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Everything posted by Bannon

  1. He was aware of them before they started up the bleachers toward him, though to be fair they were hardly being subtle. Kieran and Todd - though without Chet or any others of the 'coup circle', as Jase wryly labelled them in the halls of his mind. They'd stood down on the field for a few minutes, talking between themselves and eyeballing him - and also looking around with the air of those who were scoping out potential witnesses. Finally, they appeared to make up their minds as to a course of action, and came clomping up the bleachers. For his part, Jason internally sighed, then removed his earbuds and closed his laptop, setting it to one side and looking straight at the pair of seniors as they approached. "We were looking for you in the lunch room." Kieran said as he and Todd came to a stop, one level down. "Chet wants an answer." This again. Suppressing the urge to roll his eyes, Jase kept them on Kieran. "An answer to what?" "His terms." Todd replied, fighting back the faint chill he felt as those cold eyes locked onto his. "He wants to know if you've reconsidered." "What are you two doing?" Jase asked them, his tone somewhere between rhetorical and disdainfully curious. The two seniors colored, Kieran's fists clenching slightly. "No, seriously." The lean genius held up a hand in a peaceable gesture. "What do you hope to gain from this? Chet's an idiot who will peak in college football, assuming this stupid high school capo shit he's play-acting at doesn't get him expelled. If he's lucky, he'll scrape a degree in Business Studies and come back to run daddy's dealership. And you two? You've got a year of high school left - do you really want to spend it pissing into the wind over some dumb game about 'who runs the school'? Because that's all it ever was: a game - children playing in a doll house." He shook his head slowly, his glacial jade eyes never leaving the pair of them. "You could be more than Chet's stooges, if you wanted to be." His eyes locked on Kieran. "And I know you feel there's some beef between you and me, over what happened on game night." He shook his head slowly once more. "There is nothing between you and me. There is nothing between Stacy and me. 'We' - you, me, her -" he gestured indicating the points of a triangle "- do not exist as a concept. Take her out somewhere nice on Friday, or dump her, I don't care. I've got bigger and better things to do, and I'm not interested in playing out some feud over nothing. So, and I'm asking nicely, drop it. Drop this. Tell Chet he's on his own with his dumbass games, before he takes you down with him." Silence met the tirade - the two seniors looking at each other at possibly the most words either had heard Bannon speak. Finally, Kieran, some of the anger gone from his features to be replaced with sober contemplation, spoke up. "So that's a 'no', then?" he asked with a faint smile. Jase's head tilted slightly, assessing the other boy's expression for a moment. "It's a no." he confirmed with a nod, watching as Todd elbowed Kieran and jerked his head to indicate that it was time to go. "See ya round." Kieran said by way of parting as the two of them walked away. Jason watched them go, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully as he analysed the exchange. His first impulse, to simply refuse to comply, reiterate a threat to leave him and his alone, and then to respond with violence if violence was attempted, had come easily to him. But it appeared that attempting reason, appealing to self interest, might have been the wiser course. That is, if the rational behaviour lasted. Maybe it wouldn't - perhaps they'd get back to Chet, then be browbeaten or shamed into falling in line once more. He considered for a few moments longer, then shrugged and retrieved his laptop, putting his earbuds in once more. He would prefer not to have to defend himself from reckless children if he could avoid it - but neither was he going to run away or kowtow to those who were, frankly, his inferiors. If they wouldn't listen to reason, then they'd learn in pain. He'd rather the former, for all manner of reasons.
  2. "I will keep it in mind." he replied, with a nod of his head to further accentuate his acceptance of her words, though his eyes never left her face. "Though I can't make any promises about going too far when making amends." he added, a gleam of humor flashing a fin in the calm pools of his gaze. The smile spread from his eyes then, to a slight curve of his lips once more as he studied the vibrant copper-tressed girl on the branch, taking in how the golden sparks of light shone on the freckled ivory of her skin, highlighting the deeper rose of her lips and the darkness of her eyes in the half-light. "So..." he began, the word a slow, low murmur. "I was wondering if you'd like to come down here and make out under the fireflies for awhile." And there it was again, that completely unfiltered, unashamed interest that'd make somebody a fortune if they could ever figure out how to bottle and sell it to lonely people. Pheromones, she remembered distantly, dizzily, as she gazed down into the depthless, ageless green-gold eyes glittering up at her, except that this time there was no crackling campfire to blame for the rush of heat blooming bright beneath her skin. She'd never really thought of herself as fickle, before, but what other excuse was there for going from spitting mad to being ready to literally fall into his arms in a few minutes' time? Well, other-Autumn reminded her with scrupulous, nigh-unassailable logic. He did apologize. Mhmm. Aaand, he meant it, or he wouldn't have- -wouldn't have said it, right. Thanks. "Think you can concentrate enough to keep from burning the whole tree down?" she heard herself say, feeling her own lips curve in a mischievous, answering grin as her attention shifted from the brilliant gold-flecked lambency of her boyfriend's gaze to the shape of his mouth. The smile on that mouth was barely a hint at the edges, but the gleam of mirth in the Effing BF's eyes deepened as he paused for a moment, as if in consideration. Of course, he knew that the firefly effect was contained - none of the sparks could transfer heat: even if he lost concentration or passed out, they would simply fade away after a time. But he understood the mischief, the playfulness in Autumn's question, and so responded in kind. "Only one way for you to find out for sure." he answered, lips twitching in his own version of an answering grin, his tone teasing. "You're so right," she replied, a sudden impish gleam brightening the twilight seas of her eyes in the dim light; she might've forgiven him, but there was something to be said for occasionally, metaphorically, playing with fire. "So, let's see..." Autumn murmured, the slow to-and-fro swing of her feet more deliberate as she swayed a little from side to side, hmming to herself. "We... ask the question first, which we've done. We can't really do much background research to see what kind of results other people have gotten, since there's no real precedent, but we need to come up with a hypothesis. We could just establish what stimuli are likely to make you lose concentration, though, along with the temperature of these lights, and compare that to the amount of heat needed to burn green wood..." Tilting her head in a passable Bannon imitation, she regarded the lean young man whose kisses alone, in her mind, could spark a wildfire. "Or, if science isn't really your thing, we could go hiking instead?" "I was thinking of a more practical experiment. A field trial, if you will." Jase riposted, and then Autumn could feel herself being lifted carefully, but firmly off the branch and down into his arms with such smoothness she barely had time to laugh before she became aware of his arms around her, and his lean body against hers, and his lips right there coming down to meet hers in a firm, possessive kiss. For a few moments longer, the giggles continued as their lips met, and then her own arms came up and around his neck as the giggles became sighs. He was kissing her with barely restrained and poorly concealed passion, his mouth moving slowly against hers as his hands slid down her back to her hips. His teeth grazed her lower lip, drawing a small gasp from her before he broke the kiss, his eyes meeting hers from a mere few inches away. "Still want to go hiking?" he asked, his voice hoarse with the edge of desire as they stood in the waist-high grass under the spreading branches of the apple tree, the golden fireflies winking and flickering overhead. "Mhmm," came the almost immediate response, a drowsy, languid hum as Autumn rocked forward onto her toes, the fingers of one hand toying idly with a lock of dark hair at the nape of Jason's neck. "I even wore the t-shirt." The clean, quintessentially Jase scent she'd come to associate with him surrounded her, and, breathing it in, she leaned closer, unable to resist the temptation it posed. Definitely need to find a way to market this, she mused, if only to make a detergent she could wash her sheets in. And that thought led to another- that there might be more effective ways to make her bedsheets smell like this- and the liquid warmth rushing through her veins glowed with renewed heat. The tip of her nose brushed his; from this close, amid the shifting embers of the miniature galaxies spinning slowly above them in the darkness, his eyes were primeval forests rather than crystalline pools, their depths unexplored and only hinted at in stray firefly-flashes of sunlit gold. It would be easy to get lost there, she knew, just as surely as it would be possible to drown in the remote, icy waters within which that unknowable, ancient awareness swam. Whether warm and lush or glacial and unforgiving, there were no illusions in Jason Bannon's eyes, even considering all the enchantment and wonder he could summon up, and that he had done so for her. That meant something, didn't it? Maybe, yeah. It even alleviated that sense of unfairness a little because even though his thoughts were completely beyond her, his feelings, at least, were easier to understand. "Later, though," she murmured after a moment, her breath a tremulous whisper against his lips. Her palms slid down over his shoulders, his forearms, to clasp his hands in her own and, taking a step back she gently pulled him down with her into the tall, fragrant grass. Citrus and juniper mingled with the warm underlying scent of her skin and hair and the grass and earth beneath them as Jason willingly accepted Autumn's unspoken, yet insistent plea to join her in her makeshift bower. Their hands parted, his sliding up to her shoulder, trailing the backs of his curled fingers up the sides of her neck to gently bury themselves in her Titian mane of hair as they kissed again, and then again, each kiss a fresh spark that blazed as brightly in their young bodies as the faux-fireflies did overhead, and with far more incendiary a result. Autumn’s hands slid under his arms and around him, pulling him close, pressing her body to his and his to hers as though trying to eliminate all wasted space between them, even hooking one leg over his as she gave out a soft whimper at the intensity of liquid desire his kisses evoked. There was a sense of comfortable rightness, however urgent the floods of hormones were that cascaded through the two of them. This love-play was a curious mixture of languor and passion, as though they each, after the trials of the day, craved the close delights of intimacy more than the raw pleasure of carnality. That said, Autumn did not protest at the feel of Jason's hand slipping under her shirt and his fingers gently caressing her flesh, nor did he balk at the way her hips moved with slow deliberateness against the rigidity in the front of his jeans. But there was an unhurried, exploratory joy in these caresses and touches, for all the flashes of lightning they caused to tingle up and down the spines of the entangled teenagers. It was a voice calling their names that brought them, slowly, back to the realm of earthly, mundane things from their rapture in each other. Autumn uttered a soft groan as she recognised her mom's voice, coming closer as it called out again "Autumn? Jase?" "To be continued?" Jase murmured huskily, studying her kiss-reddened lips and desire-drowsy eyes. "Definitely," she breathed, gazing up into the shadows of his features, illuminated now and then by the dim, dreamlike glow of the winking fireflies. It was almost too perfect to be real, with the warmth of their entwined limbs chasing away the faint chill on the evening breeze, and the soft choruses of birds and insects in the distance, and the red-haired girl squirmed slightly in her boyfriend's embrace as she reached toward him, adding one more layer of sensation to the memory she was working to build. The dark, tousled strands of his hair slid through her fingers as Autumn pulled him close one last time, hurriedly pressing her lips to his in a brief, fierce kiss before scrambling up to her feet, brushing bits of broken vegetation from her jeans. "Over here, Mom!" Holding one arm aloft as she called out, Autumn reached down with the other, offering Jason a hand up as much to touch him again- to feel the texture of his skin and the strong, certain hum of his life beneath- as to help him stand. "So I can see." Dana's expression, clearly visible to her daughter as she approached within the illumination of the spread-out cloud of glowing motes, showed more clearly than her tone that she knew exactly what they had been up to. Amusement, exasperation and concern warred on the pretty veterinarian's features as she studied the pair of them, particularly their flushed faces and the strands of grass in their hair. "It's getting close to leaving time, especially as you have school tomorrow, so I left your dad and Gar chatting on the front porch while I came looking for you." she added with a wry quirk of her lips. "I think he's seen enough of you two canoodling for one week - possibly for the year." As she spoke, she glanced at the slowly swirling field of golden stars overhead, just within arm's reach, and despite the maternal pseudo-disapproval in her voice couldn't quite keep the wonder out of her gaze. Shaking her head slowly, she looked back at the two teens, noting that they were