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  1. Jason, 0720 He ran laps of the football field, pushing himself as he always did to move that little bit faster, to do that extra lap within the time he allotted for his run. He wasn't the only runner who made a habit of getting in his daily laps at the school before breakfast - but he was the only one not a member of one of Shelly High's various athletics teams. At his ground-eating lope he passed some girls hoping to make first line for the soccer team, encouraging each other, faces red and sweating as they jogged steadily around the field. Then he smoothly overtook two of the football squad, his lean form cutting past them like a whippet past a couple of labradors. He wasn't the fastest or most tireless athlete at Shelly High - before all the weirdness, that honour would likely have gone to a coin toss between Cade or Lilly. Now it was likely Lilly, given the superhuman boost she had acquired to her physique. But even with those titans of athleticism set aside, Autumn had more boundless energy, Devin, with his acrobats training, had more grace in motion. If there was a word to describe Jason Bannon's athleticism, it would be tenacious. There was a determined implacability in how he ran: sure-footed, fleet, focused on what he was doing as though running down quarry, a participant in a chase in which the outcome would be inevitable. Other teenagers trained their bodies for all manner of reasons. As a hobby - something they'd gotten into and enjoyed doing and so kept up. Some trained to take part in prestigious competitions or win places on school teams. Some were just active and energetic, always running, never seeing a river they didn't want to swim or a cliff they didn't want to climb to the top of. Some were tired of being out of condition, weak or fat, picked on by others or wanting more self-respect. And for some, it was their solace against the world, the place where they set the pace and the standards, and didn't have to worry about anyone else. Jason, from early adolescence, had deliberately taken to training his body for the same reason he trained his mind - to sharpen it, to hone it so it would do the bidding of his Will when he desired it to. To be slow, to be stupid, or to be oblivious was to be prey, some deep instinct had informed him early in his life - and having observed the piranha tank of school life, such an instinct was certainly accurate, even if the dangers were not necessarily mortal. Now, though, his innate philosophy had been proven even more correct. If he had been just a little less observant, a little slower in putting the clues together, he would be dead from yesterday's attempt on his life. The only thing that had saved him was the suspicion roused by the marshal wearing gloves in summer. And even then, he'd have died if not for others. And today... Today he'd been very alert on the drive to school. Was very alert now, in fact. Not jumpy, or paranoid, no. Aware would be the best term to use. He could almost feel people's eyes on him, almost hear the buzz of their whispers as he loped around the track. More, he was very aware of... Well, everything. He felt more in tune with things, generally. As he finished his run and stepped off the track, hands on his hips and breathing deeply, out of habit he let his third eye focus on the world around him. As he'd thought, something had changed. Before, he just had a vague sense of Radiance - emanating from every living thing, a warm golden light. Now, he found he could look at a person and see their personal Radiance, that spark of life, soul, whatever one could call it. Anima, perhaps. Interesting. Taking a moment as he put himself through slow stretches, he fell deeper into the semi-trance, extending this sixth sense out. Before, that vague sense of Radiance had only extended outwards so far - perhaps a thousand meters. Now... he blinked, falling out of the trance and stumbling a step mid-stretch. Looking around, he sat down on the grass and closed his eyes once more, focusing more intently. A sea of candle flames spread out for kilometers around him. Each one, he instinctively knew, was a person, each with that life spark. Here and there brighter ones, their steady glow more intense, stood out from the flickering flames around them. The Fellowship, it had to be. Each of them was a small star, almost occluding the flames near them. He narrowed his focus down, recalling when Cassie had shown him how she perceived the world. Yes. Insects, plants - motes of glowing plankton-sized lights in and around the brighter flames and the even more brilliant stars. And there, in the center of Shelly... no flames, scant plankton. The shadow left around the Old Town Hall. Not as broodingly malevolent as once it had been, it was still an unsightly blotch to his new way of seeing. This intrigued him. Some of the others had manifested multiple categories of 'gift' - Cassie and Kat both having telepathy in addition to their main schticks. for example, and Autumn sharing Charlie's ability to sense living things at a distance - so it wasn't strange that he, too, was suddenly experiencing a new development. It was very similar to Cassandra's initial manifestation of power - some manner of clairvoyance or ESP. Something else to evaluate and explore, definitely. For now, though, he stood up, finished his stretches as swiftly as was practical and, turning, headed for the showers. Autumn had texted him saying she'd see him at breakfast, and teasingly poked him to bring coffee. Mysteries of new abilities were all very well, but they could wait in the face of a freckled nose crinkling up in a smile and wide, blue eyes framed by red-gold fire.
  2. Jase nodded to the Keanes as they turned to go and collect their daughter, then exchanged glances with his dad. Gar, having just glanced around himself to take stock of who was left, nodded once in acknowledgement. "Ready to go?" It was as much a statement as a question - Gar was not good at large gatherings at the best of times, and this one had him itching to crawl back into a bottle. "Almost." Jason replied. "Just going to have a word with Lilly, see how she is." "Alright, yeah. Guess she's been through it hard, from the sound of it." Gar nodded thoughtfully. "Want me along to run interference with her folks?" "It's okay, dad." Jase's lips quirked in a faint smile. "I am what I am, I did what I did. It's not your responsibility - whatever the Misti's of the world think. I'll catch up with you in the parking lot." "Alright. I'll get Teresa Allen's number, then I think I've got the whole set and the complementary binders." Gar quipped, patting his son on the back. "See you outside." The Pryors were themselves just done exchanging numbers with those closest when the tall, spare figure of Jase approached them. Both of Lilly's parents were wary, their smiles tighter as they met the unconcerned, cold green ice of the young man's stare, and it didn't escape him that they moved almost unconsciously to form up protectively either side of their daughter. He didn't let it concern him: they didn't know him well and what they'd heard here tonight wasn't salutary - at least by civilised human standards. Their protectiveness was understandable behaviour, that was all. "Lilly." he said in his usual quiet tone as he came to a stop before them. He studied her, eyes calm in a scarred face as he took in her appearance. "I'm glad you're... here." he said, substituting the last word at the last second. His head tilted slightly. "How are you, other than the obvious?" As the teens spoke the elder Pryors listened them, Cassandra trying to not be too terribly overt about it by feigning interest in something or someone across the room, while her father was much more clear in his monitoring of the conversation. "I... I dunno." Lilly sighed as she diverted her gaze to the ground for a moment. "I'm tired, for one. Well, I guess 'worn out' is more accurate." she said, and largely looked the part as well. Her eyes were tired and shouldered were slouched. Her usual smile was replaced with a weak frown and the usual energy and light seemed absent from the athletic teen. "I dunno what he did to me. I mean, I kinda know, but I dunno how to explain it. I mean, I know he was using his darkness or whatever, but he reduced me to..." Lilly shook her head, not wanting to recall or maybe describe the state she was in so she switched thoughts a bit. "Marissa's got nothing on him. Anyways, he took me out of the fight. So I was not there for you guys... again." She raised a hand to stop Jase from responding for the moment, regardless of if he was going to. "I know everybody said to forget about it, not being here when you all were attacked and did the other stuff, but it's not that easy. I..." she said, almost holding her breath for a moment before sighing out, "I'm just glad you all made it back." The young woman lifted her gaze as she spoke and her prow furrowed slightly. "I guess it wasn't 'unscathed' though." she said, lifting a hand toward Jase's new scar, but withdrawing it before she touched him. His lips twitched wryly at that. "We all got a bit banged up. Oddly, this wasn't from the fight against Arawn. It was from Enterich's cronies this morning. After everything we went through, I just wasn't expecting a human being to walk up and pull a gun on me in broad daylight at a traffic stop." He shrugged, his gaze still on her face. "Lesson learned." He paused for a moment, considering. "It's not my place to volunteer others, but you may wish to talk to Autumn about