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Posts posted by Sean Cassidy

  1. Saturday Evening, The Barn

    Cade had done his best to wrestle with the knowledge he'd gained at the wake.   Even after his Date with Marissa, and everything that happened, he still wasn't sure how he'd even bring the subject up now.   So he turned to the one person he trusted implicitly in all of Shelly.

    He dialed up Sean on Saturday, "Hey Sean, I need to talk to you.  You mind if I come by?  I'll bring pizza."   It was a bit out of the blue, so he thought to at least offer to bring food, Lord knew they all ate a fair bit these days.

    "Not at all," Sean replied.

    Phone caught in the crook of his neck, his brows rose in surprise when he looked at the time. He'd lost track and hadn't even started to consider what he was going to do about supper. It was already later than he usually ate. Cade could hear the sound of the wheels of Sean's computer chair rolling over the hardwood, as he went from one computer to another, this one showing rough designs for potential renovations to The Barn.

    "I'm feeling like... hm, pineapple tonight. I got drinks covered." He gave a mug on his desk a shake and frowned, finding it empty. "And I'll put some coffee on, if you want."

    "Alright,  I'll be by in about twenty minutes with the Pizza."  

    He couldn't believe Sean ate pineapple on his pizza, but whatever, they all had their strange tastes in things.   He called in his order for pizza, one meatlovers and one pepperoni, and a Hawaiian with Bacon for Sean, then let his mom know he was heading to Sean's.   After picking up the Pizza, he headed over to the Cassidy's, and parked next to the Barn, where he figured Sean was.  He knocked on the door.  "Yo Sean, it's Cade, ya in here, or the house?"

    "I'm here. Just a sec," came Sean's high, sweet voice from within The Barn.

    A moment later, Cade could hear the padding of feet on hardwood, then the unbolting of a deadbolt, the unlocking of a lock, and the unlatching of a heavy latch. Normally, Sean kept the place unlocked until he went to bed, just yelling for whoever knocked to come on in. But with everything that had happened lately, Cade couldn't blame his friend. The heavy door slid open and Sean looked up at his much bigger friend, nodding him inside. "Heya Cade, bringer of pizza goodness, c'mon in."

    Leading him inside, it was clear to Cade that Sean hadn't had much intention of going out for the rest of the evening. He was wearing shorts, big, fluffy Red Panda slippers, and an old, faded, green t-shirt, a distorted Triforce across his chest. A crackling fire in the cast-iron wood stove lent a cozy warmth to the central part of The Barn.  Sean's grey cat Turing seemed to make a point of ignoring the buxom boy, sauntering past him to wind sinuously between Cade's legs with a barely audible purr.

    Sean sighed with a wry frown. "I think Turing is still pissed at me... for reasons. Fair reasons, I suppose, but I needed a test subject." 

    He lead Cade to the big gaming table, its surface cleared off, save for placemats, plates, a bread knife, two glass mugs, and a ceramic one listing off game developer hourly rates. The scent of brewing coffee mingled with that of the wood fire. Sean bent over and dug through the mini-fridge for drinks, then plopped down into his usual  seat at the table when he DMed. He took a sip tangerine lemonade, then added two slices of pizza to his plate. He glanced over at the shelf full of gaming books and painted miniatures. Cade would bring up what he wanted to talk about when he felt like it, there was no rush.

    "We've a lost a lot of players lately, and y'know, there's all this stuff going on, but are you still interested in the D&D campaign?"

    "Hell, yes!" came Cade's reply with a surprising enthusiasm.  He chuckled, grabbed some of his pizza, and a regular lemonade from Sean's fridge.  "Seriously, I've missed gaming.   I don't know about the others, but I'm definitely in."

    Cade reached down to pet Turing who was still rubbing against his leg.

    He knew gaming was important to Sean, and Marissa was right, they needed to take the time to do the things they enjoyed together while they could.  

    "You gonna invite everyone?"

    He already knew Marissa's answer should she be invited, but whether or not Sean meant to bury the hatchet with Devin and invite him was something he wasn't sure about.

    "I'm glad you're taking some precautions man, even if it seems so odd."   He sighed.  "I mean before, people left their homes unlocked, we all damn near knew everyone else.   This town never really seemed that big or strange."

    "Yeah, well... " Sean gave an awkward shrug, then took another bite of pizza, chewing contemplatively. True, he hadn't really worried about someone breaking into the house or Barn before, but with his unusual condition in a small town in a more rural state, he had to be aware of the possibility of being accosted or assaulted. "After Charlie and what happened to Jase and Lilly, better safe than sorry, I guess. The town is getting bigger. And stranger."

    Sean finished his first slice of pizza as the much larger teen was demolishing his second. He picked up a chunk of pineapple that had been dislodged in the box and popped it in his mouth. "As for the campaign, yeah, I'll invite everyone." His lips twisted wryly. Running a campaign wasn't just about managing character interactions, but managing player interactions too. How the hell would he manage the Jauntsens? Not that he expected they take him up on the invite. "Not sure if I'll get any bites, though. Kat maybe. She came along to watch when I ran Sophia's game Thursday."

    He wasn't sure how interested Kat really was in gaming - she seemed more to be humoring him - but he smiled to himself at her reaction to Devin's sketches of him in potential Homecoming wear. He seemed unware of the faint colour rising to his cheeks. He hid his face in his glass, nearly finishing his lemonade.

    "So, uh, what about you and Marissa? That, er, still going on?" Sean asked as he picked up his second slice of pizza.

    "Yes, and some of what I've got to talk to you about is somewhat related on that front,"  he said before finishing another slice.   "It'll be over after homecoming, one way or another, so we're both enjoying it until then.  What about you?  Any prospects?  I know you seemed to get on well with Kat."  

    It was true, that much of Cade's time had been taken up by his "relationship" with Marissa, and he hadn't really done as much with the rest of the Fellowship. Though to be fair, they'd not really gotten together with everyone since that time at the Bannon's farm, and the fight with the Tree.

    "Or maybe you found someone else. "

    "There aren't exactly many girls clamoring for a guy built like this," Sean said, standing up and gesturing at his amply endowed, hourglass figure with both hands. It wasn't that he didn't get attention. He did. it just was rarely the sort he wanted, from who he wanted, and depended drastically if they knew about his intersexed status or not. He had to shutter his Twitch channel and scrub all evidence of it from the internet two years ago less than a month after starting it. It was off to YouTube and strictly behind the camera after that.

    Just weeks ago, Cade would have heard bitterness in Sean's tone, could see him hunching his shoulders, and he probably would have been wearing an oversized hoodie, even inside the warm Barn. He definitely wouldn't have pointed at his attributes. But now, he only sounded matter of fact, maybe a little wry, and he kept his shoulders straight. "But Kat seems to like it."

    Sean tried to sound nonchalant, but his fair cheeks grew pink as he thought about making out with the slight French Girl after the funeral. It was his first time really making out with a girl. He picked up his plate and glass and turned away, stepping over to dump them on the tray he used to carry dishes to the house or the deep sink in the small bathroom to clean them. He mumbled over his shoulder. "She seems to like Courtney a bit too much." There was the bitterness Cade expected. "But we're going to Homecoming. We'll see how things go from there."

    Sean filled a mug with coffee from a pot he had brewing and returned to the table. The mug looked ludicrously large in his slender hands as he held it up, inhaling the delicious aroma. "I don't think you came over to talk about our dating lives, feigned or not actually started yet, dude." He took a sip of the sweet nectar of life and let out a soft sigh. "So, what's up?"

    Cade smiled as Sean talked about Kat, and chuckled.  He was happy he'd found someone to go with.  Then Sean got to business first.  "Yeah, no, not exactly, though what I've got to say will definitely affect mine I think. You remember when I asked you to help with checking on my Dad?  Well nothing really got resolved that night, and confronting him didn't work out to well either."

    He sighed, and laid out the rest.  "At Charlie's home, I found out the truth.  I was upstairs, looking for wherever Haruka had gone because mom asked me to find her, and I overheard Dad talking with someone.  It was Marissa and Devin's mom, Misti, Sean.  She's the one he's been having an affair with. "

    It was very obvious how angry Cade was with his father regarding this, and he sighed.  "And no, I haven't told Marissa and Devin yet.  I want to, I plan to, but I just couldn't.  I know I need to tell them."

    Sean sucked in a whistling breath through his teeth. "Weeeeeeeellll... shit."

    Sure, stuff happened. People cheated, got divorced. Charlie's parents had gotten divorced, Avalon's and Clara's parents had... whatever the hell they had going on. There were a few other students at Shelly who had divorced or separated parents, and there had been more than one infidelity brought into the open. Sean was sure it just wasn't as prevalent in a small town like Shelly than in more cosmopolitan cities. It had never entered his thoughts that his own parents might cheat on each other or get divorced. He had no frame of reference of how it was hitting Cade, other than the obvious anger.

    On one hand, it so totally sucked. On the other hand, if the Sherriff was cheating, at least it was with, like, the hottest mom in Shelly. It could have been so much worse, like, someone still going to Shelly High. Ugh. He had had a vague suspicion when Cade had asked him to track his dad's phone but hadn't taken it any further. On the other other hand, that mom was Marissa's mom.

    "You do have to tell them, Cade, and the longer you wait, the worse it's gonna be," Sean said. He pulled up a knee to his chest, heel on the edge of his chair, and wrapped an arm around his shin. "I mean, it's going to be bad no matter what." One half of his mouth curled up in a fatalistic grin. "Can ya shoot me a text when you are though, so I can get out of ground zero." His grin faded and he spun his gaming chair with his dangling leg and gestured with his mug of coffee. "But if you need a place to get away from the fallout for a while, you can crash here, dude."

    Devin had given him the money Marissa had... acquired to spruce up the Barn for the psionic gang. He'd already been sketching some plans - definitely needed a full kitchen and a full bathroom - but putting in either bunks or turning the other loft space into sleeping space instead of storage space or something was added to his mental list and moving up it.

    "Maybe so. If anything I can help you with anything you need done around here."

    Cade sighed, and sipped his drink before continuing.  "I know I have to tell them, that I probably should have told them already.  It's just been hard to do.  Hell it's hard to accept.  Sure Misti is hot, I definitely see where Marissa got it from, but come on.  My Dad's the sheriff. He's supposed to be better than this y'know?"

    He shrugged and shook his head.  "And he knows about Marissa and I too, and that makes this fucked up even more."

    He looked to Sean.   "It STILL gets worse."

    "Thanks to Devin everyone knows we weren't really going out.   Fine, we had our reasons, I'll tell you if you want.   Thing is, after the memorial, having heard what I did, I went over to get Marissa. One thing led to another,  I just wanted to get away from Shelly for awhile, and we did, together, after having sex.   We had what certainly didn't start as a date, but became one, and We actually are officially dating now, at least until after Homecoming."

    "That is fucked up!" Sean agreed, his melodious soprano voice blunt. But Cade saw a complicated mix of emotions cross his friend's pretty face.

    Marissa might be some flavour of crazy, but she was also crazy hot. Sean couldn't help but feel a spike of envy that Cade had gotten down with her. He'd been hit on by guys, two had even known about his condition. Some were old enough to be his father. Gross, even if he had been attracted to guys, which he wasn't. It would probably be easier if he was. Until Kat, any girl who'd known he was intersexed hadn't shown the lest romantic interest in him. A couple of the ones who hadn't considered him a total freak seemed to think he might be a suitable replacement for a gay best friend. Ugh.

    The one time he'd taken a chance, Sophia had turned him down. Hard. After that, he figured he just wait and once he made it big in Tech or Gaming and moved out of Montana, he could find someone who didn't mind his peculiarities. Maybe in California. Though now, he might not have that time... It made him wonder if he really liked Kat for who she was, or if he was grasping at the only opportunity he could see.

    "Dude, whatever you and Marissa have, it has nothing to do with your Dad. And whatever your Dad has with Misti Jauntsen, it might affect you, but it doesn't have anything to do with you." He stopped his spinning chair with a foot and leaned towards Cade, large jade-and-turquoise eyes intent. "Don't let his mess derail whatever you might have." Then he looked awkward and uncertain. "And if you need, like, I dunno, moral support - or maybe a witness - when you tell Devin and Marissa, you can count on me."

    It was an honest offer, Cade to tell Sean meant it, just as he could tell Sean would prefer to be anywhere but there at ground zero.

    "I appreciate it Sean, I really do, but  I think it'll  be best that I tell them alone.   I mean it's probably gonna be obvious that I told you before anyone else.  At least if it's just us, I'll be the only one teleported to Guam or somewhere else fairly remote."  He chuckled softly.   "They can be mad at me for telling you, but when it comes to it, I trust you Sean.  You were already involved from before.   You're always here for me, and have been.  I feel the same way with you. If you ever need anything, if I can help, just ask.  Besides, I think they're both better people than to take it out on me.   I definitely wouldn't want to be my dad or their mom though. "

    He took a sip from his drink, then stared at it, as if it might hold the answers he was seeking.  "I know, and I feel they definitely have a right to know this too. I just know the fallout from this is going to be major, and have some very lasting effects."

    "If Devin 'ports anyone, it'll be your dad and his mom, and it won't be anywhere you can find on a map," Sean said wryly. He took a sip of coffee, then suddenly straightened in his chair, head slightly tilted. A mere instant later, Cade heard Sean's phone chime with a notification. Sean gave his friend an apologetic smile as he plunked his mug on the table. "Just give me a sec, I gotta respond to this."

    "What's that?" the big boy scout asked curiously as the overendowed redhead planted a foot against a leg of the heavy gaming table and shoved, his chair skittering across the hardwood to one of his computer setups.

    "Question 'bout ReGenesis not loading right. He at least sent the error code, so it's a simple fix, problem with a config on his end," Sean answered absently. He wasn't even looking at his monitor, let alone using the keyboard. He uncanny eyes looked distant, and almost seemed to glow.

    "How's the game going?"

    "Pretty good!" Sean practically chirped. It hadn't exploded virally - yet - but pretty much every comment was positive, and it had already almost sold more copies than his first game, Annwn, and that had been over two years ago. "I mean, super psionic coding powers and virtual semi-autonomous agents for staff might make me better and more efficient than the entire team of a AAA developer, but I can't compete with their advertising budget nor have the accrued reputation to draw attention. But I ain't complaining."

    He pursed his lips, considering telling Cade about his meeting with Brad Stanton from EA, though he wasn't entirely sure what he had decided on that front yet. Well, he did, but still, the offer hadn't been what he had expected. He was going to stay mum, but Cade had told him about something way more private. "I had a dinner meeting with a guy from EA yesterday. At the country club. Brad Stanton. EA, or Brad at least, is interesting in buying Regenesis. What he really wants in the Spectrum Engine that runs it. The offer was... big."


    "And nothing! It's mine!" Sean said fiercely. "I'm not gonna sell, so they can make shit, piecemeal games that make bank that go mostly into the executives pockets." He sighed and scooted back to the table, cradling his chin in his hand, elbows on the table "Still, I can't say I wasn't tempted. There were a lot of zeroes." He shook his head, shaking the thought away. "Anyway, you didn't come over for me. When you talk to the Jauntsens, let them know that I know, instead of letting them find out later. It's only fair. And about the fallout... it might be bad, but c'mon! We fought personified evil in a hell dimension! Even Marissa at her worse is barely more terrifying than that!"

    Cade smiled, not just because it felt good to see Sean actually happy about something, but he knew he was excited.  "Trust me man, seeing you actually happy is good too.  I'm glad you're not selling, they'd probably screw things up.  I mean it is EA we're talking about.  They'd load it down with all sorts of unneeded microtransactions."

    He chuckled.  "Yeah, fighting interdimensional horrors in a realm of pure evil, versus an angry pair of Jauntsen twins.    At least with the horrors, I know there's no good in them and am free to shoot them at my leisure."

    He shook his head.   "Can't do that with Marissa and Devin, and really I wouldn't want to.   I know they've been shitty to us since they came to Shelly, you in particular.   Marissa can still be a bitch, and Devin an asshole, but they have gotten better.   They still think we're all a bunch of fuckups,  but they haven't just left."

    He smiled.  "I'm envious of all of you."   It was one of the first times he'd really said that out loud.   "I mean you can all do these cool things, you've got real powers.   I don't.   I can get on a bit with wild animals, enough to not get eaten by the big cat, or to not get bit by a badger, but that's kinda it.   We know I'm different from everyone else, I'd just kinda hoped to have a cool power too."

    "I'm not gonna lie, the psionic powers are pretty damn awesome," Sean agreed with a smirk. Four beads of concentrated light coalesced in the air, blue, yellow, red, and green. They zipped about the Barn for a moment, leaving streaks like something from Tron, before Sean let them fade away. "But they aren't everything, dude. What happened to Jase? I'd probably be toast before I knew what happened."

