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Everything posted by Bannon

  1. "Thank you." A few gazes turned to Jase, who's eyes had now opened and were swiveling towards Mrs Allen as the slender youth sat up, swinging his legs off the side of the examination bed and perching on the edge staring at Teresa like a bright-eyed young falcon - albeit one in torn army surplus clothing covered in blood, soot and gods-knew-what else. "Seriously. Thank you, Mrs Allen." he said with an incline of his head towards Cassie's mother. "A levelheaded response, absent of hysterics, finger-wagging, disapproval or 'what is this I cannot even'." He smiled slightly under the layer of grime on his face. "It's plain to see where Cassandra gets her centered forthrightness from." He gestured at the blonde girl that the older woman still had her arm around. "You should be proud of her. Without Cassie, we wouldn't have been able to find the enemy, or how to get to it, or known how to defeat it. She saved lives - not just ours, but countless others who would have suffered if we'd failed." The green laser of his gaze swung to Devin's father. "And you and Misti should be proud, Carl. Devin and Marissa were fucking champions out there. Devin got us there and back again under the worst of conditions, and when we were in that place his first thought was to save the helpless, to rescue Sophia and Tawny, and with them secured he then pitched in to fight an enemy that could have ripped him in two with ease. He didn't fuck up, he didn't hesitate." Heedless of his wounded leg, the lean teenager stood up and limped over to his backpack, rummaging around in it as he spoke. "And Marissa? She used herself as bait, distracted the enemy so the rest of us could do what we needed to do. She fought shoulder to shoulder with us." He straightened and turned back around, a couple of MRE packs in his hands as he limped back to the bed. "Devin... Marissa... Cassie... Cade... Sean... Kat... Autumn. All of us went out and kicked ass." he said forcefully as he glared around at the adults present, zero fucks evident in the icy depths of his gaze. "We might be your offspring, but stop thinking of us as 'kids'. Because none of you, and no-one you can name, could have done what we did today, and until Mrs Allen all I've been hearing is irrelevant, incredulous and frankly ungrateful bleating." In the silence that followed he ripped open the two MRE packs, smaller packages extracting themselves and floating into the air around him in a loose orbit. He looked pointedly at his friends, his chosen family... his pride. "Who wants pizza? It's MRE pizza, but hell, it's pepperoni, cheese and carbs." He gave them a crooked smile. "I'll save a couple of pieces for Autumn and Marissa when they get back."
  2. "Devin's ability re-writes conventional understanding of spatial physics." Jason said quietly from nearby. The lean, angular genius was sitting on the edge of an examination bed, his cool green eyes on Carl as he spoke. "In fact, as far as I can tell it's also unique to him. We all tap into a theoretical sub-quantum strata of energy, but Devin is the only one that travels down into and through that layer. Or can send or retrieve objects and people through it." "Sub-quantum strata, huh?" Carl's expression was of a man who didn't quite understand the words being used, but understood their import. He glanced from Jase to Devin, who shrugged slightly. "That's our working theory." Jase nodded. "A layer of reality where time, space, and thought are as tangible and subject to manipulation as matter and energy are on our layer, connecting everything that exists together. We-" he indicated the Fellowship "-are all connected to it, and through it, and draw on it to do what we can do." He paused. "That's as far as I've gotten with the theory. I've not really had the time or the equipment to test the particulars, so it's only a hypothetical right now. But the concept is solid, and also provides the Grand Unifying Force that conventional physics is missing." "Right." Carl blinked several times, nodding slowly. Not a stupid man by any measure, his areas of expertise were finance and people rather than hard sciences, but he was a man of the world and had seen enough Discovery Channel specials to at least grasp the basics. He turned back to his progeny, smiling a little bemusedly, his expression clearly asking 'is this guy real?' "Don't engage him, dad." Marissa said from the comfort of Devin's hug. "Give him an inch and he'll ruin string cheese, cancel Christmas, and spoil all the Harry Potter books in one go." "Dumbledore dies." Jase deadpanned to the snickering of several of the other teens as Marissa affected a horrified gasp of betrayal and hurt. Smiling very faintly, the shaggy-haired youth leaned back and watched the room. People's parents were filtering into the room now that the docs were letting them, and the people-watching opportunity was too great to pass up. This was a new situation, after all. He'd never seen Misti act in any other way than the pleasant, smiling substitute teacher and part-time administrator, and to see the Twins actually cowed as she raged at them was... unusual. It didn't fit right, in his self-admittedly slight understanding of human behaviour. Misti was being completely unreasonable and domineering, though Carl's explanation that she was under stress and frightened certainly explained that. Was the Twins reaction simply one of ingrained filial duty? A result of being too tired to openly fight right now? It couldn't be genuine fear, surely: after what he had seen Devin and Marissa both endure and face down, an angry middle aged woman hardly measured up. He considered that. If Gar became angry at him, or sought to punish him for some perceived misdeed that was in fact not a misdeed, how would he react? Would he endure the punishment out of respect? Would he tolerate unfairly placed and emotionally driven restrictions on his comings and goings, or for Gar to take away his car? Probably not, he surmised. Not if he hadn't committed some genuine transgression against previously understood rules. For example, Gar was strict about smoking in the house. If Jason smoked inside and had been caught, he would accept that Gar had a place to punish him. He reflected then that his father placed very few restrictions or expectations on him, compared to the parents of his fellows. Keep clean, tidy your things away, don't smoke in the house, don't get into trouble at school. Other than that, as Misti had implied in the car, Jason had been more or less allowed to grow wild. At least some of that was Gar's sense of depression and alcoholism, but even so Jason had always been a low-maintenance child. Largely self-sufficient - show him how to do something and he would do it for himself without complaint or hesitation. It was never necessary to check he had tidied his room, or cleaned up after eating. If he'd needed anything like clothes or food in the refrigerator he would say so. He never needed comfort or reassurance or encouragement. He briefly wondered if that bothered his father at all. Autumn's dad, earlier, obviously trying to protect his daughter, had seemed desperate to be relevant, to matter in the scheme of things in a practical sense. Her mother had perhaps been quicker to accept the situation, but still had felt that urge from what Jase had observed. Did his father also need to be needed? He filed that away. He was coming to understand that the emotional needs of those he cared about were important, and his father was certainly one of those. Compare and contrast Gar to Misti, who demanded perfection in all manner of particulars, who put her children through grueling exercise and performance routines, set standards of personal appearance and comportment, for whom it seemed little was good enough. And the results... Devin, ever-defiant to a fault, who rebelled simply for the act of rebellion itself. And Marissa, outwardly strong, yet at times fragile and had suffered an overdose according to what he'd overheard. There was no judgement in Jase's thoughts regarding the Jauntsen twins. They were products of their environment, much as he was. He did understand a little more why Devin had spoken well of Gar, last Thursday at the farm. After the hectic demanding enforced perfection of the Jauntsen household, the laid-back still waters of the Bannon Farm must have seemed a sanctuary. And then, somewhere between the extremes, there were the others. Autumn's mom, Sean's family, warmly nurturing and yes, also with certain levels of rules and expectations. Involved in their children's lives to a level that Jason, used as he was to self-direction, might have found stifling, yet they seemed happy and loving even when irate with their kids. He wondered how the other's parents would behave. So he sat back and watched, his cool calm gaze assessing what was going on from his dirt and soot-smudged features.
  3. Jase was soberly regarding the ruins of his sole remaining rolled cigarette as she approached, his pale jade eyes flicking to Autumn as he gave her a slight smile before he let out a soft sigh and held up the blood-soaked, crumpled ruin. "It was in the outer pocket of my combat pants." he stated matter-of-factly, indicating the leg Autumn had recently tended to. "Ahh, well." The roll-up went up in a small puff of incineration, fragrant smoke rising for an instant in the air before being whisked away by the breeze. He turned to her, still favouring the damaged leg a little, and smiled once more. "Everyone alright?" "Mostly. I'll be happier when Sophia and Tawny get checked out. I'm not a proper doctor or anything." Autumn admitted, looking up into the green pools of his gaze. "How's Dana doing?" he asked quietly, his eyes still on her face in that intent way he had. Autumn ignored the prickling at the corners of her eyes and smiled at him. "She's fine. Said to remind you that you said you'd bring me home." she said in a tone that contained a hint of their usual playful banter. He nodded somberly. "That I did. Once we get everyone to the med center and checked out, I'll do just that." he replied, glancing at the other teens for a moment before looking back into her eyes. Autumn remembered why she'd approached him, then, shaking off the spell of his nearness. "Oh, hey. You've got a survival blanket, right? Tawny has mine, and Sophia is going to need one-" she had barely gotten the words out before a zip in the side of Jason's go-bag was opened and the slim packet containing the thermal blanket emerged, floating to hang in the air in front of her. She grabbed it, flashing him a grin that was less subdued, her freckled nose crinkling adorably. "You're awesome." Stepping closer for a moment, the redhead kissed her boyfriend's cheek and turned, hurrying back over to her recumbent patient. Jason watched her for a moment, observing her tugging the thermal blanket from it's wrapping and kneeling down to fold it around Sophia, before he turned away. His leg hurt, his head ached from power strain. The weariness of the post-adrenaline crash was on him and he slowly sank down to sit in the long grass, looking out over Shelly as he tugged his phone from another pocket of his backpack. The number was dialed. "Dad. It's me." He watched the distant lights, noting the scarcity of moving ones denoting cars as he spoke. "We won." A pause, then. "Just tired, mostly. Some scrapes, a cut on my leg that is already healing thanks to Autumn." His nose wrinkled a little. "And I stink of unmentionable stuff." There was another pause, Jase's eyes distant as he listened. "We're all fine. We kind of came out in the middle of nowhere outside town, but Carl and Misti Jauntsen are coming to pick us up and take us to the med center. No, you don't need to come down there." He pictured the chaos that would likely be taking place soon, parents and cops trying to figure out what was going on whilst medics tried to do their jobs. He shrugged off his go-bag and leaned back in the grass, looking up at the peaceful-seeming stars overhead, part of his mind cataloguing the constellations he could see. "It's going to be a circus - people yelling and getting excited. As soon as I can, I'll be home." Yet another pause, and he reflected on the question this time. "It could have gone a lot worse. We all did well. And no, the Tree isn't going to be a problem in Shelly any more. Not saying there's no Darkness left, but it's rudderless. Cleanup can wait a little." He smiled just a fraction, then. "I will, yes. I love you too. See you soon." Hanging up and letting the phone sit on his chest, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath of the still-warm evening air, folding his hands behind his head as he relaxed. It was a lovely evening, after all.
  4. Jason knew what was happening to him. Teulu did not have a flight reflex: they lacked the capacity for fear, and in it's place was a redoubled inclination to fight, to kill. Abstractly, the wryly logical portion of his mind, that dry observer that catalogued all with merciless self-awareness, informed him of all of this. But it was one thing to know what was happening, and another to feel it in a way that was immediate and near-overpowering. His veins sang, the music primal and intoxicating as the adrenaline of combat worked it's euphoric magic on his alien neurochemistry. The fire burning in his soul right now was similar to the flame kindled in the kiss of the copper-tressed girl behind him in temperature, it's edge was as savagely joyous, yet the focus and purpose of the flame was entirely different. Almost without his noting it, Jase's lips peeled back from his teeth in a soundless laugh. His enemies were in front of him. It didn't matter to him that they were hideous mockeries of twisted life. It didn't matter to him that they might overwhelm him. There was only the pure, wild amoral joy of combat. He was Flame and Destruction incarnate right now, the roar of the power he was channeling loud in his ears and mind. He was... Putting his friends at risk. He fought down the killing laughter that had been threatening to bubble up from his throat and ring across the blighted battlefield as he glanced back to reaffirm what his kinetic awareness of his surroundings already told him. Almost everyone was clustered together, Autumn looking at him, Sophia's limp form draped across her shoulders. Still wreathed in flame, he glanced over at Sean, who was wide-eyed at the approach of the horde, already taking his first steps towards the others. Time to run. He turned and ran fleet-footed, a lean wraith limned in flames seeming to skim above the grisly soil of the glade, so lightly did his feet touch down. He hurdled a small pool, wove around a larger one, and arrived at the base of the hillock upon which the throne rested. Skidding to a stop, he gave everyone a quick, searching glance before turning to watch his oldest friend's progress with something akin to concern. Sean was many fine things, but a foot-racer was not one of them.
  5. The bruises from Devin's attacks were stinging fly bites, made all the more galling by the fact that Cody could. Not. SWAT. HIM. The transformed teen flailed at his tormentor with curses drooling from his lipless mouth, until a sudden presentiment - or perhaps, the yammering of the older, more experienced voice of Araun - brought him up short, eyes widening as the fire-wreathed figure nearby took another step forward. Bannon's eyes were blazing slits of green flame, his lips pulled back from his teeth in a rictus grin of pain and effort as blood oozed from his nose in twin streams. And as the air about Cody suddenly warmed, steam rising from the pool of rot he stood astride, both troubled sociopathic teen and elder consciousness finally realised they they had been played. By Devin, by Coyote, by their own hubris and pride, by treating these young shards of Radiance as prey to play with and devour rather than true threats to be neutralised. The two Devins that had distracted him both shot Jason a thumbs-up as they vanished, grim smiles on their lips. The fiery tornado formed above the cloud of swarming creatures, a swirl of destructive flame that leapt downwards, incinerating the foul mockeries of insect life before smiting down full upon Cody with punishing force, driving him into a crouch as the pool and the layers of bone and soil vaporised in the blast. Those in the glade felt the heat of it from across it's breadth, as though a furnace door had opened in their faces. Cody screamed, the wail of pain rising above the roar of the firestorm as claws of sentient flame sought him out and ripped at his body, tearing the last shreds of vitality from him. The scream cut off. Dimly, very dimly through the blaze, the spindly figure could be seen to rear up and waver before falling apart into ashes which were whisked up into the funnel of the firenado. Though only Autumn could sense the life - miserable and corrupted as it was - end, all present felt a lessening in the oppressive corruption around them. The buzzing, greasy sensation was still there, but it's avatar was no more. And the Tree felt it. The ground rumbled, the black nightmarish trunk of the thing which looked like a tree but was not writhing against the sullen red sky. Those nearest the Throne felt it first, a malevolence, centered on the skull, emanating and growing in strength. Cody was dead, but something that had possessed and empowered him was very much present, seeming to glare at them through empty sockets. Behind the Throne, root-like tendrils erupted from the ground, slowly tearing themselves free from the gory earth, and the buzz of Corruption which had faded with Cody's death began to grow once more. Cassie saw what would happen now, saw it as clearly as if it were written in stone. The spirit in the skull was unleashing the Tree against them. It would devour them all - their powers would not stand against it. And then it would break free into the 'real' world, bringing the Blight into downtown Shelly, turning Shelly into the Blight. Which would grow, unstoppable, turning everything living into monstrosities who would prey on each other, until the world was a Blight. The Tree could not be defeated. Not while the skull existed. And nothing could damage the skull. Not fire, not impact. Nothing could damage it... but it could be unmade. Unraveled. She saw a flash then, a memory of a tractor plough at the Bannon farm, old and broken, being made whole again...
  6. "Yes." Jason's voice was quiet, almost unheard beneath the furor of the corrupted glade as the straight-backed youth stepped swiftly but surely to one side of Sean's laser walls. As Not-Cody snarled his pain and flinched away from the orbiting bead of stinging red light, baring it's teeth in pained menace, Jason's pale emerald stare rested on the creature that had once been Cody and once been a god, and now was neither, as he lifted his arms away from his sides almost as though about to bestow a benediction. His voice was still soft as the firefly motes of copper and gold in the depths of his gaze danced. "Burn." His words had been soft, unnoticed. What came next was neither. Brilliant gold so bright as to be almost white, the aura of his power surged into being around his lean form in a pillar of flame, casting every object in the glade into sharp relief, the shadows themselves flinching back as searing pinions of fire leapt from his arms, reaching out and forward in a sweeping crackling wave of destruction. Shallow pools of rotted blood flash-boiled into the air, the surface layers of bone were reduced to ash as the purifying, terrifying tsunami descended on the howling beast that was their target. The rags of Cody's clothing and hair disappeared into smoke and ash, his flesh charring and blackening awfully in the wake of the attack, which as it receded left the creature of the Dark thrashing at his burning arm, screaming in pain and fear and rage as he cowered from the blazing figure that was staring at him implacably. Cody's mind was chaotic. He wanted to put the fires out, he wanted to punish Cassidy and Bannon and the Jauntsens. But the rage was tinged with fear now. He had been hurt, not once but twice, and badly. A beast at bay, he snarled at them all, a note of confusion now in his defiance. This was not how it was supposed to go! They were supposed to be the afraid ones! Dimly he could hear the older, wiser voice, but it's words seemed unimportant, distant as he glared with smoldering red sunken eyes at his tormentors.
  7. The portal hung before them in the air, the purple hues of Devin's energy mingling with the sullen dark red of what lay beyond. They could all feel it, that unnatural presence, that seeping, creeping wrongness that had several times now reached out to try and claim them. It should have filled their veins with ice, stolen their will to do anything other than flee or curl up into a ball and hope not to be noticed, sapped their connection to their Shine. But as that presence wreathed around them, something pushed it back. It was Marissa who noticed it first, a faint vibration around her wrist, a tingle of warmth. Tearing her gaze from the portal in front of her she glanced down, her pretty dark eyes widening at what they saw. "Guys..?" Whether it was her tone - one of wonder and hope in the midst of this horror - or some sympathetic vibration as they each became aware of the same sensation around their wrists, each of the Fellowship looked down. The bracelets were shining - no, they were Shining. The gold-like material, ancient beyond easy reckoning, was suffused with a glow that warmed, reassured, drove back the Dark as it reacted with the teen's own Radiance. Devin felt expended strength seep back into him, slowly but surely, as the artifacts billed as 'protections for warriors' hummed in silent unison with one another. The teens became aware of an acute connection to each other, something only before experienced during the exercises of attuning to one another at the farm. In that curious extra sense they all possessed, they each felt Devin's rebellious flickering energy, Autumn's restless vitality, Marissa's untapped depths of true strength, Cassandra's questing, seeking flow, Jason's focused, harnessed fire, directed through the cold prism of his mind, Cade's stoic fortitude, the deep waters that ran still, Sean's brilliant patterns of endless fractals, Kat's formless urge to create and discover. There was no need for words. Jason stepped forward and helped Devin to his feet with one arm, the two young men exchanging a nod before turning to face the portal. The air around each of the Fellowship shimmered, blurred slightly, as they felt Jason's power reach out and envelope them all, protective shields of force that should, in theory, turn aside the worst of blows. As one, the teleporter and the psychokinetic squared their shoulders and moved to step through the portal.