what Enterich inflicted on you. Her ability to heal is not limited to bodies - she can also soothe mental and emotional traumas. It's not that she makes you forget: from what I have observed, she simply helps the mind to deal with things. It might be worth talking to her at school tomorrow." "Yeah. It's one thing to keep an eye for monsters, but now anybody could... joy." she finished sarcastically. "I'm sorry that happened to you, but I am glad you are okay." she said, forcing a weak, though sincere, smile for a moment. "As far as talking Autumn? I dunno. And you know what? I am getting really tired of saying that, but I don't see it stopping anytime soon." she vented "Anyways." Lilly sighed. "I dunno." she said as she began to speak and the closed her eyes for a moment, cursing silently that she had said it again. "Autumn has seemed... distant, I guess, since I got back. Has she said anything to you about me?" she asked and then raised her hand, shaking her head again. "Nevermind. I don't want to get you involved if there's some issue." "I just... I dunno what to do." she said, shutting her eyes tight. "It's like, after hearing about what happened to..." she cut herself off, the name catching in her throat as her face contorted to a pained mask, "it's.. it's like am still in it and this is just part of it, you know?" Lilly shook her head again and lifted her hands, running them through her long, dark hair as she exhaled. "It's been days and I don't wanna be like this anymore." she confessed, blinking back tears. There was no empathy in the cool gaze which rested on hers, no shared experience of fear and grief to create a sense of fellow-feeling. Nor was there discomfort at her expressing of emotions such as some might show, nor was there pity or disdain. But there was a glimmer of comprehension, a sense of him trying to understand, trying to help, in whatever way he could. He reached out with slow deliberateness and placed a hand on Lilly's shoulder. "Autumn has never indicated to me that she has any issue with you." he said with calm authority. "And given that she repaired the hands of the person who shot me, I don't imagine she would refuse to help you if you asked." His lips twitched in a smile. "She has a large heart, whatever distance you might feel there is between you." Lilly closed her eyes and nodded, trying to keep a modicum of composure. Jase's gesture, both verbal and physical, were not lost on her either. To say that their friendship had been strained a polite understatement, but here he was, the seeming cold, unfeeling Jason Bannon, was trying to help or comfort her, even if it was in his own way. It was still more than she had expected. "I'll see if she can help. I hope she can." Lilly opened her eyes to look to her friend once more and forced another weak smile. "And thanks." she said as she stepped closer and hugged him close telling him, "Deal with it." with the faintest hint of amusement to her voice. "It's not totally objectionable." he replied deadpan as, after a split-second's pause, he returned the hug. As she gave a small laugh and drew back, she didn't miss the flicker of wry amusement in the depths of the ageless cool stare which met hers. It wasn't like 'old Jase', the friend she'd thought she knew before: quirky scruffy slouching Bannon with his odd, quick smiles and the way he wouldn't meet your eyes for longer than a split second before looking away and the hints, here and there, of the fierce intelligence that now shone clearly from his gaze. He'd set aside the mask he'd worn - but perhaps what was underneath wasn't that terrible an adjustment. As he stepped back, he nodded to Lilly and her folks, the corners of his eyes crinkling slightly in a micro-smile. "I'll see you at school tomorrow, then." "Yeah." Lilly smiled back, watching as he turned away without further ceremony and, falling in step with his father, left the conference room.
  3. "Wait just a minute." Misti glared at Devin. "You two are not going anywhere, least of all to assault yet another terrorist cell in some other place. You are grounded until you're fifty, and as for-" "I agree with Devin." Surprisingly, it was Jason who spoke up, addressing Annette. "Cassandra's father is there. Something Coyote told us is important to this world is there. We will be going to Site B, whether you tell us about it or not. We sort of have to." Misti sputtered something rude under her breath. "I appreciate that." Annette nodded, unsurprised by the defiance. She measured the other faces present, gauging them once more. "I am not saying I don't want to tell you all I can. If it was just you kids, I'd already be ready to spill it all, because I know you need the information and are already in danger. I'm simply saying that this knowledge carries dangers just by virtue of knowing it, and everyone here deserves to choose whether they accept that danger, Devin. Anyone who doesn't can leave the room." Silence followed, various parents exchanging glances. Carl reached over past his kids and placed a hand on Misti's, who fumed but nodded as their eyes met. Ian and Dana Keane likewise exchanged a glance that contained a page's worth of communication before each nodding affirmatively. Gar Bannon simply nodded, as did Josh Williams. Lastly, the Pryors, Cassidys and Alisters signaled their assent. "But not you, young lady." Jack Cassidy said to Laurie. "You're neither going to Site B nor are you Sean's guardian." He withdrew his keys from his pocket and held them out to her as her eyes widened in dawning horror. "Go and wait in the car." "Daaaad!" The eruption of teenage protest was hardly unexpected, Laurie's face flushing as red as Autumn's had moments ago as she held up a hand, warding away the offered keys. "No! Come on! I've sat through all of this so far and now you're kicking me out?!" When he silently re-proffered the keys, she cast an imploring glance at Carolyn and her brother. "Mom?! Sean?!" "Sorry, sis. Dad's call - he's your guardian too." Sean shrugged in the face of her angry glare. "Laurelei Cassidy, you heed your father." was all their mom had to say on the matter. Laurie's defiance turned to disbelief at the lack of brotherly/maternal support, and she turned her blue eyes on Jack once more. "Dad... please? I've kept all of this secret so far. I'm not a blabbermouth!" "Go and wait in the car." Jack repeated, his face stern as a granite carving. "We'll decide later how much we tell you." "Shit!" Laurie said disgustedly, grabbing the keys and standing up, ignoring her mother's glare at the profanity. "I hate you guys so much right now!" She turned and stormed towards the door. "And don't hang around outside!" Jack called after her. "I'll be checking." "Whatever!" Laurie shot back over her shoulder as she flounced out of the room, the door slamming shut behind her. There were a few cleared throats and sympathetic glances from the other parents towards the Cassidys. "Believe me, I wish I could go and wait in the car." Teresa Allen quipped, causing a few dry chuckles from the other adults present. People shifted in their seats, sipping water and relaxing - or at least unclenching somewhat. "Laurie is walking towards the front of the hospital." Jason told Jack Cassidy, his eyes distant for a moment. "She hesitated outside the door, but then got moving." "You can tell that?" Lilly's dad asked, curious. Jason merely nodded. "Well, then. Since you are all decided, once Ms Keane returns I shall present what I know about Site B." Annette sat back in her chair, taking a sip of water. If she was at all ruffled by any of the events taking place, she didn't show it.
  4. "Correction for those of us not so enamored of spite we would slander the dead to enable it." Jason's tone was glacial as he spoke up, his gaze level as it roamed the faces of those present. "Charlie had only 'sliced up' - indeed only attacked - monsters prior to the prison raid. To the best of my knowledge he'd never even adopted a 'war' shape until we were attacked at the trailer by that thing, then again at the hospital. The 'arguing' consisted of my simply asking Devin if his no-killing rule - which was purely addressed to me - was the condition he required to allow me to come along and help. He said it was. At which point I then gave my word not to kill anyone, and implied it would be a challenge. No-one else said anything about it. I'm not sure if that counts in anyone's book as 'audacity' or even 'a lot of arguing', but those are the facts of that conversation." He shrugged. "The Jauntsen Twins are free, of course, to claim otherwise. And you are all free to believe whom you wish." "And yes. I attacked a human someone with my powers, because they attempted to sexually assault a friend of mine, an action which I found offensive." Jase's lips twitched sardonically. "I also attacked the two individuals who shot me this morning. All three survived the experience. I bring this up simply to get it on the table and let people see the matter clearly. Cassandra was evidently attempting to leave our dirty laundry off the table and stick to the most relevant facts, but based on what we just witnessed, we might as well air everything. My action against the would-be rapist was not approved of by anyone else in the Fellowship - indeed, I believe most were upset by it. But there is no 'body count'." He reached out and took a sip of water from his glass. "That's all I have to say on the matter. Cade was telling the truth - we didn't kill anyone during the prison raid." And he fell silent again, eyes gleaming in his expressionless features.
