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Everything posted by Autumn Keane

  1. She'd been waiting a little while after speaking with her dad. Ian Keane hadn't been exactly happy about leaving his daughter 'alone' - meaning 'with Jason' - at the hospital, but hadn't really been able to find a suitable reason for refusing to do so other than 'because I say so'. And right now, with everything out of kilter, with monsters and mysterious yet undeniable powers, the older man was acutely aware of how much of a distance there was between him and his family. Not so much a distance of affection as a distance of experience, and though he was reasonably certain Dana wouldn't outright undercut his parental authority in front of Autumn, it was a fair bet she'd privately give him hell if he made their little girl miserable without very good reason. So, with a stern injunction for her to go on to school once she'd had coffee with Jase, her dad had headed on home. He had a business meeting in Helena tomorrow to prepare for, and a worried Dana to bring up to speed on what had happened with their daughter's odd boyfriend. So now Autumn sat quietly in the waiting area chair, one foot tapping as she scrolled through TikTok videos, seeking distraction even as her mind nibbled away at the problems of the day. Her reverie was disturbed as the door to Jase's room opened and Gar stepped out, giving her a smile. "He's decent now, at least." The elder Bannon told her as Hank stepped out after him, nodding to the lithe redhead. Graskle was a gruff, hard man by his general demeanour, and tough to read, but Autumn fancied that his manner to her, at least, was friendly. "He's got the packed breakfast and the coffee out, if you're hungry." Gar went on. "It's not fancy, but it's food." The whole situation felt surreal. Unreal, even. After everything that'd happened yesterday, to wake up to this, to murder attempts and conspiracies and beautiful other-dimensional girls and maybe betrayals, seemed almost impossible. At what point, she'd wondered, more or less blindly swiping through the auto-curated 'For You Page,' does this get easier? She'd only just managed to avoid freaking right the hell out when Cassie had starting talking about her vision earlier, and the sheer gratitude in Gar's eyes when he'd hugged her had nearly broken the dam on her own tears right there in the hospital room. Shouldn't there be a break, at some point? Didn't they fucking deserve one? "Starving," she affirmed wholeheartedly as Jason's father and his friend reappeared, an earnest- if fleeting- smile brightening the girl's freckled features for a moment as she tucked her phone away again. "I don't care if it's oatmeal, leftover pizza, or a granola bar, at this point. I'm just glad I still get to eat it with him." She stopped suddenly, eyes widening with sudden horror at the realization of what she'd said. Nice, Autumn. Good job. "Because we missed breakfast, I mean, not because- , ah, fuck," she swore softly, grimacing. "I mean, frick. Sorry. And thanks for bringing it. I know you probably had other things on your mind." Exhaling, Autumn got to her feet, idly hitching up her jeans. "So," the redhead began uncertainly, eyes darting from Gar's open, expressive gaze to Hank's more guarded one. "Are you guys heading out already? I thought you'd wanna take him home." "He was pretty insistent he could get home under his own power." Gar said, making a face which Autumn interpreted as oddly close to her own father's expression, though Gar was more resigned, more used to his son being almost aggressively self-reliant. "We're headed down to the sheriff's office - going to get Jase's car and whatever is in it sprung from their clutches. His phone, school stuff, and so on." "Then we're gonna get his car cleaned." Hank put in. "After which, we've got some prep to start doing up and around the farm. Jase said he didn't know for certain who was gunning for him yet, but anyone comes to the farm looking for trouble they'll damn well find it. Tarnished Federal ID or not." He subsided as Gar laid a hand on his shoulder briefly, then nodded to Autumn. "Go on in now, before he eats all the scrambled eggs." Jase's dad told her with another fond smile, stepping out of the way for her. "Don't have to tell me twice," Autumn agreed sensibly, her nose scrunching slightly as she flashed the two men a grin. "Thanks, Gar. See you later tonight. And you, too, Mr. Graskle. Take care." Her hand twitched upward in a quick, almost-polite wave as the gnawing emptiness in her stomach pushed her back toward the hospital room. The Pop-Tart she'd eaten on the way out the door felt like it'd been days ago, rather than just a few hours, and she guessed Jase himself was feeling similarly ravenous. Leaving both older men in the waiting room, the hungry redhead rapped on the door frame and peeked inside. Wearing a loose-fitting white t-shirt and- Of course, a rueful inner voice noted- grey sweatpants, the Effing One was sitting on the bed with the thermos his father had brought, long legs folded comfortably as he opened the lid of a Tupperware container. She wondered if he owned any other color, and if not, whether they would ever stop being so distracting. This was certainly not the time or the place to think about the way they'd looked after the spar with Devin on Sunday, dripping wet and dipping low around his hips, beads of water gleaming... Nope. Nuh uh. Definitely not. You are in a hospital, Autumn Rae, and he nearly died this morning. Chill. It was a sobering thought, although perversely she felt somehow more aware of him now that he'd gotten dressed. "Hey, again." Hands tucked in her back pockets, the pink-cheeked redhead slipped into the room, her gaze skipping back upward to her boyfriend's face. He seemed alert, and, as usual, largely untouched by the events of the day. She'd been a little worried about his reaction to Cassie's revelations, especially when the temperature had dropped so sharply, but nothing else had happened; a tiny frisson slithered up the back of Autumn's neck as she remembered her previous impression of him, that of something primal and dangerous and aware waiting in the depths of a frozen lake. Was the demonstration of his powers, then, the equivalent of a fin breaking the surface? An instinctive reaction, or a warning? And, if so, to whom? It was impossible to guess, really, since no one that had threatened him was there at the time. Probably for the best, she decided, approaching the side of the bed. "How're you holding up?" "Well enough." Jason glanced up from the still-warm mixture of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and salsa in the Tupperware box, indicating the other container which seemed to have something similar inside. "Dad threw us something together." he added, leaning forward and patting an empty spot on the bed in invitation, then setting a spoon atop the box meant for Autumn. As she came over, he poured a some coffee from the Thermos into the lid/cup, setting it on one of those hospital trays on wheels that was nearby, convenient for either teen to reach for it. Autumn settled onto the bed, folding her own legs similarly to him before popping open the container before her. There was plenty of the protein scramble in the clear plastic containers, which was just as well, given the voraciousness with which the pair of them fell to eating. They ate in relative silence for a few minutes, now and then exchanging glances, and there was a curious similarity to last Friday evening, eating by the campfire after an afternoon spent enjoying each others company as friends had culminated in that first searing kiss. Now as then, Autumn found her cheeks warming just from his proximity, and then as now Jase would look up silently from his meal, pale emerald gaze anything but cold as it fell upon her. It was pleasant, the warm mid-morning sunlight still illuminating the room, with the bustle of the hospital seeming miles away, muffled by the door. Just the two of them, it felt like in that too-brief collection of moments. No murderers, no conspiracies, no doubts. Just the happiness of being alive, and sharing a meal with someone special. A plastic rattling noise accompanied both teens scraping the last of the breakfast from the Tupperware into their open mouths. Jase refilled the coffee cup, which both had sipped from during their meal, and set his empty container aside as he regarded Autumn again. "What about you?" he asked softly. "How are you holding up?" Lips pursed thoughtfully, Autumn considered her response as she stacked her empty bowl inside his before leaning forward, chin in hand with her elbow resting on a knee. There was no point in pretending everything was okay when she was pretty sure those piercing green eyes really could see into someone's skull, and no reason to do so when it was just the two of them anyway. "Honestly?" she asked, acutely aware that it was an unnecessary question where Jason Bannon was concerned. "I really don't know. We've barely had time to deal with last night, and now... this." A soft sigh escaped her lips just before they curved into a faint, fleeting smile that faded as she continued. "I'm glad you're okay. Freaked out that you might not have been. Pissed that it happened. Worried that it might happen again, or worse. Frustrated that we have to wait to find out what's going on and who's doing what. Like-" Frowning, the restless young woman leaned back suddenly, bracing herself on her hands and considering Jason's expression as she searched for the right words. "Like, I have a thousand questions, right? And I want to talk to the ones who attacked you, instead of just sitting here until Ms. Giles or whoever decides to update us. But I can't do that. I have to just go to school and try not to think about it, and sit through classes with somebody who might have been working with them." "We don't have to wait on Giles, or anyone." Jason's voice was quiet, calm as he went on. "She has the male in custody. But the female is up here, in the ICU. She's likely sedated to prevent pain, but you could counteract that - if you wished to." He took a sip of coffee, setting the cup down again as he went on. "In all likelihood, she doesn't have anything important to add to Cassandra's information. The man, too, is likely clueless. Who they are and how they came to be in Enterich's employ is not something I really care about. Certainly I doubt they have anything to tell us that would be worth their lives." This last was added casually - without fanfare or any significant expression in the cool jade eyes, but the redhead had been studying Bannonology 101 now for over a week, and very keenly indeed for the last few days. There was a definite air of intent, of finality, in that last statement of his, as though a decision didn't even need to be made. Autumn blinked at that, sea-colored eyes widening slightly at the conversational weight of that sentence as they met his. The absence of a visible emotional response shouldn't have been all that surprising, especially in light of his unnervingly frosty reaction earlier, and she kicked herself mentally for having expected one, for thoughtlessly trying to ascribe typical human behaviors to someone who was really neither typical nor human. Even if he was angry about what had happened, he obviously didn't process those feelings the same way she did; all his empathy and consideration was a conscious exercise, something he had to actually think about. And so... What he said kind of made sense, in the context of what they'd talked about before. 'A lack of nuance,' he'd called it, with little space between the 0 and 11 of his impulses, and not for the first time the earnest redhead felt impossibly out of her depth with the stoic young genius. Just knowing things about him doesn't really help much if you don't actually apply the knowledge, does it? Exhaling audibly, she plucked at the hospital blanket, copper brows knit in thought. "Okay," she began after a moment, straightening to face him more fully. "Then, I want to talk to this woman, whoever she is. Maybe she can't tell us anything Cassie didn't, and maybe she can. We have no way of knowing until we ask. We might be able to learn more about Enterich, stuff her spy-vision couldn't see, and even if you don't care who they are and why they tried to kill you, I do." The last two words bore a subtle emphasis, a variation in pitch and tone that suggested the verbal equivalent of italicized text, an emotional content that provided striking contrast to the neutrality of his own statement moments before. "Why they tried to kill me is obvious." Jase responded, even as his head tilted very slightly, eyes roaming the warm girl's bronze-flecked features curiously. "Enterich told them to. Cassie even said that neither of them were happy with the task - their sole investment in my death was that a man they were afraid of told them to do it. That said..." he paused for a moment as he considered, then went on. "Information they have about Enterich might be useful. Even if it's only observations." "Right." Autumn took a sip of the black coffee in the Thermos cup, nodding agreement as her taste buds assessed the unsweetened, un-creamed brew. It was surprisingly good. She passed the cup to him. smoothing her hands over her jeans as she watched him drink. "I doubt Dale, the woman, will simply offer up information to you, though." Jase said in a reasonable tone as he lowered the cup and set it back on the tray. "To her mind, she's a corrupt U.S. marshal who is facing an attempted murder charge. She will seek concessions for her cooperation, and right now likely doesn't see herself as having anything to lose by refusing to answer." "You sound like you're leading up to something." Autumn remarked, trying not to think the worst. Still, this was Jason. Mercy and restraint, especially towards people who harmed or tried to kill him, was not likely to be one of his virtues. "I am. A question." Pale green pools of ice regarded her, something moving in the glacial depths behind the surface. "What do you plan to offer her?" "A choice," the redhead replied simply as she felt her face growing warmer, resisting the instinctual urge to turn away from the careful scrutiny to which she was being subjected. "I've been thinking a lot about that, honestly, and not just because of today." She took a deep breath to dispel some of the tension gathering in the pit of her stomach, bits of the earlier conversations with her father resurfacing in her memory. Jase was different, but not unreasonable, and as long as he was willing to listen, everything was still fine. ...Right? "Cody made a choice. These two marshals, or whoever they are, made choices. Maybe Marissa, too," she conceded with obvious reluctance, tugging at one of the stray curls snaking over her shoulder. "Maybe what happened with Cody couldn't have turned out any other way, and it really was too late to bring him back. But the others are still people, you know? Fucked up, yeah, but people, and people can be..." Hmm-ing to herself, Autumn frowned as she remembered the two seniors who'd been brought to this same hospital, and for similar reasons. "Pushed. Manipulated. And I know that nothing they do or say un-makes those decisions, but what if they could still make new ones, change things?" She shook her head, finally breaking eye contact and glancing instead down at her hands as they fidgeted, twisting together in her lap. "I don't know what to do about the others, yet. I'm not even sure I can do anything." She shrugged a little, then, an uncertain upward twitch of her shoulders. "This Dale woman, though... I can give her something nobody else can, and that might be valuable enough to her that it'll make a difference. At least, I hope so," she added quietly. "You plan to heal her." Jason didn't sound accusatory, or even particularly upset as he made the connection. If anything, his voice held a faint note of curiousity, underscored by the way he was studying her with his head slightly canted. "You do realise that the Tree is gone, right? That the... active spiritual pollution, one could say, of the Dark is largely gone too? Both of these marshals were fully cognisant of their choice - to the point of being unhappy with it. No dark force was puppeteering them." "I know." Autumn forced her eyes to meet his. "Look, maybe they felt like they had no choice. People can get like that - scared stupid." Abruptly she realised what she'd said, and fresh roses bloomed in her cheeks. On impulse, she reached out and took his hand in hers. "Human people can, anyway. You know what I mean, right?" At his nod, she sighed and looked down at their joined hands, her pale ivory skin dusted with bronze against the slender, seemingly delicate olive-hued fingers. "I forget sometimes that you've never been afraid. Well... not forget - overlook it, I guess. Because it's kind of a huge thing for us - learning to deal with being afraid, to understand why someone might do stupid shit out of fear." "I understand it... somewhat." Jase replied softly. "Survival instinct is something I possess too. And my instinct tells me that letting people who try to kill me live is a bad strategy. Human people, or otherwise." He, too, dropped his gaze to consider their contrasting skin tones, his fingers gently stroking the back of her hand. "I held back during the Crossroads raid because I had promised Devin - having reasoned beforehand that killing would be largely unnecessary anyway. I held back with those two seniors because I could tell they were Shades... and because I was foolishly and, it appears, pointlessly trying to prove to some people that I could hold back. But this is different, Autumn. Two people, pressured or not, reluctantly or not, tried to kill me in cold blood. Along with the seniors, that makes two times in as many weeks. I'm getting tired of being a pinata, whether literally or, in Marissa's case, figuratively. And I'm coming to believe the best way to stop people poking me is to remove their fingers when they do." "That... is an option," she admitted grudgingly. "And I can't even argue that it's totally unjustified. I mean, hell, I was so scared and angry earlier that I didn't bother going to see if they needed help once you were okay, and I wasn't even the one they tried to kill." Even now it was hard to get the words out, to swallow the lump in her throat that heralded an upwelling of emotion. It's over, Autumn, she reminded herself, exhaling slowly. It's fine. He's fine. "But that's kind of the point, right? They tried to kill you." Her eyes sought his, warm, mercurial blue meeting cool, ageless green. "They failed. And," she continued, forging ahead emphatically, "you're right. There are consequences, regardless of why they did it, and there should be. They're responsible for the choices they've made up to this point, and they deserved whatever you did to them back there. And honestly, even if Dale helps us, and even if I heal her arms, it'd take a whole other kind of power to make her forget how that felt." Leaning forward, the redhead carefully folded her other hand around their twined fingers to stop its trembling, the vibration there mirrored in her voice despite her best efforts; she hadn't seen the maimed woman yet, but the descriptions she'd heard were awful, to say the least. "If she lives to be a hundred years old, it'll probably still wake her up some nights. Look, I'm not saying you should just let it go, and if they won't cooperate and they're still dangerous, fine. I-" Autumn drew in a long, shuddering breath, blinking back the sudden stinging of tears as her vision started to ripple and blur. "I get it," she conceded. "I just think they should have the chance to make another choice, you know? I mean, I would want one." Time slowed for him as he took in the shuddering in her breath, the hitch in her voice, and the tears in her eyes. Tears without physical harm - another thing he didn't have in common with those he was closest to. For him, they were usually a physiological response - certain types or intensities of pain would trigger tears. He'd only cried twice in his life over emotional causes - once when he'd realised his mother had abandoned him, and once when he'd seen his father break down and cry from shame. Both times the tears had been almost incidental, without sobbing or hitching of breath or other symptoms he'd observed in others - an echo of pain, somewhat of a curiousity for him as he'd reached up to his cheek and felt the moisture there. As he now reached up with his free hand, a finger gently brushing away the tear that had escaped Autumn's best efforts to blink back and had begun it's slow, shining descent over the freckled rose of her cheek. His other hand squeezed hers, feeling the tremor there, discerning how upset she was as his intense green eyes focused on the glistening bead of saline on his finger's tip. There was something precious here, he sensed rather than reasoned. This warmth of hers that he so treasured - it was intrinsic to Autumn as her red hair and the way her nose wrinkled when she grinned. A hearth fire, attractive and welcoming, by which he could be warmed, by which he could perceive something like happiness. And for her to not show compassion, even to such as the marshals... would be to dim that hearth fire. "Alright." he decided, dropping his free hand to rest atop their entwined hands. She looked at him askance, causing the edges of his eyes to crinkle slightly. "Because you asked. Because ultimately, whether they live or die doesn't really matter personally to me - but it does to you. And you matter to me. So..." he shrugged, as if that explained everything. "You matter to me," he'd said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. As if it was obvious. As if they'd just been discussing where to eat dinner and he'd conceded to getting Chinese instead of pizza, rather than whether or not the two would-be assassins should face summary execution at his hands. But how did that even make sense? A part of her acknowledged that if he wanted revenge, it would be totally justified, even if only to make sure they didn't get another chance to come after him... And he'd just shrugged it off because she'd asked? Her. Autumn Keane. The girl who'd just started talking to him a week ago. But, why? Was it because they were friends, or maybe even because she was his first girlfriend, or was there something in her argument that had swayed him? She desperately wanted to ask, but ultimately, the reason was less important than the decision itself. "You're serious," the expressive girl stated wonderingly, her fingers tightening reflexively on Jase's as he nodded. With a bodily sigh of relief, one that resounded from the soles of her be-socked feet to the rose-flushed crown of her head, Autumn released his hands, sliding her arms around his torso as she leaned over her folded legs to draw him into a hug. "Thank you," she breathed against the lean youth's collarbone, squeezing her eyes shut as she willed the mingled hope and gratitude she felt to somehow reach him through the shared resonance of their Shine. "That means a lot to me." And now the warmth encircled him, the flicker of her Shine against his matching the clasp of her arms even as he returned the hug, one hand gently stroking the ends of her tumbling red hair as he rested his scarred cheek against the top of her head, his eyes half-closing as he absorbed the simple pleasure of this moment. There was a faint awareness within him of the change she had caused - or, more precisely, of the change she had caused him to cause. More alchemy perhaps, that wry observer-within remarked. He wanted to experience this warmth, and he wanted to spare her unhappiness, and so he was choosing to alter his behaviour towards that set of circumstances. An ephemeral tether, connecting him intimately to another living being, causing him to choose to alter his nature at least temporarily. He kissed her cheek, watching Autumn's expression as she smiled and scooched closer, forcing him to move his legs to allow her to lean more comfortably against him as she looked up into his face, blue eyes studying him anew - or so it seemed to him. Wordlessly, he lowered his mouth to hers almost on reflex at the sight of her lips, drinking a gentle kiss from her. "And you mean a lot to me." he stated softly in the wake of that caress, aware of the clash between the tender warmth and something more demanding and savage within him. He tried not to think about how she felt in his arms right now - whilst at the same time recognising the impossibility of such a task: how could he not? How indeed, he mused, letting his fingers gently stroke her cheek, teasing a couple of errant copper curls as he studied her features. With little more than a touch, the worries and problems of the moment vanished again, retreating like fading rime before the advance of the morning sun that spilled through the blinds. The contrast between this Jason, the one whose kisses sent sparks of delight racing along her nerves, and the one who could casually announce his intent to kill someone who'd wronged him, was stark indeed. And yet, the redhead mused dazedly as the lingering heat from his lips on hers kindled the glowing embers of her desire for him into new life, she was the one who'd agreed to date a psychopath. You realize you've got nobody to blame for this but yourself. "Mhmm." The soft hum combined contentment and agreement with her inner critic as she turned her head, chasing the faint pressure of his fingertips against her skin. And, really, she reasoned, so what if there was a whole world of problems outside the door to this sterile little room? If the universe wasn't going to give them a break from the awfulness and insanity, she'd just have to steal moments like this for herself where she could. "I hope you don't get any more visitors for a little while," she murmured, leaning in to rest her forehead in the curve of his throat. There was still a faint trace there of the vaguely herbal body wash he used, and Autumn nuzzled closer, breathing in the scent of him as she moulded herself against his side. A couple of hours ago, he'd been bathed in blood and unconscious on the side of the road, but now... He was awake, and whole, and warm, and alive, and- perhaps most importantly- firmly wrapped up in her arms.
