like me?" "Concerning yourself with people who don't like you is how people start to like you," Cassandra points out. "No one likes anyone right out of the gate." She shrugs. "But I get it. They've had every chance. If you want to give up on them, I wouldn't hold it against you." "Perhaps I should exchange 'do not like' with 'actively dislike'. But yes, you also have a point." Jason's eyes smiled faintly again at her. "I am not 'giving up' so much as tactically withdrawing. Their opinions will mature and change, or they will not. I cannot control that, only my response to it." "Yeah," Cass agreed. "I just don't know what to do. Nothing feels like the wrong idea, but...maybe that's where we are. Anyway. Thanks for coming. Thanks for giving it a chance." "You asked me to." He inclined his head to her. "Despite my reluctance, it would have been unfriendly to refuse you." Cassandra absorbed that with a moment of quiet, then said, "We still have to figure out what to do about Enterich." "First, we have to survive the parental meeting." Jason's tone was dryly amused. "One catastrophe at a time." Cass frowned a little at that, but didn't offer argument for once. They let the silence fill the space between them, the blonde reporter relaxing on the back seat, the odd young man gazing seemingly idly out of the window, each musing on their private thoughts as they waited.
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  30. Autumn's features, reflected in the vanity mirror, went rigid with exasperation as she plucked the squares of gauze from Marissa's hand. Just breathe, Autumn. Breathe. For a moment she hesitated, torn between the conflicting urges to tell her exactly what she thought and probably start another fight, or to just walk out of the twins' house and never look back. Devin had even been the one to say that none of them had added anything to the Jauntsens' lives that'd be missed if it was gone; well, that went both ways, didn't it? Would it really be that terrible to just say precisely what was on her mind and get it over with? Because after listening to everything downstairs, the redhead had plenty to say- But that was the problem. There really was so much to be said, and so much emotion seething and roiling behind the words bubbling up in her brain, that if she started right now she might not be able to stop again. So... Later. Right. "Okay, look," she exhaled slowly, moderating her tone as much as possible as she focused on reapplying the fresh dressings to her friend's wounds. She could be reasonable. Totally reasonable. It was fine. "Last night sucked. We were all there, we all could've died, and I'm pretty sure everybody except Jase and your totally-not-a-boyfriend are still going to be having nightmares about it a month from now. I mean, I'm definitely gonna be asking my mom if her insurance covers therapy, because I probably need it at this point." There was a fleeting pause as she reached out, palm up. "Tape." As the annoyed brunette dropped a small roll of medical tape into her waiting hand she picked up the thread of the conversation again, tearing off and applying the adhesive strips with a deftness born of frequent practice. "I also offered to help you and Devin the other night, and both of you blew me off, so I don't need the sarcasm when I'm trying to be nice. Seriously. I was asking how it felt because I wanted to know how you were healing, if you've had any other problems besides just pain. Like itching, or swelling, heat around the cuts and bite marks, anything unusual." Another pause, wide eyes narrowing slightly as the red-haired Girl Scout scrutinized her work. Holding the tape briefly between her lips, Autumn frowned, moving Marissa's shoulder to make sure the dressings weren't too taut to be comfortable. Satisfied, she leaned forward, carefully tossing the roll back onto the countertop. "You know. Because I kind of low-key felt bad that you were hurt, and I wanted to make sure you were okay. So pretty please, Marissa, for fuck's sake, could you drop the attitude for five minutes? Please," she repeated earnestly, catching the other girl's eyes in the mirror. "I'm trying, here."
