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Autumn Keane last won the day on September 15

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About Autumn Keane

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  1. Around noon-thirty. (-ish.) "...haven't really thought all that much about it, I guess.” Autumn leaned back on her hands, enjoying the tickle of the warm grass between her fingers and against her bare legs as she reclined next to her father’s chair, half in the early afternoon sun and half in the shade cast by the trees nearby. As end-of-summer celebrations went, this one was going pretty well, so far. The weather was beautiful, there was plenty to do and to eat, and for the first time in forever, her extended family was all together- even if she still hadn’t managed to catch up with Jacob yet to apologize for going off on him on Tuesday. She needed to handle that soon. Glancing over at him, sprawled out and dozing on one of the blankets as the post-lunch food coma took over, she felt that little twinge of guilt again. Yeah. Today. Definitely. For now, though, focus, Autumn. You’re having a conversation. “Something with the EPA, maybe? I’ve got Environmental Science this year, and Miss Kyleson said they do a lot of internships. Not all of them are paid, obviously, but doing it for a summer or something after I graduate might help me decide. If I graduate,” she added on reflection, grinning a little as she considered her academic performance thus far and defiantly, resolutely, did not consider any other reasons she might not finish high school. Nope. Nuh-uh. There were plenty of things she needed to do today, that she wanted to do today, and dwelling on what might or might not happen later wasn’t one of them; she’d gotten all her crying done already. Nathan Crocker tilted his head to regard her curiously, idly turning the half-full bottle of Corona on the armrest of his folding chair. His boy had already made it clear he wanted to get involved in the administrative side of the agency, and everyone had assumed Autumn’s path was equally apparent, if not stated outright. “Not Fish and Wildlife?” he asked, brow furrowing slightly beneath the bill of his faded green baseball cap; her parents’ expressions mirrored his confusion. After all, she’d grown up hearing about the ins and outs of being a Warden on an almost daily basis, loved the outdoors like other girls loved Sephora or pumpkin spice, wasn’t afraid of getting dirty or bloody, and had idolized Owen and everything he did. “I mean, I thought about that, yeah. And it still might be what I end up doing, but between you and Grandpa I feel like I already know so much about it that I should try something else first.” Autumn’s nose crinkled slightly as she grinned up at him, stretching her legs out on the ground while the warmth of the sunlight soaked into her skin. “Maybe a few something elses. You know, expand my horizons a little bit. And, honestly, I haven’t even graduated yet, so I don’t wanna think about eight more years of college, or whatever, that I’d have to do if I wanted to be a vet. Plus, being in an office sounds boring, nurses and teachers get treated like shi- uh, like crap,” she hastily corrected, remembering who she was with as her mother frowned disapprovingly, “and I’d hate the military. So.” With a dismissive shrug, the earnest young woman glossed over her slip of the tongue and summed up her thoughts on her future career prospects. “So,” Dana countered, still scowling a little over her glass of iced tea, “you do realize you’re going to have to get a degree for a government job, right? Especially for an agency like the EPA. And with your grades-“ “I know, I know,” the younger redhead protested half-heartedly. “My grades really are getting better, though!” At her mother’s dubious expression, she added, sheepishly, “…a little. Chem isn’t that bad. It’s mostly just the math that sucks, but Jason’s helping, and I was thinking about asking Marissa to help me out with the English stuff. At least the literature part. She’s always quoting something or other.” “Jason, and… Marissa?” Nathan tipped back his beer, one prematurely silver eyebrow raised as the muffled sound of a tiny bell chimed from the pocket of Autumn’s faded cutoff shorts. “Yeah,” she nodded absently, pulling out her phone and swiping the lock screen away. “Bannon and Jauntsen. We’re friends now, I guess.” The sound was a generic tone with the standard vibration pattern, which meant the sender was someone she didn’t know. Huh. //My new number. For the Fellowship only, please. Jason// Wait, Jason actually has a phone now?! She blinked and re-read the text again one more time, just to make sure. Suddenly, the trip to Great Falls made sense, even if Laurie’s intent curiosity didn’t, exactly. A broad smile slowly spread from the generous curve of Autumn’s mouth to the corners of her eyes as- Nathan’s question forgotten entirely- she began swiftly tapping the screen with both thumbs, adding the new number to his contact info and only vaguely aware that the adults were talking around her. It seemed totally unreasonable that just the sight of his name, the knowledge that the succinct, perfunctory message was from him, inspired such a reaction: a sudden wave of warmth, not unlike the feeling of the sunlight washing over her through a break in the clouds. And yet, unreasonable or not, it did. It wasn’t the same sensation of fiery-faced embarrassment as when he teased her, or even the heat sparked by his gaze or, more searingly, his kisses. It just… Sort of, was. Like some weird, immutable law of the universe. Also weird was that she was one-hundred percent aware that it was weird, because barely more than a week ago she’d thought of him as some sort of slouchy, murder-stare-having cryptid to be avoided at all costs, but it was also simultaneously kind of… not weird? Maybe? At least, not capital-w Weird, anyway. Catching her lower lip between her teeth, she scrolled through the list of notification options, still smiling. What should I use for his ringtone, just in case? He might not call or text much, if at all, unless it was an emergency or something logistical, and it seemed like the sort of pragmatic reason he’d buy one in the first place, but… Maybe? Hmm. It chimed again. The eager redhead tapped the icon that appeared and instantly regretted it, feeling a rising wave of scarlet rushing up to her face as the reminder of peak Autumness stared back at her. She could almost, almost picture his exact expression, too: the gleam in his eyes, the little twitch at the corner of his mouth that hinted at laughter. Mother. Fucker. It was one of her favorite compound curse words, but in that moment it seemed somehow inadequate to describe the feeling of total embarrassment, indignant fury, and grudging amusement roiling in a tumultuous storm within her. Credit where it was due, it was an apt meme, and it was a funny reminder of how they’d actually met, but for fuck's sake, it wasn't fair! He couldn't even get flustered, and at least once a day since they'd become friends he'd made her feel like she was about to spontaneously combust. Couldn't she eventually gain some kind of immunity to that? Please? Obviously, he was deliberately screwing with her, and obviously there would have to be reprisals. [You suck! Just wait until I catch you, LOL.] If he wasn’t back in Shelly yet, that gave her some time to- “Autumn Rae.” She blinked at the pointed tone of her father’s voice, the inclusion of her middle name sending an alarm signal directly to her unconscious: almost immediately, the preoccupied teen glanced up from the messaging app and the list of sound files she’d been browsing. “Hmm?” Not exactly the most eloquent response. Ian glowered down at his distracted daughter, displeasure writ plain on his features, and she winced, her cheeks reddening even further. Shit. There was no point pretending she’d been paying attention when she very obviously hadn’t. “Sorry. Um. What was the question?” “Oh, for f-“ The glare Dana had given Autumn earlier was suddenly directed at her husband, who hesitated visibly under that withering stare, and then sighed. “Warden Crocker was asking about your new friends.” Something about the way he said that last word- friends- suggested that the initial question hadn’t been posed neutrally. Which… Yeah. That was fair. Jason did have a pretty sketchy reputation, and everyone present knew about her history with Shelly High’s unofficial princess (even if most of the adults in town considered the glamorous brunette an immaculate angel, beyond reproach). But things changed, right? People changed. Or at least, they could. Couldn’t they? “It’s only ‘Warden’ Crocker when I’m on duty, Ian.” Nathan smiled affably, tipping the near-empty bottle toward the real estate broker and receiving a similar salute in kind as Autumn’s father reluctantly conceded the point. “I’ve always been kind of partial to ‘Uncle Nathan,’ myself.” “Sorry,” she repeated contritely, resting the edge of her phone on her knee and wobbling it mindlessly back and forth. It wasn’t her favorite subject, but it was a welcome distraction from freaking eggplants. Ugh. “I mean, as far as Jase and Marissa go, stuff just happens, you know? Sometimes you learn things about people that can change how you think about them. Like, Jason’s not a serial killer, just kind of quiet, and Marissa’s not a terrible person, she’s just a bitch.” “Autumn!” Dana hissed sharply, lobbing a crumpled napkin at her offspring in frustration as the FWP warden stifled a laugh and her father groaned. With another grimace, the younger redhead instinctively batted the offending missile aside. “Okay, fine, but we already talked about this last week, and she totally is! I can’t help it, Mom. I didn’t make her that way. And, like…” Folding her legs, she glanced back at her former best friend and realized that at some point while she was tinkering with her settings and blushing furiously at the meme Jase had sent, he’d sat up and started paying attention to the conversation. Of course. Why not? she lamented inwardly. Why wouldn’t a day in the life of Autumn Keane be full of awkward? “It’s just, I can tell that she’s making an effort. And, yeah, she’s not really great at the whole friend thing right now, but if I don’t give her a chance to at least try, she might not ever be.” Inhaling, she tried to meet Jacob’s gaze, his dark hazel eyes shadowed beneath windblown hair and almost unreadable. “Maybe she was pretty awful to me, and maybe I hated her for it for a while. Maybe I still haven’t totally forgiven her yet.” Autumn watched his lips thin, his expression hardening slightly in a way she’d learned to recognize unconsciously in him over the years, and now consciously through making notes of Jason’s subtle facial cues. “But maybe I also want things to be better. I hope they can be, anyway.” “Yeah. Maybe.” Nathan glanced down at his son, who’d barely spoken a word until that moment as he’d lain in the shade after lunch, then questioningly at Autumn. “Gotta have hope, either way, right?” Cautiously, she nodded, and Jacob did likewise in some tentative, unspoken teenage accord. Exhaling as he stood and stretched, the tall athlete gave the adults a quick, polite smile. “I’m gonna go walk around, see who’s here.” There was a pause, and she plucked at the blanket she was sitting on, trying to decide whether they’d both actually been having the same conversation. “You wanna come with?” She couldn’t read his expression, silhouetted as he was against the afternoon sky; it took a moment for her brain to register that he was talking to her, because that basically never happened anymore, did it? “Yeah, sure.” In spite of herself, Autumn felt herself smiling, just a little, as she got to her feet and brushed the grass from her legs. “Sounds good.” Casual invitation, casual response. It was a start, at least.
  2. "Jack," Ian greeted the big man with an affable smile and a quick handshake, and extended the same friendly courtesy to his wife. "Carolyn. Laurelai. Good to see you. Nice day, isn't it?" He glanced around, taking in the scant crowd so early in the day and then back at his own girls, who smiled and waved at the group as Autumn leaned in the driver's side and popped open the hatch at the rear of the Jeep. "The help would be appreciated, thanks. You know, you guys are welcome to stop by this evening, grab a bite and a cold one. Warden Crocker's got the steaks, and we've got the ribs, and I don't think the five of us will be able to eat it all." "Are you kidding? Jacob can eat his own weight in ribeyes, and I'm pretty sure Autumn's not far behind him," Dana interjected with a laugh, brushing non-existent dirt from her hands onto the legs of her neat denim capris as she joined them. "Hey, Jack, hi, Carolyn," the pretty vet smiled warmly, then turned to Laurie and her caprine companion with a knowing, vaguely disapproving grin as she eyed the cotton candy in the young girl's hand: an actual pair of Rascals. "Morning, you two. Good to see you're keeping her out of trouble," she quipped, eyeing first the goat and then the red-haired teen. The young woman had the presence of mind to look at least a little sheepish as she brushed an errant wisp of spun sugar from the goat's furry cheek. "Seriously, though, if you don't have anything else planned, swing by. I think Nathan's already setting up, so we'll have all the food in the same place. And probably too much of it." She paused for a moment, considering something, then glanced at her husband. "Although if Jason hasn't eaten yet when he gets here, Autumn might bring him by, too." The Cassidys exchanged a look, eyebrows raised in wordless surprise: their Jason? Had the half-wild cub they'd adopted as one of their own- one rapidly growing into an adult with at least the seeming of civility- found a second family to help feed him? Unaware of the silent conversation between the other couple, Ian nodded, his smile broadening into a grin that didn't quite reach his eyes; he'd hoped to spend the day with his family, and even these essentially trivial, perfectly normal shifts in his daughter's social life like new crushes and fallings-out with friends were reminders of how tenuous their connection was lately. "True, yeah. Hey, maybe we won't have a week's worth of leftovers this year. We should probably ask-" He turned, but his impatient offspring was already out of earshot, carrying one of the large plastic storage containers off toward the shady spot where the Crockers were almost finished lighting the charcoal for the brats they'd brought for lunch later. Jacob was jogging up to greet her, and Dana followed the direction of her husband's gaze, then met it and offered a little shrug. "Well," he laughed, "I guess we ought to get started, or there's not going to be anything left to unload." As the three families hauled coolers and containers into the shade, the men bantered about hockey and the ladies discussed work and current events in town. The three teenagers, for their part, kept conversation light and casual- while skirting the subject of the Homecoming dance, they talked animatedly about the game itself and Laurie's excitement-slash-anxiety about actually getting to play. It didn't take long to get everything organized: neatly-stacked bags of charcoal, bins of ice for the drinks (alcoholic and otherwise) and uncooked food, and then the grills were lit, blankets spread, chairs unfolded, and tablecloths taped down onto folding tables. By the time all was said and done, the little tree-covered area the Crockers and Keanes had carved out was almost a self-contained Labor Day celebration on its own. "Hey, thanks." Laurie squinted slightly against the sun as the energetic young woman handed her a bottle of water from the depths of the cooler and rose, absent-mindedly nudging the lid shut with her knee. The youngest of the Cassidy clan still hadn't worked out how or why her brother and his best friend had managed to skip town so early, or what the group of teens were planning, and it was driving her crazy. ...But Autumn's parents had mentioned Jason, and she knew they all hung out at least once in a while, so maybe she could get some info from the Girl Scout? It was worth a shot, anyway. "Sooo." As openings went, it sounded casual enough, and the other girl smiled as she cracked open her own bottle. "Sooo?" "So," the sophomore repeated with slightly more conviction this time, sighing appreciatively as she took a sip of the cold water. "Great Falls, huh?" Autumn blinked at her, suddenly distracted from watching Rascal playing a boisterous game of tag with someone's black Lab and wondering if they should've brought the kids along after all. "Sean and Jason," she clarified, as comprehension dawned in the older redhead's eyes. Good. That meant she did know something. Now all she had to do was find out what, and the best way to do that was to pretend she already knew. Affecting an air of nonchalance as she screwed the cap back on the plastic bottle, she pressed a little further. "How come you didn't go?" Autumn's brows knit together in a brief, but expressive frown, her blue eyes narrowing, and Laurie cursed silently to herself. "Why would I go to Great Falls? My dad's home." Crap. She'd forgotten about that little detail- or, rather, it hadn't occurred to her, since she didn't really know the outdoorsy junior all that well. For that matter, she wasn't sure her brother did, either, but that was an issue for later. "Sorry, sorry," she conceded, grimacing in genuine apology; she really did feel kind of bad about carelessly drawing attention to Ian's absence. "I just wondered if they'd invited you, that's all." "Mmm." There was an uncomfortable pause, and then: "It's fine." Autumn nodded slowly, ponytail swaying as her expression gradually softened into a faint smile. It wasn't Laurie's fault her dad was away so much, even if being reminded of it stung a little. It would've come up at some point during the day, anyway, from Nathan if not someone else. I need to talk to him, she reminded herself, glancing back at the inquisitive girl and her goat, who had come bounding back over. "Yeah, no, they didn't. I mean," she shrugged, unscrewing the lid of her drink. "There's nothing I needed there anyway. I think they were just-" And then she remembered, abruptly, that Jason had mentioned one very specific thing he intended on getting while they were out, and- ohgod- she took a long, slow drink of the icy water in her hand as if it might somehow quench the sudden rush of warmth that surged beneath her skin. "Just shopping," she finished lamely, refusing to meet the other girl's eyes as the natural pink of her cheeks deepened to a vivid scarlet that rivalled the brilliance of her hair. "Shopping. Riiight." There was obviously something more there, but as badly as she wanted to press the issue, Laurie didn't think she'd get much further right then. Not with Autumn looking for all the world like she could light all the grills in Shelly just by proximity. Maybe she could try again later, or maybe one of the others would be able to tell her more, if she could track them down. "Well, anyway, good talk and, uh, I'll see ya later?" "Yeah, sure. See ya." The young vitakinetic smiled, despite the near-ignition of her fiery hair, and headed over to rejoin her parents as the sprightly pair of mischief-makers meandered off again.