  5. "So those creatures... they're the 'Dark'? Or from the Dark? Or... what?" Ian Keane peered at the projections, fascination mixed with skepticism in the man's expression. The other parents, too, leaned forward, recognition on the faces of Sheriff Alister, Capt. Williams and Gar Bannon at the giant fish-dinosaur abomination that was trying to eat Devin as Ian went on. "Seriously, it's hard to believe." "That's the thing that attacked us here." Gar said quietly, soberly, gesturing towards the creature's image. "Came crashing through the doors to the lobby last Tuesday. I could smell the damn thing it was that close behind us." He looked across at Ian, shrugging. "It's real, alright." "And those." Captain Williams spoke up from his seat next to Kat. Out of uniform, the soldier gestured to the rubbery, saw-toothed creatures Devin had depicted swarming along the corridor walls and ceilings. "They were all over the place. Your girl warned us about them, or my men - and me - would've walked right into them blind." He gave Autumn a wry smile. "Thanks again for that, by the way." "Sorry, who are you?" Misti eyed him curiously, tapping manicured nails on the polished tabletop as her attention was diverted from Devin's portfolio of horrors. "Captain Josh Williams, ma'am." Kats dad nodded to her politely. "That doesn't explain much..." Carl's tone was dubious. Lilly's father was glancing sideways at his fellow soldier, similarly curious as to what was going on. "Captain Williams is part of our operations detail here." Annette put in quietly. "But tonight, he is here as a parent to a special child, just as you all are." That plainly didn't satisfy all questions, but was sufficient to get the parents back on track. Dana gestured at the projections, looking at Devin, then Cassandra. "So, back to my husband's question..?" "They are corrupted life." Jason didn't stir from his relaxed slouch as he spoke, his voice calm, almost professorial as he spoke up for the first time. "Cassie told you about Shine - at least a little. It's the energy of life, of thought, of... nature, I suppose. We've also heard it called Radiance. It exists, theoretically, below the quantum layer of what we call reality. Everything that lives, from a blade of grass to all of us around this table, draw on it a little, possessing a little spark of it." His lips quirked in a not-quite-smile. "If you want to be profound about it, call it the breath of the Universe." "Or the Force." Devin suggested helpfully, smirking slightly. There was some rolling of eyes and chuckles from the others. "That fits too." Jason shrugged. "Though we should probably avoid that comparison. All the hellish forces of the Dark are as nothing compared to the Disney legal team." As people relaxed a little, chuckling, he went on more seriously. "The Dark is a force which corrupts life, corrupts minds and bodies, blights whatever it touches. Like Radiance, the Dark seems to be a cosmic constant, existing on another level of reality, and seeking to twist and feed on the energies of life. Here in Shelly, there was just one parasitic fragment of the Dark - and it was enough to curse the entire area for who knows how long. Our research showed that every twenty-seven years, as far back as there were records, there would be a surge in violent crime and disappearances. The worst kinds of crime, too - brothers knifing brothers over a card game, murder-suicides, domestic disturbance calls that would end in bloodbaths... The list goes on." "And that was the Dark? Well, the parasite, anyway?" Dana asked quietly, her eyes on the lean, quiet-spoken young man, who nodded. "We think it was. My research initially was into strange sightings, you see. After the party, and after a couple of us started manifesting strange abilities, I was looking for information about local legends, cryptids, monster stories. That led to disappearances, which led to crime spikes. I stumbled over the twenty-seven year cycle when I was sifting through all the data." He gestured towards Cassie. "We all met up, compared notes, and decided to investigate further, including into why we had these gifts in the first place."
  6. Lilly's entrance - and her somewhat drawn appearance - caused a curious raise of an eyebrow and narrow-eyed scrutiny from Jason, but he returned her wave of greeting with a nod and the merest hint of a smile on his scarred face. He'd wondered if perhaps Lilly's disappearance from the Carousel had been related to the Dark, wondered if perhaps her body would be found as Charlie's had been. The musing had not been particularly welcome - even given their estrangement he still didn't wish the girl ill: like Sean, she'd been a decent friend for too long for him to readily dismiss her simply based on recent changes and actions - but with other more pressing matters at hand, he'd been distracted from following up on his concerns. He'd expected to see her at school this morning, and if she hadn't shown then would have followed up. Events, however, had a mind of their own on such things. Evidently, though, Devin had reached out, and now here she was, looking as though she had gone through her own version of hell if he was any judge. He restrained his questions - Lilly would doubtless have a chance to speak just like the rest of them. As the Pryors settled into their seats, the remote genius's gaze roamed the varied expressions on the faces of the fractious Fellowship. From the affected aloof smirks of the Jauntsens, to Cade's stoic mien, to Kat's nervous yet resolute expression. Beside him, Sean looked uncomfortable, but somewhat reassured with his family about him, giving Jase a rueful smile and a half-shrug as he noticed his friend looking his way. Across the table, Autumn's fingers tapped lightly on the tabletop as the energetic redhead forced herself to sit relatively still rather than pace nervously, flashing him a faint smile that reached her sea blue eyes. Lilly looked a little pale, weary in ways other than physical, but she was here, at least, and whole. And next to Dana, Cassandra sipped the water she'd gotten herself, her own puffy eyes evidence that events had taken a lasting toll on her. Jase kept his gaze on the blonde girl, and as she noticed it, gave her an encouraging nod. She was the reporter, after all. If there was to be a chronicling of events, or at least a commencement of one, it should come from her.