    Maybe. It depended. If he'd known to look for it, he might have seen the bioelectric impulses going from brain, through arm, to the fingers about the gun. Whether if he could have done something about it in time was another matter. He gestured across the table at the strapping small town boy. "But look at you! You're a fucking Spartan. You could have disarmed the guy and fed him his damned gun, most likely. You're built for function, and you function better than the best Swiss watch. Me?"

    Sean pointed at himself with his thumbs and his most obvious physical attributes stretching his shirt, mouth twisting with self-deprecating wryness. "At best, someone could say I'm built for decoration. With mismatched parts." Mismatched, flawed parts that are leading to a total system collapse. Sean didn't sound particularly bitter to Cade. He sounded oddly monotone. "Starting a Twitch Channel was a big mistake."

    Before, Sean used to imagine what it would be like to be taller, tall as his sisters, as tall as Jase or Cade. What it would be like to be buff, ripped. What it would be like to look masculine. Like a stereotypical boy. Like a man. Now, he rarely did, and when he did, it felt wrong to him, felt like a caricature. He couldn't see it as being the 'right' version of what he should be. It just looked like a stranger with no connection to him. Who he saw in the mirror was the real him, whatever else he thought about it.

    "But who knows, Cade. Maybe your super special power hasn't manifested yet? People, er, develop at different rates. Or maybe it has, and its just super subtle and we haven't even noticed."

    "I know I'm different than the rest of y'all, but I can't help but wish I could contribute more to things at times.   I mean I have to be armed to be able to do anything.  What happens if we ever run up against something that our weapons don't hurt?"   His look darkened.  'When I shot Cody, it was with an AP round.  That should have killed him, probably would have killed any of us considering where I hit him.  But it didn't, and more he just started healing it like it was nothing.   That reinforced my own lack of power.   I mean I didn't lose my shit in that other world, I don't think any of us really did, but still."

    He sighed, and rolled his shoulders.   "As far as how you look Sean, I mean yeah it's different, but you're still you.   That hasn't changed.   You're still a nerd, and the smartest guy I know, and probably one of the most kind.   Getting on Twitch, yeah probably a mistake though, I agree.   I can only imagine the sorts of things you see come through your chatlogs."

    Sean cocked a doubtful brow. Not lose my shit? He wasn't sure about everyone else, but at the end, with the wave upon wave of monsters assaulting them in that hellscape, he had most definitely lost his shit. He still wasn't sure if he had actually pissed himself that night, not with all the muck, gunk, and blood he'd - they'd all been - slathered in. "Riiiiight. Shit. Totally not lost."

    He popped himself out of his chair, turned away from Cade unconsciously before stretching his back, then walked over to refill his mug of coffee. Stirring in his usually amount of cream and sugar, he spoke over his shoulder. "Three months. I lasted three months on Twitch," he admitted, not without some rancor. He hadn't been in a good place for a while afterwards. "And it all went down because of an accident."

    He reclaimed his seat and stared into his coffee. "I had kept the camera tight on my face. Streaming some playthroughs, talking about game design and stuff. It was going okay." Once, he had thought about making it big as a Videogame Streamer. Not anymore. He gave a negligent shrug, but Cade could tell some regret remained. "One time. I wasn't paying attention. I got up to grab a drink. It was late and I was only wearing a thin shirt. A shirt that had grown tight over the last few weeks.... " 

    He looked up and ran his fingers through his hair, huffing a grunt. "Total shit show. Claims I did it on purpose. Fake gamer girl stuff, all that. Biggest mistake was trying to explain." He glanced away and frowned, eyes tightening with remembered hurt. "Fake girl gamer. Not gonna lie, that fucking hurt." He waved a hand and shook his head, chasing it away, then turned back to Cade. He took a calming sip of coffee, let the heat work its way down his throat. "I scrubbed everything. I prefer YouTube anyway to live streaming. Can edit and arrange more structured videos. Gives me more time to code. And now, all the weird. Anyway, how's football?"

    "Sean you're the least fake gamer I know.  Your enthusiasm and dedication got me, a closeted weeb Jock, to pretty openly play and admit I play D&D.  You're a real gamer, I got your back on that.  Later on, when you're a famous game designer and programmer, all those idiots will only wish they'd not made fun of you."

    "As to football, There's a lot of resentment. I think Chet expected to be handed the role of quarterback, and I stopped that.  Nevermind that I'm more accurate than he'll ever hope to be, I'm stronger than him, faster than him, and smarter than him.    Aside from Lilly and your sister, I've been one of the biggest athletic stars at school, but I 'Kept to my Lane' so to say, in track and baseball.   I let the coach talk me into to joining the football team, since Lilly's gone.  I like to think I'm good at it, and if I choose to keep playing, I'll get even better, but there's no connection to it for me yet, not like baseball, or track.  I want the team to win, but unless things really change, I can't see myself playing past this year."

    He shrugged his broad shoulders.  "I set school records not that long ago in three different track events, if they'd actually been a formal event, I'd have state records."   He chuckled softly.  "I guess that's one good thing about not having powers, I don't have to worry about anyone coming back later on and saying I only accomplished this because I was special and had an unfair advantage."

    A savage smirk crossed Sean's delicate features at the mention of Chet's resentment. If not the worse of his tormentors, he'd been close, and the most physical of them. If Cade taking the role he assumed was his hurt his ego, fucking awesome. And though Sean had never really heard Cade boast that much before, after him mentioning how much he envied the rest of the Fellowship their psionic gifts, it was good hearing him put himself above the asshole jock.

    "Dude! Every top athlete is special and has advantages, physical and/or mental," Sean protested with a chuckle. "Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan. Yadda Yadda. Yeah, Teagan, if she's not like Lilly, she might be close." He oldest sister was tall, nearly six feet, and had always been ridiculously athletic. He nodded at his hulkingly large friend. If they were standing side by side, the top of Sean's head didn't even reach Cade's shoulder. "And you, man. How many sixteen year old guys are as tall as you, yet seem like they've spent an extra ten years in a heavy gravity gym?"

    The redhead waved away Cade's protests with a grin. "I know what you mean. If football isn't grabbing you, don't worry about it. But if you aren't really thinking about baseball or track as an actual career, just do whichever will give you the best scholarship, or net you the most in NIL fees, so you can do what you want." He shook his head and took another sip of coffee. "Weird, thinking about the future, normal future stuff, when we know what we know, seen what we've seen, eh?"

    He chuckled. "Not so weird.  I think it's important to still have dreams and goals."   He smiled at Sean.   "Can't fight interdimensional horrors for the rest of our lives.   I know I sure as hell don't want to." 

    He rolled his shoulders.  "I love Track and baseball, and provided things stay on track, I'm pretty sure I can get a scholarship for either of them.   Though, that brings up something else.   I've started trying to read more, study more.  Not looking to learn the secrets of the universe, I'll leave that to those of y'all who're smarter and far more interested in that sort of thing, but at least so I don't have to panic on every really big test."

    It was certainly true that all his extracurricular activities kept him busy and left him less time than he wanted.  Taking on Football left him even less time, but for now he was going to try to maintain and keep up with everything.   He sighed slightly, before grabbing another slice.   "I mean you still think about it right?   What you want to do after we're done with all this strangeness."   His eyes narrowed.   "Do you think we'll ever actually be done?"  

    It wasn't that he was imploring for a particular answer, it was the same genuine voice Cade asked most questions with, seeking an honest answer.

    "We're done whenever we want to be done," Sean said with a somber seriousness. "We aren't forced to stay in this shit, except by our own morals and desires and choices. If you want, you can just walk away from it." He gave a deep sigh and slid his mug aside with the back of his hand. "You wouldn't be the first. That ain't judgement, by the way. Everyone has the right to make the decisions that are best for them and theirs. That said, I'm still in it. For now, at least."

    Sean didn't see the need to add that it was not least in part due to self interest. Site B might hold the best answer to his panoply of genetic questions. "But yeah, I think about what I'm going to do after all the time." I might not have any time at all. He waved back over a slim shoulder towards one of his computer set-ups. "The game is part of it. I don't plan to live in Montana forever. There's a whole world to see. Heh. After what we've seen, there's very likely more than just one, really. Thinking about - planning for - the future helps me get through the present." 

    "If there's anything I can do Sean, I'll help however I can."   He smiled, and it was clear that wasn't just an empty platitude.  Cade meant every word.  "If there's something you need to get off your chest, I got you covered." The much larger teen was nothing if not sincere, and while he couldn't claim to know everything he'd resolved to be a better friend to his friends, and that whatever he could do, he would.

    "I still dream of winning the world series.   I'm gonna make that one happen, one day."

    "When that happens, I'll buy a ticket and be there to see ya," Sean said with a grin. "And, same offer, if you need something, you just need to ask."

    Cade collected the few remaining slices of pizza into a single box, his strong shoulders slumping slightly with a sigh. "I should probably head out. Got some truths to tell the Twins."

    Sean didn't envy Cade that at all. "Latter, dude," Sean said, seeing Cade to the door and watched him amble towards his Wrangler. "And good luck."

  2. On 12/17/2021 at 4:59 AM, Sean Cassidy said:

    "Hey, Kat!" Sean said enthusiastically. "We were just talking about gaming. D&D? Did you play, back in France?"

    Sean was honestly curious. Kat seemed interested in video games, it seemed like there was a good chance she was interested in role-players games too. But what he was really thinking about what was he should show her the sketches Devin had drawn of him in potential Homecoming Gear - Epic, maybe even Legendary - or if he should hold off and surprise her with it.

    "Um, Sean," Garret said, tapping his upper lip, "You're bleeding."

    "What?" Sean brushed a forefinger under his nose then looked at it, finding it stained with crimson. "Shit." He wiped at it with the cuff of his borrowed shirt, then tilted his head back. "Is it still bleeding?"

    Kat nodded. Garret frowned. "I think you're suppose to tilt your head down, not back. You can choke or something."

    "Right. I knew that," Sean claimed, tilting his head forward and pinching the bridge of his nose. He did, but with all these issues cropping up, worry was beginning to set it. He grunted when saw a drop of blood land on his shirt, then nodded his thanks when Kat handed him a napkin from the tray of a passing server. "Must be the dry air in here. I should probably head out."

    "Are you okay?" She asked, following him as he made his way to the garden doors. "I know now's probably not the right time, but you should go and have Autumn check on you."

    "It's just a nose-bleed, no big deal," Sean said blithely. He pulled the handle down, then shoved open one of the doors with a shoulder. "If it happens again, then I'll go bother Autumn about it."

    He sounded unconcerned and reassuring, and with the thick napkin to his face, Kat couldn't make out his expression. But she could feel the hint of worry under the complete disregard radiating from him, that he wouldn't go see a doctor - or the psychic equivalent - for something so little as a nose-bleed. Wouldn't go unless he was near death or felt like it, really. A very stereotypically male attitude that belied his very feminine appearance.

    Sean led Kat to his SUV. Turning away from her for a moment, he snorted into the napkin to clear his nose, then looked at it. It was a right mess, but his nose felt clear enough. He wiped his nose, then folded the napkin to hide the crimson stains, though they had leaked through some. He turned back to Kat, flashing her a grin.

    "See? Practically stopped already." Feeling a dribble, he held the napkin up to his nostrils again. "Almost practically stopped, anyway." Sean nodded back at his car. "If you haven't gamed before, y'know, played D&D or Pathfinder, I can pick you up when I get Garret, if you'd like to see what it's like."

    The petite French girl rubbed the back of her head, with a sorry smile. "I'm not much into DND... I guess there's no hurt in trying."

    Her shoulders went up and down in a teenage fashion, then frowned. Nose-bleeds weren't big deals, Sean was right, but there also was something about him that didn't felt right. I'll keep an eye on him, she thought.

    Sean's grin widened, pleased with Kat taking an interest in one of his favourite hobbies, not noticing her dubiousness or worry. "Cool. I'll aim for seven. If you have fun, maybe we can see about working a character of your own into my campaign."

    Sean scampered around to the driver-side of his Grand Cherokee, and scrambled up behind the wheel. He leaned over and stretched, a bit awkward with the gearshift and certain protuberances in the way and opened the the passenger-side door, waving Kat inside. "Come in for a sec, I wanna show you something."

    "Okay..." Kat agreed, slightly hesitant, feeling Sean's excitement, which was flavoured with both eagerness and trepidation.

    As the slight, short French girl climbed up into the SUV which was lifted for off-roading, Sean twisted around to reach his satchel in the back seat. When Kat had settled in the passenger seat, Sean pulled out several sheets of paper from the satchel and handed them to her, his huge, multicoloured eyes of jade and turquoise bright and vulnerable. "Here, take a look."


    Will finish post when able. Drid, you have what's on the papers in our PMs, the descriptions of the various outfits for Sean for Homecoming that Devin drew.


  3. Sean, Kat, Garret

    On 11/26/2021 at 5:34 PM, Marissa Jauntsen said:

    “So, what did you want to talk about?”

    “Oh, well, mostly some 5e stuff, I got a few of the newer supplements and I wanted to incorporate them into my campaign, but I’m not sure how.  I was hoping you-“

    “Aaaand that’s my cue,” Laurie smiled and walked off, saying her farewells with a polite raise of her glass.

    "I got you, Garret," Sean said. He rolled his large turquoise and jade eyes as his sister made her exit, but his gaze hadn't actually left Marissa ('s backside) until she turned out of sight around a doorway. She might have been Marissa, and all that entailed, but she was still implausibly gorgeous. He gave his head a little shake then turned to Garret, offering him a friendly grin. "I'd like that."

    And he did. Thrust into such luxury, dressed in his ill-fitting clothes, Sean had felt supremely discomfited and out of place, which had been exacerbating his glumness. It was only politeness, not wanting to cause a scene, which was preventing him from just leaving. I should see about getting some fitted dress clothes when we go get my Homecoming outfit. If I can afford it. The pins and needles in his leg at least had dulled down to a faint tingling.

    Talking about D&D and gaming was an excellent distraction, especially as his own campaign had neglected due to circumstances and the upwelling of weird and danger. It had been one of the reasons he had offered to sub in for Sophia in her game while she recovered. The need to get back to his own welled up, if for nothing else, to give Charlie a proper send off via his player-character, he - they - hadn't been able to give him before Cody had found him. Sean's eyes flicked back to where he'd last seen Marissa, a pensive frown crossing his face.

    Did Marissa introduce Garret to me for that reason?

    "So, introducing new supplements and rules, how to do that depends a great deal on your campaign - if you are adding them in after start - the story you want tell, and what your players are expecting, dude. Hope you had a session zero?"

    Garret nodded animatedly. "Of course!"

    "Good man. If you're going to make some big additions, it's a good idea to dedicate a portion of a session going over them, and given them a chance to make changes to their characters. They don't always have to have an in game reason for them. Comic-book rules, just make the change and don't acknowledge it. Though of course, you can also use them as plot hooks."

    "Okay, yeah, I got that, but what about..."

    A freshman, Garret was still one of the few boys in school who were Sean's height or shorter, and he probably weighed less. Sean had noticed his apparent ease talking with Marissa in Study Hall, and if anything, Garret seemed even more comfortable talking with him, his eyes hardly ever straying. Few guys who knew about him and weren't his friends did so were as easy with him, even if they didn't realize it. It could have been the topic, or just being on the bottom of the social hierarchy and not having anywhere lower to go. Sean wished he'd learned that lesson as a freshman.

    "... use any house rules? I go with Improved Standard Array, max HP, max base damage crits, then roll the extra dice. And I usually give out an extra feat and a skill or two, so players have the opportunity to pick things that are interesting or fun, rather than just trying to optimize. I've have a bunch of other modifications are made. 5e is great system to introduce your players to TTRPGs, but it doesn't have that many supplements yet and sometimes it's too streamlined. I've stolen stuff from previous editions, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, from all over. I've practically got the entire Trove downloaded."

    "My friends prefer to roll stats," Garret admitted. Sean opened his mouth and Garret smiled wryly. "Yeah, I know they - or Danny, at least - cheats. I take it into account. I like the max HP and max crits though. It sucks all around getting a crit and doing less damage than a normal hit. Could I get a link to the Trove?"

    Sean pulled out his phone. "I'll do you one better and give you a link to my gaming books folder on my server. Way faster to look up online and to download."

    "Cool. Thanks, Sean."

    "No probs. Rules and supplements aside, there's always the rule of cool to consider. And the rule of consequences. Don't be afraid of failure, on your side, or your players. Use it a springboard for..." He had made failure not being an end condition as a core component of his video game. And autosaving, so no save scumming. You had to live with your mistakes, or start over.