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  31. “Several,” she replied calmly. “If you’ve come all the way up here, there is no doubt a conversation on how ‘my storming out never solves anything’ on the way. You’re welcome in anytime, Autumn, you don’t need to knock like a stranger.” Marissa’s room was every bit the ‘princess palace’ Autumn remembered. White curtains, a huge four-post, queen-sized bed, that was home to numerous stuffed animals, a few looking quite old and well worn. Her large vanity was just to the right as one entered, the makeup she owned was organized with care across its surface while various pictures were neatly framing the large mirror where the teen did put on her face each morning. Her bed was just a few steps across from her door, and she stood at the foot of it still debating which outfit she going to wear. “So,” she held up her sweaterdress in one hand, and her skirt and half-turtleneck up in her other by their respective hangers. “Be honest, which do you think I should wear? I love the sweaterdress and we’re kind of all secret agenty now, so I can totally pull of the Lana vibe, but there are some really hot military guys in the hospital playing at being orderlies or something, and this skirt and top will really get their attention, I know it.” "It'll probably also get your parents' attention, too," Autumn pointed out as she stepped inside the veritable shrine to femininity. In flannel, denim, and old sneakers, the redhead felt distinctly out of place; but then, that would've been true anywhere in the Jauntsen home, probably. "The dress looks more... Hm." Frowning a little, she glanced from the gorgeous brunette to the outfits she was proposing. "Professional, maybe? And no. I'm not here to talk about you leaving. It's your house, and I'm going to need at least until tomorrow to stop screaming internally after-" Glancing back toward the door, she gestured vaguely in the direction of back there. "-After whatever that was. You and I have plenty of stuff to talk about, but not tonight. I think we can probably at least agree on the fact that it has been a whole day, and I'm kind of over it. So, for now... peace?" "For now," she shrugged, dropping the skirt/turtleneck combo on the bed. "Although, I don't know what you're expecting to change from now until then. So," she strolled to and opened up the massive walk-in vault she called a 'closet' and proceeded to select a suitable belt and the the suede boots she had in mind for the sweaterdress. Tan knee-highs that probably had a price tag on them that could pay for Autumn's first semester in college. "What's on your mind?" Honestly, I don't know what I'm expecting to change, either, Autumn grumbled internally, leaning back against the wall next to Marissa's makeup table instead of sitting in front of it, or on the edge of the bed. Some instinct in the back of her mind urged her not to stray too far from the door, despite the other girl's eerily calm demeanor. Sure, she'd said she didn't have to act like a stranger, but... wasn't she, really? "Well, for starters, you said you talked to Coyote, so I kind of wanted to know what's up with that. Like, how did you get in touch with him? What other stuff did he tell you, about Enterich and this Library, or whatever?" She paused for a moment, blue eyes studying the self-proclaimed Queen Bee's perfect profile as she emerged from the closet. It was hard to tell if Marissa was upset, offended, or just hiding everything behind that mask of hers. Or, realistically, whether she even cared at all to begin with. Marissa placed three belts on her bed next to her selected outfit, all of varying thickness, and plucked up the outfit she wasn't planning on wearing and hung it back up in her closet as she spoke to her bestie. "I shouted," she said simply. "A lot." She came out from her closet and addressed Autumn. "Honestly, I had no idea how to get a hold of him, so I simply drove over to where everything started, the bridge Sara wanted to blow up, and just screamed his name and damned him for not having a cell phone, until..." she shrugged, obviously not able to accurately describe her thought. "There he was." "He told me a lot of things, like the only we're getting through this is together, all of us." She peeled off her crop top, exposing a couple of gauze squares that each had dime-sized red stains from wounds that hadn't fully healed yet. Puncture wounds from the various teeth that somehow, she survived instead of being torn apart. "Coyote gave me a good cry, and I needed it. He helped me