  7. "No." Jason's tone wasn't petulant. Indeed, he didn't even raise or project his voice. The simple refusal was delivered with a cold, hard edge, like frozen diamond etching indelibly on glass. Gar and Kaitlin looked at each other, Kaitlin giving Jase's father a faint shrug in response to the somewhat helpless frustration on the other's face. "She's not welcome - not to the meeting, not in this house." "Jase, she's-" Gar began. "Not my mother, except in the crudely biological sense of having once been an incubator for me." Jason cut across his father's words with brutal straightforwardness. "She raised you for eight years." Gar scowled at his difficult son. "And then turned her back on me when she couldn't handle the truth of my nature. Which seems to be a common trope of my life." The lanky youth stood in the kitchen doorway where he'd stopped as soon as he'd seen Kaitlin sitting at the table, coffee in hand, talking in low tones with his father. His head tilted slightly as he considered, then added with scrupulous honesty. "With one or two notable exceptions so far." "Oh, come on, Jase-!" Gar started, then paused, scrutinising his son, looking for some signs in the cold exterior. "Meeting didn't go well, then, I take it?" "It went more or less as expected. Some interesting revelations." Jase moved from where he'd been standing and helped himself to a coffee, ignoring Kaitlin. "I'm half expecting tonight's meeting to be just as stimulating and informative. Which is why it is not the time for family therapy." "Alright." Kaitlin nodded slightly. "I can understand that." Gar started to protest, but the pretty blonde laid a hand on his arm. "No, Jase is right. If he expects a troublesome meeting, he can't afford to be distracted." she told her beloved. "However..." She set aside her coffee cup and stood, moving to stand directly in front of her son, looking up into his eyes unflinchingly. Those eyes, so much like her fathers - cold, calculating, giving away nothing except perhaps wolfish readiness as he studied her in turn. The scar on his cheek added to the impression she was gaining: her son was starting to look and act more Teulu every day. Part of that would have been the attack this morning, she was sure. And the combat he had seen the previous night. He had tasted death, both dealing and surviving it. He had gained a sense of his own power, and his own frailty - the latter of which might make a human more humble but would make a Teulu implacable, more viciously determined not to be so vulnerable again. "You disagree. But I am your mother." she began, looking him dead in the eye. "Yes, I abandoned you, but I was wrong to do so. I hate myself for doing so, Jason. I've told your father the truth of me - and of you." she added, steeling herself not to step back as the pale green eyes narrowed on her face. Jase looked over her shoulder at his dad, who just nodded slowly, then back at Kaitlin. "You might never accept me as part of your family. And I'm willing to live with that as consequence for what I've done. But please, allow me to at least fulfill my duty to you. There are things you need to know, about yourself, about your people. I can at least do that for you." For a long moment, he hesitated. He studied her face, then his father, who nodded encouragingly from where he sat. Finally he breathed out, slowly, and leaned back against the counter. "Alright." he said quietly. "Alright." "Thank you." Kaitlin wanted to reach up, to push his unruly hair back from his face, to stroke his scarred cheek. But she refrained, instead stepping back and sitting down again. "So... Gar tells me you have a girlfriend." "Oh, no." Jase stared at Gar, then at her, his eyes narrowing again. "Really? A birds and bees talk? I think I know how the parts fit together, Kaitlin." He gave them a crooked half-smile. "At least, based on experience so far." His parents exchanged a Look. "You mean-" Gar began, but Jason was already moving towards the hall door. "I'm going to grab a shower, meditate some, and get ready for the meeting." he told them, his eyes alight with faintly malicious humor. "I won't need dinner - I had something with Autumn earlier." "Jason, we need to talk about-" Kaitlin tried, but he was already gone. The two parents could hear his booted feet thumping up the stairs as they looked at each other. "He doesn't usually make that much noise walking up the stairs." Gar said after a few moments. "Or at all." "No. He's acting out like a human teen." Kaitlin sighed, picking up her coffee mug again. They exchanged another look. "At least that's normal, right?" "How do young Teulu normally act out?" Gar frowned, worried. Kaitlin smirked over her coffee. "...do you really want me to answer that?" "No." Gar said after a few moments reflection. "Probably not." He sighed. "I'll be sitting in on the culture lessons though. I need to know this stuff too, I guess." Kaitlin smiled, laying her hand over his fondly. "You've done a good job with him, seriously." she told the worried looking man. "He could have turned out much worse. There's a sort of kindness to him... almost. That's your doing." She paused, then "You'll let me know how the meeting goes?" "Sure." Gar smiled back at her, turning his hand over under hers and returning the clasp. "You can come over for dinner tomorrow." "Are you sure?" she asked, her blue eyes studying his face as he nodded. "Very sure." = = = = = = = The Bannons arrived without fanfare or ceremony, father and son taking the first seats they came to and seating themselves as they murmured greetings to the other people present. Gar seemed a little on edge, gazing around suspiciously at the room and plainly uncomfortable with such a formal setting, whereas Jason merely sat back in an almost indolent slouch in his chair, bright piercing gaze scanning the others before settling on Annette. His scarred face expressionless, he studied her for a long moment before shifting his gaze to rest on the wall opposite his seat, to all intents and purposes content to seemingly stare into space as he waited.
  8. The Charger's engine started up as Autumn exited the Jauntsen's home, her footsteps crunching on the driveway's gravel as the redhead saw Cassie sit up in the back seat and the passenger door swing open as if of it's own accord at her approach. She got in without a word, and after a sideways measuring glance of his pale eyes, Jason merely nodded, as if in understanding, and put the car in gear. "I'll drop Cassandra off first." he said softly as the gleaming black muscle car rolled out of the Jauntsen's property and turned onto the road into town. "Hey, thanks for the ride," Cassandra said. "I've really gotta get a car one of these days. You guys all live too far apart." "No problem." Jason's laconic reply was accompanied by his habitual here-and-gone-again smile as his eyes found Cass in the mirror briefly before once more glancing at Autumn, studying her once more for a long moment before returning to the road. "Are you okay?" he asked her, his tone soft. "Mm," she nodded, nose crinkling unhappily at the warm, watered-down taste of the soda she'd left in the car. "Mostly." Giving the Effing Boyfriend a brief sidelong glance, she leaned down to shove the half-full paper cup into the crumpled bag at her feet. "Tired. Angry. Frustrated. Disappointed. Worried. So, nothing new. It'd just be nice to have a chance to process the last Awful Thing before the next one shows up. That's all." "People can be a pain," Cassandra sighs. "Compared to destroying an ancient devil-tree that was sucking the life force of a whole town, that's probably not that big a deal." She rests her head against the window then, flattening out a puff of blonde hair. "I'm worried about Enterich though. There's no way he'd stop at Marissa...and now that her cover's blown, who knows what he'll do to her? Not to mention Klein has my dad brainwashed at that fucking prison, and if that's not a playground for Enterich, I don't know what is," she added, and kicked the back of the seat ahead of her. On seeing Autumn glance back at her from the kick, Cassie winced. "Sorry." "Your father was moved to Site B. Crossroads is separate, if I'm remembering correctly." Jase's tone left little room for doubt as he paused the car at an intersection for a moment. "But given there seems to be a connection, Site B is going to be our next stop." "And as for Marissa being in danger..." he shrugged as the lights changed, leaving whatever his thoughts on that were unspoken as he pressed down the gas. "Marissa, her parents..." Cassandra shook her head. "I just don't know what to do about it. Enterich isn't like this other thing we fought. I mean, he looks human...maybe he can just...die or something?" "I've never seen him," Autumn shrugged, glancing briefly at Cassie through the side window and then back at the familiar scenery as it rolled past. "But if gods, or... whatever are real, maybe he can't. We need to know more before we can start worrying about how to deal with him." "Alright, how do we learn more? I'm pretty sure we won't get far googling him," Cassandra griped. "You think Mr Mysterious Alien would know anything? Assuming we can find him again..." "Didn't Marissa say she was working with Annette?" Leaning her head against the seat, Autumn closed her eyes, relaxing into the reassuring rumble of the engine. "Yeah, but..." Cassandra trailed off, finding it hard to put her misgivings into words. It felt like maybe Marissa would have been given false info, and then passed it on? But that was just dumb. They needed to consider every source. "Yeah...should definitely ask Annette, yeah." "She claims she called on Coyote, and he told her what Enterich was." Jase offered as he drove. "If that wasn't a line, then she knows how to contact him and it might be useful to someone else."