  2. "Oh." Autumn blinked as Marissa explained, in her typical off-hand fashion, why her lip balm was on Jase's forehead. Math was not the energetic redhead's strongest subject (as evidenced by her less-than-stellar Chem performance since the start of the semester), and calculating exactly why someone who was openly contemptuous and admittedly fearful of Jason Bannon would kiss him in celebration of his well-being was well beyond her current capability. It made more sense in the opposite direction; he was in love with Marissa, despite her rejection, so of course he'd be fine with the gesture. That... stung, a little, she realized, remembering that the gorgeous brunette hadn't brushed off his flirtation at the Carousel. ...And then a little knot of shame coiled in the pit of her stomach, tighter and more uncomfortable than whatever that stupid, completely trivial other feeling was. He could be fucking dead right now, instead of sitting more or less comfortably in a hospital room with the scent of raspberry lip gloss on his face. What difference did it make where it came from? At least he was here. Literally every other issue was less important at the moment. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Close call, right?" A part of the exhausted Girl Scout felt like she should make some effort to laugh, or smile, or do something to make things feel less awkward, less serious, but she just... couldn't. Instead, she took a deep breath and focused on the rest of what Mari had said, which was one hundred percent more relevant to the current situation: Cassie and Sean were on their way. The elder Bannon and Hank Graskle were also on their way. This room's about to get crowded, she sighed inwardly, sliding off the edge of the hospital bed and getting to her feet. "'Kay then, I'm gonna let my dad know what's going on. Before we have any other witnesses to ruin your reputation," the earnest young woman added, approaching the twins. "Thank you. Both of you," she emphasized with a pointed look at Marissa, her ocean blue eyes guileless and alert despite the faint shadows under them.
  3. El. Ellie herself. Teir fa Thunn. The Blight- a term which, like the Dark, seemed capitalized even in casual speech. Site B. The bracelets, and how they, from Coyote- the Trickster, she reminded herself- ended up with the Blackfeet, and thus her grandfather, and then the Fellowship. Not-Cody. The Huntsman. Gods. The Teulu themselves, and the gunmen. There were so many questions, so many coincidences that just... couldn't be all coincidences, right? But now wasn't the time for that. Now, she was just happy no one else had vanished into the darkness, literally or metaphorically. "Oh, we like pockets," Autumn replied, lifting the cup back to Jase's lips as she watched him watching the otherworldly beauty, studying his expression for some sign of what was going on behind those cool green eyes. He seemed... interested? ...But that was all, and not interested interested as far as she could tell, the curious young woman noted with a twinge of what felt suspiciously like relief. "It's just that most of the companies that make clothes don't like giving them to us. And just women, too. Guys can have all the pockets they want, but we're supposed to carry purses," the redhead grumbled contemptuously. "It's supposed to look nicer, or something, but I don't want to spend extra money for a giant pocket on a strap that's just gonna get caught on literally everything I walk past, and I don't care what it looks like. I want pockets in my jeans, real ones, not those stupid fake ones you can't even fit your whole hand in. I just want to be able to carry my chapstick, my wallet, my knife and my phone. That's it. It's not even complicated, and if you're gonna go to the trouble of stitching on a little half-sized pocket for looks, you might as well give me the whole damn thing. Ugh," she exhaled in frustration, the terminal subvocalization less a linguistic part of the rant and more an instinctual expression of annoyance with the subject. "Anyway," Autumn continued, resolutely ignoring the flicker of amusement in her boyfriend's eyes as they shifted to observe the faint bloom of rose coloring her cheeks. "I don't think my jeans would fit you," she observed, her tone conspicuously less heated as the pocket controversy was abandoned for the moment. "Marissa's might, though. Or we could always hit Goodwill before the meeting, or something, because honestly, I have so, so many questions, but I also don't want to be rude." She paused for a moment, half-consciously tucking a lock of Jason's hair behind his ear as she turned back to him. "Speaking of clothes, I called your dad while you were asleep. He's bringing some for you. Probably something to eat, too. I thought you might be a little hungry." Her eyes caught on the neat, pale line that, oddly, seemed to accentuate the angle of his cheekbone, and the tip of her tongue darted out to moisten suddenly dry lips; if they'd been even a couple of minutes later, mundane issues like wanting a glass of water or something for breakfast wouldn't have even mattered. "I'll hang out until I get that coffee you promised." A faint smile tugged briefly at the corners of Autumn's mouth and she leaned forward, pressing a brief kiss to his temple. "Also..." Straightening, the inquisitive teen set the empty cup on the nearby table, her nose crinkling slightly at the sweet, fruity scent that clung to him. "Why do you smell like a Jolly Rancher?"
  4. 'Ellie.' This is the girl Devin was talking about. There was no essential physical resemblance to Jason Bannon; something about the willowy blonde's upright bearing, however, the intent quality of her gaze, and the slightly formal, concise manner of her speech suggested some level of kinship belied by their superficial differences. Were these things somehow common to all the Teulu? Some weird facet of being (if what Jase had said was true) designed and engineered for certain traits and behaviors? If so, she reflected, wide eyes narrowing thoughtfully as she considered the beautiful stranger, that'd be pretty incredible. At least as incredible as Marissa resting her hand on Jason's shoulder- a fact Autumn noted and set aside for later. Her tolerance for repeated crises was already being tested, and there was no point deliberately courting another one today. "It's good to meet you, too, Ellie," she replied in answer to the newcomer's general greeting, the redhead's polite 'meeting a new person' smile growing a little as Jase's fingers brushed hers around the cup of water. ...And then it widened further, an impish light gleaming in the thalassic depths of her eyes as she added, "Especially since Devin was so excited talking about you and how awesome you were. I'm Autumn, by the way."
  5. The antiseptic scent of the hospital was becoming entirely too familiar. As she sat in one of the room's two chairs- this one pulled up alongside the bed where Jase's chest rose and fell beneath the blanket with reassuring regularity- Autumn sighed and tapped the second entry in her contacts list under his name. While Devin and Marissa were busy handling the Fellowship side of things, there was still another call to be made. She wasn't even sure if Gar would be home, but much as she'd preferred to tell Devin about Tawny in person, the sad-eyed father of her new boyfriend might want to hear the news from someone he actually knew. He could be outside working, or on his way to Great Falls to get supplies or parts, or... A sudden chill rippled up her spine as the connection to the land line was made, and the house phone on the other end began to ring. What if they'd gone to Jase's house, too? "Fuck," she muttered, glancing out into the hall where her dad was busy conferring with one of the deputies. Or maybe, just maybe, the sheriff already called, and he's on his way. Just... see if he answers, and then start worrying if he doesn't. The phone rang several times, then several more, and Autumn was just recalling when she'd first called the home of the slender youth currently unconscious beside her, how the phone had rung for what seemed forever as she waited on tenderhooks for him to pick it up... click "Bannon Farm?" The by-now-familiar soft-spoken voice, deep but not particularly resonant, of Jason's father picking up. "Hey, Mr- uh, Gar." Leaning forward slightly in her seat, the redhead couldn't suppress the soft sigh of relief as he answered the call. "It's Autumn." There was a moment's hesitation, even as she watched the flicker of the younger Bannon's eyelashes. "So, first, um. Jase's fine," she began. "But he is here at the medical center. Resting, right now." There was a long moment of silence as the man on the other end collected his thoughts. Finally, the sound of a deep, slightly unsteady intake of breath came over the line. "What happened, Autumn?" "He-" Fuck, how much can I say right now? Swallowing hard, she exhaled and slouched backward again, sliding down in the seat in a passable imitation of pre-party Bannon as she stared up at the acoustic ceiling tiles. "He was attacked on the way to school." Her eyes stung, the pinprick patterns overhead swimming until she squeezed them shut and forced the words as calmly as she could past the tightness in her throat. "They, um. They shot him. Only two of the bullets actually hit. It looks like he fought back, and the two that attacked him are here somewhere, in custody. He's sleeping, now. He's fine," she stressed, her voice wavering slightly with suppressed emotion. "Seriously. He's fine." Another male voice spoke up from the background - Hank, Autumn realised as she recognised the harsher, gruffer growl of the Bannon's friend. "Jase was shot. Autumn's with him, and says he's fine." Gar replied to the unheard question, then returned to speaking with his son's girlfriend. "Okay, we're on our way down." Though he sounded stoic, Autumn could detect the note of concern in the older Bannon's voice. "Do either of you need anything?" "Ummm," she blinked, focusing on the question as she sat upright again, unable to really get comfortable surrounded by the smell of cleaning chemicals and gleaming tile and the general atmosphere of sterility. "He's gonna want clean clothes, I think. Something comfortable." She paused for a moment longer, considering. "Some kind of breakfast, maybe? And... Coffee. Please. And-" She swallowed again, and exhaled. "And I'm sorry to worry you. I just thought it might be better if you heard it from somebody you knew. ...You know?" "I do." Gar's voice was steadying now, losing its earlier tremor. "If you say he's fine, then I'm not too worried." The vote of confidence was heartfelt. "We'll grab some things and be down right away. And Autumn...? Thank you." "Yeah," The smile in her voice was audible across the distance of the phone connection. "I'll see you guys when you get here." She tapped the red icon on the screen, ending the call with a near-inaudible click. "Hey," she murmured, resting her cheek against the edge of the thin hospital mattress, her gaze tracing the shape of his profile silhouetted against the morning light filtering through the blinds. "If you can hear me in there, your dad and Hank are on their way, so just... Just rest, okay?" Shifting her weight to nudge the chair a little closer, the redhead folded her arms across her chest, wishing idly she'd had her hoodie as her own eyes drifted shut.
  6. "Not sure a near-death experience is worth it," Autumn murmured distractedly as the bleeding from the lurid gash across Jason's face slowed to a trickle, then finally stopped altogether. A final chain of tiny crimson droplets oozed out, dark and glistening as pomegranate seeds as the lacerated flesh across his cheekbone sealed completely, leaving in its place a pale line graven into the warm olive of his skin- a permanent reminder of how close he'd come to oblivion that morning. It was an odd experience, she realized distantly, like watching the wound being inflicted in reverse. She was less concerned with how it looked, though, and more focused on the fact that it had healed neatly and quickly so that she could move on to the next life-threatening injury. The swelling on his brain was likewise slowly draining away, the damage caused by the kinetic impact and fragmentation of bone dissipating; she could sense the shift in his breathing and the growing strength of his heartbeat thrumming- or so it felt- through her own veins. He hadn't yet started stirring, though, which was both a blessing and a cause for worry. On the one hand, it meant he wouldn't feel the part that came next, and it would give his body time to recover more naturally, albeit with some help from the accelerated healing her powers afforded. On the other... It's fine, Autumn, she reminded herself as something in her chest tightened uncomfortably. Worry about keeping him alive first. "Okay." Huffing softly as she exhaled, the redhead used her forearm to push the loose hair back from her forehead, squinting a little into the sunlight and taking stock of what the others were doing. She could see Marissa and her father doing something with blankets off to the side and set her jaw, lips compressing briefly into a taut line. She didn't have time to worry about them; this was her priority right now. Her freckled fingers trembled, slick with the blood that masked Jase's still, impassive features. "Okay. We need to get that bullet out. If I heal him now, the skin and muscle will just close up around it. You up for this?" she asked, lines of worry etched around the corners of her eyes as she glanced up at Devin. "If not, I can do it, I'm just..." She hesitated. "Just trying not to do more damage in the process." The weary teleporter took a deep breath, rolling his shoulders as if in preparation for some great feat of athleticism rather than simply removing a small lump of metal from a few inches away. "You kidding?" he quipped, managing a crooked grin. "I mean, I dunno if you should be asking that with your boyfriend right here, but I'm flattered, Granola. Really. We'll talk, 'kay?" "'Kay," she replied, smiling faintly in spite of herself. "If you can pull it out, I can take care of the rest. We just need to be quick about it. Ready?" From the corner of her eye, she could see Devin's head bob in a brisk nod. "Do it." With a grimace and a low, pained groan of effort, Autumn's erstwhile tormentor concentrated on the shape, the position of the bullet relative to himself, one fist clenching reflexively in the torn and bloodied remnants of the towel under his palm. She could sense the exhaustion rolling off him in waves as she watched Jason's eyelids for signs of movement, could feel the physical vibration of his arm against her as he pushed through the discomfort and fatigue. It should've been such an easy thing for him, no more strenuous than snatching a penny from a table; in truth, she'd been more concerned about his ability to deal with the visceral aspects of the injury than the actual removal of the near-fatal projectile, but it seemed she'd had her expectations in the wrong order. The red-haired girl was just about to tell him to stop as something shifted almost imperceptibly in the prone young man's expression, but then- "Got it," Devin gasped triumphantly, followed immediately by a soft shimmer of faded violet as the misshapen bit of lead hit the pavement nearby with a faint metallic sound. "Holy balls," he breathed. "That sucked." With a hiss of relief and anxiety, Autumn pushed away the towel, her palm resting near the neat hole that had come so perilously close to his heart. If the bullet had gone just a little deeper... Shaking her head, she focused on the current problem rather than what could have happened, her power knitting the torn muscle fibre and delicate nerves together once more in a stabilizing tapestry of interconnected energy and tissue that helped strengthen the whole. As the last layer of skin- paler than the flesh around it- drew the small circular wound closed, Ian and Marissa glanced up at the sound of approaching sirens.
  7. Note: Some of these examples describe a problematic or contentious aspect of the value in question; this is intentional. No one value is solely positive or negative. These are ideas or pursuits that Autumn values, after all, and while they do help define her character for good or ill, there’s always a certain measure of nuance and variation in their application that helps create internal and external conflict. Core Character Values Achievement: There are few things more satisfying to Autumn than succeeding in some endeavor as a result of her own efforts, and the greater the difficulty she faces, the greater the sense of accomplishment. This isn’t strictly a function of winning, or even of competition itself, but rather of persevering through hardship or overcoming some trial in her quest to improve. It’s more important to her that she work for something and earn it through sheer dogged determination, trial and error, practice, or the exertion of will and energy than through any other means. It doesn’t require external validation of success (though such acknowledgements aren’t proscribed), and people who pursue public acclaim over personal satisfaction are obviously missing the point. While there’s no reason not to celebrate a hard-won victory, the party or fame or shiny thing to put on the mantel isn’t enough reason for Autumn on its own. Trophies, like the one from her first successful hunt, or the progressively complex embroidery and macramé projects she’s done, hang on her wall as tangible reminders- milestones by which to gauge her progress and urge her onward. They’re not the ultimate goal. Example: Sometimes, it’s the little things: learning to climb by scrabbling up limestone outcroppings and boulders, then progressing to scaling rough cliff faces, and then perhaps one day, Everest itself. Life is full of mountains, both real and metaphorical, and working out how to deal with them is one of her primary drives. Autumn’s reward for reaching the summit is the view, the ache in her muscles, and the knowledge that she accomplished what she’d set out to do. Primary Synergy: Autonomy, manifests via the desire to learn how to do something for herself rather than ask that it be done for her. Autonomy: Lessons about self-reliance and self-determination came early and often for Autumn, a commonality shared with many who have grown up in places like Shelly. “Responsible risk-taking” was encouraged from a very young age, and though initially it was simply intended to build confidence in children, in Autumn it also fostered a strong independent streak and a desire for agency in making her own decisions. This dovetailed with observations of her grandfather’s stoic-mindedness, such that she believes others should also enjoy those same freedoms, and with the same level of accountability. While not predisposed to automatically resent or reject authority (at least what she’d consider reasonable authority), she also doesn’t feel compelled to submit without question. It’s also made her more comfortable with being on her own, somewhat protective of the spaces she defines as “hers,” and resentful of intrusion, coercion, or being expected to do things solely to please others. Obviously, this can have a (potentially serious) knock-on effect in her interactions with other people, particularly in the depth and nature of the relationships themselves and her reluctance to rely on the judgement or capabilities of others over her own. Example: Autumn wants to finish the tree house her grandfather was building with her before the weather becomes too cold and uncooperative to work on it. The project would be completed much faster with help, but it hasn’t occurred to her to ask because while it’s important to her, it’s not specifically important (or relevant) to anyone else. Why should it be? They have their own interests and pursuits, after all, just as she does. Primary Synergy: Challenge, manifests via the drive to refine her skills on her own and seek out new ways of testing herself. Challenge: Autumn thrives on being pushed to improve, to constantly better herself in some way even if she’s the one doing the pushing. Although not especially ambitious (a fact which frustrates and infuriates her parents), an integral part of Autumn’s character is the need to keep moving forward through adversity, to chase the next bend in the road and see what’s there. Part of this is due to a certain natural curiosity (“Can I do this?”) and part, of course, is simple pride (often a response to, “I don’t think you can do this.”) Once the bar has been set, and she’s implicitly or explicitly accepted a challenge, she’ll devote herself fully to reaching it. Naturally, this can lead to a lot of personal frustration at repeated failures or unforeseen complications, or can alternately result in her being manipulated into doing something. She rather uncharitably views people who don’t share a similar outlook as boring, lazy, or complacent. Example: Jason sparked Autumn’s interest in improving her weakest grades with an indirect challenge, subtly suggesting she might not be capable of winning a prize she hadn’t even cared about previously, but which suddenly became more appealing when framed as entertainment/gratification. “It’ll help your college transcript” is a lame reason because it doesn’t coincide with her interests; saying “I’ll have to ride in the passenger seat and look pretty while you drive” makes it more of a game than a chore, because it’s not specifically about the car, but about Jason being obliged to do something silly. Primary Synergy: Achievement, manifests via the satisfaction gained through self-improvement and completing especially difficult tasks. Family: More than simply Autumn’s relationship with her parents, or even her kinship with extended relatives like the Crockers and those few friends who might be brought in by association, the idea of family for her is also one of shared history, legacy, and deep roots. “Family” is one of the few constants in her life, a fixed point by which she navigates the world in a metaphorical and literal sense. From family she’s learned not only practical skills, but also about life and herself, how to treat others, how she should expect to be treated. She treasures things given by or inherited from her predecessors, from recipes to camp sites and threadbare quilts, and feels a sense of responsibility to their former owners that such heirlooms are cared for, and -when possible- that others are made aware of their significance. Knowing where you’ve come from is, for Autumn, a key part of a person’s identity. As such, she takes a dim view of those who are dismissive of the provenance and emotional importance of these objects (even within their own families), or of their own heritage and what it can teach. Example: Hearing others flippantly refer to the bracelets she discovered in her grandfather’s office as “decoder rings,” “gadgets,” and the like would be a point of contention for her- especially after the visit to the reservation, the training day, and the subsequent explanation of their origins to the group. It was (and is) important to her that such things be understood. Primary Synergy: Integrity, manifests via respect for lessons and ideals demonstrated and/or passed down to her by her parents and grandparents. Integrity: Most people have trouble keeping secrets, telling lies, cheating or taking advantage of others, and intentionally behaving dishonestly or in ways that are inconsistent with their personal philosophy. For Autumn, this is as much a part of her character and upbringing as it is an aspect of normal human psychology. That’s not to say that she’s incapable of doing these things, but rather that it makes her extremely (and almost invariably visibly) uncomfortable, making her one of the worst possible choices for anything involving deliberate deception because she’s almost guaranteed to fail hilariously/catastrophically. Integrity encompasses more than simple earnestness; it’s less a personality trait and more an ideal she consciously tries (not always successfully) to uphold. People who are obviously inauthentic or lack integrity in her eyes are kept at arms’ length, and usually treated with the bare minimum level of common courtesy, which might earn her a lecture or two about manners; she learned a lot from her grandfather, not all of it appropriate for a teenage girl. Example: If Marissa had told Autumn about Enterich, the money, and the threats to her parents, and then sworn her to secrecy, Autumn would be in an awful position in which this particular value would prick at her conscience no matter how she proceeded. If she told the group, she’d be violating Marissa’s trust and conceivably risking the Jauntsens’ safety; if she didn’t, she’d be withholding vital information in a move that could potentially put them all at risk, or hinder their fight against the Dark. Ugh! Primary Synergy: Family, manifests via cultivation of strong personal identity rooted in tradition. Standard Character Values Adventure: Activities like creeping around in places she shouldn’t be (#TeamPluck) and venturing into places no one’s ever been are enormously appealing to Autumn, especially if there’s an element of risk involved. Generally, there should be a purpose to the trip, something of benefit to be gained (information, for example), but in some cases that benefit could simply be the experience itself rather than something tangible. Trekking across the steppes of Mongolia for a month? Sure, sounds like fun! Diving into a long-forgotten cenote in the Yucatán to look for Mayan relics? Heck yeah! Riding down the side of an erupting volcano monastery on an alien world on the back of a six-legged lizard-goat to escape the clutches of a cabal of interdimensional space wizards? ...Obviously. Change & Variety: It’s no secret that Autumn gets bored, that she quickly becomes restless and frustrated if stuck in one place or mired in one activity for too long. All that energy needs to be directed somewhere (see: Achievement, Challenge), and she’s usually happiest when she can try something new, explore new possibilities and discover things she’d never seen or considered. It’s important that she find new ways to engage and be engaged with life, to indulge her inherent curiosity about the world and pursue interesting ideas and activities whenever possible. Help others: One of the ideals impressed on Autumn not only by her family but through experience with groups like the Girl Scouts is the concept of service, of being helpful and directly useful to others. Living in such a way that you don’t actively harm or diminish others’ quality of life is important, but acting in ways that actually benefit them is much more rewarding, and intrinsically more valuable. It should be noted that actually helping is the goal, rather than simply repeating encouraging but ultimately empty platitudes or offering pointless charity. Knowledge: Autumn’s pursuit of knowledge isn’t an abstract one. Far from the cerebral sort, it’s her curiosity and need to understand things- people, ideas, and so on- that helps establish her relationship with and position in the world. Trivia is pointless information, random bits of data that don’t have any practical bearing on her life; she would rather take an active role in exploring, discovering, and inquiring about something that interests her than simply read a book or internet article on the subject. The knowledge she’s after is experiential rather than academic, relevant and applicable rather than obscure and arcane, and when she asks questions, it’s because she genuinely wants to know the answer (even if she’s not necessarily prepared for it). Leisure: “All work and no play…” is no way to live. Even with the threat of imminent death hanging over her head, Autumn will find or make time to go for a walk in the woods, enjoy a cup of really good coffee, play with her four-footed family, or work on whatever project has sparked her interest. Time, after all, is the one commodity that no one ever feels they have enough of, and she’d rather not look back on her life with a long list of regrets about things she didn’t do. Pleasure: If you can’t enjoy yourself, what’s the point? Whether it’s the thrill of kissing someone who excites her, the simple luxury of napping in a hammock on a summer afternoon, the sensual joy of eating or drinking (or smoking) something delicious, or the satisfaction of finally finishing a gruelling backwoods hike, Autumn isn’t immune to the allure of indulgence or delight. It could be argued, in fact, that one of the motivators for her behaviors (or human behavior in general) is the appreciation of some form of pleasure as a reward; that she doesn’t actively chase gratification for its own sake, as an end in and of itself, is the defining difference between pleasure as something she values generally, and a value intrinsic to her.