    Sean might have looked like a girl - a particularly well-endowed one, he couldn't help but notice - he might have sounded liked a girl, but he talked like a guy. Very different, to be sure, but not nearly as intimidating as Marissa. It was pretty much like talking with Ronnie and Danny. Well, Sean was a lot less aggravating then Danny, truthfully.

    "Hey, look, Garret. I'm taking over Sophia's game for a week or two, to give her time to recover. Running it tonight, actually. You can come, if you like, see how I run things, and maybe run a couple of monsters or NPCs for me, as a sort of deputy DM. How's that? I can pick you up after supper, if you don't have a ride."

    "Really? Sure, that'd be great! I've heard, I mean, your games must be at least as good as Mercer's on Critical Role-"

    "Dude!" Sean's nose scrunched up in protest, but he stifled a snort of laughter. "Not every DM has to be like Mercer. And I'm sure you know, not all players are voice and screen actors. Besides, I already learned my lesson streaming on Twitch. No thanks." His grin widened playfully. "That said, I do do voices."

    On 12/11/2021 at 10:00 PM, GDP_ST said:

    "Hey guys."  She didn't have to force the smile she gave Sean as she butted into the conversation.  It was somewhat of a relief to latch onto a familiar friendly face.  She gave Gareth a smile and a nod as well.  "Hi.  I'm Kat."

    "Garret." he smiled back.  "I've seen you around.  Nice to meet you."

    "Same."  Kat rocked a little on her toes and heels, looking from one guy to the other, waiting for them to carry on talking.

    A tension in Sean's shoulders he hadn't noticed had eased with the gaming talk, the back and forth on the pros and cons of various game mechanics and campaign design. But when he saw Kat, he felt himself standing straighter, his smile growing even wider, warmer. The echoes of his emotions washed over the slight redhead. Melancholy, now subdued, engagement with the conversation he was having with the boy little bigger than her, his pleasure at seeing her, desire, tentative, but growing bolder, a hint of mischievousness.

    "Hey, Kat!" Sean said enthusiastically. "We were just talking about gaming. D&D? Did you play, back in France?"

    Sean was honestly curious. Kat seemed interested in video games, it seemed like there was a good chance she was interested in role-players games too. But what he was really thinking about what was he should show her the sketches Devin had drawn of him in potential Homecoming Gear - Epic, maybe even Legendary - or if he should hold off and surprise her with it.

  4. 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."

    • Like 1
  5. 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.

    • Like 1
  6. Lunch
    (Devin and Sean)

    Sean shuffled into the cafeteria, cooler bag over his shoulder, his well-worn red sneakers heavy on the tiles. After just starting an exercise regimen with Lilly this morning, throwing himself into participating in gym class like he hadn't ever before had been stupid. He felt wrecked.

    And famished. Breakfast had been quick and meager this morning, and while he usually brought lunch from home, today it didn't feel like enough. He decided to grab something from the cafeteria to make up for the calories he'd burned. Maybe some fries or onion rings. Note, if you're gonna be working out before school and actually running during phys. ed, pack a bigger lunch.

    Slipping into line and ignoring the few snickers and looks he got, Sean caught sight of Devin. Recalling Devin's earlier offer of helping with Homecoming and Kat asking him about what he was wearing for it, Sean nodded to himself about asking if they could go this weekend. 

    And I'm gonna need new athletic shoes. His mouth twisted into a self-deprecating frown as he glanced down. And some new sports bras. The Shefit was holding up, thanks to how customizable it was, but it was getting tight, and he'd outgrown his others.

    Sean got his carton of fries, but when he looked around, there was no sign of Devin. He huffed, but if the teleporter had his phone - and was still at school or at least nearby - the technophile could track him down.

    Sean found Devin already haunting his next period art class, hunched over one of the large tables. Sean was about to barge in after him, maybe see if he could surprise him, but didn't even finish the thought before reconsidering. After what happened to Jase, and everyone being on edge, that was a horrible idea.

    Sean knocked on the door, and when Devin looked back over his shoulder, he waved. Devin seemed to sigh, then gave a nonplussed jerk of his head. Sean slipped in and took a seat next to other boy.

    He started setting out his lunch, his movements stiff and tight. Devin glanced up from what he was working on and stared at the freak. Sean's rich scarlet hair was disheveled and half his pale face was reddened, textured marks from what his was hit with still visible.

    "What happened to you?" Devin asked as he went back to his paper and pencils.

    "All for One dodgeball," Sean admitted, stretching his jaw and unwrapping his sandwich. "Too many balls to the face." 

    Devin's head came back up and Sean's eyes went straight down to his sandwich as soon as the words were out of his mouth, other half of his face doing its best to match the first. "Fuck. Can we pretend I just grunted instead?"

    “It’s your world, Cassidy,” Devin said with an uninterested shrug.  He tilted his head a bit and looked at his current work, a dark and macabre piece that appeared to be Not-Cody standing atop a pile bones and baying at the sky as the broken Fellowship were all mutilated and dying at his feet.  While a bit dark for Sean’s tastes, one thing was still certain and that was that Devin was one hell of an artist.  It was hard to believe that the ex-bully turned world saver had any measurable talent besides being a dick, but Devin had proven to have so many layers.

    “I’m just living in it.”  He finished before slashing his initials in the lower corner with a practiced stroke.  He picked up the art to place it in his portfolio and Sean could see the numerous other drawings he’d done, mostly of the Fellowship and the various times they’d all been hanging out together, but he couldn’t get a decent look before Devin had tucked his newest piece and closed his folder.  “So, what do you want?  Computer lab is down the hall.”

    Sean peeled his eyes away from trying to get a better look at the other pieces in Devin's portfolio to stare at him in disbelief. He'd given a Jauntsen a straight line like that, and Devin hadn't even watched it roll pass his feet. More than anything else, that proved to Sean how hard Devin was having it at home after the not-far-from-disastrous meetings.

    "I know where the computer lab is," Sean said with a roll of his eyes, expressive voice exasperated. He finished a bite of his roast beef sandwich, then ate a fry. He nudged the cardboard carton a bit more between him and Devin, a silent offer on a waft of fried oil, salt, and vinegar. 

    "And it's our world, not mine, dude." There was particular poignancy on Sean's tone. They'd just gone to a different one, to defend this one, and save the girls. "We're all living in it. Sharing it. Trying to make our own way, our own place, in it."

    Devin just stared, eyes dark and flat in the face of the feminine boy's inclusive sentiment. Sean squirmed uncomfortably under that silent gaze. Yes, he was certainly learning there layers to Devin, like onions and ogres, but he'd still been bullied by him for years. A terse Devin was some how worse than the verbose one.

    "Erm, yeah, okay. I was talking some with Kat, first period, and stuff got 'round to Homecoming, and..." Sean snagged a pair of fries, scarfed one down, then shrugged one shoulder self-consciously and pointed vaguely towards Devin with the other. 

    "Well, I dunno if you're grounded or whatnot. " Or how you could even be grounded... "But you mentioned helping with giving me a clue - okay, clues - about getting ready for Homecoming, and I was wondering if you'd have time for that this weekend? Not quite the last minute, but it's getting close. I barely have something appropriate for tomorrow, the funeral."

    Devin was silent for a long moment.  His glare was judgmental, to the absolute least, as he silently assessed Shelly’s future chai boy.  Without a word he stood up, which Sean nearly flinched at as it meant Devin might just pop him between the eyes for whatever reason passed for ‘a good one’ in the floating limbo Devin called his mind.  Instead of whopping him though, he reached into his bag and pulled out a large yellow folder, the plastic kind designed for more durability, and it was stuffed to capacity with frayed edges of paper in a manner that looked like the contents were just tossed in after class and carried off.

    With a ‘thump’, he sifted and sorted, his fingers walking along page edges as Sean made out that all of the drawings inside were either of Shelly High, the gymnasium in various states of decoration themes, or their assorted friends sketched out in a variety of styles.  “There we are,” he mumbled softly as he pinched a small stack of papers and laid them out on the drawing table.

    It was Sean.  Six drawings of Sean on six different sheets that displayed him modeling six different styles.  Two were even a bit more feminine but tactfully still expressed that Sean identified as male (or so Devin assumed).  There was no mistaking it though, Sean could tell it was him, like Devin had captured everything about Sean’s feature from his dimples to his sometimes-lazy hairstyle, he even caught the curvature of his smirk and proportions of his breasts accurately.

    “To say my sister is ‘controlling’ when she plans a gig would be the nicest way to put it,” he said to the technophile.  Like Sean, he was looking at the different sketches of Sean in his possible Homecoming outfit styles.  “She plans for everything, even what her guests are going to wear.”

    Sean gave him a look at the ‘her guests’ comment.  “Best not to think too hard on it,” he replied.  “All of these are planned from currently existing fashion I stole from the internet.  It’s all designer labels, but don’t sweat the cost, we got you.”

    “Devin, I can’t-” The thought of Devin spending money to pay for Sean’s Homecoming didn’t sit well with him.  Sure, the Jauntsens were rich, but that wasn’t an excuse to just let them always pay for everything.

    “You won’t.” Devin said calmly.  “My sister still has a bag full of money in her closet she won for risking her neck for you ingrates.  She and I agreed that using that to cover any already unpaid Homecoming accessories for you guys would be a good start.  Also, that bag is supposed to go to you, so you can fix up your loft like you wanted and the Fellowship can all have a place to hang out all secret hideout-like.  Your dad is probably the only one in Shelly that could work magic with it, so, it’s for you guys.”

    He swept his hand across the sketches.  “So?  Which one speaks to you?”

    "I..." Sean pushed aside his lunch and set out the sketches in two rows of three, large eyes wide as they went from one to the next, his sandwich forgotten in his hand. "... wow."

    Sean could sketch well enough, was better at technical drawings, was spectacular with digital art and animation. With the digital tools and software at his disposal, it was easy to keep proportions consistent across multiple pictures and poses. Devin had done all that, proportions and features perfectly replicated among three views per page, front, back, and 3/4 profile, all done freehand. Even the finest details, shading, and the impression of texture followed each contour flawlessly.

    He flicked a disconcerting sidelong gaze towards Devin for a moment, wondering for a moment just how discerning and precise the Jaunting One's spatial sense was. Can he 'see' through clothing? Devin certainly seemed to be familiar with his build, because he was depicting it with uncanny accuracy, across multiple angles and viewpoints.

    "When did you this?" Sean mused absently, leaning down to get a closer look at a finer detail, raised embroidery on a white outfit, more suggested by shading than drawn outright. Devin shrugged nonchalantly and Sean shook his head. If he had to do something like this by hand, it would take him a thousand years, and that for something not as good, just something he would be satisfied - enough - with.

    He done work with styles and outfits of various aesthetics, for pictures for NPCs and PCs for his roleplaying games and for video games. Admittedly, they were usually more fantasy, sci-fi, or some mixture in nature. He tried them out on all sorts of physiques, to see how they looked, to check for clipping issues and the like. He hadn't ever played digital dress-up with himself. Devin caught a shift in Sean's expression, not quite epiphany, but at least a certain realization.

    In the drawings, he looked good. Objectively, Sean could admit he had features and a figure that were considered attractive by the majority. But looking at Devin's drawings, that didn't mock or exaggerate or distort his appearance, but rendered it in true likeness and to advantage, this was one of the first times Sean was looking at himself and thought he was attractive.

    The black double-breasted suit with a dark charcoal shirt was the most conservative, only the patterned turquoise and jade tie adding a pop of colour. With his hair clipped a bit shorter and neater than he typically wore it and the way the suit subdued his curves, it made him look about as androgynous as he ever would. Sean kind of wished he had it for the funeral tomorrow rather than a pair of slacks that barely fit from when he was twelve and a shirt burrowed from his dad.

    Conversely, the dark red outfit seemed to emphasize everything rather than downplay them. It kind of reminded Sean of Travolta's suit from Saturday Night Fever, except for being burgundy with a bit of white instead of white with black, and much, much closer fitting, the collar open wide to reveal more than Sean had ever done publicly. And platform shoes had a distinct heel. If I wore that, let's see if Kat would notice Courtney at all! It was a brief, spiteful thought, but still made colour rise to Sean's face.

    He rather liked the green checkered vest and pants, with the metallic sheen to the fabric, but couldn't help but think others would see a leprechaun with his hair and modest height, sure if he wore it, Devin would present him with a short-brimmed hat to go with it. The grey plaid suit was fine, neither wowing him nor displeasing him. The other style that seemed to embrace his feminine features was a fitted cream Nehru jacket with golden buttons and a salmon shirt, patterned with raised satiny white embroidery of dragons and other fantastical creatures. Sure, he liked graphic tees and hoodies, and it was more subtle, but he wasn't sure about it for his first, real suit.

    The outfit his eyes kept gravitating back to was the dark blue one, the colour pretty much what he had in mind when talking with Kat during first period. It neither emphasized nor constrained, but simply acknowledged his pronounced hourglass figure. The mandarin collar and minimalist aesthetic with fine, subtle pinstripes and crisp edges evoked a masculine sensibility. The teal shirt seen through the deep, narrow V flattered his eyes, several buttons undone relieving the formality, while revealing a hint of pale cleavage, pairing his masculine identity to his feminine appearance. The smirk and swagger Devin had added to him gave Sean a brash self-assuredness rarely seen, except when talking about or playing video games or other technological areas.

    Sean piled up the sketches, neatly squaring the sheets of paper, then tapped the one he left on top with a firm finger. "This one," Sean said in a mixture of diffidence and certainty. "I like this one."

    "Good choice."

    "Thank-you for this. Really." Sean's tone was genuine, no hedging or typical doubt he had for his former, long time tormentors, the Jauntsens. His jaw tightened as he added, waving a hand to include his home. "And for the other stuff, for The Barn."

    It was much harder for him to accept the money to upgrade The Barn, and it had less to do with its provenance than who it was coming from. At least, it was not only that. The Jauntsens were loaded and it felt close to charity. He didn't need their charity. But the offer wasn't about him, it wasn't even really about the money, but about Devin and Marissa and how they felt they could contribute.

    He did have ideas for additions and renovations for The Barn. A full kitchen for one. Some of the holographic tech if he could snag if from the project. There was still a lot of space that wasn't being used in the converted barn. It wasn't like the place was The Watchtower or The Batcave or whatever, but he did like hosting gaming nights, and having a place they could gather and just hang out or relax that they could call their own was certainly appealing.

    "If you have some ideas for The Barn, I hope you'll share them, Devin. You don't, like, need a teleportation circle or something, do you, to make sure you don't interpose yourself with someone else when jaunting someplace people often frequent?"

    Sean didn't really think it was the case that Devin needed an open place to 'land' as it were, but after too many gaming systems and movies, better to be safe than sorry. Held up stack of sketches and looked back and up at the taller boy. "Can I keep these?"

    "You can make copies," Devin replied with a bit of no-nonsense in his tone that caught Sean off guard just slightly.  He sounded so serious, and so far hadn't made a single quip, joke, or tossed in an insult.

    "It's my art," he explained.  "I'd like to keep the originals.  Just have them back to me by study hall, okay?  Don't worry about frayed edges and all that, I mean, look at this folder."  He held up the yellow folder and it was stuffed with papers that were no longer perfectly smooth.

    "And, as long as we're spending that asshole's money on having a good time," he shrugged, referring to Enterich.  "I don't care what you do with the place.  Once I'm familiar with a place, my Seeker Sense accounts for some small variations in the environment, like people, or moved furniture, placing close to my intended target, so no.  No need for a teleportation circle... whatever the hell that is."

    "So, you and Kat for Homecoming, huh?"  The fact that Devin wasn't trying to be funny, or had shown any signs of being close to a good mood, was unsettling.  "Just friends, or are you looking to impress her?  Maybe make it a little more?"

    After recovering from Devin's quick rebuttal and offer to let him make copies, Sean gave him a curt nod. He could understand wanting to keep the originals. It was well beyond obsolete now, but Sean still had the first computer he had assembled himself. He opened his messenger bag and carefully slid in the sketches on top of his laptop to keep them flat and smooth.

    His sister knows what a beholder is, but he doesn't know about teleportation circles... Devin's explanation about how his power worked had Sean wondering if Devin subconsciously tapped into something like the holographic principle of the universe to avoid any teleporting mishaps. He'd have to mention it Jase, see if it might fit their growing theory of neotic unity.

    When Devin mentioned Kat and his intentions, Sean couldn't help but give him a sharp look. But he wasn't teasing, mocking, disparaging. Didn't even make a sarcastic or insulting comment. Just direct, almost serious. Sean wanted to look away to hide his thoughts, but that would just make them more obvious. Bitterness, doubt, tentative hope, failed nonchalance.