still holding hands. Huffing quietly, she shook her head again, plainly incapable of even-ing right now. "Let's get going, Autumn Rae. You'll see Jason again tomorrow." she not-quite commanded, gesturing for the two of them to follow her. Getting caught making out by her mom seemed a little less mortifying this time, thankfully, than when she'd found them on the porch. Or the living room. Or at the Labor Day picnic. A little. And though she could still feel the hot prickle of embarrassment creeping up the sides of her throat and over her cheeks, at least Dana hadn't actually seen anything- especially not where the young Teulu genius's hands had been. Or hers, for that matter, she realized, trying with some success not to grin in the midst of maternal scrutiny. Giving Jason's hand a quick squeeze before reluctantly letting her fingers slip free, Autumn sighed, a full-body exhalation that was as much movement as sound. "I know, I know," she grumbled in answer, falling in a few steps behind Dana and rolling the elastic band off her wrist, looping her unruly mane into a loose half-ponytail as they left the fairy-tale scene behind. And then, overcome by a sudden sense of deja-vu, she stopped, reached back, and grabbed his hand again. We thought the same thing last night, was the unspoken worry that wove her pale, freckled fingers once more through his longer, still faintly tanned ones. "Think you can bring coffee? To share, I mean. At breakfast. Since this morning got..." She swallowed uncertainly, then glanced up at Jase, her eyes tracing the faint line etched into his skin- near-invisible in the pale moonlight, but graven indelibly in her awareness of him. "Y'know," she finished lamely, grimacing a little. "Busy?" Jase asked rhetorically, quietly, his own expression sober as he nodded, his fingers gently tightening around Autumn's. He'd never really considered his mortality before - in that, it could be said, he was similar to most human teenage males. And though the remembrance of that experience of nearly dying did not fill him with fear, he keenly recalled the blackness he'd fallen into, the cusp of oblivion that would have ended all further experience, all existence of 'Jason Bannon'. And, too, would have precluded kissing his girlfriend under a field of fireflies, or sharing coffee with her in the morning. "I'll bring coffee for us both." he assured her as they made their way across the field with Dana, the older redhead pretending she wasn't listening in. Behind them, the fireflies winked out, slowly, returning their surroundings to their normal moonlit mystery. "And I'll see you at breakfast after my run." Autumn smiled at him as they ambled, still hand in hand, around the side of the farmhouse in Dana's wake to where Ian and Gar were waiting. Both older men's eyes immediately picked up on the held hands, but neither teen appeared to care as they stepped up onto the porch. "Thanks for having us over, Gar." Ian turned to the stockier form of Jase's dad, offering a hand, his tone warmer than it had been earlier that night. "No problem." The elder Bannon smiled back as he took the proffered hand, then gently shook Dana's in turn. "We'll have to do it again - only perhaps with more barbecuing and less earth-shattering revelation." "Oooh, barbecue would be awesome," Autumn enthused, releasing Jase's hand as, without preamble, she stepped forward and hugged his father, choosing artless action over just standing there uncomfortably while everyone sort of looked at each other. "This weekend, maybe? And thanks for the coffee," she murmured gratefully, smiling as the momentarily baffled man quickly recovered and looped an arm around his son's earnest young girlfriend in response. "Was nice to see you again, even if the meeting sucked. Have a good night, Mr Ba- Gar," the younger redhead amended, grinning somewhat abashedly as she withdrew. "And," she added, thrusting her hands into the pockets of her jeans to stop herself from reaching out again and slipping her arms around the tall, spare form of the young man who stood by, quietly watching the farewells. "'Night, Jase. See you in the morning." "Come on, you," Ian sighed, draping an arm affectionately around his daughter's shoulders and tugging her firmly away. "We still have plenty left to talk about and I'm sure the Bannons might want to get to bed sometime soon. Goodnight, Gar, Jason, and thanks again." "Goodnight," Dana echoed, smiling faintly as she drew Jase into another of her quick, nigh-unavoidable hugs as the young Teulu went still for a brief moment, blinking in- Autumn’s Bannonology study suggested- what passed for surprise. "And I haven't forgotten what you said when I asked about hurting Autumn," she assured him quietly, regarding the strange, inhuman young man with a sober, searching gaze before offering both men a brief wave and following after her family. "Bye!" Autumn's voice rang out one last time in the night, a pale arm flashing up as she turned back, briefly, before clambering up into the Jeep and vanishing from sight. "Nice people." Gar commented to his son as the two of them stood on the porch, watching as the Jeep reversed, turned, and headed off slowly down the track towards the road. Jase, characteristically silent, offered no disagreement as he gazed after the vehicle's tail lights, storing in his mind the face that had smiled out of the rear window at him before the Jeep had disappeared into the night. The Keanes were nice people, that was undeniable. As with the Cassidys, he found himself liking them, even in the face of Ian's suspicion, concern and paternal protectiveness which, he noted, didn't stop the man from being civil, even friendly at times. Gar gently clapped his son on the shoulder and turned to go indoors, leaving the lean young psychokinetic out on the porch, listening to the distant sounds of the Jeep and the occasional night bird call. He stayed there for some minutes more, alone with his thoughts, before turning and heading inside.
  3. "Designed by who?" Dana asked. "The Ancients, or Precursors if we use Devin's term. Two of them, Coyote and Arawn, wanted weapons against the Darkness, a long time ago. Before Arawn got corrupted or their vessel got stuck here, if I'm any judge. So they used humans as the base, and then used their technology, or perhaps their powers - who knows - to genetically engineer a warrior race. The other Precursors found out and didn't approve, from what I gather, and sealed the new race away in another dimension." Jason took a sip of his coffee. "Glossing over the unimportant details, my mother escaped that place and came here, met my father, and the usual thing happened. So no, I'm not an alien." "Fearlessness, aggression and pragmatism..." Dana mused, feeling those prickles down her spine again. "Traits of a psychopath." "I thought I was, for a long time." Jason nodded. "There are differences, though. I'm capable of in-group loyalty: like a wolf to his pack, or a lion to his pride. The good of those I care about is important to me. More to the point, I am capable of caring about others, fiercely so." He sighed softly. "But I am incapable of intuitive empathy, of remorse, of fear or pity." He looked at Autumn's parents. "I always wondered how I would broach the subject with the two of you, whether it would become necessary, how you would react. In case you were wondering, none of you have anything to fear from me. I... care about Autumn. A great deal. She is more special to me than perhaps even she realises - because she has always sought to understand me, always helped me to understand her. And you have been nothing but kind to me." For a moment, he looked as though he would say more, but he fell silent instead, taking a drink from the mug in his hand, the pale cold pools of his eyes glimmering with some undefined feeling. "Jesus Christ," Ian muttered, shaking his head as he leaned on the table, chin in hand. He sat like that for a moment, scrutinizing the faces of the others assembled and studying, in particular, the aloof countenance of the young man opposite him. Maybe, he allowed, what Jason had said was the real, honest-to-god truth. It wouldn't necessarily be the strangest thing he'd heard so far that day, what with talk of spaceships and ancient gods and dark spirits, and Autumn certainly seemed convinced; she, at least, was easy enough for the canny broker to read. Even if it were true, though, where did that leave them: at the mercy of a young man who was, by his own admission, a minor variation on the theme of psychopathy? “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to that,” he admitted, nudging the handle of his mug where it sat on the table, turning the near-empty cup in a slow, irregular circle. “I really don’t. You’re telling me you’re part of some near-human warrior race that can’t feel fear or regret, that can't empathize with other people, that’s designed on a genetic level to be more aggressive… But we don’t have any reason to be afraid of you? I’m not trying to be the asshole, here, but where’s the boundary between this in-group loyalty, and Liam Day? You’re dating my daughter, for crying out loud, and sure, you care about her, but... What happens when you two-?“ “Dad.” Autumn cut in, frowning worriedly, “Just… Just listen for a sec, okay? Anybody, anybody can do terrible things, really awful stuff. And…” she hesitated for a moment, remembering Cassie’s face as the seer had described the fate of the young boy in the basement of the Old Town Hall. Her stomach twisted and she swallowed hard before adding, a little more quietly, “And they do. Just regular people. All the time, even here in Shelly. Maybe they’re sick, or had too much to drink, or had a bad day at work, or.. or they’re just broken inside, somehow. Being human- or not- doesn’t make them any better or worse, any more or less dangerous. The marshals who shot Jase were regular people,” she continued, the openly expressive teen’s eyes bright and liquid with emotion. “Not psychopaths, not Teulu, not special. And they shot him in the head, tried to kill him, just because somebody else told them to and they were scared.” “Sweetheart,” Ian began, but Autumn shook her head, her loose ponytail swaying exuberantly as the elastic band that constrained it struggled to remain in place. “Jase is always going to be Jase,” she insisted, her gaze fixed on her father’s. “Not panicky, not defensive, not violent for no reason. As far as I know, he's never hurt anybody who didn't earn it. He may be more like a wolf, or a lion, than a dog or a housecat, but he’s not some crazy rabid animal just waiting for a chance to bite somebody. Trust me,” the redhead added soberly, only a faint tremor of emotion underscoring her words. “I may not ever know everything there is to know about him, or even close to it, but I'm sure about the last part. Because not only would I not be dating him otherwise, but I’m pretty sure the meeting earlier would’ve been smaller than it was." As she took a long, deliberate sip of coffee, Dana held up a slender hand in wordless interruption. “Before we go any further down this road, there are other things I want to talk about. We can discuss dating and morality once I’m satisfied we’ve dealt with more immediate concerns. All right?” she asked, eyebrows raised in maternal challenge as she gazed intently at both her husband and daughter. “Fine,” Ian sighed in frustration, leaning back in his chair as a chastened and somewhat abashed Autumn nodded, cupping the still-warm mug in both hands to steady them. “Good,” she replied briskly, the emphasis on that single syllable a stone lid closing with sepulchral finality. “Then, now that we’ve finished with the Inquisition for a little while, Gar, what would you like to know about us?” "Oh... uh..." Gar fumbled for a moment, torn between gratitude towards the slim vet for the change of topic and being out of practice with making normal polite conversation. Jason didn't really do small talk and Hank's was a mixture of laconic hmm's and grunts along with the occasional expletive-laden wry observation. Jason's dad took a breath. "Uh, okay. First up, anyone want a top-up on their coffee?" he hazarded, getting to his feet and heading over to the pot. Dana smiled at him, holding out her mug as he came back. "Please, and thank you. It's wonderful." "Specialty place in Great Falls. I've got their business card around here someplace if you want to check it out." Gar said as he poured for Dana, then Autumn. Ian hesitated for a moment, obviously uncomfortable sitting across from the laser-green stare of his daughter's boyfriend, but good coffee was good coffee, and he could foresee the evening being troublesome enough without his being pointlessly rude. Autumn was definitely digging her heels in over her pet alien, and he was experienced enough with Dana's moods to know that, whilst she was concerned, she was not guaranteed to be on his side if there was a parent/daughter set-to. He nodded to Gar, pushing his mug forwards and mouthing his thanks. It was good coffee, after all. "So..." Gar said as he settled down into his chair once more. "I guess the big question comes from the obvious: how'd you two meet?" He smiled faintly. "I know the Kavanaghs go back generations here, and Ian sounds like an East-coast man." He tilted his head curiously. "College sweethearts?" he ventured, sipping from his mug. "Yeah, actually," Ian nodded, visibly relaxing as the subject shifted from supernatural, existential, and potentially ecclesiastical worries to something normal, something familiar. Eyeing his wife’s profile for a moment, the thought surfaced, between ruminative sips of coffee, that perhaps he was wrong about the familiarity. There were subtle differences in her features, in her bearing, suggestions of time’s relentless march and the shifting tides of emotion that he hadn’t noticed before. She looked more like Caroline, he realized, even as Autumn- watching Jason with the avid intensity of a child trying to suss out a stage magician’s secrets- looked more like her than he remembered from his last visit. Everything seemed to be changing around him, on macroscopic and microscopic levels. Was he also changing? he wondered. What would his college-aged self think of the man he’d become? It was an uncomfortable thought; even so, there was a hint of expectation in Dana’s eyes as she turned and looked at