  3. The Keane Residence, 0830. -ish. It was the smell of coffee, rather than the sound of the dogs or the brilliant sunlight pouring through her window, that roused Autumn from her dreams. Blinking against the light, she groaned and dragged a pillow over her face. She’d just been sitting in front of a campfire with Jason, in a tiny ring of orange glowing amidst the deep blue-black nothingness of the woods at night, and he was smiling that little half-smile of his over the rim of his mug. What had he just said? She frowned, trying to remember the sound of the syllables, the shape of his mouth, the exact cadence of his speech, but it was already fading. Ugh. Why was it that when people talked to you in dreams, it made sense, but afterwards it just dissolved into gibberish? Or maybe it was nonsense to start with, and because you were dreaming you just got to decide what it meant. Or maybe… She sighed, flinging the pillow and the blankets off as she peered up at the sunlit ceiling overhead, the faint outline of pale green stars just visible here and there in the wash of brilliant white. Maybe she’d just dreamed in Russian, or something. Crazier things have happened, right? Like finding a radio that changes dimensions. Like seeing actual monsters. Like rescuing cats from a secret prison, or discovering that aliens are real, or that you and other people at your school have super-powers. Or, you know. Like dating someone who actually speaks Russian. She smiled sleepily at that, shifting around a little on the striped sheets. Or like… She blinked again as something else occurred to her. Going to sleep on the couch and waking up in your own room? As she sat upright, the redhead’s sleep-fogged brain struggled to piece together the series of events that had somehow led to this particular outcome. She swung her feet over the edge of the bed, letting them dangle there for a moment as she stared blankly at the haphazard arrangement of clothes on the chair nearby. They’d been watching Braveheart, she was pretty sure, and she didn’t remember coming upstairs, but… here she was. So, how…? Almost fully awake now, she could just make out the drone of conversation from downstairs. Voices. Her mom’s, and a deeper, more masculine one- Suddenly everything clicked into place. “Dad!” she yelled, bounding out of bed and down the stairs, accompanied by a chorus of excited canine voices as the dogs rushed to meet her. “Morning guys,” she greeted them in passing, idly reaching down to pet whichever happened to be closest on her way to the kitchen. “...definitely your daughter,” he was just saying as Autumn rounded the corner and, with an excited whoop, launched herself at the father she hadn’t seen in what seemed like months. “Ooofff, hey, careful. Coffee,” Ian chided her with a grin and a one-armed hug, absorbing the impact of her energetic embrace as he held the half-full mug up and away to avoid the fallout. With a bemused shrug, Dana took it adroitly from his hand and set it on the island, watching as her typically not-a-morning-person offspring squeezed the breath from him before she’d even said hello. “Hey, sweetheart,” he greeted her, returning the hug with both arms this time and planting a kiss atop the dishevelled red-gold curls she hadn’t yet bothered to comb. “How’s my little firecracker doing this morning, hmm?” “‘m good,” came the pleased reply as they swayed back and forth like that for a few moments. She didn’t even protest the childish nickname, cringey as it was, since he was the only one who’d ever used it anyway. ...Well, and even apart from that, it was a little reminder that even in Billings or Bozeman or Missoula or Helena, he was still her dad. He still remembered. Note to self: do not let him call me that in front of anyone today. The grin in her mind refused to remain hidden there, irrepressibly curving the corners of Autumn’s mouth upward as she squeezed him tightly. He was home. Finally. “Missed you.” “I know. I missed you, too.” “What time did you get in?” she asked, grabbing an oversized mug and glancing back in Ian’s direction as she poured herself a “cup” of coffee. “Eh, a little later than I intended,” her father admitted sheepishly, exchanging a look with Dana over Autumn’s head as he reclaimed his own mug from the counter. “You two were already out.” He smiled, reaching out to tousle her hair fondly as she grinned and ducked away with a grumble of half-hearted protest. “So I thought we’d head out a little early today, find a good spot to set up and just spend the day together. The three of us.” “Cool. Yeah, that sounds good.” The girl’s nose crinkled slightly as she smiled, stirring sugar and cream into her drink. “It does,” the older Keane woman agreed. “Maybe she’ll even introduce you to her boyfriend.” “Boyfriend?” Ian blinked, pale blue eyes wide as he looked from his daughter to his wife. “You mean, not…?” Dana shook her head: No. She didn’t mean Jacob. Not anymore, at least. Comprehension dawned, and he nodded, taking a quick sip from his mug. “That’s right. I remember now. Your mother did say something about a… camping trip, I think?” He glanced at his daughter for confirmation, and she rewarded him with a smile and a quick nod, her amber-speckled features going faintly pink. “Mhmm, and he came over for dinner after that.” she replied cautiously, checking from the corner of her eye to see if her mom planned to explain why, exactly, he’d been invited to stay. The auburn-haired vet caught the none-too-subtle glance, and smirked. ‘He did,” Dana added breezily. “And he was a great help, too. Very hands-on.” Warm hazel eyes danced with mischief as she arched an eyebrow at her daughter, whose rosy cheeks flushed to a deeper scarlet at the memory. Amused, she turned to check the breakfast quiche in the oven then, leaving her concerns about the swiftness of their developing relationship for another conversation. It was still early in the day, after all, and Ian ought to have the chance to meet Jason for himself before more serious parental discussions were had. “Oh? Good to hear,” he replied distractedly, glancing at his watch. It wasn’t quite nine yet, but Warden Crocker had already called to let them know what he and Jacob were bringing for the day-long picnic- he also suspected it was to find out if he’d actually made it back to Shelly this time. It was hard to fault him for that, the tall real estate broker reflected with a pang of guilt that rendered the mouthful of black brew he swallowed slightly bitter on his tongue. “So, is this new guy a junior, too, this year?” “Yeah, we have Chemistry together.” There was a moment of what definitely felt like an awkward silence in the kitchen, and Autumn’s eyes widened. “The class, I mean,” she clarified quickly, groaning inwardly at her father’s expression and wishing fervently that she could crawl inside her coffee mug. “Well, and, uh, Study Hall.” “Chemistry,” her father reiterated flatly, warily glancing from her to Dana as the latter stifled a laugh and resolutely switched off the oven, refusing to return the look she could feel being burned into her back. “Well that’s… That’s great, sweetie. Just great.” ------------- Later that morning. “They’ll be fine,” the pretty vet reassured her husband, smiling as she scratched under Zee’s chin. The Keanes had been loading up the Jeep for a little while now, packing it with enough coolers and bags to feed and entertain the trio for at least a week, but it wasn’t intended solely for them: sandwiches and cold salads for lunch, ribs and thick pork chops to grill later, sodas and iced tea and a couple of six packs of summery IPAs and traditional lagers. “They’ve got plenty of water out, and lots of shade if it does turn warm this afternoon. We’re not going to be gone all day,” she reminded him, watching as their energetic daughter hefted the last bag of ice into a plastic storage container and snapped the lid shut. “How do you think they manage when I’m at work and Autumn’s at school?” She paused for a moment and, tentatively, rested her hand on his. “It’ll be fine.” “Fine, or fine?” Autumn interjected with a grin, going up on her tiptoes to give both parents a kiss on the cheek. Dana rolled her eyes at that, smiling, and shook her head. “I’m gonna do one last door check and grab my phone. Anything you guys want me to get while I’m in there?” Her father patted his pockets, frowning a little, then shrugged and offered her an easy smile. “No, no, I think I’ve got everything.” His gaze moved over her shoulder, catching his wife’s eye as the paternal expression softened slightly. “Everything I need, anyway.” He didn’t miss Autumn’s requisite grimace of teenaged disgust at the thought of parental romance, or the softly-murmured “Gross,” under her breath as she turned and jogged back up to the house with the dogs at her heels. He shrugged again, a sort of uncomfortable one-shouldered gesture Dana immediately recognized as one her child had adopted. “Parents,” he opined laconically, opening the passenger door for his bride. “Totally,” she replied, deadpan, and climbed inside. “So, this new guy,” Ian began cautiously, leaning against the side of the SUV. “You’ve met him. Is he… I mean, what’s he like? Jacob’s a good kid. Good guy, I guess.” He corrected himself, realizing that a seventeen-year-old wasn’t much of a kid anymore. Not really. “I thought they got along really well. I mean, hell, they grew up together, and then-” With a sigh, he gestured vaguely, helplessly, toward the house. “‘And then’, yeah,” Dana replied thoughtfully, nodding as she followed his reflection in the side mirror. There was no need to elaborate further on that particular point; Owen’s passing had hit a few people pretty hard, his granddaughter especially. Until recently, seeing Autumn taking interest in other people and going out again, she hadn’t realized exactly how hard the girl had taken it- or even how hard she’d taken it herself. And then last night… Well, the air felt a little clearer, didn’t it? “I kind of half-expected them to get married right out of high school, to be honest. And I like Jacob, I really do, and maybe they’ll work things out and find each other again later. I’m just…” She sighed, thinking back on the weird charge in the atmosphere when her daughter and the Bannon boy had been in the kitchen, the pair so intent on each other that at times she’d almost wondered if she’d even really been present there in the room. It wasn’t exactly reassuring, but the very nature of that intensity, and their youth, all but dictated that it couldn’t last long. The brightest flames burned quickest, after all. “I’m just glad,” she finally allowed, “that I don’t have to worry about that for her anymore.” “Mmmm.” The reply was noncommittal, Ian watching the house as his wife watched him. “Jason Bannon, you said?” “I did. As for what he’s like?” She paused, her expression pensive; there really wasn’t a satisfying answer to that. “He’s… Well, it’s hard to say.” Dana smiled as her husband glanced at the mirror, meeting her eyes through the reflective glass. “I guess you’ll just have to see for yourself.” Oddly, it was easier talking about her daughter’s shiny new relationship than it was to discuss her own nearly twenty-year-old one, and the two fell quiet after a moment, listening to the small but beloved pack of fosters they’d taken in huffing and whining and yelping softly as they gamboled about in the front yard. Autumn’s father opened his mouth as a thought occurred to him, something he felt he ought to have said already, when the girl herself came bounding down the porch steps, pausing to distribute head scratches and belly rubs aplenty before heading over to the car. “‘Kay, all set.” Clambering into the crowded back seat, she checked her phone out of habit and tucked it in the pocket of her hoodie as Ian closed the door. She’d obviously fixed her hair a little, added a few hints of makeup, but otherwise hadn't fussed too much over her appearance; maybe this boyfriend thing wasn't such a big deal. Nothing to worry about, he reassured himself. “So,” he tried again, getting situated himself and glancing at his pink-cheeked offspring in the rearview mirror. “This Jason guy. How’d you guys meet? What’s he like?” Dana snorted softly under her breath and turned, watching the house disappear behind them. True to form, if Ian wanted something, he’d try all avenues available to get it. It made him a great realtor, but an annoying partner sometimes. Shrugging, the restless redhead peered conspicuously out the window, ignoring the warmth creeping up the sides of her face. How was she supposed to describe him to her dad, of all people, when Jason Effing Bannon was still a mystery to her? Maybe always would be. Huh. “I mean, he’s kind of-” She paused, pursing her lips as the trees whizzed past. “Different. But he should be there today. I hope. So, I guess you can meet him and see for yourself?” With an exasperated sigh, Ian returned his gaze briefly to his wife- who was also staring out the window- and turned out onto the highway. “What is this, a conspiracy?” “Nope. It’s a mutiny,” Dana quipped, cutting her eyes at him. “While the captain’s away, the crew will play, or something like that.” Muffled laughter from the back seat answered her, but her husband’s expression was less amused. Even if Autumn hadn’t caught the edge hidden in her mother’s joke, he had, and it stung. Moreso because it was true, and he had no right to deny it. “Ahh, that must be why the rum’s gone, then,” he replied with a taut smile, and a levity he didn’t quite feel. Labor Day, indeed: he was apparently going to have to work his ass off to get this right.