  8. "Cade and Sean have their cars, Marissa has hers, I have mine, and Devin has his bike." Jason spoke up quietly from where he was sitting on the picnic table, a lit cigarette idly dangling from the corner of his mouth, smooth fragrant tobacco smoke a hint in the evening air as he watched everyone in that calm, intent way he had. He turned his gaze on Autumn, shrugging. "We might as well just head to the Old Town Hall in convoy - it isn't far - and it means we can take the bags with us without causing much comment." As he spoke, he slid from the table and hefted a strap of his own go-bag onto one shoulder, glancing around at the others, glacial eyes studying them all. It was hard for those unfamiliar with him to say what thoughts moved behind that inscrutable, somehow ageless stare. But those more attuned to the differences and variations in Jason Bannon's moods could see in the depths of the green pools of his gaze a gleam that denoted banked embers of rage, a terrible eagerness merely awaiting oxygen... And something to burn. "Is everyone ready?" he asked, moving to Autumn's side as she released and stepped back from her embrace with her friend. = = = = = = Tawny didn't remember much of how she got here. There had been the sensation of being seized, and then a terrible wrenching, sickening sensation like... like falling backwards into water and feeling it go up your nose, but a thousand times worse. She guessed she must have sort of passed out, because then there was just dimly-remembered sensations of being carried like a sack of potatoes over a large, bony shoulder through a bitingly cold, foul-smelling darkness filled with chittering, whispering things. It was the muttering that brought her back to herself: a voice both familiar and not talking - no, arguing in a hoarse, glottal tone with someone or something that could not be heard. The pretty blonde girl blinked, taking stock of the slick wet sensation under her hands and bare legs. Going by touch alone, it felt like she was in an inch or so of water, interspersed with lumpy, uncomfortable protrusions. From beyond her closed eyelids came a reddish, dull glow. "You promised. You said I could have them. All the girls I wanted!" There was a yearning, gnawing wheedling sense to the voice. But Tawny recognised it despite the inhuman undertones. God save her, she recognised the voice: Cody. "This one too! She is Devin's! I want her, just like I want all that is his!" The muttering rose to a shriek on that last sentence, then fell away into murmurs again. "Jauntsens, and Bannon, and all of them. I will take what is theirs. Like they took from me. Make them small, make them afraid." Tawny sat up and opened her eyes, and fought the simultaneous urge to close them again and retch. She was sitting in blood. Thick, cold and viscous, it oozed around her, staining her sneakers and hands, seeping into her shorts. She'd been laying in the foul stuff, clotted and rotting, with lumps of bone and... well, best not to look to closely. She bit back the scream that threatened to tear itself from her throat and forced her gaze upwards. The landscape was bones, bones and blood, with a red sky that pulsed with dull light. Almost directly ahead of her was a throne built of aged, yellow bones, fitted together like puzzle pieces, held together by God-knew-what, and topped by a giant skull, the antlers of which spread above the throne like a grisly sun-shade. And on the throne was... Cody. Only not Cody. She'd heard the story from Devin and the others. Heard that he'd been changed. But it was one thing to hear and another to see, and all Tawny could do was experience a wave of mingled terror and great pity as she looked upon what Cody had become. Sure, he was always creepy - only Devin's aegis had protected her from the boy's attentions - but this? Surely nobody deserved this. She forced her eyes away from the muttering, arguing figure, unwilling to call it's attention to herself, and looked around. Behind her was the Tree. It was, if anything more horrible than anything else she'd ever seen. So black it appeared to leach light from it's surroundings, the Tree gave the appearance of motion, of hideous slithering life. Whether it was her Shine, or some other instinct, Tawny knew that whereas Cody was a perversion of God's plan, the Tree was from outside that Plan altogether. It was wholly unnatural, a hellish mockery of a growing thing. Under her horrified, fascinated gaze, two of it's 'roots' slowly withdrew themselves from the fetid morass of blood and worse around it's base with a sickening sound, waving gently in the air from side to side, as if scenting fresh prey. Then it was reaching for her, the black tendrils slowly undulating through the air, groping blindly, hungrily. Finally, Tawny was unable to hold back her scream.
  9. Devin nodded, space warping as he disappeared in a muted flash of rippling purple light. They walked on in silence for a short few minutes. Somewhere, inside the jade and crystalline halls of his mind, Jason had been and still was processing the loss of someone who, whilst not a close friend, was nevertheless part of his circle. Someone he'd talked to, who'd talked to him, who he had shared games and snacks and dangerous situations with. A sense of loss, of sudden and wrongful absence was there, but there was little of what would recognisably be called 'sorrow' to a human mind. More keenly was felt the sense of personal failure. He should have checked up on Charlie when the other teen hadn't answered his phone or come to training, that chilly observer told him. Perhaps it would have done no good, but he had been lax regardless. Memories of Charlie flickered across his mental screen: the raid on the Crossroads facility, the time Charlie had tried to reach out to him last Monday... And now Tawny: kind, friendly, peripherally also now a part of his circle. Yes, he felt similarly to Devin. Rage roared and crackled in its chains in his soul, a fire similar to that which had flared to life when Liam had attacked Lona. Someone - something - had killed one and taken another of his people. And would pay in screams. But he was learning, also. His anger was not blinding him completely to what was happening in front of him. He'd noted the flush of anger and the widened eyes of disbelief on the cinnamon-freckled face he spent so much time studying these days. He had spent time in learning to people, analysing context and expressions, and Autumn was an easy subject for such studies. Warmly and openly emotional, every flicker of the flame of her personality could be read in her face. Was now the time to address it? Rationally, it seemed better than letting such feelings fester, and it was not as if there was anything else to do whilst guiding Jacob to safety. "You were not wrong." he said quietly, glancing at Autumn past the youth between them. "I just cannot take the chance that our enemy is waiting for another one of us to be alone and distracted." A pause, then. "Least of all you." Three long, cleansing breaths. Three counts of four on each measured inhalation as she concentrated on the lingering scent of spice-laden smoke from dozens of grills and the bright, sharp fragrance of conifers in the warm afternoon air, followed by a slow, deliberate exhalation. It was fine. Everything was fine. They were just going to take Jacob back, still looking for all the world like he'd just been smashed in the head and thrown against a tree, because he had, somehow convince her family she needed to stay behind instead of going with them where it was safe, and then go plan an assault on a psychotic murderous monster that used to be one of their classmates, try to rescue another classmate before he ate her face, find a way back home, and not die or lose their freaking minds in the middle of all that. It was fine. Everything was fine. Autumn was... Okay, maybe "fine" wasn't the right word for it, she admitted to herself, cutting her eyes past Jacob to where the Effing Boyfriend was helping him take one step at a time. "Cool." She turned her attention back to the field, to the shapes of people and food trucks and cars ahead. "So, I wasn't wrong, but you guys decided to just do what you wanted anyway?" A part of her felt guilty for being upset at something so stupidly trivial, especially when there was so much else to be angry and worried and sad about- but she couldn't pretend not to be, either. "Further planning is superfluous." If Jason was relaxing his vigilance at all now that they were close to 'home', he didn't show it as he resumed scanning the woods. "We have as much of a plan as we can formulate. Get to the location, cross over, take out whatever we find. The key tactical move right now is to minimise any damage we can suffer until we can strike as one. That means pairing up, not leaving anyone exposed, and meeting in one spot before we go after the enemy." His manner was calm, matter-of-fact. "Devin can rally everyone. You were not wrong, but you were not right either." "The only reason I did not address it before is because it meant more standing around rather than acting, and Devin needed to be doing something to keep him focused. That's why I'm discussing it now." He paused for a moment, glancing over at Autumn once more. "It was not my intention to be rude or thoughtless, or imply that your opinion has no weight with me." "You're right." And, she had to admit, he was. Mostly. It was a completely, totally, frustratingly reasonable argument, much like Jason himself. "Devin does need to be doing something. And Devin also could use somebody who isn't freaking out about losing his best friend to a monster to help him do that. He basically just admitted if this Ellie, or whatever, hadn't taken back the bracelet, he'd have done exactly what we assumed and run off like an idiot. He listens to you," she added quietly, her free hand tugging at the end of what had once been a passable braid draped over her shoulder. "So, yeah. You're right, but you're also wrong. Because even if you don't see a need for planning, people can't read your mind, Jase." She was quiet for a moment as they walked, and then conceded with the ghost of a grin, "Not that they would. Or at least not more than once, probably." Sobering again, the redhead continued. "But, still. Ten bucks says everybody's freaking out right now and nobody knows what's going on, and they're all gonna be talking over each other. I think you should've gone with him, and even if you didn't mean to seem like my opinion doesn't matter, it did." Frowning, she glanced back up at Jacob, checking his eyes before focusing on the pale green ones just beyond. "They're more important." "So we are both right, and both wrong." If Jason was ruffled by her statement it didn't show. But he did nod, slowly, his gaze thoughtful for a second as it once more rested on her earnest features. "When there is no clearly logically superior answer, I will come down on the side of protecting those dearest to me." There was another moment's silence as they saw the Keane / Crocker enclave come into view, and the composed youth's lips twitched in a faint smile. "And next time, I will make it plainer that I am not simply dismissing your concerns. That was clumsy and rude, and I apologise for it." "Oh. Well, okay then," was all she said for a few seconds, her expression somewhat mollified as she gazed at the familiar figures ahead: the slim auburn-haired form of her mother, the tall warden in his faded green cap, and her father, perpetually business casual. The sheer act of walking, of moving, had, on its own, dissipated some of the immediacy of her frustration, and he'd apologized, and he'd said he'd handle it differently in the future. If there was a checklist for defusing arguments, she could see him methodically marking off each box as he went... But it worked, she admitted grudgingly. He'd been like this when they'd gone camping, too, though, when she'd gotten embarrassed and upset. Totally reasonable. Totally logical. Totally, and utterly, and- "You're completely impossible," she sighed, admitting defeat. "You know that?" "Yes." he admitted, tone taking on a slight warmth that matched the hint of dimple in his cheeks and the look he gave her as they covered the last of the distance. "I know. You're sort of neat yourself." "'Impossible' isn't a compliment." Autumn replied tartly, fighting the urge to smile again. Damn him, was he distracting her? "I suppose it depends on who I hear it from." Jase responded mildly, but there was no more time for byplay as the adults ahead took notice of the approaching trio and reacted, Dana reaching them moments ahead of Ian and Nathan as they clustered around. "Oh my god!" the pretty vet exclaimed, the color draining from her face as she took in the sight of the boy who'd grown up alongside her own child, his hair and featured dark with drying blood. "Autumn, what-?" Nathan swore under his breath and slipped one arm around his son as the younger redhead stepped aside, her hand leaving a faint smudge on the back of Jay's shirt. "Help me get him to the table where he can sit down." The warden glanced at Jason, eyeing the leanness of the young man supporting Jacob, and nodded toward the denuded picnic table, now stripped of cloth and snacks and drinks. They'd been busy, and had apparently taken the teens' advice about packing up to heart. "He's okay." Autumn murmured to her mother. "He just needs to get cleaned up and get some rest." Dana stared at her for a moment, at the wild disarray of her hair, the remnants of leaf litter and dirt on her legs and her clothes, and the deep reddish-brown stains on her shirt and hands. "I'm serious," she added. "He's got a little bit of a concussion, 'cause I wasn't sure how to deal with that and we were in a hurry, but the big stuff is handled already." She hesitated for a moment, glancing at the wide blue eyes of her father, and then back at her mom. "Like the grass." "Like the grass?" echoed Ian, looking from daughter to wife with a confused expression. The news of another teen's death, and now Jacob, and through it all the vague sensation, strengthening all the time, that his family were keeping something from him, was taking it's toll on the man's patience. "Why is he covered in blood? Why are you covered in blood?! What do you mean 'the big stuff is handled'? Jacob needs a hospital-" "Ian." Dana put a hand on his arm, exerting an effort to keep her own voice calm, especially since the angry husband's voice was raising in volume. "Please. There's a talk we need to have." Meanwhile, Nathan and Jase got Jacob to the table and lowered him to the bench, the keenly observant warden not failing to notice that he barely had to do any of the lifting. As he checked his son's eyes and the wound on his scalp, he looked at the silent, lean shape who stood a little apart, his own attention on the family unit nearby. "What happened?" he asked, and the pale emerald gaze moved back to him. "He was attacked and the girl he was with was taken." Jason's voice was low and quiet. "Autumn got him out of danger with her gifts, we brought him back." He paused, that cold stare assessing the older man. "From what Autumn has said, you know some of what is going on. Our enemy is moving against us. That is why he was attacked and Charlie is gone." "We can have it now," Autumn cut in, hoping she sounded calmer than she felt. "He's covered in blood because he was attacked while he and Tawny were out walking," she explained as succinctly as she could, trying to call to mind the cool, clear focus she felt when Jase's Shine brushed against her own. She avoided entirely the issue of that walk being in the woods, and how exactly she and Jason had found him. Here we go, I guess. "This-" she took in a deep, steadying breath and plucked nervously at her shirt, wincing as, for the first time, she considered what she might actually look like, "is Jay's, not mine, and he doesn't need a hospital because I took care of him." Ian stared at her as though she were speaking some other language than English, something he hadn't studied in college. Was he angry? Hurt? Confused? Yeah, probably, she reasoned, a pang of guilt twisting in her chest. But it was better to just take the Band-Aid off all at once, now that they'd started, rather than try to peel it off a little at a time. ...Did they even have time? Ha. "There's gonna be a lot of bruising over the next few days," she continued, glancing anxiously at her mother, and then back at her dad. Back at the face that had been conspicuous in its absence over the last couple of years, but which also belonged to someone who- she knew- loved her unconditionally despite all that. "And he's probably going to have the worst headache of his life when he finally does get some rest, because he does still have a concussion. But the cut on his head, the swelling and bleeding on his brain, and some of the minor stuff from getting thrown around are all taken care of." Over at the picnic table, Nathan was struggling with questions of his own. Sure he, like Dana had presumed that Jason would be one of the 'special' teens Autumn had hinted at. And he knew there was an enemy, a Darkness over Shelly. But the answers he possessed simply led to more questions, and the silent youth standing there regarding the Keane's once more was not forthcoming with further answers. "So what now? What are you all going to do?" he asked, sitting down beside Jacob and keeping his boy upright, helping him to rest back against the table's edge. Jason looked back at him again, and Nathan was struck again by the composure: that weirdly quiet confidence that belonged on a much older man. "Same plan as before. Only we're moving it up." the youth with ancient eyes responded. "We rescue who we can, avenge who we must, and put the threat down. Or we die trying." "Taken care of how, exactly?" Ian asked warily, studying the freckled features of his dishevelled daughter. Reading people was part of his job, gave him insight into what his clients were thinking and how best to take advantage of that; Autumn was nervous, but she wasn't lying. He'd often teased her about her terrible poker face, but depite the sense of growing unease and his own frustration, a part of him was grateful for at least that one constant. "Because he looks like he's been dragged backwards out of hell and you look like you were the one doing the pulling." "Um." It wasn't exactly an eloquent start, but with her father staring at her like she'd just put a soccer ball through the living room window, it was the best she had. "Okay." Resting her hands atop her head, Autumn fixed her eyes on the realtor and held them there, the rubber soles of her worn sneakers flexing slightly as she shifted her weight from one side to the other. "So, there's a super long story, but basically, I can affect living things. Hurt them, heal them, make them stronger or weaker, things like that. That's how I helped Jay." The wary expression on her father's face fell away, replaced by a mask of utter disbelief. "You're telling me you have magic healing powers." "Kind of?" the restless young woman hedged, her shoulders and elbows twitching upward in something like a shrug. "I mean, at least it's useful, right?" "Right." Ian nodded, turning to regard Dana speculatively. "This is your father's fault," he stated flatly, as his wife's warm, honey-colored eyes widened in outrage. Jason stepped away from where he'd been speaking to Nathan as he registered the shift in tones and body language. The colour leaching from Dana's warm complexion and the way her eyes widened was an indicator that Ian's comment, hardly delivered at a discreet volume, was about to trigger at the very least a blazing argument. In the chilly calculus of Jason's mind not only was this likely to slow things down, but it would also layer additional anxiety and stress onto Autumn at a time when she could not afford distractions. A quick glance around showed that the Keane-Crocker enclave was remote enough that a demonstration would not attract attention, especially now that the word was spreading about Charlie. People were packing up, the festival atmosphere shattered, the Carousel coming to a halt as parents collected their children with hugs, guiltily grateful that they had not suffered the same loss as Lucius and Hannah. Dana's eyes were going from wide with shocked outrage to narrowing in simmering anger. Ian had the look of a man who knew he had spoken in haste and poorly, but didn't know if it could be unsaid and still uncertain as to whether it should be. And Autumn was looking stricken from her father to her mother as Dana brought her hand up in a sharp, blurring half-circle. The slap did not land. Nor did it impact a bruisingly solid force. Rather, something in the air between the two adults stole away the kinetic momentum of the blow and stopped it in mid-air, a few inches from Ian's face. Startled, Autumn's father stepped back a pace as all three Keanes looked at the motionless open hand. "Excuse me." The tone was calm, but carried the faintest of edges as Jason stepped into the circle, not quite between Autumn's parents, standing across from his girlfriend. He held out a hand, palm up, and motes of light coalesced there seconds before a flame sprang up from his palm, dancing golden and orange. He looked at Ian as Dana's hand dropped to her side. "Autumn is telling the truth. And you need to listen." he said into the silence. The girl in question sighed, a heavy sound that faded into a soft groan. Of course, it would be too much to expect that this conversation would go as smoothly the second time around, and they were already running behind. "So, I guess that's one person I don't have to ask permission to talk about," she quipped nervously, her father's face going from angry to ashen in a matter of moments as Dana reached out tentatively toward the flickering flame held captive in Jason's hand. "It's actually warm," she murmured in astonishment, staring at the unblemished skin of his palm. "How?" "The same way I do it," Autumn interjected quietly, hazarding a smile. "It's all energy, sort of, just... He uses it differently. So. Yes, Dad, there are plenty of myths and legends, but a lot of them, especially the ones Grandpa believed, were based on true stories. This is part of the truth they were based on." "Fine," he muttered irritably, passing a hand over his face with a weary sigh. This was not how he'd pictured the day going when they'd started that morning. He'd expected to have to work to get back in his family's good graces, but dealing with whatever insanity this was defied all reason. "Fine. We'll talk about it at home. Let's just finish packing up, and you can tell me all about how this is completely normal and not at all crazy." When Autumn didn't move, but glanced instead at her fire-conjuring boyfriend, a sense of apprehension crept up Ian Keane's spine. "Autumn?" His daughter's eyes widened slightly, brightened as though suddenly wet, and she shook her head. "I'm not going." "Autumn," he repeated firmly. "We don't have time for this." "I know!" Her voice shook, hands slipping from the top of her head as she stared up at the open expanse of blue sky above, its brilliance mocking the grim horrors of the day. "I know we don't have time. Tawny's missing, Charlie's dead, and Jacob was nearly killed. I can't go home with you. Not until we fix this." "Wait." Dana shook her head, turning away from the inscrutable young man to regard her daughter with a frown. "No, no. Wait just a minute, young lady. You said this was happening later." Ian opened his mouth to protest, to demand a clarification, but the pretty vet lifted a hand in warning. "What happened to later, Autumn?" The expressive young redhead looked over at Nathan, at the friend she'd only just found again and almost lost, and swallowed past the lump in her throat. "Jacob and Tawny happened." "And Charlie happened." Jason closed his hand, snuffing the flame out as he moved to stand by Autumn's side, slender fingers reaching down and taking her hand gently. "There is an enemy, an entity. Malevolent, old, and hungry. Normal weapons cannot harm it, normal people cannot face it. Together, though, we can destroy it. And we need to. And we cannot put it off any longer, because now we know it's actively after us, and not content to wait anymore." "This is... it's..." Dana and Ian said almost in unison, then glanced at each other before looking back at their teary-eyed daughter and the outwardly calm youth beside her. "This is a lot." Jason said quietly, almost sympathetically. "We thought Autumn would have time to explain it to you more gently. But we are out of time. The rest of us are gathering and getting ready." "The house is safe. As safe as it can be made, anyway. When you get home..." She hesitated, her fingers tightening reflexively on Jason's. Why was it so hard to say, when everything was already decided? "Are you kidding me?" Autumn blinked at her father as he stepped forward. "Ancient evils that can't be hurt by conventional weapons are killing high school kids and you expect me to just, one, buy the whole story, and two, let my daughter walk into that? No. And even if, if you're both telling the truth, that's all the more reason for her to come with us." He reached out, plainly intending to grasp Autumn's arm and tug her to his side and away from the quiet-voiced interloper, a possessive and protective gesture as old as fatherhood. And now it was Ian Keane's turn to contact that strange immobility, his face contorting with effort and frustration as his hand would not move forward anymore, no matter how he pushed. "That is up to Autumn to decide, not anybody else." Jason's words were as simply spoken as when last uttered, but now took on an edge that overlaid the unadorned conviction of before. "Ian." Dana's hand trembled as it slid over his arm, drawing it back. He stared first at the strange, too-composed youth, then at his wife, who shook her head. "She's coming home. Just... not right now. Not with us. All right?" Her voice, for all that it wavered, was underscored by resolve as unyielding as the earth underfoot. "Jason," she addressed her daughter's boyfriend with an air of quiet resignation, her chin held high. "You can drop her off later." There was a sense that the slender, dignified woman was not so much granting permission, but issuing a decree. He inclined his head slowly - almost respectfully - to Dana, and Autumn felt his fingers squeeze her hand in reassurance as he glanced at her. "Are you ready?" he asked her softly. "Almost." Her eyes burned, and Autumn rubbed at them with the back of her arm as she pulled away. Without ceremony or preamble, she jogged over to the picnic table and threw an arm around Jacob's shoulders, heedless of dirt and blood alike as she pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. Nathan didn't wait his turn, but instead swept the athletic young redhead up in a bear hug, lifting her feet off the ground until she squeaked in protest and he finally set her down again. There were no emotional farewells, no promises; nothing else needed to be said between them. As she walked back toward her parents, however, all the words she wanted to say caught in her throat, the sounds snarled together in a knot that emerged only as a strangled cry. This might be the last time she'd see them, and somehow she couldn't even say goodbye. It wasn't fair. None of this was fair. With a soft murmur, Dana caught the girl up in her arms, resting her chin atop Autumn's copper curls as the sunlight coaxed sparks of red and gold from their hair. They stood like that for a few moments, until Ian pulled his daughter into a hug and she hiccuped, tears streaming down her cheeks. Finally, she shook her head and took a step back, her whole body shaking with silent sobs. "I gotta go," she managed, trying to keep her voice from breaking. "Love you. See you guys at home." Ian looked at his little girl with fresh eyes, as though suddenly realising that, in his absence, she'd become a young woman. The burden she was carrying was heavy, but she was carrying it, he recognised. And... she wasn't alone. He eyed the enigmatic youth, who returned his gaze with an unruffled, glacial look of his own. Ian cleared his throat. "Look..." he started to say, but normal fatherly injunctions and finger wagging seemed... pointless in the face of everything he'd experienced in the last few minutes. "Jase... just please... take care of her?" The frost that had limned the other's stare thawed slightly, and he nodded much as he had to Dana. "We'll take care of each other." he replied, his implication clear that he trusted Autumn at his side as much as she him. Autumn stepped to his side and the two of them turned and headed away, Dana looping her arm around Ian's and hugging it slightly as the two parents watched. = = = = = = = = Devin had been keeping busy, Jase and Autumn saw as they approached the Bannon table some minutes later. A number of bags and backpacks were leaning against the benches as the rest of the Fellowship stood around, talking in low tones. Evidently, the teleporter had collaborated with the others present to get such equipment as they had readily available to the place where it was needed. Even Jase's go-bag was there: in response to his questioning look, Devin shrugged. "Hey, I saw where you keep it." he said by way of explanation. Jason nodded, looking around at the others present. They were all there - all of them that remained, at least. Quietly and efficiently, still a little red-eyed from her earlier tears, Autumn handed a bracelet to Devin and to Kat, both of whom clasped them into place. "Alright. We're all here." Devin said, studying the goldlike gleam of his bracelet before shaking his sleeve over it and looking at the others. "We don't really need to discuss what's happening next, do we? Charlie's dead, Tawny and Sophia are taken. Let's go get the girls back and Not-Cody's head on a fuckin' stick."