  8. The trio of gleaming black vehicles- Jase's Charger, Marissa's Mercedes, and Devin's Ducati- were a strange, incongruous sight next to the unassuming sedan and the one that looked, at first glance, like some kind of law-enforcement thing. But Autumn didn't waste time trying to figure out which branch it might belong to, because as soon as her dad's SUV approached the impromptu parking area, she clicked off the seatbelt, flung open the passenger door despite her father's shout of protest and the sudden, jarring application of the brakes. She saw- -Marissa, standing over someone (?) near the side of the road. -Devin, shirtless and kneeling next to the driver's side of the predatory beast Jason was going to have to let her drive when her grades went up... Because that was the deal, right? -Combat boots. ...He wore those everywhere, which was kind of crazy considering how quietly he moved around, but they were super practical. It was one of those little quirks she appreciated about him, the fact that he didn't really care about all the superfluous stuff. -Long, slender fingers, relaxed in a graceful curve where his hand lay on the ground. ...The same fingers that felt so warm twined in hers, that faint current of something running between them. -Bright white towels stained red. So very, very red. Vivid as the roses he cultivated in the barn, fragrant blooms with velvet petals and dark thorns, their sanguine hue blooming here, instead, on the thick cloth pressed to Jason's chest, wound tight around his head. And then father and Range Rover and school were forgotten. She could feel the shift, the tactile crunch of the gravel underfoot as she sprinted across the road heedless of traffic, the sting of the rocks through her well-worn jeans as she hit her knees next to Devin. Even without seeing the wounds, the second she touched the unconscious telekinetic she could feel them, raw and brutal and life-stealing. The injury to his skull was the worst, the most immediately dangerous, but there was a fucking bullet in his chest, a weird alien otherness to the lump of metal she could only really feel by the shape of the pain around it. "All right, so... the one is fortunately-" Fortunately?! Jesus fuck, Autumn, how is anything about this fortunate?!- " just buried in the muscle between his ribs. Didn't hit his heart, or lungs, or..." Oh, Jesus. Oh, god, oh fuck. "Fuck," she swore. "Fuck, fuck, fuck. Um..." Okay. Okay okay okay. Think, Autumn. Focus. Running a trembling hand back over her hair, the ashen-faced redhead frantically tried to process what to do first, but her thoughts were racing too fast to keep hold of for longer than a moment. There was a vague sense that other people were also hurt nearby- one of them badly- but if those were the gunmen he'd mentioned in his text, well. Fuck them. They can wait. "Okay." Exhaling, she took hold of the makeshift terrycloth turban wound around Jason's brow. "Skull first. Right. Um, Devin." She glanced at the blood-smeared gymnast on her right, his handsome features a mask of concentration. "Keep pressure on his chest for me right now, please and thank you. I'm gonna need your help with that in a minute." She drew in another deep breath, gingerly peeling back the saturated towel as a quiet, choked sound escaped her throat at the sight beneath. No. No, no, no nonono. Fucking- You know, just no. Just fucking no. "We are definitely gonna need to talk about this whole head trauma thing," Autumn muttered shakily, her fingers slipping around the bloody line of her boyfriend's jaw. The fact that he'd survived at all was almost incomprehensible, as was the reason he'd been attacked in the first place, but they could deal with that later. Extending her senses, she let the faint icy ripples of his Shine intersect and resonate with her own, providing clarity as the young vitakinetic traced the jagged edges of the fracture with her power and painstakingly rejoined each fragment of splintered bone. She could feel the tiny flickers at the core of his cells, their vital energy responding to hers as she coaxed shrieking nerves and ruptured blood vessels together, weaving the visceral fabric of his flesh and life back into a coherent whole. As Ian watched, circling around his daughter to take in the horror of the scene before him, he saw her clear blue eyes go distant, darkening slightly with the expansion of her pupils. It was almost, he thought, like she was seeing something he couldn't, something beyond the frighteningly still form of the young man he'd just shared coffee with at the kitchen table the night before. He'd seen what Jason Bannon could do then, but this... This was someone's life, not manipulating kinetic energy, or however the boy had described it. That's not how the world worked. "I'm calling an ambulance," he announced tersely, grabbing the cell phone from his pocket and raking a fingertip over the screen. "This is-" "Crazy?" Devin supplied helpfully, leaning forward to keep his weight on the bullet wound. "Yep. And it's probably going to get a whole lot crazier. 911's not a bad idea, though." Jerking his head in the direction of his sister and the two Marshals, the athletic teen glanced briefly up at the elder Keane. "Those guys're gonna need it." Blinking, the older man looked from his daughter over to where Shelly's dressed-down beauty queen was grumbling at the two prone figures. "Shit," he sighed, and pressed the button to dial.
  9. Even with the help of a little bit (okay, a lot) of self-medication, sleep had eluded Autumn for most of the night. They'd struck a blow against the Dark, eliminating a very real threat under circumstances which, a few weeks ago, would have seemed anything but. Sitting in her tree house, wreathed in smoke and silence, it had still all felt kind of unbelievable. Like a bad trip, or a nightmare she was just waking up from... Except that it'd be more accurate to say that the nightmare itself was a kind of waking-up, an uncomfortable realization that the reality she'd known had been just a comfortable illusion. Was it normal to have an existential crisis at sixteen? Probably. For a given value of "normal," anyway, which also included things like alternate dimensions and aliens and old legends proving true. Apart from Jacob and the dogs, in fact, almost no one in the Keane house had slept soundly that night; there were too many questions, too many things left unresolved. Still... As the crisp, cool chime that heralded a text message confirmed, some uncertainty wasn't necessarily a bad thing. A soft knock on the door frame drew Autumn's attention away from the image of bemused green eyes to the groggy, unshaven smile of her father. "Morning, sweetheart. I didn't think you'd be awake yet." He paused for a moment, noting the phone already in her hands. "You said breakfast starts at 7:30?" "Mhmm," she hummed, stifling a yawn with her arm and squirming comfortably under the quilt. It was, she had to admit, kind of weird having her dad around, but weird in a good way. Unfamiliar, but not unwelcome. "Morning, Dad. Anybody in the shower?" "Not yet, but you should probably hurry if you want to sneak in there before your mom." "Yeahhhh..." A long stretch, a sleepy smile, and a resigned sigh brought her upright, pushing a tangle of copper curls back out of her face as she sat amongst the blankets. "Probably." As she stood under the warm spray a few minutes later, hair slathered generously in the thick conditioner Marissa had recommended, Autumn's thoughts slowly shifted from the events of the night before to a rough outline of the day ahead. Riding in with her dad. Coffee and breakfast with Jase at school. Going to classes and going through the motions of whatever passed for a "normal" day now, with two fewer students- ones who hadn't just moved to Canada or wherever, but who really really wouldn't be coming back, ever. That was... Well, it was a thing, anyway. Talking to Marissa during Study Hall about Homecoming, maybe. The meeting at the medical center... Ugh. Not looking forward to that. She grimaced at the prospect of being trapped in a room with a bunch of people all trying to talk over each other as she carefully rinsed the fragrant masque from the heavy mass of uncoiled curls, combing her fingers through them again and again until the water ran clear. "Autumn?" her mother's voice called out above the sound of the torrent. "Leave some hot water for me, please. Going down to put the coffee on, now, so don't be too long." "Sorry!" she yelled back, quickly scrubbing away the remnants of sleep from her skin. "Just a minute!" True to her word, the young redhead was bundled in towels and padding back across the landing shortly thereafter, just as Dana came up the stairs. "Morning," she greeted the still-sleepy vet with a smile, eyes flicking downward as she paused to make sure she wasn't dripping on the floor. "Oh, hey! Is Jay up?" "Not yet." Dana shook her head, returning the smile with one of her own as she took in her daughter's sudden shift in demeanor, the pink cheeks still flushed and rosy from the shower; there'd been a time when talking about Jacob Crocker had elicited that response on its own. "Why don't you go check on him? Once you're presentable, of course," she teased gently, planting a quick kiss on the girl's freckled forehead as she headed in to get ready for work. Autumn was just about to remark that he'd seen her in a lot less than towels before so it wasn't really a big deal, but caught herself- that was not a conversation she wanted to start this early in the day. Instead, she busied herself with getting dressed, giving herself a quick once-over in the mirror as she toweled off and marveled briefly at the fading pink lines on her skin. Within another day or two, they'd likely be completely healed, vanishing as if the whole thing had never happened. The old scars still lingered, though, faint white traces marking out memories of adventures and mishaps. That was interesting- certainly something to think about. Maybe one of the brainier members of the Fellowship would have a theory about why that was so. Leaving her rather sad-looking hoodie on the chair next to the closet, she slipped on a well-worn flannel over the typical Autumn uniform of jeans and t-shirt instead and skipped briskly down the stairs in her sock feet. Her mother had been mostly right: Jacob wasn't really up and about, but he was awake, sitting up in the guest room and talking quietly with Nathan. Someone had made him oatmeal, which the ravenous young man devoured as she checked in; there didn't seem to be any lingering effects, apart from the residual discomfort of being thrown around by a creature with inhuman strength. Even so, the general consensus was that taking a day to rest and get checked out by an actual doctor wouldn't be a bad idea. There was more to be said, as always, but it would have to wait. Giving both the Crockers quick hugs and quicker apologies, Autumn promised to call during lunch, and to let them know what happened at the not-PTA meeting later. For now, there were dogs to take out for a run around the yard, and breakfast to get to. ------------- It was just after seven when Ian's silver Range Rover pulled out of the drive, Autumn already fiddling with the controls on the dashboard of the new-ish SUV. "Do you have Spotify on this?" He blinked at her, momentarily distracted from the road and thoughts of how to address what had happened yesterday, and in that brief pause she'd already located the green icon on the console display. "Oh, yeah, cool. Can I link my account, so we have stuff to listen to on the way?" Almost before he'd gotten out a slightly-bewildered 'sure,' the animated young woman was tapping contentedly away at her phone, and within moments the folksy sound of a mellow guitar thrummed through the air, accompanied by a clear, male voice he didn't quite recognize, but which felt somehow familiar. "Oooh, this one's good," she nodded, apparently satisfied at the algorithm's selection. "So," he began, glancing at her from the corner of his eye as she hummed along, murmuring bits of the lyrics here and there. "Are you-" His not-so-little-anymore girl turned, blue eyes expectant, and he cleared his throat, reaching for the travel mug of coffee he'd brought. "How're you holding up?" "I'm... okay, I think," she replied, weighing her words carefully as she spoke them. "Like... It's nice to not have this thing hanging over my head, you know? I feel like I have room to breathe." "Even though your friend is gone?" The surprise registered clearly in his voice, and another cursory glance in Autumn's direction found her watching the trees roll lazily past the open window as the breeze ruffled strands of her still-damp ponytail. "Charlie wasn't my friend." She frowned into the mirror, a little twinge of guilt twisting in her chest. "I know it sounds-" Maybe don't say ''shitty,' or 'fucking' in front of your Dad. Just a thought. "It sounds awful. But he really wasn't. It sucks that he died, but I barely knew him, so it's just..." Exhaling, she looked over at Ian, brow furrowing slightly as she searched for the words. "I feel like I don't feel as bad as I should, and that makes me feel bad. I care that he's gone, but it's not personal, I guess. Not like with Grandpa," she finished more quietly, peering at her father's profile while he drove. "You know?" "Mhmm." Ian nodded, his gaze on the road and morning traffic ahead. "Like, the whole thing with Cody upsets me because I feel like, I don't know. Like we could've done something differently, and instead of dying in a fire as some monster in a nightmare hellscape, he could've just gotten therapy or gone to jail, or whatever. I mean, yeah, it was his choices that put him there, but could our choices have changed anything?" They sat in silence for a few moments, and then, abruptly: "He was like us." "Like you?" That warranted another quick glance at the passenger side as he tried to maintain some semblance of a neutral expression. "You mean, with the- the powers?" "Yeah." Autumn went back to watching the landscape slip past them, twisting a lock of red-gold hair around her fingers contemplatively as Marissa's words at the hospital came back to her. "He was like us, and turned into this awful, evil thing. So... If one of us makes the wrong choice, like he did, could the others bring us back? Or will we end up like him?" A crisp, vaguely frosty note interrupted then, saving Ian from another uncomfortable discussion so close on the heels of the one from last night, and the energetic teen felt herself smiling in spite of the tone of the conversation. She swiped away the lock screen and tapped the notification- //Been attacked. 2 gunmen, neutralised. Head wound, bleeding. Need you both. Road into town from my place, two miles down. Be careful.// "Sweetheart?" She could hear her dad talking, but he sounded so far away as she read the message again, his voice distant and distorted like the sound of someone underwater. Or maybe she was the one under the waves, drowning in shock and sinking with the sudden weight in her gut as the words swam before her eyes. "Is everything okay?" "No," she managed, then shook her head. No. No, everything is not okay at all. Just don't... Don't fucking cry right now. Okay? Don't, Autumn. Don't cry, and don't panic. Just go. Just fucking go. "Dad, you've gotta turn around. We have to go get Jase." "Okay." He had a dozen questions, the foremost of those being 'Why?' But the note of fear in his daughter's voice, the desperation in her bright blue eyes as she whirled to look at him, tugged at his heart and sent a pang of worry lancing through his chest. "Okay," he repeated, checking the mirrors and taking a deep breath, steeling himself for whatever they were about to find. "We will. Just tell me where to go, all right?" She nodded, a choked sound of assent narrowly escaping the rapid constriction of her throat as she blinked back tears. NO. NO CRYING. CRYING IS NOT HELPFUL, AUTUMN RAE. "Umm. You can-" Struggling to regain control of her breathing, Autumn forced herself to inhale, counting silently to four and defying the upwelling of panic surging within her. She exhaled, focusing on the sensation of the breeze from the window, the feeling of the upholstered seat beneath her, the weight of the phone in her hand and the sense of her own body in space. It was fine. She was fine. Jason was fine. Everything was fine. "You can turn up there, by Bunnees." Clutching the phone in a white-knuckled death grip, the terrified redhead gestured toward an intersection that led out of town toward the Bannon and Heath farms. "He said- ohh, god," she breathed, shaking her head to clear it. "Um. He said he was attacked, and they had guns, and-" Her father's eyes widened, hands tightening on the steering wheel. Guns. Were they still there? Was it safe to even go? he wondered. And then: Was it a random attack, or did the Bannon boy do something? Almost immediately, he felt guilty for even considering it, but... There was definitely something strange about him, even without the whole crazy powers thing, and he'd heard a few rumors while he'd been home. The bit about his dad being involved in a militia, of course, but maybe it was more than that. The distraught girl's voice wavered dangerously, and she swallowed, pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes. "And he actually asked for help, which means it's gotta be bad, and-" There was another chime, this one different from the first, and both Ian and Autumn glanced anxiously at the screen. //Jason needs you. He's hurt. On my way to get you, send me a pin.// "It's, uh. Marissa," she explained, grateful for something else to focus on for just a moment or two as she started tapping out a reply with trembling fingers. "I guess she heard, too. I need to text her back. Gonna see if she'll meet us there." [Just got a txt from him, omw there now w my dad. Meet us there, please? Not sure exactly where he is. Trying not to freak out.] Even after pressing 'send,' Autumn kept typing away as the SUV headed out toward the edge of town, sending a string of increasingly worried texts to Jason's phone that remained unread.