  4. The Keane home, sometime that evening. “Hey, Mom?” They were a little more than halfway through Jurassic Park, both Keane women in their most comfortable pajamas and curled up with dogs occupying every inch of couch-space their humans weren’t. During the commercials, they’d argued over which of the male protagonists was hotter, and Autumn had showed her mother a dozen or so of the better memes the movie had inspired in the nearly three decades since its release. “Hmm?” Dana popped another handful of buttery popcorn into her mouth, glancing absently at her daughter across Zee and Dakota’s heads. “Remember when I took that stuff back to the other house on Thursday?” “Mhmm. Yeah, the… oh, what was it? The fishing tackle and the jigsaw?” “Yeah, and a couple of other things Dad borrowed. So, I went inside, you know, just to make sure everything was still good. No leaks or weird smells or broken windows or anything.” “Right…” Something in the girl’s tone caught her ear, distracted her from the television- suddenly the rugged paleontologist wasn’t all that interesting anymore. Autumn took a breath, realizing that the box was open now and that shutting it again was not the easy option, and forged on. “Well, I checked the basement, and- did you know Grandpa had an office down there?” She asked, regarding her mom curiously for any sign of recognition. “An office,” Dana repeated carefully. “No, I didn’t. Why?” No going back now. The younger redhead absently petted one of the dogs using her as a pillow, drawing reassurance from their solidity. “I found a couple of letters, and one of them was to us. Me and you, I mean.” There was no response; Dana’s face was frozen in the flickering light of the TV. Hesitating only a moment, Autumn continued. “Do you want me to bring it down?” There was another pause, followed by a hasty confession born of guilt. “Sorry, I got curious, I already read them both…. But, um-“ “Go get them.” The older woman’s response was quiet, scarcely audible over the panicked cries of the children on screen. Her hazel eyes were fixed not on the television, but somewhere above it. Beyond it. Autumn nodded, unsure if her mother noticed the gesture of assent, and squirmed her way out from beneath Briggs and Lexi, who’d managed to arrange themselves simultaneously across her lap and against her side, imprisoning her against the arm of the couch. “Sorry, guys,” she murmured as they grumbled, roused from their drowsing by her movement. Was her mom angry? A furtive glance at Dana’s cameo-perfect profile in the dim light of the television didn’t reveal much, and she headed uncertainly up the stairs. By the time she returned to the living room, the light was on, the bowl of popcorn was on the coffee table, and her mother was sitting on the edge of the couch, her gaze one of too-calm expectation. “So, this is the one for us.” Autumn fought down the flutter of nervousness as she handed over the strangely heavy envelope with its folded stationery. The room was silent then, Autumn reclaiming her spot on the couch and watching as her mother slid the letter from its container, unfolded it and read it. It didn’t take long. Dana’s eyes closed momentarily as she folded the letter back up and returned it to the envelope. She bore the look of a woman struggling with some deep-seated emotion as she carefully set the letter aside and looked at Autumn questioningly. “And you read this?” Autumn nodded. “Give me the other one.” There was a sense of energy in the room now, something swirling and tense, and it was with the same growing unease she’d felt when she’d followed Jason Effing Bannon into the woods to an abandoned trailer a week and a lifetime ago that Autumn placed the other missive into her mom’s hands. Again, there was the rustle of paper being slid from an envelope, and the unfurling of the letter. Again, there was the silence as the older Keane woman read. This time, however, the reaction was different. Autumn watched as her mother’s face darkened, her eyes narrowing as she reached the end of her father’s last words. “Bullshit.” It was just two syllables, spoken quietly, intensely, but there was something behind them Autumn recognized, although then the voice had been her own. The word was jagged and tremulous with a raw edge unsmoothed by time or the careful, assiduous avoidance of unpleasant thoughts. “Mom, I don’t-“ she began tentatively. “Bullshit!” Dana all but shouted, crumpling the paper and throwing it violently at the floor, startling the dogs. “This is such ridiculous, insane, absolute fucking bullshit! He, what? Left these just… lying around in a magical locked office in his own fucking house expecting some random similarly magical fucking idiot from god knows where to just stumble across them? Fucking magically?! He knew he was goddamn dying and this is what he decided to do- leave a note for some meth-head looking for a DVD player to pawn? Jesus fucking Christ, Dad! What the fuck were you thinking?!” Autumn had expected her to be a little angry because even she’d gotten kind of pissed off herself at first. She’d also maybe thought her mom would just be totally dismissive of the whole thing, but this… This was waaaay beyond her experience or understanding. This was not parental behavior. Not at all. Especially not for her parents. Her parents were sane. Normal. They were usually pretty chill, and she never once questioned whether they loved her because they’d never given her reason to. Yeah, sure, there was maybe some weird or awkward stuff between them, grown-up stuff, but it had just never really seemed like that big a deal because they’d never made it one. For Dana to go from 0 to 100 this fast, though? Weren’t adults supposed to have their shit together? Oh. Oh, god. I don’t- I don’t even know what to do with this. There was nothing she could do but stare as her mother broke down, flinging the blanket aside while the dogs whined nervously, scattering, and Dana rose suddenly from the couch, furious tears streaming down her flushed cheeks. “It’s been over a year, Dad! A fucking year! And I’ve been doing the best I fucking can, trying to figure this shit out on my own, and I thought I was doing pretty fucking okay, you know? I thought I was doing a pretty fucking good job just not losing my shit completely and taking care of everything that had to be done, the hospice visits and the memorial and the fucking house and all the accounts and the stupid fucking legal bullshit because, hey, people can’t just fucking die and be dead and have that be the end of it, can they?” As Autumn watched with mounting horror the woman who had raised her storming aimlessly, erratically about the living room, a sudden realization struck, lightning in the midst of the tempest raging around her: just because Dana had been doing all the normal mom-things, the boring grown-up stuff, it didn’t mean she wasn’t having a hard time. “And this? This fucking bat-shit ignorant fairy tale nonsense is what I get? More of your fucking stories? Heartfelt letters to a goddamned stranger when you couldn’t even be bothered to tell your own fucking family you were sick until it was too late to do anything about it?! Magic fucking spells?! What the fuck, Dad?! What the actual-“ Whatever Dana was about to say was cut off as Autumn flung desperate arms around her, dragging her fiercely, bodily into a hug. It was like hearing that awful, broken laughter all over again, except instead of being a twisted mockery of self-deprecating mirth it was just raw, unvarnished grief and fury all roiling together into something unbearable. But, still, it was pain, so blatant in its expression the impulsive young woman could almost feel the ragged edges of it herself, her mother’s tearful exhortations dissolving into shuddering sobs as she squeezed her close. They clung to each other like the survivors of some terrible cataclysm, a living Mobius strip of pale arms and red hair and hot tears entwined together in the aftermath of the explosion that had detonated their quiet life a year and a half before, but whose shockwaves were only really reaching them now. A little later... “Autumn.” Her mom sounded better. Still raw, still hoarse from crying, but once more ‘Mom’ - the adult with their composure restored, not the hurting child torn with grief and anger. The two of them were cuddled together on the couch, Autumn holding Dana and letting her grieve until the older woman recovered, at least enough to talk. “Yeah?” “Why did you tell me about this now? Tonight?” “It just… I guess it just seemed like the right time. There’s been so much going on, and I wanted to wait and talk to this guy that was supposed to be Grandpa’s friend, you know? Laughing Joe. I didn’t wanna say anything to you until I’d been out there, because it really… I mean, it’s a lot.” “It is… ‘a lot,’ yeah.” Apart from Lexi’s tentative snuffling at Autumn’s hand, the room was almost silent. “So I’m guessing they had you go through the ritual, then? At the reservation.” Autumn just shook her head, rubbing the even-tempered Pit’s head in a wordless reassurance that, yes, things were okay now. Or, at least, that they seemed to be. “Mmmh.” Dana nodded, plucking at the hem of the blanket tucked around them. She was quiet for a moment, pensive and visibly exhausted from the emotional outpouring. “I knew about it, at your age, but I never would go. Dad tried to convince me. I just never understood why it was so important to him, all those old stories. I thought he should focus on the real evils in the world, the ones that you don’t need some medicine man to investigate. Maybe I should’ve humored him,” she mused bitterly, glancing down at the tousled head resting against her shoulder, the pale, red-rimmed eyes that peered up at her. “Maybe I would’ve understood him a little better.” How did you respond to something like that? Owen was her grandfather, sure, but he was her mom’s dad. That was a whole different thing, and again she felt that uncoiling of guilt, of shame for not recognizing what had been in front of her the whole time. “I mean, if you didn’t believe in it, though,” Autumn began, her voice trailing off as she realized she really had no idea what to say in this situation. Maybe she’d already used up all her ability to people for the day. “I didn’t. Don’t,” her mother amended. “But he did, and his believing formed the basis for a lot of the things he did, the…” The older woman sighed, a heavy, weary sound, absently resting her cheek against her daughter’s hair, breathing in the citrusy scent- sweet and bright, like ripe tangerine, but with a hint of grapefruit’s woody, underlying bitterness. “The choices he made, even if they didn’t make sense to anyone else but him.” Another pause. “What about you?” Autumn hesitated. “…Yeah? Probably. Not exactly the same way he did, maybe. I don’t know. We didn’t really talk about it, to be honest. Not the whole Kavanagh thing, anyway. I guess…” She frowned, wrinkling her nose as she burrowed close against her mother’s side. “I guess if I had to explain what I think about what he thought, which sounds kind of weird, I’d say that there’s maybe too much of the world, of everything, for us to really understand all of it. I mean, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try, just that it’s too big for us to see all of it at once, and we come up with stories. Like the elephant and the blind men. So maybe Grandpa was feeling the trunk, and you got the leg, and I’m touching the side of it, you know? It’s all the same thing, the same elephant. Just…” She gestured under the blanket, her hands spreading apart and lifting the patterned fabric slightly, and shrugged. “Like, I don’t think magic is a real thing, and I’m not sure if Grandpa did, or if it was just how he framed the stuff that was too big to see.” “Mhmm. When did you get so talkative?” Autumn shrugged a little, pressing her face against the reassuring solidity of her mother's shoulder as she felt the telltale flush creeping up the sides of her throat. "I dunno," she mumbled, her words only half-audible through the blanket. It wasn't entirely true, of course- she had an idea that it might've had something to do with spending the day around someone who actually listened, but you didn't say that to your mom, obviously. The tired young redhead nestled closer, seeking out that maternal warmth that had so often been a source of comfort. With a knowing smile, Dana kissed the top of her daughter's head. "Should I blame Jason Bannon, do you think?" Her initial answer was a muffled sound that might have been agreement, followed by a soft, "Maybe." As Autumn hugged her mother's waist, the older, wiser redhead pulled her close; how many more of these little-girl moments would she get before the adventurous teen went off on her own for good? Not enough, the pretty veterinarian decided, exhaling as her eyes drifted closed for a moment as behind her lids bittersweet memories of family played out, of chubby, sunburned toddler cheeks and the rare sound of Owen's laughter, the smell of grilling meat and sweet grass underfoot. "I'm sorry about the letters." The apology, softly-spoken, was scarcely more than a murmur against her mother's arm as Autumn stared at the images moving on the television screen. "I just thought you'd want to see them." "No, I'm sorry." Her mom's voice was soft, her tone reflective as she squeezed the girl's shoulder. "You were right to show them to me." She sighed then, feeling her daughter's hair under her fingers as she stroked her back. "So maybe you're right - about the elephant thing. Perhaps your grandpa was trying to put a shape or a name to something that was too big for him to fully understand. I mean, isn't that what religion is?" Dana asked rhetorically. "He had faith - even if it was in something crazy, it was also in us." A thought occurred to her then, as she looked down at the copper curls crowning her not-so-little-anymore girl's head. "You know, if he believed that only a special person could find the letters, and you found them - maybe it wasn't so crazy." she commented, smiling a little. "Someone special did find the letters." Another pause as a further thought occurred, ideas beginning to take shape of all the strangeness that had happened of late. A series of random incidences, perhaps - the medical center lockdown, the fight, Autumn changing in ways that were surprising, new friends like... Jason Bannon? Devin Jauntsen!? It wasn't a fully formed thought. More a zygote of a thought. A fleeting sense of potentiality that was lost in the background noise of her emotional exhaustion and the contentment of holding her daughter close, but one that would, perhaps, surface again later in quiet moments. "You know..." Dana said casually. "Dad's letter mentioned a talisman bundle. I don't suppose there was such a thing?" "Mmhmm," Autumn hummed in half-conscious confirmation, the combination of physical and emotional weariness with soft canine snoring and her mother's gentle touch having led her perilously close to the edge of slumber. "Brought it back with the letters. It's on my desk, 's got feathers and stuff on it." She stirred, blinking as the hand on her back stilled and the vague shapes of the furniture and photos on the wall slowly came back into focus. That had been the whole point of talking about the office, hadn't it? The hope that her mom might actually consider at least going through the motions of the ritual. The bracelets, the talisman- even if she didn't understand how they worked, particularly, she'd seen some of the evidence that they did with her own eyes in the soft, shimmering silver of the Light surrounding them, and talking to Joe had helped lay a few of her concerns to rest. That, she considered, turning the morning's conversations over in her mind like a smooth river stone in her hand, had helped too, just hearing from someone who'd known her grandfather that he wasn't crazy. Or, at least, no crazier than anyone else in Shelly. Shifting, the drowsy young woman straightened, extricating herself with obvious reluctance from her mother's embrace. "I can show it to you, if you want?" "Please." Dana nodded, smiling a little at her sleepy-eyed girl. Smiling back, Autumn wormed off the couch again and went to retrieve the talisman, returning to the living room with it in hand and carefully passing it over before plopping back down on the couch. Her mom examined it, fingertips running over the mixture of long and short feathers, the polished stones, the occasional tooth or claw. the intricate braided leather thongs. "I should have listened more to him." the older redhead said quietly, her head bowing as she closed her eyes against threatened tears. "Maybe if I'd listened, tried to understand, he would have felt he could trust me with- With other things. I'm sorry, Dad." The last was said almost as a whisper as she drew in a steadying breath and raised her head again, smiling at Autumn through fresh tears which she wiped away with one hand, holding the talisman out on her palm. "Do... How do you feel about his instructions? I mean... It's silly, but I feel it would be right, somehow. Wouldn't it?" Dana asked, a trifle uncertainly as she regarded her daughter. She wanted to tell her mom it wouldn't be silly at