  10. He'd wandered away from the main field, going into the woods that bordered the rest area and, finding a secluded tree to lean against, had fished a rollup from a case in his pocket and put it between his lips. A barest flicker of his will, the end glowed, and he drew a deep drag on the fragrant home-grown leaf inside with a sigh of contentment. It occurred to him that this was his first smoke of the day, and then he realised he'd not had a cigarette since... Saturday, maybe? After leaving Autumn's place. That was good for a faint smile as he looked up through the sun-spackled leaves of the tree, watching them shift and rustle in the breeze. Birdsong came in sporadic snatches from around him, and he exhaled, wreathing the pleasant smoke around his head, letting the problems and cares of the world fade away for a few as he thought of coppery strands of hair curling around his fingers... "Hey, Bannon!" The lanky young man sighed, opening his eyes at the bovine hollering. It seemed there was never a quiet moment, today... Though that wasn't exactly true, was it? Not long ago, he'd been relaxed with his head on Autumn's lap, her fingernails sending thrills of relaxation and pleasure down his spine as she'd idly caressed his scalp. It was a good memory, that one. The scent of her, warm from the sun and exertion, and the feel of her other hand under his on his chest, and the sensation of her eyes studying his face. There had been a calm in that moment which surpassed the simple pleasure of working in his garden, or learning some new esoterica from a book, accompanied by a thrum of her energy, her presence. That connection... that connection which baffled him, so similar in broad strokes to the sense of connection he'd once felt with Marissa, but so much more... "Bannon?! I know you're here, dude." Several sets of footsteps, heading this way through the treeline. A reach out with his senses told him there were four people. At least one was... "Here, Chet." he stepped around the tree, hands in his pockets, rollup hanging from the corner of his lips as he regarded the senior and his company. Two football players: Kieran and Todd, the latter of whom looked a little uneasy as the cold, calm glittering Jase's gaze passed over him. And Tammy Keller - his ex-customer ever since she and two confederates had tried to discuss business at school. As they approached him, he assessed them as a group. All of them had reasons to hold a grudge against him. Chet and Todd for the events at the county fair, Kieran for his girlfriend hitting on Jason at the first game of the season, and of course Tammy. Calmly, Jase decided that if their purpose was to attack him today then that would not be permitted. There was too much going on for him to worry about risking injury at the hands of primates, Dark-driven or not. He didn't say anything else, just waited. "Got any to share?" Chet pointed at the rollup, his manner somewhat high-handed, as though it was not really a request. "It's not weed. Just tobacco." Jase said. "I've got two more of them on me... and they're mine, Chet. I'm a businessman, not a tobacco charity." "Cute. I'm sure you give freebies to your friends." "I might. But we are not friends." Jason's tone was casually matter-of-fact. "You are, at best, customers. Except her." He nodded at Tammy, who scowled. "She's cut off." "She's with me now." Todd spoke up, putting an arm around Tammy's shoulders. "My condolences to you both." Jase's eyebrow twitched upward as a gleam of something sardonic and cold showed in his gaze, the closest he came to a smirk. He took a drag from the cigarette as Todd colored and stepped forward, to be stopped by a hand from Chet. The big senior turned back to Jase and stepped closer, still out of arms reach though. He can be taught, ladies and gentlemen, Jason thought sarcastically. "Okay, fine. We get it, you're a tough guy now that you're friends with the Jauntsens." Chet grinned. "Here's the thing, though. They're losing their throne, fanboy. Devin's lost his edge, and Marissa is just spinning around on her six-inch heels pissing off everyone. She even told me she doesn't care about being on top of the pecking order anymore." He pointed a beefy finger at Jason's face. "So your protection is for shit, kid." Blowing twin plumes of smoke from his nostrils, Jase looked at the finger, then at Chet, who lowered it and went on. "So here's the deal: I want what they got. Free weed, free Addys. You did that for Marissa before you were friends, which is why the Twins mostly kept you off limits. Tribute to the throne, y'know? Or else things will get bad, without them sheltering you." For a moment Bannon looked at Chet, then the others, blinking once as he took in their resolute features, then he smiled, his lips pulling back from his teeth in a grin that was roughly one-third amusement and two-thirds sheer menace. Then he gave a soft, low laugh. "You monkeys are adorable." he chuckled. "No, seriously, hear me out. You are like retarded cavemen who see the sun and think it's the eye of a monster peering at them. You hear thunder and think it's giant sky-beasts fighting. You think fire is a flower from the gods. You have no idea what you're really perceiving, because you lack the imagination or wit to look beyond the obvious." He drew another puff of smoke, the end of his cigarette glowing briefly as he laughed again. "You're actual imbeciles." "Is that so?" Kieran demanded, but he didn't move forward. The sight of Bannon actually laughing was... unsettling. It wasn't a happy sound, or even ironically happy. It was full of eerie menace. It was just wrong sounding. Bannon just nodded, then fixed his gaze on Chet as his laughter faded away like the rustle of dry leaves over gravestones. "The Twins ruled because they have a quality you do not, Chet. I doubt even they were fully aware of it, but they had the instincts that make a competent ruler. Sure, they bullied and pushed people around, but they also intuitively knew who they could push and how far. They regulated what went on, stopped matters from getting out of hand. Stopped people like you from getting in over your head." Now he stepped forward, hands still in his pockets. Chet had a couple of inches and probably thirty pounds at least on the lean youth, but that didn't even seem to give Jason a pause as he stopped inches away from the large senior, his gaze as sharp as emerald razors. "Get this through your head, Chet. The Jauntsens never protected me. They were protecting you. I'm glad they're not playing the pathetic game of high school grab-ass any more. Good for them, shows they're growing up." He blew smoke in Chet's face. "So yes, you're right. A new order will arise, surely. But here's the message I have for wannabes..." His gaze was coldly serpentine, his voice dropping to a hiss of warning. "You want weed, you buy it. Otherwise you leave me alone, you stay out of my business. You leave Sean alone, and stay out of his business. You leave anyone I sit with in class or the cafeteria alone, and stay out of their business. Including the Jauntsens. No shoulder-slams. No locker pranks. No keying of cars. No malicious gossip. Nothing. Play your little game in the kiddie pool with all the other piss-stinking toddlers and leave the grownups alone. Or I will take a personal interest in your misery. And you'll only realise just how badly you fucked up when it's already too late. Just like at the fair." Chet didn't move. He was aware of the others behind him. He was aware that, if he struck Bannon now, the others would join in. They would beat the kid down, surely. There were three guys - and Tammy - against him. And then... And then what, really? He looked into Bannon's eyes and saw nothing of fear or care there. His gaze flicked down to where Bannon's hands were still in his pockets. What if he had a knife? What if he recovered from his beat-down, and then one night the sharp edge of something would come to rest on his, Chet's throat this time. And Cody had disappeared after the fair... He swallowed. Had Jason killed Cody? God knew there was enough trackless wilderness in Montana that a body could be dumped anywhere... Oh god...And the rumor was that Bannon had criminal contacts in the big cities, too. Cartel, some said. Just the school rumormill, but looking into that hard, cold green stare, Chet wasn't so sure. What he was sure of was that he desperately wanted to pee. He'd started out the day with big plans, and some bravado. This year was going to be the year of the Chet, for sure. And now he'd run straight into both Marissa's vitriolic lack of concern, and Bannon's predatory menace. And suddenly he just wanted to be away from here, drinking beer with his buddies in the sunshine, not face to face with someone who didn't seem quite sane or human, who seemed to radiate cold like an incarnation of Death. "Feel free to go away now." Jase said quietly. "It's a pleasant day. Go and enjoy it. Elsewhere." "Right." Chet mumbled, stepping away. "Right... C'mon, guys." "Chet?" Kieran looked askance at the larger senior, then at Todd, who found himself aware of a full bladder all of a sudden and also just wanted to be away. Tammy repressed a shiver - the air was suddenly cold, and huddled closer to her new boyfriend as they drifted away from the lean figure who watched them go, sunlight glittering in the green slits of his eyes. Now and then, one or another of them glanced back, noting he was still watching them... until suddenly they looked and he was gone. Back behind the tree he'd been relaxing against, Jase leaned back against the bark and enjoyed his smoke. He wondered if the pretenders to the throne would take his warning to heart. Probably? He'd seen fear and uncertainty in their eyes, but then they were exceptionally stupid. He drew in a puff and exhaled with a sigh, looking up at the pattern of sunlight through the leaves overhead. Time, and Darwin, would tell. For now, though, there was the comforting fragrance of good tobacco, and the warmth of the summer's end, and the memory of soft fingers playing with his hair...
  11. He approached her from the rest area field, punctual to the minute. A lean shape with hands hanging casually at his sides, walking with that vaguely-feline, straight backed gait that marked post-Summer Party Jason with the slouching, eyes-down pre-Summer Party Jason. A mask abandoned over the course of one night that had contained peril and mystery and not a little outright terror. A mask she'd been the first to see drop that night. Glittering green eyes fixed on her with their now-usual directness as he drew near and stopped a couple of arm's lengths away, his head tilting slightly to one side as he examined Marissa curiously. "Hope you weren't waiting too long?" he enquired in his quietly polite fashion. "What was it you wanted to discuss?" "Do you now?" She inquired skeptically. He knew she didn't really expect an answer. "Simply put, I'm not sure what you and Autumn have cooked up, and frankly I don't care. I kind of like her, so whatever this," she swirled her finger about as if stirring her coffee, signifying Jason, Autumn and their relationship. "Is... don't hurt her. You have a tendency of breaking your toys." He blinked once, then his eyes narrowed slightly as he replied. "Nothing has been 'cooked up' between us. We spent time together as friends, and realised we liked each other. And I've no intention of harming Autumn. I actually like her a great deal." He paused, then regarded her with a raised eyebrow. "You seriously believe I would do harm to her?" he asked, his tone mildly disbelieving. "Yes, Jason. I do." She said flatly. "You have a history of violence and abuse. Perhaps all your victims so far were of questionable ethics, I've done enough reading to know that's how it starts. Ants with a magnifying glass, the neighbors cat... then, the neighbors." She raised a hand to halt a rebuttal that wasn't coming. "But let me guess, Jason... you expect me to brush aside all your previous actions and staple dialogue like ripping out hearts and not caring one whit about it on something as simple as 'because I said I won't'? You have no credibility with me. Your wounded pride at my concern for Autumn is the least on my list of worries." She sighed. "You're not well, Jason. Even you've admitted as much. I'm worried for Autumn. You can go maim and murder all you like, just leave hers and my name out of it. It's not like we could stop you if you wanted to, no one else around here seems to care." As she spoke, his face lost the curious expression. Indeed, it lost all expression, becoming an impassive mask from which two pale jade-hued chips of ice stared out at her. When she had finished, he simply nodded. "Was there anything else?" he enquired calmly, as though she'd just told him it might rain later. "As long as we're clear on the Autumn matter, yes. That'll do for now." She said in her usual regal and domineering tone. "You can go." Green eyes glittered, but there was no reply, nor any further gesture of acknowledgement. As quietly and unhurriedly as he had arrived, the youth turned and walked away into the crowd. * * * * * There had been, for a moment, an impulse to argue his case. To point out some obvious flaws in the girl's analysis and summary of events. To point out the efforts he had visibly made. Perhaps even to tell her that he wasn't even human. But that impulse had been swiftly and coldly quashed. The last time he'd argued such a case had been with Lilly, and that had ended in a pointless 'Yes, *but*' discussion that had caused his opinion of her critical thinking skills to drop precipitously. No. Jason was done debating with willful foolishness. How did the saying go? 'Never argue with an idiot: they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience'. Let her, and for that matter anyone else who agreed with her, stew in their ignorance. As he had told Lilly - he didn't have to like someone to fight the Dark with them. It was a duty, not a social club. And it was one less birthday to concern himself with or Christmas card to buy. His thoughts were colder than vacuum as he wandered through the rest area, past the spinning Carousel, flecks of verdigris shimmering in the depths of his gaze as it looked at and through the people he passed. Those who walked through his wake felt their skin prickle with goosebumps and, looking at the sky, shivered, wondering perhaps if the cold breeze this early in the year heralded a bitter winter to come. "Jason?" He looked up to see Misti and Carl Jauntsen stepping into his path, smiling politely, obviously wanting to talk. He didn't want to talk. These were Marissa's parents... But they were also Devin's parents, and whatever contempt was icing over his feelings for Marissa did not extend to Devin. He eyed the two parents neutrally as he came to a stop, nodding in greeting. "Mrs Jauntsen, Mr Jauntsen." he said. Misti smiled a little wider. "Misti and Carl, Jason. Please. We're not in the school admin office now." she looked at her husband. "He's always polite, no matter how many times I say to call me Misti at school." "Brains and manners, then." Carl smiled and held out his hand. "Like my wife says, call me Carl, Jason." "Will do." Jason shook the man's hand, and though Carl noted the chill of the lanky teen's hand he didn't say anything of it as he pressed forward with his reason for waylaying Jase. "I-" "We." Misti corrected with a nudge and a smile. Carl shifted, giving her a slightly annoyed look, then looked back at Jason. "Right, we wanted to thank you for agreeing to tutor Devin in math. God knows that boy's algebra is terrible and he needs the help." Jason looked at them for a moment, his face impassive, then "No thanks are necessary. At least not until he passes." He smiled a little. "And I'm always willing to help out a friend." "You might regret it." Carl sighed. "That boy isn't an idiot, but he might as well be for all he uses what's between his ears." "Devin's smart enough. He just has trouble with abstracts." Jason shrugged. "And algebra is all abstract. My challenge will be to make it relative to him in a way he can appreciate." "Mr McRiley said Devin lacked focus." Misti nodded, pondering the eerily composed youth. Her education and former job made her very good at reading people, and this young man, now that she was actually paying attention, was... odd. Too confident, too poised, and his eyes... "Mr McRiley is a second-rate mind who thinks that being a third-rate teacher makes him a first rate mind." Jason stated bluntly. "Mastery of a topic - any topic - means you can explain the basics to and make it relevant for anyone of at least normal intelligence. McRiley enjoys thinking he's the smartest man in the room, which is why he'll only ever be a high-school math teacher with an overblown sense of his own importance." He smiled faintly as Carl and Misti both looked at him as though he'd sprouted a second head. "Christ, kid. You don't sugar the medicine, do you?" Carl asked finally with a rueful chuckle. Misti stayed silent, but studied the curious young man anew. She'd heard about the incident in U.S. History, of course, but it was still disconcerting to see. "Shelly High has a number of good teachers, and some excellent ones. Mr McRiley is mediocre. A decent teacher would have isolated how to get through to Devin and made it a cooperative rather than confrontational matter. Nobody with any backbone wants to listen to someone heckling them and telling them they are stupid and lazy. And Devin has plenty of backbone." He nodded to the pair. "It's been nice to meet you both - out of school." he added with another of those faint smiles. "I'll make sure Devin passes Algebra." "Sure." Carl, still a little stunned at his first Bannon experience, nodded as Jason stepped around and continued on his way. Misti followed the lean silhouette of the youth as he faded from sight among the clusters of people, then looked at her husband. "Carl, did he seem odd to you?" "Guy seemed smart, like he knew what he was about. And straight-talker, too." Carl shrugged, looking around for a beer he might scrounge from a friendly local. "Kid'll go far. Guess not everyone in this town is a mouth-breather. Who'd have thought?" "Yes, but he was strange, Carl." "Goddammit, Misti. Everyone is strange around here. It's something in the water, probably. Makes them either hicks or freaky geniuses. Now come on. I want to see if there's any beer at the Finglemans."