(edited) "Oh, not just called on," the redhead added. "She went out to a bridge Sara apparently wanted to blow up, and just started screaming his name and stuff, and he showed up out of nowhere. So, maybe that would work, I guess?" Her eyes opened again and she glanced back at Cassie, and then over at Jase. "But Annette, at least, probably has a cell phone, and we'll be at Marias later." "...maybe I'll start with her," Cass says. "I haven't quite gotten to the point I'm ready to scream off a random bridge." "I am," the red-haired girl in the front seat quipped ruefully. "Oh, well, let me know when you go," replied Cassandra with a grin. "Maybe Coyote will show up and I can hijack him." Jason glanced at both girls, amusement flashing a fin in the glacial depths of his gaze, but said nothing. "Seriously, the only reason my internal screaming isn't external screaming right now is because I'm in a car with two other people." Sighing as the remnants of her smile faded, she turned her attention back to the passage of the trees and power lines and buildings outside the window. "Changing the subject. Both of you are coming to this meeting thing tonight, yeah?" "Yeah." Cassandra bonked her head gently on the window again. "And I get you, Autumn. Hell, I stormed out of there. And that was just from Devin. You went and talked to Marissa, which must have been...so much worse." "I'll be coming. Despite my better judgement." Jason replied dryly. "I will be there to listen, not talk, however. Unless directly spoken to." "Wonder if the Jauntsens will be there..." Cassie mused aloud. Autumn nodded again, slowly exhaling. "Definitely. Their parents are the ones who wanted to do it. And... it kind of makes sense? I'm just worried it'll be a repeat of- well," she cut herself off, lifting one hand in a vague, all-encompassing gesture. "Yeah. Well...with the other parents around, I don't think they can really get away with it." Cass said with a tinge of hope in her tone. The redhead pressed her lips together in a thin line, but stayed quiet. "Logically, it would make no sense for them to air everything again in front of relative outsiders." Jase shrugged. "This meeting is purely to bring the parents up to speed so they can feel as though they have some control over a situation where that control is tenuous at best." He glanced at both girls again, then looked back at the road. "Kicking off a civil war at the PTA meeting is not in anyone's interest - hence why I'll be doing a minimum of talking." He paused for a long, significant moment, then said, in a tone dry enough to mix a martini with: "Logically." Cassandra shrugged. "I'm not a hundred percent sure everyone's clear on that purpose though. I have a feeling we'll have more than one person who sees this as a chance to take charge. So that'll be fun." "Of course they will." Jase's lips quirked. "I find listening, nodding noncommittedly, then doing as I please is generally the best way to deal with that." "You would," the freckled girl in the passenger seat agreed with a little shake of her head. "And speaking of doing what we please..." Adjusting her seatbelt slightly so she could turn to face the plucky blonde more fully, Autumn hesitated for a moment. "I did hear a little bit about Enterich from someone else. It's not much, but it is something." "Oh yeah?" asked Cassandra, lifting an eyebrow. "What'cha got then?" "Nothing that needs sharing right now," the red-haired girl replied breezily, flashing her inquisitive friend a brief but bright smile. "Because there isn't time to dig into it, and we can't do anything about it at the moment, and I know it'll drive you crazy. Consider this my revenge for the whole 'moral support' thing you dragged me into." "Oh come on!" Cassandra protested. "I don't deserve that! You walked into this with your eyes open! You could have said no!" She hesitated, then said, "Jase! You've got my back on this, right?!" The eerie young man's eyes glanced back at Cassie, then at his girlfriend, and though his features were composed that curious, wry, silent laughter robbed his gaze of its usual cold impassivity. Slowly, he tilted his head as though listening to her, then nodded blankly before returning his attention to the road. "See? Jase says you have to tell me." "Jase said nothing at all," came the quick reply, accompanied by a broad grin. "And I will tell you," Autumn added slightly more seriously. "I promise. If it was super-important, or something we could deal with right now, I wouldn't be giving you a hard time. I want to hear what Ms. Giles has to say, because- regardless of what happened today- we do need to figure out how to deal with this guy. We knew that before, just..." Glancing at the quiet young man in the driver's seat, her amber-flecked features tightened. "Just now it's more of a priority. So." "He's expressive," retorted Cassandra. "And taciturn. He said it with his face." She sighed and sat back. "Fine. You're the worst, but fine. You're the broccoli of friends, but fine." "I'll be broccoli," the worst-possible-vegetable-given-human-form conceded over her shoulder as she shifted back around. "Kind of an acquired taste, but it's good for you." "I guess it could work, if Jase was a baked potato," Cass decided. "Broccoli with potatoes is not so bad." "Broccoli is fine on its own," Autumn protested, but her friend was already continuing the menu presentation. "Get some cheese sauce on there. Bacon sprinkles." Cass paused. "...is anyone else hungry? I didn't have any pizza." "Did you really want to wait around for it?" Autumn peered into the backseat through the side mirror. "I was originally going to, but my plans changed." Cass shrugged. "We can hit the drive-thru if you want to pick something up." The Effing Potato offered Cass, though his eyebrow was still raised slightly at the turn the conversation had taken. "We did before we came over."" "I can get something at home. I'm good. Thanks though." "No problem." Jase nodded as he turned off the main road and down the side street toward's Cassie's home. His lips twitched in a faint smile as he glanced at Autumn, then. "So... Broccoli is fine on it's own, hmm?" "It is," she insisted stubbornly, her cheeks going pink under the freckles scattered across her skin. "Nobody thinks it's weird to just have a potato, either." "Uh-huh." Was all he replied, but the silent laughter in his gaze was back again as he pulled the Charger up to the curb outside Cassie's home. Killing the engine, he slid out of the car and tilted the seat forward so that the blonde reporter could clamber out. "Alright, thanks again guys. Seeya tonight!" "See ya, Cass," Autumn called out the window. She slid out on the driver's side door, then waved through the windscreen as she stepped around and onto the kerb. She watched as Jase slid back behind the wheel and the Charger drove off, then went into her house, laughing to herself under her breath as she went. There was little conversation on the drive out to the Keane home. Neither teen seemed to need to talk about anything, at least for now, and the banter they'd shared with their friend had dissipated some of the excess tension. Pale, bronze dusted fingers found slender tanned ones almost automatically as Autumn's other hand flicked on the MP3 player, Wardruna filling the car and accompanying the rumble of the Charger's V8. It was relaxed, the two of them driving through the late afternoon, now and then casting glances at each other. Perhaps each felt what Autumn had felt on that drive out to the Reservation - that urge to keep driving together, to see what was beyond the horizon together. But if they did, neither dwelt on it overmuch. As she opened the passenger door, hearing the barking of the dogs from inside the house, Autumn leaned over to give Jase a brief kiss, their lips brushing each others. A pause, as their eyes met and they felt it, that electricity, even in this quiet moment, and the brief kiss became a lingering second kiss before they parted for real. Smiling faintly, her freckled cheeks pink, Autumn closed the passenger side door and headed up the front steps to the porch. At the door, she stopped and cast a glance back over her shoulder, only to find Jason's eyes on her, the gaze anything but cold. And then the front door opened, and her mom was hugging her and the dogs were barking, and the Charger turned and headed back down the track.