him, resting her chin on her hand in a way that remained etched in his memory, somehow unchanged and unchanging, even as the memory of the habitual gesture unraveled the patient weaving of the years. "At least, she was in college at the time,” he added quietly, the pale slate-blue of his eyes warming slightly at the thought. “It’s a boring story,” Dana remarked, although the subtle quirk at the corner of her mouth and the soft wash of pale rose beneath her skin belied her feeling on the matter. “It’s a gross story,” their daughter muttered emphatically into her mug as she braced her elbow on the table, cheek firmly ensconced in palm. Ignoring the pointed criticism from his female audience, Ian tilted his cup toward their host, wordlessly refocusing on the question Gar had asked. “I was 22, I’d finished my brokerage licensing six months prior, and I didn’t have a job yet. I was running out of money, and it was cold.” “It was February,” Dana reminded him teasingly, watching him as she lifted her mug to her lips. “February is cold in New York,” he replied, somewhat defensively. Laughing, his wife seized on the opening he’d provided, shaking her head in robust denial as she wagged a finger in his direction. “Oh, no. I distinctly remember you telling Mom you didn’t know what cold was until you moved here.” “That was just-” he began, visibly affronted, then checked himself. “I was just trying to make conversation, and I was nervous and didn't know what to talk about besides the weather. Your mother could be terrifying.” This last admission was uttered softly, soberly, as if the canny entrepreneur were imparting some secret in great confidence. “Must be hereditary.” Autumn’s eyes were wide and guileless over the rim of her mug as she tipped it up to her lips, attentively studying the titles of the cookbooks on the shelves. Ian choked back a startled laugh as the Keane matriarch levelled sharp, unamused glares at both of her charges. “Anyway,” her father continued with a grin, helpfully warding off any immediate maternal retaliation even as his wife's scowl confirmed his point. “It is cold in New York. It’s just a different kind of cold here. Sort of a-“ “Ian Michael Keane, so help me, if you say it’s a dry cold you are walking home, mister.” The threat was undermined somewhat by a tremor of laughter in Dana’s voice as she mock-glowered at him, then sighed and shook her head again, eyes sparkling as she turned back to Gar. “I’m so sorry. I can’t take him anywhere.” The older Bannon smiled at Dana, his usual air of sad-eyed stoicism lifting for a moment as he threw a wryly sympathetic glance at Ian. "We moved here from the Northwest - I know what you mean about the winters here. But on the upside, at least there's a spring, and the summers aren't all clouds, rain and mosquitoes and last more than one week a year." He glanced at his son, who was silent, watching and listening as he always did when people he was interested in were... being people, his eyes shifting from face to face as he studied their reactions, analysed their words and tone. Those eyes drifted over to meet Autumn's gaze, catching the guileless redhead staring at him avidly, and a faint arch of one eyebrow and twitch of his lips betrayed Jason's smile as Autumn's cheeks turned pink, though neither teen dropped or shifted their gaze for the longest moment. She only looked away, finally, with bronze-flecked cheeks glowing to match her hair, when Ian cleared his throat in that vaguely disapproving paternal way- the auditory equivalent of The Look his wife had perfected. Swiping away the wildflower-strewn lock screen on her phone, Autumn distracted herself from those observant green eyes by tapping out a pair of messages while her father continued. To Cass: [Hey! Totally short notice, I know, but are you still down for the skateboarding thing this week?] To Lilly Pryor: [Hi. I don't know if you have my number already, but this is Autumn Keane. Anyway, if you're gonna be around, next time we're all at the Bannons' or whatever I have something for you.] "...finally got an interview. They weren't a big firm, but the way I saw it, it was at least a foot in the door, right? So there I am, on a Tuesday morning at the beginning of February, standing on the sidewalk outside this little coffee shop. And I'm just- you know, you stop for a second, you don't have a mirror, so you just use a window to make sure you look half-decent. I'd just gotten a haircut the day before, so it still felt weird, and I was just checking, you know? Was my hair sticking up? Was my tie straight? That kind of thing." Almost before she could set the phone back on the table, it vibrated in her hand. That was fast, she mused, wondering which of the girls had been so quick on the draw. From Cade Allister: //Hey autumn, I spoke with Ms. Giles, and got the same deal you were told, I can go help with the cats as long as I get my parents' permission. I don't know when you're planning to go, or ask your own folks, but as I'd said, I'd like to be there to help, even if all I can do is provide moral support, and keep him calm. Maybe we can coordinate this for later in the week?// Chapters, my guy, the redhead sighed to herself, pursing her lips as she turned over possible responses in her head. It sort of made sense for Cade to tag along, at least insofar as he seemed to be good with animals in a weird Dr. Dolittle kind of way, although it was hard to know what he could do while the smilodon was unconscious and- hopefully- getting its natural hardware untangled from whatever Klein's scientists had added artificially. Also, the idea of hanging out with Marissa's fake boyfriend was kind of- Bzzzt Another notification. Glancing somewhat guiltily up at the adults, Autumn slid her chair back from the table, scooping up her coffee as she murmured a quick, "Sorry," at the interruption and retreated to the periphery of the room. From Cass: //Yeah! Thats just the distraction i need right now! What day is good 4 u?// Hmm. That was a good question. In theory, tomorrow afternoon was supposed to be spent going over her family journals with Jase, but now that her family knew about the whole Teulu thing, about the fact that he wasn't human... A knot of anxiety twisted uncomfortably in the pit of her stomach, warring with the near-ambrosial warmth of the Bannons' coffee. "...So anyway," Ian continued, nodding at his daughter in acknowledgement, "it gets cloudy for a second and I can see through the glass, and there's this girl on the other side." Dana shook her head, smiling at the memory as she took another sip from her mug. "And she's just..." The cool, distant blue of the businessman's eyes warmed, his expression softening. "Just wow. Really, really just... Freckles, gorgeous eyes, and the cutest nose-" "Ian," his wife admonished him firmly, but without rancor, as the older redhead's rosy cheeks demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that Autumn came by her blushes honestly. The girl herself, pacing idly around the edge of the kitchen as she remained glued to her phone, gave a soft ugh of protest and glanced briefly heavenward. Gross. "All right, all right. So there's this totally adorable girl, and the worst part- the absolute worst," Ian grimaced, "is that she's making faces back at me. I was so embarrassed I could've walked into traffic." Bzzzt The sound of Dana's laughter filled the kitchen, then, interrupted only by her vehement protests. "Ian Keane, you know good and well I wasn't-" "Let me finish," he interjected, grinning as he held up a hand to forestall further comments from his furiously blushing bride. "So as I was saying, I was horrified. How long had she been sitting there making fun of me, knowing I couldn't see her? I'd been nervous before, about the interview, but after that..." From Lilly Pryor: //Do you think we could meet up some time before? I think I need your help.// Autumn's brows knit together in a frown as she paused mid-step, head tilted slightly. What in the world would Lilly Pryor need her help for? It wasn't like they'd ever been more than tenuous acquaintances, at best, and after the way she'd acted on Sunday... With another soft, almost inaudible ugh, the outdoorsy teen tried to imagine happier, more pleasant things, like the smell of wood smoke, sunlight filtering down through the canopy of leaves overhead, the sound of the creek running over the rocks along the bank, and slow-burning kisses from a boyfriend with smoldering jade eyes... Okay, maybe not that much happier, she reflected wryly, turning away from the table as the tell-tale sensation of warmth crept inexorably up the sides of her face. But at least the thought itself was distraction enough. Taking a long sip from the swirling mixture of tan and ivory in her mug, Autumn peered at her screen and began thumbing through responses to the texts she'd gotten, proceeding in the order in which they'd been received. To Cade Allister: [Um, sure? It'll probably be this weekend, I can text you when I have more info. I'm aiming for Saturday, but it depends on when my dad can be here.] Her parents, despite the revelations of the last couple of days, were being very- almost conspicuously- chill. She wondered if seeing what their daughter was capable of- beyond tinkering with a patch of grass- would change that. Using her powers on a living thing... Only one way to find out, I guess. In spite of herself, the young redhead grinned as she tabbed over to the conversation with the plucky blonde journalist. The idea of learning how to skateboard from Cassie had been kind of a spur-of-the-moment thought, just something new to try, but being able to just hang out with somebody and 'do activities' without any expectation seemed more and more appealing by the day. To Cass: [Yes! Okay. Um, Thursday, maybe? I know there's other stuff going on, but would be nice to just not think about it.] And then, since the Amazonian athlete hadn't given her anything else to go on yet... What kind of help? With what? Jesus, Jase was more forthcoming than this. At least he would- Grimacing, Autumn mentally applied the brakes to that train of thought. It wasn't constructive or kind, and if Enterich really had screwed with her, maybe Lilly wasn't feeling like herself. It's not like the Girl Scout had any historical evidence to compare it to, after all. To Lilly Pryor: [Um, maybe? Like, at school, or...?] "...that she wasn't actually teasing me. I guess I had some-" "Spinach," Dana clarified, still grinning as she cast a surreptitious glance over at her daughter, pacing the kitchen with her face buried in her phone. Idly, she wondered what had the girl so fascinated, when any other time she'd be fixated on the laconic young man across the table. Did it have something to do with the discussion about his mother, or the argument...? Hm. "Some spinach in my teeth, yeah," Ian conceded sheepishly. "Probably from the omelette, earlier. I finally got it, and I guess she could tell from the look on my face, because she just started laughing, and scribbled something on a napkin. And when she held it up to the glass, it just said, 'Good luck!' with this little smiley face. And then I had to actually, genuinely run, because I was about to be late for the interview," he concluded with a shrug. Gar chuckled, glancing at the grinning Dana. "Hey, at least you told him, right?" he quipped, causing Dana to snort from restrained laughter as she leaned fondly against her husband. "He was totally cute checking himself out in the glass, though." Dana confirmed, taking a drink from her mug. "Spinach and all. My friends all thought so too." "Yeah, yeah." Ian mock grumbled, smiling a little. "Laugh it up. So anyway, later on..." Unobtrusively, Jason slid out of his chair as the adults talked and moved over to the fridge, ostensibly to get a cold bottle of water to drink, but it was largely a convenient pretext for him to lean against the kitchen counter and watch Autumn as she paced, chewing adorably on her lower lip as she considered the screen of her phone. He wondered, idly, who she was texting, what was being said - but that was largely just so he had a context for the flickers of expression in her wide blue eyes and eminently watchable features rather than from any real interest in what others were saying. Now and then he glanced towards the kitchen table, regarding his father sitting with the Keanes, listening to them talking about how they met. He found the story interesting, for more than one reason. It was an insight into the younger people Autumn's parents had once been. It was a story about meeting and bonding with another person. It was... normal, and wholesome in some way that he felt was positive, but was still working on defining why, exactly. It was curious - he assumed that most couples had a 'first meeting' story, but it had never mattered to him before. Jack and Carolyn Cassidy, for instance. A working, stable marriage with three kids, he'd often considered the Cassidys as a good example of how to 'family'. How had they met? Would he, in years to come, sit around a table and share the story of how he'd met Autumn - by walking into the girl's bathroom and scaring her silly? It occurred to him that he already had shared that tale, with Dana, who'd found the anecdote wryly amusing. So, was his and Autumn's random encounter a 'meet cute'? He'd have to ask... From: Lilly Pryor: / Jase said I should talk to you about getting help with the... nightmares... I've had the last couple of days..// ... From: Lilly Pryor: // I dunno. Ask him. He just said you could help.// The screen, with the messages still on it, was held up in front of his face as he lowered the bottle of water from his lips. Jason gazed at the exchange between Lilly and Autumn, then at Autumn's face, then back at the messages again, his brow furrowing slightly as he tried to work out what was amiss. Because something was amiss. Autumn wasn't flushed or angry-looking, but she seemed to be expecting something from him as she stared hard at his face. Jason's nascent relationship radar detected the blip, but couldn't for the life of him work out what it was. "That seems correct..." he said softly, shifting his brilliant emerald stare from the phone's screen to Autumn's gaze. "She complained of having night terrors, and I suggested you might be able to help, due to your gift." He tilted his head to one side. "Was I wrong?"