realize that I was a part of the Fellowship, be it by choice or circumstance, and even I had my part to play in keeping Shelly, and all of you safe. Aside from that, he only mentioned the library by name and hinted that one of our benefactors might what it is or its location." She winced slightly as she faced her mirror and reached behind her, pulling at the tape of one of her bandages. "Mmm," Autumn nodded. Most of those statements she wasn't touching with someone else's arm holding a 10-foot-pole; right now, anything to do with feelings, teamwork, friendship, cooperation, or even just being 'part of something' was off the table, as far as she was concerned. The Jauntsens had already made their stance clear and arguing about it right now wasn't going to change anybody's mind. Even later, as Marissa had pointed out, the result might be the same. And... In fairness, even Autumn had only sort of considered herself loosely attached to the Fellowship, rather than an actual member of the group, and even with admonitions that they needed to work together in the back of her mind, in the forefront were more immediate and pragmatic concerns. "So, if we really need him, yelling works, I guess. Good to know." As she watched her implausibly beautiful BFF (?) grimace, a twinge of empathy twisted in Autumn's stomach. Neither of the Jauntsens had wanted help with their injuries after the fight, no matter how much she'd tried to convince them, but it was still hard to willingly let them walk away with the bare minimum of aid. "Looks like you're healing pretty quickly," the redhead added quietly. There wasn't any unusual redness or swelling that she could see, which was a good sign; if Marissa had wanted help now, the young vitakinetic wasn't sure she could do much about it, after giving Dale her life back. "It doesn't look like you've got any kind of infection or anything. How does it, um... How does it feel?" "I was almost devoured by a demon, Autumn, and it tried to chew me," her voice got flat and showed a mild tone of annoyance. With the last square peeled away she folded them up and tossed them in the small brass wastebasket alongside her vanity. "How do you think it feels? It hurts. I scheduled an appointment with Branch-9 to run some tests, just to make sure there's nothing wrong with me." She prepped more gauze, daubing the little squares with something that looked like Neosporin. She offered two to Autumn while she pulled her long, dark hair up over her shoulders. "Would you mind?"
    1 point
  32. It was hard to see this whole event as anything more than a massive waste of time and energy as the group fragmented and the purpose for their gathering- rather than being focused and productive- dissipated like the scent of Marissa’s perfume on the air. Autumn had come expecting an argument, sure, particularly since Cassie had asked her to be there for moral support… But what was she even supposed to be supporting, exactly? There was a big speech, some finger-pointing, and a lot of verbal T-posing. No challenges, no curiosity, no actual fucking discussion, just… Ugh. It was amazing how quickly things had collapsed into chaos, even for this group, and a part of her wondered if that hadn’t been part of Marissa’s goal in dragging them all here to begin with. “Wow. I mean, I don’t even know where to start,” the redhead admitted, her expression incredulous as she looked from Cassandra to Devin, and then to the few who remained. How about, ‘Fuck this, fuck all of that, and fuck you?’ It was tempting to say exactly that as the warm flush of anger crept up the sides of her throat, flooding her cheeks with scarlet, but she bit the inside of her lip to hold back the torrent of invective she could feel welling up on her tongue. It would feel good to loose that furious tide, obviously- probably really good- but it wouldn’t actually help. Admittedly at this point, with Jason leaving them all to their own devices, Marissa brooding in her ivory tower, Devin locked in sarcastic asshole mode, Cassie being uncharacteristically timid, Cade playing the good soldier act again, Sean once more being the silent observer, and poor Kat dipping her toes into the piranha-infested waters of the Fellowship’s interpersonal drama, probably fucking nothing would help. Raking a hand back through her hair, pale fingers catching on the curls struggling to escape from her ponytail, Autumn exhaled slowly and counted to four. “I’m tired,” she sighed. “I’m hungry, and this is fucking stupid, especially since we get to sit through this with our parents again in