  9. Jase pinched out the glowing butt of his smoke, exhaling a final plume into the air, then glanced sideways as the Jauntsen manor's front door opened and Cassandra stormed out. The pretty blonde's face was a mixture of red and livid, her features set in a weary half-scowl that the usually detached young man analysed and classified as 'so done with all this shit right now'. Her gaze moved over him, her jaw tightening a little as she walked down the path and started to pass him, clearly intending to make her own way home. "Do you want a lift?" The question was simply and quietly asked as Cassandra drew abreast of him. "It's no trouble." he added, noting what he took for hesitation in her expression. Cassandra was barely down the driveway before she realized that she'd overcommitted to this dramatic storm out. The Jauntsens weren't in the middle of nowhere by any means, but they weren't particularly close to her place. Or a bus stop. She'd probably have to hike all the way back to the town center before she had her bearings enough find a way home. Going back in now would be...just...no though. And calling her mom almost as bad. But hey, walking was exercise right? Cassie held onto that fragile resolve right up until Jase asked if she wanted a lift. She nodded and went around to the passenger side, then let herself in. "No Autumn?" she asked. "She'll be out in a bit." Jason gestured to the single bench seat in the back of the Charger as he opened the drivers side door and slid with his habitual boneless grace into the driver's seat. Green eyes glanced at Cassie, giving her the sensation of being analysed - but not wholly clinically. There was a glimmer of something else in the otherwise glacial expression. "I'd imagine she's trying to talk to Marissa." He paused for a moment, then his head tilted faintly in curiousity, the scar on his cheek showing starkly against the olive tone of his skin. "How are you?" Cassie flapped a hand as she pushed in past the passenger side seat into the backseat area. "Still kinda mad. Kinda at Devin and Mari. Kind of at myself. I just...had this self-image, you know? Like I'm someone who can talk people down, or get people to think about things, or themselves, or...whatever. But I'm not. That's not me, and I should know that by now, but I keep doing this kind of thing." He considered that, half-twisting in his chair to watch her as she settled into the back seat, absorbing her words and turning them over in the prism-like halls of his mind. "Sometimes our image of ourselves and our ability is coloured by what we desire. I am curious: why do you want to be that person? I can understand why a reporter would want to be able to draw people into talking to them, but I get the impression there is more to your desire than simple curiousity." She shrugged, then said, "I guess because I can't fight, and still want to think I can get people to do what I want. So...can't threaten or force people, so I need to be able to persuade them. Annnnd I guess if I'm blisteringly honest, maybe because I secretly think I'm the hero of my own story, and I need to be able to make things happen. So...ego." "Interesting." Just that. No judgement, no amusement. Just a faintly thoughtful subharmonic to the young genius's tone. He straightened up, his eyes finding her in the rear view mirror. "Threatening or forcing people isn't an ideal solution. I rarely do either for that reason. I actually like your approach, Cassandra. Use of reason, of logic, rather than leverage, would yield better results if you are dealing with the same people long-term." He sighed slightly, relaxing in his seat. "The downside is that human beings are largely dictated to by their fear, or their desire, or their ego-" he smiled faintly at her "- unless they make an effort to adhere to principle. Reasoning only sometimes reaches the unreasonable. For what it's worth, I don't think you should give up. Even if people are frustrating, they can sometimes be rewarding too." "I'm not giving up. Just...tactical retreat for now." She waved a hand and turned so she was lying across the back seat rather than sitting up in it. "When I'm mad I tend to switch from the 'reason and logic' approach to the 'threaten and force' approach. I'm still bad at it, but I don't want to lose friends over it." Jason absorbed that without apparent reaction, falling silent then as the two of them sat in the car, the lazy afternoon sunlight outside making golden patterns on the walls of the large house. "For what it's worth, I still think I was right to have us come here," Cassie says after a moment of pause. "Even you. It might seem like we didn't accomplish anything, but sometimes gestures like this mean more than you think. Especially with someone like Mari." She hesitates just a second and adds, "And Devin." "Personally, I do believe it was a benefit for me to come here." he replied calmly, his pale eyes glinting with hints of frost. "I found out exactly what they think and feel about me. The mask was removed, and now I can cease to be confused by all the apparent contradictions. They were never really my friends - I was merely convenient, until I wasn't." "I think it's more complicated than that," Cassandra says. "I think they're just...really bad at having friends, you know? They don't have much practice. And they probably feel like it makes them...I don't know. Weak or vulnerable or something." "Really?" To his credit, or perhaps as a result of his natural reserve, Jase's tone was more rhetorical than genuinely incredulous. "They see me as a mad dog who not only can't be trusted judgement-wise, but cannot be trusted intent-wise either. Marissa is apparently legitimately afraid that I will kill her or Autumn for a wrong word or action. I am described as 'threatening or setting on fire anything or anyone' that does not conform to my standards. She tells me that we are friends, even after my mistakenly kissing her after misreading her cues, and then goes to seek out Cade to feel safe around me because apparently I terrify her." His tone remained dreadfully calm throughout the recounting. "In her own words, I am an abuser and the sort of person who torments helpless animals. And finally, my word once given has no credibility." He smiled, a thin cold smile, his voice taking a sarcastic tone. "Because yes, I am the one with a penchant for lies, tormenting people, and bullying others." "And yet, one of us was shot in the face as a result of the other one deciding not to warn them." He stared out of the window of the car, his features unreadable. "I am bad at being a friend, Cassie. Naturally bad at it. But I try to rise beyond that." "Because you're not afraid of having friends," Cassandra replies gently. "You just haven't had them before." "As for the rest..." she shakes her head. "I don't know. Obviously there's issues, but it all seems to me like it comes from that basic fear. I just don't know how to help with that." "Nor do I." Jase's tone lost the frozen edge as he sighed and leaned his head back against the seat. "I just know that humans almost inevitably try to drive away, contain or destroy what they fear." "Or...or...they grow past their fear. It can happen. It's just not easy." He considered that, eyes crinkling at the edges in a slight smile. "Yes. Like Autumn did." Cassie nods. "Like most of us did, truth be told. About one thing or another. And in the end, Devin and Marissa did go with us to the Dark. There's something there. It's just...without an emergency, without something to make it personal, they kind of slip back into their old habits." "I can't really do anything about that. I have people who actually enjoy my company, who think me trustworthy, who like me - the real me, not the mask I have worn for most of school. Which is an interesting experience, and one I enjoy. Why should I concern myself with those who do not like me?" "Concerning yourself with people who don't like you is how people start to like you," Cassandra points out. "No one likes anyone right out of the gate." She shrugs. "But I get it. They've had every chance. If you want to give up on them, I wouldn't hold it against you." "Perhaps I should exchange 'do not like' with 'actively dislike'. But yes, you also have a point." Jason's eyes smiled faintly again at her. "I am not 'giving up' so much as tactically withdrawing. Their opinions will mature and change, or they will not. I cannot control that, only my response to it." "Yeah," Cass agreed. "I just don't know what to do. Nothing feels like the wrong idea, but...maybe that's where we are. Anyway. Thanks for coming. Thanks for giving it a chance." "You asked me to." He inclined his head to her. "Despite my reluctance, it would have been unfriendly to refuse you." Cassandra absorbed that with a moment of quiet, then said, "We still have to figure out what to do about Enterich." "First, we have to survive the parental meeting." Jason's tone was dryly amused. "One catastrophe at a time." Cass frowned a little at that, but didn't offer argument for once. They let the silence fill the space between them, the blonde reporter relaxing on the back seat, the odd young man gazing seemingly idly out of the window, each musing on their private thoughts as they waited.
  10. "I've never threatened her, or anyone here, simply because they did or said something I didn't like." Jason replied softly. "Though I've certainly been threatened over such things. And I just got done saying it doesn't have to be all my way. And as for her trying to talk to me and my giving her the cold-shoulder - I have no idea what you mean. First time she sought me out she warned me that it was suspicious that Lilly disappeared and reappeared, and then yesterday she warned me not to hurt Autumn. Both times I listened until she was done. But... this is going round and round." He glanced at Cassie significantly. "And as I predicted, I'm the one that ended up being the real issue. So be it: I'm done repeating myself over and over. I'm not excising anyone from my life, but I'm also not going to pretend I'm welcome where, it turns out, that has never been the case. You all have my number, you all know where to find me, at least for now. If you need me to, I'll show up. If you come to talk with me, I'll sit and talk. Want to hang out? I'm down." He shrugged at Devin, then leaned slightly towards the Alexa. "Marissa included. Until then, I have other uses for my time." He pushed off from the counter he was leaning against, stepping over to Autumn and giving her a faint smile, then leaning down and kissing a freckled cheek. "I'll wait in the car." he told her in a murmur as her expressive blue eyes studied his face. She nodded slowly, watching for a moment as he turned and left the room.