  4. Lunch The bell rang to herald the end of third period, Mr McRiley's voice rising above the sudden relaxed clamor of the dozen or so students in his AP Calculus class, reminding them all of the end of week test on Friday as Jase swung the strap of his satchel onto one shoulder and made his way out into the suddenly bustling halls, sidestepping the boisterous cluster of football players in their team jackets as they all-but charged past in the direction of the cafeteria. One or two of them glanced his way, but nothing more as he headed in the other direction to his locker, his eyes and other senses taking careful note of the motion of the crowd ahead and around him despite the relaxed, straight-backed gait he moved with. He had, after all, cause for caution. Twice in two weeks he had been attacked, once here in school, and Chet had made clear that he and his clique had hostile intentions. For all that it was unlikely Chet and Co would risk suspension or expulsion by attacking him openly on school grounds, Jase wasn't going to underestimate their capacity for stupidity. He also wasn't going to passively take it next time some moron laid a hand on him. But that was still a hypothetical issue - it could be that Chet was all hot air and no action. At any rate, he was going to keep an eye out. He spun the dial on his lock with practiced ease, swinging open the locker and switching out his morning's books with the ones he would need this afternoon before grabbing the plastic container with his lunch in from the top shelf where it sat, condensation forming on the sides. He noted with satisfaction that it was still cold, the small amount of Shine he'd pushed into keeping it refrigerated dissipating as he released it from his power. As impressive as flying or firenados were, being able to keep things warm or cool was definitely a more practically useful application of his gifts, and though it would take a small investment of his reserves to maintain for any longer than a few hours, that was enough to, say, keep his lunch chilled until he was ready to eat it. A few minutes later, he was moving up the bleachers to the top row at the far end, his habitual perch when he wasn't lunching in the cafeteria. Settling down, he extracted his laptop from his satchel, plugged in his earphones, and started up Rosetta Stone's German language course. As the lesson introduction played, he messaged a PlopBox link to Cassie with all the data he'd collected about Shelly, then opened the Tupperware container and picked up a fork. A brush of his power had the contents steaming and he set to, now and then pausing his chewing to mouth a phrase the recorded instructor was accentuating. Even so absorbed, however, he frequently would glance up, taking in his surroundings and those in them with a calm, narrowed gaze, before again turning his attention to German grammar.
  5. First Period: Chem Class (Cassie, Autumn & Jase) "Okay, settle down." Ms Lafferty's voice rose over the hubbub as the bell rang signalling the start of the class. There was a buzz in the air this morning, she noted, likely due to the drama of the last few days. She herself had been shocked at hearing of the murder of Charlie Cole, and the kidnapping of two young women - all of whom were students of hers. It just wasn't the sort of thing one expected in Shelly - at least in her limited experience of the last four years. Her gaze was drawn to the trio currently settling into their seats at one of the front lab benches, two of whom hadn't been present at yesterday's class. Nor had Marissa Jauntsen, for that matter. An attack, break-room rumor had it. Or rather, she corrected, staring at the pale new scar on Jason Bannon's right cheek, another attack. Twice in two weeks the young man had been sent to the hospital, and when that was stacked next to the murder/kidnapping of Labor Day and other rumors she wondered what sort of place Shelly really was, under the idyllic surface. "I'm reasonably sure most of you did the required reading last night regarding acids and bases." she went on, her gaze moving away from Jason and sweeping over the rest of the class. "So today we're going to do some practical experimentation, so you can see the principles in action." She pointed to one of the lab-partner pairs. "Will and Terry? Could you come and help me with the equipment trolleys, please? Each bench gets one tray - everyone gets a pair of gloves and goggles." As her conscripted help doled out the equipment for the day's practical, she paused at the trio's table. "Cassandra, you were here yesterday's lesson. Help Autumn and Jase out - I'll give your bench a little more time to get things done." Then again..., she mused as she met the impassive glittering stare of the tall lean youth say between the two girls, recalling that test in the first week, with it's too-advanced questions. The one young Mister Bannon had aced. "That is, if you need it." she added, almost as an afterthought. Or was it a challenge - she wasn't too sure herself. She restrained herself from asking if he was okay - obviously he was, or he wouldn't be in school, right? And anyway, what she really wanted to know was 'what happened?' And that was crossing a line, wasn't it? Saying nothing more, she moved away and headed over to Marissa and Cade Alister's bench, to give them the same extension. "I... did not do the required reading last night," Autumn muttered, a guilty flush stealing into her cheeks as she glanced at Cass, gingerly accepting the offered PPE as the designated equipment carts made their rounds. " I didn't know there was any. Do you have any idea what we're supposed to be doing?" she whispered, blue eyes flicking briefly up to Jase's features, and then at the pretty blonde's. "Okay," said Cassandra, putting her book on the desk. "So last time we talked about the pH scale, and how it's kind of backwards. More acid means it goes down. And it starts at seven instead of zero because scientists are kind of lame. And we talked about concentration and how to measure it, which I think is what we're supposed to be doing here. We should have some of that special paper...somewhere..." She rummaged around on the desk until she spots a beaker with strips of litmus paper. "Here we go." Then, "Yeah, it's going to be a boring one I think this time. Sorry. I was hoping for 'melting stuff in vats of acid,' but looks like that's not on the next test." "It'll be fine." Jase's murmured reassurance to Autumn was matter of fact as he pulled on his goggles, and positioned the beaker of litmus strips where they could all reach it, amusement glinting in his green eyes as he glanced at Cassie. "Do you really want to melt stuff in acid? Because if you do..." "I mean, if it's a choice between that or watching paper turn colors..." Cassie paused, as if recalling who she was talking to. "But otherwise, not really?" Then she looked at the beakers. "Maybe a little." "Honestly," Autumn admitted, her nose crinkling slightly as she peered at the quirky young journalist through the lenses of her protective eyewear and tugged on her gloves, "I'll take boring all day long today. Bring on the colored paper." Cassandra obligingly started setting up the beakers, carefully pouring fluids from labeled flasks into each one, then mixing water into each one in proportions specified on the handout they got. She chuckled on stirring them with the glass stick. "I like the little noise these make. It'd be kinda cool if you could make glass tougher so it didn't break, then use it for drumsticks." tink tink tink "It's weird that our stomachs are full of this stuff." "One pH hydrochloric acid, to be precise." Jase opened his notebook, idly flipping a pencil around in his hand as he watched Cassie mix the solutions. "This stuff's closer to lemon juice in strength." "Well, it doesn't smell nearly as good," Cassie comments, wrinkling her nose. "What's in your stomach is diluted, anyway," Autumn countered thoughtfully as she watched the eraser of Jase's pencil twitching back and forth, her toes skimming over the tile floor with every restless swing of her feet. "It's not concentrated enough to be dangerous. It is kind of weird, though, to have it just sloshing and churning around inside us. Speaking of, did you get to eat breakfast this morning, Cass?" The redhead grinned a little, reaching over to grab some of the test strips if only to be doing something while the other half of Team Pluck set up the day's experiment. "Technically yes," Cassandra replied evasively. "I did eat a thing. I was in kind of a rush though. Do you think hash browns go bad? I wonder if I could make a whole bunch of hash browns and just store them by the door so I can grab one as I go out." Then she frowned. "Bacon'd get them though. He'd find a way. Hm." Frowning as she regarded her friend more seriously, Autumn shifted a little in her seat. "They one-hundred percent would go bad, yeah. Maybe a box of Pop-Tarts or something? Packs of trail mix?" Cass shrugged. "You gotta toast pop-tarts. Trail mix could work maybe." She stared at the beakers for a moment, then shook her head. "I'm going to have trouble focusing on this. Someone elbow me if I zone out." Smoothly, Jason reached over and moved the flasks to in front of him. "I've got it." he told her in a quiet tone. "You just make the notes. Did you have trouble sleeping? Is that why you were in a rush?" "And since when do you have to toast Pop-Tarts?" the redhead asked skeptically, peering sidelong at Cassie as Jase rearranged the table. "You just rip open the package and eat them. I mean, sure, you can toast them, but you don't have to." The face Cassandra makes at Autumn's suggestion is a mask of horror. "You do that? Really?" Jase also paused, staring at Autumn for a moment's pause as he blinked, slowly. "Anyway...uh...I slept mostly ok, I guess, but I just wanted to get to school early. I've only got another day before I have to have an article ready for the paper and I figured I could get some work done before Leila got in." Cassie rolled her eyes. "But she apparently has an apartment in the room somewhere." Giving her boyfriend a quick, one-shouldered shrug accompanied by the arch of a copper brow, the red-haired savage gave him a defiant little smirk. And? her expression seemed to say. "Oh, gross. And we've been so busy with the... uh... Extra-curricular stuff, you haven't had time to work on it." Nudging the pretty blonde a little with her shoulder, Autumn offered her a faint smile of encouragement. "Still, you've got 'til tomorrow. It's just the beginning of the year, no big deal. As long as it's not some crazy expose about Shelly's history, aliens, and human experimentation, I think you're good. Just, like, do a fluff piece about the oceans being on fire and someone with cancer crowdfunding their chemotherapy. It'll be fine." Cass winced at that. "So...what if it was?" she asked. "Not saying it is. Just...what if it was?" Jason turned his gaze on Cassandra this time, the corners of his eyes narrowing slightly as he examined her expression as though peering at her through a microscope. "Um. What?" It was Autumn's turn to look at her friend, all levity draining from her voice. "Even hypothetically, that's... Wow." "I just...I know. Okay?" Cassandra said. "I know. It's dumb. I should just do what you're saying, write a stupid story about something dumb, because it's just a school paper and who gives a shit? That's exactly what Leila was saying." She pauses. "...I think. Anyway. I know. It's just...ugh, you know? Like...uuuuuuugh." "Does