  12. Jason Jase had gone a short distance from the Keane's area when the text alert came and he fished his phone from his pocket, adroitly stepping around a running child who was chasing the family dog as pale eyes sought the touch-screen... And he stopped walking, staring intently at the text that Devin had just sent. His mind raced. Another Teulu - presumably not his mother, as Devin knew 'Ms Forster'. The 'owner of his bracelet' - the mysterious figure who'd rescued him on the Other Side. His thumbs tapped out a bland response, hoping that Devin would pick up on the fact that not everyone would know what a Teulu was and not say anything further on the matt- *ping* Do I have a sister? Jason sighed through clenched teeth, wondering who the person with Sean's phone was and when they'd realise addiction was a problem and to stop eating paste. He almost typed that, but considering that the damage was not yet catastrophic, restrained himself. Autumn's reply said plenty, in any case, he mused as he watched the exchanges and various responses, and a stronger reaction from him, in particular, would simply increase the suspicions of others. He wasn't even particularly vexed with Devin - his friend was as impulsive as Jason was calculated and, in his excitement at finding an attractive alien girl, could be forgiven an outburst. Devin's last message, regarding encryption, caused another sigh. Of course, there was the distinct possibility that their communications were being spied upon. Even if the Project was taking a more hands-off approach, they wouldn't leave the Fellowship completely unwatched. Well, the cat was out of the bag. Either the Project was listening and now knew there was an actual alien in Shelly... or they weren't. In the face of the coming fight against the Dark, that was a problem for tomorrow. He was curious about the stranger, though. A female of his species - a proper one, without the 'defect' that caused his mother to be more human in her manner and responses. What was she like? Friendly, according to Devin's texts... And unabashed when going after something she wanted - in this case Devin - which was similar to how he himself expressed his desires. Was she dangerous? Potentially, probably. A scout for a civilisation such as his mother described would be hardened to survival and battle. Jase experienced a moment of concern for his friend. The wrong word... But no. If the text was to be believed then the female liked him, and that would buy a lot of leeway - again, much as with Jason himself. Besides, Devin could handle himself, surely. It'd be fine. Probably fine. His lips thinning slightly, he made his way to the table Marissa described as 'Camp Cabin In The Woods', somewhat surprised when he arrived to find Hank was the only one there. The former Marine saluted Jase with his bottle idly as the lean youth sat down. "Hey kid. How were the in-laws?" Hank grinned lazily as the icy green eyes of his young friend narrowed, though a faint smile curved Jase's lips. "In-laws presumes marriage." The psychokinetic teen popped the cap off a bottle of root beer and took a drink. "That's a little far ahead of where we are, though Ian did all-but ask me what my intentions were." "Hah!" Hank laughed. "Did you answer that?" "I did." Was all Jase said, a sparkle of mirth in his gaze as he sat back in his seat. "Well, you ain't bleeding from shotgun holes, so I guess the answer worked." Hank shrugged, then leaned forward a little as a more serious light entered his eyes. "You need to talk to your ex." "My ex?" Jason paused for a moment, then "You mean Marissa? She's not my ex. We never dated." "Uh-huh, well, she's plenty pissed at you over something and wants to talk. Said something about burning the village down if people keep avoiding her. Personally, I think she's mad about you and Red, but if I were you I'd just go and see what she's got to say without making your mind up first." Jase considered for a moment as he took a drink from his bottle, then nodded. "I'll take care of it." "Good. Now I'm gonna go find a head." Hank tossed his empty into the trash and stood, nodding at his surrogate nephew. "You don't want bad blood before a battle. Get your shit tight, kid." "Right." Jase watched as Hank walked off, then pulled out his phone and tapped out a message. <<<To Marissa>>> From Jason: I heard you wanted to talk. When is a good time / place?
  13. "Perhaps all that is so." Gar Bannon's eyes narrowed in a manner not unlike his son's, though his quiet anger was more apparent as he stared at the teen. "I can't deny any of it. Here's the thing though, sweetheart, you're right. Everyone he's hurt or threatened to hurt was a bad person, by any measure." Gar placed his bottle down with an audible clink. "You know what else? He's also doesn't talk shit behind his friends backs or try to feel powerful by cutting other people down. When he starts making innocent people miserable, ruining lives with gossip and rumor, and hurting or bullying people for his own amusement and ego, that is when I'll get really concerned." The older Bannon smiled, an unpleasant thin-lipped smile. "Thanks, Miss Jauntsen, for putting my worries in perspective. My son might be every bit the violent psychopath you claim he is, but I've just been reminded there's worse people." He stood up, anger still simmering in his expression. "Going to get some fresh air." he declared to Hank, who was torn between eying his friend concernedly and eyeing Marissa like she was a venomous spider. The ex-Marine just nodded, settling back into his seat as Jason's dad stalked away.
  14. "Hey, Lilly." Gar gave the girl a one-handed wave from the grill and Hank tipped his bottle towards her in silent greeting. Marissa waved, briefly looking up from her phone, and Jason just nodded as Cassie turned, a plate of pie in each hand, and smiled at her. "Hi!" The blonde chirped, careful to keep both plates up so Bacon wouldn't be tempted. She waved as much as her burden would let her at her friend. "I'd stick around, but I've got to go deliver pie to soften my mom up. Time for 'the Talk', you know?" Lilly nodded in understanding, and Cass grinned wryly. "See you later, assuming I'm not grounded for life in some escape-proof panic room my mom secretly built. I'm not sure whether she's going to be more freaked out about the weird stuff or Devin taking me to Homecoming." "Doesn't that count as weird stuff?" Jase asked, only a glimmer of quiet humor in his eye indicating that he was joking. "Definitely. It's my brother." Marissa smirked. "Lead with that. If that doesn't freak your mother out, then nothing else you tell her will." The teens and the two adults present all snickered, even Jason's lips twitching in an actual people-smile as he held a hand out above the picnic table towards Marissa, the dark-haired beauty high-fiving him almost on reflex before settling down, scowling down at her phone as though something there was offending her sensibilities. "Oh, and Cass: don't forget to take your dunderfloof with you." She motioned with one clawed hand towards Bacon, who was sitting in his best '(Wo)Mans) Best and Most Loyal Friend' pose at the end of the table, ears up and brown eyes attentive for any scraps that might be dropped for a Good Boy. "If he runs around loose and eats someone's toddler, that's on you." "Sure." Cassie shook her head a little, smiling. "C'mon, Bacon." The dog let out a short, quiet bark and rose from his haunches, trotting after his friend at a rough approximation of 'heel', eyes up for any possibility of a dropped pie plate. Lilly settled onto the vacant bench slot, regarding the other two teens. Marissa seemed pensive, insofar as she could tell, and Jase... was Jase. If he had any nerves at all, they weren't showing - which probably meant there weren't any. Which in itself was hard to conceive of for Lilly, and another indicator that she really didn't know the boy she'd thought she did. "Drink?" he asked, turning his gaze to her as he finished his pie and sat back. At her nod, he poured a tumbler of iced tea and slid it across, his expression quietly amiable and pale eyes revealing nothing of what was going on behind them as he also refilled Marissa's glass. He indicated the food on the table with a raised eyebrow, and Lilly shook her head, smiling. "Thanks, but my dad's doing his 'Picasso of the Grill' thing and I owe it to him to turn up hungry. When it's finally ready, anyway." Lilly grinned, and Jason nodded. "Have you told your parents what's going on, yet?" he asked, causing Lilly's smile to fade as she shook her head again. "I just confessed to him last night that I took a dive on the tryouts. I..." Lilly bit her lip, thinking. "I'm not sure how he'd even deal with this." "Cassie had a similar worry." Jason shrugged. "Marissa made the excellent point that, if we were to disappear tonight, it would likely be better for our parents to know why. They have to know sometime, after all." "Yeah." Lilly sighed, idly swirling her drink around. "I guess. It's just..." She paused. How did one tell Jase that they were afraid? He had no frame of reference for that. He wouldn't be able to commiserate. Hell, what if he looked down on fear and those who felt it? What did he really think, after all? "It's just complicated." "I told Cass. It's not complicated at all." Marissa interjected, her tone matter-of-fact but not harsh. "Rip the bandaid off, lay out the truth - with a demonstration if need be - and then leave it to them to believe you or not." Jase nodded slightly in agreement, and then looked down as a text alert went off on his phone. A faint smile crinkled the edges of his eyes. "Your gal?" Hank looked at him with a smirk spreading across his rugged features. "Yes." Jase replied simply and without embarrassment, standing and slipping the phone into his pocket. He fixed his gaze on Lilly for a moment. "If you need help talking to your parents, corroboration or extra demonstration, or even help sneaking out, let one of us know. We are in this together." Without waiting for an answer he turned and moved off in the direction that Autumn had taken half an hour or so previously. "Ten bucks her dad hates him." Hank said with a grin. Gar scowled at him, and Hank raised a hand defensively. "I'm just sayin'. Jase is an acquired taste, and his little girl just played tonsil hockey in public with the dude. If I was a dad, I'd be keeping the shotgun close at hand." "Not funny." Gar said flatly, a faint crease of worry between his eyes. "Jase doesn't react in normal ways to things like that. What if someone makes a joke about shotguns and he interprets it as a genuine possible threat?" Hank eyed his friend. "I was just funnin', Gar. C'mon, Jason will be fine. He's smart enough to think things through. He can tell the difference between a real threat and someone blowing air." "Sure." Gar nodded, worry still haunting his gaze as he settled down to a plate of pie. "So." He looked at Lilly, smiling a little as he attempted to distract himself. "How did your dad take the news you tanked the tryouts on purpose?"
  15. "Marissa's right." Jason glanced at the dark-haired girl, then at Cassie. "On all counts." "Of course I am." Marissa snorted delicately, flipping her hair back over one perfect bare shoulder. "I'm always right." "Indeed." Pale jade eyes crinkled slightly at the corners as he took a sip of iced tea, regarding Marissa for a second longer before looking Cassie's way. "I'd recommend taking Devin as your demonstration partner. His power's effect is undeniable, and he's less likely to unsettle your mother - well, more than necessary." A faint curve appeared at one corner of Jase's lips. "Plus you can introduce your Homecoming date to your mother." "That, and it leaves you free to spend time with Autumn." Marissa's tone was dry enough to mummify flesh. "A distinct possibility, yes." Jase shrugged one shoulder. "She may also require someone to do a flashy demonstration to her parents, and even if not, I like spending time with her." "I noticed." "We all noticed." Cassandra piped up, grinning. "NSA spy satellites with thermal signature detection noticed." Hank opined, also grinning. Jase glanced at him, then Cassandra, then Marissa, his expression - so far as could be discerned - one of calm good humor. In truth, he was feeling calm, and in a good mood. The specter of death and defeat, whilst a real possibility statistically, was not causing him any anxiety, dread or fear at all. He and his friends were as ready as they could be, given the constraints of time placed upon them. They would go to face their foe, and the alternative to victory was most likely death, whereupon all other concerns would subjectively cease to exist. That being the case, victory was preferred, and so that would be his objective. "Pie?" he asked the others with a raised brow as he dished himself up a slice of Mama Cassidy's gift. "Smooth subject change, kid." Hank smirked as he held out his own plate for a piece. "We could carry on talking about my kissing Autumn, but I was being kind to you, Hank." Jase said evenly as he cut another slice and deposited on his father's friends plate. "After all, it's probably been awhile since anyone kissed you like that." He paused for a beat, then smiled slightly at the older man. "Well, anyone female." Gar and Hank snorted with laughter as Jase looked at the two girls, knife in hand. "Pie?"
  16. Bacon was wrangled away from expressing too much exuberant affection for Marissa, an easy enough task when there were so many other new people to meet and be showered by affection from. Like Autumn, for instance, who was instantly down on one knee scritching Bacon around his shoulders and telling him what a good boy he was as he soaked up the attention and gave back big liquid doggy eyes at her. "Who's this lovely fellow, hmm?" she asked, as much to the dog as to Cassie, who'd caught up, and was standing nearby smiling fondly as her dog did what he did best - shamelessly beg for attention. "Bacon." she provided, then gave the adults present a short wave. "Hi Mr Bannon, Mr Graskle." "Gar's fine." Jase's dad smiled at the blonde girl as Hank raised his beer in silent return of the greeting. Both men seemed bemused to be at the center of so much teenage activity, though not as bemused as they were at the sight of Marissa going through a plate of ribs. "Girl can eat." was all Hank commented at the sight. Gar just nodded in agreement, his attention half on that and half on watching Jase interacting with his friends. Having greeted Autumn and Jacob in his usual fashion, Cass's dog was now turning his attention to the tall figure standing a little back from the knot of teens watching the goings on. Bacon started moving in Jase's direction at his traditional galumph, then slowed his roll all of a sudden, his tail's wag going from 'frantic' to 'thoughtful' as he studied this new person, the dog abruptly sitting and staring for a long moment. A faint high-pitched whine sounded in the back of the Shepherd's throat and he cocked his head to one side, tail wagging a couple of times as Jase regarded him silently. Slowly, the lanky young man crouched and extended a hand, palm down, and waited. Bacon rose off his haunches, extending his neck forward tentatively and sniffing at the proffered hand before giving a low 'woof'ing noise and moving closer, his tail's wag increasing as he happily accepted an ear scritching and a petting. Autumn was keenly reminded of how her fosters had responded to the young man - initially cautious, but then reassured. "Nice dog." Jase said, smiling faintly before glancing up at Cassie and the others. The blonde reporter was studying Bacon - and him - with her narrow-eyed 'hmm' expression as Jase gave the dog's ribs a scritch, but then shrugged. God knew Jase was odd, and they did say animals had instincts about people. So long as Bacon wasn't howling or fleeing in terror, Cassie was content for now. "You guys want something to eat too?" Gar offered, holding up a plate. Autumn looked apologetic as she glanced over at her family's table then back. "I wish I could. If I fill up over here, I'm going to catch so much hell from my folks." she said with feeling. The ribs did look delicious. "I might be back to scrounge later, though." "Yeah. Lunch is probably almost ready over there." Jacob agreed. "But thanks, Mr Bannon." he added politely as he stepped in the general direction of 'away'. Autumn lingered a moment, looking up at Jase. "Your family will want you to eat with them." Jase said quietly, smiling a fraction. "I'll wander over in a bit, meet your dad." Her nose crinkled as she grimaced, then smiled. "Guess we can't put that off. He was asking me and mom about you." she confessed, letting her hand rest on his shoulder, fingers toying with the ends of his hair. "Oh? And what did you say?" Jason's amusement was visible in the glimmer of his eyes and the way they crinkled at the edges. "We both said he'd have to meet you." Autumn grinned up at him. Her boyfriend chuckled, brushing his lips over hers in a kiss, then nodded. "See you soon, then." "Yeah." Autumn steeled herself and stepped away. "Catch you all later." she smiled at the others, then her and Jacob moved off towards where the Crockers and the Kavanaghs were pitched. Jase stood still and watched them go for a long moment. "C'mon, kid. Sit and eat." Hank chuckled. "Plenty of time in the day yet." "Sure." Jase turned and grabbed a plate, noting that Cassie had accepted some food and Marissa seemed to be on her second plate of ribs already. Bacon was sitting with reasonable decorum next to his mistress, though he was not above looking attentive and alert for any table scraps that might find their way to the faithful mans-best-friend who stood vigilant sentinel so nobody would disturb his mistress's lunch. Settling himself down across from Marissa at the table, Jase dug in hungrily as Gar looked at Cassie and Marissa. "Just so I don't spill something I shouldn't." he said in a low murmur. "I've been assuming that you guys parents aren't in the know. That right?"
  17. The whistle had reminded Jason that the world did not consist solely of the living flame he'd held in his arms and kissed, though it hadn't had the same face-reddening effect as Autumn stepped a pace away from him, even white teeth showing against the pink of her lower lip as she cast her blue eyes around briefly, perhaps seeking the whistler, before looking back up at him through her fine copper lashes and smiling sheepishly. He smiled in return, faintly curious as to why she was evincing embarrassment. Were girlfriends not supposed to kiss boyfriends? Was it the public forum that made it embarrassing, and if so, why had she kissed him so ardently? He was still focused on that, and the taste of her lip gloss and the tingle of her tongue against his as Autumn's fingers closed around his hand, drawing him after her towards Marissa and the powerfully-built figure he recognised as Jacob - Autumn's ex. Both were subjected to swift analysis as Jase approached them. Neither seemed to be embarrassed by the overt display of affection. Marissa was smiling, which could mean anything - she was far too much the mercurial mistress of her expressions for anything to be taken at face value. Jacob was not smiling, and in fact seemed unhappy. Not uncomfortable: Upset. As though he'd seen or heard something which irritated him which, a cynical part of Jase's awareness of human nature theorised, would possibly explain Marissa's sweet smile. Jealousy, perhaps. Jacob and Autumn had been broken up for awhile, but perhaps there was still feeling there? Jase was not aware of any personal animus between he and the warden's son. In fact, as with ninety-percent of the population of Shelly, he had barely exchanged more than three words with Jacob in the last two years. They just didn't mingle. "Marissa." he smiled slightly as he greeted the lovely girl, nodding to her, then to the youth standing with her. "Jacob." "Nice shirt." Marissa's glossy red lips crooked in a lopsided smirk as she read the logo. "Suits you. And actual jeans, too?" She cast a glance at the still pink-faced Autumn. There was no point trying to embarrass Jase, but teasing was still fun... "Dressing to impress?" "Reflecting a change in outlook through a change in appearance." Jase replied with a slight shrug. "I thought the shirt was amusing. I bought a few different ones. You're looking very 'hot slice of apple pie' yourself." he added with a glimmer of humor in his jade gaze as it took in her outfit. "Why, thank you." Marissa's smile widened a little. "If I'm going to enjoy a last day in the sun, I want to ensure that everyone misses the sight of me afterwards." "Last day in the sun?" Jacob had recovered enough from the sight of Autumn liplocking Shelly's answer to Don Corleone to rejoin the conversation. The fact that Jase wasn't acting shifty as usual was just another point of concern for the handsome teen. "Dramatic way of saying its the last day of summer, Jay." Marissa laughed. Ignoring his muttered correction that his name was 'Jacob', she peered around the couple in front of her. "Are those ribs on your dad's grill, Jaybee?" she asked with the too-casual air of a lioness spotting a wildebeest at a watering hole. "Beef. Smoked last week." "Hook me up." Marissa hadn't really had a chance to eat at the Alister family lunch, and her inhuman metabolism was clamoring so loudly that even if it had been tender young hiker on the Bannon grill, she'd still have a go. She looped an arm through Autumn's as she stepped forward and past, re-appropriating her friend as she made a beeline for where Hank and Gar were sitting. "Sure." Jase replied with a faint smile as he watched the two girls head off, then glanced at Jacob with a wry shrug and a gesture of invitation to follow. "You hungry?" "Sure." Jacob said in unconscious mimicry, following along as the skinny form of the disreputable youth led the way.