a little while. I just… I can’t. I’m sorry. So I’m gonna go upstairs, bang my head against a wall, and then go home and pretend anybody in this whole-ass house right now, me included, is anything close to sane.” Without waiting for comment, the visibly frustrated teen suited action to word and headed up the stairs, focusing on the feeling of the wooden railing under her hand as she tried to calm down. Arriving in the hallway she’d seen only once before- taupe carpet, ivory walls, tastefully arranged artwork- Autumn paused for a moment at the top and briefly pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes. Just one day. One. Fucking. Day. That’s it. That’s all she really wanted. Just a pause, a break from the crazy- because now they didn’t just have to worry about people and forces outside the Fellowship threatening them, did they? But, whatever. If Marissa really had been working with Annette, it wouldn’t be hard to find out, and they could just… Deal with it then. Later. Always later. In the meantime, she had an obligation, and questions to ask. Personal issues aside, if she and Marissa were supposed to be friends, she was entitled to certain considerations, just as Jase was, or as Cassie would be. Dropping her hands to her sides, the red-haired teen glanced briefly at the framed panoramic print of Lake McDonald on the wall ahead of her. It was a beautiful photo, taken some time during the summer when the water reflected both the clear blue of the sky and the verdant green of the surrounding mountains, and it gave her a much-needed moment of peace before the conversation to come. She knew Devin’s room lay through the door immediately on her right, but her own horror at the idea of having her space invaded overrode any nascent curiosity about what was actually in there. Instead, she took a deep breath and turned down the hall, then paused outside the Mantis’s lair. She was alone, without allies, and unarmed, but it was fine. She’d done this before. Lifting her hand, she knocked on the door. “Hey, it’s Autumn. You got a minute?”
    1 point
  33. -< Previous Night >- Lilly stepped off the porch and headed, the dirt and gravel crunching with each step she took. Her strides were neither meandering nor purposeful as she headed toward her truck, thinking about the day and the one to come. Reaching her truck, Lilly tossed her iPod and gloves onto the passenger seat and then opened the the door which, as usual, protested at the motion. She took a seat and pulled it shut, slipping the key into the ignition and giving it twist causing the old engine to roar (or maybe cough) to life. The old pickup headed down the long driveway of the Bannon farm as Lilly thought to herself about the life, especially that since the night of the bonfire when their lives were irrevocably changed. Since then they had discovered the strangeness of Shelly and it's cycle and everything that came with it, from secret government experimentation to the presence of other... entities... with a vested interest in Shelly. And now it was on them to take care of Cody, or the Horned Man or whatever he was now and The Dark or whatever, breaking the cycle. They were just teens, teens with amazing abilities right out the MCU movies, but still just teens, and upon their shoulders a lot was resting. Before she knew it, Lilly's truck was heading down the long, stretch of road cutting through the countryside to connect Shelly proper and Bullwark AFB. She had been lost in thought, driving more or less on autopilot, but the buildings, or lack thereof, pulled her focus back to the moment. She clicked off what passed for the sound system in the pickup. The old, crackling speakers, which were not helped by the usual volume she listened to her music at, fell silent as she drove down the solitary road, the rhythm of the engine and the whistling of the wind through the rolled down windows replacing her usual music for the rest of the trip as she thought about tomorrow night. As usual she pulled up to the gate, pulled out her military I.D. and held it out for the guard with a smile. It was barely even a formality seeing as she was Lt. Col. Pryor's daughter and she had, over the course of a few years, met most, if not all, of the security personnel under her dad's command. That, combined with the fact that there were very few spouses or children on base made her stand out. Still though, they did take their job seriously, so protocols had to be followed. "You have a good night, Lilly." the guard said as he handed the card back to her, waving her through. "Thanks. You