Leila know anything?" Jason asked. And there was this to be said about his manner: it was very still, very calm. A pool with no surface ripples. "I mean..." Autumn began- and then paused, exhaling as Jase interjected. Cassie shook her head. "I haven't told anyone anything. But don't you think... I mean people have died over this. People will go to funerals, and never know why. The whole town has been at the center of this and no one's ever known, and that just feels wrong." "That's not specifically what he asked, though," the redhead commented quietly, surreptitiously glancing over at their teacher and back again. "Whether you told her or not, do you think she knows anything?" "You guys, she thought this whole thing was a sex cult," Cassandra sighed. "She's totally clueless. That, or a pretty good actress." "Mmm," Autumn nodded, a tiny furrow appearing between her brows as she frowned, teeth catching at her lower lip. Cassandra seemed to finally catch the mood and frowns. "Why? What makes you think she'd know something?" Jason relaxed, though the only clue to this was a faint sense of animation returning to his expression. "Or suspect. There are rumors flying around - and a lot of us have been skipping classes. How plugged in is Leila to the rumor network?" "That's why she thought we were in a sex cult," agrees Cass. "She's plugged in enough to know we're in on something. But she doesn't really...care?" Cassandra wrinkles her nose again. "She actually wanted in, so...there's something we can throw into the acid right now." "I mean," Autumn suggested with another shrug, resolutely not looking at her boyfriend as a faint pink flush crept up the sides of her face. "You could just write about a sex cult. I'm sure there's plenty of room for one." Cassandra waggled a little glass stick. "Thought about it, but it turns out that is actually against the bylaws for the newspaper here. Buncha prudes." "So, back to your other question..." Jason started laying out strips of litmus paper in accordance with the worksheet's instructions. "About it feeling wrong. Do you mean you want to tell the story?" "Hell yes," is her immediate reply. "After all the bullshit we've seen and gone through, and what this means for the world...of course I do. And, obviously I know no one will believe it except crazy people, and that'll make me seem crazy too. Like I said. I know. I've been thinking about this a lot. But like, even more than I want to tell people, I don't want to lie about it. I don't want to cover it up. Just pretend it didn't happen. Gaslight the planet into thinking nothing happened." Peering over at the paper Jase was working from, Autumn squinted at the upside-down print and laid out her test strips in a mirror of what she could see from her side of the table, glancing at Cassie as she explained her feelings on the matter. "So is the issue how to do kind of both things, or...?" Noting Autumn trying to decipher the worksheet, Jase gave her a small smile and turned it 180 degrees towards her. "I think, sooner or later, the story will break itself." he said quietly. "I can't imagine all of this, statistically speaking, staying quiet forever." "Not if Aeon has anything to say about it. Or Branch 9. They'll just...sit on it. Like they always have. I don't think any of this is really a big change from the way they see things. Just another development." Cassandra shakes her head. "It's just that I've been on the other end of this. I spent almost a year researching Crossroads and trying to get a straight story, and getting nothing but runarounds and lies and fake leads and... Now I feel like I'm being asked to participate in that." "Well, yeah, because the people running Crossroads are working with Enterich. Or he's working with them. They can't get away with anything if people know about what they're up to." Tilting her head thoughtfully, Autumn mulled over that idea. "So, this article. Is it going to be just, like, tinfoil hat stuff, or are you giving them receipts? Because I mostly agree with you on the whole ethical issue, but is telling the whole truth going to help, or hurt?" "Every answer you give will lead to more questions. There won't be such a thing as only giving the high points of the story." Jase added, his eyes flicking up to study Cassie. "That will lead the world to our doors, for good or ill." "Yeah," Cassie sighs, deflating. "And it'll read like science fiction anyway. Like I said. It's a dumb idea. I know." She picked up a litmus strip and dabbed it into a beaker. "It's just been bothering me, and...it's making writing this article really hard." "Nnn-hnn," Autumn shook her head. "Not a dumb idea. Just not something I think you should have to decide on your own, and in only a couple of days. Like you said, it's a huge deal, and the worst-case scenarios for both arguments are fucking awful. Is there any way to write a lead-in, or..." Gesturing vaguely with a gloved hand, she made a face. "Like a filler article, or something? I mean, yeah, it probably will get out at some point, I just don't know if now's a good time. Or," she amended, "what a good time would look like for something like this." "That's just it. When's a good time? The arguments aren't going to change." Cass shakes her head. "I don't know. I only ever started doing any of this because I wanted to find out the truth about how dad died. Now I know the truth. I don't know why any of this still matters to me. I should be done with it now. I don't owe anyone anything. Shit." She pulls the overexposed litmus strip back out and drops it in to the little sink at the edge of the desk. "Your tone implies that it does still matter to you, even though you cannot find a logical reason why." Jason made a couple of notes as he examined a strip of litmus paper, set it aside, and reached for another one to dip into a second flask, carrying the testing out with casual precision. "Perhaps the only person you owe it to, then, is yourself?" "Or... How about this?" Fiddling with her pencil as she squinted at the colored strips and the corresponding chart on the desk, Autumn pursed her lips. "Could this article tell the truth in a way that gets people to ask their own questions? Like, not naming names or pointing fingers, but looking at historical patterns and rumors, and letting people believe or not until you decide how to handle it?" "Because people in Shelly... kind of know something's up. At least, some of the families do," she added quietly, considering what she knew of the Kavanagh history and wondering how these public revelations might change things. "Have for generations." Cassandra opened her mouth to point out the problems with that, then closed it again. She looked off to one side, almost visibly thinking. "You know, at first I was going to say that would still attract attention," Cass says finally, "But...it's different. They wouldn't be asking how I knew, they'd be wanting to tell me things." Abruptly she reaches over to Jase's notebook and tears off one of the pages underneath the one he's working on now. Then says, "Jase, I need to borrow this for a second," as she took a pen out of her backpack and started scribbling on the note paper. "Would you like all the compiled research I did into Shelly's history?" Jason asked, unperturbed by the casual vandalism of his notebook. "It's the stuff I presented - in condensed form - at that meeting in Bunnee's. My notes have various statistical signifiers - pointing out that Shelly is unusual for many reasons, not least of which because it's so small despite being a natural crossroads in the roads and railways." "That would save me a ton of time," Cassandra agreed. She sits up higher and looks at the notepaper, then nods and folds it up. "Okay, it passes the test. I think you saved my butt, Autumn. I owe you a...I don't know, a cheeseburger? What's the going rate for a butt these days?" "And there's the interview with Laughing Joe, too, if you want to talk about the kind of mythical, cultural side of stuff, as well." Smiling sideways at the inquisitive blonde, she pretended to consider the question, tilting her head to and fro with a mock-sober expression before declaring, "Cheeseburger sounds good. After boarding school tomorrow?" "Yeah, that's good. Also, are we still on for the skateboarding thing?" "That's what I meant," Autumn laughed, discarding one of the blue litmus strips and grinning as she wrote down the result. "Yeah." "Oh shit, boarding school," Cass laughs. "God, I get so tunnel visioned." "I'll Google Drive the files over to you at lunch." Jase told Cassie. "Along with my summary." "Mmm...maybe no summary. Just the raw research. I might get tempted to crib. Bad form." Cassie flashes Jase a smile. "Can't do ALL my work for me, ya know?" He nodded, approval flashing a fin in his depthless jade eyes. "Alright, then." he replied with the faintest twitch of a smile as he glanced back down at his worksheet. "And," Autumn added, "if it helps, we're gonna look into some old journals I got from my grandparents' house tonight, family stuff that goes back before Shelly was Shelly. It won't be useful for an article tomorrow, but maybe for this ongoing investigation you're doing? Y'know." Casting another sidelong glance at Cass, she nudged her friend again. "The lead-in for your Pulitzer." The smile Cassandra turned on Autumn is quite the reversal from her earlier cloudy mood; a crepuscular ray shining through. "That would be both badass and awesome, much like yourself. I feel like...tying it to a family will make the whole thing kind of...resonate? Feel real? Not just some kind of 'I'm just asking questions' internet conspiracy bullshit kinda thing. That's definitely going to be something I have to watch out for. Will you guys mind reading it over too? I feel like you'd be ok telling me where I fuck it up." "Wait, seriously?" the expressive redhead squeaked softly, eyes widening at the suggestion. "You'd let me read it first? Holy shit, Cass, that's... Um, yes, definitely! Thank you!" Jase's head tilted slightly as he studied Autumn's reaction, then glanced at Cassie. "Of course. I'd be happy to go over it." "Hell yeah!" Cassandra held up a hand for Autumn and Jase to high five. "You guys are the best. Lets melt some shit for science." "Ahem." Ms Lafferty's cough brought the celebration to a standstill, as the teens looked around to see her standing at the end of their bench with a faintly disapproving expression. "Melting... 'stuff' is not the objective here, Ms Allen." she admonished with a raised brow. "Can I assume from the high-fiving that you've finished the experiment already, then?" "We definitely made a breakthrough," Cass reported with a grin. Conspicuously studying the paper in front of her, tapping the eraser end of her pencil on the tabletop, Autumn choked back a laugh. "It's, uh. Still a work in progress, ma'am," she managed awkwardly.(edited) "Cassandra apparently really likes science." Jason said, as deadpan as only he could manage, only his friends spotting the sly glint of ancient humor in his eyes. "We should be done soon, Ms Lafferty." "Good." The Chemistry teacher paused a moment longer, eyeing the suppressed smile on Autumn's face and the grin on Cassie's. They were more informative than the blank poker face of the young man sitting across from them, but she decided to let it go this time. "Carry on, then." she added, turning and moving off along the rows of benches.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. "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.