  10. The Fellowship nodded, waved, or murmured their own farewells in answer to Devin as the Jauntsens left, and Jase drained the plastic cup of coffee and screwed it back onto the thermos before floating that back over to the Cassidys. Glancing at Annette, he nodded. "I guess we'll be taking you up on the offer, unless someone says different." the tall young psychokinetic told her as he stood, testing his wounded leg. "Right." she nodded in reply, watching him with a curious expression, as though trying to perceive something not evident. He looked up, meeting her gaze, and she simply smiled and looked around at the others present. "I'll order a room set aside for tomorrow, and drinks and snacks will be provided." Annette stated, then gave them all another polite smile and withdrew. "Time to go, then." Jason suggested, glancing at Autumn before turning his attention to his dad. "I'll see you at home, dad. I have a promise to keep, then have to pick up my car." "Promise?" Gar looked askance at Autumn, then Jase. "I'm taking Autumn home to Dana, as I promised." came the simply stated answer. "Strikes me you'd need your car for that." Gar seemed more curious than confused, his brows drawing together over his hazel eyes. Jase gave him a faint smile, the edges of his eyes crinkling as he swung his gaze back to the redhead sitting beside him, the ice of his expression thawing slightly. "Not necessarily." At the sound of her name Autumn's head came up, her attention suddenly diverted from the door to the exam room, in which direction she'd been staring distractedly since the abrupt departure of the Jauntsens and Ms. Giles. Glancing from the warm hazel of Gar's eyes to the frosted jade of his son's, her brain worked to reassemble the bits of conversation she'd half-heard. "You're going to take me home and then get your car?" she paraphrased, perplexed. "How do-?" At the sight of an oh-so-faint glimmer of amusement in those pale green depths, she stopped short. If they weren't driving, then... Wait. "Wait, seriously?" Autumn murmured cautiously, her torso angling toward him to study his expression for any signs of dissembling or mischief, her own eyes brightening with excitement as they searched his. "I thought, you know, we'd just get a ride to your car and drive to my house from there. I mean," she added hastily, straightening to take in the sorry state of their clothes. "We're gross. Or, at least, I'm gross, specifically, and you can change clothes." Her bronze- and rust-flecked features scrunched unhappily; even if she couldn't smell herself anymore, that didn't mean other people couldn't. "Unless your dad put something in that bag for me, too," she ventured, a teasing light in her eye as she glanced at the older man. Gar cleared his throat. "There's sweats and a t-shirt, but only for one person." he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. Jase smiled slightly, then leaned down and kissed Autumn's cheek gently, uncaring of the grime clinging to her. "I'll clean up later, once I've gotten you home." he told her quietly, his voice a murmur as his hands found hers and drew her to her feet. "A bit of dirt is no reason to pass up a flight with you." A hint of a dimple appeared in one soot-streaked cheek. "Unless you'd rather we drive..?" he suggested with a sly gleam in his eye. The answer was an emphatic, unequivocal, "Nope!" Autumn grinned as she slid off the edge of the table, her fingers tightening momentarily around Jason's when the soles of her boots struck the tile floor. It felt strange to smile after what had happened, to feel laughter bubbling up in her chest instead of sobs threatening to break free; even knowing they'd survived, that they'd all made it home, couldn't quite dispel the sensation of an impending breakdown. This, though, the simple joy of being close to someone she liked, of touching his hand and feeling the warmth rising in her cheeks, was at least enough to make it bearable. "What if we split the clothes?" Autumn inquired suddenly, eyes sparkling as she leaned up on tiptoe to suggest more quietly, "You take the pants, I'll take the shirt?" Someone behind the new couple cleared their throat and her grin broadened, the flush suffusing her skin visible even beneath the ruddy remains of that other world. Smiling, he drew her after him, turning at the doorway to the infirmary room and casting a glance back at the others. Despite the wound in his thigh, and the blood and smoke-stained clothing and skin, and the faint weariness of the adrenaline wearing off, he seemed otherwise untroubled by the privations of the evening, as though the horror had not touched him in any way other than physically. His gaze was clear and bright as it rested on Sean and his family, then moved to Cassie and her mom, before finally alighting on Kat and her father. "See you all in school." he said by way of farewell, giving them all a nod and a smile. Next to him, Autumn waved a silent goodbye, giving Cassie and Kat a smile before turning and leaving the room at his side. The two teens walked hand in hand through down the corridor, past the curious glances of the staff and the few sheriff's deputies that were still hanging around, talking quietly over coffee. In the parking lot, they could hear faint wrangling voices as the Jauntsens, some distance away, got into their cars and started off. Jase looked up at the clear evening sky, taking a deep breath, before turning towards Autumn and tugging her closer to him. "Going to pick me up again?" Autumn grinned, wrapping her arms around his neck, feeling that sweet familiar warmth rise inside her at his proximity. He brushed his lips over hers, his hands sliding around her waist. "I was thinking you could stand on my feet." he replied, playful mirth in his eyes. "You'd have to press close and hang on tight, of course." "Oh, no," the girl in his arms lamented cheerfully, not at all dismayed by the prospect as she moved closer, stepping carefully up onto the steel-braced toes of his combat boots. With her pack on and the heavy steel pry bar strapped to it, there weren't many other practical ways she could think of to manage such a feat anyway. "That's only one of my favorite things. I guess I'll just have to deal with it." Much as he had moments before, Autumn glanced skyward, tearing her gaze reluctantly from the angular symmetry of his features. The Summer Triangle. The Fox. The Arrow. The Eagle. The Swan. The Harp. Only some of the brightest stars were visible, but it was just enough to mark the constellations and asterisms her grandfather had showed her, some of which were charted in pale green stickers on her bedroom ceiling. Her grin softened a little as her eyes roved once more across the clear expanse of sky overhead, a deeper, more velvety hue now than it had been at the hill, and yet in a reversal of circumstance, now also obscured by the mundane lights in the parking lot. "I'm glad I get to see this again," she admitted quietly, squinting a little into the darkness. "I didn't know if I would. Well, if any of us would, honestly." Her shoulders shifted a little in a shrug, the smile that curved her lips more contemplative now than teasing as she leaned against him. "There's a curious added beauty to it." Jase's voice was also soft as he followed her gaze up and out into the night. "Logic states that the world is the same in texture and colour, but it seems... more, tonight. Greater, more luminous. The possibility of death, of losing my own existence, seems to heighten everything, make it even more valuable." His eyes returned to her face, lingering on her dirt-and-freckle covered skin and the blue of her eyes - almost indigo in the dim light - framed by that omnipresent tumble of copper and gold. "Everything." he repeated softly as he contemplated her, his hands tightening on her waist and holding her against him as he began to rise into the air. The ascent wasn't jarring, nor was it gradual. It was a smooth elevator ride straight up, leaving the ground and the lights and the cars and people and the world behind them as they rose into the night sky. Jase turned them slightly as they climbed higher, letting them both see Shelly spread out below them like a carpet of sprinkled lights as he held Autumn close to him, feeling the warmth from her that was more than merely physical. I'm not standing on the ground, she realized giddily, her grip tightening instinctively on Jase's shoulders as she clung to him. The only thing beneath her feet was his feet, two precariously narrow points of contact through which gravity seemed to stubbornly maintain its grasp on her as the earth fell away. It was almost, almost a dance, a kinetic sort of call-and-response: every movement, every breath and subtle change in his posture registered in her heightened awareness of him and obliged her to match it, and the sense of instability was alternately thrilling and terrifying. It would only take a moment's distraction and she could lose her balance, plunge hundreds of feet back down to the rural town that lay beneath them in a moonlit patchwork quilt of forest and farmland and tiny homes. ...but, flying! the redhead reminded herself, trying desperately not to move too much as she cautiously shifted one arm down to his waist, pressing her cheek against his chest and staring, wide-eyed, at the world as it opened up. And, besides... he promised not to let me fall, right? So... It's fine. Totally fine. Unconvinced, her heart continued to pound at the inside of her rib cage. "I think I've seen this movie before," Autumn quipped a little breathlessly, grinning as she hazarded a brief glance up at his face- and then quickly back to the starry horizon. If the evening air was cool as they rose just a little closer to those glittering points of light, she never noticed. He could feel her heart pounding against his, or so he fancied anyway. Jason was keenly aware of Autumn, as always when she was near and especially when they were touching. The curious mixture of strength evident in her grasp and the shift of muscles under her stained hoodie as he held her, and the feminine softness natural to a young woman, was a tantalising tactile complement to the inner warmth she kindled just with a look or a touch. Did she feel it, he wondered? Obviously she felt something for him - that was plain even to his un-intuitive grasp of peopling - but how deeply did she feel? Was he just yet again reading too much into signals, as he had with Marissa: projecting his own desires onto the situation and interpreting every data-point in the most favorable way? Or was there more there, under the honest desire and friendship? And moreover, wasn't the honest desire and friendship enough? If not, why not? What was this urge he had to possess and be possessed by the girl he held, so similar to the camaraderie he sought in the Fellowship, yet turned up to eleven? A 'place' in someone's life, their place in his... Was this something he should be seeking? Was it even practical or healthy for both of them? He set the concerns aside, relegating them to a corner of his mind to mull over later. Right now, he was content - even happy - to be once more soaring above the petty concerns of the world with the person he chose. "Lost son of an alien race raised among humans, with more-than-human powers..." Jason's voice held a note of wry humor as he looked down at the girl nestled against his chest. He smiled as he started them flying in the direction of the Keane home. It wasn't far - certainly not as the crow flew - but he also was not in a great hurry. "I fail to see the connection." "Mhmm." Autumn tipped her head back slightly, her expression one of bemused skepticism as she peered up at his near-impassive features. He was as much a mystery as ever, with only subtle changes in body language or minute variations in tone suggesting what might, might be going through his mind, but there were times- like right now, she thought- when he seemed to really try. To consciously show how he felt or what he thought, to give people a glimpse of the life beneath the otherwise mirror-smooth surface of that frozen lake. To smile, or frown, or even laugh once in a while. So much so, that- "Honestly, sometimes I forget," the earnest teen admitted with a little smile of her own, the clear blue of her eyes moving over his face before turning once more to the endless swath of land and sky before them, all silver and violet and deep black velvet scattered with pinpoints of light above and below. "That you're different, I mean. Well," she amended, one shoulder twitching in a shrug as she held him tighter. "I mean, apart from being-able-to-fly different, which, in my opinion, is one of the best kinds. The fact that you can do this whenever you want, can go wherever you want. And, I know Devin can kind of do the same thing, right? But, if he was taking me home, I'd already be home, you know?" She inhaled the cool, pure air, so implausibly clean and revitalizing after the stagnant, rank smell of decay in the world of the Throne and the Tree. I'd already be home, and I'd have missed this. "And then..." She exhaled again, slowly, as that thought led inexorably to another. "There're times it's obvious. Like earlier tonight, when Devin was trying to open the portal, and-" Swallowing past the sudden tightness in her throat, she took another deep breath. "And I wasn't sure you were coming. I couldn't tell if you even wanted to." He was quiet for a few moments, the only sounds either of them heard were the murmuring of the air moving past them as they sailed serenely through the dark sky. She had noticed, then. He had wondered if any of his friends had caught how close he had come to the slipping of his self-control, the near-abandonment to the instinct to stand and deal death until his last heartbeat. Most of them had likely been too busy with their own concerns at the time, he had reasoned. But of course, it stood to reason that she would notice... especially if she was attuned to him as he seemed to be to her. "I..." he hesitated as her eyes, deep blue and glimmering with the light of the stars above - and perhaps some unexpressed emotion - turned up to his face once more. "It was a near thing." he admitted quietly. "Something deep inside me was telling me I wasn't yet out of resources, was still able to do damage to our enemies. I wanted to stand and fight, an urge as powerful as the draw I feel to you. Something biological, rather than mental." He took a breath, sighing as his arms around her waist tightened slightly. "And then I told myself I was putting you at risk. You, and the others. That it was conceivable if I failed to retreat, you would stand with me, or try to come and get me, and in so doing would be hurt." He looked down into her upturned face. "That thought, that possibility, mattered more than my desire to fight and kill." Those wide blue eyes looking up at him grew wider still as Autumn listened, a rush of warmth that had nothing to do with nervousness or altitude creeping slowly up the sides of her throat. Once again, he'd managed to completely subvert her expectations. She'd thought he might admit to getting caught up in the moment, to being tempted by the urgency of the primal drives he'd described before, or even that he might've wanted to test himself, or just deal out bloody vengeance. She'd even considered the unlikely possibility that he might have been thinking of trying to hold off the nightmares on his own while everyone else escaped, but unnecessary self-sacrifice didn't seem to fit with the rational, logical impression given by the stoic young man. Almost anything, as usual, was at least a little bit plausible where the unfathomable workings of the Impenetrable Jason Bannon's mind were concerned, and the fact that he'd put the others, put her ahead of his own interests... Oh, god. What was she supposed to say to that? Even if she'd had anywhere to go, to turn away from the impossible directness of that unblinking green gaze, there was something in his expression that held her in place as surely as the feel of his arms around her. Something she'd seen when they'd gone camping, when he'd told her how she'd made him feel then. Warm in the cold places. And then, of course, she'd opened her big fat mouth, and said the first thing that had come to mind. ...But, then again, he'd said he wasn't bothered by it, she remembered, teeth catching at her lower lip as his words turned over and over inside her head. He felt drawn to her? Was that just the cognitive empathy he'd described, his way of quantifying attraction? If so, though, why would he have compared it to an urge to kill as many of those things as possible? Were sex and violence just part of the same thing, for him, or was it related to their Shine, somehow? "I don't think I'd have been the only one to stay behind, in that case, but... Yeah," she murmured, watching the reflection of the moonlight in his eyes. "You said you..." Pausing, she could feel the heat of the blood suffusing her skin, could almost hear the sound of her own heartbeat over the soft rush of the breeze. If you ask him, what do you think he's going to say? Weaponized. Fucking. Honesty, Autumn. Although, worst case scenario, you could just throw yourself backwards and die, so there's that, her inner voice interjected helpfully. Inhaling, she counted to four, fingers toying idly with the ends of his hair as it fell over her hand. "That you felt drawn to me," she continued after a moment, watching his eyes, the corners of his mouth, the line of his jaw for any changes she could try to interpret through the admittedly weak lens of her current understanding. "That it was like the urge to fight those things. What does that mean?" "'As powerful as,' not like." he corrected mildly, taking a moment to glance past her at the ground below to ensure they were still on course. "The urge isn't alike in anything except perhaps intensity." "Right." she answered, still watching his face, his eyes as they returned to her. "So…?" Her doggedness in pursuing the true question made him smile a fraction. "I am designed, at the genetic level, to be a hunter, a warrior, a killer. It could be argued 'so are humanity', and that is indeed where the drive comes from. Only in the Teulu it is stripped of conscience or fear, and instead becomes... a sort of fulfilling act, almost celebratory." he admitted. "At least, that is how I understand it. So I feel the drive, whenever a challenge is presented, to rise to it. When something presents itself as an enemy, my urge is to exercise dominance over that person or force - to the point of destroying it if it will not submit. You have a fight-or-flight reflex. I just have 'fight'." He paused, watching her features, trying to gauge her reactions. "There's nuance to it, of course. Friends, family members - they don't trigger so extreme a reaction. And I have spent most of my pubescent life learning to avoid conflict, to control the urge even before I fully understood it." He smiled wryly, a cold expression for a moment. "If that were not the case, there would have been a spate of murders in the school well before now. I've certainly considered such things in the past." He watched her for a moment longer, warmth returning to his eyes. "I'm telling you this, because with all that instinct driving me in a certain direction, the only thing I have to compare it to in terms of power is how you cause me to feel. There are many rational reasons why you are attractive to me, not least of which your physical attractiveness." His emerald gaze roamed her face, lingering on every detail. "But the draw I describe... it's like all of those sensible, logical reasons come together to form a white hot, searing fire that is beyond logic. It's not just desire, and it's not just friendship. And it just feels right. As natural to me as the other urge we just discussed." "Oh," Autumn replied simply, blinking up at him as, somewhere in the back of her mind, a voice very much like her own laughed hysterically. She did ask, after all. And there it was: the unsubtle, unvarnished reminder that he was undeniably dangerous in ways even the other super-powered teens weren't, even if the only real concern Autumn felt for herself was the one to her sanity. A reminder that social shame and fear of punishment wouldn't alter his behavior because they were irrelevant to him. That the only limitations he was willing to accept were the ones he devised for himself. That he had actually considered not just violence, but actual murder... Which meant that, somewhere in the recesses of his mind, was a perfectly preserved memory of the person- or people- he'd thought of killing, and had chosen, for reasons of his own, not to. She frowned a little at the thought, simultaneously trying not to imagine who might have been targeted, and resolving to ask. Eventually. Maybe. He could have done it, she realized, and would almost certainly have gotten away with it. He was capable. He had no moral compunction against it. He was unnervingly intelligent. ...But he hadn't done it. That was important, wasn't it? Important because he'd told her, important because he could easily have made different choices, important because it seemed to reinforce the idea that even if he really was a dangerous creature who was almost certainly going to be the death of her one day, he wasn't a feral one. "I... First, okay. At some point, we should probably talk about the whole 'considering murder' thing. Preferably before I'm asked to testify, please," the Effing Girlfriend added, the corners of her mouth curving faintly upward. "Because if I'm gonna date a super-hot angel of death, I need to know about these things. Second-" She hesitated for a moment, then cautiously leaned up toward him, the heat suffusing her skin intensifying as her lips fleetingly brushed his. "Thank you for telling me." "If humans can rise above their fear and show bravery or kindness, surely I can rise above my instincts and show restraint." Jase murmured into the feather-brush of her lips on his. "Whether dealing with immature fools who have no concept of their actions, or when in a battle to the death with Dark-twisted creatures- It is fitting that I not get carried away by my instincts. Especially if I want to actually live amongst and with humanity. Well..." he smiled faintly, dropping a kiss of his own on her lips, taking advantage of them still being near. "...some of humanity, at any rate.” "So yes, I worked out some mental exercises - how to do the thing. And, knowing that it could be done, I then decided whether it should be done. After all, they were just rude, crass and ignorant children playing stupid games. Was it my task to clean up the gene pool? I asked myself. And I decided no, it wasn't, however temporarily satisfying it might be to be able to walk down the halls without someone slapping my books out of my hand or pushing Sean into a locker, the greater satisfaction was found in controlling myself and rising beyond them." He cocked his head, his smile widening. "And as serendipity would have it, my restraint has paid off. I am a better creature for not giving in to my instincts, and the world is better off for it also." "Well, yeah," she agreed, wrestling with the urge to keep asking, to delve deeper into those fathomless and frigid depths when darkness was the last thing she wanted more of today. Later. We can talk about it later. Not yet. Not now. "I'd definitely say it's better all around. To be fair, I might be a little biased, since I kind of enjoy breathing, and also kissing you, and I'm pretty sure at least one of those would be off the table if you'd decided not to show restraint, so..." With another little shrug, the warm-hued redhead dismissed the sensation of rime crystallizing up her spine, banishing thoughts of death and pain for a day when they hadn't seen so much of it already. "I'm glad that you did. That you do, I mean," she corrected herself, the broad curve of her smile widening slightly in response to his. "And, y'know. Will hopefully continue to do so. Although now I have even more questions, so..." Pausing for a moment, Autumn watched the shadows shifting across his face, resisting the temptation to steal another kiss. A little part of her felt guilty for trying to just enjoy the moment, to be content with the thrill of balancing precariously over her hometown, holding tight to the inscrutable and impossible form of the guy she liked. But hadn't she earned at least that much? Taking a deep, shaky breath, she tried again. "So maybe we could pick up where we left off at the kitchen table, and the campfire? I was thinking maybe this week. Wednesday-ish, if you're not busy?" "Where we left off from the campfire?" Jase's smile faded, and yet his expression was one of mischief, that ageless gleam of humor evident in his eyes as he pretended to consider her meaning causing Autumn's face to heat up once more. "Oh, you mean our conversation." "Yes." Autumn remembered that she was a couple of