too, Roy. You going to the Labor Day thing at Champion Fields tomorrow?" she asked as she tucked her I.D. in her pocket. "Is there anything else to do around here?" he replied with a grin. Lilly let out a small laugh and shrugged. "Touche." she responded adding some flare to the pronunciation and then put her truck in gear, driving through the gate and following the familiar route to her home. "I'm hooome." Lilly announced as she came in the door and jogged up the stairs to her bathroom. After a quick shower, she reappeared downstairs to find her parents watching the late game and eating some dinner with a plate waiting for her. "Thanks mom." Lilly said as she grabbed the plate from the kitchen counter and walked over to join them, plopping down on the sofa and folding her legs to cradle the plate as she cut off a bit of the lemon pepper chicken. The trio watched the game, riding the ups and downs of it as they ate their dinner and caught up in between. It was a fun time with her parents, and made Lilly realize just how little time she had been spending with them as she got older. Yeah, that was only natural, she figured, but reflecting on it now, it was not something she liked. Bill Pryor glanced over and could see the faint expression on his daughter's face and, like usual, decided to just rip the band-aid off. "So why'd you sandbag at the tryouts." Bill asked simply. The question caught Lilly by surprise, her gaze snapping to her father who was still watching the game. "What?" she asked. "Come on Lilly. Don't play games with me. I know your times and distances. You under-performed. I want to know why. Was it the pressure?" he replied, meeting her gaze as he spoke. "It wasn't the pressure." Lilly sighed, her shoulders slumping as she looked at the floor. "Okay. Then what's his name? Is it that Jason we met at the game?" her father asked. "There's no boy, dad." she answered as she rolled her eyes and looked at her dad with smirk. "Okay. Okay. Her name then?" he asked unsure, prompting Lilly to throw one of the small pillows on the sofa at him. "There's nobody, okay?" "Is that the problem then?" he asked cautiously. Lilly rolled her eyes in the overly dramatic fashion common to teenagers. "I would rather not sit here and discuss my love life, or lack thereof, with my parents on the living room sofa, especially when it had nothing to do with the tryouts." Lilly sighed. "Okay, then what happened?" he asked again, then time pausing the game. Lilly set her plate aside on the coffee table and pulled her legs to her chest, wrapping her arms around them and frowned. "I just... I dunno. I guess it's not what I want anymore." she finally let out. "For months know I've been feeling this way, but, I dunno. I didn't know how to tell you. I mean, at one time I really did want it, but now, not so much. I just, I dunno, kept doing it and going through the motions because it's what I've done for so long and what was expected of me, what I was supposed to do and be. I needed some time to figure how to and then BAM! there was the tryouts and I still didn't know how to tell you." "Soooo you just made the whole trip a waste of time and money?" he asked, his expression a bit more serious now. Lilly clutched her legs a little more tightly to her chest as she tried to hide behind them. Despite all her newfound abilities, nothing was a match for the disappointment in her parent's voice. Lilly nodded and looked at her knees, feeling rather small and powerless at the moment. "I didn't want to do it, I just didn't know to tell you that it's what I wanted anymore. I didn't want to disappoint you. But I guess that's what I ended up doing anyways." she finally said, letting out. In a way it felt good to finally say it, but that was small solace in comparison to what she said. "I'm sorry. I really am." she said, almost sobbing as she closed her eyes and rested her forehead on her knees. Cassandra scooted closer on the sofa and slipped her arms around her daughter, holding her close. "Honey, changing your your mind it not a disappointment to us. Feeling like you couldn't tell us is a bit disappointing, I'm not gonna lie, but we're your parents. We want the best for you, and we love and will support you in whatever you do, whenever you figure out what that is." Cassandra explained as she gave her daughter a squeeze with her hug, feeling some of the tension leave Lilly as she did so. "You can always talk to us. Always." Bill added as he got up and sat on the arm of the sofa, reaching down to rub Lilly's back. "Take some time and