  9. "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.
  10. "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."
  11. 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.
  12. "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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. "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.
  16. "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."
  17. "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."
  18. "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.
  19. "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.
  20. 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.
  21. "Coke sounds good." There was no overt tension or stiffness in Jason's manner as he nodded in response to Marissa's greeting - and, for that matter, agreement with her reasoning regarding the pizza. "Thanks." he said to both Jauntsen Twins as he came to rest, leaning by one of the broad windows, exchanging a companionable nod of greeting with Sean and Kat. Autumn, restless herself, noted the way he seemed to be at ease and tried to emulate it, perching one hip on the central island and murmuring her own thanks as Devin slid a condensation-frosted can across the countertop. "No probs." Devin said, holding out a second can to Jase and feeling the tug of an invisible hand as it plucked the can from his fingers. "Say, Jaybee, I got a question." The largely-irrepressible teleporter leaned against a counter near the lean, freshly-scarred genius, popping the tab on his own Coke as he looked at Jason quizzically. "You're not having any issues with your powers, right? I mean, you used 'em this morning and just now, and it doesn't look like you're having trouble. Cuz when I try to, it's like pulling my own sack off. I was thinking it's something to do with the teleporting across dimensions. That makes sense, right?" He took a drink as Jase's eyes narrowed fractionally in thought, going distant for a moment. "It makes the most sense." the lean telekinetic said. "Assuming that the working theory we have of a subquantum reality is true, and that our powers come from manipulating it, yours would likely place the most direct physical strain on you. The rest of us draw from it, or look through it in Cassie's case." He indicated Devin with his own can before popping the tab. "If I'm right, you physically interact with that layer directly... diving in and out. And like a diver, going too deep and coming up too fast can cause strain to your system." "So it's sort of like the bends." Sean put in, distracted from the urge to glower at Marissa's jibe about dresses by the topic at hand. "Mmh." Jase nodded absently, staring into space a second or two, lost in thought. "Which would also suggest that the layer of reality we travelled to was perhaps more 'distant' to our own, perhaps needing you to push on through the subquantum layer to some other realm it connects to, rather than pop down and back up again like you do when doing 'normal' teleporting around in our world." "That's def what it felt like, yeah. Like trying to push through a wall made of broken glass and barbed wire." Devin nodded, wincing at the memory. "So, you're not affected, because your powers just draw juice from this subcutie realm-" "Sub-quantum realm." Sean and Kat helpfully corrected in unison, eliciting a wave of a hand and a roll of the eyes from Devin. "Whatever. Whereas I, being all kinds of impressive, literally move through it." he proclaimed. That was good for a roll of the eyes from everyone else present except Jase. Marissa's eyes rolled so hard they should have been accompanied by a rattling sound, causing Autumn to experience a moment of sympathetic amusement. "Into and out of it, yes." Jason nodded, smiling fractionally. "Of course, it's all theory right now - based from observation and talking to you guys about your powers, but still only theory. I could be totally off." He took a drink of Coke. "More study needed?" Kat hopped up and perched, squirrel-like, sitting on the edge of the island counter, feet kicking slightly. "And equipment. Proper lab, and more than likely instruments that would need to be custom built - since I doubt any sort of sensor or instrument exists yet that can measure Shine." Sean frowned in thought, turning the problem over in his head. "Well, maybe in Site B." Jason nodded, then shrugged slightly. "Possibly, yes." he agreed. "It's not as immediately important as other things. Right now I'm just hammering together a theory, but it seems to hold up against the curveballs coming my way. Right now, though, the science of our powers isn't as important as what we need to do with them - thought it might help us to figure out other possibilities later on."
  22. They'd kept him waiting a little while, which he didn't really care about. It was logical to suppose that Annette Giles was a busy woman, and even a member of the Fellowship couldn't necessarily bump her schedule on a whim. Besides, it gave him a chance to sit quietly, alone with his thoughts, spiraling as they did in a loose double-helix of crystalline forms and shapes in the halls of his mind. The murder attempt, the mysterious Enterich, Site B, meeting a member of his species, Marissa's possible betrayal, Devin and Autumn saving his life, the reactions of his various friends, his plans here in the Project... All kept in the air, turning and presenting new facets with each turn as he considered each issue. He sat in a small anteroom obviously meant for visitors - though what visitors he was not sure. Perhaps serious men and women in uniforms and suits, come from D.C to be wowed by their off-the-books project? Worthies from the mysterious Aeon Society, come to nod and chatter as Cook put his show-ponies through their paces. That was almost good for a smile. Cook's best demonstration had been Courtney whose gifts, impressive though they were, were already being rivalled by the couple of telepaths in in the Fellowship's ranks. Right now, Courtney had the edge in experience with using her gift, but her raw power, the strength of her Shine, was lacking. That sent his thoughts down another tangent. What was the connection there? Had the experimentation of the Project actually harmed Courtney and Tawny's natural development? The early interference having somehow stunted them? If so, perhaps that could be corrected, once he had access to Dr Cook's notes and had time to study what the modern-day Mengele had been up to. The door to the anteroom opened and Ellie walked in, moving with the same feline grace with which she'd entered the hospital room earlier, and sat in the comfortable chair next to his, half-turning and drawing her long bare legs up to curl into the cushions as she gazed at him, cheek propped on one hand, her air contemplative. Jase, lounging in his own chair with his arms folded, stared back expressionlessly. She was beautiful, for certain. Clear complexion, wide grey eyes, full lips, and a body that was athletic, hardened even, yet with female curves in what his aesthetic sense deemed the right places. They stared at each other for a long moment, which stretched to a minute, then two, as some silent battle of wills played out between the two of them. Finally, she gave a slight sigh and inclined her head, still regarding him. "You have the eyes of the Draig." she stated, head tilted, considering him as she spoke. "I recognise the name of the clan." he replied. "It was my mothers, before she left El and came here." "She did not teach you about the Teulu." Ellie remarked then, her eyes narrowing. "She abandoned you." "When she realised that I would not be like her, or my father." Jase agreed, nodding. "She is Teulu, but feels fear, shame, regret." "Interesting." The blonde girl pondered. "I have heard of that deformity now and then. She is lucky to have made it to adulthood - perhaps the reputation of the Draig is not earned." This last was delivered with a faint amused look, which Jason returned. "If you seek to push a button, or prick my pride, you will have to do better." he rejoined with a shrug. "I have no investment in my mother's clan. I don't even know of them beyond their name." "You and the one called Autumn seem close." Again the frank studying stare as she looked him over, appraising him. "Does she know you are not human?" "She does." "She has a marvellous gift." Ellie commented. "A good choice, I think. She seems resilient, too. Healthy." "Are you commenting on her as a comrade in arms, a girlfriend, or as breeding stock?" Jason asked, tilting his own head as he stared at her, his emerald eyes narrowing a little. "All three are worthy of consideration." Ellie smiled a little, a sly light entering her gaze. "Does she know how you feel about her?" "I have told her, by word and action, what she means to me." Jason shrugged, glancing at the clock on the wall. Ellie regarded his profile. "Your scar is fetching." she noted, changing topic yet again. "A sign of danger survived, of a tale to be told, of experience. Many females would be drawn to it, I think." "Thank you?" "Not me, of course." Ellie stood and stretched, almost incidentally - he was sure - showing off her body in the sundress. "I am for Devin." "So I gather." Jase's reply was dry, reflecting his own amusement. Ellie glanced at him, a brow raised. "If I were not, though, your redhead would have caused to be nervous. Even if you are skinny and undertrained, and do not know your heritage, your mind is sharp and your Radiance is strong enough to make the warrior Taggart nervous." she eyed him speculatively. "And you are handsome. Handsome counts for a lot." "I am interested in learning more of my heritage." Jase remarked, studying her. Ellie shook her head. "Since your mother has not taught you, perhaps I will." she said in a tone of one thinking it over. "I would be sure to tell Devin what a fine ally you are, if you do." Jason smiled slightly, one corner of his mouth curving. Ellie's eyes sparkled with humor as she looked back at him. "You learn fast." she noted. "Good. You have much to learn." She stepped towards the door, beckoning him. "For now, though, Annette is waiting." = = = = = = = "I thought you'd gotten lost." Annette said pointedly as the two young Teulu entered her office. Taggart, seated in a chair to one side of her desk, studied the pair of them intently, plainly trying to catalogue similarities. "You were observing us." Jason said calmly, taking a seat in front of Annette's desk. "I'm fairly certain if you did believe we'd wandered off the path there would be alarms and soldiers everywhere." The older woman stared at him, then shrugged, looking at Ellie expectantly. "I wanted to speak with him." Ellie said as if that explained everything. "I was curious, and you did not say it was an urgent matter." "She didn't say to dawdle and flirt over coffee, either." Taggart grumbled. Ellie smiled a little at the Major. "I do not work for Annette, or yourself, Major Taggart." she told him. "And I have been without a male for a long time. So if I wish to take a moment to flirt with handsome powerful males, I shall do so. Besides, there was no coffee." She paused, a gleam entering her grey eyes. "Speaking of handsome powerful males, do you have a mate, Major Taggart?" she asked, eyeing him speculatively sidelong through lowered lashes, her manner one of semi-blatant flirtation. "Perhaps a coupling would improve your temper. I am for Devin, but he has a date to Homecoming already, so I am free if you feel the urge." Annette cleared her throat, trying not to laugh as Taggart reddened at being propositioned by a girl who appeared just about old enough to be his daughter. "Ellie." she said with a hint of reproof. "Please." The blonde girl inclined her head and moved to recline on the office's couch, still smiling a little, her gaze resting on the uncomfortable Taggart. Annette studied the young man across from her, noting the cheekbone structure so similar to Ellie's, the scar, and the piercing eyes that studied her right back without giving much, if anything away. "You wanted to speak with me, Mr Bannon?" "Call me Jase." came the calm reply. "Jase, then." Annette smiled, reminding herself she'd dealt with worse characters than the youth across from her. Perhaps not as dangerous in an immediate way, but definitely more malicious. She'd seen and heard the conversation between Jason and Autumn when they'd been alone, and though her heart had been touched by the sight of young love, more important was the knowledge that Jason Bannon was not an unreasonable savage. "What can I do for you?" "Funny." Jase didn't smile, but his eyes did reflect humor. "Once, Cook asked me the same question. And I answered him the same way - I want a job." That got the room's attention. Taggart straightened, glancing at Annette, who went very still, her expression one of intense thought. "You want to work for us?" she asked after a few moments. "With you." Jason corrected. Annette leaned back in her chair slowly, regarding him. "And how do you see that working?" she asked, trying not to fidget. "After all, you are only