hundred feet up in the air and elbowing her impossible boyfriend could lead to disaster. So instead she squeezed him a little, a pleasant compromise as she smiled up at him. Jase considered her expression, his manner turning pensive - at least so far as she could determine. "It's a curious place I find myself in." he mused aloud, studying her eyes. "For the first time in my life, I have found a person that I wish to know me, as I wish to know them. Who is warm, and beautiful, and asks good questions and listens to the answers without undue judgement. Who makes me warm in the cold places." The remote-seeming youth let his gaze roam Autumn's features once more, a lover’s caress from his jade eyes. "I don't want to keep anything from you... And yet I am aware of a possibility that, perhaps, you will ask a question to which the answer will drive you away from me." He moistened his lips, looking down at the ground below once more to check their position. "To be honest, I am wondering if perhaps I have already told you too much, if you are already preparing to pull away from me... But if that is so, at least you have known me better than anyone else. There is a satisfaction to that, I think. So yes, we can continue the conversation whenever you wish." Although the smile lingered on her lips a few moments more, the deep blue of her eyes warmed by the unexpected pleasure of his compliments, Autumn's copper-red brows knitted together in a tiny frown, her dirt-smudged features a mask of perplexed curiosity. She'd expected the teasing, even if she somehow still hadn't developed an immunity to it and perhaps never would, but the rest...? Was he worried that if she knew more about his condition, she wouldn't want to see him anymore? Although she supposed it wasn't really technically a condition, now that they knew more about where he’d come from. And that was the idea, wasn't it? To learn, and understand? To confront what she'd been afraid of? "Hey," she said after a moment, arms tightening around him instinctively as she dipped her head a little, seeking his eyes with her own. "You know we've only been going out for a couple of days, right? And I thought the plan for this whole dating thing was for you to learn more about relationships, and for me to try to understand you a little better. ...Not counting pheromones or, um... Compatibility," Autumn continued more quietly, and it was her turn to glance at the ground, willing the cool air to draw the heat from her face. "So, you know. Why would I pull away from you, or be driven away from you, when we've barely even started working on that? Besides." Hazarding a glance at his profile again, the expressive young vitakinetic smiled, her nose crinkling as she teased him gently. "You still have to take me to Homecoming. I'm not letting you off the hook that easily." He nodded, conceding to her logic with a small smile curving his lips. "That's true. Would be a shame to miss out on that." He studied the charming crinkle of her nose as they began their descent now, the Keane house drawing nearer, the lights of the porch and windows beacons of warmth and family and safety in the night that was, perhaps now, a little less scary than it had been yesterday. Dipping his head, his pressed his lips to hers as they came closer to the ground in front of the Keane home, the lingering kiss gentle though still possessing and communicating some quality of the hunger the girl in his arms evoked. His feet touched down on the ground first, Autumn still standing on them as the kiss continued, even as the barking of the dogs inside the house started to intrude on the pair. Slowly their lips separated, Jase staring into her eyes as reality started to come back to both of them. "You're still amazing." he told Autumn in a low voice, the edges of his eyes crinkling slightly. "I'm still glad you think so," she replied with a grin, stepping gingerly off his steel-toed boots and sighing at the feel of solid ground beneath her feet once more. "And I meant to say it earlier, but... I'm really, really glad you came back with us." Her smile faded by degrees, leaving behind a glimmer of some bright, liquid emotion in the wide and guileless eyes that shimmered up at him in the amber glow of the porch light. "I'd have missed you." The sound of excited barking grew suddenly louder, and then closer as the door opened behind them, and Autumn drew Jase into one more too-brief kiss before turning to greet the four-footed members of her family. "Hey, guys- Noooo, don't lick me, you don't know where I've been! Mom, call them back!" she cried out plaintively. "Lex, sweetie, I love you, but c'mon. I need a shower." Disentangling herself from the surging canine bodies, the redhead extended a hand, reaching back toward the tall, glacial-eyed youth whose kisses could spark bonfires. "Come with me?" "I'd have missed you." Such a simple statement, with so much feeling underlying it. Jason wasn't sure what emotion glistened in the seas of Autumn's gaze as she'd declared that her world was better with him in it, and had been locked in analysis as the dogs had noisily and enthusiastically greeted the laughing, protesting redhead. He knew that it was genuine, and there was depth to the liquid expressiveness, but the subtleties of nuance and shade were lost on him. He knew only one thing for sure: he thought the same way - glad that she was alive and well, that his world was a richer place for her existence. And then she gently pushed the excited dogs aside, who reluctantly scampered back over the threshold at a sharp maternal tone of command from within, and Autumn turned to him, hand outstretched in invitation. The moment was captured in his memory - her expression, the outstretched hand as she stood poised against the rectangle of warmth that was the doorway, and beyond the tumble of red-gold curls he could see the concerned Dana, her hazel eyes wide as she regarded the bloodied state of both teens. "Come with me?" Autumn had asked. Was it his over-analytical brain that attached layers of meaning to the situation, the words, everything? Come with me, into the warmth. Did she know, even peripherally, how significant it all seemed to him in that moment? Could she ever know how significant she was? He hesitated for maybe half a second as these thoughts flashed through his mind, and then nodded simple acceptance to Autumn's request, limping forward and wrapping his long, slender fingers around her hand as he moved to stand next to her, both teens looking as though they had returned from war - which was not far from the truth. "Dana." he gave his girlfriend's mom a faint smile, inclining his head to the auburn-haired vet as he indicated Autumn with his free hand. "As promised." Regarding the pair of teenagers with a mixture of relief and worry, the slender woman, still wearing the same clothes from earlier in the day, hesitated at the threshold as tears welled up in her eyes. Seeing the two of them, seeing her daughter bloodied and dishevelled but still undeniably alive, she felt her breath catch in her throat as she stepped back to let them in. Even hearing her voice on the phone earlier hadn't been enough to dispel Dana's worry that something had happened, might still happen before she could hold her again. "Both of you, come on. Come inside," the older woman insisted tremulously, even as her face began to crumple. "Mom," Autumn breathed as they stepped inside the entryway, but got no farther as a soft, strangled sound escaped Dana's lips and her mother's arms were suddenly around her, tugging her forcibly into a fierce, unyielding hug. The younger redhead returned the embrace one-armed, the fingers of her other hand still entwined with those of the tall, laconic young man next to her. From within, the sound of a chair scraping on the hardwood floor followed by footsteps muffled the anxious whining of the dogs as they milled about uncertainly, and the pretty veterinarian glanced up at Jason over her daughter's shoulder. Thank you, she mouthed silently, her red-rimmed eyes brimming over. Ian rounded the corner a moment later, and his wife rose, drawing the back of her sleeve across her eyes as she sniffled, still shaking with near-silent sobs. "There's my girl," he muttered in a voice taut with emotion, pulling Autumn close and, heedless of the state of her clothing, squeezing her until she squeaked softly in protest. "Are you hurt? Are you okay?" the distraught man all-but demanded, fear and concern and the faint scent of alcohol radiating off him in waves. Leaning back, her father took her face in his hands, studying the film of faded red grime overlaying her features. "I'm so glad you're home. Thank you," he echoed his wife's unspoken sentiment, glancing briefly up at Jase. "For bringing her back to us." "I'm fine," Autumn murmured, smiling as she rubbed at her eyes, smudging the dried dirt and blood away from the paler tracks drifting down her cheeks. "I'm okay, really. We're all okay." "She brought me back too." Jason replied in his quiet, grave fashion to Ian Keane, and though Autumn's parents were perhaps puzzled or curious as to his meaning, the girl with her warm hand still in his clasp understood. Dana studied them both, her initial blinding relief giving way to more conventional concern as she took stock of the ripped and dirty clothing, the scratches, the blood and dirt covering their faces. Moreover, the maternal radar looked for less-obvious signs of distress, and she noted that while her daughter was as expressively emotional as ever, swiping at the tears on her cheeks even as she smiled through them at her parents, the tall lean young man next to her looked... unperturbed. Tired, perhaps, but not at all like someone returning from a life-and-death struggle should behave. No redness around the eyes, no haunted gaze to go with the stained and bloodied features. He was watching Autumn and her family with the air of someone patiently studying a new culture, and the slim, pretty veterinarian was reminded again of that otherness that hung around him. "Come into the kitchen, you two." she ordered as her composure returned, at least somewhat. Later, she might hug her daughter and weep again. Later, she might just lay awake holding her little girl and vowing never to let go. Right now, though, there was 'momming' to do. As they all moved through in a small knot, Ian still with his arm around Autumn's shoulders, Autumn still drawing Jason after her, Dana did not miss the way her daughters new and baffling boyfriend was favoring one leg. The dark patch around the rent in Jase's pants drew her attention, the white of a bandage showing through the tear, and her eyes widened slightly. "Are you-?" "It's fine. Aches a bit is all." Jase's voice was calm. "Autumn worked her mojo, and the medical center bandaged it up for good measure." And there it was again - no wincing, no complaints of discomfort, no note of bravado in his voice or 'pain don't hurt' nonsense. The least teenaged teenage boy - scratch that: young man - she'd ever met. He sat on one of the chairs as they all came to the table, his bright green eyes regarding her even as she stared at him. "It aches a bit," Dana repeated incredulously, then shook her head, eyebrows rising in resignation as she sighed. Had it really only been Saturday that he'd stood in this same kitchen, distant and different and- Her hazel eyes drifted downward, where Autumn's fingers still clutched Jase's under the table. -And demonstrably interested in her daughter? On Friday, they'd been 'just friends.' A day later, they were dating. And then, earlier that afternoon, it had been like watching a physics experiment, with the two of them pairing up, separating, and then drifting back into the other's orbits; not so much inseparable, perhaps, as inevitable. And now this: strange powers and evil spirits, and who knew what else. Maternal worry warred with Montanan pragmatism as she pulled a canister from the cabinet overhead, preparing herself for what might be yet another uncomfortable conversation. "I suppose I should put some more coffee on. Jason," she continued over her shoulder, turning to empty the cold remnants of an earlier brew into the sink. "You're welcome to make use of the shower upstairs, and I'm sure we can find something for you to wear home, if you like." "Coffee sounds freaking amazing," Autumn sighed, finally releasing her boyfriend's hand and slipping the straps of her backpack from her shoulders, lowering it to the floor next to her feet. "Shower sounds better, but I can wait a little bit longer." Rubbing her palms across the stained knees of her ruined climbing pants, she shifted restlessly in her chair; it was hard to tell if the twisting, knotted feeling in the pit of her stomach was due to hunger or the beginnings of a long-delayed emotional breakdown. "How's Jay doing?" she asked her parents, willing herself to focus on more immediate concerns. "He's all right. Passed out in the guest room not long after we got home," Ian replied, taking a seat across from the two teenagers and regarding them with a weary expression. "Warden Crocker's on the couch." "Mmm," Dana agreed, summoning up a faint smile from some hidden reserve of mom-ness. "But he probably won't stay there once he smells the coffee." Glancing at the green-eyed genius from the corner of her eye, she added, "I'd say you could stay the night, since we've already got Nathan and Jacob here anyway, but I'm guessing your dad will want you back." Jase considered that for a moment, as he likewise shucked his backpack, recalling his father's words and actions at the medical center. "He will." the lean youth nodded affirmatively. "But a shower and a coffee would be great, Dana. Thanks. He brought some clothes down to Marias which I shoved in my pack, so no worry on that score." He gazed at Autumn, his expression curious. "You sure you don't want to shower first?" I'd like to shower with you- No, bad Autumn! Mom and dad are right there. The thought of wet olive and bronze skin, soap suds and green eyes gleaming was almost enough to change the knotted feeling to something more heated and delightful. It was such a vivid image, helped by the fact she had seen him mostly naked and wet before. Had wrestled with him, play-fighting in the creek as the sun sparkled through the spray of kicked-up water... "No, you go ahead." The lithe young woman leaned in and kissed his cheek, smiling up at her unlikely and impossible boyfriend. "You'll be efficient and quick - I feel like I'll need to wash myself at least three times over, then stand under the spray well after I'm clean." And possibly cry a little too, she didn't say. "There'd be no hot water left." "Fair point." Jase smiled faintly back, nodding as he rose to his feet. Dana turned back from the coffee maker as he shouldered his pack once more. "I'll get you a towel and a washcloth." she insisted, accompanying him out of the kitchen. In the hallway, they encountered Nathan, rubbing the back of his neck and yawning as he shambled out of the lounge. At the sight of Jase he stopped short, then glanced at Dana. "Autumn?" "She's fine. In the kitchen." Dana smiled, gesturing over her shoulder. "Coffee's on, too." Nathan's smile of relief was broad and genuine, and he nodded to both of them as he passed by. Autumn's mom led Jase upstairs, opening a closet and producing a guest towel for the young man. "Thanks. I won't be long." Jason nodded as he took the towel and turned towards the bathroom, only to be stopped by a hand on his arm. He looked quizzically at Dana, who abruptly hugged him. It was a quick hug, and perhaps a little awkward due to the fact that his arms were full with the pack and the towel, but it was heartfelt and warm. She smiled a little at his bemused expression and stepped back again, watching as he turned and carried on to the bathroom, then went downstairs to her family. "So... how'd it go?" Nathan was asking as Dana re-entered the kitchen. "I mean, did you win?" Did we? the redhead wondered as she leaned over to unlace her boots and grimaced at the scarred, stained leather; like most of what she was wearing, they were probably beyond salvaging. They'd done their job, though, and so had the teens who'd traveled through a wound between worlds to do battle with nightmares made flesh. Even so, she realized, Charlie Cole wouldn't be at school anymore, and neither would Cody Sikes. ...But Tawny and Sophia would. Did that make it even? Was that, on some massive cosmic scale she couldn't fathom, somehow fair? Was that a win? Autumn took a deep breath as she sat up, inhaling the rich scent of brewing coffee with obvious relish, grounding herself in the present moment. "I think..." she began uncertainly, nudging the heavy-soled footwear off her feet and onto the carpet with a pair of muffled thumps. "Probably, yeah. I mean, we did the thing, right? We all came home. We fought the monsters, we got rid of the bad guy..." "Well that's good, then, right?" Ian asked, frowning a little at the uncharacteristically pensive expression on his daughter's face. Nathan nodded gravely, almost imperceptibly. "But?" the warden asked quietly, both men regarding the girl who looked to have been through a war zone as her mother paused in the doorway, listening, then slipped unobtrusively past them to the counter and the coffee maker that burbled softly at the end of its cycle. "But," she sighed, the lively blue of her gaze turned inward as she slumped back in her seat, sock feet skimming idly back and forth over the rug. The sensory memories- the stench of rot, the screeching of inhuman mouths, the rubbery-slick feeling of whatever had grabbed Cassandra- came rushing back, and the animated young woman shivered bodily as she recalled what Marissa had said about Cody and her own fears at the medical center. "One of those monsters used to be someone from school. I didn't really know him, and he wasn't a good person I guess, but still. He was still a person at one point, you know? Still... human." There was a long moment of silence, the adults in the room slowly processing that this wasn't metaphor, wasn't some poetic description of the way people could go astray and turn down dark and violent roads. "And we killed him," the sixteen-year-old stated tonelessly. "Whether he was just screwed up, and made bad choices, or whether he really was just sick and twisted from the beginning, he's never coming home. And," she took a deep breath, her voice trembling, "and I know he had to've brought it on himself, and he killed Charlie Cole, and he hurt Sophia and Tawny, and there's no telling what else he would've done if we hadn't stopped him, but I just don't understand how. How did he turn into this- this nightmare thing? Why, if he had a choice, any kind of choice at all, would he do that? How did somebody get so..." She was shaking now, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks, and Dakota whined softly next to her, pressing his nose against her leg. "How did he go so far we couldn't bring him back?" she whispered plaintively, begging the grown-ups around her for some shred of insight. "Let me help with the coffee," Nathan murmured as Dana started forward, rising from his chair to put a hand on her arm. "I know you're her mom," he said quietly, meeting her desperate gaze with resolve, "and you want to help, but give him a chance, yeah? Girl needs her dad, too." Ian Keane rubbed the bridge of his nose, then braced his chin in the palm of his hand, fingers splayed awkwardly across his mouth. He'd expected to come home for a few days to spend some time with his family after hearing about the fight at school. He'd expected to come home to the same town, the same wife and daughter he'd left behind the last time. He'd expected sanity. Normalcy. Maybe some of the typical teenage acting-out, sure, but... Not this. Not all these secrets, a child he barely recognized, a boyfriend who could create the illusion of fire in his hand, and crazy talk about ancient evils and fighting honest-to-God monsters. But Autumn... He sighed, the stricken expression on his little girl's face eroding the entrepreneur's composure. Real or not, it was hard to deny that whatever had happened had affected her deeply. "What would you have done differently?" Exhaling in a long, shuddering breath, Autumn glanced at her father, then down at the warm, honeyed grain of the table top. "I don't know," she admitted softly, scrubbing the back of her sleeve across her face. "They had to be stopped. Cody and the spirit, I mean. I get that. I do. But when we got there, it seemed like Sophia was changing, too, and we managed to help her. Why her, and not him? Could we have saved him, too, if we'd tried? I don't-" She shook her head, the words catching in her throat as the knot of tension in her stomach twisted up into her chest. "I don't know," she managed, leaning forward to rest her forehead in her hands. Ian looked at his wife and Nathan, momentarily helpless in the face of his daughter's despair. What to say? What could a man say when his only daughter had come face to face with Evil with a capital E? He could privately deny many things, could dismiss the flame dancing on a boy's hand as illusory whilst ignoring the very real force that had locked him in place when he'd tried to physically pull Autumn away from Jason - A trick of some kind it was a trick like hypnosis that's all - but Autumn's grief, her confusion, was real. He couldn't turn away from that. He slid his arm around her shoulders and drew her into another hug, feeling her turn and bury her face against him as he stroked her rebellious curls. "Maybe..." he began, then hesitated as he tried to formulate his thoughts. "Maybe because what was wrong with Cody was his own choice? Like..." he looked at the far wall, eyes roaming the fixtures and fittings of the kitchen as he remembered old sermons, talks with priests from back when he'd actually sort of believed in his faith rather than merely performing it as a social exercise. "There's sin, which we fall into backwards because we're dumb, or we're selfish, or we make a mistake. Everyone does that." “And then there's evil, which is deliberate, and we choose to step into: whether by doing terrible evil things ourselves, or by turning away and doing nothing when other people do them." He shrugged, still stroking his little girl's hair. "I don't know, sweetheart. I really don't. Maybe you could save Sophia because she was just sick, but maybe Cody was more than that. Nathan's told me a little bit about the Darkness. Seems to me it can't - or rather couldn't - make a person evil. It just... showed them the weakness inside, like the Devil in scripture can only tempt people." He sighed, hugging her a touch more tightly. "I'm just glad it's all over now." Autumn leaned into her father's embrace, closing her eyes as the sharp, spicy-sweet bite of his cologne enveloped her. For a moment she just let herself be held as if she were still a little girl with skinned knees, secure in the knowledge that her dad was the biggest and the strongest in the whole world, and if he said it was okay now, it must be so. If he was there, it was safe. It was a feeling more than a conscious thought, a childish sense that parents were protectors, that wherever they were, bad things couldn't follow. They were the ring of warmth and love keeping the nightmares from her bed, the glow of the porch light that always guided her safely home through the shadows, no matter how far afield she'd wandered. But Autumn wasn't that little girl anymore- not really. The Dark and what it represented was terrifying in a way that Marissa with her deliberate cruelty, or even Jason in his clinical detachment, were not. They almost certainly could hurt her, but the Dark would, given a chance, and moreover wanted to, and could twist people like Cody into acting on its behalf. Maybe he hadn't realized it at first, and it had just preyed on his fears or insecurities... What if the Dark was the reason people came up with the idea of the Devil in the first place? she wondered, nodding mute agreement against the smooth fabric of Ian's shirt even as she slowly pulled away. If so, it was unlikely that a high school kid in the middle of nowhere was the only one who'd fallen victim to it- or, worse, sought it out willingly. "It'd be nice if it was," she admitted, giving Nathan a wan smile as he set a mug in front of her. "All over, I mean. But-" The redhead hesitated for a moment, reaching for the cream and adding a splash to her coffee. "But...?" her father inquired, his brow furrowing. Autumn grimaced, stirring sugar into the milky swirls in her cup. She knew that tone, the slight elongation of even that single syllable advising caution. "There's more to it." Inhaling a slow, steadying breath, she took up the warm mug in both hands and waited for all the adults to take their respective seats at the table, spoons chiming softly against porcelain as they dressed their drinks. "I know if I try to tell you everything