  18. "Hey kid." Hank nodded his habitual greeting as Jase emerged from the crowd and, nodding briefly in return to both his father and friend, retrieved a bottle of iced tea from the cooler. His dad stepped over and hugged him: a perfunctory embrace, quickly done with and with the roughness of unvoiced emotion. At his son's quizzical head tilt, Gar smiled and shrugged. "It occurred to me I probably didn't hug you a lot in the past." he said by way of explanation, studying the lean young man as if committing him to memory before turning back to the grill, fiddling with the sizzling food as a pretext to break the awkwardness. "Good shopping trip?" "Yeah." Jason smiled a little, looking around briefly as he spoke. "Got some language tapes and books - German this time." He turned his gaze back to his father, studying him as he added "And a smartphone." Hank frowned, glancing at Gar also. Neither man owned a cellular phone - neither trusted them or approved of them as devices, a common point of view amongst the militia. Gar, however, nodded slowly as he busied himself flipping the ribs. "You know the risks. I've told you often enough." he said quietly, turning to look at Jase. "I have to allow that you know what you're doing." "I'll be working with Sean to secure it." Jason nodded. "Don't worry. By the time he's done with it, it'll be safer than walking over and whispering in someone's ear. I weighed the cons against the convenience for me." Gar regarded him a moment longer, then nodded. "So long as you thought it through." he shrugged again, then gestured at the table. "Carolyn brought a pie over. We'll take them some ribs over when they're done." "Seems fair." Jase nodded, leaning one hip against the table as he relaxed. = = = = = = = = Autumn stiffened as Marissa's venomously dulcet tones broke into her reconciliation with her oldest friend. She was well aware that the Twins had a thing about Jacob, who was both stoic and popular enough to shrug off most of Mari's malice and physically capable enough to stand up to Devin's more physical bullying attempts - bullying wasn't really much fun when you took at least as many lumps as the other guy, after all. After several stalemates, they had mostly confined themselves to petty spite and opportunism for the last year or so. Jacob was - or had been - a threat to their thrones: unlike Jason, who would simply ignore goading and would react to being shoved by moving away and waiting to see if the other person's arm got tired, Jacob would push back, stand up for himself and others, and as an athlete, outdoorsman, all-round nice dude and decent student, was probably a shoe-in for Prom King. Now? With the Dark, and aliens, and weird powers, and monsters? Autumn figured Devin probably didn't much care anymore that Jacob 'defied' the Twins order. Hell, 'new' Devin would likely try to make amends, or at least be cool from here on out. Marissa, however, was just petty enough that she always had time to stick the knife in. Why did I agree to be friends with her, again? Autumn thought in a mixture of exasperation (at Marissa being, well,, Marissa) and embarrassment (at having been caught crying in public) as she wiped her eyes before straightening up and fixing the Queen Bee with a direct stare. "Marissa." she said in a quiet voice, her grey-blue eyes clouded with her frustration. "I wouldn't walk up on you having a conversation with someone and dismiss them. There's more important shit going on than 'girl talk'." She smiled a little. "Can we all just get along, for today at least?" she asked, looking from Marissa to Jacob, who nodded, smiling reassuringly at her. Looking back at Mari, she saw the glossy-haired teen roll her eyes expressively, fold her arms, then sigh. "I suppose so." she smirked, unfolding her arms and reaching out to hook her hand through Autumn's elbow. "Still, let's mingle, hmm? Jacob can come along too, of course." she added as though dispensing a favor, her dark eyes taunting as she regarded the tall young man. The fact that he reminded her of a more-assertive Cade did him no favors in her eyes. "Sure." Jacob fell in on the other side of his childhood friend, smiling at Autumn wryly. "Couldn't pass up the chance to meet your boy-toy. Whoever they are." "Mother. Fucker." Autumn grumbled. She'd hoped Jacob had missed that part in the overall Marissa-ness, but obviously he hadn't. UGH! Why me? It wasn't like she and Jay were a thing anymore. They hadn't been for a little while. Yet, there it was - the awkwardness of her ex meeting her current boyfriend... and given how Jay had expressed concerns about who Autumn was hanging around with earlier this week, this meeting was going to redefine awkward. "Oh, you don't know?" Marissa sounded surprised, with just a hint of insincerity to let those listening know that she was loving this. "Not surprised, really. A-Rae likes to keep things close to her chest. Very close." she added suggestively, causing Jacob to scowl and Autumn to, for a change, wish that a meteor would strike someone other than herself- And then she saw him, leaning against a picnic table, a drink in his hand. Dressed differently from normal, but that only registered dimly in the rising warm ocean roar of her mind as she took in his iridescent gaze and that lean symmetry of his form she felt was etched on her libido. Marissa was saying something, but Autumn only answered 'mmhmm', stepping a little faster, her arm slipping from her friend's clasp as she sped up. She saw him turn to watch her, noting her approach as he straightened, setting his drink down absently and moved to meet her. "...and there he goes." Hank snickered as both grown men watched the wiry shape move at a stride to meet the girl with the hair that threw back gleams of copper and gold in the sunshine. The two teens were walking fast, as if they were going to run at any moment and collide, but then stopped suddenly, mere inches from one another as they looked into each other's faces. "Hey." Jason said quietly, feeling 'it' again, that rising electricity as though a storm was in the air, sparks of white fire in his blood at her mere proximity. That primal, irrational part of him reached out in it's chains, wanting to touch, to kiss, to taste. He paused as long as he could, devouring her with his eyes. "Hey." Autumn returned, a little breathlessly, as though she had been running, lost in the glittering sheen of his gaze. Her face felt hot. Her body felt hot, as though she were on the verge of delicious immolation in emerald fires. Neither said anything else for a long moment. They just stared into each other, and those watching felt, as Dana had that Saturday morning, a sense of voyeurism at witnessing something so unashamed in it's expression. Hank and Gar coughed and looked away. Marissa was aware of an astonished sound from Jacob and looked to see a surprised scowl on the young man's face. Not everyone was paying attention, of course. But of those that were, at least one person present was experiencing something very different from discomfort or embarrassment at what she was seeing. Oh, no. Kaitlin had seen her son arrive while chatting with Ms Sevy, and had been covertly watching him to see if he'd notice her. But the red-head's arrival put fears of discovery way down the list of concerns for the shapely blonde woman. The way Jase looked at her... Oh no. No no no. No. Damn the Trickster and all his works. She cursed, a common Teulu phrase for when things went catastrophically wrong. And she couldn't intervene. Gar was right there, and in any case, for the replacement Biology teacher to be interfering would call attention... Damn it. Autumn placed her hands on Jason's chest, and like a circuit being completed the action broke the two out of their paralysis. Her hands slid up and around his neck, one of his hands went around her waist, drawing her closer, his other hand cupped her cheek, fingers splaying across her flushed skin as she fitted herself to his frame and went up on tiptoe, their lips meeting in a kiss that was far from innocent and yet unreservedly pure, an expression of desire both honest and unfettered by any other consideration. "Oh, there's Jase." Dana's words caught Ian's attention and he looked just in time to see his daughter throw her arms around the neck of and kiss the lean, shaggy-haired figure who held her possessively. "Uh... I guess Autumn saw him too." Dana grimaced slightly as she noted her husband's expression. Well, at least you haven't seen him put his hands on her bu- Oh, he just did. Great. she sighed inwardly as her lithe and active daughter did everything but climb her tall boyfriend as his hands slid down to... brace her. Yes. That was it.
  19. Into The Eye Of The Monster Article from ‘Empire’ magazine. an interview with Jason Bannon, By Roger Jurgen: ‘Weirder Stuff’, in the beginning attacked by its critics for being “yet another teen supernatural drama”, has beaten the odds and risen above the competition - and how! The direction, writing and most of all the young actors who comprise the show’s central cast have, in the first season, shown the critics that they were wrong to dismiss the strong pool of talent that the show’s producers assembled. It boldly tackles issues from sexual assault to teen drug use to the simple difficulties of coming of age, set against a backdrop of a world that is just like ours - only a lot weirder. I recently got to sit down and interview the show’s resident bad boy, at least on-screen. Genius, high-functioning psychopath - the character of Jase Bannon is the wild card of the Fellowship. Potential anti-hero or fledgling monster, one thing the fans can’t do is not discuss him. The actor who plays him is similarly a subject of much discussion. Described in the past as ‘enormously talented’ and ‘a prodigy’, he has made his mark playing roles that test both actor and viewer psychologically, making us ask moral and ethical questions about ourselves and the world around us and, on several occasions, giving us a good scare. It is a blustery Montana day when I am driven up to the near-iconic ‘Bannon House, an actual farmhouse standing at the summit of a gentle hill that overlooks the surrounding area. Picked for it’s isolated appearance, it radiates - not loneliness, but apartness - an air of self-containment that asks nothing and takes courage to approach, much as does the fictional character that lives within. Much as does the actor himself. Jason Bannon, in person, is perhaps not as daunting as his fictional namesake, and for obvious reasons, but as a method actor (he lives in the Bannon house even when not filming, and rumor has it he is thinking of buying the place) I am struck by the pale gaze that measures me unwaveringly, giving me his full attention without any sign of either friendliness or hostility. His handshake is as one might expect from the character too - brief, polite but unlingering: a clasp, two shakes and then done, as if lifted directly from a book on ‘How to Greet People’. I find myself moving very deliberately and choosing my words with care, my awareness of the character coloring my interpretation of the actor’s expressions and words. I have to remind myself that ‘Jase Bannon’, the telekinetic who can crush a car with his mind, is not real. We sip coffee in the lounge of the farmhouse, the shelves piled with books which, my host assures me, he does read in his spare time though not, he admits, with the speed or voraciousness of his character. As he admits this he smiles, a touch of warmth enters his expression and I get the sense that, at least in part, his mask is being set aside for me, as a professional courtesy. I find I am now able to relax, that the monster is not actually in the room. By common consent, we use the name ‘Jase’ when speaking about the character, to avoid confusion. Roger: Now, you’re the cast member that’s most private, but what fans do know about you is that you don’t break character so long as you are in a given role. And yet you’re giving an interview? Jason: Yes. Roger: How does that work, exactly? Jason: Well, obviously I am not a super-powered alien genius. Nor am I an actual psychopath. What I do is maintain the- framework, let us call it. Jase’s speech patterns, his way of perceiving the world, how he thinks and reacts. It is an entire persona, carefully constructed over readings, rehearsals, and many many discussions about the character with the writers, the director, and even my co-stars. I don’t retreat into my memory palace between takes, or go and tend my flower garden - because those are things Jase can do that I cannot. Likewise, I’m not hard-wired to be fearless and find violence easy - but Jase is. When wearing his persona, I can immerse myself in that without feeling the need to act on it. I try to interact with the world through that filter. Roger: You’ve a history of playing roles which some would describe as simultaneously troubled and troubling, both on stage and film. Was that what drew you to accept this role? Jason: Definitely a large part of it. I find the character to be simultaneously complex and yet simple. He’s not insane, or a compulsive personality, or irrational. Every action he takes has at least three, and usually more reasons for him to do it. He rarely if ever acts without thinking, but his pattern of thought is… well, alien. That forms the basis for a large part of his personal conflicts with others. Roger: Such as Devin. Some describe the ‘frenemy’ relationship between your character and that of Devin to be similar to that of Professor Xavier and Magneto. Friends who nevertheless cannot agree on certain central positions, who will clash over those. What do you think? Jason: Devin has a strong moral base underlying his exterior. He’s the Hero, in the classic sense. Flawed, certainly, but he knows he can and should be better. Jase is the anti-hero - he’s on the good guys side, but he isn’t moral and doesn’t have a conscience as we understand it. Devin, in stepping up to lead, has had to point out to Jase that he needs to think through the consequences of his actions on the emotional wellbeing of the others, not just their physical safety. Their contrast is an interesting one to play out. In the future, they might become like Professor X and Magneto - or they could be like Kirk and Spock. They’re teens, at a crossroads, and it could go either way. Roger: Do you get along off-screen? Jason: Yeah, we do. He’s a lot of fun - serious about working on the show, unafraid to goof around a bit between takes. Him and Cassie are always trying to get me to crack. Especially Cassie. I think she takes it as a personal challenge. Roger: Do you ever goof around? Play pranks back? Jason: (smiling) I don’t not goof around. I feel I have to maintain character to a degree, though. I believe that acting always betrays truth - Jase is supposed to be somewhat aloof, unreachable in an everyday sense. He has a sense of humor, but it is wry and understated and not-quite human. And the others are never sure where the line is with him - they can be pretty sure he won’t hurt them, but they don’t know what does and doesn’t offend him or get under his skin. I try to keep the chemistry similar to how the Fellowship are with me on-screen. Roger: Chemistry, yes. Jase has been described as somewhat of a dark horse romantic character. You have never played a role with a romantic side before - was that a challenge? Jason: It was at first, for sure. (chuckling) I initially questioned the veracity of someone so cold and detached even being able to express passion. The writers took me through their process, describing the subtle but defined differences between a regular psychopath and what Jase is. It took me a long time to balance his inner landscape, to get the persona correct. I think the results speak for themselves, though. Roger: They do, yes. Apparently you’re trending on all manner of social media platforms and the character has made several top ten lists in young adult media. Jason: I didn’t know. Jase doesn’t usually haunt social media, so nor do I. Roger: You sound surprised. Jason: I am! Devin is the Kirk character. (He laughs.) Hmm. But it actually makes a certain amount of sense. The character provokes emotions - there are well-documented links between the thrill of fear, a sense of danger, and fascination. Who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to pet the tiger when it isn’t acting in a threatening manner? Even when it seems at peace it’s still a tiger. Still deadly. It just has no reason to harm you right now. Roger: So is that how you see Jase? A tiger? Jason: (nodding) Sort of, yes. A big cat in a human suit, an apex predator by wiring, smarter than pretty much everyone around him and with a boundless capacity for violence. Morals or social pressures have limited sway on him, especially if they come from outside his chosen circle. Hmm, perhaps a lion would be a better description. More in-group oriented. He ‘cares’ - in his way - about those he chooses as friends. Roger: ‘Boundless capacity for violence’? Jason: Capacity, not necessarily inclination. The human psyche has a limit to how much stress, violence and fear it can endure. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ the limit gets reached, it’s a matter of ‘when’. Psychopaths - and by extension Teulu: as a fictional near-human race designed for war - do not have that limit. This is why you will find psychopaths doing well in high-stress, high-danger fields. Special operations soldiers, firefighters, police officers, surgeons, and of course career criminals… The stress and trauma of their job doesn’t touch them and they are able to perform as they need to. I chose to do a lot of reading on the phenomena when I undertook this role: it’s a fascinating field of study. Anyway, back to your original question - I think it is that sense of contained danger that gives Jase his allure. I can’t take all the credit for that. The writing team do an absolutely brilliant job for all the characters - it’s like putting on a suit that is perfectly tailored. And of course, the cast all have excellent chemistry with each other. We fall very naturally into the roles of misfit friends. Roger: And, of course, chemistry is Jase’s special area of knowledge. Now there’s been some romantic subplots between your character and a couple of the ladies on the show. Where do you see that heading? Jason: No spoilers, but I can say keep watching. There’s bound to be twists and turns, and nothing is certain - even the cast and writers aren’t sure where things are going sometimes. When you’re working with talented writers and actors there’s a lot of improvisation and inspiration, especially when they’re heavily engaged and interested. So many times you’ll get Devin improvising some banter - he’s really good at that - and the director will just be like ‘Hey, that’s good, I’ll allow it’. And the personal chemistry between the cast will influence things too - sometimes the writers like to work with that to give the work more ‘punch’. Roger: So your chemistry with Marissa and Autumn in the show - is that similar to off-screen? Jason: No comment. (he laughs) Seriously, they are both great actresses: enormously talented and each brings a great deal of vibrant life to their part. In person they’re lovely people - not at all diva-like and very down to earth. Marissa is a sweetheart, and Autumn is passionate - very much present in every moment, whether on or off-screen. She’s perfect for her role, really. I do have to give kudos to Marissa though: she is very unlike her character in some key ways, and watching her go all ‘Evil Queen’ when the cameras are rolling is inspiring. Roger: And your other co-stars? How do you get along with them? Jason: We get along well. Or at least, I like to think so. They’re all very good to work with - good work ethic, minimal drama and screaming even on bad days. And as people, they’re pretty chill and fun. Like our characters, we are very different people thrown together to be part of something greater, so the dynamic works very well. Roger: What’s next for Jase, do you think? Jason: Jase is like every member of the Fellowship - potentiality. The only way to find out what comes next is to travel along the road. Roger: And for yourself? Jason: (He smiles) Same answer.
  20. Champions Field, after 1 pm. Gar smiled awkwardly as he made his escape from the impromptu couples chatter that was forming around the Cassidy picnic spot, feeling a sense of relief that he had a grill to go and check on - an excellent pretext that prevented his exit from being too obvious and awkward. He sighed as he opened the cover on the grill, checked on the ribs and kielbasa, then settled back into his lawn chair, fighting back the brief desire for something stronger than a Coors Lite as he watched the families, so normal-seeming, tiny islands of sanity and human contact despite the dramas and quarrels and disagreements. He missed Kaitlin most at times like these - which was one reason he hadn't come to this type of event before. Or anything communal, really. And his only family now was... Jase. Who didn't need him so much as he just liked having him around - Sort of like a half-wild cat that knows how to change it's own litter and use the can opener, he mused wryly. I am tolerated, accepted, loved even, but not needed. My own son doesn't need me. Never really did. A thought that had, in the past, would have triggered Gar into reaching for a bottle of hard liquor now simply evoked quiet sadness. "What's on your mind?" Hank settled into his nearby chair, pulling a fresh bottle of beer from the cooler and regarding Gar calmly. "Nothing much." Jason's dad shrugged, forcing a smile. "You struck out with the nurse, huh?" "Turns out she has a boyfriend in Oregon." Hank smirked slightly. "Who'd a-thought?" "At least she wasn't washing her hair." Gar chuckled, clinking his bottle against his friend's. "Plenty of fish in the sea, man." "Truth." Hank laughed, glancing at the pie Mrs Cassidy had left on the table. "How'd you get on with the real people?" "Pretty good." Gar shrugged. "It's awkward, though. Only thing we have in common is our kids, and I'm pretty sure I'm one of the only parents in Shelly that knows about... you know. I kept looking at Carl, or Jack, or Carolyn, and wondering if they're also pretending that our kids aren't super-teens." "God, can you imagine?" Hank snickered, then sobered as he indicated someone with his bottle. "Well, we know there's at least one parent in Shelly that knows what's up." Following the pointing bottle neck, Gar saw the tiny new girl... what was her name? Kat. That was it. With her father, the Army captain who was part of the Project security detail, and with his girlfriend. He gave them a short wave of greeting as they passed, a gesture answered by a nod and smile from Josh and a small wave from Kat. Just normal family people doing normal family things, that's us, he thought quietly. Nothing odd going on here. He wondered if any other other parents knew this might be the last day they shared with their kids. Jase had been frank with him - but that was Jase. Practical to the point of coldness, he'd advised his father to sell up and move out of Toole County if the teens didn't come back, for his own safety. Again, that jarring inversion that comes upon most parents when they realise their child is an adult that does not need protection and is, perhaps, even more capable than they are themselves. It just happened sooner with his son than with most children. = = = = = = = = It was almost a physical shock when she saw him, and Kaitlin immediately ducked into the shade of a stall, grateful of the sunglasses and the sun hat she was wearing. Gar was here? Mentally she facepalmed - of course Gar was here. It was a small community, and a big day. Jason would likely be here too, somewhere. Taking a breath to steady herself, she half-turned and peered over at where her mate sat, talking with a rough-looking man with broad shoulders that filled out the Army surplus jacket. She noted those details absently, focusing on Gareth. He hadn't changed much. A little gray in his hair, cut short now rather than the longer cut she'd known him to have. That same sober, serious expression that could illuminate in a smile or laugh. He'd gotten thinner in the face, and lost the short beard. Kaitlin stared for a long moment, painfully aware of her heartbeat in her ears. She was aware she'd taken half a step towards him and turned away, closing her eyes for a long moment. Eight years, and still the draw was there; he was still her nghalon'd'ewiswyd. She wanted to go to him. She wanted to leave this field. She wanted to throw herself into his arms and never stop kissing him. She wanted to run from Shelly where she wouldn't be reminded of her failures... "Kaitlin?" Someone had been trying to speak with her, and the blonde woman shook herself out of her reverie and turned back to see Clair Sevy, another new addition to the Shelly school faculty, smiling as she approached for a hug. She was a big hugger, it seemed. Kaitlin obliged, smiling back as the two new teachers greeted each other. "So, you decided to come check this out too, hmm?" Claire gestured at the field around them, bustling with families as she smiled. "Yes." Kaitlin nodded, letting Catheen fall away as she re-adopted her human mask. Kaitlin Forster was not moon-eyed over some single father. "Though unlike some I'm not treating it as an excuse for an unofficial parent-teacher conference." she indicated Mr McRiley, who was taking advantage of his bully pulpit to heckle yet another underperforming high schooler. The man was unpleasant in that bland, petty human fashion that tarnished the daylight in faint, nondescript ways. He also made Catheen's knife hand itch when he looked at her - fortunately, Kaitlin didn't have a knife hand. Nope. Not at all. Or a slender Teulu blade strapped to her thigh under the dress. "Oh, no. He isn't?" Claire looked disapprovingly at the algebra teacher. "For crying out loud - this is the last holiday of the summer. Leave the poor kids alone." she muttered, then smiled wanly at Kaitlin. "I shouldn't say it, but he's a horrible unctuous little man." "There's worse people in the world, I suppose." Kaitlin smirked a little. "Well, in some worlds." "We should go and undo some damage." Claire suggested with a smile. "Talk about how delightful the kids are." "Some of them, maybe." Kaitlin's laugh was unaffected. She found herself warming to the Art teacher. = = = = = = = = = The Charger rolled to a stop, the engine's grumble and the strains of Bach dying away as Jase killed the ignition before slipping out from behind the wheel. Dressed in faded jeans rather than combat pants, and a dark grey t-shirt that, instead of being plain, bore the logo 'Patience: What You Have When There Are Too Many Witnesses', the only concession to regular Jason attire was his boots. He slipped his phone into his pocket and strode in the direction of the bustling Champion's Field, green eyes shining like chips of emerald under the shaggy fall of his hair. He could smell a few dozen grills adding their savory smoke to the late summer air as he joined the crowd, now and then turning to move aside for knots of children or families as he wove through in search of familiar faces, making for the picnic area with his typical straight-backed grace. The Keanes were easy to pick out, as were the Cassidys, though he saw neither Sean nor Autumn with their respective families. He spotted Cassandra and Bethany playing with Cass's dog. Kat was there with her father. Devin and Marissa were standing near their folks, talking to Laurie, who wore an expression of sober consideration as she nodded, said something then moved off with her pet goat. Scanning the family picnic area, he didn't see the Alisters or the Pryors, and mulled that over as he located where his dad and Hank were and began heading over to them.