sixt-" "Please don't tell me that I am only sixteen as though that makes me somehow less worthy." Jason told her flatly. "I have perfect three-dimensional, multi-sensory recall. I can can do advanced calculus mentally at roughly the speed of a computer. I can read, parse and absorb data faster than likely anyone you know. I have taught myself to a post-graduate standard in multiple disciplines. I am learning literally nothing in high school except that teenagers are petty and how to be bored out of my mind." Jason spread his hands expressively. "In addition to which I am not even human, as you no doubt already know, and a psychokinetic of constantly developing potential." "I see." Annette glanced at Taggart. "Do you?" Jason asked rhetorically. "I am bored, Ms Giles. Worse, I am wasted. I am under-utilised and achieving very little forward motion in my current situation. I want to study these gifts, the Shine - or Radiance - and the energies of the Dark. I want to put my brain to use developing new science - because right now, Ms Giles, this cutting edge frontier is still in the realm of witchcraft and quackery. You've got people trying to understand, comprehend, and measure Radiance. But they cannot feel it, cannot use it. I can. I've even got a hypothesis as to how our abilities work - but I need equipment and funding to test it and develop it." "Perhaps you could sit down with some of our scientists-" Taggart began. "Who will listen attentively, be properly impressed, and then I shall be ushered off to school and cut out of the loop whilst they chase the breadcrumbs I give them blindly." Jason interrupted, his eyes glinting. "I'm not interested in a pat on the head, Major. I want to be on the inside of this one. What I don't know, I can be taught. Hell, assess me first if you don't think I can cut it. Give me a trial run assisting whoever is your lead scientist. Because frankly, I'm about as suited to high school as I am to the vacuum of space. I want to be doing, to be challenged, not to waste my damned time in a glorified day-care center." "What about your friends?" Annette asked quietly. "Your girlfriend, even? Socialisation is important, even to... your kind. I assume, anyway." "I don''t plan on cutting off contact with them." Jason retorted. "And, let's face it, you want them to be working with the Project too. I can be a test case, an example that the Project - specifically you two - can be trusted. Look," he leaned forwards slightly. "On paper I will still be going to the school. But pull some strings. Say I've been assigned to advanced lessons - it won't be false, because I will be learning here. I still plan to go to Homecoming, and to hang out with my friends, and live a life outside of the lab. But I have reached my limit with attending lessons that teach me nothing and waste most of my days." "Let's say we give you an assessment... and it your mental gifts are everything you say, and we bring you to come and work for us-" "With you." Jason corrected again. "With us, yes. How much do you see yourself being paid?" Annette asked with a small smile. Jase sat back in his seat again, smiling back at her. "For the initial period of three to six months, something reasonable." he suggested. "Comparable to a STEM graduate in a well-paid entry position. After that apprenticeship is done, perhaps at the end of winter break, we can renegotiate." The elegant brunette glanced at Taggart, then at the intently watching Ellie, then at the youth in the chair before her. "And your father-" "Will be fine with it." Jason said firmly. "Well." Annette steepled her fingers, plainly considering. "You'll need to be tested, of course. And we'd likely identify areas you're not fully competent in yet and set up a training program." "Good." Jason nodded. "I want to learn. Stasis is death." "But we'll need to think about it, too." Annette held up a manicured hand. "That is not a 'no', far from it. But I will need to seek approval for this, and so will the Major. I think, however, on balance, that our superiors will be agreeable." This last was not quite a question as she glanced at Taggart, who shrugged. "Provided Mr Bannon-" "Call me Jase." "-Jase has scores to match his claims, I see no reason why not." The soldier studied the youth. "I'll get a proper test sorted out for him, then we can take things a step at a time from there." "Good." Annette placed her hands on the desk and rose, smiling. "I have to say, this is possibly the oddest job interview I've ever been part of." "It's my first job interview." Jason admitted, standing up. "Not counting Cook, who shut me down fast." He took Annette's offered hand and shook it, then turned to the Major. "Major Taggart." he nodded. "Jase." Taggart offered his own hand for a shake. "Got to say, I like the moxie." The older man smiled wryly. "Good luck, because I won't take it easy with the test." "If I wanted easy, I'd stay in school." Jason replied with a faint smile, then turned to go. "I can see myself out."
  23. "Well?" Taggart not-quite-demanded of the slender, athletic blonde in the sun-dress as she stepped out of the elevator into the Project complex main corridor. Her eyes tracked him as he fell into step with her, the grey of her eyes reflecting some manner of wry amusement, from what the Major could pick up. "Quite well, thank you." Ellie replied. "It was generous of you to allow me to meet them." "That's not what I meant." Taggart wasn't going to be brushed off, though he didn't show much frustration at the alien's evasiveness. In the day she'd been there, he'd pretty much come to understand that her people, these Teulu, considered direct questioning - at least from strangers - to be rude, and would therefore respond to it with verbal games. He was also aware that the girl was trained to at least the same standard as his men when it came to combat and survival skills, having killed five men, naked and barehanded, whilst making her escape from Site B, then had made her way across open country to Shelly without being recaptured. Even allowing for the element of surprise and the doubtless underestimation of 'a girl' by the Crossroads mercenaries, that was impressive. "I am sure." Ellie replied, moving with a graceful stride that looked unhurried until you realised that she was eating up the yards. "I prefer not to repeat myself overmuch, Major Taggart." she offered by way of explanation, throwing him another glance. There wasn't really much the soldier could say to that - technically Ellie the Alien was Annette's guest, by way of being Devin's friend, and Taggart's authority over her was strictly limited to ensuring she didn't cause or come to any harm. He was certain she found it somewhat amusing to be protected by 'merely human' guards, too - there was an element of amused condescension that, though never overtly expressed, Taggart was positive existed behind the ageless steel-hued eyes. Almost positive, anyway. She was as hard to read as the Bannon kid. "How did it go?" Annette asked as they entered her office, looking up from her desktop holo-terminal as Ellie moved without being invited to sit in one of the comfortable chairs, crossing one leg over the other without much apparent regard for the shortness of the sundress. "We shall have to get you some more clothes today, too." Annette noted. "Devin's friends recommend a place called Good Will." Ellie responded with a shrug. Annette considered. "I think we can do a little better than that. Great Falls isn't Milan, but there are clothes stores there so you can blend in with the locals a little better." she noted with an appraising gaze. Taggart cleared his throat, and the elegant brunette smiled mischievously. "However, before I take a day off to take you shopping..." "He is Teulu." Ellie stated calmly. "That is what you wanted me to find out, yes? You could see and hear what was being said, so the only reason you would be asking me anything is to determine whether or not Jason is of my people. He is." "How sure are you?" Taggart asked, now taking a seat as they got down to business. "He could just be a human psychopath. In fact, that's what he even told us he was." "Then he believed that to be the case at the time." Ellie responded. "Evidently he's learned differently. As for how sure I am: very. A wolf raised amongst dogs is still a wolf." "But his father is human." Annette noted, picking up a pen and fidgeting with it. Ellie nodded. "Then his mother is not." The Teulu girl replied. "There are no 'half-breeds'. Our genetics will always be dominant - the offspring of a human and a Teulu will be Teulu." "Great." Taggart sighed. "The psychokinetic is an alien killing machine." "Born here, raised here. He is more alien to me than to you." Ellie stated. "He has the instincts but not the training to best employ them. His instincts prevented his death at the hands of those two clumsy killers, but he failed to recognise the ambush until it was almost too late. If he had not been a Radiant, he would be dead." She shrugged eloquently. "It is not a mistake a grown male of my people would make. He is too human." "He's only a teen, though." Annette glanced from Ellie to Taggart, then back again as she toyed with the pen. "And the ambush wasn't as clumsy as you think." Taggart put in. "They were posing as officers of the law - hell, technically they are. There's a cultural imperative here to cooperate if such a person demands it, an implication of trust of the authority they represent." Ellie considered this. "As I said: too human." she said at length, shaking her head. "There is no such imperative for us. The only imperatives are the good of the pride and the clan. No stranger can simply walk up to a Teulu, proclaim their authority, and demand compliance or trust." She smirked faintly. "As amusing as such a sight would be." "Cultural insights aside..." Annette leaned forwards, clasping her hands on the desk. "I'm fairly certain that young Mister Bannon will be a lot more wary from now on. What about the others? What were your impressions?" "Devin's twin has an ill temperament, and does not like me." Ellie shrugged. "Doubtless she likes few females, especially ones close to her brother. Teulu sisters are similarly protective. The seer, Cassandra, is rude. Full of questions, which she fires off like arrows at a foe. The life-witch, Autumn, seems friendly - and fond of Jason, as he is fond of her." "And is that a bad thing?" Taggart asked intently. "It is a thing." Ellie answered smiling faintly, a cryptic amusement in her expression. "I am curious as to whether they are sexually active." She appeared to ignore the discomfort the two human adults evinced at her out loud musing. "I would say they are, given their closeness." "Not really our business." Taggart muttered. Ellie threw him an amused glance, one eyebrow raised. "The one called Sean was largely silent, at least until he tried to barter with me for my people's technological secrets." she went on, returning her gaze to Annette. "Also rude, considering I saved his pride-mate's life and that Devin had already freely offered to aid me." "Right." Annette nodded. "Now, the million dollar question - by which I mean a question which is very important... Are we going to have a civil war on our hands given the revelations Cassandra Allen kicked up? Will Jason take violent action against Marissa?" "How should I know?" Ellie asked with a shrug. "I don't know either of them very well, nor do I know the details of the situation." "You know Teulu. What would your people do in such a situation?" "For a pride-mate to betray the trust of the others - if that is what happened - I suppose it is one of the closest things we have to a 'sin'." Ellie's voice was contemplative. "But to kill a pride-mate is also terrible. It's not just cultural - it's instinctual. Even if Jason no longer considers Marissa one of his friends, so long as he considers Devin to be one there is unlikely to be violence." "In short, you don't really know, but you don't think it'll get messy." Taggart said. Ellie considered that, then nodded. "Yes. Unpleasant and tense, but not violent." = = = = = = = "You didn't have to walk me to school." Autumn said, not really complaining. After the events of the morning, it was kind of nice to walk along with Jase in the sunshine, her hand in his, their fingers entwined. "Probably not." Jason allowed, sharp emerald eyes pausing their study of passing cars and their surroundings to glance at her. "But I wanted to anyway." "Not gonna argue." Autumn grinned back, the sunlight shining in her blue eyes as she impulsively looped her arm through his and resisting the urge to slow down, perhaps to stop off in an idyllic spot, run her fingers through his hair and-. It wasn't a very long walk, after all - maybe fifteen minutes or so - and she knew Jase would be going back to the medical center afterwards. "So Hank's going to bring your car and stuff to Marias?" "Mmhmm." Jason nodded. "Then I'll be at home the rest of the day. I'll text you when I get my phone back." "Good." Autumn looked up at his profile as he resumed his watchfulness, studying the scar on his cheek