figure out what you want to do. But, you know, being the first woman NCAA quarterback would not exactly a bad thing. Just saying." he added, finishing with a bit of humor. Lilly could not help but let out a laugh. "Yeah, no pressure." she said as she lifted her head, resting it again her mother's as she looked up at her dad. "Of course. No pressure." he reaffirmed with a faint grin tugging at the corners of his lips. -< Labor Day, 2:30-ish >- Lilly's pickup pulled in not long behind her parents' car, parking beside it. She hopped out and walked around the back, lowering the tailgate and hopped up into the bed, sliding the small grill, cooler and other things the family had brought to the tailgate for easier access,. Bill took the loaded cooler, Cassandra gathered the umbrella and large bag while Lilly grabbed the small grill. Thankfully it did not take them long to find a decent spot to set up in the large field. "I'll go get the chairs." Lilly offered, not particularly waiting for a response from her parents as she took off back toward the truck at a jog and grabbed the folding, aluminum chairs. Cradling the chairs in her arms she headed back toward her parents, catching sight of Coach Meyers who nodded to her as she passed by. "Hey Coach." she greeted with a smile as she jogged past. "Have a good day, Pryor." he responded. Lilly turned around, jogging backwards to face Coach Meyers. "Sure thing, Coach. You too!" she said as she turned around and barely caught the glimpse of a couple walking across her path behind her, causing her to spin to avoid them as she continued on, turning back around and never slowing. Coach Meyers watched the teen's evasive action with some interest, totally avoiding the couple, the small scene bringing some ideas to mind... Lilly trotted up and set down the chairs as her parents were busy setting up the grill and doing a little bit of last minute prep to some of the food to be grilled. One by one she unfolded the chairs and set them out in a semi-circle under the shade of the umbrella. "So how long till the food's ready?" Lilly asked half jokingly, already teasing her dad a bit. "Grilling is an art, and art cannot be rushed." Bill retorted, causing Cassandra to roll her eyes. "Yeah. Well we're getting a late start thanks to the breakdown and we haven't eaten, so step on it, Picasso." Cassandra said walking up behind her husband, resting her hands on his shoulders and giving him a peck on the cheek. "So a little less 'Picasso' and a little more 'paint by numbers', eh?" Lilly quipped causing her mother to laugh. "Exactly. See? She gets it." Cassandra said with a grin to Bill, who just shook his head. "Everybody's a critic." he muttered. "Love you, Dad!" Lilly said, giving Bill a quick hug. "I'm gonna go scope out the vendors real quick as we can work out a plan of attack." "Okay. Don't take long." Lilly moved through the crowd, waving or offering a quick hug to friends and teammates here or there, occasionally getting tips on some of the best vendors and generally carousing. It was a beautiful day, the atmosphere was vibrant and jovial so Lilly was doing her best to soak it all in while she could. She finally spotted Cass, Marissa, Jase and his dad along with his friend, Hank. Lilly bit the side of her bottom lip for a moment as she thought about he Fellowship's plan for that night. She had wanted to ask her dad some things, but it would have been more than a little odd and she was not ready to raise suspicions, much less lay everything out on the table to her parents right now, despite what they had told her the night before and did not want to deal with her dad's reaction to the plan to walk into the lion's den. Hank though, was a veteran, and from what she gather, had seen and been through some shit. Not only that, but he was 'in the know' when it came to the Fellowship, so he could probably offer the best advice. Gar was in on it too, for that matter, maybe he could help out too. With a nod to herself, as if making up her mind, Lilly stepped out from the crowd and approached the small group. For her part she had her long, brunette hair down and was wearing sunglasses, short, denim overalls which showed off her legs rather well, with a black crop top underneath and her feet were her seldom seen Chuck's. Lilly smiled and waved as she walked up."Hey guys." she said, greeting her friends and then lifted up her sunglasses to look to the two adults. "Mr. Bannon. Mr. Graskle." she said, greeting each of them with a respectful nod as well, as she was taught. "Happy Labor Day everybody."