all, that her grandfather had been right- mostly, anyway- and that it was okay. That it would be okay, because even after he was gone he was trying to protect his family, his daughter, and because she was going to help finish what Owen couldn't. But she couldn't say that, could she? There was no way to make that promise and be sure she could keep it. What if she couldn't? "I think," the expressive young woman replied slowly, earnest blue eyes narrowing slightly as she considered the question and the tumult of her thoughts tumbling over each other. "I think it feels like the right thing to do, yeah. It was obviously important enough to him that he left-" Autumn hesitated, her throat constricting around the sounds she wanted to shape, the words her lips couldn't quite form as she watched the tears drip silently down her mother's cheeks. Oh, god. Oh, fuck. I don't know if- "I mean," she managed haltingly, "I think it would. Um." Keep talking, Autumn. You're almost done. She swallowed hard, Dana's face rippling and wavering in her field of vision as if she were looking up through the surface of the creek, eyes stinging in the current. "It would help. Maybe." She nodded, lips compressed into a taut, pale line that suggested a smile. Her mom's answering smile was almost a mirror of Autumn's, tight-lipped with the urge not to sob as her own warm hazel eyes went liquid with hitherto unshed tears, but her nod of agreement was firm. "It will be like having another part of him still with us." Dana said, almost as much to herself as to Autumn. And then she smiled a little wider, carefully drawing Autumn into a one-armed hug, a hug which the warmly emotional young woman returned. The decision made, there was not much more to discuss. Mutual consent decided that over the front door would be the ideal spot for Grandpa's last bequest, the stepping-stool was fetched from the kitchen, the sewing box from the lounge. Exchanging glances, the two Kavanagh women - for such they were, by their blood and their roots in this land - each pricked their forefingers and dabbed a spot of blood on the strange talisman. There was an air of solemnity about the process, a sense that something sacred was being enacted, and then Autumn stood up on the stool, stretching upwards to hang the talisman on a small hook before stepping back down to stand alongside her mother. It was gradual, a faint whisper on the edge of her awareness, but it was enough to prompt the lithe young teen to focus her... sixth sense? Third eye? Shine-vision? And there it was, a tracery of silver so pale as to be almost translucent grey, a net of Radiance limning the doorframe, the walls, spreading from the talisman. And there was more, too. A sense that she'd only felt at her grandparent's house before now, and realized was the cessation of the spiritual smog that was omnipresent almost everywhere within Toole County. Here, the metaphysical air was clear for the first time, and Autumn could not help but smile slightly as she took a deep, steadying breath of it. Dana felt it too, at least on some level. Autumn could sense the tension flow out of her mom, could see the subtle lifting of her shoulders as though a weight was gone from them. "Yeah," she murmured, leaning against her mother's side as she peered up at the talisman with its claws, quills, and feathers where it hung above the door, just next to a frame that held one of her grandmother's embroidered blessings. "Yeah, I think that does help." Even without the faint web of intangible, invisible silver weaving itself protectively around the house, it really did just seem... right. It wasn't even about having the physical reminder of Owen, because until she'd found it in the secret room at the other house, Autumn hadn't known the odd little bundle even existed. The thing itself held no association with her grandfather in the energetic redhead's memory; it was the idea of the talisman, the notion that one of the last things he'd tried to do, in his own way, was to make sure they were protected from the Dark. The Enemy. And now, as her mom had suggested, some part of him was bound up in that ritual, that memory, to be kept safe and cherished as he'd wanted to keep them. This- Shelly- was her home. Their home, she reflected soberly. Not just that of her distant ancestors, but her family's. Her friends'. And paired with that thought was a curious possessiveness, a half-formed sense that the forces arrayed against them were wholly alien, antithetical to life, and therefore couldn’t be allowed to remain. As if, at least in part, she was entitled to make that decision. There were also people like her grandfather, like Nathan and Jacob and Laughing Joe who maybe knew what was going on, or had a vague idea of it, but who couldn't act directly- not like she, or the others in the Fellowship, could. Warden Crocker had called her the “Kavanagh in the hot seat,” and said they’d support her if she needed them. Rubbing her cheek idly against the soft flannel of her mom’s night shirt, Autumn didn’t bother blinking back the tears this time as something cold and tense suddenly twisted like a snake in her stomach. She might need them after all, because tomorrow, she was supposed to defend that home. It would be okay, right? She’d reassured herself of that earlier, but- Her arms tightened around Dana’s waist, eyes squeezed shut as she buried her face against her mother’s shoulder. For all the nightmarish horror, the undercurrent of raw and primal fear that gnawed at her belly and pounded against her ribs and shrieked and hissed inaudibly that she was six-fucking-teen, and there was a whole world she’d never get to see, and other people could handle it, and that it would totally destroy her family if she didn’t come home… There was also the quiet, undeniable truth that it wasn’t just her; the meeting with Laughing Joe, the journals, the training, and the talks had proved, definitively, that she wasn’t alone. She had seen, for just a moment with Marissa at the farm, the sheer enormity of what she was part of- of the ring, or spiral or whatever it was. Others had been where she was now. Others had taken risks. Others had asked these questions, wrestled with the same doubts, and still chosen to do what had to be done, even if they were afraid. Even if they didn’t want to. Everyone was fighting in their own way, she guessed, peering back up at the talisman. Even after they were gone. Autumn sucked in a shuddering breath and shook her head to dispel the uncommon existential bleakness of her thoughts for a moment, pulling away long enough for the two women to put everything back in order. They didn’t discuss the faint, dull ache of the matching pinpricks on their fingers, or how appropriate it was that Owen’s rough bundle of wild magic now hung next to his beloved Caroline’s more refined, domestic version. Nothing much was said at all, in fact, until they shared a brief, subdued exchange regarding what movie they should watch next. More popcorn (with a medically inadvisable amount of butter and salt) filled the big mixing bowl, blankets were straightened, and sleepy dogs rearranged themselves around the pair of redheads- a living barrier of soft snores and warm, furry bellies to ward off any lingering shadows as they all settled back in to cuddle for what the youngest of the Kavanaghs resignedly acknowledged might be the last time. “…Didn't I tell ya before? It's my island.” “Hamish, ride ahead to Edinburgh and assemble the council...” It was well after midnight when the front door opened and then closed again, but not yet so late- or so early- that the light of dawn had begun to steal across the sky. Dakota stirred and peered over the back of the couch, Zephyr grumbled, and Lexi yawned, while Briggs just whined softly without waking. “Hey, guys,” Ian murmured with a weary smile as he rubbed the big sable Shepherd’s head, glancing first at the flickering screen and then at the two women fast asleep on the couch in each other’s arms, with the pale light of the television sparking hints of gold in their hair. “I’m home.”
  5. Thursday, 29th August. 6th Period. Her head full of binomials and logarithms, Kat pensively walked out of the classroom, heading for what was going to be Study Hall. She wasn't really sure she needed Study Hall. What good would it do to her to mull over something she already had integrated and was already eager to apply to a thousand things, would she know more about its actual fields of application? She could see the use in practicing a newfound skill, like her powers, but then her powers didn't really compare with Maths. To her, there was a world of differences between theory and matter. Mainly the fact that if you do it right, theory is always right, when any given experiment might fail because of an uncontrolled parameter being either unknown or handled clumsily. Like what she experienced in the hospital. It clearly demonstrated that unlike theory, you must practice with a physical skill in order to successfully use it. Maths weren't a physical skill, but rather a mind tool requiring solid logics to be used. And boy, was her own logical tool solid. She had complete faith in her ability to complete the Maths class by the end of the semester. As to surviving till the end of the semester, well, that was another topic. She shuddered at the memory of the Spawns of the Dark. She was mulling over that, and a whole lot of other things, when an unruly mane of fiery curls caught her attention. Autumn. She said something about Study Hall, at the bleachers. Oh right, Homecoming! She increased her walking pace to catch up with the taller redhead. Study Hall, in theory, was an opportunity for students to review notes, catch up on reading and assignments, and make some headway on group projects. In practice, it was usually more like a social hour at the end of the day, where diligent academics dutifully blocked out the chatter with discreet earbuds and read Horace or polished their college entrance applications. As Autumn ducked under the arm of one of the football players leaning against the door frame to flirt with a grinning blonde, she muttered a quick "'Scuse me," and headed into the classroom. The last week had been a whirlwind of fear and excitement, a seemingly never-ending roller coaster of white-knuckle drops, exhilarating loops and twists, and madness-inducing inversions interspersed with too-brief interludes of seeming peace before they were all hurled headlong into the unknown again as the tracks fell away beneath them. It was, Autumn reflected as the mental image of a nightmarish theme park faded from her mind, kind of a lot. Things were happening so quickly, even in her own personal life, it was hard to keep up: in the last few days she had gained two new friends (?), she'd stayed over at Marissa-Fucking-Jauntsen's house, and The Impenetrable Jason Bannon had agreed to go camping with her tomorrow night... Plus there was the whole sort of vague plan of inviting the rest of the crew out there before Homecoming. What the fuck am I even doing? It wasn't like she'd never had any friends at all, or that she didn't know how to “people,” but she'd spent an unusual amount of time with the other teens in the group recently, and it felt a little odd, if she was honest. With the low groan of her chair seconding the redhead's unsettled state of mind as she melted bodily into it, Autumn watched from her seat near the window as the other students filtered in. For the Fellowship, this was their chance to fill each other in on things they'd discovered or plans they were making... But they'd already done that during lunch, sooo... Her toes tapped rhythmically on the floor as she hummed quietly, debating whether she should stop somewhere for actual food after class, or just wait until she got home. With the usual crowd intermittently making their appearances, her blue eyes skimmed over the faces of the other students as they entered. Her gaze stopped on a fragile figure that had somehow become familiar over the last few days. Sand-grey booties. Blue jeans. Grey T-shirt. Really pale skin. The French girl. Kat. She definitely could use a bit of sun. She watched as the petite redhead made her way through the flock of students picking their tables, to the one Autumn was sitting at. She looked... twitchy, with the arrhythmic pace of her steps, with her grey-blue eyes jumping to a million places at once, faithful image of her focus solely driven by stimuli. "Hey," the French girl dropped, once she finally reached her destination. The word held an underlying question the teen was not sure how to ask, but her eyes now firmly set on Autumn told she had some business with her. "Hey," the American redhead replied automatically, unthinking, abruptly distracted from her fantasy of a double order of garlic parmesan fries. She blinked, focusing on the delicate newcomer's features, and tried again. "Sorry, hi," Autumn amended with a grin that was at least partly in keeping with the casual apology, but partly not. French fries were serious business, after all. The young Shelly native took another look at Kat, at her uncertain expression, and tilted her head, eyebrows raised in inquiry. "What's up?" The petite redhead rubbed the back of her head and looked around, replying with a low voice: "Er... At lunch I understood you could explain to me, during Study Hall, what... Homecoming... is? Mind if I sit?" Autumn's lips rounded to an 'o' as she watched Kat's hand mechanically travel to the back of her head, a gesture of discomfort stressed by the pout she suddenly made while adding: "To be honest, since the day I came here I've kinda felt like I'm learning life all over again..." "You are not wrong," Autumn grinned, nodding in commiseration. "And I've lived here all my life, so..." The slight upward twitch of her shoulders served as physical punctuation, the implied termination of a thought not worth pursuing; it would be nice to have a conversation that only involved normal sources of awkwardness and social anxiety, for a change, rather than the nightmare levels of weird they'd all been exposed to recently. Gesturing toward an empty seat, the Shelly native straightened in her chair as the bell rang. She had suggested Kat save the Homecoming discussion until after their meeting at the bleachers, and although she herself planned on flying solo, filling the new girl in would give her a chance to decide if she wanted to do the same, or to find a decent date- or to just skip the whole thing altogether. "So. Homecoming," she began, keeping her voice low as she pulled out her Environmental Science textbook and opened it, flipping to the review section at the end of the first chapter. "Maybe you guys have something kind of like it in France? It's sort of like..." Peering up through her lashes at the fretful waif in front of her, Autumn pursed her lips. "Like a big school festival. It goes on for a week or so, and kind of gets the whole fall sports season started. It's kind of a big deal, more for the football team than anything else, but there's the game, and the parade, and all that. The dance is what a lot of people think about, though. I mean, it's not as big as, like, prom, but still kind of important. I'm pretty sure Marissa's had her dress planned since last Homecoming," the freckled redhead quipped, glancing surreptitiously toward the front of the room to catch a glimpse of her self-proclaimed bestie. Kat moved to the chair next to the one Autumn was sitting on and pulled it back while listening pensively. She pulled out a couple books from her backpack and sat down, flipping the pages of her English course at a fast but regular pace, her eyes scanning the words she read at their usual speed... lightning speed. English didn't feel as boring as Maths, but to be honest with herself, Kat realized that compared to her calculating skills, her English was far from perfect. Still, that book wouldn't last longer than any other book she had ever set her eyes upon. At Autumn's last comment, the petite redhead's eyebrows jumped sky high. "Woah, sounds like a big deal." She replied in a whisper, actually amazed. "I don't think we have anything like that in France, at least in high school. Maybe in college but, well, I've never been to college..." The pages of her book stopped flipping and Kat remained silent for a while. "I don't know if I'm gonna go... is it worth it going without a date?" She asked, turning to her new friend. "I mean, look at me, finding one is gonna be hard work, half the damn school thinks I'm twelve, and before I started putting some make-up on, they also thought I was a boy!" Autumn blinked at that last, a wave of bright pink flooding her cheeks as she averted her gaze. "Yeah... Sorry about that. Not that I actually said it out loud, or anything, but, um. I did kind of think it," she admitted with a slightly guilty grin, her nose crinkling. "I, uh... I also wondered if you might be related to Sean, at first, since you guys look sort of alike, and in a weird way, it fit, I guess? A boy who looks like a girl, and a girl who looks like a boy, I mean." The light bronze flecks sprinkled across the restive red-haired girl's face all but disappeared as her blush deepened at the admission. "Just a first-impression