  21. Those who had wanted to had freshened up, had a coffee or a soda, and as the afternoon came to an end people started to go their separate ways without much ceremony. Tawny, with a cheery wave and a smile, cycled off down the dirt road first. Cade was next, slinging his equipment duffel into the back of his Jeep before driving off. Lilly was next, pausing long enough to offer Cass a lift only for the blonde to demur, stating with a smile that she had a ride coming. And sure enough, as Courtney's cherry-red convertible drove away with Kat in the passenger seat, a purplish ripple in the air and the purr of Devin's bike announced the teleporter's return, and Cassandra grinned as she hopped aboard the bike's pillion seat and donned the helmet. That done, she waved to Autumn and Jason as Devin gave them a jaunty salute, and the dust of the road was once more and finally disturbed as the Ducatti left. "So." Autumn said, leaning back on the porch rail and smiling at the Effing Boyfriend. "I can't help but notice I didn't get an airplane." she bantered, feeling a little breathless suddenly as he stepped closer, her face tilting up to regard him as she forced her hands to stay on the porch rail with an effort of will, given that they'd rather be doing other things right about now. "That's true." Jason nodded, angular features expressionless. "I was thinking we could do something else." he murmured as his hands slid around her waist, jade-hued eyes meeting hers. “Mhmm.” For a moment, it was the only reply she could make- language was, after all, governed by slightly more evolved parts of Autumn’s brain than the ones currently in operation. Pheromones, the rational part of her brain insisted through the delicious haze of warmth clouding her thoughts. With the railing pressed against her back and the heat radiated by Jason’s long, lean form so tantalizingly close, it was something of a miracle she managed even that much. She was dimly aware that they were completely alone. That his bare arms were on either side of her, implicitly preventing her escape even if she’d thought to make one. That he hadn’t yet changed clothes, and it would require only the slightest effort to- Releasing the porch railing, Autumn mirrored Jase’s movement. Pale fingertips dipped below the waistband of his sweatpants, the wide, clear blue pools of her eyes darkening as her hands skimmed around his hips and pulled him another half-step forward. He'd been intending to bedevil her a little, make her blush, steal a kiss, then bring up what he actually had in mind. To be playful, perhaps mischievous as he had been on Saturday morning when he'd inflamed her a little then dropped the word 'hiking' into the conversation. All of which went flying out of the window as Jase felt warm fingertips on his bare flesh, the lithe, athletic young woman running her hands tantalisingly over the skin of his hips and pulling him insistently against her. And just like that, like a circuit was completed and electrical current flowed between them, passing from his touch through her and then into him, and that primal savage part of him, looser in it's chains than before as a result of his careful balance between control and passion during the practice fight with Devin, lunged. He pulled Autumn against him in turn, arms going tighter around her waist as his lips met hers with almost bruising force, a sound like a hoarse echo of a growl in his throat as he drank deeply from her willingly open mouth, grazing his teeth against her lower lip before entangling his tongue with hers. All he could feel, smell and hear was Autumn: the warm solidity of her body, the scent of woods and grass and natural feminine perfume, the gasps as she eagerly returned his kiss, and in that contraction of his world to her he lost all sense of everything else. There was an undeniable hunger in that reciprocation, in the greedy melding of lips and teeth and tongue that kindled the flickering spark in her abdomen to bright, insatiable flame. The quiet gasps she made against his mouth turned to soft moans as the spirited redhead tried, in vain, to get closer, to press the length of her body any more fully against his; if it wasn’t for their clothes, she could, but to untie the hoodie from her waist, to tug off their shirts, to cast off shoes and pants and all the other annoying trappings of civilized society would take time away from kissing him, from the taste of him. Neither situation- being unable to feel the glorious friction of skin on skin, or breaking even the little contact she was getting in order to strip down- seemed tolerable to her fevered mind. “More,” she breathed in a low plea against his lips, one hand sliding up his spine beneath the white cotton of Jason's shirt, as the other drifted farther southward. With a little maneuvering, Autumn wriggled her way up onto the railing, shifting until her knees were on either side of his narrow hips. It wasn’t quite what Devin had suggested when he’d interrupted them in the loft, but she was in no way interested in pausing to go look for a table now. The only thing that did have her attention, in that moment, was the sweet, fierce delirium of desire that burned beneath her skin- burned, consumed, and yet left neither agony nor ash in its wake, but something as-yet formless, nameless, and wholly unconcerned with anything but the feeling of him in her arms Jason was aware that his control had reached it's limits. His need was painful, pressed against her through flimsy layers of interloping cloth as his hands slid under her hoodie and the t-shirt she wore beneath it, fingertips stroking the warmth he found there. It was frustrating, being so close and yet how discordant that awareness of never being close enough was. It would be easy, his reason supplied, to remove the pesky obstacles. He could cocoon himself and Autumn in his Shine and then just burn everything unimportant away, letting it all char and fall away and leave only pale ivory skin dusted with copper pressed against him and then- and then they could- they could fit just right together. In the depths of his half-lidded, passion-dark gaze fireflies began to swirl... "Christ!" Gar said as he rounded the corner of the house with his kit bag and camping gear, back from the militia camp-out, only to be confronted with a scene best described as 'bordering on not family friendly'. Coughing and with hazel eyes wide, he half-turned away. "Uh... so... I'm home." he announced to no-one in particular. Distracted as she was by Jason’s kisses, his touch, the texture of his skin beneath her fingertips, by the tangible proof of her lover’s mutual want, the insistent pressure she could just feel through her jeans, Autumn hadn’t heard the arrival of any vehicles- nor indeed anything at all over the mad rush of blood pounding in her ears and the quiet whimpers of need that caught in the back of her throat. So when Gar’s shocked exclamation interrupted the relative peace of the afternoon it caught her utterly and completely off-guard. Jesus fuck! The startled curse was muffled by Jase’s mouth on hers- or hers on his, the two being so intertwined it would’ve been almost impossible to determine- and it was only the reflexive tightening of her thighs around his waist and her hands on his back that prevented her from falling backwards off the railing. All at once, the heat that had been building in her core surged to the surface of her skin, staining with crimson the sun-warmed cheeks that had moments before been rosy with desire. Oh, god. Oh, my fucking, god, Autumn. With a mortified, despairing groan, she buried her face against her boyfriend’s shoulder, as if in doing so she could somehow escape the awkward. “Hi, Gar,” she muttered almost inaudibly, pleading in vain for some merciful deity to just incinerate her on the spot. "Dad." Jason's voice held a taut husk as he fought back down the consuming urge, his hands still holding Autumn to him, aware of her arms and legs having tightened even further around his lean form as he glanced at his father, breathing hard and eyes alight with a feral flame for a long moment... and then returning to his normal outward composure as control reasserted itself. "So I guess you didn't hear the pickup." he noted, glancing quickly to ensure both teens were decent before actually turning back to face them with an uncomfortable smile. "You guys have a good training day?" "Productive." Jason nodded, his breathing coming a little easier as his heart slowed and blood settled from the searing heat that had been running through his veins. He still cradled Autumn, one hand gently stroking the ends of her hair absently as he spoke. "The old plough is fixed - though needs a tow linkage bar. The far north field is a bit waterlogged but should be fine. And we learned a lot from each other." "Good. Good." Gar smiled a little less awkwardly. "I was gonna get some dinner going - Autumn, you want to stay for a bit?" It hadn’t been all that long since Devin had brought back pizza, but the prospect of finding out more about the laconic young man and his dad firsthand- and of getting a free dinner on top of that- was enough to make up her mind. Still red-faced, she nodded against Jason’s chest, and then, realizing that wasn’t really an answer, tried again. Turning her head so that her cheek was pressed against her companion’s breastbone, her flame-crowned head tucked beneath his chin, Autumn hazarded a smile at Gar. “Um, for a little bit, yeah, thank you. I could eat.” The gear the older man was carrying caught her eye, and for a moment she wondered what he and his friends got up to on their outings. It also struck her as a little bit strange, an interesting coincidence that both Jase and his father had gone camping on the same weekend. She inhaled, an involuntary shiver running hot and cold through her body as she breathed in Jason’s scent, and swallowed hard. Down, girl. “And, if you want, I’m happy to help out. I mean, I don’t know how to cook Provencal anything, but I’ll do what I can.” Gar chuckled slightly. "Oh, it's my turn to cook, so it won't be anything fancy or experimental. Fried chicken and mashed potatoes with some green stuff on the side. Come on through to the kitchen and I'll put you to work." he smiled good-naturedly at the girl before disappearing through the front door, leaving the pair alone again, though they could hear him opening closets and doors inside as he stowed his gear. "I'm going to take a shower. A cold one." Jason murmured, his lips moving against Autumn's coppery curls, taking a breath and letting it out again slowly. She could feel the warmth of his exhalation on her scalp as he lifted her down from the porch rail, then gently kissed her upturned lips, his eyes closing for a moment as he did so, then smiled slightly and led her inside. They parted ways at the foot of the stairs, Jason letting his fingers slip from hers as he stepped away, his eyes still on her, before turning and taking the steps up two at a time. As he disappeared round the corner of the stairwell, Gar stuck his head out of the kitchen doorway. "I'm betting you know your way around a potato peeler." he waggled the implement between thumb and forefinger at her. "Mind starting with that?" "Yeah," she replied distractedly, watching Jason quickly mount the stairs. She’d been in that shower herself, and it was hard not to imagine him there now beneath the spray, with that clean, faintly herbal scented lather on his- No. No, no, no. “No.” Autumn shook her head, echoing her own silent admonition to herself as she tore her eyes away from the staircase, a renewed wave of scarlet suffusing her skin. “No, I mean, I don’t mind. Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” She followed Gar into the kitchen, humming under her breath as she busied herself physically by scrubbing the potatoes he brought, and mentally by trying to think of how she was going to broach the subject of the letter and the talisman to her mom. Jason's dad seemed to be handling the crazy well enough; he didn't look quite as tired as he had the first time she'd met him, more alert and interested, and a little of the sadness in his warm hazel eyes had dissipated. In theory, having at least grown up with Owen's seemingly outlandish stories, Dana might be completely fine after an initial freakout. Or she could ship me off somewhere, the redhead sighed internally, glancing over to where the elder Bannon was prepping the chicken. "Hey, Gar?" She frowned a little as she dug out a bruised spot from the pale white flesh, still swaying slightly on her feet at the music playing in the background of her thoughts. "Can I be nosy for a minute? Jason's dad glanced over at her as he mixed the seasoned breading together, a curious expression on his face. He was perhaps a shade shorter and a lot broader of shoulder than Jason, his eyes more of a muddy hazel than vivid green, and his face was animated, warm and human compared to his son's remote outward mien. But there were similarities too, such as the quick intelligence, undulled by drink now, that gleamed in his eyes as he regarded his son's girlfriend. "Sure." he said after a moment, smiling. "What's on your mind, Autumn?" The expressive redhead took a deep breath, holding onto it for a moment as she decided how to start, and then exhaling in a sudden rush. "So, I've been kind of wondering." Tilting her head, she returned the smile he'd directed at her, nose crinkling slightly as the expression turned rueful. "I didn't really get a chance to ask last night, because, you know. Existential terror and all that." Still smiling, Autumn shrugged at that, a sort of nonverbal punctuation easily interpreted even by those not familiar with her. "But... How are you taking all this?" She gestured broadly with peeler in hand, indicating more than just the kitchen and the dinner preparations. "Since the hospital, I mean. Not Jason and me." The smile changed, broadened, and she could feel her cheeks growing warmer by degrees as she glanced quickly back down at the few potatoes that remained and picked one up. "I feel like I'm gonna have to tell my mom, you know? And I know you two are different people, but you kind of remind me of her, a little, and I was wondering how you've been handling the sort of... I don't know. The nightmare stuff, and having us all out here. Because it's crazy, right? And, I guess..." Autumn swallowed, shrugged again as she blinked back the sting that warned of imminent tears. "I guess I don't want to make her worry any more than she needs to." Gar nodded slowly as he started coating the chicken pieces, his expression contemplative as the fiery-haired girl spoke and for a long moment afterwards. The silence stretched out a little, and when Jason's dad did speak it was with slow deliberation. "Honestly? I've been scared almost witless." he confessed in a quiet voice. "Nothing new there - I was always scared about being a lousy dad, or that Jason was autistic. Finding out about him just gave me something concrete to be afraid of rather something from inside my own imagination." He sighed, brushing some crumbs of breading from his fingers over the bowl before grabbing another piece of chicken. "Monsters, conspiracies, ancient aliens stuff, psionic powers, and him being... different... they all worry me." "But he's Jase, you know? I can't stop him doing what he's doing. I'm not even sure that morally I should try. For all that he's only sixt-" The older man's voice wavered a little, but he continued to speak as he prepped the meal. "-sixteen, he's not a child. So if I can't stop him, all I can do is make sure he's not distracted by me, that I'm a help rather than a hindrance. And once I realised that, it got easier." He smiled over at Autumn, his eyes a little moist but with tears unshed. "And he has you, and the others - some of them, at least." Gar snorted slightly. "You guys aren't going off alone to fight monsters. You've got him, and he's got you." He shrugged. "It's a challenge, but I can't help if I'm panicking and trying to wrap him in cotton wool." Autumn was quiet for a few moments, finishing up the last of the potatoes and disposing of the peels as she mulled over his answer. It was the same earnestness he'd showed a week ago when she'd turned up looking for his son, hoping to retrieve the faded red hoodie that was even now tied around her waist- so very unlike Jase in terms of being openly emotional, but also very like him for being unapologetic about it, for listening, for taking her question seriously. Most adults wouldn't admit to being afraid of anything, or what they were really afraid of, least of all to a "kid." She was reminded again of that initial impression she'd gotten, the fact that she liked the slightly awkward, very human father of her now-boyfriend. He's a good dad. There was never a doubt in her mind, in any of the situations in which she'd seen Gar Bannon, that he dearly loved his strange, brilliant son, and that Jase would probably have been a very different person otherwise. Not someone she'd ever call a friend, at the very least, and definitely not someone she'd date, or get caught kissing on two separate front porches on consecutive days. Probably, he'd have ended up being exactly the way the twins described him, if not worse. "I think," she began slowly, beginning to cut the denuded tubers into manageable chunks as she considered her words, finally electing to follow on from something he'd just said. "Speaking as a friend, that we're pretty lucky, you know? We're lucky to have him, and also lucky he has you. He's-" She paused, the blade of the paring knife hovering for a brief instant over the half-deconstructed potato she was working on. He's what? 'Different?' The man knows that. "Kind of amazing, honestly," the animated girl admitted quietly, unable to suppress the smile that spread slowly across her features. "And, thanks. I want to be honest with my mom, and she's kind of used to me doing everything on my own, so... maybe if it's not just me, it'll be easier." "Honesty definitely would be my first pick - but she's your mom. Ultimately, you know best whether you think she can handle it." Gar smiled a little at her. "I have to say, though, getting thrown in the deep end the way I was is not the best way to get introduced to the weirdness but it definitely cut through a lot of BS about what is possible. I saw what Jason can do, what all of you can do. As demonstrations go, it was effective." "Tell me about it." Autumn smiled, her nose crinkling slightly as she peered over at him. "My introduction was Jason holding a door shut on me, then pulling ice cubes out of tap water like a stage magician pulling ping pong balls from his ear." Gar looked at her askance, then snorted with laughter, Autumn's own merriment mingling with his as the two relaxed a little. "I think your mom will be okay. She seems a sensible woman - so she'll naturally assume you're insane and then that she's insane. But she'll get past it." Gar said as their chuckling faded. "I did." "Yeah." Autumn said thoughtfully, setting the knife down and dumping the chopped potatoes into the pot of water before turning and feeling her heart jump up into her throat as she noticed Jason standing in the doorway to the kitchen, leaning against the doorpost and watching her. "Shit! Sorry... sorry..." she apologised, feeling her face redden a little. Typically, he'd not made a sound as he'd come downstairs. Gar looked around at her outburst, then spotted his son and nodded. "Yeah. He does that. Been doing it since as long as I could remember." he confided in Autumn. "Hank likes to joke that if you can't hear anything, it means Jason's standing behind you staring at the inside of your skull." "I have to find some ways to entertain myself." Jase said quietly, with a faint smile. "And sneaking up on Hank was a great way to learn how to cuss." "Mhmm, unlike the rest of us who had to learn it from cranky old men and the internet," Autumn replied with a grin, staunchly refusing to acknowledge the flush of warmth that always surfaced whenever she realized Jase was observing her. She'd asked him about it when they'd gone camping- what he saw when looking at her so intently- but it couldn't be the same answer all the time, and surely there was nothing all that fascinating about mashed potatoes. Was there? She was tempted to ask again, but reminded herself that if he answered, he'd do it honestly, and that... might not be something Gar Bannon especially needed to hear. Or maybe even that she needed to hear. With Jason, it was hard to say. And, in fairness, it wasn't that she minded, really; it could be a little bit unnerving, that level of attentiveness, but also sort of flattering, maybe? Mostly, she was just curious, though that was true about a lot of things where he was concerned. "Have you guys been friends very long?" she asked instead, glancing first at the older man and then the younger with inquisitive blue eyes warmed by the presence of good company. She had a vague idea that Jase spent time with Hank, training, and that Gar himself was somehow associated with the militia. Neither thought was especially reassuring, but the rational part of her stubbornly maintained that she liked both the Bannon men, and for whatever reason, they both seemed to like Hank Graskle, so... Perhaps her judgement of him was as unjustified as it had been of the two in front of her now. As with everything else, there was really only one way to know for sure, and that started with asking. "Also, if there's anything besides potatoes you need help with, my hands are free." "Looks like dinner's under control for now. As for Hank... Since about a year after we came to Shelly, though I met him six months in when I hooked up with the Sons." Gar revealed as he set the pot to cooking and started warming up the oil pan. "We got along, but he's a private person, so it was a while before we were actually friends." He gave Autumn a knowing look, tinged with a little defensiveness. "Folks round here don't approve of him much, but he's a good guy, and for all that people like to snicker about 'militia crazies', Hank ethos is one of self-sufficiency and being prepared for the worst days rather than counting on the good ones to last forever. The Sons aren't right-wing uber-Christian neo-fascists or whatever. We're just a support network for each other: folks who feel that the system increasingly grinds up individual rights in pursuit of the greater good, and that sooner or later it will likely collapse, so let's get ready for it rather than panic about it. Actual revolutionary types get given the bums rush." "Mostly it's just a bunch of vets, men - and some women - sitting around discussing the best way to grow potatoes and keep livestock over sharing beers." Jason put in as he moved towards the coffee pot, preparing three mugs of coffee: black for himself, a dash of cream for Gar, and cream and sugar for Autumn. Gar's mug floated to set down next to the man as Jason stepped close to Autumn, offering her the coffee in much the same fashion as she had offered one to him earlier, sharing a smile with her as their eyes met. "Plus some paramilitary style training - which is what has most people nervous I would imagine." "I was in a bad way when I came here." Gar nodded, speaking quietly. "I felt like I'd been screwed over by the system, and was talking to all sorts of wackjob conspiracy theorists trying to get a sense of control of my life back. On the whole, I'm lucky I fell in with Hank. He helped get my head straight - sorta. I still crawled into a bottle for a few years, but at least I wasn't full-on nuts." He cleared his throat, smiling a little. "Anyway. That's the tale of the Bannons and Hank." Autumn nodded, smiling back as she leaned her hip against the counter and took a sip of coffee, rolling the taste of it around on her tongue even as she turned Gar's words over in her head. It was a lot to take in, especially when she really hadn't expected him to be quite that open and forthcoming about everything. Probably has something to do with Hank being his best friend, she reflected. People tended to