right now, I'm going to forget a lot, 'cause it's been kind of a day. But, basically, that, uh, door I mentioned to the other place is still there, and we need to close it and make sure nobody else moves in." "Mhmm. I see. And, is that all?" Dana peered at her daughter across the table, studying the face that was, in many ways, so like her own- and yet now, with the knowledge of what she could do and what she was dealing with, so very different. Autumn was quiet for a moment, taking a long, slow sip of coffee as she tried to collect her thoughts. "Well... At some point we also should maybe talk about the fact that some of us have these powers, that Cody possibly isn't the only person who was tempted 'cause this has been going on for a long time, aliens are probably a real thing, there's at least one secret government organization that knows about all this stuff, and there's gonna be a... I guess, a meeting for all our families at the medical center tomorrow evening to get everybody on the same page." Remembering the earlier chaos, and even her own parents' reactions, that didn't seem likely, but maybe things would settle down between now and then. "Hopefully," she added, and then glanced back at her father expectantly. "Also that I still haven't gotten an okay to go to Great Falls with Jase on Friday, and I want to have everybody over for a camping trip this weekend, if that's cool with you guys." "By 'everybody over for camping' you mean..?" Dana inquired as Autumn's dad just looked at her, clearly at a loss as to where to even start. Mom, on the other hand, had obviously decided to start around the edges of the list their increasingly unpredictable daughter had dumped in their laps. Though maybe Autumn wasn't so much unpredictable as she was simply... growing up. It was the world that had become unpredictable, Dana reflected, and the 'kids' - for want of a better term - were just ahead of the curve in racing to deal with it. "Those of us who were there tonight." Autumn confirmed, blue eyes looking at her mother earnestly over the rim of the coffee mug. "Summer's over, pretty soon it'll be too cold for camping and anyway, Homecoming is the week after and we need to spend time together that isn't all about the Dark and-" "Right, hmm." Dana nodded thoughtfully, exchanging a parental look with Ian almost on reflex. "Let’s call that a tentative 'yes', for now, shall we?" Ian stirred slightly, brow furrowing as he sought for a valid reason to protest, but finding none he simply shrugged and nodded. "And Great Falls with Jase - that's a date, right?" Autumn's dad's eyes narrowed slightly as he regarded first Dana, then Autumn. "Yes." Autumn mumbled into her coffee mug, trying not to blush and only half succeeding. Her father 'hmph'd quietly under his breath, causing Dana to restrain a smile. "He asked me on Sunday when he brought me home." She peered at her father in mute appeal. "I don't see any reason why not..." Dana looked at Ian, who despite realising he was outnumbered was not going to surrender easily. There was paternal duty and honor to be satisfied here. "Where's he taking you?" "Dinner and a movie." Jason said calmly from the doorway as he stepped in from the hall, even more noiseless than usual due to his boots being carried in one hand. "Nothing too exotic." he went on as Dana started, Ian practically jumped out of his chair, and Autumn - despite her own urge to start - tried not to laugh at the sight of other people experiencing her boyfriend's idiosyncracies. His soiled clothing tucked away in his pack, Jase was wearing the grey sweats and white tee his dad had brought down to the Marias Medical Center. His hair was towel-dry, the still-damp ends brushing his neck as the lean youth's brilliant pale gaze studied the Keanes before bending to set his boots by the door. "Shower's free." he added, giving Autumn that faint smile that was both warm and warming. She swallowed the mouthful of coffee by reflex alone, neither the temperature nor the flavor of the drink fully registering. Her eyes widened slightly as she took in the sight of the green eyed pyrokinetic, the dark pools of her pupils following suit as flames every bit as palpable as the ones he conjured licked up the sides of her face. "Autumn?" Ian frowned, still a little unsettled by the new boyfriend's sudden appearance- a feeling not diminished by the expression on his teenage daughter's visibly rosy features. Talking with her family about what had happened, about what it might mean, had put Jason's out-of-sight showering completely out of mind, but... Autumn's fingers twitched with the sudden, almost overwhelming urge to run them through the ends of his hair, and the lightweight cotton shirt clung to his torso in a way that seemed to highlight the leanness, the angularity of his form, highlighting the lingering summer-bronze hue of the flesh beneath. "Autumn?" Her father tried again, exasperation mounting as Nathan leaned down to pet a pair of dogs looking for attention and Dana- eyebrows raised- took a long drink from her mug to conceal the twitch of her lips. She'd seen this before, and despite her feelings on the matter, seeing her estranged husband flustered so obviously by adolescent hormones was almost enough to make her forget her own unease. "Oh, for crying out loud," he sighed, passing a hand over his face. Irresistibly, her gaze was drawn from the dangerous green-gold of his eyes downward, and for a long, quiet moment the red-cheeked redhead wished that she shared some of his telekinetic gift. If she could touch him, even from across the room... And then her eyes moved lower, and the warm mug seemed suddenly cool in her hands. Oh god. Why does he have to be wearing- "Autumn!" Blinking, she jerked as if startled, turning instinctively toward the sound of her dad's voice, but Ian merely scowled, rubbing the bridge of his nose. There was no way he was leaving the two of them alone. Not in Great Falls, not in Shelly- hell, not even in his own living room. "What?" she replied, abashed and a little breathless as she averted her eyes, studying... Well, pretty much anything except her boyfriend's face, although she could imagine the suggestion of not-quite-mocking amusement lurking in those glacial jade depths. "Sorry, I was just, um. Thinking." "Obviously." Ian sighed for neither the first nor the last time, shaking his head. "Right. Were you going to get cleaned up, then?" Pursing her lips, Autumn took another tentative sip of coffee, peering intently at the whorls of ivory and rich brown swirling therein. It sounded like a good idea, but once she was in there on her own, it might be a while before she felt like coming out again, what with the inevitable crying and being sick and prolonged scrubbing, followed by more crying, and then hopefully getting high enough to sleep through the night. "Not right now, no. I want to, but I don't think I'll be good company afterward." Hazarding a smile at her parents, she shifted uncomfortably in her seat as the soft percussion of her heels hitting the chair frame filled the brief moment of quiet that followed. Dana reached over and placed her hand on top of her daughter's, mute understanding in the older redhead's gaze, as Ian laid a hand on Autumn's shoulder and squeezed gently. Her mom looked up at the still-standing Bannon and gave him a weary smile. "Coffee, Jase?" she asked, drawing back her hand and making as if to rise. "I can get it." It was a soft-spoken statement, rather than a polite offer. Indeed, he was already setting his pack down by his boots and moving to sit by Autumn as the coffee pot floated from its cradle, a mug sliding into place under it as the black brew started to pour. Ian made a muted sound of disbelief, his eyes widening at yet another hard-to-dismiss intrusion of the unreal into his world. Dana's eyebrows rose as she glanced over her shoulder, but she seemed less upset and more intrigued as the coffee mug, now full, drifted past her to Jason's outstretched hand. "So you can." she agreed after a moment to recover her aplomb. She smiled at him, shaking her head slightly as he took a sip of the unadorned liquid in the mug. "That's a handy trick. Lord knows I could do with extra sets of hands." "How did you do that?!" Ian demanded, finally finding his voice. "I can feel, as if touching, any object around me." Jase said calmly. "A kinetic awareness. And then I just reach out and move the object, feeding it kinetic energy." "Just like that." Autumn's father looked like he was wavering between doubt and amazement. Jason glanced at him, his head tilting slightly. "It wasn't always that easy or smooth, no. In the beginning I could only move small objects, and without much finesse. I practiced a lot." He took another sip of coffee, his free hand resting next to Autumn's on the table. "Now I can lift my father's pickup or a tractor without any real effort. I'm not exactly certain how much mass I can move, but I would assume it's sizeable." "And the fire?" Dana asked, remembering the flickering, dancing golden flame on the boy's palm. "Also kinetic energy, but at applied at a molecular or atomic level. Thermal excitation or subtraction." He lifted his free hand, palm up. Shimmering motes of began to coalesce from the air as beads of frozen moisture came together, forming a delicate ice sculpture of a stemmed rose. "So I can heat things up, or cool them down. The first trick I ever did to open Autumn's eyes was to pull ice cubes from running tap water." He smiled a little more at Ian as he showed them the finished flower. "She reacted a lot like you are now." He glanced at Dana, then held out the frost-rose to her. "For my hostess, for your kindness." Hesitantly, Autumn's mom reached out and took the rose, noting the sparkle of frost along the edges of the perfectly formed sculpture as Jase placed it in her palm. It was cold, but not uncomfortably so, and seemed to show no inclination to melt as it shimmered in her fingers. Though rarely of the same mind on any subject, for a brief moment following Jase's display both father and daughter shared a mutual sentiment, expressed as it was in different ways as they considered their respective companions: "Should I be jealous?" Ian, eyes narrowed as he struggled to make sense of what he was seeing, took in his wife's expression of rapt wonder and conceded that perhaps the flame he'd seen had not been so illusory after all. Autumn, nose crinkling with impish humor, playfully flicked Jason's forearm with the backs of her fingers. "You know she's married," the red-haired girl commented wryly, glancing at her boyfriend over the rim of her mug before taking a sip of coffee. "Of course she is. Just my luck, alas, that I am too late." Jase's gaze was filled with that ageless mirth that so characterised his sense of humor. A faint smile dimpled his cheek. "So I'm practicing for when you're her age." Despite himself Ian snorted aloud, Dana pressed her lips together to stifle her amusement, and Autumn... had just drunk a mouthful of coffee before his impeccably-timed retort. There'd been that tiny, almost infinitesimal pause, and she should have known right then that she was in trouble. Mother. Fucker. she swore internally, her glare a silent promise of vengeance the instant before she broke. Caught helplessly between drinking and laughing, the redhead choked and spluttered furiously for several seconds- a relatively brief span of time that nevertheless felt like an eternity in which she struggled to decide whether she'd die herself or strangle Jason right there at the kitchen table. "You suck," was all she managed through the hoarse combination of mirth and misery. "Well," Nathan interjected, keeping a bemused eye on his surrogate niece. "Nothing wrong with appreciating older women, after all. Having more experienced hands on the tiller." "Nathaniel Crocker!" Dana hissed, looking up from her admiration of the glittering rime-rose to shoot her childhood friend a look that could've peeled the paint from the wall behind him, but Autumn just groaned and dropped her forehead into the crook of her arm as it lay on the table, shoulders shaking with muffled laughter. She literally couldn't even, at this point, after everything that'd happened that day. Just... couldn't. Hearing such a cheesy line from Jase has been bad enough, but from Nathan? Seriously? It was no wonder none of the myriad of gods she'd half-jokingly prayed to had ignored her pleas for death- clearly, they all hated her. "Okay," she gasped, panting softly as she lifted her head to peer with mock-sternness at her utterly, completely impossible boyfriend. "Fine. If she gets ice flowers, I want to fly up Granite Peak this winter. I'm even better practice for Future Autumn than she is." "Wait, wait, wait," Ian interrupted, shaking his head. "First, that's the other side of the state, and we haven't even gotten to this date in Great Falls yet. Second, sweetheart, I know you're a confident climber, but that's entirely too dangerous, even for professionals, and especially in winter. Third-" He paused, eyes narrowing again slightly as he absorbed the import of her words. "Did you say 'fly?'" "Mmhmm." Autumn nodded as she pointed a finger at Jason whilst taking a restorative sip of her coffee. The Effing Boyfriend, eyes still gleaming with their silent, but no less expressive version of laughter, nodded in turn as the three adults stared at him. "She did. She said 'fly'." he stated with a slight shrug, then smiled faintly as he looked into Autumn's sparkling gaze. "And sure, I see no reason not to fly up there." "Now, hold on just one minute!" Ian protested, torn between disbelief and paternal protectiveness. "You can fly? Come on." He looked from his daughter to the lean, inscrutable young man, then at Dana and Nathan too, before returning his stare to the two teens. "Tell me you're joking." "Not about this." Jason replied calmly, finishing the last of his mug of coffee. "It's how we got home tonight, in fact. Autumn enjoys it, and I thought it would be a welcome distraction for her." The lithe young redhead beamed at him then, ignoring the faint pinkening of her cheeks, and narrowly avoided the urge to curl her hand around the back of his neck and pull him in for a kiss. As it was, she settled for simply lacing her fingers through his and squeezing warmly as she looked at her parents and 'uncle'. "See? Flying." she emphasised. "Is utterly fu- flipping awesome, by the way." "But is it safe?" Ian persisted. "What if you-?" "As safe as driving, if not safer." Jase asserted with quiet authority. "The only danger is if I lose consciousness, which would be equally dangerous in a car. There's no other road users to worry about, no mechanical failure to fear. I fly as easily as I walk - a simple act of will and..." he mimed soaring upwards with his hand. "Right." Ian subsided, plainly lost in thought as he absorbed all this. Jason glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall, and giving Autumn's hand a gentle squeeze began to stand. "I should probably go. We still need to go to school tomorrow, and my dad will need to talk with me as well." He moved to the door and thrust his feet into his unlaced boots, stamping them down a couple times to get them properly seated. Autumn and her family, Nathan included, all got up, mugs of coffee in hand, and came to see him off. Handshakes from the menfolk, a brief hug from Dana, and then Jase was walking down the porch steps beside Autumn as the adults remained up on the deck. Turning to her in the warm golden light that spilled out from the doorway and windows of her home, Jase studied that upturned face, marking each freckle, each glimmer in the deep blue eyes. "Are you going to be okay?" he asked softly, his eyes intent on her expression. "It's nothing a goodnight kiss and a few years of therapy can't fix." The smile as Autumn gazed up at him, his features limned in amber light and violet shadow, broadened from a facetious quirk of her lips to something warmer and altogether more genuine. "Yeah," she conceded, succumbing to her earlier temptation and reached up to thread her fingertips through the tousled ends of his hair. "I will be. Not today, and probably not tomorrow, but I will be. Just have to keep moving forward." It seemed a little strange, both that he'd asked and that she'd felt compelled to reassure him- mostly, she realized, because Jason Bannon wasn't the type to need reassurance. But maybe, like when he'd talked to her earlier about Devin, it was his way of peopling in a way she could understand. A kind of consideration on his part. The thought sent a ripple of something that felt the way honey tasted shimmering through her limbs, something she couldn’t definitively pin down; if he was making that effort, then he must've believed she was important enough to merit it, right? And... even if she couldn't know for sure whether that was true or what it meant, the fact that he cared- because what else could she call it but a kind of caring?- was like the warm glow of a campfire on a dark night. "I'll text you in the morning," she murmured, her fingers sliding through the dark strands at the nape of Jase's neck as she rose up on tiptoe to brush her still-smiling lips briefly across his. That same unknown warm sweetness, spiced with the smoldering heat of more easily identifiable wants, swam languidly along her nerve endings, sparking them into pinpoints of incandescent life, and she felt herself leaning into it, into him, into that sensation of embers flaring- You'll see him tomorrow, Autumn. Seriously. Don't start climbing him in front of your parents, at least, an inner voice reminded her as someone's shoes scuffed at the wooden porch behind them. Well, not again, anyway. "See you tomorrow," the redhead breathed, withdrawing just enough to press her forehead to his, the shadowed blue of her eyes meeting the shimmering jade depths gazing back at her. "Bring coffee?" From this close, the faint, almost microscopic smile that answered her was easy to read, and she leaned in for another quick kiss before stepping back. "See you tomorrow," Jason echoed, that hint of warmth lingering in his expression until the moment he glanced upward, and with a sudden rush of air that tousled her already dishevelled curls, vanished into the night. Her sock feet thumped softly up the steps to the front door, and Autumn paused, peering expectantly up at her father. Transfixed, the weary realtor stared up at the darkness overhead, beyond the reach of the porch lights that bathed them in that soft amber glow. "He really wasn't joking," the awestruck entrepreneur muttered, as Dana and Nathan blinked at each other in astonishment. "Nope. He really wasn't," his daughter affirmed simply, before heading inside for that long-awaited shower. Now, the tension coiling in her abdomen, pulsing threateningly behind her eyes demanded, and she agreed; all her not-yets were spent. Nearly an hour later, when all the hot water was, indeed, exhausted- and so, for that matter, was she- Autumn sat between her parents on the couch, Nathan in the recliner just a few feet away. Dressed in the most comfortable, well-worn pajamas she owned, the young woman sipped her last mug of coffee for the day, and did her best to quietly fill them in about what had happened, how she'd gotten involved, and what she knew about where it started. For the most part, Dana contented herself with holding Autumn close and letting her daughter do the talking, interrupting occasionally to ask a clarifying question, while Ian was more visibly troubled by what he'd seen and heard that day. Most of the details, like who was part of the Fellowship, could be left for the meeting with everyone else. Thankfully, the emotionally drained redhead admitted openly, that would also mean she didn't have to "out" anyone or go around getting permission from the other teens in order to keep her promise to her mother. Thankfully, too, after a cursory description of what she was capable of in the wake of Jason's earlier demonstrations, her father declined a similar show from her. Manipulating kinetic energy was one thing, after all- manipulating living tissue to repair, alter, or destroy it seemed to him, somehow, more unsettling on the whole. That Jacob was alive, and simply resting down the hall, was sufficient testament to the fact that it worked, despite a lifetime of adamant insistence that everything must have a reasonable explanation, and nothing like this could possibly be real. It was late when she finally crawled into the safe haven of her treehouse, the rest of the Keane household in fitful slumber. Making yet another mental note that she needed to finish it ASAP, Autumn wrapped herself in the comforting weight of her blanket, cocooned herself in the mind-numbing relaxation of a well-packed pipe, and banished thoughts of nightmare worlds and near-death experiences and existential crises for some near-future version of herself to address. If anyone in the house happened to glance out a window that night and take note of the tendrils of smoke winding away from her half-finished retreat in the yard, not a word was spoken; when her mother checked in much later, unable to sleep, she found her little girl bundled up in bed, nightlight on.
  11. "That's a good reason to be happy, yeah," the redhead replied slowly, unsure if this actually, genuinely qualified as not being in bitch mode. Maybe rather than an on/off switch, bitchiness was more like a volume knob; they were just so used to Marissa being on the higher end of the scale that when she did ease up a bit, a level of awfulness that would barely be tolerated from anyone else felt like a welcome shift toward humanity with her. "Y'know, Marissa," she began, "she was probably just freaked out and worried, so maybe that wasn't really nece-" Dark brown eyes framed in long black lashes blinked back at her, uncomprehending, and Autumn sighed. Baby steps. "Never mind. Anyway, so..." 'So,' what, Autumn? Where are you planning on going with this? Are you gonna talk about her crazy mom? About her overdose? About whether or not Cody could've been saved? About whether you think she's going to end up like him? Taking a sip of day-old coffee, Autumn made a face. If dealing with Jason Bannon, she decided, was like a perpetual obstacle course that tested resolve and mental agility, interacting with Marissa was like trying to navigate a hedge maze littered with land mines, pit traps, and ninja assassins that really just tested your fortitude and sanity. No... She said she's in a good mood, so... Maybe something she enjoys? Possibly? "So, listen." The soles of her boots squeaked very softly on the gleaming floor as Autumn shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "Everything's kind of crazy right now, and I don't know what to ask or talk about first, but as far as all of-" she lifted her free hand, comparatively clean owing to the gloves she'd worn, to indicate the girls and their general surroundings- "this is concerned, everybody's probably gonna need time to process. And unless you want me to go tell your mom how old she looks, or something- which I will totally do, because it's not like your parents can ground me for telling them they suck- all I can do for you there is just, listen, I guess. Which is also fine, but this is probably not the best place for that conversation, y'know? So." She took another long drink of the bitter, caffeinated liquid and, shuddering, poured in another packet of creamer, swirling the cup around to mix it. After another experimental sip, she nodded and continued. "I was wondering if you'd be willing to help me with something. Nothing weird!" she added hastily, blue eyes widening. "Just... So, I have this dress, for Homecoming, and I really like it, and my mom bought me some shoes to go with it. And, you know, they're great and all, but, um. I-" "She bought you heels, didn't she?" the canny brunette interjected, eyeing her bestie shrewdly. It was the only logical reason someone like Autumn would've mentioned shoes, since her entire footwear collection seemed to consist of hiking boots and old Converse sneakers. Talk about a stereotype... Marissa wouldn't be the least bit surprised if she shuffled around the house in those stoner sandals, Birkenflops, or whatever they were called. "Yeah. And-" The red-haired young vitakinetic could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks- her own this time, thankfully- as her face grew warmer under Mari's scrutiny. "And you've never worn them a day in your life, have you?" "Obviously," her dark eyes seemed to say. "I mean, kind of?" Autumn hedged. "Not these specific ones, which are..." She glanced down at Marissa's ruined hiking heels. "Well, for me they're kind of on the tall side. But I don't wanna break an ankle or anything at the dance, and you wear them all day, so I thought maybe you'd help me out? Y'know, teach me your secrets, or something? And that would give us chances to talk about the other stuff, too."