thing." Way to go, Autumn, just make the new girl feel even more awkward, why don't you? The toes of her sneakers scuffed at the floor as she swung her feet. "Anyway. If you want to go to the dance, you don't have to get a date date." The American pursed her lips, resting her chin on her fist as she really looked at the petite girl next to her, at her elfin features, almost translucent skin, and delicate frame; like Sean, Kat would probably get carded for everything, for the rest of her life. "You probably could- I mean, you're definitely cute enough- but there's only a couple of weeks, and chances are good they'd just be trying to get into your pants." There was a long pause, and Autumn grinned again, more mischief than apology this time. "Unless that's what you want," she teased. "If not, you could always go with a friend, or friends plural. I plan on flying solo, myself. I did the date thing last year, but we're-" Again, the freckles on Autumn's nose scrunched together. "It's complicated," she finally conceded after a moment, turning the page between her fingers idly back and forth. "Hm, hm," the French girl nodded, while silently glaring at her book. She couldn't decide yet. Too soon, and yet too late. She was indeed not intending to get anyone into her pants - yet, she thought - but dancing sounded nice. If she managed to somehow find a decent dress, then maybe she'd 'fly solo', as her friend just said. She leaned over the table, resting her forehead on her arms. "How complicated?" she asked, as the curious enough part of her brains managed to squeeze the question out. "Used to be my best friend, complicated," she replied, all mischief and levity vanishing from her features like a clear sky suddenly overshadowed by late summer storms. The sun outside was still shining, though, as the athletic young woman tugged at the string of her hoodie and glanced out the window, away from the new girl and the uncomfortable question she'd inadvertently asked. She couldn't even talk to Jacob about Jacob, so how was she supposed to explain it to anyone else? Autumn could hear Sean chatting with (probably) Jason somewhere nearby, the technophile's sweetly girlish voice easy to pick out even in a crowd, and someone listening to Ava Max a little too loudly behind her, but there was still an odd sort of silence in the wake of her admission. "So, yeah. Not really an option this time. It's fine." It's fine, she repeated mentally. Shrugging dismissively, the Shelly native flipped the page in her textbook, not even glancing at the text printed there. "The best part's the parties after, anyway." There was a brief pause as Autumn turned back to her 'study partner' and realized she knew basically nothing about Kat. At all. "Actually, do you party?" Whoops. Kat's hand mechanically travelled to the back of her head and rubbed it. Under her folded arms, her English book suddenly looked interesting as she considered her friend's - question mark? she thought - reaction. Nice one. Shouldn't have asked that. Bad Kat. Wait, did she ask me something? "Do I... party?" The French girl winced before adding: "Hmm... I don't go outside much..." She gestured at herself, from head to toes. The gesture in itself wasn't very lengthy, but spoke eloquently of the reason why. Autumn stared at her for a moment, her features a mask of uncertainty and confusion as she followed the movement, panning down the other girl’s slim frame where she sat perched uncomfortably in the chair. "Party," she repeated slowly, meeting Kat’s eyes for emphasis. "Like, do you drink? Smoke? Get a little faded? You, uh. Don't really have to do it outside." The petite redhead blinked, then chuckled at the thought. "Oh, that! Yeah, when the mood calls for it, I guess." She fiddled with the pages of her book, taking a look around at the other students. "Don't take it the wrong way, but I really don't like Study Hall." She paused for a moment before clarifying. "It's just... you know, it feels like watching a show a second time. Not as interesting to me because I know what's going to happen. Same thing for... this." She pointed at her book. "You ever get that feeling?" "About homework?" With a quick shake of her head, Autumn choked back a laugh. If this girl thought she was going to get anywhere on scholastic merit, poor Kat was going to be sadly disappointed. "No, I don't. I'm honestly just praying I graduate on time. The struggle's pretty real. I mean, in theory Chem'll be a little easier with Jase and Cassie at the table, but that still leaves English. You'd think being born here would make the language easier." Her grin broadened, and she flipped the end of the thick braid Marissa had woven back over her shoulder. "So, what else do you wanna know about Homecoming?" The French girl was starting to get hungry, her stomach producing a faint menacing growl, loud enough to raise a curious eyebrow from a couple faces around. A cute pout appeared on Kat's lips for a while, as she wondered if being ready to go to Homecoming - just in case - was a good idea. "Hmph... I don't know if I'm going," she replied, "but if I do, I need a dress. Any good shop you recommend in Great Falls?" Well, at least I'm not the only one thinking about food, the freckled girl laughed to herself. If she didn't already have plans for the afternoon, she'd probably invite the newest addition to Shelly's impressive array of redheads out for something delicious and possibly regrettable. "Honestly," she admitted, "no, I really don't. I’m not really all that into shopping, so I'm probably just gonna go with my mom at some point, or maybe... pick something up online? I don't know. I mean, I just want something comfortable, that fits, and doesn't cost a metric fuckton. But if you really want to go all out-" Autumn hesitated, a question implicit in her tone. Sure, Kat had met Marissa, but meeting Marissa was something altogether different. "Devin's sister, the really, like, crazy pretty girl with dark hair? That's kind of her thing." "Oh, yeah, sure... She seems... nice?" Kat checked the time on her phone before putting it away with a deft flick of her hand. "I didn't really talk to her yet. I mean, my Dad's girlfriend probably has some good advice too. We went shopping yesterday, it was fun.... until I accidentally activated something in my brains and it scared the shit out of me" She added in a low whisper. That got Autumn’s undivided attention in a way that talking about dresses hadn’t. With all thought of hunger and fries and similarly mouth-watering badness banished to whichever part of the brain happy dreams disappear on waking, she peered thoughtfully at the other girl, warm blue eyes narrowing in evident concern. She activated something in her brain that scared the shit out of her. Okay. So… What did that mean, exactly? Obviously some new aspect of Kat’s powers had surfaced, and of course that would be terrifying- especially if it happened by accident, and in public. The thought of being in that position herself sent a shiver rippling down her spine like icy fingertips, and she couldn’t help but shudder a little despite the warmth of the day, grimacing. That was kind of a nightmare scenario, wasn’t it? The French girl didn’t miss her friend’s glance. “I just… did some weird stuff with my Shine, and it kind of took me by surprise.” She whispered with a shrug. “Probably won’t happen again. At least not randomly. I mean, I know it’s there now.” She glanced back at Autumn with a poor grin. “I really hope Sunday’s training will help.” Weird stuff. Huh. Resisting the sudden instinctive urge to give the tiny redhead a hug, Autumn instead just nodded her agreement; not only were they in class, which would’ve made it super weird, she barely knew the girl… which would’ve taken it from “weird” straight to “outright fucking creepy.” Still, Kat’s attempt at a smile wasn’t exactly convincing, and a pang of sympathy twisted uncomfortably on itself in the pit of her stomach. There weren’t really any instructions on how to deal with hell-spawned nightmare beasts, or aliens, or alternate dimensions inhabited by things that wanted to destroy and consume and kill you- in roughly that order. There weren’t even any instructions on how to just get through junior year without totally losing your mind, or how to cope with losing someone you loved. Watching the porcelain-skinned pixie’s expression falter, her features wavering for a moment between the need to be strong and the desire to break down again at the memory of what had happened with Tess, Autumn nodded again, as if in confirmation. Everybody was dealing with something, weren’t they? Hmm. “Hey.” She smiled a little, her sea-colored gaze warmly encouraging as she reached out an amber-flecked hand. “Lemme see your phone. Just for a second.” Dubiously, the gamine French import complied, and her American counterpart deftly swiped the screen with her thumb as she hummed quietly to herself, shifting a little in her seat. As Kat watched, her new friend (?) snapped a quick selfie that was all white teeth, pink cheeks and cheerful blue eyes, and then rapidly entered her contact information. “There,” she declared finally, returning the smartphone to its rightful owner with an air of triumph. “Text me sometime. You can come smoke with me and we’ll go make poor life decisions involving salt, grease, and too much sugar.” “Sure.” The French girl replied with a genuine smile that was all dimples. At that moment she decided that she liked Autumn. Kat was nothing like an outdoors girl, but somehow she felt like she needed friends more than anything else in her new world. Besides, if the world were ever to turn into Darkspawn shit, at least she knew she could count on a few people here. And Autumn was really nice. There was something with her, that Kat couldn’t quite put into words, but it made her want to know her better. “Thanks,” she added with a wicked grin, “I think I need more sugar in my life…” Truth be told, Kat’s stomach couldn’t agree more. It did so, loudly. Fortunately for the ravenous teen and her stomach, the low rumble went unheard amidst the chaos of the final bell and the mass exodus of students to their lockers, the parking lot, and the field. The two girls smiled at each other, perhaps a little less awkwardly than they had at the beginning of class, and reflected as they headed their separate ways that maybe Study Hall had been good for learning something new, after all.
  6. Watching everyone milling around- upstairs, downstairs, in the door and out and in again- without any particular plan or idea of what they were supposed to be doing, but instead just sort of doing it, was oddly relaxing. Sure, the kitchen was a little crowded, and a little noisy, but it wasn’t what Autumn would consider hectic, just… Active, with people chatting amongst themselves and cleaning up, relaxing, winding down after the excitement of discovering more about each other, and about what they could do. Where they fit. Where they belonged. It was certainly less chaotic than trying to cook bacon with four excited dogs all jockeying for position around her feet. Smiling, she pulled down a couple of mugs from the rack as the coffee maker beeped that it was finished, enjoying the warm tides of vital energy that ebbed and flowed around her. Even after the discoveries she’d made in her grandfather’s study and what they’d learned that afternoon from Laughing Joe, the lively, rose-cheeked young woman still had a thousand questions which might never be answered. In fact, most of the answers she’d gotten seemed only to inspire more questions. Still, knowing that generations of her forebears had stood against these same rising shadows, that they had laid out the path forward in the very marrow of her bones and the blood in her veins, made it all a little easier to bear. Forging the link with Marissa earlier had demonstrated beyond her wildest imaginings that she really was part of this, part of a greater design, an unfathomably complex tapestry- maybe not a part of the Fellowship, specifically, but a part of what was happening, at least. And some of them were her friends, and there were Rules. Which reminded her: she hadn’t actually seen Marissa in a while, and they still had a conversation to finish. She’d said they would, after all. Rule Number Three. Autumn set the pair of mugs on the counter as Cassie came prowling back in through the door where Devin had just departed. Leaving the coffee for a moment, the vibrant redhead peered out through the kitchen door, catching sight of the gymnast as he headed toward the insanely expensive motorcycle he drove like a lunatic down the backroads of Shelly. “Hey,” she called, stepping out onto the porch and jogging down the steps after him. “Hey, did your sister leave? We were talking, and then training, and pizza, and-“ Hesitating, she shrugged. “You know. She just didn’t say goodbye, so.” Left unspoken was the implicit, “…so I wanted to make sure nothing happened.” “Oh, yeah, she’s fine.” Pulling his shirt down over his head, Devin shot a quick smile in her direction, a glimpse of white teeth that flashed and disappeared. “She text me not long ago, said Mom called her home for an errand or something. Now that we have our licenses, we get to do all the running they don’t feel like doing. She did dart out in a hurry, so chances are Mom pissed her off, don’t take it personally.” “Cool, cool,” she nodded. “I’ll text her later, then. So, listen. DeeJay.” She smiled a little, fleetingly, at the use of the nickname. “You didn’t have to help out this morning, or go to the Rez. But you did. And…” Autumn drew in a deep breath, sighing as she dipped her head briefly in concession. “It was nice not to have to do it by myself. So, thanks.” Squinting slightly at him in the bright light, her blue eyes narrowed and the freckles across her nose crinkled together in another unique, utterly singular pattern of bronze specks. “I mean it. Having you guys there helped a lot.” “Anytime, Granola.” He shrugged dismissively, as though it was no big deal. “I know it’s hard to believe, but I’m trying to be as good of a friend as I can be, even if some don’t want me as one. I’m not saying I blame them, but, y’know, if you need me, for anything, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll be there in a…” He smirked. “A flash.” That earned him a roll of her eyes as the expressive redhead returned the smirk with one of her own, a crooked half-smile that tugged at the corner of her mouth. “Mhmm. I’ll… keep that in mind, yeah. Anyway. See you tomorrow.” It was a statement, not a question; whatever else she expected of Devin, if anything at all, it apparently didn’t involve him bailing on them last minute. “Yeah, see ya,” he replied with a quick wave, turning back to the sleek Ducati as Autumn headed back up the porch steps and into the crowded kitchen. Maneuvering around the table where Tawny was carefully inspecting the contents of Jason’s backpack, she made a bee-line back to the coffee maker. It wasn’t a terrible idea, she reflected as she filled both mugs, leaving one pristine and pitch-black and profaning the other with sugar, followed by a splash of cream she got from the fridge. It would be easy enough to put something together that would keep her going for a couple of days, at least; it would just take a little re-shuffling of the supplies she’d taken to the Old Town Hall the previous night. Mentally, she ticked off the list of changes she would need to make, picking up the pair of mugs and turning just as Jase descended the stairs. He moved, as always, with the economy of motion and accompanying stealth that had startled and unsettled her on so many occasions, and only the warning flash of movement she caught from the corner of her eye prevented a scalding hot, highly-caffeinated disaster. Mother fucker, she swore inwardly as her heart leapt into her throat, a rueful grin curving her lips. If they were going to be spending more time together, she’d have to put a bell on him, or something. Christ. But where, exactly, would you put it? The thought was enough to send a tingling rush of pink flooding up into her cheeks from somewhere farther south, and as the cool green of his eyes met her warmer blue ones, Autumn held up the coffee she’d poured for him. An offering. A gesture of… something. Of what, exactly, she wasn’t sure, but it seemed appropriate. “Thanks,” he murmured, his gaze intent on her face, which seemed to her more feverish by the moment. “Mhmm,” she managed, even as her internal voice screamed at her to just freaking kiss him already. Was one word supposed to sound so… so… hot? Ugh. He was just thanking her for the coffee, for crying out loud, but- But then his fingertips were warm on hers as he took the cup, even that incidental contact sparking a sudden flicker of something galvanic down her spine. Autumn could feel herself leaning up, drawn toward the inscrutable young man as if by some new form of gravity, and then- “Excuse me, Jason Bannon. According to my sources, you're offering something called 'airplanes.' Can you comment on that?" The cheerful blonde seer swept around the table with a triumphant grin, having finally tracked down her elusive prey. “I’ve decided to write a companion piece to my main story.”