  11. "Again with that insistence that I 'don't know what it is to be wrong'. I've been wrong. I quite clearly stated that what I did regarding Liam was a mistake, and why." Jason popped the tab on the second Coke, nodding at Devin and shrugging. "I'm also possibly wrong regarding the scorpion analogy - I'm not immune to a certain level of resentment based on what happened to me and certain things she has said to me. Certainly, you know her better than I do. You are also, however, the one person present who she won't sacrifice, Devin. And yes, I don't know what it's like to be frightened. I'm not judging her for being afraid." "Your assessment of what we did last week before fighting Cody is also lacking. We fought off a direct attack from the Dark into our world. Autumn and Cassandra uncovered what Cook was up to, and then we planned and executed a raid on a secret paramilitary underground research lab, with no fatalities, and rescuing several test subjects. We found out the probable location of Cassie's father, investigated the mystery of Mr Black, uncovered the bracelets, opened dealings with the Project, trained our abilities, discovered that at Site B there is likely an alien spacecraft left by the Radiants of old, and incidentally also discovered the existence of Enterich - Cassie seeing that Air Force Captain muttering about him with her gift." Jase studied the other youth, one corner of his lips twitching in a smile. "And yes, also all that stuff you said." "Look, Devin, I'm not jumping down Marissa's throat about what she had to do in the past. It's done, I'm moving on. And I agree that she uncovered valuable intelligence. My contention is that she believes that she has the right to put us in harms way without our knowledge if she thinks it's necessary, as though she is the commander-in-chief and we are soldiers who signed up to serve, and that she has no need to modify her behaviour or agree even in principle that we should be involved in such decisions. If I took that attitude, you'd be the first calling me out." He indicated Devin with his can. "Hell, man, you bitched me out because I injured those mercenaries in the Crossroads raid and 'encouraged' Charlie in being similarly violent by my example. You've threatened to attack me because I dangled Cook by his pompous neck to let some air out of him. If I'd gotten someone here shot by playing my own game and not warning anyone, then turned around and said I was right and would do it again, would we even be having a discussion about it?" "Which brings me to Cade." Emerald lasers fixed on the athlete's face. "Same goes for you, with the highlighting of my point that my proposal was just that, not an edict. I specifically said I couldn't function alongside someone 'without an agreement in that vein'. Nobody proposed anything different. No-one stepped forward and made a counter proposal. Marissa refused point blank, repeated her initial position, and claimed she wasn't a variable to be controlled - which wasn't my objective. There was no room for compromise, because she refused to even entertain the concept that her behaviour should be altered. I don't want rigid guidelines signed in blood. I just want some manner of agreement in principle that we shouldn't run around taking unilateral actions that will put each other in danger, so if it happens again at least there is an understanding that it's the last resort and there was literally no other option." "To sum up: Maybe my scorpion comment was out of line. We did plenty of import last week, and saying otherwise to try and highlight Marissa's contribution doesn't change that. I'm not taking the position that it's my way or the highway, merely that there has to be some basis of trust here. And there seems to be an amazing double standard in expected behaviour." He indicated everyone present with a sweep. "Of every one of you here who wagged their finger and told me that I was wrong in what I did with Liam or Cook, that such actions won't fly, not one has told Marissa that she's out of line and she needs to change her approach." He shrugged, taking a long pull from his can. "Fascinating. Why that is is best answered by yourselves, I'm sure."
  12. "If you want to be the frog that carries the scorpion, that is your choice." Jase's voice was conversationally calm. "I offered to move past what has already been done, and proposed to try and ensure it doesn't happen again. She refused to consider the proposal, and reiterated her position that she will do as she sees fit, when she sees fit, even if it affects our lives." He finished the last of the Coke and tossed the can into the trash, a touch of TK ensuring it crumpled mid-flight and landed squarely in the receptacle. "I also took her story at face value, as a sign of good faith. I voiced no doubts that she was telling the truth, even though some doubts could logically be thrown on her motives given her words to me yesterday. To remind you: she believes I am a violent animal who will abuse her friend." he indicated Autumn. "She flat out told me she doesn't trust my stated intent - why should I trust hers? Of the two of us, one of us has been lucky to survive gunshot wounds due to the other. She can say she attempted to dissuade Enterich. We have only her word for that - if she truly believes me to be a threat then a manipulated assassin's bullet takes care of that nicely." He shrugged. "But I have no evidence beyond her accusation yesterday to support that theory, so despite my doubts I proceeded - and will continue to proceed - as if all she said was true. That doesn't change the fact she will do it again if she has to, by her own admission." His head tilted to one side, cold eyes regarding Cassandra. "If all it takes for us to backstab each other is a threat to family members, if all Enterich or anyone like him needs to do is apply pressure and we fold like wet cardboard, perhaps there is no Fellowship after all." He let that hang in the air for a moment. "That wasn't a threat, or a declaration, to clarify. Merely an observation."
  13. "Well, that ends the discussion so far as I am concerned." Jason replied, unruffled and, to all appearances, unsurprised by Marissa's blunt refusal. As indeed he was. He looked over at the group's blonde seer. "Out of deference to Cassandra, who insisted I attend, I will remain until everyone has finished having their say." And with that he lapsed into silence, his eyes moving from Cassie to the wall opposite the counter on which he leaned, only the faint movement of his breathing and an occasional sip from the Coke can disturbing his stillness.