  12. "Mmm." Autumn nodded, glancing up at the taller girl who, lacking anything else to do as they paused in the hallway, fidgeted with the ruddied blanket around her leather-clad shoulders. She'd figured that getting up and moving around might make both of them feel better, and looking for coffee gave that movement purpose; Marissa was visibly not okay, and after what her mom had said, loudly and in front of everyone, the red-haired teen wasn't surprised. Both of the girls looked like extras in some low-budget horror film, but whereas Autumn was as animated as ever, driven by some nigh-inexhaustible energy, the svelte brunette just seemed...tired. Over it. Done. It was bad enough they could've died, or worse, and even if what Mr. "Call me Carl" Jauntsen had said was true, and Misti was just upset, that was still no excuse for acting like- Well, she admitted to herself with a twinge of guilt. Like Marissa. So I guess, yeah. I do see where she gets it from. The admission didn't make Mari's own awfulness any easier to deal with, but at least she could understand a little better, which... helped. That was the idea, right? Learning to understand someone or something, so you could co-exist? And the twins could've bailed on everyone when things went from terrifying to oh-god-we're-all-gonna-die, or just have not shown up at all, but... they didn't. "So... Are they always like that?" she wondered aloud, peering up at her friend long enough to see the question register before inclining her head toward a lounge area near the nurse's station. Marissa huffed, a tiny measure of her usual hauteur resurfacing as they continued on their quest for caffeine. "Only on days that end in 'y.' It used to be a lot better, before we moved here. Mom was still impossible, but she and dad were," she offered her bestie a suggestive look. "You know, on the regular. Since we moved here they've hated each other. He drinks all the time, and she's so fucking high I'm surprised she knew which pair of her twins to address. Devin and I were pretty much left to do as we pleased... and here we are. Super powered and popular hanging out with the nerds because hell is empty and all the devils are here." "Yep," the Girl Scout agreed companionably. "All two of them. But at least one of them's my friend, so... I guess that's something?" Autumn's features scrunched up slightly in what might have been a sincere attempt at a grin, the effect of which was ruined somewhat by the flecks of dried rust-red that covered her cheeks in a grim parody of natural freckles. "Seriously, though," she added, her gaze zeroing in on a table replete with bio-degradable cups and a pair of coffee carafes. "That must've been rough. I mean, I know we talked about your parents a little bit when I came over, but..." The redhead's voice trailed off as she directed another of those earnest almost-smiles at the nurse on duty at the desk, determinedly ignoring the older woman's wide-eyed stare and expression of vague horror.
  13. Autumn took a long drink from the plastic cup of water in her hand and watched the interaction between the Jauntsens and their parents, the heels of her hiking boots thudding dully against the metal base of the exam table as she swung her feet. She felt... Not tired, she decided, and not hurt. Restless, maybe? With everyone milling around, the room felt too small by half, and she found herself glancing, now and then, at the observation window in the door. What's going on out there? she wondered, finishing the last of her water. How are the girls doing? Are they gonna try to hold us for questioning, or make us come give statements, or what? It wasn't a pleasant thought, but the Project had managed to keep them all day before, so the redhead wasn't putting it past them this time. Fucking hell. She scowled, the paper cover on the table crinkling as she leaned over to drop the empty cup in the waste bin nearby. She wanted a shower to wash away the smell of death and worse, to just sit under the water and cry until it was physically impossible to cry anymore. Then she wanted a second shower, just to make sure no tangible remnant of that other place lingered on her skin. She wanted clean clothes. She wanted to be at home, wrapped up in her own blanket, in her own treehouse, smoking a well-packed pipe and pretending for a few hours that the world hadn't gone insane in the last couple of weeks and taken her along for the ride. It hadn't even bothered asking if she'd wanted to go, but the world was presumptuous that way. She watched as Misti cunted off in a telenovela huff, as Marissa shrank miserably into her brother's embrace, as Cade said nothing to his girlfriend at all and then cowered like a child in front of his stepmother, as Jason demonstrated for another incredulous adult that either their kids were crazy, or they were crazy themselves. "Okay," she sighed aloud, shifting her weight forward and shrugging the blanket from her shoulders as she slid off the edge of the examination table. "Devin, I'm borrowing your sister for a sec. C'mon, Marissa. I need to find some coffee." The elder twin regarded her wearily, warily over his sister's trembling shoulder, but after a moment Devin nodded and gently nudged the distraught brunette in her alleged bestie's direction. Autumn slid an arm around the blanket-shrouded beauty, guiding her toward the door. As they passed Carl, she paused for just a moment. You know what, fuck it. After today, I honestly don't even care. "And Mr. Jauntsen? Maybe next time apologize for what happened, instead of just saying you wished we hadn't seen it."
  14. Autumn Keane Interview, Magazine Article. (PDF format) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1f3Vg8RXEfKSEOYe6txw1V31ovPhb5xOt/view?usp=sharing
  15. [Intro music plays] JH: Welcome back, everyone! I’m your host, Julia Hernandez, here with another exclusive. Today we’ve managed to wrangle two more stars of “Weirder Stuff” into the studio: one of whom is famous, or perhaps infamous, for his reluctance to speak publicly, and the other for… Well, for exactly the opposite. It’s my pleasure to introduce the elusive Mr. Jason Bannon, and the effervescent Miss Autumn Keane. Welcome, welcome! Thank you both for joining me today! Autumn: Thanks, Julia. [grins as she settles into her chair and glances at her co-star.] Yeah, he’s my chaperone today, so no spoilers this time. [noticeable pause, followed by a wider grin.] Probably. Jason: [dry tone and a smile] I think the studio has too much faith in my abilities. JH: [laughs] How did they manage to twist your arm to get you into a live interview, Jason? Jason: [deadpan] There was some begging and crying. Kripke actually offered his first-born son if I would come on just to stop Autumn talking about next Season. Autumn: His first-born? Oh, that’s gonna be awkward at the holidays, isn’t it? [laughs, leaning back in her chair] I mean, after last time, he did threaten to have someone follow me around with tranquilizer darts, so this is definitely better for me. JH: Tranquilizer darts?! Autumn: I mean, I’m sure he was kidding! [waves her hands placatingly, still grinning] It’s fine. Probably fine. More than likely totally fine. I’d like to think I’ve learned my lesson after the Jauntsen reveal, anyway. That was… [grimaces slightly] When I’m really excited about something, it’s easy to just get caught up in the moment, y’know? And during the Q&A stream someone asked about my character’s relationship with Marissa, and… [hesitates for a moment] And I think I was just so psyched to talk about how I think the relationship between my character and the Twins might develop, it just didn’t occur to me that the big Blight battle hadn’t aired yet, and people wouldn’t already know they’d survived the fight. Sooo… Yeah. Team Holland strikes again. [grins sheepishly] JH: Rumor has it that Tom actually got in touch with you recently. What was that about? Autumn: Oh! [claps her hands together excitedly and leans forward] Oh, yeah, because of the joke, right? And honestly, it was perfect. So, we’ve had this sort of running joke on set about making t-shirts for the cast, different hashtags and all that, and so he sent me one that just said #TeamHolland on it. It was awesome, totally brilliant. [laughs] Now when I start to say too much on-set they’ll just tell me to go put my shirt on, like it’s a cone of shame or something. Totally deserved, of course, don’t get me wrong. It’s just really hard not to want to share all the crazy stuff we’ve been doing. JH: I can only imagine! [smiles] Now, obviously you’re not the only one who’s guilty of letting slip a spoiler or two about the show during what has turned out to be a wild first season. Has that made things difficult for the cast at all, or changed the atmosphere on-set? Autumn: Hmm. [tilts her head thoughtfully, considering] That’s a tricky one. Can I pass for a sec, and come back to that? JH: Oh absolutely. We can move right onto the big story and, let’s be frank, the reason I’m so stoked to have you both here in the hot seat. Most of us have seen that InstaSnap post… you know the one. So the big questions on everyone’s lips are “How long have you two been an item off-screen?” and “Who else in the cast and crew knew?” Was it a surprise to everyone else when social media went berserk, or was it just one of the best kept on-set secrets ever? Autumn: [laughs, shaking her head] I take it back, I take it back! I change my mind! Oh, god. [covers her face for a moment, shoulders shaking with laughter] Okay, okay. [composes herself, exhales] Right. So… To answer your last two questions first, “Yes.” At least, it was a secret, sort of, and everyone was also surprised. We just… I mean, we didn’t really talk about it, and it didn’t change much of anything at work, you know? Granted, in some cases, I think it might’ve helped the scene. [glances at Jason from the corner of her eye, grinning mischievously] But, yeah. The producers knew, but it wasn’t something we really shared with the cast. We’d talked about it, but there were concerns it might affect the group dynamic, or how the audience viewed certain interactions. The story in WS is always changing, and we didn’t want viewers to feel that a particular pairing was “locked in,” or that the outcome of an event is predetermined, if that makes sense. Jason: That was very important to both of us. [nodding] One of the marvellous aspects of Weirder Stuff as a story is the very organic nature of the script, especially when it comes to the interpersonal stuff. A lot of that is down to the actors and the writers working really closely together. For instance, the initial concept of Devin and Jason is that they would immediately be best friends with enough differences to keep the dynamic interesting. But when we were going over the lines together, Devin proposed that rather than them just naturally falling that way, they should be these two guys who were different, and worked really well together when things came down to crunch time, but had this huge gap of personal understanding between them that would take ages to bridge. Autumn and Jase becoming a “thing” in the show was very much another one of those “Hey, writers, what if we…?” moments. [grins teasingly sideways at Autumn] Which sort of ties into the “how long” question, doesn’t it? Autumn: It does, yeah. [cuts her eyes at him with a crooked smile] So… When Autumn and Jason went camping after he showed her the greenhouse, that whole thing was just supposed to be between friends. New friends, at that, who are just beginning to work out how to relate to each other. Maybe some teasing or banter, even a little bit of the tension from the talk they had at the Bannon farm, but nothing concrete. It was just supposed to be a bit of a bonding moment for the characters, and a chance for the audience to learn more about them by seeing how they interacted with their environment and each other. To give them a little insight. JH: Well, it certainly seems to have been, as you said, a “bonding” experience. So it wasn’t scripted? Autumn: Mmm, not at all, believe it or not! As Jason said just a moment ago, one of the most engaging and exciting parts of the show, from a professional perspective, is how dynamic and fluid the show can be. Devin’s famous for ad-libbing, for example, and loads of times it winds up working really well. So there’s a sense that we have a lot of input into how things go, a lot of creative agency and freedom within the context of the script we’re given. People get together all the time to run lines, especially since there’s not much time between being handed an episode and that episode being filmed- sometimes only a day or two. Jason and I were working on the, um. The campfire scene. JH: Oh, trust me, I know the one. How could I forget? Autumn: Right, that one. [laughs] Well, we were talking through the part where he sort of leans in, which was this really great moment of tension that was meant to be defused by a joke, and then everything would settle back into the camaraderie they were establishing. And I thought about the talk they’d had, and the little flirtations, and Autumn’s impulsiveness, so I said, “Wait. What if, instead of cracking a joke and backing down, what if she leans into that moment and just kisses him?” So… [shrugs a little, cheeks going pink as she smiles] So we gave it a shot to see how it felt in the scene. Jason: It was a convincing demonstration. [smiles a little as Autumn goes a touch more pink and elbows him] So it was sort of a realisation for us both, that moment. That the chemistry we’d developed between the characters was itself reflective of our chemistry as people. So yeah, we were definitely attracted to each other, so we kept it on the down-low after that evening because, well as we said we didn’t want to straitjacket the show’s writers. If they didn’t like the idea of Jase and Autumn, we didn’t want to make it awkward if they paired the characters up with other characters. Separating the professional from the personal is kind of important to us both in that regard. So we approached the writers with the kiss idea, and they loved it. I honestly expected they’d have it stop at a kiss then make it this awkward will-they-won’t-they for a few episodes or more, but they decided that didn’t really fit either character. The campfire scene became totally different, and they re-worked some subplot ideas to incorporate the new romance, which was more than we expected. Autumn: Mhmm. [nods enthusiastically] Even though it meant revising so much of what had been scripted, they jumped right in and ended up creating what felt like a more authentic, more dramatic story than just a friendly camping trip. It was pretty amazing. JH: And so you kept it low-key until… Jason: The selfie heard around the world. Yes. Autumn: Sooo, going back to your earlier question, about spoilers and changing things on-set. [grins wryly] Can real-life have spoilers? Is that a thing? JH: [laughs] In your case… Autumn: Right?! [laughs brightly] We’ve all got our talents, I suppose, even unconventional ones. In all seriousness, though, that selfie really was completely an accident. I mean, I didn’t take it accidentally, I just didn’t think anyone would be able to tell who was in the background. I woefully underestimated the curiosity and dedication of the show’s fans, I think, which is totally fair. If I saw a shadowy photo of what might be a really good-looking guy, with gorgeous green eyes, draped in a sheet, I might wonder who he was, too. Actually, hang on. I have seen a couple of photos like that. [grins impishly, nose crinkling slightly] There are definitely some advantages to having gotten everything out in the open, but dealing with the aftermath of that one post was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life. What would the studio, and the producers, and the cast, and my family, and everyone else think? Would I be out of a job? Would the viewers resent me, or him, or both of us? Jason and I had just really started dating kind of seriously not long before that, too, and I was really worried about how he’d react. He’s a much more private person than I am, and on top of that, it might have seriously affected his career. I mean, it’s easy to laugh now, but things could’ve gone totally sideways on a number of levels. JH: Were there any negative repercussions to the revelation? Autumn: Hmm. [frowns slightly, settling back into her chair again] On my end, I would say some, yeah, but nothing out of the ordinary. Mum was pretty hurt that I hadn’t said anything to her, and kind of jokingly annoyed that I hadn’t made a pass at Cade instead. She thinks he’s just adorable. [smiles faintly] She hasn’t had a chance to meet Jason yet, so, yeah… Back to your question though. Some fans were understandably pretty upset, because it’s easy, I think, to conflate the actor with the character in a show like WS, where we all use our own names and so much attention is devoted to authenticity. Realistically, though, even if it’s not how I’d have liked people to find out, it could’ve gone a lot worse. I’m happy with the way things have worked out so far. JH: And how about for you, Jason? Jason: Well, other than Autumn’s mom being disappointed I wasn’t Cade… [he grins] No, seriously, I didn’t mind overmuch once the surprise wore off. I’m happy in my work and I’m happy in my personal life, and my mom thinks Autumn is an absolute darling. Like Autumn said, there was some pushback from fans - but honestly, we’ve had a lot more positive feedback than negative, at least so far. I understand people are talking all the time on social media and there’s whole Readit threads debating how the Autumn/Jase relationship will pan out, with factions forming around their pet theories. And some buzz about how we’ll pan out, too. JH: There is indeed. How do you see it panning out? Jason: [smiling faintly] It’s not just up to me. Suffice to say that I am right where I want to be for the foreseeable future. Autumn: [rests her fingertips briefly on his forearm, the touch lingering for a moment as she smiles] JH: Aww. Okay then, on to some other questions since we’ve embarrassed the two of you enough. These ones from Chirper and Readit. Autumn: Ohboy… JH: The Ethical Drinker - interesting handle that - wants to know: “As a fine lass from a place like Aussieland, with several years experience, do you have a drink of choice? Same for the American lad, if he’s allowed to drink yet.” Sadly, I’m not even going to attempt the Scots accent the question was delivered in. I’d just embarrass myself and offend the Scottish. Autumn? What’s your favourite drink? Autumn: “Aussieland.” [swings her feet, laughing] Oh, that’s perfect! And, good question. Hmm. Actually, I’m not really sure I have one, to be honest. It depends what we’re doing, you know? And it’s different here than back home, the whole culture around drinking is just- it’s kind of confusing. Like, Christmas is gonna be weird as because obviously it’s cold and no one’s gonna be sitting on the deck getting day drunk on white wine and soaking up the sun. So, hm. Maybe a vodka cran or something when the girls go out, or a glass of beer with dinner, but… Yeah. I wish I had a more specific answer, but I’m still finding things I like. [smiles and shrugs a little] Ask me again in a few years and I might be able to say, yes, one hundred percent a… I dunno, a Lagavulin 16 or something, but for now I’m not really that heavily invested in it. I like my liver. [smiles more broadly] What about you, Jase? Jason: “If he’s allowed to drink?” I’ve been legal for a couple of years. Well, at least I look youthful. [chuckles] It depends a lot on whether I’m working, and what the character would drink if anything. I think this is the first character I’ve played who actually drinks at all on-camera, come to think of it. Jase likes to sample tastes and smells, and by preference goes for a decent rum or good bourbon, something fragrant. As for me… hmm… similar, I suppose? I don’t drink a whole lot, but I like a nice beer with some meals, or a glass of good wine. And a good bourbon or scotch from time to time. Like the lady said - get back to me in a few years when I’ve had time to develop serious preferences. [smiles at Autumn, then the presenter] JH: Fair enough! Next question is for Autumn: FR33B1RD wants to know “What was the biggest adjustment, working in Montana, compared to Down Under?” Autumn: Oh, another good one. Well, this one’s easy. The biggest adjustment is that you’re all backwards. Or upside down. Or… both, possibly. [she squints a little, tilting her head, then breaks into a broad grin] Obviously the landscape’s massively different in the mountains of Montana than on the coast of West Oz, the climate’s different, and you’ve all got this weird accent, but I think the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make was something I mentioned earlier. The seasons are totally inverted, right? It’s kind of surreal to be talking about snow in November, and I won’t lie, it messes with my head a little. Like, I’ll ring the family back home, and we’re all making holiday plans, but those plans look completely different. That being said, there’s a lot of similarities, too. Small towns are more or less the same wherever you go, I think, and just like at home, there’s plenty of opportunity to get out and do things, enjoy the sunshine and the fresh air and challenge yourself. And while I’ll maintain that my hometown has the best, nicest people anywhere in the world, I’ve gotta admit Shelby’s giving them a run for their money. JH: I can imagine that would be disorienting, yes! How about another one? Let’s see… Oh! This one touches on something of a minor controversy about WS. CapnScarlet posted, "Are you a natural redhead? Asking for a friend." Autumn: I- [blinks, then laughs and grins at Jason] Not a word. Although you have been really talkative today, so maybe I shouldn’t discourage you...? Jason: [mimes zipping and locking his lips with a smile] Autumn: [shifts slightly in her chair, still smiling] Yeah, yeah I am. The hair and makeup folks do tweak it a bit, so it’s very slightly brighter and reads better on camera, but, yes. I am a natural redhead. It’s actually one of the things that got me jobs when I was a kid, doing ads for sunscreens and so on, since we soulless and freckly types do tend to be more sensitive to the burning light of the day-star. JH: That’s certainly been a hot topic on the Readit forums. There seems to be an… Well, let’s call it an unusually high number of redheads on the show. Do you know if that’s intentional? Autumn: You know, I think- [hesitates, glancing at Jason before sighing] Sorry, I’m not allowed to speculate in public anymore. I have the t-shirt. [grins apologetically] JH: Aha, that’s true! Well, let’s hope there will be an answer to that question in a future episode, then! Or not, as the case may be. Just one last question, then, and it’s… Well, maybe you’ll know what it means? Autumn: Ohboy. [chuckles] Let’s hear it, then. JH: A user called Jaunt asks, "When is Sir Popenloque going to get that 250 gold you owe him?" Autumn: When is…? Oh, my gosh. [laughs] All right, Devin Jauntsen, you are banned from Readit. [shakes her head, grinning] Wow. So, I think when you had Marissa on, Julia, she mentioned a Dungeons and Dragons game we played to learn some background for Sean’s campaign in the show. “Sir Popenloque'' is the name of Devin’s character in the game, and my character borrowed some money from him for totally legitimate, above-board reasons that had nothing at all to do with paying off gambling debts. Jason: And a huge bar tab. Autumn: ...And that. [grins at her co-star] JH: Speaking of Sean’s game, we haven’t seen much of it so far. Do you think it’ll make a reappearance, or have recent events and changes in casting made it obsolete? Autumn: [bounces in her seat, glancing briefly up at the lights overhead] Aaagghh, so that's- I wish I could tell you! I really do! There’s so, so much that- ugh, just… [rests her hands on her head] It’s gonna be amazing. Minds will be blown! Hearts will be broken! Secrets will be revealed! The whole cast and crew have fallen in love with this crazy ride we’re on, so keep watching, and keep conspiring and gossiping and speculating, because I promise, the writers and producers do pay attention, and we’re so grateful that our fans love this as much as we do. JH: I feel like we could just keep talking about this all day! I’ve said it before, but I’m a fan myself, so this has been absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately, as much as I would love to keep the two of you here, I think that’s all the time we have. Autumn, Jason, thank you so much for joining me today, and for giving me some of your time, and I hope you’ll come back to visit me again soon! Autumn: Absolutely! Thanks very much for having us, Julia. Jason: It’s been a pleasure. [The three continue to chat with varying degrees of animation as the outro music plays, and the shot fades to black.]