  7. Pressing her heels into the floor, Autumn got to her feet with a quiet huff of effort and stretched, luxuriating in the elongation of idle limbs and arching up onto her toes as she reached skyward. Her fingertips lingered on the coarse fabric encasing the spine of the slim volume as she, relaxing, slid it carefully back into place; it would have to stay here with the others, for now, until she could figure out what to do with them. The contents of the remaining envelope, still unopened on the desk blotter, were to be read with her mother- “together,” the other letter had specified, along with something about instructions to be followed. Maybe it held the yellowed deed to the lost mine they’d imagined, or the combination to the secret shelter beneath the memorial, or something even stranger... Or maybe it was just a practical list of what Owen had wanted saved and sold, along with a mundane explanation for why he’d kept the Dark and the cancer a secret- something he’d never given them when he was alive. Maybe something he couldn’t have given them, then. Would she have believed him, though, if he’d tried? Before Friday, if someone had told her what she now knew about Shelly, about their family history and the Crockers’ as well, would it have mattered- even if that someone had been her grandfather? She mulled that over, making another circuit around the office. Hm. No, probably not; they wouldn’t have had proof. Before Jason Freaking Bannon and Clara Wright had cornered her in the girls’ bathroom, scared the hell out of her, and casually dismantled what she’d thought she’d known about reality, she would’ve probably laughed it off, wouldn’t she? Maybe assumed they were teasing her or had taken some of the local stories a little too seriously. According to what Nathan had suggested, that had more or less been her mom’s reaction at her age, and it was a perfectly rational response to irrational claims; after all, if something could be asserted without evidence, it could just as easily be dismissed in the same way. Now that she knew the truth, of course, there was no going back to the Autumn of an hour ago, or the day before, or last week. ...And the more she learned, the more she realized how very little she’d actually known. The better she could see the road that lay behind her, the less she recognized the one that now stretched under her feet, vanishing over the horizon as it wound toward… what? It was unsettling, in a way. Disorienting. Like the unexpected shift of a compass needle, the slow creep of fog across a well-worn path, the alien arrangement of stars in a once-familiar sky. Even if she hadn’t been totally sure where she was going, hadn’t even really made plans for what to do after graduation yet, life had always seemed reassuringly straightforward. Not easy, but at least generally comprehensible. Now she couldn’t even say with certainty that reality itself was real. But, honestly, so what? This was the universe she lived in, now. It was terrifying and it was strange, even exhilarating in some ways, but her grandfather and generations of Kavanaghs had lived in it, too, hadn’t they? And they’d done it without the benefit of nascent powers, or allies who shared them. It hadn’t been in her grandfather’s nature to turn away from the things that made him uncomfortable or afraid, and she’d like to believe it wasn’t in hers, either. Besides- She closed the cabinet doors, reminded of the brief conversation she’d had with Gar Bannon at the hospital. The only thing that had changed, really, was her understanding of the world. Not the world itself. Knowing that these monsters were out there didn’t change the fact that they’d been there before, that all of this had already happened, over and over again. Still, it had to mean something, right? That she, out of all her ancestors with all their stories chronicled on the bookshelf over there, had the ‘Dawning Light.’ The journals and the bracelets and the Blackfeet, the roots of a family tree grown so deep into Shelly’s soil that they were almost one and the same- even her mother, who was brilliant and beautiful and could’ve had a career and a life and a family anywhere else, ended up coming home, as if it couldn’t have happened any other way. Even if it was something the Man in Black had engineered or designed somehow, and even if she had no idea what she was doing or could do in all of this, it still felt… right, somehow, that it should be her? Appropriate? Hmmm. No, not exactly. More… Her gaze fell on a faded map, framed and hanging on the wall, pensive blue eyes tracing the flow of rivers which branched off into tributaries and smaller streams but always found their way to the ocean, in the end. More… Inevitable. Huh. At least as inevitable as the fact that she was going to read that second letter, the impetuous teen decided after a few moments of contemplation, not bothering to take a seat this time as deft fingers withdrew the crisp handwritten missive from its envelope. The first one hadn’t said that it needed to be read exclusively together with her mother, after all, and something in it might be useful, and she was already here anyway, and surely Grandpa wouldn’t mind. Right? Right. Of course. Why would he? “To my darling Dana and my dearest Autumn.” Even softly murmured in the quiet of the hidden study, even though it was the second she’d read and even in her own voice, the words stretched back across the days and months until she could almost hear him, warmth and love and a little humor resonating under the habitual gruffness. Suddenly the chair looked a lot more appealing, its smooth wooden arms welcoming as she sank back down into the comforting solidity of its embrace. “If everything has gone right, you have been brought this letter by the person who opened my den door. Dana, I know it’d likely have been you that went to clean out the house, and I’m sorry none of the keys worked. That was a little medicine from my friend Laughing Joe, whom you likely don’t remember too fondly. Suffice to say that no-one normal could have opened the door. Only someone blessed by the Dawning Light.” Hmm. Her eyes drifted upward unconsciously, unfocused. That was going to be tricky to explain, wasn’t it? Either she’d need to lie and say that someone else had given her the letters, and then keep lying to build up the rest of the story about who they were and where they’d gone- stupidly complicated and awkward and definitely not her preferred option- or admit that she’d been the one to get them. Which… On reflection, that might not be so bad, maybe? If her mom didn’t believe in any of this craziness, and it absolutely was craziness, then a rational explanation for the key just coincidentally working could be found. Perhaps something had settled or shifted, the change of temperature or humidity or something like that finally being just right. Her mom would find a way to make events fit her view of the world. If she did believe, though, what would that mean? After the fight on Tuesday, Dana had been freaked out enough to tell her dad, and the two of them had actually grounded her. Which was also craziness in that it was pretty much unprecedented, even if it hadn’t changed much in a practical sense (apart from, maybe, not being able to follow through on her plans to show Jason the campsite over the weekend). What would her reaction to finding out about the Dark and the Fellowship be, if she thought it was all true? She’d probably send me off to that convent in Eastern Europe she’s been threatening to call up for the last couple of years. “I know, I know. ‘That old tale again.’ I can hear your sharp tongue scolding me, daughter mine. Set aside my silly obsession with local legends and just accept this - I love you with all my heart, you and Autumn both.” Unexpectedly, her voice faltered, cracking at the sound of her own name. No. No, no. Not yet. Drawing in a lungful of the faintly fragrant air, she steadied herself, delaying the inevitable for a few moments longer. “And from that love, and from where I now watch over you, I’m asking you to do a thing for me.” “You are both Kavanagh women by blood. I want one or, better yet both of you to take the talisman bundle the person who delivers this letter brings you and, pricking your fingers, dab some of your blood on it.” Autumn blinked, grimacing a little as she glanced up at the odd assortment of beads, feathers, and claws. “Stop wrinkling your noses, girls.” The unerring prediction caught her by surprise, and she made a choked, startled sound that would, under any other circumstances, have been actual laughter. “This is my last request, penned by my hand, and I will be scowling at you if you refuse it. Once that’s done, hang the bundle high up in your home, out of the way over a door or a window on the inside. Any door, any window, doesn’t matter. And then you can forget about it until you move house, in which case do it again especially, and I mean this, if you still live within Toole County.” Sunday, she told herself. Sunday, after we go to the Reservation. I'll talk to her then. “Do this not because you believe as I believe, but out of love and respect for my wishes. For I love you both and want nothing more than to rest easy knowing my family are safe as I can make them.” The rest, she couldn’t bring herself to say aloud: With More Love Than My Heart Can Hold Pa / Grandpa Owen It was strange, the power those lines penned in blue ink held. The words themselves were oddly formal, proper, even in the one addressed to family, as if he were being very conscious of getting them exactly right. To anyone else who might’ve found them, they would’ve meant nothing- a set of requests and instructions from one stranger to another, with all the emotional content of a dictionary entry or shopping list. To the young girl who’d stepped through the doorway into that little room and simultaneously onto a road winding toward invisible horizons both ahead and behind, they were the sure stroke of a surgeon’s scalpel and the balm after. As she replaced the letter with trembling fingers, the dam against which her emotions had been building suddenly broke, washing away all thought of history, legend, and her place in the world in the swift and onrushing tide of bitter tears and great, wrenching sobs. Later that evening, with the room locked again, Autumn trudged back upstairs through the house that was and wasn't hers to put the borrowed tools away; the ride home was quiet as only time spent enveloped in noise could be, wind and engine and thoughts insulating her as she drove, feeling utterly drained. Later still, after the conversation with her mother about the fight on Tuesday, and after replacing the keys on the hook next to the phone downstairs and rummaging through her closet, her nightstands, and finally her desk, Autumn managed to unearth a blank notebook patterned with white and yellow flowers. It didn’t look at all like the ones on the shelf in the other house, of course, but that was fine; it was hers, after all, not theirs, although she, too, was writing for someone she might never meet. “It all started with a door,” she began, and then paused, thinking of the numerous literal and metaphorical thresholds crossed since the week before, and the multitude she’d not yet encountered. That they, she corrected herself mentally, hadn’t yet encountered. With a faint, slightly crooked smile, she lowered the pen once more to the page. “But, I guess it always does. Doesn’t it?”
  8. [[Devin.]] The redhead frowned and stretched out her hand toward him. The spot where her fingertips made contact with his bare skin throbbed briefly, a sharp, burning sensation as if he’d been stung by a wasp, or accidentally touched bare metal left in the summer sun too long. …But that was all. A momentary flash of discomfort that appeared from nowhere and vanished almost as suddenly. “Is that it?” He shook his head in disappointment, brows arrowing together in a disparaging frown. “Seriously? C’mon, Granola. You can do better than that. A bee sting’s not gonna stop whatever Cody’s turned into. Don’t half-ass it. Think of this as your chance to get back at me for three years of giving you shit.” He tapped his chest again, regarding her with an air of open challenge. “Let’s go. I’m right here.” Autumn exhaled and pressed her hand flat against his skin, her eyes darkening as the wide, deep pools of her pupils expanded. Devin’s impressive athletic ability was something he’d gained through countless hours of grueling effort, of trial and error. He knew what it felt like to fail spectacularly until he finally got something right, and he’d had his fair share of sprains and pulled muscles and bad falls; the pain he experienced at the instant she touched him a second time outstripped all of them. It forced the air from his lungs as his diaphragm collapsed, and then so did he, crumpling like wet paper, folding in on himself gracelessly, helplessly. He hit his knees, breathless as blinding, unrelenting torment spread like wildfire from his solar plexus through his chest, setting off alarms all throughout his brain that whatever this was, it was going to kill him. He was going to die, he felt sure- even as his rational, logical mind reassured him that he’d been here before and in just a few seconds the feeling would ease, that he’d just had the wind knocked out of him and it would be fine. Except, it wasn’t fine, not at all. The feeling didn’t subside. He could only suck in tiny breaths in hitches and spasms as his eyes watered and the world blurred around the edges with bright sparks dancing in his field of vision and his stomach kept heaving but nothing happened and the only sounds he could make were guttural animal moans because there was no air and maybe he was going to die right there on the grass at Jason Bannon’s farm twitching like a beetle on its back and had he ever made anyone else feel like this and there were so many girls he’d never gotten to see naked and Tee was gonna look terrible in black and why wasn’t it stopping? It should have stopped, or lessened, or at the very least he should’ve passed out by now, but no. Stubbornly, consciousness persisted. The feeling of being unable to breathe persisted. The pain persisted, without diminishing and without respite. Agony and horror intermingled in the chaotic tumble of his thoughts as the interminable moments passed: he really was going to die. Except he wasn’t. And that was, for just a moment, the worst possible thing he could imagine. “-ey, …evi… …re …ou okay? Devin!” And then he was aware of Autumn kneeling beside him on the grass, her hands on his shoulders, shaking him, and it was over. Just like that, it was done, as if it had never happened, except that he was lying on the ground with the bitter, acrid taste of bile on his tongue, and the eyes that had looked at him with such reproach only a few minutes before were rimmed in red. [[Autumn.]] Okay, so he wasn’t going to teleport away, so… What was she supposed to do? She didn’t really have to injure him or anything, obviously; he just needed to know what she was capable of, so he could give her advice. That was all. It was fine. No big deal. Like Jason had said, there was nothing inherently malicious in it, and Devin wasn’t a threat to anything but her sanity. It’s fine. Stretching out her hand toward him, Autumn concentrated on that faint sensation of something streaming beneath her skin that was like, and yet not like blood, too intangible to be seen but nevertheless hot and bright in her mind’s eye. She touched his chest, bare fingertips on bare skin, and through that tentative contact felt the physical totality of Devin, the strange impression of movement that she’d felt when she’d hugged him in the hospital, as if he were only partially- or, no, intermittently- occupying the space she could perceive. As her awareness of his essential energy, his vitality sharpened, a flicker of that luminous scarlet Shine reached through her fingers and into the currents of his life, uncoiling in slender filaments that rasped across his nerves. He flinched and she recoiled reflexively, breaking the connection. “Is that it?” Devin grimaced a little and shook his head scornfully, eyes narrowing as she withdrew. “Seriously? C’mon, Granola. You can do better than that. A bee sting’s not gonna stop whatever Cody’s turned into. Don’t half-ass it. Think of this as your chance to get back at me for three years of giving you shit.” Squaring his shoulders, the gymnast smacked an open palm against his chest. “Let’s go. I’m right here.” Autumn exhaled. He was right. He’d asked to see what she could do, and, yeah, she’d technically shown him, but… But not for real. She wouldn’t have the option to pull metaphorical punches with Cody, or any of the other creatures serving the Dark. Right. Okay. She reached out again, pressing her hand flat against his chest, just beneath the breastbone. Again she could sense the blood and bone and sinew that made up his form, the strengths and frailties of the flesh, but this time she let his invocation of the torment and harassment he’d inflicted shape the expression of her power. It was shockingly, almost shamefully easy, the redhead realized, to bring that unresolved anger to the surface; where emotion met essence the sanguine energy flared bright, surging in rich crimson streams through her veins and the physical/spiritual connection of skin on skin to crash furiously, gratifyingly into him like an invisible wave of resentment and pain- And then he folded, dark eyes wide with shock and already welling with tears as the brash young teleporter hit the ground. His body curled in on itself, convulsing with the conflicting need to retch violently and draw in air, neither of which were physically possible, and a growing sense of unease washed away the haze of red that had flooded Autumn’s vision. Any second, it would wear off- he’d suck in a deep breath, maybe laugh, and say something stupid. It would be fine. But as the moments passed, and the gasping turned not to laughter but to guttural, animal wheezing, like a deer with an arrow in its lung, she started to worry. Oh, fuck. What if I really hurt him? A sudden rush of panic lanced down her spine, pushing her forward as she knelt on the grass beside him. Was he messing with her? A quick look at his contorted, reddened features suggested otherwise. Almost frantic now, the fiery young woman rolled Devin onto his side, ran her hands over his back and- No. Nothing was broken, there was nothing actually wrong with him, so why wasn’t he- “Hey, Devin. Hey, stop screwing around, are you okay? Devin!” And then it hit her: There was nothing wrong with him. It was pure sensation, not an injury. There was no way for his brain to cope with that, to compensate for the fact that there was no point of origin, no wound- she had completely bypassed his body’s ability to produce neurochemicals to adjust to pain. What the actual fuck, Autumn? That’s totally- No, no, fuck it, nevermind. Worry about that later. Almost on instinct she reached out, mentally dashing away the connection her touch had forged, and Devin shuddered once, violently, before collapsing onto his back. Shit, shit shit! Oh, fuck, oh god, she swore silently. The world went suddenly liquid as she grabbed his shoulders and tried to pull him up, but her fingers kept slipping on the sheen of sweat that coated his now-flushed skin. Come on, come on, you annoying motherfu- “’m good,” he croaked suddenly, wearily lifting one arm in a shaky thumbs-up as his pupils contracted, focusing on her face. “S’all groovy. Gonna die now.” “Oh, thank fuck,” she breathed aloud, releasing him and sagging backward to sit on her heels as her heart finally slowed its hammering inside her ribs. “Okay, it’s fine, you’re fine. Just, uh. Just try to breathe.” The words could’ve been meant for either of them.