    "I asked her to Homecoming as a friend, yeah," Sean admitted. "But I was thinking maybe if I can catch her attention some there, maybe she'd say yes to a real date, after." While I still have time... He'd asked a girl out once before, but it hadn't gone well. At all. And after all she'd gone through in the last few days, he wasn't even bitter about it anymore. Well, not much. He gestured negligently down at himself with the remnants of his sandwich, his tone and the curve of his mouth wry. "I don't have girls falling all over for this, but Kat doesn't seem off put by it. She's kinda kooky, but cute, and we got on well enough the few times we hung out..."

    “Kat can’t even catch Kat’s attention, Sean.”  It was obviously a joke, but he delivered it so flatly that for a moment Sean considered that Devin might be serious.  “But I get what your saying.”

    “Look, little bro,” Devin leaned one elbow onto the drawing desk and shifted his attention fully to Sean.  Maybe it was a slip of the tongue, maybe Devin didn’t notice it, but Sean did.  With no humor or harassment, he’d referred to Sean as his ‘bro’.  “Bit of advice, completely unasked for, I know, but here it is: you’ve already caught her attention.”

    “Cassie agreed to go with me as friends, but she knows I think she’s beautiful and fun and that I’m attracted to her.” He said, ticking off fingers as he counted.

    “Does she?  And, in fairness,” Sean interjected.  “You’re attracted to every g-“

    “Aaaaand, furthermore,” he spoke over Sean’s observation like a F-150 over a line of empty aluminum cans.  “She likes me too.  She might not have a crush on me, but she’s attracted to me.  My point is, that a girl doesn’t agree to go out with a guy, even as friends, if there isn’t something already there.  It might fizzle into nothing, or it might be exactly what you’re hoping, but don’t fret over getting her attention, man.  You already have it.”

    “Put worried, no-confidence Sean to bed for an evening and be the Sean who literally stood at the mouth of Hell and offered it a breath mint.”  He slapped Sean’s shoulder.  “You’re a good dude, Sean.  Kat would be a lunatic not to fall for you.  Doubly so once we get you the hook up for the dance.”

    He inhaled, rather proud of himself at mentoring young Sean on his journey into large-breasted manhood.  Turning back to face his drawing table, something occurred to him.  "Oh, also, I think she's fucking Courtney, so you might wanna look into that.  I know you and C-Dawg are not exactly on good terms, so I thought you deserved to know where her lips had been lately."

    Sean's face scrunched up in a scowl at the mention of Courtney. She might have more issues than National Geographic, but Sean still wasn't ready to forgive her, let alone forget all the shit she'd caused him. Still, he didn't have a right to gatekeep who Kat decided to associate with.

    "I..." Sean coughed, then ate one last fry, leaving the few remaining as they had grown cold. "... suspected they've been spending time together." Admittedly, spending time together and spending time together wasn't the same thing. He hadn't really thought it had gone that far, or maybe hadn't wanted to think it had gone that far.

    "I might be somewhat biased in what I think about it. About her." He pitched his voice into the haughty tone he used for self-absorbed, condescending noblewomen. "But I shall be magnanimous in overlooking Kat's error in judgement in regards to her associate."

    Sean sighed and started to quickly consume the rest of his lunch after a glance at his phone, noticing how close it was to the bell ringing. "I don't get to pick Kat's friends. If we start turning into something more, well... I guess I'll - we'll - figure stuff out." The idea of getting along with Courtney was about as palatable as taking a cheese grater to his tits. It was possible he had a few of his own issues. He tapped his messenger bag. "Seriously, dude, thanks for this." He waved a hand, encompassing the general conversation. "And this."

    Jason Bannon might have been his best friend, and they had talked some about relationships on the trip to Great Falls on Monday. But he couldn't quite picture a talk like the one he was having with Devin with Jase instead. Odd. Weird. A little sad. Some guilt that he didn't understand Jase as much as he thought he had.

    "So, Saturday then? Sunday?" Sean asked. He gave Devin a sidelong glance. "Gotta say, you're a lot easier to talk with when you aren't stuffing me in a locker and putting on the-" Was it an act? "-being, uh, extra you."

    "Or your error in judgement for your lack of association."  Devin flipped the script a bit.  "I know you don't like her, and I know why, but people can't heal and become better if we don't give them a chance.  My sister and I can talk from experience.  We're still making amends little by little."

    "I just wasn't aware if you knew or not, and I didn't want you two to get close and then be blindsided later by Kat's choice of a side-piece.  You know, avoid the whole 'keeping secrets from me' drama."

    He waved his hands about in a dramatization of an over-reaction.  He leaned forward and cupped Sean's cheeks in his hands.  "And the Fellowship doesn't deserve 'extra Devin' right now.  'Extra Devin' is a treat and you've been naughty and are in time out, but seriously," he let go and stood his full height in front of the smaller teen,  "If you need me, I'm always around, dude.  Just shoot me a text this weekend whenever you have time and we'll go get you the hook up.  Either day is fine."

    Sean stood up as well, shooting a scowl up at Devin as he scrubbed his cheeks with the heels of his hands. He hadn't ever liked it when his mom did something similar, hated it when his grandmother had pinched his cheeks. He wasn't enthused by Devin taking the liberty, help notwithstanding.

    "Cool. I'll aim for Saturday then, if nothing else comes up. With Shelly and stuff lately, who knows, right?" He cleaned up the detritus of lunch, brushing the table free of any crumbs. "'Preciate the offer, but gotta say, when a teleporter says he's always around, it can be a bit... ugh." 

    Sean gave an ostentatious shudder and grin, before growing more somber. "On the Courtney front, I'll keep your words in mind. But you guys have been making amends. I'll waiting for her to make some steps that way before I think 'bout stretching out a hand, 'kay? The scars still hurt."

    The warning bell rang. Sean bit into the crisp, sour Granny Smith apple he had kept out, holding in his mouth as he slung his messenger bag and cooler bag over his shoulder. He finished his bite of apple and started hustling for Biology. " Dammit! I'll seeya 'round, man."

    "Gotta say, when a technophile with complete control over every phone, computer, and camera says I'll see you around, it can be a bit..." Devin drawled in fair imitation of Sean's previous comment.

    "I'd never!" Sean smirked to himself, giving Devin the finger over his shoulder, around his apple, before slipping out into the hall starting to fill with students rushing for their next class. Almost never. Hardly ever. And a couple times I regret.



    Thanks for the collab, Dave. Really appreciate it, greatly helps with urging me to post.


  7. First Period: Chem Class
    (Kat and Sean)

    On 8/13/2021 at 2:45 PM, Catherine 'Kat' Barras said:

    "Oh, hey, Sean!" She said, removing her earphones.

    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.

    • Like 2
  8. Sean, Week of Labor Day/Ep. VI:

    • Off-Camera: Working on his video, and now the follow-on support stuff now that it's released. Possibly exercising more, working out some.
    • School and After-School Vignettes: 
    • Wednesday:  
    • Thursday: No school. Charlie's funeral.
    • Friday: Meeting with EA Rep Brad Stanton after school at the Country Club
    • Saturday: 
    • Sunday: 
    • 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 (Wednesday, possibly, maybe Cass has the idea for a story for the paper?)
      • Talk with someone, current idea is Autumn or Lilly, about getting into shape, or at least somewhat more athletic, so sudden wild exertions aren't quite the strain.
      • Get Devin's help with prepping for Homecoming (Saturday or Sunday?)
      • Talk with Sophia again, and meet her RPG players
      •  Get the Fellowship (and Devin and Marissa) together - sans parents - at some point to admit the severity of his genetic conditions and why he thinks he has to go to Site B.
  9. Sean's face screwed up in anger as he jumped to his feet and glared at the Jauntsen twins, his chair skidding behind him. "Wow! Really?! Telling everyone earlier would have changed exactly what, guys? We know as much about Todd as we do Cassie's father, which is they're at Site B. That's it!" With turning away from them, he pointed emphatically at Annette. "Until we actually knew where Site B was, maybe a floorplan, it didn't seem-"

    Sean cut himself off, went to slump down in his chair, but caught himself right before falling on his ass. He pulled his chair back and plopped down into it, crossing one arm and pinching the bridge of his nose, trying to collect himself, knowing he was getting worked up. The Jauntsens sure weren't going to be happy when he told them his personal reasons for needing to go to Site B, away from the parental units. But he didn't want this meeting to devolve into the same mess as at the Jauntsens' place. "Look. I just learned about Todd Sunday night. Monday, we had Not-Cody to deal with. I could have mentioned it Tuesday at your place, but well, we know how that went. So I'm bringing it up now, when it looks we're actually going to make progress on going to Site B."

    Carolyn placed a comforting hand on her feminine son's shoulder, but Sean wasn't in the mood to be mollified. He turned his large, jade and turquoise eyes on the representative from the Aeon Society, but if Annette was disturbed by the outbursts, she gave no sign of it, simply giving Sean a nod. He tried to fight down the dubiousness he couldn't help but feel and turned back to Devin and Marissa.

    "And something else, why do you think going to Site B is just going to be a rescue mission? As your fond to point out, there are proper authorities here. Yeah, we have our reasons for going, but I'm pretty sure Aeon and Branch-9 want their Site back that Dr. Klein - or whoever he might actually work for or with - stole from them. We're a force multiplier, sure, and a counter for whatever super stuff they might have there, but we don't have to go alone this time." His eyes cut back to Annette. "I hope."

  10. Brushing away a drop of sweat with the back of his hand, Sean let go of psionic hold on Devin's phone, letting the holography fade. It wasn't that easy to do, not when the device wasn't designed for 3D projection. Now, if the Project or Aeon would let me get a close look at the tech... but it was only an idle thought. He couldn't help but feel rightfully castigated by Lilly's outburst. He could throw up excuses - like how she'd always been so physically and athletically impressive that he hadn't worried what might have happened to her, or that he'd been distracted and wrung out after the encounter in the Blight - but they were just that, excuses. He'd hunched his shoulders and mouthed a sorry to Lilly, though he knew it was too little to make up the lack of concern.

    Sean felt no guilt at not going to bat to have Laurie stay. He was almost invariably going to tell her anyway, but their Dad was still their Dad. Having told their parents practically everything already, he hadn't paid much attention to their expressions, looking at the other parental units and having to focus to make the holographic display. If Sean had, he might have noticed the grave look Jack and Carolyn had shared when hearing about the 27 year cycle once more, and could have reasoned that the elder Cassidys deciding what Laurelei could hear was a way to grab at a hint of control in a situation the blue-collar family was way over their heads in.

    With the talk turning to Site B, Sean straightened in his chair, more intent now, almost quivering with anticipation. He couldn't help it, despite wanting to keep it cool. He hadn't doubted Jace's resolve, but after the Jauntsen twins' talk about not being a part of the fellowship - despite their claims about still being in it all together - the relief he'd felt when Devin said he'd be going regardless was palpable. Cassandra's father was a top priority, but it wasn't the only top priority. Not for him, regardless of how much of a douchecanoe it made him feel.

    "Cassandra's dad and what Coyote said isn't - or shouldn't be the only reason we have to go to Site B," Sean added after Annette said she'd tell them what she could about Site B.

    The buxom boy could feel Jase's incisive green gaze turn his way and he licked suddenly dry lips. Sean looked around the table, at his friends, his comrades in arms. He'd have to tell them - he would tell them - his reason for wanting, needing to go, but not the parental units, not Annette, Aeon, Proteus, Branch-9, and whoever else was listening, though they might know depending on what Dr. Cook had told them. He gave Jason the minutest shake of his head.

    "I talked, well, chatted online, okay, it's more like we were in the Matrix, with someone else who's a captive at Site B. One of Dr. Cook's, erm, band? Todd Asper. He made the effort to contact me, via technokinetic voodoo, begging for my help. He can do some of the stuff I can, and the assholes at Site B are forcing him to work for them, essentially overclocking him to destruction. And he told me, showed me, some of the other stuff that's going on there." Sean's pale face had a faint greenish tinge to it, recalling the encounter in cyberspace and the desperation in Todd's digital plea before he was yanked away. "It's pure, amoral torture, any means to achieve their ends. Even if we didn't have personal reasons to take down Site B, it's something we should do anyway, being the ones the best chance to do it."

  11. Sean stared at his phone, head cocked in curiosity, having just finished a call with Brad Stanton, a rep with EA. The guy had been affable, enthusiastic, and maybe just the teensiest bit cagey with why he wanted to meet. Brad had known about Annwn, and had clearly played it from the way he talked, so his reasons might not just be about ReGenesis. Sean knew his curiosity wouldn't be sated without at least meeting the guy, so he had agreed to his offer of a business dinner at the Shelly Country Club on Friday.

    The only time he'd been there was a kid, when he'd tagged along with his dad when he'd been on a job. Sean had no illusions about appearing super professional or anything, but he didn't want to look like a complete schlub or the archetypal antisocial neckbeard, as it were. He'd have to see what he could scrounge up, probably reusing most of what he'd gotten for Charlie's funeral.

    While answering questions and comments on his game page, Sean tracked down Turing to give him a long needed good brushing and clipping of nails. His grey cat had been keeping himself scarce since Sean had used him as a test subject for one aspect of his powers. Turing accepted the brushing with dignified condescension. Sean didn't think he was forgiven yet. On the ReGenesis front, everything seemed to be going okay, though he had to firmly deny answering any questions asking about plot or hints for the game. He did have to walk one guy through the settings on his rig so that he could actually play the game. Sean wasn't even sure how the guy managed to mess up his computer that bad.

    Dinner was a rushed mish-mash, everyone finishing off leftovers from the last week as Sean went over what was going on. He had actually told his parents, well, his mom, anyway, almost everything, except for Jase's, er, heritage, and what Dr. Cook had told him, and he didn't explain about those now either. But he did add when they'd learned about Enterich. Laurie looked riled and scared and annoyed that she was scared. Carolyn looked concerned, Jack grave.

    The one bone of contention was when they started debating if Laurie should come to the meeting. Sean mentioned he was pretty sure no one else wasn't bringing siblings who weren't directly involved. Laurie stepped into his brother's personal space to leverage every inch of height she had on him, glowering down at him and grounding out she was directly involved - hell, Devin had even jaunted her to New Zealand. And other than Cade, nobody else even had a sibling who wasn't directly. Jack Cassidy reluctantly admitted Laurie had a point, even if he had to take a calming breath to avoid thinking what his youngest daughter and the Devin boy could have gotten up to in a foreign country. Sean and Carolyn had exclaimed, 'What?!' in various tones of surprise, concern, and totally not envy (Tolkien completely overrated). Laurie blushed, in embarrassment, self-recrimination at her blunder, and determination not to kept in the dark 'for her own safety'. The Dark was the danger in the first place!


    The Cassidys rode to Marias Medical Center in Jack's work truck, a drive they had done often enough over the years due to Sean's medical condition. The atmosphere was more somber this time though. Walking through the Medical Center, Carolyn stopped to exchanged words with some of the staff she was friendly with, despite the exigency of the meeting they were there for. Sean slipped away to see how Sophia was doing, feeling a sense of shame and contrition. He was more than glad they'd been able to save her and Tawny. But it hurt that it had taken the depravity she'd suffered at Not-Cody's hands and the lost of Charlie for him to want to get over the painful grudge he'd held onto since she'd turned him down.

    Tired and wan, Sophia still offered him an exhaustedly snarky smile edged with traumatic experience, mildly surprised it wasn't one of the Jauntsens poking their head back in. "If you ask me out, I'm still gonna say no, Sean."

    Sean chuckled ruefully. "I'm not here about that." Sean ran his hands through this sun-touched crimson hair. "Just started to realize it's not good for me - or anyone else - to hold onto grudges and bitterness. Not with everything that's, y'know, going on."

    "Uh-huh." Sophia's sunken eyes brightened as she sat up a bit more in her bed. Smile edged towards a smirk. "And what about Courtney?"

    "Fuck Court-!" Sean sucked in a sharp sigh. He let it out slowly. "Look, it's a work in progress, okay? Just stopped by to see how you were doing. Not sure how long you'll be here, but thought I'd offer you a copy of my new game to pass the time." He tapped the laptop sitting at Sophia's side, an invisible digital spark passing through his fingers to the machine with a push of effort. "And if you want - not sure how my D&D game is going to go now, what with 'stuff' - I can fill in as guest DM for you for your group-"

    "My Irregulars. Holmes."

    "Better than The Fellowship," Sean admitted wryly.. "Anyway, offer's on the table while you recover. And after too, if you just need a break, or want on the other side of the DM Screen. What you running now,?"