  14. "Enterich didn't want me dead because of my power." Jason had stood silently, his eyes on Marissa as she'd spoken, then tracking Cade as he'd voiced his opinions, then once more tracking their hostess during her follow-up. Now he spoke, his soft voice falling across the silence following Marissa's words as the jade ice of his stare once more settled on Cade. "Your analysis is simplistic. In terms of physical threat, perhaps I am the most dangerous person here." He shrugged. "Both my power and my capacity for violence contribute to that. But Enterich is a manipulator. He finds weak spots - fears for the most part, from the sounds of it - and pushes on them." He indicated Marissa with one hand, still looking at Cade. "Enterich fights using influence and cunning, on exploiting the psychological weakness of those he needs to use or destroy. Marissa, logically, is his greatest rival amongst us. Cassandra is a greater threat to a hidden hand or conspiracy than I am. Even Sean, were he so inclined, could be a greater threat to Crossroads - whom Enterich seems to be working with or for - than I could be. He could unravel their corporate structure and lay all their secrets bare in moments." Jason held up the can of Coke in his hand, condensation forming on the side as he cooled it once more to fridge-temperatures. "As for me? Power-wise, I am limited in such a struggle. My greatest strength there is my intellect - the ability to analyse and plan. And even that is useless without data with which to operate. So again, asking rhetorically - why me? Why not our Eyes? Or our Face?" he indicated Cassie and Marissa. "A further puzzle: he sent human flunkies to kill me rather than attend to me himself - why? He's a creature of the Dark. A demon of fear, according to Coyote. If he really wanted me dead, why not deal with me personally?" "Maybe he can't." Sean said thoughtfully, staring at Jason. "I mean, he might have underestimated you and figured his puppets would do the job, but perhaps he didn't do it himself because, well, fear demon." He gestured to Jason. "No fear, no power. Maybe he figures he'd have an easier time of it without you in the picture." "That was my thought." Jase nodded slightly. "But I also consider he might have a three-fold goal. Eliminate me, certainly. But secondarily isolate and expose Marissa." His eyes met the brunette's. "If I had died, he'd have had you at his mercy. Potentially his greatest rival in the game of influence - neutered. You'd have either done his bidding further, or he'd have made sure everyone else here found out you were responsible for my death. Which would bring about the third goal: destroy the Fellowship." He paused, eyes cutting over to Cassandra. "He may, or may not know how good Cassie's abilities are. Perhaps they factored into the equation too. Either way, I think this was a chess game move. My injury - and your part in it - is enough to place huge strain on our bond as a group." "I have made mistakes that have placed strains on that bond too." He went on calmly. "The morning after I attacked Liam, Lona said something that stayed with me: that the worst thing about that entire situation is that when she had a problem, I didn't ask her how she wanted to handle it. Instead I simply went and hospitalised her attacker. Marissa said something similar a day or two later - that I didn't stop to think of my friends, but instead just went to gratify my thirst for vengeance." He studied Marissa, his cool green eyes revealing little if anything of what was going on behind them. "You were right. And Lona had a point. I may not seem like I pay attention or listen to such concerns, but I do. My attacking Liam the way I did might not have placed anyone in the Fellowship in physical danger, but I did put everyone in moral difficulty and maybe legal danger." He shrugged. "So I resolved not to make that mistake again. Not to act unilaterally and take important decisions out of the hands of my friends." "I don't fault your pragmatism. You say we can trust you to do what you see as necessary. I agree, and hold a similar view. You say that you won't willfully put us in danger unless you are 'certain' we can survive it. The logical flaw there is simple: what if you are wrong, Marissa? What if your calculation of our ability to survive misses a decimal point?" He slowly shook his head. "No. You don't get to make the decision about our being put at risk for us. You said earlier that you don't trust us to handle your business, and that's fair - but the moment Enterich demanded details on us, the moment you were aware that forces were in play against us - that was the moment it became our business, not just yours" He glanced at everyone present, slowly scanning faces before returning to Marissa's. "I propose a different accord, one we all need to abide by, which should address your earlier concern that Devin and I would start kicking in doors and breaking faces, or Cassie would start being loud." The corner of his lips twitched wryly. "It is a door that swings two ways: firstly, if any one of us comes to the Fellowship with a problem, the default attitude is to be 'how can we help you?' rather than 'I shall take care of it my way'. And the other side of the agreement is that any business involving outside interest in other members of the Fellowship is the Fellowship's business. We can't afford for this to happen again. And personally, I am not prepared to take the risk again. Without an agreement in that vein on the table, I will walk away and compartmentalise my life from those I cannot trust. I don't need allies, or even associates, who think they have a right to shove me under a bus because it suits their purpose and they think I can survive it. You want me to play as bait, you get my consent first." This last was delivered without any particular rancor or hostility, a simple matter-of-fact statement as his eyes, gleaming in his tanned scarred face, rested on Marissa as he took a drink of Coke.
  15. He'd been tempted to follow them out into the yard - as much for the fresh air and stay with the two people in the room he felt most comfortable with right now as to take notes on setting up an exercise area. For all of his apparent casual demeanour, Jason's mind was analysing endless patterns and permutations and likely outcomes for the meeting, based on past interactions and observation. Of course, people could surprise him. But in his experience, it was usually people he didn't have enough data on to predict that surprised him, such as Autumn cycling up to retrieve her hoodie last Monday only for a friendship to spark up that had later flared into a relationship. Or Devin, turning around on his previous petty bullying ways, setting up a framework of the man he wanted to grow into that revealed deeper truths than had previously been apparent. Eyes the colour of frozen jade seemingly idly studied the other two present as Marissa bounced from the room to go and let Cade in, but in the silence following the female Jauntsen's bitter nihilism, the crystalline prism of Jase's mind performed calculations. Kat was still largely an unknown. But she seemed flighty, unfocused, lacking any real stake in the goings-on and uncertain of her own position. She may very well have feelings about Marissa's apparent involvement in the attempted murder, but what she would do about it was an unknown quantity. In her shoes, not really being close to anyone, Jason imagined he would likely just listen, observe, and then leave the drama behind as best he could. Sean. His oldest friend, and yet... Barely two words had passed between them since the attack. He'd been at the hospital, for sure. But his attention had plainly been elsewhere. With cold, crystalline clarity Jason assessed that it was likely that, whilst his friend cared, he was also uncomfortable with taking positions that he felt were outside his expertise or self-designated role as the groups 'technical wizard'. Could he count on Sean caring? Probably. Could he count on Sean acting, taking a stand? Probably not. Cade. His eyes flicked to the large athlete as he entered the room with Marissa. Nothing much had changed since his analysis at the Carousel Rest Area. Cade was a well-meaning, vaguely amiable mass of ambulatory carbon molecules who liked apple pie, truth, justice and the American Way. Give him a pair of spectacles and he'd be Clark Kent if the Last Son of Krypton had decided to shine athletically at school. Jason wondered how the hulking young man would handle todays revelations. Doubtless he'd be disapproving, but would he have the principles to weather the almost-guaranteed bile-spitting that Marissa would inflict on anyone who dared to disagree with or disapprove of her? Because, as his text exchange with Cassandra had laid out, Jase considered that the likelihood of Marissa being at all contrite, of expressing any regret of her actions or their consequences, was minimal. Even if such sentiments were expressed, they would doubtless be footnotes followed up by qualification and justification, and an air of imperious defiance that anyone could find her to be at fault. And somewhere in that would be a manicured finger pointed at him, more logically ridiculous assertions that he was a sick abuser, doubtless freshly fueled by his daring to inflict pain on the people who tried to kill him. Jase had agreed, reluctantly, to come to this meeting. His reluctance was not born of fear, as Cass had sophomorically suggested in an attempt to prick his ego. It was simply that he felt this whole thing was a performative farce at best, and an attempt to provoke him at worst. Either way, it was a waste of his time, time better spent doing literally anything else. He wasn't 'afraid to face Marissa': he simply believed, based on observation that it was wasted effort that would lead to no resolution. She would continue to yank people's strings so long as they allowed her to do so, and when they eventually tired of it, cut the strings and walked away, she'd find fresh marks to yank around. As in the old movie: the only way to win was not to play. Was his mind made up, as Cassandra had suggested? He paused his ruthless calculus and reflected for a moment. In a sense it was - every observation, every word, every inconsistent action, every expression on Marissa's face went into his current hypothesis of her behaviour. But his mind was not closed on the matter. There was an allowance that she, like Devin, had depths yet to be revealed, that she could yet decide to leave behind childish things. There was room in his calculations for the possibility that she was simply confused, a 'hot mess', or even that she was self-destructively unbalanced rather than malevolent to the core. But possibilities and maybes did not alter her actions to date. He could not base his concept of Marissa off what she might turn out to be. That required hope, and hope was not an emotion he could experience. He seemed to the others to be present, leaning against the counter as he now and then sipped Coke from the can in his hand. But his eyes, though tracking movements, were largely unseeing as he set aside his concerns and analysis and stepped into his mental palace, pulling up a text on string theory and it's relationship with quantum field theory he'd scanned into his memory not long ago. The conversation just now had sparked some thoughts regarding the physical relationship between the energies of Radiance and how they might quite possibly have their own isolatable particles or waves. Numbers danced in his minds-eye, and now and then he'd pause in his reading to seek a reference from elsewhere in his mental library. A master of chemistry, Jase's knowledge of particle physics and the higher math necessary to calculate it was perhaps at graduate level, but it was still incomplete to say the least. If he was to impress the Project enough for them to seriously consider his proposal, he would need more preparation. This would be easier sitting in front of his laptop, of course - but he could at least make some mental notes for deeper study later.
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