  9. Fondler's First-Aid and Molester's Massacre. Really? That’s fucking hilarious coming from a guy whose powers are all about running away or making himself the center of the world. After those little quips Autumn was roughly two seconds from telling Devin with one finger what she thought of him, but that would defeat the whole purpose of talking to him in the first place, wouldn’t it? God, that was fucking annoying. Exhaling sharply, she pressed the palms of her hands over her eyes, staring into the faint patterns and formless waves of color that overlaid the darkness; it occurred to her after several moments of slow, measured breathing that to him, it probably actually was hilarious. …And she had sort of set the standard herself with the leg-humping comment. So- Fine. Whatever. "Spooked?" She took one more deep breath and let her hands fall back to her sides, considering what she’d seen of the teleporter himself as much as the actual words he'd used. "No. Not 'spooked.' I don't have nightmares. I don't wake up in cold sweats. I'm not afraid that I’m going to lose control and accidentally turn everybody inside out, or anything like that. What's holding me back from using them is knowing how to use them.” Squinting a little, she tugged at the end of the fiery braid draped over her shoulder, looking out at the broad sweep of open fields behind Devin as the sun glared down. “Jase gave me some really good ideas on how to practice the actual powers themselves, which will definitely make learning how they actually work and what the limits are a lot easier. Plants don’t move, though, and they don’t fight back, and everything the Dark throws at us sure as hell does. That’s why I’m talking to you, and you can either help me with that, or you can’t.” “Look, I get that you have seen some shit, and you’re trying to be less of a monster than the things out there that want to eat our faces. Awesome. I am here for it, one hundred percent.” The ocean-hued eyes that had been dark and tempestuous in the loft were calmer now, her gaze clear and direct as she levelled it at the former bully. “But this whole Broda vibe you’ve got going on right now isn’t working for me. We’re not at the point in…” She gestured vaguely with one cinnamon-speckled hand, indicating the space between them. “Whatever this is… that I’m ready to talk to you about feels. Hell, your sister and I are supposed to be best friends, and I’m not even sure we’re there yet. So, if you really want to know what I can do, all right. I’ll show you. Well,” she amended with a one-shouldered shrug. “Part of it, anyway.”
  10. "Hey. Leg-humper." Brushing clumps of melting snow from her hair as she eyed the ravaged pizza boxes, Autumn nudged the back of Devin’s knee with her foot. As greetings went it wasn’t exactly the friendliest, but there was a measure of esprit de corps in its delivery that wouldn’t have been present a week earlier; a week earlier, she probably wouldn’t even have bothered greeting him at all. Funny how a few near-death experiences and waking nightmares could help put things in perspective. Fate, or chance, or whatever had conspired to throw them all together, headfirst, into uncharted waters to see if they could swim. And here she was, paddling alongside them as they fought to stay afloat, to survive the oncoming tide- whatever that was. Things were definitely changing, and not always for the best, but… That’s the nature of things, to change. They have to, don’t they? “’Sup, Granola?” The still-shirtless gymnast looked up from the somewhat thankless task of condensing the remains of the pizzas they’d maimed and mangled into one box, shooting a sidelong smirk in her direction. “And, uh, last I checked you’ve got two legs.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, and Autumn wasn’t sure which Devin was more obnoxious: the one who’d snapped her bra and ruined her chances with Tom Winslow the year before, or the one who now flirted with every pair of XX chromosomes he met. “Both of which I will use to kick your ass,” she threatened without real conviction, cursing silently as she felt the warning signs of an angry flush warming her cheeks. Maybe his super-power wasn’t finding pizza places- maybe it was being annoying. Or both. Could it be both? The redhead snatched a slice of 5-Cheese from the box in his hands and tore off a bite with mock-ferocity. Devin’s grin only broadened as he slid up next to her, his free arm slipping easily, casually around her shoulders; with or without a boyfriend in the picture, the fast-talking teleporter was a menace to female-kind. “Ooooh.” He feigned a shiver and leaned closer, balancing the pizza in his other hand. “You know, that’s not usually my thing, but keep talkin’. Let’s see where this goes.” Fuck’s sake, Autumn. This is already a bad idea. And, obviously it was, which was part of the reason she felt compelled to do it in the first place. Shrugging the arm off as she glanced heavenward, the spirited teen finished her mouthful of cheesy, melty deliciousness and turned to face him directly. “I want you to help me with something. Have you got a minute?” There was visible tension between her eyebrows now, the residual playfulness following her ill-advised teasing of their resident phytophile fading fast. “Hey, look.” Devin slowly shook his head, spreading his hands in the iconic gesture that begged understanding. “If this is about you and Jason, I just wanna say that I totally get where you’re coming from, and I’d love to help, but my heart’s in kind of a vulnerable place right now.” He paused, biting his lip and affecting a pained expression as he gazed at her with soulful, liquid brown eyes. “I just don’t think I’m ready to be hurt again.” Just eat your pizza. Eat. Your fucking. Pizza. She did. Swallowing her pride along with her food, Autumn took two more bites as intangible flames crept up the sides of her face, painting her skin in scarlet. It was fine. Totally fine. “Devin. I’m being serious,” she finally managed. “Like, Dark-fighting serious.” He blinked at her then, owlishly, and shrugged. “You know, you could’ve just opened with that.” As she stared at him, uncomprehending, that sly, smarmy grin reappeared on the former bully’s lips, and she tossed her half-eaten crust at him in indignation. “Oh my fucking god, Devin, so help me-“ “Chill, chill,” he laughed, holding up his hands to ward off further pizza-related violence. “I’m just messin’ with you. Relax, girl. Damn. You make this way too easy, you know that?” “Uggggghhh.” The versatile subvocalization, one the red-haired vitakinetic frequently employed, was in this case a low, elongated groan of frustration at the back of her throat. Sure, there were other people who could help her, but that wasn’t the point here. “Fine. I want help learning how to do what you and Jase did.” It was Devin’s turn to frown, then, forgetting for the moment how satisfying it had always been to get a rise out of her. “I don’t know if I can teach you how to do what I do,” he hedged, “and you know if you want to hear about fire and ice and all that you should talk to Jaybee.” “No, not that!” She shook her head, bending to collect the empty pizza boxes as the wave of crimson surging beneath her skin began to gradually abate. The mindless gathering gave her something to do and, potentially, something to throw, so helping out seemed like a win-win situation. “I mean more like the actual fight. You seemed like you knew what you were doing.” “Ohhh, you mean the sparring? ‘Cause I’m not gonna lie, were were just kinda making all that up as we went.” She glanced back over her shoulder as she worked, lips pursed in obvious skepticism, but Devin just shrugged and grinned. “Hmm.” Picking up another demolished scrap of cardboard, Autumn tossed it into the growing pile. It definitely hadn’t seemed improvised at the time; at some points, she’d wondered if they were fighting for real, or for practice. For those two, it could’ve been both, maybe. “Okay, well, I mean, watching you guys… I just thought it was sorta cool. You both seem so comfortable with your powers, like they’re just a regular part of your lives, y’know? I thought you might be able to help me figure out what to do if- when something happens. Or like, when we go deal with Cody.” Guiding the last box onto the pile with the side of her foot, she peered across the jumble of grease and corrugation, watching Jason and Lilly for a moment before turning back to the pizza-bearer. “I don’t want to be in the way,” she admitted. “And I don’t want anybody else to get hurt because of me, so I need to be able to do more than just… I don’t know. Kick a football player in the knee and yell.” “So why are you asking me, instead of him?” Devin jerked his head in the direction she’d been looking, setting the one remaining box aside and bracing his hands on his hips. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really mind either way, but you aren’t exactly a founding member of my fan club.” He paused, then added, not-quite smirking, “And I’d know if you were, ‘cause Tee would’ve told me. She’s the president.” “Mmm.” She pulled the hair-tie from her wrist, gazing off into the distance as nimble fingers wove the chaotic tangle of red-gold curls into a thick braid and secured it in place. Things did have to change. “A bunch of different reasons, I guess. I don’t like the idea of depending one person for everything, and he has things he wants to do, too. Can’t be all over him all the time.” She grinned a little at that, a new wash of pale pink warming her cheeks as she shrugged one shoulder. “Plus, he makes it, um, hard to concentrate. Also plus, if I’m gonna be hanging out with your sister, you and I should probably get used to each other.“
  11. “Hmm.” Autumn’s eyebrows knit together as she turned the thought over in her head, absently reaching up with one hand to rest her bronze-flecked fingers on Jason’s. She’d really only thought of how her powers applied to ‘life’ in the context of animals and people; humans could obviously be kind of a grey area because they had things like higher logic and the free will to make decisions, but the idea of intentionally hurting a creature who couldn’t even understand why it was in pain made her stomach churn. The concept was antithetical to everything she’d ever been taught about hunting, and about being a good steward of the land and its resources. Or even, she believed, about just being a good person in general. Not everyone agreed, of course. She remembered the two very different, very traumatized cats they’d removed from Crossroads, and the girl’s thoughtful frown deepened. Plants, though? Unless by some weird twist of fate the old memes about screaming trees turned out to be true, she couldn’t think of a single argument against it. There were plenty of subjects in an impossible variety of configurations, each with unique characteristics but all following the same general pattern. They didn’t have any kind of nervous system to experience pain- or at least not beyond a really broad interpretation of the word. They were also readily available: all she had to do was walk outside. Okay, yeah. That actually does make sense. And if it turns out I really can affect them with my powers, what else could I do? “I hadn’t thought about using plants for practice. Huh. I guess it seems kind of obvious in retrospect, doesn’t it? At least for the parts that could actually hurt someone.” The contemplative furrow in her brow smoothed and she grinned broadly up at the oft-distant young man, stroking the back of his hand with her fingertips. “Thanks for that. I should probably revise my definition of living organisms in this context, then, all things considered. Expand it, even. If I can affect plants, who knows? Maybe bacteria, or microbes. Viruses. Oh!” Brightening suddenly, the energetic redhead beamed up at him , bouncing excitedly on the balls of her feet. “Oh, we should try that! At school, or something, in one of the labs. Not with a virus, or at least not until we know what we’re doing, ‘cause that could be a real fucking bad day for everybody, but other things! Just to see what happens. Like, holy shit,” she breathed, an undercurrent of mingled awe and laughter in her voice as an entire realm of possibilities opened up. “What if I could reprogram bacteria, or change what diseases plants are resistant to, or make a virus that eats cancer cells? And there’s no ethical issue with seeing if any of it works, is there? Fuck, you are a genius,” Autumn exclaimed, leaning up on her tiptoes and pressing her lips to Jason’s in a brief, but earnest kiss that sent a ripple of warmth humming through her veins. “You, Professor Bannon, are the literal best. Thank you. And thank you for suggesting the plant idea.” Taking a few steps backward, she tucked her hair behind her ears and smiled up at him, the light of fey mischief shining in her sun-bright eyes. “Speaking of… I’m gonna head back to the barn. Y’know. Maybe get some practice in. Catch up with you later?” With a wink the copper-crowned teen turned, and, laughing, fled for her life.