    "I'll think about it," Sophia said, before talking more animatedly about her campaign, grateful for the distraction. Sean interjected with his own questions and comments, unconsciously delaying going to the meeting. There was history between them, and new and not pleasant experiences, but for a moment, it felt almost like old times when they had been friends and co-conspirators in RPGdom. Until his mother found him, giving his shoulder an insistent squeeze. She gave the girl a sympathetic look and regretful look. She knew Sean and Sophia had had a falling out. Though not knowing the particulars, she had a few guesses.

    "I hope you are recovering well, Sophia, dear, but I'm afraid I've got to steal my son back for something rather immediate."

    "Thanks, Mrs. Cassidy. I'm getting tired again anyway." She looked back to Sean. "I'll send you a link to my gaming notes. I'll listen to any ideas or suggestions you have, even if I don't take you up on the offer."

    "Alright. Later, Sophia."

    Heading towards the meeting, Carolyn idly asked her son, certainly not prying. "Offer?"

    "Mom!" Sean rolled his eyes. "It's just gaming stuff. God! She was dating Charlie."

    Carolyn blinked, feeling more than chagrinned at the revelation. That was a blunder. Her chagrin didn't relent when the Cassidy contingent entered the meeting room and found they were the last to arrive. Discomfited, she went around the table, making introductions to any she hadn't met before, Jack Cassidy taking it in his more habitual laconic stride. He worked for all sorts of folk. As long as they didn't try to cheat him on payment and treated his workers with a base modicum of respect, he could deal. He exchanged a few brief words with Ian Keane, seeing if he needed any help with flipping or fixing up a house, while Carolyn remarked on how good Gar was looking, and how trials could bring out the best in someone. Then the Cassidys took their seats between the Jauntsens and the Bannons, Jack next to Carl, followed by his wife, Laurie, and Sean next to Jase.

    "Apologies for running late," Carolyn said sincerely, though she didn't offer an explanation for why. "If we haven't missed the opening round, how shall we start?"

  12. On 5/24/2021 at 4:53 PM, Jaunt said:

    “She’s already working on fixing the problems you have at school after the cheerleader uniform stunt.  You didn’t ask her to, and you don’t have to, she’s going to fix it because, try and keep up here: that’s what friends do.”

    “What’s she been given lately?  Her and Autumn might be up there hating on each other right now, but it at least it’s something.  Relationships are built upon and improved by conflict and understanding… Autumn at least tries before she tells my sister to fuck right off.  You said it yourself, Sean, you’re not trying… so what do you expect?  My sister wants actions, not words.  She doesn’t want you to tell her you’re her friend… she just wants you to be her friend, dude.  She’s already got your back at school, bro.  You expect my sister to do all the work while you piss in her Cheerios?”  Devin chuckled and shook his head.  “That’s gonna be a hard check to cash there, buddy.  Let me know how it turns out.”

    "Well, I... did not know that," Sean admitted in a drawn out, nonplussed tone, a hand on his hip. "'Bout her helping me at school with the cheerleader uniform thing, I mean." 

    He turned to look out the patio doors, his pale cheeks pinking faintly. He'd noticed looks at school, irate or disgusted, but they weren't much more than the usual and he hadn't connected it to him wearing a cheerleader's uniform for a few hours. Embarrassing for bit, for him - and he certainly hadn't cared for the skirt - it hadn't occurred to him it would have affronted anyone else, beyond people seeing the over-endowed feminine looking individual who identified himself as a guy in a skirt for the first time.

    It wasn't fair! He had God-Damned psionic powers, had fought other-dimensional monstrosities - and won! - and still had to deal with this shit! He hadn't even seen it coming, but Marissa had and was already doing something about it. And he had treated Marissa poorly, in her own home. He could say Marissa was doing it for her own benefit. Having to be in proximity to the rest of the Fellowship, she wanted to upgrade their social standing to something worthy of being in her presence, so her own didn't suffer. Or to make it feel like they owed her. Whatever her reasons, she was making an effort. And he wasn't.

    He let his uncanny eyes linger on the workout and gymnastic equipment beyond the patio doors for a moment. He had followed Devin and Autumn outside, though he had slipped back in before they had turned around when the door bell had rung. If he couldn't bring himself to ask Jase or Cade to help him exercise and get into better, or at least healthier, shape, he could never bring himself to ask Devin. He had had a vague notion of asking Autumn, but inadvertently eavesdropping on the two of them, it seemed almost perverse that it sounded like Marissa would actually be the better one to ask. 

    Ugh! No way!

    Sean's slender shoulders tightened, then slumped as he turned back to Devin. "You might be..." He sucked in a breath, his nose scrunching up as he grimaced and corrected himself. "You're... right, dude." Anything else was an excuse. Maybe a valid excuse - her actions had led to his best friend being shot multiple times, come on! - but excuses nonetheless. Also... making nice, Marissa might be less inclined towards urging an accident his way, however unintentional. As though dragged out of him, Sean added with a glance up towards the second floor, "I think I owe your sister an apology. A thanks, too, I suppose..."

    Marissa looked at the door to her room as Autumn, giving a bit of an eye roll at the audacity of Autumn giving her fashion advice… before she looked back to the mirror and put her hair back up the way she had it and gave it her best duck-face to adequately appraise the style.  She permitted herself an approving smirk as she side-eyed the door once again.

    “Don’t tell me that,” Devin said while nudging his head towards the upstairs.  “Tell her.  It’s been a rough weekend, for everyone.  We’re all still a bit on edge and we’re not really at a point where we know how to handle each other… I know you’ve had a shit time in your life, given,” he motioned to Sean as a whole and his combination of feminine and masculine qualities.  “All of that.  We haven’t been the best people, but we’re trying, dude.  We both are… it might not always look like it, but we are.  Cut us some slack, yeah?  Now, if you feel you owe her something… don’t talk about it, go handle your business.”

    Sean passed Autumn on the stairs, instinctively turning sideways to give her more, a rueful expression crossing his face as he stopped. The staircase at the Jauntsen Residence was more than wide enough for two to walk abreast. Autumn tilted her head questioningly and Sean sighed. "Don't you hate it when a Jauntsen has a valid point?"

    Marissa had slid into her boots, put her hair up and was now working on her eye make-up as a painter might meticulously add every color with one graceful brushstroke after another.  The knock on her door distracted her from he reflection in the mirror.  Devin wouldn’t have bothered knocking, his entrance would have been a theatrical number complete with some of ‘s’up ho’.

    She sighed, a bit annoyed at the interruption (but then again, she was always annoyed).  “Enter.”

    As Sean entered her eyes narrowed in suspicion as to the reason for his visit.  IT seemed largely out place for him to dare venture into the lair of the beast as in the past he seemed to treat Marissa like she was two Not-Cody’s, a swift kick to the junk, and one pants-ing worth of embarrassment all wrapped into one and better left avoided.  She turned in her chair to face Sean, crossing a suede sheathed leg over her knee to give him her full attention.  “Admitedly I was expecting Cade, or even Cass,” she huffed and rolled her eyes.  “Alright unknown quantity let’s hear it.  If you’re here to file a complaint about something I’ve done to betray you or your family… the line forms at the bottom of the pool.  I’ll be with you as soon as possible. By ‘soon’, I mean ‘never’, by ‘as possible’ I mean ‘I won’t bother’.”

    A smirk curved Marissa's maroon lips as despite himself and his habitual thoughts about Devin's twin, she caught Sean's eyes flick from her own to her crossing legs and back, clearly disappointed in himself, but not regretting the sight. He slowly raised his hands in surrender. At least she isn't petting a white cat...

    "No complaints, I swear." Mouth pursed as though he'd just bitten into a lemon suggested more that he did still have complaints, but they weren't for here, not for this moment. "Not here, not now, anyway," he admitted wryly. 

    Letting his hands fall to his sides, his eyes slid from hers once more, to glance around the room. He had entered with his eyes down initially, as though in case he might have caught a look at something he shouldn't have. He had expected Marissa's room to look like something belonging to a Twitch or TikTok Thot, probably messy, maybe with some strategically place brand name accessories scattered about to show off on her streams. Instead, it was pristine, and very, very Disney Princess. It could probably cause cavities.

    He straightened his shoulders and strained for every fraction of an inch of his modest height, meeting her eyes once more. "I came to... to apologize," he said, forcing it out in a rush. "Devin mentioned, sort of, what your doing for me at school. I didn't know, but thanks for that. And while you were not an ungracious host, I was an ungracious guest. Whatever else you did, intentional or not, that's the truth." 

    A deep inhalation. Of all people, her?! At least she ain't Courtney! "I'm sorry for how I acted today and towards you, when it seems you've been trying help me, in  your way. If there's a favour I can do you in turn, just ask. Er..." His jaw tightened in an uneasy grin at what he had just offered and to who. "Please don't make it too embarrassing or painful please."

    Marissa listened, even giving him a look that dared the young man to judge her choice of bedroom decorations.  Throughout the bookshelves in her room, ended by a cute plushie animal of some sort, were all manner of novels.  The Shannara Chronicles, the Wheel of Time series, All manner of R.A. Salvatore novels, all the Percy Jackson books and even the Shadow Hunters series all lined her walls on high shelves, well outside his reach, and even she needed to tippy toe to reach them.  While she never claimed to be a nerd, she possessed a serious love for high fantasy and supernatural romance literature.

    “Sean,” she started.  Her voice was soft and calm now, devoid of the initial defensive sarcasm she was quickly becoming known for.  “Look, don’t worry about it, okay?  It’s not like I was the greatest to you in the past, so for what it’s worth, I understand.  Does it irritate me?  Sure, a bit, but only because you are surrounded by people who were willing to die with you and you still seem to refuse to let yourself trust us, at all.”

    “You don’t owe me any favors,” she said plainly.  “We’re supposed to be friends, right?  I know, I suck at this whole friends thing, I don’t trust easily, I’m defensive, opinionated, gorgeous,” she waved her hand in a gesture to swat away all her words.  “We both know I could go on, the point is, you don’t owe me anything for helping you with the school thing.  According to the internet, friends are supposed to get one another’s backs, right?”

    “I know it’s easy to think I’m some ice queen who would slit my mothers throat to be the next Kardashian.  That’s simply not true, well, maybe her hammies or something, I don’t know… again, the point is, Sean is that I have limits to my cruelty.  I’m mean, yes.  However, there are lows that even I will not stoop to, for example: destroying someone’s life simply because they are gay, or fat, or a particular ethnicity… or are a transvestite, to name a few.”  She smirked at him and winked.  “This town is full of closeminded bigots and religious bible thumpers who have spent their lives making yours a living hell.”

    “Marissa,” Sean interjected.  “You and Devin made my life a living hell.”

    “Well, certainly,” she admitted freely with almost a tone defensive pride.  “But we didn’t’ single you out, is my point and it wasn’t because of who you were, we just needed you and others to remember that we were better than you because we were more popular… and prettier… with money.”

    “I… can’t,” Sean tried to formulate a response to that, but Marissa wasn’t infallible as it was just hard to grasp how she could grasp it.  “You know you almost pushed Connie Vasquez to commit suicide last year, right?”

    “Of course, but it wasn’t because she was fat or gay, which she obviously is,” the lovely brunette pointed out.

    “Wait,” Sean interjected.  “Connie’s a lesbian?”

    “Duh,” she rolled her eyes at Sean.  “Sean, you can only get so big and to the point where no man is going to want you that you’re eventually forced to try your own brand.  Don’t you pay attention to anything at school?  I did it because she bumped my shoulder in the hallway and didn’t say she was sorry, so rude.”  She scoffed and accompanied an eyeroll with a disgusted shake of her head.  “I digress… what I’m trying to say is that we’re friends now, maybe not particularly good ones, but friends.  That means Devin and I have your back.  You don’t have to worry about bullies anymore or dealing with the crap this town shovels at you.  You want to wear women’s clothes, I’m all for it, help yourself to my closet, whatever Tawny hasn’t looted and pillaged you’re welcome to give it a go, I support you.”

    She stood from the chair she was sitting in and approached him, her heels making her even taller than her usual five-foot eight height.  Autumn had hit the target though, between the sweaterdress, the thigh high suede boots that left only a few inches of leg visible, and her hair up, she looked like some Bond girl… or villain.  Looking down at him she cupped his cheeks in her hands and held his head to face up to her in a usual show of jovial friendliness and familiarity.  “So, stop being an asshole, kay?”

    Several quotes about riding tigers and what could happen when trying to get off them ran through Sean's head. Marissa was a tiger. And she certainly didn't have man-hands - she lacked the skintone, but with the sweaterdress and boots, he couldn't help but think, Lana. Thank the Gods he was wearing loose jeans. It was a testament to her charm and presence that he hadn't flinched away when she'd cupped his face, having grown reserved with physical contact and affection as he'd developed, but he slipped free now. Easier to talk and he was starting to get a crink in his neck with her so close, is all. Really. 

    Why did all his friends have to be taller than him?

    "I'll try," Sean drawled. "I've been burned too many times to not be wary. Like you, I don't trust easily either. It's gonna take me a bit to get used to the nicer sides of you."

    "Bitch." Friendly smirk. "All my sides are my good sides."

    Sean snorted, but it wasn't in denial of her claim. "If I have to stop being an asshole, you have to stop being a bitch." Marissa's eyes narrowed and Sean blushed, taking a step back. "I mean, you aren't being a bitch now, at this moment, not really, not towards me, anyway. I meant, in general, turn down the dial, some, on the bitch meter. It'll help make this friends thing go smoother."

    Marissa didn't precisely harrumph, but she gave the impression she did without making an sound. He considered mentioning Jase, but thought better of it. All things considered, this had gone much better than he imagined it would.

    "Right. Anyways. Not sure 'bout raiding your closet," Sean remarked dryly, "we don't exactly have the same body type, but maybe I'll ask for some fashion tips some time."

    He might still think of himself as a guy, but he had grown to accept his appearance. Could even take pride in it, at times. Losing the 'bet' to his sister had been a way to force himself to see what it was like to present himself another way and show that he accepted what he looked like to others.

    Marissa shrugged nonchalantly, smirk widening a trifle. "Depends how much attention you want, Sean."

    "Not that much," Sean assured her. Though imagine the looks at Homecoming... Would Kat prefer something like that? I have more than Courtney to- He shook the idle thought away and held out his hand. "Pass me your phone." An imperiously arched brow. "Please?"

    Marissa snatched her phone from her vanity and handed to the boy. Sean stared at it, his multi-hued eyes almost seeming to glow and after a long moment, he gave a self-satisfied nod and handed it back to Marissa. "There. You have an app called Elbows now."


    "Gets you to the front of the line, online, when something new and in limited quality drops. It only lets you get one, though."

    Marissa studied him, phone in hand tapping her thigh. "I said you didn't owe me a favour."

    "It wasn't a favour," Sean replied, rocking on his heels, hands stuffed in the pockets of his hoodie. "I have the same app on my phone. Wrote it before all this psionic and terror mojo. Just thought you'd like it."

    “Very cool,” she nodded her head while looking at the screen of her phone.  “Thank you.”  She leaned down and he found her lips pressed to his cheek in a soft kiss to show her appreciation.

    She turned to inspect her lipstick in her mirror, looking back at Sean through his reflection.  “But no go on the ‘stop being a bitch’.  It’s sort of my thing.  I’m willing to offer you a ‘less of a bitch’ deal, but only when I’m not fuming angry at the lot of you because I know somewhere out there is a tree tirelessly producing oxygen for you and I feel you all owe it an apology.”

    She sat back down, setting her phone on the vanity’s surface and returned to doing her eyes.  “The offer doesn’t extend to your bestie, however…” she added as she carefully applied her eyeliner.

    Sean's mouth opened to protest on Jase's behalf, but closed it before voicing a word. Marissa wasn't going to budge on this and he knew Jason, at least well enough, that he most definitely wasn't right now either. Lips pressed into a tight, crooked line, he nodded as he lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Fair enough, that's between you and Jase. I'll take deal with the condition I can be a bit of a butthole when you are being more rather than less of a bitch. Unwarranted, of course."

    "Acceptable," Marissa murmured, not turning away from inspecting her efforts at touching up her applied glamour.

    "Done and done." There was silent pause that discomfited Sean while seeming to not affect Marissa in the least, but he didn't really have more to say. "Later then. Guess I'll see you this evening. Hopefully it won't be as bad."

    "Hope." There was something suspiciously like a grunt. "Don't be absurd. Good-bye, Sean."

    Sean turned to go, but right before he slipped out her bedroom door, he added softly, "Real or not, try not to hurt Cade too much, 'kay?"

    He closed the door behind him with a gentle click before Marissa could respond, and hustled down the stairs. Faced the tigress in her den and came out with all limbs and protuberances intact. Huzzah. After that, how bad could Site B be? He gave Devin a short wave as he sauntered pass the kitchen.