and how the ends of his hair brushed it, then sighed as she saw the school grounds start to come into view down the road. "Ugh. That walk was too short." "It was." Jason agreed, smiling faintly as he slowed to a stop, turning towards her. "I'll leave you here - don't really want to be seen by a faculty member and have to answer a dozen tedious questions." "Right." The energetic redhead rocked up on her toes, then onto her heels as she tucked her hands into her back pockets and gazed up at his face, noting the way he seemed to be similarly studying her. "So I'll see you- umph" The kiss was sudden, though in retrospect should not have been unexpected, and Autumn's hands shot up and around Jason's shoulders to steady herself as he stepped into her, his lips seeking hers almost hungrily. Lazy heat uncoiled in her belly, arcs of golden lightning energising her nerves as she felt the brush of his Shine on hers, felt the vigorous, vital life of him pulse under her touch, reading his desire almost subconsciously in the dance of chemicals and the surge in his pulse. And then the time for assessment was past, her hands sliding up to lock into his hair as she kissed him back, pressing against the unyielding angular hardness of his lean form. His hands rested on her hips, exerting just enough pressure to keep her close as their mouths and tongues danced together for a long, searing moment. "...later." Autumn breathed as their lips parted, aware of the heat in her cheeks and the tingling of her lips. Dear God... Even his goodbye-for-now kisses were enough to steal the breath from her, though she took some gratification from the darkness of desire evident in Jason's eyes - and other signals of his interest. Refusing to look down, for fear she'd simply drag him into some nearby secluded bushes, she smiled up at him. "Definitely." he replied, giving her another kiss, this one more brief and gentle than the first. "Let me know how it goes today?" "I will." she nodded, sobering a little as she recalled her not-quite-pledge to help Cassandra out. With some reluctance on both sides, the two teens disengaged and stepped apart. "Be safe." she told her impossible Effing Boyfriend with another smile. "I will." he said soberly, before turning and heading back the way they'd come. With a sigh and a straightening of her shoulders, Autumn turned and headed to school. = = = = = = = Jason wasn't really sure this was safe, per se. Though he was reasonably confident that it wasn't dangerous, he wasn't one hundred percent certain. But then, whilst absolute certainty was nice, waiting for it meant that nothing would ever happen. Sometimes, like with kissing girls, one had to take chances. Sometimes you got a Marissa, sometimes you got an Autumn. It'd be a shame to miss out on the latter for fear of the former. He'd met Hank outside, the gruff former Marine handing over his car keys and his satchel before clapping his young friend on the shoulder and heading back to the farm. Jase told him he'd be along soon - he needed to sort some things out. Marias Medical Center was a big place, the size of a city hospital, vastly larger than Shelly or even Toole County required. But Jase remembered last week, and the route Taggart's men had taken escorting the Fellowship down to the complex beneath the medical center, and so he found his way to a distant store-room, shelves half empty but surprisingly dust-free. This, then, was the place he remembered. There was at least one other elevator down to the complex - but that was Cook's private one, in an office in a more populated part of the medical center, with a code lock that had probably been changed. "I know you know I'm here." he said in a conversational tone, looking around the vacant room. "I want to talk to Ms Giles, and I'd prefer to do so by invitation rather than the other way." There was silence for a long moment. Jason waited as the seconds ticked past into minutes, deciding that five minutes would be long enough for them to answer him, one way or the other. It took two. The far wall of the storage room emitted a grinding sound and slid up, revealing a large freight-sized elevator with a gleaming metal panel interior. Taking a moment to sheathe himself in an imperceptible glove of force, Jason stepped in, turning to face the door as it slid shut and the elevator began it's descent...
  24. "Hey, Kat." Autumn greeted the latecomer, smiling briefly if genuinely at her. There was an air of pensiveness over the redhead's mood as she sat on the bed's edge, fingers entwined with Jase's as she glanced at his profile, then at Kat, before shrugging and looking out of the window. "You, uh, missed a lot." The youth in the bed nodded agreement with her, cold jade eyes resting on the petite girl. "Thank you for coming, in any case." he said politely, gesturing to a chair. "You look more exhausted than I am. Have a seat." "Thanks." Kat said gratefully as she sank into one of the room's chairs, her eyes fixed on the bullet scars on Jase's chest and face. They looked like old scars, but that would be down to Autumn's miracle-working, she was sure. Christ, how bad had it been? "Uh, sorry." she stammered, suddenly realising she was staring at another person's boyfriend's torso. "It's just... Wow." she said, indicating his chest, then blushed as she realised how that could be taken. "I mean, that looks like it hurt." "It did." Jase nodded. "I'm lucky to have friends - Autumn and Devin saved my life." There was an oddness to the way he said 'friends', some subharmonic that Kat wasn't sure of the source of, but it made Autumn glanced at his profile again, biting on the edge of her lower lip worriedly even as she gave his hand in hers a slight squeeze. "So what happened?" Kat asked, leaning forward in her seat. Jase gave her a brief accounting of the events so far this morning, leaving out the revelations of Cassandra's oracular abilities which had taken place just before Kat's arrival - for a couple of reasons. One being that, logically, there was no direct proof that Marissa had had a hand in the murder attempt. There was circumstantial evidence up the ass, but that's all it was right now, and poisoning someone unnecessarily against Marissa wouldn't help anything. The other main reason was that Kat was a newcomer to the dramas and tensions of the Fellowship. Though she shared danger alongside them, and Jason appreciated that she was swimming well after having been thrown in the deep end, there was little personal stake for her here as yet. He certainly didn't care to embroil her in whatever shit-tornado was brewing between Marissa and himself - more than half the Fellowship were already involved. So he told of being pulled over, of the guy in the gloves and getting shot, of the woman checking to see he was dead, of dealing with them and making the decision to leave them alive to question. "...and then I blacked out. I came around briefly when Devin slapped me awake, but not for long. Then I woke up in the ambulance just as we were getting here." he finished. "Since when it's been a circus." Autumn added, wrinkling her nose. "Lots of questions, all the same, and that's the third time I've heard that story." she said with a faint smile. "Seriously, though, thanks for showing up. You look like-" "Yeah, I look like shit." Kat agreed bluntly. "Feel like shit too. "Who feels like shit?" came a gruff voice from the doorway as Hank stepped into the room, closely followed by Gar, Jase's dad, carrying a backpack on one shoulder. Hank paused, looking at the petite French girl in the chair. "Girl, you look like-" "I know." Kat said indignantly, scowling at the grizzled older man. "Late night last night. Fighting demons and stuff." She stood up, brushing ineffectively at her vest. Nothing was going to make it work with the ensemble. "Anyway, that's my cue. I'm gonna head out, try to find either breakfast or a bed." she told her... Friends? Fellows? "I'm glad you're okay, Jase." "Thanks again for coming." he replied calmly. She smiled, giving him a final once-over as she let herself out of the room. "I'll let you guys have some time." Autumn said, sliding to her feet and reluctantly disentangling her hand from Jason's, only for Gar to set down his backpack and enfold her in a hug. "Thank you." he muttered. "Thank you for-" "It's fine." Autumn managed to return the hug, smiling despite the situation. "Seriously. It's fine." "Because of you it's fine." Gar gently disengaged, his eyes full. "You don't have to leave, you know." "No, that's okay. Going to let my dad know not to wait on me here. Besides, Jase will need to get dressed." The redhead smiled as she looked over at the boy in the bed. Hank snickered, and opened his mouth as if to say something, but both the older and younger Bannon fixed the former Marine with a stare, and he shrugged and sat down as though he'd never even considered a ribald remark. Autumn fought the urge to grin and glanced at Jason once more. "Don't forget we've got a breakfast date to keep." "I packed some stuff and a thermos, as requested." Gar said, patting the backpack. "We'll leave you two to enjoy it in a bit." "Thanks." Autumn gave the older Bannon another quick hug, then slipped out into the corridor, breathing a sigh of something like relief. She wasn't sure she felt like sitting through another recounting of the morning's attack so soon, and of course Gar and Hank would want to know what happened. Settling herself and taking a breath, she let it out and went to find her dad.
  25. "After saving Devin in the Blight, I put my bracelet on him to protect him from its energies so I could take him home." Ellie explained, lifting her leanly-muscled left forearm to show a familiar coppery-gold band around her wrist. "He then disappeared - which is when I realised he must be a Radiant." "A what now?" Autumn asked, even as Marissa interjected "Wait, take him home?" "Those who can fully draw on the Radiance - what Annette tells me you call 'Shine'." Ellie explained to Autumn, her gaze studying the way the redhead was sat comfortably close to Jason on the bed's edge. "Beings of power. And yes, my original intent was to take Devin to my home. He is brave, has wit, and is handsome." she said as she switched her gaze to Marissa. "He would be a fine catch, whether for myself or for some other female. That is changed now, of course. He is a Radiant, not merely human." She shrugged artlessly, indicating them all. "Like yourselves, he is superior." "See? Superior." Devin grinned broadly, winking at Jase and Autumn. Jase smiled very slightly, and Autumn just rolled her eyes at the teleporter, the pale fingers of one hand lightly toying with the ends of Jase's now-clean hair where it brushed his neck. "Great." Marissa said through pursed lips. It was uncertain whether she was trying not to scowl or smirk. "Now my idiot brother has a groupie from... Where are you from, exactly?" "We commonly call it El." The slender blonde replied, her gaze unwavering. "Though the old name for it is Teir fa Thunn. It is where the Radiants of old placed us when they discovered our creation by two of their number." "The Trickster and the Huntsman." Jason's quiet voice replied. Ellie glanced at him appraisingly, and nodded. "So, you know something of our history." she stated, considering him. "Some of it." Jase replied, shrugging. "Its all new to me still." Grey eyes locked with green for a long moment before Ellie nodded, slowly, then looked at Devin. "So you were telling the truth." she said quietly to the teleporter, glancing at Jase once more. "Interesting." "Ahem." Marissa interrupted. "Eyes off my bestie's boy toy, Ellie. You've still not covered why you're still here." "Without my bracelet, I was lost." Ellie returned her gaze to Marissa as though the odd interlude had never happened. "I wandered through the Blight until I came to an opening. I emerged into a place inhabited by many of your warriors - whom Annette tells me are mercenaries - called 'Site B'. I decided to allow them to capture me, figuring that they would treat me as an attractive human female and not a Teulu warrior. They were studying the entrance to the Blight, and other things too. Technology that I recognised as being of Radiant origin. As expected, the males they had guarding me were fools. I escaped, though I had to leave my equipment behind, and homed in on the call of my bracelet which Devin was still wearing. I found Devin yesterday, before your great battle. Annette has been offering me shelter whilst I tell her what I saw of the interior of Site B." She paused then, looking down at the simple sundress she was wearing, then at the clothing of the two girls present. "This dress seemed appropriate for the end of summer festival yesterday, but I find what you are both wearing to be more practical." she noted, tilting her head to one side and examining the brunette and the redhead intently. "If, as Devin asks, you can assist, you would have my gratitude. This dress has no pockets." She made a small micro-expression of disapproval. "Do human females not like pockets?"
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