  12. Of all the members of the Fellowship, Jase was the one person she was least worried about telling. Not because they were dating, but because he was a friend. She was also sure- okay, mostly sure- that it wouldn’t change his opinion of her much, and completely sure that he wouldn’t freak out, because freaking out wasn’t a thing Jason Bannon did. That was more a reaction he inspired in other people. Cassie would probably be horrified, and Marissa would call her a serial killer in the making or something, and neither of those responses were particularly helpful. Honest, yeah, but not helpful. Right. Start with what you want, first. Then explain. “Okay,” she began, inhaling as she planted her feet solidly in the soft, grassy earth. “So, I need help figuring out how to train. The first time I ever used my powers to heal someone was you, in that conference room. And the first time I ever used them to make someone… better, I guess? Improve them? Was Devin, when we went to the prison afterward, because helping you kind of pushed me to keep trying other things. But neither of those was the actual first time. That happened earlier, when those two guys went after you in the hall.” She paused, lower lip once more between her teeth as she worked to formulate her thoughts, to arrange sensory impressions and adrenaline-clouded memories of that day into a coherent narrative. “It’s not that I was trying to do it. I didn’t even know I could. When- what’s-his-name, Mark or whatever- when I pushed him to get him off you, and he grabbed my arm, he was going to break it. I could actually feel it happening, y’know? I was scared, and it fucking hurt, and it just sort of-“ Her voice, which had risen slightly, broke off as she took another deep breath. “So, I hurt him back. Not like an injury, just… pain, until reflexes kicked in and he jerked away.” “Curtis, too, the one who ended up in the hospital. At the time he probably felt like he’d never walk again, because that’s honestly what I wanted him to feel. He hurt my friend, he hurt me, and I wanted him to know what that was like. I wanted to make him stop. So when I ended up kicking him and dislocating his knee, I made it a lot more painful than it should’ve been, hoping he’d just stay the hell down.” God, I sound like a fucking nutcase. Jesus. Autumn frowned and reached up to drag a hand back through the remains of what was once a ponytail of some kind, sighing. And it only gets better from here, the sarcastic retort surfaced, unbidden. “It’s not just that, though,” she admitted softly, the ocean-hued eyes that gazed up at him murky with uncertainty. “I could feel how to make it worse. How to splinter and tear and sever everything so that it would always just be a- a mess of meat and bone fragments, and it would’ve been easy. All I had to do was touch him. And that was just his knee.” For a moment, the restless young woman left it at that. She held one hand out, peering at the neat, short nails, the freckles and tiny scars, and the faint greenish-blue network of dorsal veins and arteries as if she might be able to see the energy moving there just beneath the skin. And then she caught sight of Jason between her widespread fingers and smiled a little, shoulders twitching up in a shrug as she met his eyes. “I still don’t know how I feel about that, to be honest, and I’ve thought about it a lot. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I have pretty much zero guilt where those two are concerned, because they would’ve done a lot worse. But I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t freak me out a little. Like, I know that there’s no such thing as life without pain, or death, and it would be stupid to think otherwise. And I know it’s not the only thing I can do. But even if it’s not the only thing, it’s still a thing, and I don't know what to do with it. Especially with everything that’s happened, and Cody, and the Dark. That’s why I haven’t told anybody yet. And, yeah,” she acknowledged with a tilt of her head, “maybe that’s unfair, but there’s a difference in having powers that could be used to hurt people and having powers that are meant to, and I can pretty much guess how they’re going to react.” “Fuck," she swore suddenly, pressing the heels of her hands to her forehead with a laugh. "Why do I always end up talking so much when I tell you stuff?”
  13. Grinning as she childishly stuck her tongue out at the pretty blonde, Autumn turned and reached up to push Jase's hair back from his forehead, running her fingers admiringly through the wet strands. She could feel the water seeping through her t-shirt and the denim on her thighs as she lingered there, but, really: So what? She still hadn’t completely dried off from the water fight with Cassie earlier, anyway. In lieu of a kiss, the lively young woman smiled back up into those luminous green eyes and mouthed a single word: Amazing, before sinking back down onto her heels. And it was. And he was, or so every atom of her being seemed to sing when he was nearby, like… ‘like billions of tiny stars in the dark.’ It wasn’t until she took a half-step back, reluctantly complying with Cass’s simultaneously totally reasonable and also completely stupid and unfair prohibition, that she really, truly realized that more than just Jase’s shirt was drenched. And water could be heavy. And… something, something science. Probably. “Um,” she managed eloquently, as every bit of the sun’s thermal output suddenly seemed focused on her face, heating her skin until she wondered if her fiery hair might literally ignite this time. It wasn’t just that he’d gotten wet during his unplanned trip to the pool- it was the way the water droplets clung to his lips, the way the sheen of it glistened on his skin and adhered the translucent white cotton of his shirt to the lean form beneath, the way tiny rivulets of it trailed down his exposed hipbones as the waistband of his sweatpants dipped perilously, thrillingly, distractingly low. It probably wouldn’t take much at all to- Focus, Autumn. Oh. Oh, I am. I really, really- Not on THAT! She blinked, inhaling suddenly as her lungs protested the lack of oxygen. Suddenly, Marissa’s insistence that he was going to kill her one day made sense, because Autumn was pretty sure he’d already done it half a dozen times in the last week alone. “So that’s, um,” she tried again, waving a hand in the general direction of Jason’s stomach as she struggled to look anywhere else but at him. “Really distracting. And we’re supposed to be focusing on Fellowship stuff. And I will definitely not be able to concentrate if you’re walking around like that for the rest of the afternoon. And neither will anyone else with a pulse. And… I swear there was something I needed to talk to you about, training-related, but I don’t think I can have a conversation with you right now. Like that.” Blushing furiously, the animated redhead tucked her hands into her pockets and wished that Devin would likewise drop her into a pool of cold water somewhere.
  14. Autumn had tensed a little when Lilly nonchalantly strolled up to the group- as if the Amazonian football player hadn't totally ghosted them for a week while everything went to Hell. As if she hadn't 'abandoned her friends' with some lame excuse like not having a phone, and hadn't just conveniently forgotten to tell people she was leaving for several days while the Dark was actively trying to kill people. To kill them. So when Cassie ran up and hugged the latecomer, the clear, candid blue eyes that watched the cheery reunion weren't exactly alight with the same enthusiasm. Instead, she returned Lilly's general verbal greeting with its casual kinetic equivalent- a brief upward jerk of her chin- and went back to finishing off her last (no, seriously this time) slice of pizza. In fact, she decided, stuffing the last bit of garlic-buttered crust into her mouth with a satisfied hum and licking the remnants from her fingers, finding good pizza places might be Devin's actual super-power. She was just about to tell him so when the elder Jauntsen got up and announced that he was going to loosen up for a- "Match?" she asked, glancing quizzically at the laconic youth lounging next to her on the warm grass. He nodded, watching for a moment as Devin and the two beautiful social mavens left the little circle, and then returning his gaze to the girl whose arm was still draped companionably around him. "Devin and I agreed that it would be wise to test some potential applications of our powers," Jason explained as comprehension dawned on her freckled features. "A friendly spar." "Yeah, that makes sense." Autumn nodded, pursing her lips as she peered off in the direction Devin and the others had gone, squinting against the light. "Well," she continued, turning back to him with a grin as she shifted a little onto one hip and fished a small cloth-wrapped bundle from her pocket. "If you're going into battle against the Evil Queen's knight, should I give you my favor to wear?" His answer was a slight smile and a nod, pale green eyes lambent in the golden glow of the afternoon, as he offered up his forearm; her whole face brightened at that, all sun-reddened cheeks and the suggestion of dimples at the corners of her mouth as she laughed. Unwrapping the lustrous coppery bracelet within, the redhead took Jason's outstretched hand in hers, slipping the etched band around his wrist with a reverence that was only partially in jest. "I'd give you a kiss for luck, too, but I don't think you need it," she teased softly, squeezing his fingers briefly before releasing them. "How about a kiss for reasons other than luck?" he asked quietly, his gaze warm with firefly glints. Autumn felt the blush rise with her smile. "So long as 'because I want to' is a valid reason..?" she said, leaning in and pressing her lips to his, feeling him respond as his hand gently caressed her cheek. "The best reason." he said softly as the kiss broke. Autumn felt like she'd never stop smiling, and shoved at his shoulder playfully. "Go kick his ass." she mostly-joked. Mostly.
  15. As the initial round of exercises drew to a close, Autumn glanced down at the head of the sleeping princess still resting against shoulder. It would almost have been endearing, except for the fact that she was thirsty and it felt like if she didn’t get up and do something she was going to start putting down roots. “C’mon. No falling asleep,” she admonished, shrugging the exhausted brunette off and ignoring the sullen glower directed her way. Despite her grumbled protestations, Marissa managed to sit up with the help of a steadying hand, scowling like a petulant child as the redhead brushed the grass from her dark hair. It was a surprisingly familiar gesture, one that carried a faint sensation of warmth as the Girl Scout’s freckled fingers smoothed the disheveled sable tresses. “Finish that water up, and if you feel all right after that, we can go over what happened. With the attunement, I mean” she added after a moment’s pause, considering everything that had been said, and how angry she’d felt, and how nice it was to just be for a minute. No point revisiting that just yet. “The rest… That can wait. I’m gonna go grab something else to drink. Don’t try to get up too fast, okay?” Stretching as she stood, Autumn sighed and briskly dusted bits of grass and dirt from her jeans and hoodie before tightening the knotted arms around her waist. She’d have to go back to the barn for another bottle, since she was pretty sure sharing anything wasn’t part of Marissa’s “Girl Code”… at least, if her reaction to Tawny borrowing a shirt was any indication. On the other hand… Autumn found herself turning, blue eyes unconsciously following the long, easy strides that carried Jason into the center of the rough clearing. …there was a long, cool drink of water not too far away, and it was hot out in the field. Yep. The thirst is definitely real. It must have been the sun. Obviously. In fact, she was feeling a little feverish just thinking about it, she realized, taking a step forward as she licked suddenly dry lips. And… It was probably okay to actually think about it a little more seriously now, right? They were dating, regardless of the reason, and regardless of whether Cassie or Marissa or anyone else liked it. Mari had also been adamant about her lack of interest in him, so there was no good reason not to take her at her word. Probably. Which also meant that she didn’t really have to think about it anymore; if, as the diva herself had said, Jase was now her “problem,” that made however other people felt about it their problem. Right? Autumn could feel the unbidden smile on her lips as she crossed the open ground toward the others, and the slow suffusion of crimson in her sun-warmed cheeks, just as she always did where he was concerned, but there was something else, too. Something new. She’d told him, and she’d told her mom, and she’d told Cass and now Mari as well, but she hadn’t really made it clear to anyone else, had she? She liked Jason Bannon, whether he was a high-functioning psychopath, or secretly a dragon, or an interdimensional alien, or… whatever. As crazy as it was, as completely foreign as he seemed at times, and as likely as it seemed that at some point this whole mad experiment- or whatever it was- would blow up in her face, this was A Thing. They were A Thing. And instead of just making some awkward announcement, or trying to convince people he wasn’t some kind of leashed wolf just waiting for the chance to bite, well… Actions spoke louder than words. “Hey,” she interjected a greeting as she approached, her Thalassic gaze lingering curiously on the seemingly-new plow and the gamine young woman who’d just turned away, red-faced, a moment before. Had Jason said something that embarrassed her? Admittedly, he did have that effect on people, herself included; there didn’t seem to be much room for middle ground. “Nice ink,” the taller redhead added with an appreciative smile, noting for the first time the swirling tattoo covering Kat’s bare limbs. What she could see was a sort of neo-Celtic design, and clearly part of a much larger work- which was, in itself, an impressive feat for a teenager. Someone paid a lot for that. And then, with a slight tilt of her head as she turned to peer up into those fathomless green pools, Autumn smiled again, all mischief and promise. “I’m thirsty,” she stated matter-of-factly. “Mind if I have some of that?” The tall, imperturbable youth nodded, the pale jade of his eyes warming slightly as he called the water bottle back to hand, and the impish smile became a grin. With a slow shake of her head, Autumn leaned up on tiptoe as her fingers slid along the line of Jason’s jaw, threading through the dark hair at the nape of his neck. “Not that,” she murmured, savoring the sight of the long, slow blink he gave as his brain shifted focus, quickly catching on to her intent. “This.” Her lips brushed against his, gently at first and then more deeply as she felt his hands slip around her waist- and, simultaneously, over her cheeks and through the tousled mass of copper curls that defied the best efforts of the little elastic hair band to contain them. She could just make out a soft feminine gasp- Courtney, maybe? she wondered- but then Jase was kissing her back, was pulling her closer, and everything else seemed mundane and unimportant by comparison. It wasn’t a particularly prolonged kiss; in reality, it lasted only a few moments. It was, however, visibly intense, each focused on the other to the exclusion of all else: the faint scents of smoke and green, growing things that she associated with him; the way her skin warmed under his fingertips; the sound of blood pounding in both their ears like some ancient drum. “Not that I’m complaining, but what was that for?” he asked quietly, eyes intent on hers as they parted, both a little breathless. There were tiny golden fireflies in his gaze, banked embers that smouldered lazily in their depths, and Autumn smiled in response, pressing her forehead to his. She hmm’ed softly, thoughtfully, meeting Jason’s eyes as her fingers slipped from his hair to rest on his shoulders. “I’d say I had probably at least three reasons.” That earned her another blink, and a slow, faintly crooked smile. “Have I mentioned yet today that you’re amazing?” His voice was low, lips tantalizingly close, and it was only by sheer force of will that she managed to engage her boring, normal, thoroughly human brain enough to draw back from the precipice of scorching emerald madness his eyes promised as they remained fixed on hers. “I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be my line,” the blushing girl teased, settling back onto her heels as the quiet thrill of what she’d just done danced, exultant, through her mind. “And now that I’m not quite as thirsty anymore, I need a drink.”
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