    "Later, man. Your sister and I are good now. I think. Hit me up if you want a copy of ReGenesis, and I'll hook you up."

    Then he was out on the veranda and shuffling towards his car. On the way, he pulled out the card Max had handed to him and flicked it against his palm. He had a call to make before the meeting between the Fellowship, the Parents, and the Project. With a bit more positivity, he was planning with success at Site B.



    Written in conjunction with Dave, but really, I think Marissa just wanted more attention before Autumn takes with back with Jase and her ice cream. :P 


  13. Sean leaned back against the kitchen wall next to the patio door, arms crossed, mouth tight with anger and frustration, and a vague, but burgeoning sense of panic. Marissa had strutted away, Jase had gone the other way and left, Autumn following the former and Kat the later, and now Cassandra was on her way out too. They'd taken down Not-Cody, there should have been victory, maybe even a sense of bonding, and yet, since then, it was not much unraveling as being shredded to pieces.

    He'd been quiet, not by intent, but attempting to see things from Marissa's perspective, and feeling like anything he really wanted to say would just be throwing gasoline on the flames. He tried imagining himself in her place, his family threatened and pressed to compromise his friends.  Sean wanted to believe he'd never would have betrayed them, not given them a warning before it was too late, not even by accident like Marissa said. The anger he felt certainly seemed to him like he wouldn't have. Jason had been shot - in the head! - as a result of Marissa's actions, because she didn't trust the Fellowship.

    Yes, Sean was sure she hadn't meant for it to happen, but it couldn't simply be brushed away. How were the rest of them supposed to put any trust in Marissa after this, especially since she didn't put any in the rest of them? Yes, he would admit Jase had done some, er, dubious things, that Sean would admit privately he'd have been far more dubious about if Jase hadn't been a close friend, but he had never actually felt threatened, in real danger, by something Jase had done.

    He did by Marissa. If she had had said his name instead of Jase's, and the Marshall's had pulled him over on the way to school...

    And even more infuriating, Marissa had a point. Apart, they were easier prey for the Not-Cody's and Enterich's and who know what else was out there. Striking at Site B would be a lot harder without the Jauntsens. The feminine boy's lips writhed at the pure self-interest at the thought, but unable to deny it. He could just imagine Marissa's vicious smirk if she could have read that thought.

    As Cassandra started to head out of the kitchen, Sean pushed himself off the wall and walked over, leaning on his forearms on the island as he looked up across it at Devin. "Marissa does need friends," Sean echoed Devin's earlier statement, "but that needs to be built up going both ways, dude. I'll admit, I haven't tried on my part. And right now, gotta tell you, I'm finding it hard wanting to even try. She thinks of us as losers and fuckups without any ambition. Has she even tried to find out what ours might be? She practically just said she'd do it-"

    Voice rising as he got worked up, Sean bit off the rest of what he was going to say. What he heard wasn't exactly what she meant, probably, just as what she'd heard wasn't exactly what Jase had meant. Probably.

    "Fuck. Feels like Enterich has pulled off a real Xanatos Gambit. Any which way your sister's encounter with him could have fallen out, seems like he'd benefit the most." Sean glanced up towards Marissa's room, then around the kitchen at the fracturing group. "For better or worse, Marissa and Jase are the strongest personalities in our dysfunctional group, and it seems Enterich has gotten them on opposite sides of the same intransigent - stubborn - coin. Whatever Marissa learned from her encounter with him, I think Enterich got more, he-hmm..."

    Sean trailed off, eyes widening as a new, worrying thought occurred to him. There was at least one ancient entity mucking around with them, why not another? "Marissa said those asshole Marshals were threatening your family, then 'invited' her to a meeting with Enterich. You guys haven't said why you are in Witness Protection, don't know if you know why or if your parents have told you why, but you think there's any chance Enterich arranged that whole situation in some way?"

    He scratched his head, fingers going briskly through his vibrant red hair, then nodded at Cassandra's back. "Cassie can see things, backward and forward. Seems like something that could fall into a Fear Demon's wheelhouse, to find out what they feared, what they fear for the future. Not saying Enterich can do the same exactly, like he knew what you - we - would become. But maybe he had an, I dunno, an inkling, and set up something that could be to his future benefit. There has to be something more than just using threats over whatever landed you all in Montana for Enterich to approach Marissa. With dirty Marshals in his pocket and who knows what else, if all he wanted was information on us, feels like there would be other ways to go about it."

  14. 1:30ish - 4:00, Bunnee's

    Even without grey or black-hatting, you could learn a lot about someone online, using purely public and legal resources, if you knew where and what to look for. Brad Stanton seemed legit from everything Sean could see, his digital history showing no signs of being faked or just popping into existence from nowhere. Graduated from the Haas School of Business at Berkeley - not on schoolship, seems his parents made bank before the dotcom bubble burst. Social media accounts were remarkably apolitical, only a little ostentatious with flashing wealth. Seemed like a guy who liked his fun, fast cars, travelling to exotic locales, and maybe a bit of a foody. Certainly liked girls, but didn't come across as a crass, perpetually drunk fratboy.

    Sean was curious how Brad had heard of him. He could have seen some of his YouTube videos on the making of ReGenesis, he supposed. Did Brad think he could nab II and its IP and Game Engine for a sweet price before Sean got a big hit? Or did he or someone in EA realize the potential he had and was looking to crush or co-opt a possible future competitor before he found his footing? Finishing his lemonade, Sean flicked the edge of the business card with his thumb. He had no intention of selling, of course - even before all the weird, he had ideas of how he wanted to work in the industry. But he couldn't help but be intrigued with what Brad was offering.

    Sean kept the booth until school ended, continuing his watch of the Let's Play, keeping an eye on the metrics of ReGenesis, answering a few more questions and responding to a few more comments. There was a deep sense of satisfaction that there didn't seem to be any bugs - on his part - found yet, nor any issues with installations. A few people asking if and when it would come to Apple or consoles, which Sean stayed firmly non-committal about, and even more so about multiplayer. That was an idea for the future, like, after graduation - if he had that time. That required more infrastructure and maintenance.

    Four o'clock came surprisingly quick, Sean letting himself be distracted until his phone chimed with the warning notification he had set earlier. He packed up his stuff quickly, finished up his last glass of orange-lemonade, crunching down on an ice cube, then dashed for the door, giving Max a wave goodbye in passing.

    4:20, Casa del Jauntsen

    Sean had used the excuse of having to rush to be rather sparse on the details when Laurie asked him what was going when he drove her home. It didn't go well mentioning Jase had been shot, but was fine. People were rarely fine after being shot, but well, there it was. He was nebulous about the full reason for the gathering at the Jauntsens, partly because the situation was... nebulous itself, everything not as it seemed. And if he'd told Laurie his and some of the others suspicions, she might have insisted on coming too.

    Sean parked his deep green Grand Cherokee, which seemed more worn and dingy than it actually was against the pristine landscape of the Jauntsen estate. Red sneakers sauntered across the white walk as Sean looked about on his way to the front door. The place looked exactly like what a West Coast family with too much money would get if they moved to more rural Montana, or rather, as a vacation home or something. Before the start of the school year, Sean would never have expected he'd ever step foot on the place.

    He hesitated for a moment at the large double doors, then pressed the door, fancy little tune sounding. A moment later, he could just make out the pounding of feet, the one of the doors swung open to reveal Devin standing there. The curvaceous boy couldn't help but tense up as he looked up at the taller boy, recalling all the times Devin had Simon Phoenixed him into lockers or worse in years previous. True, Devin seemed to be trying to change, to make up for how he had acted, but then again, Sean had never stepped into Jauntsen lair, and to him, especially after what had happened this morning, Marissa was still a very suspect wild card.

    Devin scoffed, rolling his eyes at one of his former victim's wariness. "Come on in, dude, nothings going to happen. Give MJ a chance to make her case before judging her."

    "S'why I'm here, to give her that chance," Sean said, making a conscious effort to relax. He was totally judging her already though, and he suspected Devin knew, going by his snort as he turned around and waved Sean inside. As he folowed Devin inside the ranch-style... well, manse, he muttered, "Hope we don't end up regretting it."

    He tried to be blasé, but the place screamed expensive, and Sean couldn't help but looked around. He'd help his dad on some of contractor jobs. He been in big houses, fancy houses - okay, two houses - but none of them had been like this. It was almost antiseptically clean, looking practically staged, ready to appear in Architecture Digest, just waiting on the photographer to show up. It also had a somewhat impersonal vibe, not quite like a hotel villa or something, maybe AirBnB-ish. Very few family pictures or knick-knacks or bric-a-brac from what Sean could see. There was stuff, tasteful even, but the place still felt spartan.

    Sean took a step into the kitchen behind Devin and stopped. He hadn't intended to be one of the first to show up, but the only ones in the kitchen besides Devin was Kat... and Marissa. Effortlessly gorgeous, and even more dangerous than she looked. He'd seen how far she'd thrown on of the things on the Otherside, and she might be working with the one who had sent assassins after Jase. She'd been terrible to him and his sister, and it was still an effort to pull his eyes off her. Inside the long sleeves of his hoodie, his hands balled into fists.

    "Hey, Kat," he said by way of greeting, giving the slight girl a friendly, subdued grin, before giving Marissa a neutral nod, schooling his features with imperfect success. "Marissa."

    • Like 1
  15. 12:20, Nuclear-powered Trailer

    Sean glanced up from his phone towards the sun that was just starting to slide from its zenith. With his gifts, he could look at it without risking damage to his eyes, and to his vision, the sun was far more than just a yellow-white blob in the sky. It was a dancing, coruscating tapestry woven from the gamut of the electromagnetic spectrum. The sight had helped him model alternate types of vision - through technology or mutation - to ReGenesis, instead of just using the standard greenish darkvision. He had it, of course, but he had more, too.

    The voluptuous boy stood up, hands going to knuckle his back and stretch the strain from sore muscles when he paused, heterochromatic eyes widening in surprise as he looked down at himself. The lingering aches from facing Not-Cody and the deluge of monstrosities in the Blight had faded away unnoticed during his time of self-reflection and under the sun. He interlaced his fingers and stretched his arms over his head, then rolled his shoulders. Nothing, no strain, no pain. What remained was a faint, subtle, almost electric, thrum of health and vitality.

    It felt somewhat akin to the feeling of increasing and accelerating the bioelectric synapses in his brain when he overclocked it. Much, much, milder, to be sure - he wouldn't even have noticed save for the sudden realization of the absence of pain - but analogous. Were the scope of his powers starting to broaden-

    - his stomach gave a muted growl of warning hunger. Well, it was pass the start of lunch period. Sean brushed off the seat of his pants, gave one of the watching - but unseen - cameras a small, two-fingered salute, then began strolling back to his car.

    1:30ish, Bunnee's

    A cheek resting on a fist, the crimson-haired electrokinetic dipped a crispy sweet potato fry in the small tub of paprika garlic aioli, his eyes on his tablet sitting on the chipped laminate of the booth table at Bunnee's. He was up to 87 units sold, creeping closer to triple digits. Tiny in comparison to AAA games selling millions of copies at launch, but he didn't have the advertising budget of the big publishers - just his own efforts online, and he was only releasing as digital downloads on PC. He could have cheated, Sean supposed, but he had pushed all his time and unfair advantages on finishing the game and getting it out there, rather than word of it getting out there. Besides, he didn't have shareholders he was beholden to, he didn't mind the game finding its audience over time. As long as it did find an audience.

    A quarter of a club sandwich remained on Sean's plate, next to the few remaining sweet potato fries he was absently finishing. A wireless earbud was tucked in his ear as he had continued to listen to IrønBjørn's playthrough over lunch, while occasionally responding to questions and comments on Steam and the II pages, YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit. Either he was getting used to IrønBjørn or IrønBjørn was getting used to ReGenesis, but the Streamer seemed to Sean to be far more engaging and entertaining than he initially had been.

    With perfect timing or perfect serendipity, just as Sean finished the last sweet potato fry, Max showed up to replace his near empty glass of orange-lemonade for a full one. Sean looked up his tablet to nod his thanks, expecting the well-endowed waitress to give his plate a questioning glance, silently asking him if he were done. Instead, she slid herself onto the bench seat across from him. Sean blinked, cocking his head in inquiry.

    "Shouldn't you be in school, Sean?" Max asked idly.

    "Probably," Sean admitted in a drawl. He shrugged. "Not feeling it today. Charlie. Other stuff. Skipping a day ain't gonna hurt." He ran a hand through his hair, then frowned in self-recrimination as he picked up his phone. "I should probably tell my mom before the school calls."

    "I get it," Max agreed with a nod. "I've been hearing things-"

    "Only half true, at best," Sean interrupted hastily.

    "I won't ask which half." Max shot him a wry smirk. The busty waitress had always treated him well, treated him as he wished to be treated without ignoring or overlooking how he looked, and for that, Sean was grateful. It did help him accept his appearance rather than be shamed for it, and it helped her with earning bigger tips from him. "Just don't make a habit of it, right? At some point, somebody might end up calling the Sheriff on you for truancy."

    Sean rolled expressive eyes. That would be something, with what he knew and what the Sheriff knew, coming to get him about truancy. "No promises, Max." Sean smirked back and tapped his tablet with a forefinger, a joking tone in his voice. "I just released a new video game. Might end up a big, fancy indy developer making bank. Who says I need school?"

    "Yeah, about that. That's why I'm taking a minute to sit down with you, Sean. There's a guy been asking around about you..."

    Sean froze, almost dropped his phone, and stared wide-eyed at Max, thoughts of the assassination attempt on Jase shoving itself to the forefront of his thoughts. "Wh-who's looking for me? What he look like?"

    "He looks like he's from California, blond, kind of a surfer dude with a well paying job in tech somewhere. Wears an expensive suit but doesn't look stuffy in it. Drives the kind of fancy, ostentatious car the Jauntsen boy would drive if he drove a car instead of a bike. You can't miss it."

    "What he want?"

    For answer, Max pulled a business card from her apron and placed on the table in front of Sean, the rich cardstock making a crisp slap on the laminate. Sean leaned forward to read the card. It stated: Brad Stanton, EA Talent Acquisition, Senior Technical Recruiter, followed by an EA business email and a phone number. The business card looked expensive with a touch of gilding. Very American Psycho. Sean hadn't been sure people even still used business cards.


    "He was looking for 'Sean Cassidy'," Max said, "for a 'mutually beneficial and totally sweet business deal', but I don't think he knows exactly who you are, or what he's expecting."

    "Why didn't he just email or send a private DM?" Sean wondered, more to himself than to Maxine as he picked up the card. After the debacle that was his attempt at streaming on Twitch, he kept personal information tight online, but he had business accounts for Intersectional Interactive on various social media sites. It might be conceited, but Sean had always assumed he'd get a call from a big AAA video game publisher or developer. He just hadn't thought it would be so soon. Certainly not the day he dropped his second game. He was thinking at least after his third, maybe longer, unless ReGenesis ridiculously blew up.

    "I got the feeling Brad thinks a personal meeting will make his offer, whatever it is, more appealing." Max gestured at Sean's tablet. "How's the game doing? Think Mr. Brad Stanton is here about that?"

    "Maybe?" Sean hedged.

    It's not like he had a ton of viewers and subscribers on his YouTuber channel about the making of ReGenesis and video games in general. He supposed he could have garnered some interest because of Annwn. But there was no way anyone would be interested in a new, untested IP. Then sent Marshalls, like real ones even if they were corrupt, after Jase. It would make sense to send a rep from a big video game publisher after him to put his guard down.

    "I'll have check this guy out online, see if he's legit. Thanks, Max." Sean waved the card then stuffed it into his satchel. I'll have to talk to mom after, too. Carolyn Cassidy might only work part-time as an account from home, mostly keeping the books for her husband, but she'd also helped her son set up his business. She was the closest thing Intersectional Interactive had to a CFO. Not like he'd ever sell anything to a company like EA.

    "No problem." Max stood and gave Sean a quick smile before heading back to the counter. "Just when you sell your game or company for big bucks, don't forget your favorite waitress at your favorite diner, okay?"

    Sean laughed, a genuine, feel good laugh. He hadn't had one of those in what felt like forever. "I won't."

    He took a sip of his orange-lemonade then picked up his tablet, minimizing the stream. Let's found out who this Brad Stanton really is...

  16. Sean's Jeep ground to a halt and he blinked, realizing where he was. He pulled the keys from the ignition, a finger through the keyring as he held them in his fist and leaned back in the seat. He'd been driving aimlessly, not sure where to go, sure he didn't want to head back to school or back home yet. But he hadn't expected to end up here. He sighed, rubbed his fingers through his rich red hair, then climbed out of his SUV.