be protective of the things that were important to them, and Jason's dad was much easier to read than The Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities. "Sorry. I didn't really mean for that to be a- a judgy kind of question. I just don't know much about him, and I've seen him a couple of times now, so..." She took another drink from her mug and rolled it thoughtfully between her palms, absently watching the creamy whorls of ivory and brown intermingle fluidly. "He does make me nervous." Glancing up at the elder Bannon, she managed an awkward smile at the admission. "But, you don't. And Jase doesn't." She paused for a beat, tilting her head back to peer at the tall, enigmatic young man behind her with a glimmer of laughter in the shifting blue-grey-green of her eyes. "Not always, at least. Unless he's trying to, and then it's pretty much guaranteed." Straightening, she added, "So, I feel pretty okay, I guess, taking your word for it until I find out for myself." "Which is all that can be reasonably asked." Gar nodded as he loaded the basket up with a few pieces of chicken and lowered it into the oil pan, watching the surface for a few minutes as it seethed and roiled. Turning then, and picking up his own mug, he smiled briefly at her and took a drink. The kitchen was silent for a little while, then, but it was a comfortable sort of silence; Gar keeping one eye on the stove as he reflected and sipped coffee, and Jason leaning against the counter next to Autumn, close enough she could feel his hip brushing hers, himself content not to speak. Autumn reflected on the way both men, young and old, seemed comfortable with silence and stillness, differing in quality though the feel of it was from each. Gar was the stillness of a forest glade - there was motion there, leaves and fronds stirred in the breeze, a sense of things happening out of sight but none of them particularly ominous. Whereas Jason was, of course, the frozen primordial lake: nothing appeared to disturb the stillness at all, and then you walked out on the ice and realised that you could see beneath it... and then something down there where the water was warmer stirred and looked back at you. "How are you handling all this?" Gar said into the quiet after a short while, glancing at Autumn curiously. "I mean, training to use your gift, being expected to fight monsters and timeless evils, not to mention Aeon and Branch 9 and Crossroads." He smiled wryly at her. "How does a nice sensible girl like you deal with this madness?" "You're assuming I'm nice and sensible." She grinned, a flash of fey humor in the wide, sea-colored eyes that sparkled at him over the rim of her mug as she took another drink. It was a fair question: she'd just asked him more or less the same thing, and he'd mentioned a week prior that he hadn't really been able to hold a conversation with his son's friends, so it stood to reason he'd be curious how the people Jase would be fighting alongside might be coping. Turning the mug in her hands, absently savoring the warmth of it in her fingers, Autumn considered that. A few of the teens- Jason included- had mentioned or alluded to the fact that all of them might not be coming home. What that meant to her, personally, was a very different thing than what it might mean to someone else. Especially when that someone else was a father who was, even indirectly, trusting her with his child's life. Oh. Well, fuck. Why hadn't that occurred to her before? Autumn wondered at that. Was it just because she wasn't a parent, and didn't think like one? Or because really having to think about other people in general still felt awkward and uncomfortable, like a new pair of boots that hadn't yet been broken in? Hmm. Aware that Gar was still waiting for an answer, still patiently sort-of smiling as the gears in her head turned (probably audibly), she nodded, acknowledging the question more seriously. "It is madness, yeah, like you said," she began quietly, studying the half-full mug in her hands. "Scary in a very real, nightmares-come-to-life kind of way. Which, mostly is fine. Fear can be useful, you know? Healthy. In most people," she amended, gently nudging Jason's hip with her own. "But sometimes there's no running away from what you're afraid of. Sometimes you have to walk toward it, I think. The worst that happens is what would've happened anyway, but you're on your feet and facing it, if that makes sense.” She smiled again, slightly. “That’s kind of what my grandfather tried to teach me. The difference in just being afraid of something, kind of letting instinct take over, and consciously respecting it. So, I guess, to answer your question, I just…” She paused, lower lip caught momentarily between her teeth. “I just do. Do the thing now, freak out afterward. Sort of like last night. Maybe I cry, or get sick, or go sit in my treehouse and smoke a little. Or a lot,” the redhead admitted with another little grin, “depending. But I also feel like maybe it’s easier for me, because it isn’t just me anymore. I do have a couple of friends now, which sounds kind of sad when I say it out loud, and I found out my family, my mom’s side I mean, has been dealing with this since before Shelly was a thing. So.” She was quiet for a moment, then hazarded a glance up from the swirling mixture of cream and caffeine. “Does that help? "Having a couple of friends isn't sad." Gar grinned at her. "Means you're discerning. Quality over quantity, right?" They shared a smile, then Gar took out the cooked chicken and put on a fresh batch to fry as he pondered. "It does help, though. Sounds like you're dealing with it right in my opinion. It's still sorta hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Jase here-" he indicated the Effing One with a wry smile, "-finds having a girlfriend more of a thing worthy of talking about than fighting evil beasties." "He does, hmm?" Autumn glanced at Jason, feeling her cheeks pinken again as she realised his eyes were on her, had probably been on her the entire time. He wasn't moon-eyed or anything, just... studying her. Intently. He's learning me, like I'm a language. she realised then, with a small smile, thinking about her 'Bannonology notes for dummies'. He was interested in her in pretty much the same way she found him fascinating - or at least, it seemed that way. "Oh yeah. Can't shut up about you." Gar's wink let Autumn know he was teasing. Jason's gaze flickered to his father, curiously, then he too realised that Gar was kidding around and smiled a little as he took a drink from his coffee. Dinner was comfortable and uneventful. Much as when Devin had come round a few days earlier, talk of Dark, powers and weird stuff was by common consensus not brought up. Gar ate ravenously, and the teens only slightly less so despite having had pizza not so long ago. They discussed the upcoming hunting season, school and sports and the plans for the Carousel festival tomorrow - turned out Gar and Hank would likely be there, grilling and chilling with other Shellyites. Jason made mention of the fact he'd be in Great Falls most of the morning with Sean, but should be back before the afternoon wore on too late, and Autumn tried not to think about what he'd said about buying condoms, because that way lay fiery-faced spontaneous combustion. Finally, with the meal over, Gar went to rest whilst the teens quickly cleaned up. "Once we're done here, I'll get you home." Jase said quietly as he scrubbed and rinsed a plate. He glanced sideways at Autumn, a faint smile playing around his eyes and lips. "We could go by road... or air. Which would you prefer?" Ohmygod! Ohmygodhohmygodohmygod! Pleeeeease don’t let him be kidding! The response was near-instantaneous, her decision requiring only slightly longer than it took for his words to register. "Seriously?!" Realizing just a moment too late how loud her startled exclamation was, she clapped the dish-towel over her mouth, wide-eyed. Even through the layers of cloth, Autumn’s girlish squeals of excitement were unmistakable as she bounced on the balls of her feet, with only the fact that Jason’s dad was trying to relax keeping her from actually jumping up and down right there in the kitchen. He’d told her on the camping trip that if he ever learned to fly properly, she could be his first passenger; and a flush totally unrelated to the anticipation of Jase making good on his word stole across her cheeks at the memory of the look in his eyes there in the firelight, what he’d said after, and whether the way he’d said it had meant anything… But the last, at least, was something for Future Autumn to worry about. Current Autumn needed a completely different kind of confirmation. The clear blue eyes that studied his features fairly shone with anticipation, searching his expression for some hint of teasing not betrayed by the Effing Boyfriend’s neutral tone. “Seriously?” She tried again, softer this time but no less urgently, dish-towel still clutched just under her chin in the event she needed to muffle another shriek. There was a pleading note in her voice as she leaned closer, and a suggestion of hopeful optimism. “You’re not just messing with me, are you?” His smile widened a little, which could be deliberate mannerism on his part, but the warmer hue to his gaze was unmistakeable. "I promised." he said simply, as though that explained everything, then paused, his head tilting slightly. "And even if I hadn't, I'd still offer. It's a nice evening." Another pause, his eyes almost luminous as they rested on hers. "And there's no-one I'd rather fly with." It was nothing short of miraculous that Jase managed to hold on to the plate- although certainly his ability to rapidly process visual information, in concert with the multitude of expressions he'd observed in the last few days, must have helped- as Autumn threw her arms around him in a fiercely exuberant embrace. Pressing her face against his chest to stifle the cheers of unadulterated joy, the energetic redhead thanked all the gods that hadn't incinerated her thus far for ignoring her pleas. He let go of the plate, which drifted onto the drying rack, because there were better uses for his hands, weren't there? Such as holding the copper-tressed elfin creature who was currently excitedly cheering directly to his heart as he felt her energy surge and roil and enfold him as much as her arms were tightly clasping him to her. It was a good feeling, this feeling. Warming without being consuming, a tenderness to it that was almost selfless - her happiness being a tangible state he could feel, or so it seemed - and important to him. He smiled slightly, resting his cheek against the top of her head as one arm enfolded her and the other gently stroked her hair whilst he reflected on that warmth which, he was pretty sure, he would always associate with copper curls, eyes like the sea, and a crinkle-nosed smile illuminating a freckled face. "You'll have to hold on tight, of course." he said with a faint teasing tone, his eyes closing as he breathed in the warm scent of her and felt her hair against his cheek. "Mm, are you kidding me?" Autumn grinned broadly and unreservedly, the change in her expression a tactile sensation through the fabric of his shirt as she hugged him with renewed enthusiasm. "You'd have to pry me off with a crowbar. Believe me, I don't plan on letting go." She could feel the sure, steady drum of his heart against her temple, and, breathing in the somehow green fragrance of his soap with the suggestion of his own scent just beneath, the lively young woman felt improbably, unequivocally happy. It was a feeling totally incongruous with the unsettling knowledge that in roughly 24 hours they'd be facing the stuff of nightmares, and yet the present and undeniable reality was this. Just, This, whatever it was, or meant- or didn't. And This was, really and truly, fine. Drawing back a little, she lifted her head and pressed a brief, but warm kiss against the side of Jason's throat, brushing her lips in a feathery caress over his pulse, and finally released him. "Come on. Let's finish all the boring stuff so you can take me home. I mean, I'm not in a hurry to be there," she conceded with a laugh, "but now I can't wait to go." They fell to with a vengeance, finishing up the dishes and wiping everything down. Between Autumn's enthusiasm and Jase's meticulous efficiency and second pair of hands, they likely set a record or two - not that they were actively counting the seconds anyway. There was rather an underlying sense of simple pleasure in each other's company that thrummed under the busyness, expressed in glances and smiles and the occasional soft-spoken exchange. Finally they were done, and Autumn waited by the back door, practically bouncing on the balls of her feet as Jase slipped upstairs to check on his father before returning, as noiselessly as he'd left. "Sleeping." he noted in answer to Autumn's expectant look, then opened the door and, taking her hand, led her outside. "Okay, how're we doing this- eep!" Autumn's question was cut off in a squeak as Jase turned, folded an arm around her waist and another behind her knees, and lifted her with his own arms as though she were a toddler rather than a healthy athletic one-forty. Almost on reflex, she threw her arms around his neck and shoulders, blue eyes wide with surprise as she stared at his face. Jason wasn't a ninety pound weakling, but still - to lift her in a bridal carry without even a soft grunt of effort was not something she would expect from anyone less built than Cade. "A new trick." he explained, his eyes gleaming iridescently with amusement at her shock. "I'm kinetically amplifying what my own muscles are capable of. Comfortable?" Even as she sought for words, she was aware that the two of them were rising into the air, Jason slowly turning in place as they ascended so she could look out over the panoramic view. They were ascending deceptively smoothly, before she knew it they were three times the height of the farmhouse and still climbing, the sun beginning to set in the western mountains and the lights starting to come on in nearby Shelly. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.” Autumn’s soft reply reflected something of the childlike wonder shining in her eyes as the earth fell away beneath them. There was a strange sense of unreality as they rose above the Bannon homestead without engines, instruments, or anything at all between them and the sky, or the ground, or the rest of the wide world around them- no artificial barriers, just… Potential. Possibility. The higher they climbed, the more dreamlike the whole experience seemed as her perspective shifted and the physical limitations of the world she lived in expanded. The farm. The roads she biked down. The fields and the woods and the surrounding homes, the hard line of the horizon interrupted by the distant swells of hill and mountain. It all shrank as the first few stars appeared faintly overhead, glittering flecks of prismatic color in a broadening expanse of soft violet. A week ago, she’d never have imagined this moment, the indescribable upwelling of delight and exhilaration and, oddly, peace engendered by the experience. No matter what happens tomorrow, she realized, I had this today. A sudden surge of vertigo played havoc with her vision as the bright-eyed redhead peered up at the infinite vault above and then downward, and then quickly buried her face against Jase’s shoulder as the world spun dizzily, disjointed from the slow turns he was making. She made a quiet sound that mingled groaning and laughter, her arms tightening a little around him until her psionic energies automatically compensated for the disruption of equilibrium. “You’re really- this is really happening,” the girl in his arms breathed rapturously, admiring as she gazed up at him the shape of his features in the twilight, the brilliance of his eyes, and then the seemingly endless scope of the late summer evening as it descended around them. "It is." His return gaze was no less intent than hers, taking in the shine of her eyes and the way the dying sun struck sparks of fire from her hair and loaned her ivory skin a glow that was outshone by the radiant joy in her expression. Her arms around his neck, her lips forming his name as she exhaled caused yet again that sounding, that chime deep within him that hinted, for an instant, at a deeper mystery than he could fathom. She was light and warmth and life and happiness - and holding her close, seeing that reflection of himself as she saw him bathed in that same warm emotion enriched him immeasurably. 'Granola can help', Devin had said, and he was right. Through Autumn, he connected with that human ephemera of warm happiness where before there had only been cool contentment or satisfaction. Through her, Jason understood a form of joy. "You are a series of revelations to me." he said softly, feeling that need to say more, to let her know how special she truly was. Instead he kissed her, a brief, sweet kiss that broke too soon for either of them, then smiled as he angled them towards the Keane home at roughly five hundred feet up, feeling her arms tighten and hearing her whoop of excitement whipped away by the wind of their passing. He kept their speed a steady forty miles per hour, both for comfort and because he did not want the trip to end too soon; travelling as as the crow flew meaning that the meandering of roads had little bearing on their course. And then Autumn was not just rising, but flying. Well, technically, Jase was the one doing all the work, and she was mostly just trying not to squirm so much that he dropped her, but still- flying. The closest she’d ever gotten to this feeling on her own was riding her bike, racing down a hill so fast she couldn’t keep her feet on the pedals and praying no one pulled out onto the road in front of her. Even then, though, she’d still been tethered to the earth, rooted by gravity to that mechanical assemblage of wheels and chain links and gears. Here it was just her, and the wind, and the warm reassurance of Jason’s arms as she laughed, pointed at places she recognized and wondered aloud what people would think if someone saw them, and tried in vain to keep the uncooperative red-gold curls out of her eyes so that she could see, damn it. Suspended between earth and sky, the restless teen again had that same mad, fleeting notion she’d gotten on the drive to Browning, that they could just keep going- that a part of her wanted to keep going, despite her family, despite the obligations and boring, mundane matters that demanded otherwise. How much broader the landscape looked from this height, and how very small Shelly, Montana seemed by contrast! Maybe if they got through this, she’d be able to see for herself what lay beyond the horizon, the edge of the world she knew. She could hope, anyway, and she did. Crazier things had happened, after all. Like this- because, honestly, dating Jason Bannon (much less feeling any type of way about him at all besides terrified) was kind of crazy, and she knew it. She was also at least a few hundred feet in the air, watching flat land slowly give rise to the hills and woods where she'd grown up, so... Eh. Crazy was kind of relative, really. "This is perfect, you know?" She leaned forward with a grin, her lips almost against his ear as she spoke over the sound of the air rushing past. "I'm gonna want to do this all the time now!" She felt, rather than heard, him chuckle as they began to descend and slow down, his eyes crinkling at the edges betokening good humor. He had followed her pointing finger, occasionally varying his course to bring them nearer to landmarks she'd pointed out, enjoying the the feel of her arm around his neck as she excitedly squirmed to look in every direction at once. He didn't think the chances of them being spotted were high - they were five hundred feet up and most of those capable of spotting them would be in Shelly, looking into the setting sun. Twilight and dawn were the times when the human eye was least adapted to dealing with the light and it was hardest to sort the real from the fantastical, which was probably why they were used as metaphors and devices in poems and tales. He spotted the Keane house, and near it the woods threaded with the bright ribbon of the creek where he had taken a chance and gambled a friendship for something more, and won. Perhaps they had both gambled, the thought occurred to him. Autumn was taking a chance, from her perspective. A calculated one, maybe... But then again, maybe not. For all his rationalisation of why he liked Autumn, why he was attracted to her, he realised that to be simply analysis after the fact. He was drawn instinctually to her bravery, emotional warmth and femininity, much as he was to Marissa's imperious manner, wit and beauty. There were many reasons why an attraction existed, for certain, but they were less important than the draw itself. And whereas one had rejected him, feared him, the other found him... amazing. Noting the car parked outside the Keane garage, he gently set them down a couple of dozen meters down the track that led off the property, then carefully lowered Autumn so she could stand. "We can do this again, for certain." he smiled at her, taking her hand in his and walking her towards her home. "I was wondering if you'd like to go on an actual date, also. Say... this coming Friday evening? Great Falls? Dinner and a movie?" His smile turned mischievous. "First class air ticket?" The worst thing about moments you never wanted to end, Autumn realized, was that they always did, eventually. Maybe that made them more special, though? After all, if you always got everything you wanted, you wouldn't appreciate any of it as much, would you? You might even start to resent it, or take it for granted that just because you wanted something, you were entitled to have it, or that it would always be there. The best thing, she decided, was that sometimes, with certain people, you had a lot of those moments, which was kind of the best of both worlds. Sure, the moments still ended, but you were almost guaranteed to discover new ones whenever they were around. Jase, she was finding, was apparently one of those people. They'd landed, of course. They were back on good old terra firma and walking toward her house; she could feel the rocks beneath the soles of her sneakers, their irregular shapes uncomfortable enough to remind her she was awake. Why, then, feeling his fingers intertwined with hers as he asked her out on a for-real date, could she almost swear her feet hadn't yet touched the ground? I guess he really was serious about the 'less casual' thing. The thought was immediately followed by the sensation of warmth spreading through her veins- gradual and pleasant, easy, rather than the quick rush of heat the intense young genius normally provoked with either his teasing or his kisses in roughly equal measures. "Friday, hmm?" She tried- and failed- not to sound too eager, her instinctive enthusiasm for the idea evident in the slightly higher pitch of her voice, in the reflexive tightening of her hand in his, and the suggestion of a bounce in her step as they headed up the drive. Dinner and a movie was a date date. Going to Great Falls meant it would be late when she got home, so her mom... and maybe her dad, if he stayed all week... might already be in bed. That flush of warmth grew warmer at the implications of being alone, after dark, unsupervised with Jason, especially if he was really serious about flying there. It had only taken a few minutes to get from his home to hers, and already she wanted to drag him up to the half-finished tree house and prolong the evening with fewer clothes involved. "I'd like that, yeah," she smiled up at him, her eyes reflecting the deepening hue of the sky. And yet... Would they be here, on Friday? She ran her thumb across his, memorizing the shape of his features, the almost luminous green of his eyes in the half-light. Of course he's not human. Just look at those cheekbones. Fuck. Maybe asking her out now was his way of expressing hope that they would be around then, defying the