    1 point
  34. Lilly inwardly sighed as the trio excused themselves. I wasn't unexpected, and in fact with was a slightly better reaction than she had anticipated. She had hoped for better though, but it had only been a week, a week that Lilly had to reflect on the past events while, she supposed, the others had things that kept them busy. Both sides had their part in the bad blood, even if the twins had not seemed to ever acknowledge their part. It was utterly irrelevant to Lilly now though. Nothing good was going to come from digging in heels and trying to lay blame on each other. Nothing was going to be resolved either if they kept running way from or, at best, avoiding each other. Still, it was better than the twins lobbing insults. So at least they seemed to be trying to preserve some sense of unity for the sake of the group and that was a change that did not go unnoticed. The thought made Lilly a little more hopeful, but only time would tell. Lilly shrugged, setting things aside for the moment and took another bite of her pizza before moving to sit by Cassandra at her beckoning. Lilly ate her slice of pizza as her plucky blonde friend filled her in on the events of the past week, though the eating of the stopped rather quickly as she sat there, just holding the pizza and listening in a mixture of surprise, shock and at times disgust, among others. "I think I'm gonna be sick." Lilly said, clutching one arm across her washboard abdomen while she dropped what was left of the pizza slice in her lap, her face a mask of discomfort. "Dude, I am sooooo sorry I wasn't here." Lilly said, dropping her head and closing her eyes with a frown."I just..." she sighed, her voice trailing off. "It doesn't matter." she stated with a shake of her head. "You needed me and I wasn't there. I will do my best to make sure it never happens again. I mean, we only have each other in this mess. I'm just glad everybody is okay." There was nothing that any of her could say to admonish Lilly any more that she was already doing herself, despite her absence being (largely) out of her control. Her friends had stepped up though, putting an crap aside and working together as a whole, even going so far as to rescue Etienne. Lilly was a little surprise to hear that Devin, of all people, was the one who was so adamant about it too. He showed the kind of man he was that day, by all accounts. Lilly allowed her hope to grow ever so slightly at the thought. Even Mari had stepped up and help in her own unique way, which though it made Lilly happy to hear and even a bit proud, she was also disappointed. Not in Marissa though, but herself. She had let herself be too caught up in past to see what was right before her. The twins were honestly trying. 'Don't judge people by their worst mistakes.' was something her grandmother had told her. Lilly hoped others would share that sentiment and that she could set things right. "Okay. Okay. Okay." Lilly said, changing her focus and trying to organize her thoughts about what Cassandra had told her while still trying to process it all. "Well... Has anybody went looking for, or tried to approach, Todd Asper? Do you think he might be the cyber-empath that Sean was dealing with in the system?" she asked Cass before continuing, "I mean, from what you've said, Crossroads would certainly put a kid with those abilities to work." "And how much do you trust This Ms. Giles and Aeon? I know how they might seem legit, but how much do you think we can trust them? What does you gut tell you?" she asked her plucky friend.
    1 point
  35. "Well, then why are you two pissed off at us? Seriously. No BS and from your own point of view." Lilly asked honestly. "Because us putting shit aside to work together is fine in the short term, but it still leaves a wedge between us, even if it is not presently being pushed on. We've seen today that it looks like the Dark is messing with us now, probing us for weaknesses and such, so sooner or later the Dark will probably find that wedge and begin beating on it like it owes it money." she explained as she adjusted the strap of her backpack over her shoulder. "Separated as we are, even working together, means we do not have full access to each other's resources as we would if we were on one team. Freaky mind powers or reality warping abilities or not, you still have some great ideas and have most of the school wrapped around your finger." Lilly complimented. "We, as a whole, need to get our shit together for us to have the best chance possible of winning this fight. And yeah, we might not ever be friends who braid each other's hair or whatever, but we can still get along a lot better than we are now." she offered. "We've pretty much all had some part it making the situation so fucked up, me especially. and I own that, but I'm also trying to get past it and make it right. So how about us honestly working toward un-fucking it? I know we are not going to get this all worked out, here and now, in just a few minutes, or probably even a few days or hours, but it needs to start somewhere. So if not now, then how about getting together to start talking this stuff out and see if bridges can't be mended, or even built?" Lilly asked.
    1 point
  36. First my computer was being freeze and other issues for the past few days, now there's definite evidence I will either need to get it repaired or replaced. So I will be a bit incommunicado, at least with regards to Discord.
    0 points
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