    His scuffed red sneakers shuffled across the old bridge to the improvised party ground Sara and Jase had cleared what felt like forever ago instead of just several weeks. Sean looked about as he walked through it. It didn't feel so much as abandoned as reclaimed, few signs of the party that had taken place here. A few logs used for improvised seats. Scattered stones that might have been used to ring a fire pit. Very little litter.

    Summer parties like that hadn't been something Sean had much interest in. Truth be told, he still didn't. He'd come at Jase's urging, mostly. It seemed like all the craziness had started here, this was where it had begun, where the lives of the Fellowship had irrevocably changed. Sean felt his eyes grow tight. Where for at least one of them, it had led to an early end.

    And it suddenly felt like a really dumb idea that he'd come out here, alone, in the middle of nowhere, just after one of his friends had been targeted for assassination. Well, it wasn't quite the middle of nowhere. He frowned, then shrugged, and began ambling down a faint path through the trees and up the hill, dirt and gravel pattering down behind him on the occasional steeper slope.

    The technokinetic sensed the recording devices - or rather, their signals - before he saw them, let alone the old abandoned trailer. He could turn them off, or spoof them so they wouldn't even acknowledge him, but what was the point, Sean thought. He didn't particularly care if the Project knew he was poking around about here. He continued up the hill and through the screen of trees into the clearing.

    A part of him was mildly surprised to find the trailer still there. Shifting his vision into a different spectrum, he could tell the miniature fusion reactor was still there too. Seems like the Project didn't have time to collect this stuff with everything else happening. He paused, then shrugged again, and continued towards the trailer. The metal steps shifted under his weight, the foot biting into the dirt. The door creaked open at a touch.

    The trailer smelled musty, but not as bad as it first had. It didn't seem to have been disturbed since the others had collected the files. Sean climbed inside, idly looking around, though he didn't expect to find anything that had been missed the first time around. He did have the weird radio back home, still trying to figure out how it worked. He was beginning to suspect its retro appearance was just a false front hiding the real components that gave it seemingly near infinite range. Maybe it worked using quantum entanglement? He was as interested in the fusion reactor, though he would feel better studying that in more controlled circumstances. He could do something about the radioactive rays it was emitting, but still...  radioactive.

    His phone vibrated and Sean smirked to himself as he nabbed the message through the air. His digital chicanery seemed to be working, someone in the Project monitoring the area alerting others that he was there. Good. He pulled out his phone, swiped to a page. 66 total sales for ReGenesis. 69, 70. A slight uptick as the sun climbed towards its noonday peak.

    After poking about the trailer for a bit, Sean took a break, sitting on the top step. It was funny. Jase had just started revealing his mental acumen at school instead of flying under the radar, and here he was, barely able to care about school. Not just today, it was getting hard to even consider thinking about school for the rest of the year with everything else going on. Even his ideas for college, if he even decided to go, were shifting.

    It felt like something so far away, especially when it was possible he wouldn't be alive to go. And now, there was potential it wasn't just his own fucked up genetics that might end him. He couldn't see why Enterich would only target Jason, unless Marissa really did have something to do about it.

  17. Sean's fingers drummed agitatedly on the wheel as he drove Cassandra back home, his jaw tight with anger as he nodded when she pointed the way or told him where to turn to get to her place. That utter bitch! kept scrolling through his mind. Personally, Devin had been a greater devil to the intersexed boy than Marissa had been, if only because they had interacted more often. But since all the psionic shit in Shelly started, he seemed to be making an effort at making amends. He even seemed to regret his prior actions, some at least.

    Marissa, not so much, at least from what he'd seen, but she hadn't appeared to be actively hostile. He'd barely recognized her when he'd seen her in passing at the hospital. Sean never even had an inkling Marissa would do something like hire hitmen to target Jase, or make some sort of deal with someone who had sent those Marshals after Jase, or whatever she'd done. Whatever she'd actually done, it was still a betrayal, especially after what the Fellowship had gone through together in facing down the thing Cody had become and the Thing behind him to rescue Sophia and Tawny.

    Whatever else, the meeting tonight was going to be explosive. She'd better not squirm out of any consequences with her silken words this time.

    He also couldn't help but feel another spike of guilt. While Jase had been recounting his encounter and Cassie had been doing her thing rewinding time in her mind's eye to find out how the encounter had been incited, Sean had been tapping into the communication network of the Marias campus, and thanks to the listening devices, into that of the Project's base hidden below. Being able to psionically grant himself better than admin access was pretty awesome, way more discrete and efficient than mundane hacking.

    He should have tapped into all the major authority or emergency agency comm lines. He should have mirrored everyone's phone when he had voodooed them. He might have had a hint of Marissa's duplicity. But digital snooping aside, Sean did believe people had a right to privacy. He didn't want to play Big Brother. More to the point, keeping himself open to every electromagnetic signal and communication flying by would drive him to paranoia and insanity.

    Then again, was is paranoia if someone was out to get you and your friends?

    The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk ground to a stop outside the Allen household. The head of a German Shepherd nudged aside the curtains and peered at them through the front window, tongue lolling. Sean smiled tired at Bacon, giving the dog a two-fingered wave. He still preferred cats, himself, but he could understand the appeal of dogs. His smile turned contrite - walking and running with a dog every day would have helped him with cardio.

    Cassandra hopped out of the Jeep SUV, nudging the door closed with a hip, then giving the hood a rap with her knuckles.

    "Thanks for the ride, Sean."

    "No probs, Cass," Sean replied. "If you need another, in case biking it is too far, text me. Might have been good for me to keep up the biking, but, well, car. I... I don't know where I'm going now. Just... I need to puzzle this out, but don't want... y'know?"

    "I get it, man, I do. Trust me. I'll keep the offer in mind. See you tonight, I guess. Unless, well, something else happens before then." Cassandra gave his car another rap, gave Sean a nod, then turned around, fishing out her keys. Bacon's head disappeared and Cass smiled, almost hearing the skittering of his paws as he raced towards the front door.

    Sean waited until Cassandra was pushing open the front door before putting his vehicle in gear and driving away. Not that he was sure where he was even going. Home? School? Back to Marias, in case Jase and/or Autumn decided to take pre-emptive action, and whether to help or forestall. He didn't know. For now, he just drove with the potential for the situation improving when he didn't have a destination in mind.

    Last night, they had won, and not even a day later, it felt like they were already losing.


    Using Code on Marias: 8d10 + 1 enhancement
    !roll 8d10t7e10
    Asarasa Roll: [10, 9, 8, 8, 8, 7, 6, 4], [5] Result: 6 = 7 total

    Using Code on Project: 8d10 + 1 enhancement
    !roll 8d10t7e10
    Asarasa Roll: [10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 4], [5] Result: 4
    Eh, I'll try for a few more successes, and add 4 momentum
    !roll 4d10t7e10
    Asarasa Roll: [8, 8, 5, 2] Result: 2 = 7 total


  18. Core Values

    • Achievement: When Sean really sets out to make something, he wants it to have an impact, whether personal, or on a grander scale. From something as simple as the satisfaction of putting together a well working drone or helping his dad on improving the Barn, to seeing his players engrossed and having fun during a gaming session, to having a video game being well received, both in acclaim and with sales. Creativity is the process, Achievement is one of the measures of how successful the process is. Failure is something to learn from, to push towards future success.


    • Autonomy: Sean has his pride. The middle child often left to his own devices, and an outsider at school - at least initially - Sean learned to rely on himself. If he really needs help, he'll ask for it, but can't help be affronted or irritated when others just assume he needs help with something he can do himself, even if its something he might struggle with, such as when Lilly went to put his bike in the back of her pick-up. He prefers having control on anything he's working on, so that he doesn't have to worry about others making a mistake that he has to fix. This lends itself to taking effort to delegate even if doing so would be for the betterment of all. Psionic powers make a massive difference, but his video games could be even better if he'd been willing to seek out more help.


    • Creativity: Sean takes great comfort and enjoyment in building things, creating things. Programming a video game, writing a role-playing game campaign, making art and music for his games, building a drone or sweet gaming PC, putting together a spectacular Halloween costume, baking a new pastry, and more, he immerses himself in turning his ideas into reality, most for his own interests and amusement, partially as a means of escapism from his personal issues and problems. And if other have fun, that is a very awesome bonus. However, Sean can get lost focusing on his creative pursuits to the detriment of more pressing concerns, such as group training for an encounter with an entity of primeval darkness, or still working on a D&D campaign when half his players are gone and psionic powers are a real thing.


    • Knowledge: Sean loves taking things apart and putting them back together, and trying to figure out how stuff works, tangible and intangible alike, like new software or helping Jase in figuring out the fundamentals of nascent neotic science. It's a companion value to creativity when making something new with his own take and/or personal stamp on it. That curiosity can also lead him to searching into places he doesn't precisely have leave to do so, causing him to see things he probably didn't want to see in the first place or to get otherwise distracted.


    • Loyalty: Bullied and mocked by many, Sean doesn't make friends easily, but family and the friends he does have he holds dearly, willing to go to bat for them, and help them however he can. However, taken to an extreme, this can result in him overlooking the questionable actions of those he holds close or not holding them as accountable as much as he should. He also tends to nurse the hurt from those he feels have betrayed him or done him wrong, especially if they haven't done anything to make any sort of amends in his mind.

    Other Values

    • Inner Harmony: Intersexed, and even an outlier in that small demographic, bullied, mocked, and teased for it, Sean has had a very difficult time how he perceives himself and how others perceive him. It's a turbulent river, and it might a life-long struggle, but he wants to find the balance, the acceptance of who and what he is, even if he doesn't know what that quite is, yet. Developing psionic powers has added new ripples to that river.


    • Integrity: He might fudge things here or there, try to paint things in a better light at times or keep things to himself if he thinks its for the best, but Sean thinks of himself as relatively honest and truthful. Holds himself to a high standard in his professional pursuits, whether building a website, a computer, or a video game, he doesn't stint on effort, materials, or design, and gives a full service, not trying to squeeze out every dime, and he expects the same in turn. He hopes he'd have the wherewithal to resist accepting a ludicrous buyout from a company he holds in low regard, say if one of his games turns out to be a breakout hit, but doesn't honestly know. He can say he'd turn it down flat, but there could be an awful lot of zeroes... The guilt and shame he felt when he buckled to bullies and either did their homework or fudged their grades was real and stabbed deep. How he looks and how others treat him about it and how he reacts or is resigned to it also tangles his certitude and integrity.


    • Help Society: Sean would like to see some of his achievements and goals make larger impact than just the satisfaction he gets from them, particularly in areas of great interest to him. He loves video games and tech, but in many cases, innovation is being stifled and greed growing rampant. It might be modest in the grand scheme of things, but if he could help improve the video game industry, it would be one of his proudest moments. And as he designs and makes more things of significance - if he does - and the dangers and threats the Fellowship encounter, the scope on how he might help society at large will develop.
    • Leisure: Components of Economic Security and Time Management are rolled into this. It's not that Sean wants to earn all the money and have all the control, but enough to keep him in comfort, make sure his parents have an easy retirement, and have the time to pursue his hobbies and interests, which in turn he hopes he can make his livelihood. Having fun doing what he enjoys and getting paid for it, one feeding into the other.
    • Recognition: Achievement is a personal measure of success, Recognition is a measure of success from others, and he values that, but really, Sean wants to be able to point at something and be known for that instead of only being known as the boy that looks like a girl with big tits.
  19. With an elbow braced on a knee, other foot bouncing in anticipation, Sean watched IrønBjørn's Stream of ReGenesis, flipping back to his video game's page on Steam and Epic and the marketplace page for Intersectional Interactive's direct site. Only 7 sales on II, but not unexpected. He would have sold it exclusively on his own site so he could keep a full cut of each sale, but the digital distribution sites simply had a far greater reach, their cuts worth the extra sales. Huh, Annwn has two recent sales. Cool-

    Sean jumped to his feet in shock when Devin's text popped up on his phone, his thermos bouncing down the aluminum bleachers with a metallic ting-tang.

    "Crapfuck!" he cursed as he chased after his thermos down the bleachers, trying not to fall into a full tumble, sending back his own text with a though rather than his fingers.

    Chet, Kieran and his fellow cronies snickered at Sean scrambling down the bleachers, his hoodie not hiding the animated bobbling beneath it. Bets were taken whether the abnormally, over-endowed boy would trip and fall, unable to see his feet, and break himself on the bleachers or give himself a black eye. Packing up and getting ready to leave the field, Laurie heard them mocking her brother and scowled.

    Looking as though she was taking one last kick, she shifted her aim slightly, making it look she'd fumbled it and sending the football towards Chet and the sniggering seniors. She missed - she'd been aiming for Chet's stupid face - but got close enough to make Kieran duck.

    "Watch it, Cassidy!" Kieran growled heatedly at Titboy's smug, uppity sister, though he moderated his tone, slightly, when Cade looked back over his shoulder. "Might be dangerous on the field in a real game, if someone were to get through when you're prepping for a kick."

    "Get the ball, Cassidy and get ready for class," the football coach called out tiredly. First Lilly, now Laurelei Cassidy. The ladies were sure talented, he had to admit that, though the Cassidy girl still needed a lot more practice and conditioning, but he still wasn't sure having girls on the team was worth the trouble.

    Sean barely noticed, giving his sister and the football hooligans a sharp glance as he hustled towards the student parking lot in something between a quick walk and a slow jog. As the bell for first class rang, he sent Cassie a text while looking around at things only he could see, the fireflies of electromagnetic communication signals. They were always around him, many and more, he couldn't pay attention to them all the time, not even to a tiny fraction of them. It would be like paying attention to several conversations at once.

    Still, if he hadn't been so involved with his own, personal projects, he could have done something to alert himself and the Fellowship, if certain keywords popped up on pertinent communication networks. He couldn't write the programs on the fly, but might be able to voodoo some virtual agents to keep ears out and to update him while he did work on the programs. It should work, though he wasn't entirely sure he could tap into the Project's network without them noticing something amiss, eventually. He might have to rely on the psionic semi-autonomous AI program there.

    Sean jumped on the running board of his car and climbed in behind the wheel. He eased out of the parking spot and drove out of the lot, slowing when he caught sight of Cassie waving between some other cars. Neither slowing nor hastening her pace, the blond proto-journalist hopped onto the running board of the passenger side of the off-road ready Grand Cherokee Trailblazer - the rugged vehicle not something Cassie expected from the intersexed technophile for all he seemed inordinately proud of it - just as it came level with her and swung herself into the seat.

    "Hey." The red copper haired boy gave Cassandra a tired grin, though his turquoise-and-jade eyes were grave before he turned them back forward and pulled out of the parking lot. "We couldn't even get a single day off after saving Shelly from the Dark, eh? You need to stop anywhere before we head to Marias?"

  20. Laurie padded silently downstairs on fuzzy bunny slippered feet, summoned by the smell of banana chaffles, bacon, and coffee after her morning shower. She'd slept fitfully, her eyes still felt a bit grainy, but feeling anxious and wired, she'd gotten up early to get ready for school and morning football practice. She might just be the kicker, but the coached still insisted for fairness sake. She wasn't even sure she could bring herself to go to school today after last night.

    She might have gotten up early, but not as early as her brother it seemed. She found him puttering stiffly around the kitchen, nibbling on a quarter of bacon-laden, three-cheese banana chaffle grilled cheese, and sipping from a big mug of coffee. Judging by how much was left in the pot, it was far from his first. His eyes were sunken and ringed by dark bags. Collecting her own life saving mug of hot brown morning potion, Laurie glanced around the kitchen.

    Sean must've made enough food to feed at least half again as many as lived in the house. The waffle-maker dinged and Sean fished out the pair of perfectly browned chaffles, adding them to the stack kept warm in the oven, along with the other half of the grilled cheese and a pan of bacon. She cocked her head, then looked down. She could hear the soft whir and thump of the dryer in the basement. Sean had done at least one load of laundry. He'd been busy.

    Laurie sat down at the kitchen table, inhaling the rich nectar of life before savoring her first sip of coffee in the morning. There were place settings already set out for her and their parents. Sean's plate held a few crumbs and dabs of cheese from the other quarter of chaffle grilled cheese he'd eaten, along with a sliced apple and sectioned orange.

    "You sleep at all?" she asked, her voice low in the house, more from habit than necessity. When she'd gone to take her shower, she'd heard mom and dad still talking. She was pretty sure they hadn't gone to sleep at all.

    "Some," Sean said, and Laurie took it to mean barely. He took the other half of the grilled cheese he'd made out of the oven, showing it to his sister balanced on a spatula and arching a questioning brow. He slid it onto her plate, scrunching up his nose as she began drowning it in maple syrup. Syrup on waffles, sure, but on a grilled cheese? Ugh, especially when he already put a bit in the batter. And she ate it with a knife and fork! "Philistine. You want another? Or just more chaffles? Eggs?" 