metaphorical darkness and the very real Dark by affirming his intent to live. "I'll ask my mom about it after tomorrow. You know, once we've had a chance to-" Exhaling, the earnest redhead shrugged a little, her smile fading slightly as the lengthening shadows stretched around them. "To work out the details. It's a weekend, but I'm sure she'll still wanna talk to you about it, you know? Especially if my dad's home." "Of course." Jase replied, still smiling slightly in the gathering dusk as the lights from the Keane home danced in the pools of his gaze and glinted on Autumn's hair. "If I know Dana, she will likely question me closely." His eyes glittered with laughter at the expression on his girlfriend's face. "I shall be circumspect in what I say." "Oh god..." Autumn had a sudden mental image of Jason calmly stating his intention to have mutually-enjoyable naked sexy fun-times with her, and the subsequent clanging of a convent bell somewhere in Europe. "Please, don't get me locked away in a convent." "If I do, I promise to come and break you out again." Jason's tone was matter-of-fact, and despite the traces of humour in his expression Autumn could readily imagine ancient, iron-bound oaken doors being ripped bodily from their hinges as the Devil himself stalked through a priory, sending nuns fleeing before him like a flock of birds before a hungry cat as he searched... for her. And there was another warm rush right there, the realisation that the Chiefest and Greatest of Catastrophes was not only impossible and impenetrable, but implacable. He would come for her, she realised as she glanced at his profile. Because she was his, because he cared, because he had promised... pick whichever reason you liked. They had reached the bottom of the steps leading up to her porch, and already both teens could hear the barking of the dogs start up inside. Jason glanced at the front door, then turned to Autumn, giving her a brief, too-fleeting kiss on the lips. "I'll see you tomorrow at the Carousel." he murmured... And then was gone, rising up into the dusk in a rush that further tousled Autumn's wild copper curls as, a second later, the door opened to show her mom, peering out at whatever had the dogs roused and spotting her. "Welcome home." Dana looked a little askance at her daughter, who'd been staring upwards when she opened the door and looked properly windblown as though she'd been riding her bike without a hair tie. "Everything okay, sweetheart?" “Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.” Autumn smiled, quickly mounting the steps as she tucked her hair behind her ears. “Just a long day, and I think I ate my weight in fried chicken. Apparently Jason’s dad’s a really good cook, too,” she added, closing the door as the two Keane women went inside, the dogs milling around their ankles in an excited bid for attention. “I wonder if that’s where he learned it from? Huh.” Dana paused just inside the door, a slight frown drawing her auburn brows together as she regarded her rosy-cheeked offspring dubiously. “I thought you four were headed out to the reservation this morning?” “Yeaaahhh, and then afterward we all went and ran around at his place, the farm on the other side of town.” Shit, I totally forgot to say anything. Fucking hell, Autumn. “Sorry, I know I should’ve called, but I kind of… didn’t think about it.” She grimaced, thrusting her hands into the front pockets of her jeans and rocking back slightly onto her heels. “Mhmm. I didn’t think about a lot of things when your father and I were dating, either.” Dana plucked an errant blade of grass from her blushing daughter’s hair, twirling it bemusedly between her thumb and forefinger. “Mom, no, no,” Autumn protested, withdrawing her hands to wave them as if warding off some invisible assailant. “It wasn’t like that, I promise.” Beat. “Also, gross.” Her mother’s amusement was evident in the slow ascent of a single eyebrow and the twitch of her lips. “It’s only ‘gross’ because we’re your parents.” “Well, yeah. That’s exactly why.” The younger redhead’s expression- brow furrowed, the corners of her mouth turned down as she shook her head- was the perfect non-verbal representation of the ‘ugh’ that found its way into so many of her conversations. Did all parents feel compelled to casually remind their kids that they had, at some point in the ridiculously ancient past, made out? Or even… Blegh. No. No no no no no. Suppressing a shudder at the horror of such imaginings, the energetic young Girl Scout knelt down, rubbing furry canine sides and scratching behind ears in an age-old ritual to restore wholesomeness and peace of mind. “All right, well. Speaking of your father, he called a little while ago and said he’s on his way in. He should be here around eleven, midnight at the latest. He also told me not to let you stay up this time.” Dana grinned, gently tousling her daughter’s already-disheveled mane even as she scrutinized the tell-tale signs of sunburn on her fair skin. “But you and I both know that’s not going to work, so how about this. Since you were late, and since you didn’t text me, you can go take the dogs for a run and make sure they’re fed. Then go get cleaned up and changed, because you look like you’ve been playing in a field all day. Don’t wrinkle your nose at me, young lady,” she laughed, as Autumn did just that, rising to her feet as the dogs settled down around them. “I didn’t tell you to roll around in the grass, did I? Once you’ve had a shower, put some aloe vera gel on that pretty face of yours, and after that we’ll do popcorn and AMC on the couch until your dad gets here. Deal?” As punishments went, playing with the dogs was pretty light, so she didn’t think her mom was actually mad. She’d been honest, after all, and it had also been a while since they’d just hung out and watched old movies together. It was an easy decision to begin with, made easier by the sobering thought that they might not get another chance to do it. Which… they were going to have to talk about, and soon, but not until she brought the letter and the talisman home, at least. “Deal.” “Did Jason not feel like saying hello?” Dana glanced meaningfully toward the front door, and then back at the restless girl he’d returned home. “Oh. Yeah, he kind of flew off in a hurry.” Do not leave it there, Autumn. Do. Not. Trying unsuccessfully not to grin at her own bad joke, she quickly added, “He should be at the Carousel sometime tomorrow, though. His dad, too. I think you’d like him. Gareth Bannon, I mean. He reminds me of you, actually.” She paused, considering her general impression of the man thus far. “Super smart, but down-to-earth, too, you know?“ Dana did not know, and in fact had a very different impression of the elder Bannon based on things she’d heard; as she watched her daughter re-braid her hair, pale fingers deftly weaving the windblown strands into a much tidier plait, it was hard not to be swayed by the girl’s conviction. She was sixteen, after all, and so for at least a little while, she knew everything. “Mhmm,” the thoughtful veterinarian hummed noncommittally. She’d heard a lot about Jason as well, prior to the weekend, and while he did seem a little different he was also polite, and surprisingly respectful of her and, more importantly, of Autumn. While not thoroughly convinced, she had to concede that it was at least possible some of her concerns were unfounded. With a smile, she smoothed back a few of the stray curls stubbornly refusing to lay flat at her daughter’s temples. “Well, maybe we’ll go say hello. It’d be nice to see who’s looking after my girl when she’s over there, hmm? Now go on, or we’ll still be standing here when your dad gets home.” With a delighted grin, the vibrant young woman seized her mother in a brief but fierce hug. “Thanks, mom. We’ll be back in a little bit. C’mon, guys!” As if they’d been waiting for a signal, all four dogs jumped up and dashed for the door, bounding excitedly back and forth until their two-legged companion led them out to play in the purple twilight.
  22. Jase smiled slightly at the athlete's theatrical flight pose and landing, nodding in response to the thanks. "You're welcome." he said simply, then turned his gaze on the others. "Tawny?" The pretty blonde chewed on a fingernail, then shook her head. "It's okay." she said with a smile. "Today's been a... Well, a whole lot. I'm happy just watching." She was aware of the direct, intense stare sharpening a little as her dangerous mentor studied her, and shifted her feet. She didn't want to be mean, or rude, but she'd been told by Devin what Jason was capable of as preparation for this day. 'Just in case', he'd said. And though she'd found Jase patient and a little surprising in other small ways, she still had the image of a badly crippled Liam in her mind. And it was one thing to bravely sit and practice telekinesis with him, even making small talk, when her knight protector was within shouting distance, and quite another to trust him around all these other people who she didn't really know all that well and, in the case of Courtney, didn't like that much either. "Alright." Jason, his scrutiny over, shrugged unconcernedly, and turned his head as Courtney bounced down the steps to stand on the grass. "Me next, then!" She smoothed her denim skirt and fluffed out her hair like she was readying herself for a photoshoot. "Ten bucks if you drop her in the duckpond." Cassie said in a stage-murmur loud enough for the glamorous senior to hear. "Hey!" She scowled at the blonde reporter. "Not cool." "Twenty bucks, then?" Cade put in, deadpan, and Courtney's scowl found a new target as she planted her hands on her hips. "No-one is getting drooooopppppped." her tirade was cut off in a shriek as she was levitated into the air, feet kicking. "Jase?" she called down from fifteen feet up as she started to circle over the grass. "You're not dropping me, right?" "I'm not dropping anyone." Jason said firmly, though his eyes crinkled at the edges in a humorous manner as he added "Trust me." Courtney relaxed a little, getting into the sensation of flight and stretching her arms out to the sides before, greatly daring, closing her eyes as she soared, dived and swooped upwards again under the incomprehensible young man's control, relishing this unexpected thrill.. She couldn't read his intent, couldn't get a sense of whether he would drop her or not, and for the thrillseeking young telepath that was akin to being blindfolded and naked. Indeed, it caused a sudden rush of heat as Courtney realised she was at his mercy, and that he was dangerous, and she would have no warning if he got the notion to do her harm. Courtney whooped in exhilaration, opening her eyes and laughing aloud as she realised she was skimming a mere foot or so above the ground towards the farmhouse, then rising slightly, her body tilting so her legs were coming down as the emerald-eyed telekinetic set her down so gently she might have stepped down from the air. "Ohmygod that was amazing!" she giggled as she jogged back up the steps, a glint of mischief and lust in her eyes as she approached Jase. "Ten out of ten, would ride again." she cooed, stepping forward for a full body hug... Only for Autumn to pull Jason aside, hugging his arm to her as she nodded agreement. Courtney almost stumbled as the tall lean shape she'd been about to drape herself on was pulled away. "Isn't it the best?" Autumn asked in an ingenuous fashion, though the stare in her clear blue eyes leveled at the interloper made it plain even without telepathy that, no, that hadn't been an accident. Courtney smiled a little, recovering her composure and inclining her head in a gesture that could be agreement, or could equally be an acknowledgement of having been outmaneuvered... this time. Jason, for his part, seemed oblivious to the subtexts in play, instead looking around with a question in his gaze. "Anyone else want a flight?"
  23. He'd felt it too - that casual yet profound intimacy as she proffered then handed him the mug, the way her eyes met his as he felt her fingers under his for a moment - imbuing the everyday courtesy of simply getting someone a drink with a deeper, arcane meaning that rang like a silver chime in some recently-opened chamber of his mind. It didn't seem congruous, didn't seem rational or logical as a reaction to simple stimuli. It was, after all, just a mug of coffee. But as he analysed the sensations and yes, feelings evoked, he realised that the catalytic agent was Autumn herself. Alchemy, he mused with a faint inward smile as his head lowered slightly in response to the fire-haired girl's body beginning to lengthen up towards him like a flower toward the sun - and then Cassandra's irrepressible chirpy tones intruded and chased the bluebirds away, and Jason glanced towards her as Autumn dropped her gaze to her coffee and pretended she hadn't been about to do... well, whatever it was. "No comment." The green-eyed devil stated calmly before taking a sip of coffee, an impressively stony deadpan that, had Cassie not become somewhat skilled at spotting the glimmers of humor in her strange friend's glacial gaze, could have been construed as a genuine refusal to discuss the topic. "My sources are impeccable." Cass grinned, throwing a wink at Autumn, who nodded around taking a sip of her own coffee. "Eyewitness accounts, plus a first hand report that it was..." she snapped her fingers as though trying to remember, then looked at Autumn. "The coolest thing ever." Autumn said with mock-gravity, nodding. She smiled slightly at her partner in pluck, then glanced up at Jason. "Sounds like fake news." Jason's eyes crinkled at the corners. "Who are these alleged sources?" "Well... her." Cassie pointed at Autumn. "And I witnessed it." "Allegedly." Autumn put in. "Well, damn." Jase shrugged, lips twitching now. "Curses. And drat." "Soooo... Once you've had your coffee..?" Cassie began. "...perhaps you could offer rides?" Autumn grinned as she and the blonde reporter, in unison, put on their most appealing faces and chorused "Pleeease?" Jason just looked from one earnest entreating face to the other, took a swallow of coffee, and then nodded. "Yay!" The ensuing victory dance attracted the attention of the others, who expressed amused bafflement in varying degrees, necessitating a brief explanation from the two girls. "Airplanes?" Tawny blinked, then her mouth made a pretty 'O' of surprised realisation. "You mean whizzing people around with telekinesis?" She looked intrigued and doubtful. "I dunno, isn't that dangerous?" "Most fun things are dangerous." Cassie grinned. "Skateboarding..." "...rock-climbing..." Autumn put in. "...sneaking into the gym locker for a quickie with an assistant coach..." Courtney nodded, then smiled wickedly at the looks she got. Chuckles ran round the room, even Tawny laughing through her disapproving blush. "Seriously, though." she went on after the moment passed. "I'd be worried to give someone an airplane in case I lost concentration or something." "You'll get past that." Jase said with authoritative reassurance. "This is early days for you, and you've made strides rather than steps." He gave the sweet-faced girl a slight smile. "The key is to keep challenging yourself, improving that confidence and focus." "It'd be good practice." Autumn's nose crinkled as she smiled broadly at Tawny. "If you want to try airplaning someone, I volunteer. It's seriously awesome." "Maybe." Tawny's intrigue was definite. "I think I'd need to experience it first, though." she said slyly. "I'm sold." Courtney's carmine lips curved in a grin. "Fly me!" "Me first." Cassie mock-scowled at all and sundry. "I brought it up, you all can take a ticket." Laughs and good-natured bantering followed as those interested in the Effing Bannon Fairground Ride jockeyed for marching order and those not looked on with amusement. Meanwhile Jason watched from over his coffee, an island of stillness in the motion, quick keen gaze noting, studying and analysing the vibrant expressiveness of his friends.
  24. "The ideal personal go-bag should have enough resources to sustain one or two people for seventy-two hours." Jason noted dispassionately from where he was loading up the coffee maker and setting it to drip. "Food, water, first aid gear, a multi-tool or at least some manner of folding knife, as Devin and Lilly said. Additionally, I would recommend a non-battery powered light source - there are good windup lamps or flashlights out there. A small windup radio. Thermal survival blankets. Water purifying tablets, and sachets of Gatorade to help with electrolytes. Signal mirror, work gloves, duct tape, dry warm change of clothes in a waterproof bag. A foldable waterproof poncho. A Bivi bag-" "Wait, a what?" Kat blinked as Jason turned from putting things away, noting several of the Fellowship staring at him. He smiled slightly. "A foldable thermal survival bag you can sleep and shelter in in emergencies." he explained, crossing to a closet by the back door to the kitchen. Reaching in, he pulled out a medium-sized backpack that looked to be military surplus and in a camouflage pattern. "My go-bag. Twenty pounds in weight: with a decent pack to distribute the load it's not too bulky or heavy." He handed it to Kat, who hefted it, nodding before handing it back. Jason set it on the table so others could take a look inside if they wished and stepped back. "About two years ago my dad started insisting we keep and maintain one each. At the time I thought it largely pointless and a result of him listening to militia paranoia, but humored him. Now... I'm glad I did." "I bet." Cassandra, ever curious, examined a couple of the pouches and side pockets on the backpack. "Given the likelihood that, if we survive tomorrow, we're all going to be living lives less ordinary, I think it's wise everyone puts together a bag. It doesn't have to be as complete as this one." Jase indicated the backpack. "But like Devin, have some essentials handy and ready to carry. We never know when we'll need it." "And it's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it." Autumn nodded agreement. Tawny looked a little grave as she considered the pack on the table. "Amen." Devin said. "We can't keep half-assing things at the last minute. We can't know everything that's gonna happen, but there is shit we can do to prepare ourselves as best we can." "We've a case or two of MREs downstairs." Jason said as he moved to check on the coffee. "If anyone wants a couple to start off their own bag, let me know."
  25. "Hey Jason?" He wasn't meditating now - resting back on the grass by the cooler after Marissa had left he was to all appearances dozing, stretched out with his hands folded behind his head and his booted feet crossed at the ankles. A distance away, Autumn and Devin were practicing avoidance and touch, this time the pain dialed back down to a stinging sensation as the pair worked on the redhead's sense of timing and footwork; when to step back, when to dart forward and try for a touch in a semi-serious game of tag that involved more than a little cussing and even some laughter from both parties. Nearer, Kat was devouring a fourth slice of pizza while Courtney teased her about having a big appetite for such a tiny thing and Cassandra watched and grinned. Cade was talking to Lilly, the pair of 'Spartans', as Marissa called them, quietly discussing their likely roles in the coming fight as they tossed a football back and forth almost meditatively, much as other teens might pass a joint. Tawny had figured now was a good time to quietly mention her idea to Jase - after all, it seemed training was more or less over - and as her shadow eclipsed his repose she saw a glimmer of emerald as his eyes opened a little and regarded her... and just like that the intensity of his focus, which had been non-existent as he napped, was turned back on like a halogen bulb. The sunny blonde settled down near him, folding her legs and fixing him with an earnest expression in her blue eyes. She wasn't daunted by his wordless expectant stare - not like she would have been at the start of the afternoon, anyway. Jason might be odd, but he was one of God's own creatures same as everyone else, and besides, he remembered her kindness to him. It mattered to him, which meant he couldn't be a bad person. Right? God knew there were plenty of less odd people who overlooked common kindnesses. "I wanted to ask: why didn't you teach me fire and ice stuff - what did you call it? Thermic and exothermic reactions?" She plucked at a blade of grass and rolled it in her hands, absently marking it as decent grazing pasture that the teens were using as a bombing range. "I will." Jason replied quietly, his half-open eyes still resting on her face. "Today, though, I wanted to get you confident with your strongest gift rather than dilute the time we had by trying to teach you everything." "That makes sense, I guess." Tawny put one end of the grass stem in her mouth, looking at him. "So you'll keep teaching me, right?" "Yes." For a moment, it seemed that was all the lanky youth would say, but then "You're a good student." The answer to that was a radiant smile that seemed to flow from her shining eyes to suffuse her expression with light. "Yeah?" "You pay attention, you don't quit, you focus well." Jason stated simply, as if recounting facts. "Keep that mindset and you'll do fine." "Oh stop, I'm blushing." Tawny smirked, though in truth she was a little. She looked off to where Devin and Autumn were 'playing tag' as much to give herself a break from Jason's unblinking scrutiny as out of curiousity about what the pair were doing. When she figured she'd had enough of a break, she looked back at him to see those slivers of emerald still watching her, like a cat would watch a stranger. Not hostile, but not inviting either. Just... watching. "So, I was wonderin'. After we, y'know, beat the bad guy - I know that's assuming a lot but, hey, hope for the best, right?" She paused, looking at him as though seeking confirmation, but there was no comment forthcoming. She coughed. "Anyway, afterwards, I was wondering if we should have a victory party? Like a barbecue and pot luck next Sunday afternoon? Everyone can bring something and we can celebrate here, let our hair down and stuff?" There was a long pause, during which Tawny bit her lip and wondered if she had perhaps presumed too much... then Jason smoothly sat up, his eyes opening fully as he nodded. "It's a good idea." he said with slight smile. "If we win-" "When we win." Tawny corrected, almost wishing she didn't when she saw his eyes narrow a little but reassured when he simply smiled faintly and nodded. "When, as you say, we win." Jason reiterated with the minor alteration and a sly smile. "We can float the idea at the others." "Cool!" Tawny squeaked, almost leaning forward to hug him, but fortunately Jason was saved from sparkly rainbow puppy cuteness by Devin and Autumn's return. "I'm beat." Devin blinked a slice of pizza into his hand from the box a few meters away and started to wolf it down. "Think it's time to call it for the day, Jaybee?" "I think so." Jason nodded, getting to his feet and nodding as Tawny likewise scrambled to her feet. Glancing at the others, the tall lean young man raised his voice a fraction. "That'll do for the day. Anyone that wants to change and freshen up can do so at the house. Coffee and soda, and more snacks for the terminally hungry will be there too." The cooler containing water bottles, lighter now than it had been when Marissa had dragged it onto the practice field, raised into the air and bobbed along behind him as he turned towards the farmhouse. "You still owe me a flight, professor." Autumn murmured as she came up next to him and looped an arm around his waist, necessitating the taciturn Effing One to put his arm around her shoulders. He smiled a little, wry warm humor in his gaze as he looked down at her. "Still time for that once I've seen to my guests." he bantered lightly. "Think you can stand to wait that long?" "I dunno. I might get a better offer." "Doubtful."
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