    "'Nosher pwease!" Laurie said around a mouthful, point at her plate with her knife. "We've got two-a-day practice."

    Sean nodded, finished off his quarter of grilled cheese, took another sip of coffee, then fished out two more chaffles, buttered them, then started on preparing his sister a full banana chaffle grilled cheese sandwich. Grating some more sharp cheddar, monterey jack, and provolone, trying to lose himself in the mundane activity, as he'd been since the wee hours of the morning. He glanced over at his phone sitting on the counter. 26 sales for ReGenesis, mostly European. He hadn't thought about localizing the game yet. Honestly, he hadn't expected to be done before graduation, really. It would take some research, but afterwords, tasking a semi-autonomous program, he should be able to get it done. For some languages anyway. Could talk to Jase about--

    "Mom talked to dad and me," Laurie commented.

    Sean grunted. He knuckled his back, stretching. He'd gotten off lighter than most of his friends, and Autumn's help notwithstanding, he was still sore, if not at bad as before his scant bit of troubled sleep. He really did need to get in better shape. Some at least, last night proved that. All he'd really done was run, fall down, and dive out of the way. Jase's teasing/not-teasing aside, he wasn't fat - except where most girls wouldn't mind some extra, curvy padding. What he was, was lacking muscle tone and even meager athleticism.

    Teagan had tried a few years ago, but she'd been a bitch about it, pushing him hard and he'd resisted through sheer contrariness. Jase or Cade wouldn't judge him if he asked for help, Jase would even approved in his understated way, but what worked for them wouldn't really work for him and seeing the disparity would just make him feel disheartened. And his pride wouldn't let him ask his younger sister for help, despite her getting taller, and more athletic as she practiced for the football team.

    YouTube maybe, or there might be someone else he could ask for help...

    "I'm really sorry 'bout Charlie, Sean."

    "I don't want to talk about it," Sean muttered. He reclaimed his sister's plate, flipping the grilled cheese onto it, then slid the plate towards her as he sat down across from her at the kitchen table. He stared blankly down at his mug of coffee, spinning it in his hands as Laurie profaned the chaffle sandwich with syrup.

    If Charlie wasn't his best friend, he'd still be a good one. A player in his games since the beginning. His loss hurt. That they hadn't been able to do anything to stop it before it was too late hurt even more. But what hurt the most was the shame he felt that he wasn't the one who'd been killed, been torn to pieces, the sense of relief he was still alive. Which seemed perverse, since he was the one who's life was ticking away faster than anyone else's.

    Into the leaden silence, Carolyn and Jack joined their children. Sean went to get up, to make his parents breakfast, but his father clapped him on a slender shoulder, gently, but firmly, forcing him back into his seat.

    "Stay seated, Sean. Finish your breakfast. You've done enough, we'll take care of the rest."

    Carolyn went to the coffee pot, pouring a cup for her husband and for herself, then started brewing a new pot. Jack took over breakfast duties, murmuring with his wife, starting to cook some eggs for the both of them as Carolyn started putting things away and cleaning dishes. Despite seeming having not slept at all, only a bit of redness about their eyes, the elder Cassidys appeared to be less affected by lack of sleep than their children.

    Over her mug of coffee, Carolyn watched her children. Laurie shoveled food in her mouth the way Teagan had when she'd had one of her bigger growth spurts and had really started working out, staring at her brother almost angrily. Sean looked sullen and resigned, absently eating apple and orange slices, glancing from his near empty plate to his phone and back.

    "I think you two should stay home today," Carolyn suggested. "Missing one day so early in the year, and considering yesterday and Cha - and what happened, I'm sure everyone will understand."

    "No!" the siblings said in sharp unison.

    Laurie hadn't been sure at first, but as soon as her mother suggested it, it was the last thing she wanted to do. "Coach has us on two-a-day practice this week and I'm not going to let them say the girl can't keep up!"

    "I... just need something... normal," Sean said over his sister. He gave a bark of bitter laughter. "Whatever 'normal' means now. If I stay home, I'm just going to seethe and wallow and think too much 'bout last night. I don't need - want - that."

    Their mother gave them a wan smile. "If that's what you want, kids. But if you change your mind, give me a call, and I'll authorize you guys leaving early."

    She wasn't under any delusions that both of them had never skipped a class before, but she wanted to cover her bases. And if it let her know where her kids were, all the better. After last night, she and Jack had really considered insisting on Sean and Laurie having tracking apps on their phones, but it was a battle they knew they wouldn't win. With what Sean could do, and even before his... abilities, they couldn't have gotten away with it anyway.

    "We won't," Sean and Laurie claimed again in unusual synchronicity.

    Carolyn sighed. Jack grunted. Talk about the kitchen turned to feigned normalcy, asking about football practice, the launch of Sean's new game - Carolyn had helped her son set up the business for his indy game studio Intersectional Interactive when he had developed Annwn - and what they wanted for supper. The meeting tonight and anything smacking of it was studiously, if obviously, avoided.

    Sean took his load of laundry from the dryer and brought it back to The Barn, shrugging into his freshly cleaned hoodie with the tree on it, tucking the loaner from Autumn under his arm. Laurie got her gym back and practice uniform and the siblings met up at Sean's SUV, who them drove them to school. A bit of the feigned normalcy turned real as Laurie reached for the radio, her other hand slapping Sean's away when he went to stop her. He sat back, flashing her a taunting smirk, as with a thought, he simply took control. His car, his rules, but it never stopped Laurie from trying to claim dominion over the radio.

    She huffed and folded her arms as Sean synched his phone to the SUV, listening to a playthrough of his game that was already streaming on Twitch. The Twitch Streamer... wasn't good, even Sean admitted that despite earnestly wanting to hear the early reactions to his game. It didn't help that the Streamer had a really thick accent, Scandinavian, Swedish maybe?

    29 units sold. Laurie bolted out of the Grand Cherokee almost before it came to a complete stop, running for the field to join Cade and the rest of the football team, her gymbag bouncing on her shoulder. Sean followed more slowly, watching and listening to the Twitch Stream, hoping a more talented Streamer would start streaming ReGenesis in the next few days.

    Not wanting to go inside yet, Sean took a seat at the far end of the bleachers at the top, letting the fading chill of morning wash over him. Shelly High might be surprisingly well funded for a small rural town in Montana, but it still had shit coffee. Sean took a pull from the thermos he'd brought from home.

    Another day. Still alive.

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  21. Cup of coffee held absently in his hands, Sean sat silent and sullen with ache and regret on one of the examination tables, one foot swinging idly to thump lightly against the base. The shame of the worry and anger he had caused his parents still stung, all the more that he couldn't promise them or himself that he wouldn't do it again. That he was doing it right now. A tremble rippled up the fingers of his right hand towards his elbow and before it made his cup of coffee shake, he let it go, shifting slightly to sit on his hand.

    He wasn't sure what he thought about the Jauntsens' father. Carl Jauntsen had taken the correction about his gender rather easily, surprised but not much issue of it, unlike most in Montana in Sean's experience. Misti Jauntsen on the other hand... Like most of the guys at Shelly High, he had considered the Jauntsens' mother just about the hottest member of the faculty. Not anymore after the display he just witnessed. Weeell, Devin's mom's a bitch, she's a big fat bitch, she's the biggest bitch in the whole wide world... Okay, she's far from big and fat, but she's still a bitch, and explains a lot 'bout the Jauntsens.

    As concerned parents and their children began leaving, Carolyn Cassidy turned her eyes from her son to the sophisticated woman who appeared to know a lot and had offered to explain nothing, a frown coming to her lips. "I would like to speak with Dr. Cook, if that is possible."

    Annette just shook her head, smiling faintly with disapproval.

    Carolyn harrumphed. I don't think I like that woman. "If you could see about arranging authorization for that, it would be much appreciated, Ms. Giles." Carolyn gathered her husband and children with a glance, and started collected the supplies they had brought that hadn't been used. "And I suppose we should be getting on our way as well." Her tone turned as wry as her expression. "It's still a school night."

    Sean hopped off the table, stifled a groan with a stretch, then helped his sister and parents with the things they had brought. "Er, I still have to collect my car..."


    Jack Cassidy parked his truck near the Old Town Hall. Sean climbed out, but when Laurie went to follow him, Carolyn stopped her, reaching back to place a hand on her forearm. "You stay with Dad, honey. I'll ride with Sean. He hasn't even taken his mother out in his new vehicle yet." 

    Jack gave his a questioning look, nodding towards his son, who stood a ways away, hands shoved in the front pockets of his hoodie as he stared at the dilapidated Town Hall. Carolyn shook her head, giving him a wan smile before leaning to brush his shoulder with her lips, then got out to join Sean. Sean gave a start when his mom stepped up in line with him, grunting at his own surprise, then led her towards his Grand Cherokee, looking more black than green in the gloom.

    They were quiet as they followed Jack's Ford F-250 by several cars length back to the Cassidy residence. Carolyn glanced at her son as he drove with an assurance that belied his experience, noticing the rust of dry blood behind his ear and down part of his neck. She reached out to brush off the flaking blood, her eyes growing sad when Sean flinched away from her touch. Some of her anger towards her son abated. Her son had demonstrated his abilities to her and Jack and Laurie - some of them at least - days ago, told them much of what was going on, if not, evidently, everything. Obviously, others knew, but finding it out personally had made everything her son had said and shown that much more real to her and Jack, and made their concern and fear for him that much more acute.

    "Was it bad, Sean?" Carolyn asked gently. "I'd like you to tell me what you can. I'll share with Laurie and dad so you don't have to again."

    Sean's jaw tightened stubbornly, eyes tightening in the way they always did when he refused to cry and Carolyn didn't push it. With his issues, she and Jack had given their middle child as much space as they could. She could only imagine how bad it was. 

    "Yeah..." Sean finally ground out, his high voice hoarse as he stared straight ahead, barely seeing his dad's truck. "It was a nightmare. Really, a nightmare, but real."

    "Tell me. You don't have to hold onto it alone."

    Sean gave his mother a quick glance and the sheer sympathy and empathy on her face almost broke him. The anger was still there, but the understanding was far stronger. "Okay."

    He told her. The place beyond this place, the place of blood and bone, terror and misery. The thing Cody had become, the creatures borne of that place. He had told her about The Dark, but it had been a nebulous thing. This was more concrete, visceral. They had won, but the wound was still there. That they would have to head into danger once more to try and seal the wound between worlds, or at least help it heal. And this time, he would tell her when he went, despite the worry it would cause his mother, if she insisted. She did. About the Aeon Society, though that was little enough, and the splinter group that Dr. Cook had been part of, if perhaps unwittingly, or unware of to what degree.

    Sean still couldn't bring himself to tell his mother just how bad his condition was though, and the other reason he needed to go to Site B. He knew his parents sometimes blamed themselves for his condition, though they and he knew it was in no way their fault. If he told them it progression would lead to an early death, they'd blame themselves even more. It was one thing to tell them he was heading into mortal danger, it was another to tell them regardless of what he did, mortality was coming for him early.

    By the time he finished talking, he'd been parked at home, idling in the driveway, his dad and sister already inside the house after watching him and his mother for a long moment. Carolyn was quiet for a long time, watching her son, trying to figure out what to say. Finally, she leaned over and hugged. Sean stiffened at first, then relaxed into the embrace, hugging his mother back.

    "Don't think you're off the hook, Sean. We're all still figuring out what all this... this is, what it means." Carolyn sat back, giving her son's shoulder a comforting squeeze. "But no matter what danger you and your friends throw yourselves in, we, your dad and I, we want to know. We'll worry, I can't promise we won't try to talk you out of it, but we'd rather know than not, okay." She waited with motherly patience until Sean relented with a reluctant nod. "Do you want to stay in the house tonight?"

    She didn't turn her head away from Sean, but her eyes flicked towards the Barn. The Barn, dark at the moment, that Sean lived in as his own apartment, even if it lacked a few amenities. For just a moment, Sean was sorely tempted, but he refused to bow to the fear he still felt from the encounter with Not-Cody and the Tree and the other residents of the Otherside. He gave his mother a tight smile and an awkward shrug. "No. It's okay, I'll be fine. I... I just need some time alone and a shower so bad. I'll pop in to grab something to eat though."

    "Okay, hon." Still disappointed, Carolyn understood. She opened the door to the Grand Cherokee. "I'll speak to your Dad and Laurie."

    Carolyn slipped out the SUV and headed toward the house, hiding wiping her eyes from her son. Sean stayed in the car for a while longer, taking several deep breaths, trying to calm himself, before he ease his vehicle over to the gravel driveway by the Barn. He turned the key in the ignition, turning off the vehicle, and holding them tightly in his hand, he shuffled to the place he considered his. As he opened the door to the Barn, he couldn't help himself but bring up the psionic potential for lasers and tasers, shifting his eyesight to perceive parts of the spectrum beyond human capability, just in case anything lurked in the gloom.

    The only thing in the Barn was Turing, his grey cat, his eyes reflective orbs up in the loft where Sean's bed was. Turing let out a plaintive meow and Sean released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Shitfuck, get a hold of yourself, Sean."

    With a thought, the Barn came alive with light and Sean entered his room. He took off his filthy boots, new no longer, leaving them by the door, then hopped around as he pulled off his socks. He wasn't even going to try and save them and just threw them in the trash. Despite Autumn's much appreciated ministrations, he still ached, and slowly shrugged out of his hoodie, shirt, and pants as he trudged towards the small bathroom that had been added last year. He was sore enough, that he hadn't so much difficulty taking off his bra since he'd first started wearing one.

    He stared at himself in the bathroom mirror, trying to see if there were any visible signs of what he'd endured. Specks and spatters of blood and gore here and there that his earlier efforts at grooming hadn't caught. A few bruises that were already yellowing thanks to Autumn, but not gashes, slashes, or other wounds. His eyes were still wide, showing white all the way around. For some reason, he thought he'd look older. He felt older, but his face was still the pretty girl's face he'd been inflicted with, that he'd grown accustomed to as his.

    He stripped off his underwear and slumped into the modest shower stall. He hissed at the bite of cold water hit his head and back, turning into a moaning sigh as the water warmed up, hot as he could bear it. It was barely enough as he scrubbed vigorously, not sure if he'd ever get the taint of that Place off. He shook, he trembled, slamming a palm against the tiles, then went back to scrubbing. They'd won, for fuck's sake. They'd defeated Cody, saved the girls, and now, he was breaking down?! 

    Under the hot shower easing his aches, he couldn't feel the tears mixing with the water.


    Sean went inside the main house just to grab a hefty sandwich before retreating to the Barn. He ate mechanically, barely tasting the smoked meat and sweet mustard and pickles, eating out of remote necessity than any desire. The aches permeating his muscles and tendons had lessened, replaced by flesh still stinging from the heat of the shower and the harshness of his scrubbing. He didn't know what to do with himself. He felt both exhausted beyond belief and wired to the gills. ReGenesis was being released at midnight - it should have been exciting, thrilling, but all it felt at the moment was a chore he couldn't be bothered with right now.

    After pacing for a while, then staring blankly at the steam page for ReGenesis, Sean gave up and stumbled up the steep steps to the loft and fell into bed, tucking himself tightly into the blankets, though he didn't expect he'd fall asleep anytime soon.

    He was wrong.


    He was running, always running, running away. But the harder he ran, but more he struggled, the slower he went, the ground turning to mud, turning to blood. He sunk to his ankles, knees, waist, was wading through sickly sweet and warm pudding-like blood, feeling weaker with every slurping step he took. There was a tremendous weight on his chest, something rasping against his smooth chin, like someone taking a file to his face-

    Sean woke up with a gasp, hair and nightshirt soaked with sweat, and sitting up, felt something tumble from his chest to his lap. One hand on the mattress, the other scratching through his matted hair, he looked down. Passed his breasts, Turing looked up at him with what seemed like reproach. He scritched him under the chin, Turing leaning hard into his fingers and purring. Sean bit down on a giggle. Nightmares waking and sleeping. Great. He looked over at the clock. 2:47am. Wonderful.

    There was no way he was going back to sleep. He collected his phone, shifted Turing to his shoulder, and carefully navigated the stairs back down to the main floor of the Barn. He started a pot of coffee, splashed his face and hair with some cold water, changed shirts, then settled on the couch, absently petting his cat as he watched the metrics on ReGenesis, more out of professional duty than any real desire. He had wanted to be awake for the first sale. ReGenesis was up to 18, now 19, units sold and he could barely care. It was just something to watch instead of the nightmares hounding him waking and sleeping.

    It was going to be a long night and even longer day.

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