  16. "I told you hiking heels weren't a thing," she teased the somehow still-gorgeous brunette. "But, hey, you looked like a total badass anyway, so it's fine." After checking first on Sophia and Tawny, then on Jason and Cassie, Autumn roamed the hillside to look after the others who'd braved the nightmare alongside her, hints of a luminous sunset reflected in the clear blue depths of her eyes as she burned through the remainder of her energies; no one, it seemed, had emerged wholly unscathed. There were scrapes and bites and weirdly barbed suction scars and deep lacerations, the occasional serious puncture wound, and infections she couldn't even begin to name because the creatures and substances inflicting them didn't (or shouldn't) even exist in their world. She moved around to each of them in turn, purging toxins and staunching bleeding, doing what she could to boost their immune response and natural healing process and alleviate the worst of the pain, leaving the rest to time and actual medical treatment. It wasn't easy, wasn't as instinctual for her as she'd heard it was for Lona, but it kept her busy. Kept her moving. Kept her from slowing down long enough for all the fear and nausea and, and, and everything to catch up. Not yet. Not yet. Not yet. It was like a mantra she'd been repeating all day until it was embedded in her subconscious. She dug her phone out of her pocket and exhaled, pausing to glance up at the broad expanse of violet overhead and drawing in a lungful of what had to be the sweetest, cleanest air she'd ever breathed- and then she was moving again, not yet reflecting on what had been, or what might have been, pacing as she pressed the little green icon and held the slim smartphone to her ear. It rang exactly once. "Hey, Mom? Listen, I- Yeah. Yeah, I'm okay. Everybody's-" She nodded, the corners of her mouth turning up as if the woman on the other end of the line could see her. "Yeah. No, no, I know, it's- Mom, it's fine. I think the Jauntsens are coming to pick everyone up, if you wanna meet us at the Medical Center." As she pivoted, making another pass behind the assembled teens, her gaze skimmed over the others again, checking for anything she might've missed, anything else that might require attention, but apart from the oddness of Marissa's metabolism and lingering concern for Sophia, things seemed oddly... fine? Like, really, actually fine. "No, nothing serious. ... Mhmm. I mean... you made me promise, right?" Her voice wavered at that, as if something as insignificant as a promise could have had any effect on events, but- "You're right. I'll ask him." The smile widened as she glanced over at the tall, lean form of Jason Effing Bannon. "He did, yeah. Is, um... How's Jay? Did- Oh, okay. Good, good. Don't wake him up, it's cool. Listen, I'll... see you at home, then? ...Yeah. Love you, too, Mom. ...Bye." Soon, her body warned her with the faint acrid burn of bile in the back of her throat as she put her phone away, the telltale salt-stinging in her eyes. Yes, she conceded silently, and roved back across the fragrant grass to get the blanket Jase had offered for Sophia. But not yet.
  17. "Kat, I know it sucks, but I'm gonna need you to get up, now," Autumn called urgently over the din as she glanced over her shoulder at the petite powerhouse. She looked miserable, but not injured in any way the vitakinetic could readily define- not hurt, but hurting. It'd be fine. Probably. "C'mon," she urged again as the tiny French girl groaned and stirred. "We gotta go." Sophia, on the other hand, hadn't yet recovered, and wouldn't be walking out on her own. The curvy brunette's vital signs were more or less stable, and thank all the unnamed gods she actually looked human again thanks to Cassie's intervention, but none of that would matter in a few moments if they didn't get out of there now. The nightmarish masses were closing fast, and even if she couldn't see them, she could feel their wrongness, the mockery of life they represented- that this whole place represented. Despite the shimmering heat of the air all around, the grimy freckle-faced girl shivered. "Cassie, in the front pocket of my backpack there's a solar blanket folded up. Can you grab that for Tawny, please?" She needed to focus. Her companions needed her to focus. It was fine to be afraid. Totally fine. Completely normal. She just... had to keep going forward. As a trembling Autumn arranged Sophia's slack limbs on the ground, Cassandra nodded and rushed over, kneeling down to tug a rectangle of lightweight silver material free of the zippered compartment before darting over to meet Cade as he ascended the hill. At least some of the poor girl's modesty should be preserved, the redhead decided, even if the weirdly emotionless athlete didn't seem to mind, and it would help maintain her body heat until they could get somewhere safe. Not so for the girl before her, since she wasn't being carried like a catatonic bride over some horror-movie threshold. It'd be fine. Grimacing, the redhead set to work hoisting Sophia onto her shoulders. It had been a long time since she'd practiced a fireman's carry, and never in a situation where it actually mattered, never in a place where everything was burning or rotting or screaming or some godsfuckingawful combination of the three, and there was nothing graceful or elegant or smooth about it. She was limp, naked, and slippery with foulness, and although a lifetime of physical activity meant Autumn was theoretically capable of lifting her, it wasn't exactly easy. Autumn's hair was in her face, her heart in her throat, and her stomach somewhere just south of that but rising rapidly as the smell of the girl suddenly caught her full-force, mingling disgust with pity with the adrenaline that drove her heels firmly into the not-soil and the rest of her upward. With one arm hooked around Sophia's right thigh and grasping her right wrist, the blue-eyed teen stood there uncertainly for a moment, gingerly adjusting the unconscious girl's weight and testing her footing. "Sean!" she yelled, leaning forward cautiously as she pitched her voice to carry. "Jase! Let's go!"
  18. Jesus Fuck. There were four Devins, which- under ordinary circumstances- might've been good for a joke about providing real nightmare fuel, but in this place of death and pain and decay and- oh, look. Fire. -humor for the redhaired vitakinetic was in short supply. "Smash that damn thing." There wasn't much Autumn Keane and Devin Jauntsen could agree on, but on this point, at least, there was no argument. Turning from the massive column of flame roaring behind her, blanketing them all in its baleful heat and radiance, the redhead scrambled away from the teleporter and the unconscious Sophia toward the Throne. She sensed no life in the grotesque trophy that lay there, but somehow it did seem weirdly alive. Or sentient, at least. Or... something. It knew she was there, and as the hideous roots beyond tore free of the bones and foulness that had hidden them, that realization tightened the cold knot of fear in her belly. She gripped the crow bar and drew her arm back, but Cassie's sharp cry gave her a moment's pause, wavering at the threshold of violence. "Autumn, wait! We can't just smash it now! I see..." She paused, looking bewildered at the image her power had brought up. She stepped closer and lowered her voice. "A plow...it was broken, then rebuilt. But..." Still looking uncertain, Cassandra looked at Autumn. "There's something in that skull now that's protecting it...but it's still a skull. Can you affect it with your powers? We can't break it, but it used to be alive. Change it. Pull it apart if you can...like only you can." For a moment, the redhead stood poised there, the heavy pry bar raised aloft. Despite Cassie's insistence, a part of her wanted to try anyway, to just hammer at the awful thing until it shattered into a million pieces, but the blonde's visions had been uncannily accurate so far. With a grunt of frustration as she dropped her arm, Autumn shook her head. "I can't. I mean, I don't know how. It might have been alive once, but it was so long ago it doesn't even register. Maybe if-" She blinked, the eyes that moments ago had been wide with terror now sharper, focusing on her friend's face. "The plow. Shit! That was Kat!... KAATTTT!" she screamed, straining to be heard over the chaos. "We need you here!" Grabbing Cassie's arm, she pulled her back from the Throne, back from the questing tendrils, back toward Devin and Sophia. The girl was barely clinging to life, and for a moment something in her railed bitterly at the unfairness of it, that Cody should find any kind of peace while Charlie was gone and poor Sophia might never- But, no. It didn't matter. He was dead and she was alive, and as long as she was alive she could get better, right? Right. Fuck. "I'll try to help her. Just... It might take me a little while, okay? Don't let me get eaten, guys." With a nervous smile at the other two teens, Autumn knelt down next to the catatonic brunette, shifting the straps of her pack a little and setting the pry bar aside before stripping off her gloves. Aside from being naked, suffering from exposure, severely dehydrated, and half-starved, Sophia was... The Girl Scout blinked and shook her head, tears springing to her red-rimmed eyes. She had been hurt, and that was all Autumn could bear to think about at the moment. Laying one hand on the girl's abdomen and the other on her forehead, she closed her eyes, felt the restless ocean of energy within that surged and coiled in streams of gold and red, and then loosed it, flooding Sophia with the sunlit scarlet of her will.
  19. Cassie had said not to ask questions when she told them to do something, to just do it even if it didn't make sense- although in this case it wasn't so much what the plucky blonde said that seemed crazy, but the fact that she screamed it right before running past the monstrosity that would probably eat their faces for attempting it. Although, all things considered, not actively thinking about anything right now might actually be a blessing. "Jesus fuck," Autumn shuddered and swore incredulously, her freckled features contorting in a grimace as she tore off after her friend through the rot and sludge of what once must have been living things- living things beyond comprehension, beyond imagining, but, still. Could anything even...? With a shiver, her hand tightening around the heavy pry bar, the redhead extended her awareness, a part of her mind instinctively seeking actual life in this place of primal terror and death. It only took a moment to catch up to Cassie, even with the gruesome "architecture" and gory obstacles that lay between them but instead of overtaking the young seer Autumn kept pace with her, heart thudding against the inside of her ribcage as she did her best to stay between the Boy Who Would Be Homecoming King and the girl who wanted to destroy his crown.
  20. In silence, Autumn had ridden in the great black beast beside her unexpected, inscrutable, impossible new boyfriend- a boy, who was also a friend, and also more than either of those things. She'd braided her hair, tied it down with the same bandana she'd worn before, and then... waited, backpack and crowbar between her knees in the floorboard of the Charger. She could feel his eyes on her profile from time to time as they headed into town, but he said nothing, and neither did she. There was nothing, really, to say. Instead, as she exhaled slowly, images of family and home flickering through her mind's eye, she felt the warm, sure grasp of slender fingers around her own, and that was enough. Things moved quickly once they arrived, almost too quickly to track as individual events, and suddenly they were inside, in the dark and creaking emptiness of the Old Town Hall. The air of the basement was much as she remembered it when she and Cassie had been down here a scant few days before, stale from disuse and foetid with the decaying bodies of small animals hanging from the ceiling like grisly trophies. The portal that had been torn open in the wall, though, pulsing like a wound where the awful charcoal (?) drawing had been... Autumn shuddered, glancing at the inquisitive blonde, the other half of Team Pluck. Was this what she'd seen? The small white sneaker, if it was still there in the corner- don't look, don't look, do NOT look Autumn, don't you fucking dare- merely suggested horror, and terrible as it was, it couldn't have compared to whatever the young seer had experienced. Not if it was anything like... like that. Swallowing her inherent revulsion, the redhead gave the pry bar in her hand a nervous practice swing, gloved fingers closed tight around its reassuring weight and solidity. She wasn't afraid. She was goddamn terrified. ...But the gaping portal beckoned, a festering lesion in reality that oozed malevolence, and through which several of their number had just stepped and left her no more time to think about consequences or consternation. "After you," she insisted, gamely attempting what felt like a smile as she glanced at Kat and Cassandra. "Can't go anywhere without our Eyes, right?"
  21. A number of responses sprang immediately to the forefront of Autumn's mind as she slid the elastic bands back onto her wrist, some more charitable than others: a somewhat skeptical observation that both the twins seemed determined to clear their consciences along with a grudging appreciation for the same, despite the timing; a (slightly) sarcastic expression of gratitude that Marissa was giving her permission to be happy, and a genuine one at the notion that one of America's Most Wicked would actually apologize, as well as some incoherent internal screaming at the pernicious princess's persistent inability to be sincere for ten whole seconds. "Marissa." The redhead's voice was uncharacteristically thoughtful as she tugged intently at the front of her long-sleeved shirt, lining up the buttons before beginning to fasten them. Maybe this really would be the last conversation they had, and while there were so, so many things Autumn wanted to say, none of them seemed necessary, or relevant, or helpful at all in this situation. "EmJay. We are friends. You said so yourself, and, honestly, it's not like you gave me much choice," she added with a wry, one-sided grin, her nose crinkling slightly as warm blue eyes fixed on the beautiful socialite's deep brown ones. "Besides. Apparently fighting is a thing friends do, so... Progress." She shrugged, the smile fading by degrees as her pale, bronze-flecked fingers combed through the tangled mess that was her hair after a very busy day. "It'll be fine. And the sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can figure out what happens next, yeah?" As Marissa nodded, forcing a smile, the red-haired teen reconsidered; even if a part of her grumped cynically that the apology was really too little, too late, it had obviously been difficult for Mari to even offer it in the first place. Maybe it was sincere, and maybe it wasn't, and maybe the glamorous girl herself couldn't tell the difference. Does that matter, though? Really? She was obviously having a hard time with a seriously fucked-up situation, and they were friends, and there were rules, sacred and inviolate. "Yeah," Autumn reaffirmed as she gave up trying to un-snarl the riot of copper curls that stubbornly refused to be tamed, reaching out instead to pull the dark-haired diva into a brief, fierce hug- abandoning one lost cause for another. "Speaking of what happens next," she called over Marissa's shoulder, leaning up a little to compensate for the brunette's ridiculous shoes, "who's driving?"
  22. “Hey.” Autumn leaned over a little, positioning herself in Devin’s field of vision. He seemed like a different person, with the knowledge of Tawny’s abduction hanging over his head- there were no snarky quips, no crass jokes, no obnoxiously flirty comments. It seemed like a bit of a mixed blessing, though, because while she didn’t have the urge to strangle him on sight, she also knew he had to be having a hard time. Had to. He was a jerk, but a human one, at least. “Listen, my family’s on their way back to the house. Would you take me to pick up my stuff real quick? I don’t, um, really wanna run into them and do the whole goodbye thing again, so…” She shrugged, a barely perceptible movement of her shoulders. “Yeah,” he said almost unconsciously, the response fast enough that she wondered if he even heard her. His mind was clearly on other things while the others were milling around and it was obvious at this point he was only looking for ways to keep his hands and his mind occupied. “Sure.” He motioned for her to step forward and she did so, assuming that he was going to hold her hand or put his arm around her, as it allegedly made the travel more stable and accurate (although anything would’ve been an improvement after the trip to the prison). As she moved closer to him he slid his arm around her waist and she felt a sudden, sharp blow to her gut, as though someone had wrapped a rope around her midsection and the other end to a truck that just sped off at light speed. It was awful, and she wondered if Devin felt that every time; he never seemed to be bothered by it. And then, just as suddenly, it was over, and they were in the foyer of the Keane family home. He let her go with no quips or jokes, not even a smile or eye contact. As she raced up the stairs to retrieve what she came for he followed after her slowly. “At least yours said ‘goodbye’.” His words caught up with her as Autumn all but slid into the bathroom at the top of the landing, and she paused as she let the warm water from the faucet soak a washcloth she’d pulled from the towel rack. Had his parents actually not cared? Or did they not know? Frowning, the grubby redhead grimaced at her reflection and swiped the grime from her face with one hand, rummaging in one of the cabinet drawers for hair ties with the other. She didn’t know much about the Jauntsen parents, except what the twins had mentioned, but considering the way Devin and Marissa had turned out… Ugh. She grabbed a couple of spare ponytail holders in case the other girls needed one, shut off the water, and ran back out. “One sec!” She held up a finger as she darted past him, through an open door to the right. “And no peeking!” “No peeking at what?” he asked, glancing around at the photos on the walls, the familial touches that differentiated a house from a home. “Is that your room? The Keane sanctum?” “Yes, it’s my room, and I’m changing,” Autumn called back, then, an on impulse added, “The sanctum’s in the basement.” Grabbing the clothes she’d worn on her adventure with Cassie from the chair, she was momentarily grateful for her own laziness in putting them away; sometimes not being a neat-freak had its advantages. They still smelled faintly of fabric softener, she realized, and the light, clean scent of whatever it was the Bannons used for detergent. She kicked off her sneakers, aiming in the general direction of the closet and, with a surreptitious glance at the door to make sure Devin wasn’t looking- because Devin- shucked her cut-off shorts and quickly yanked on the infinitely more practical trousers. “Boots, boots…” she muttered, scanning the floor. “Must be downstairs. Okay. Ummm.” Think, Autumn. “Right. Okay.” She pulled on the long-sleeved shirt over the one she was wearing without bothering to button it up and, after a moment’s consideration, grabbed her faded red hoodie from the back of the desk chair. For luck. “Backpack’s in the garage. So, um, did your parents really not say goodbye?” She was just fastening her belt as she walked back out to the landing in her sock feet, and glanced curiously at the unusually somber comedian. “Eh, dropped the powers thing on them, so they know now. Side of the chair,” he said, drawing her attention to where a pair of teenager-sized boots were. One looked like it might’ve been carried off by a dog judging by how it was further away from the other, which was just lying forlornly on its side. “Teleported in front of them, and my mom only saw dollar signs. Probably already on the phone with Hollywood trying to get us a movie deal. My dad, he didn’t believe it but he couldn’t deny it. More or less just…” he grumbled. “I don’t know. He seemed parenty, but after years of them sucking at it, I don’t even know what to think, you know?” He fell silent for a moment, then dismissed the thought. “I don’t know. My mind’s not right,” he shrugged. “Maybe I’m just taking it out on them, I guess.” “Maybe,” the redhead agreed, standing up from the sofa where she’d been sitting, and settling her heels into the weathered hiking boots with a quick stomp of her feet. “Or maybe they’re just kind of assholes and don’t know what to think, either. I mean, honestly,” she shrugged a little, knotting the arms of her hoodie around her waist. “You and your sister… Okay, how do I put this?” Jerking her head toward the kitchen, she motioned for him to follow her as she headed past the dog bowls, and then paused, chewing thoughtfully at her lower lip. The four of them were probably napping under the deck by now. “You haven’t exactly been great, you know? And, yeah, I know I’ve said this before, but if I’ve had to deal with you guys for the last three years, you can deal with me complaining for a while.” With a sigh, Autumn grabbed a container of treats from the counter and dropped two each in Lexi’s, Dakota’s, Briggs’s, and Zee’s food dishes. It’ll at least be something nice when they come back in, she decided, closing the lid and replacing the jar. “I guess what I mean is, you two still suck, but you suck less than you used to. And…” Tilting her head, she stared at the ceramic cookie jar, drumming her fingertips on the counter. “And you’ll probably suck a little less tomorrow. So, maybe your parents are the same? I dunno. Anyway, let me grab this stuff and we can go,” she added, heading toward the garage door. “I know we’re kinda in a hurry.” “Hey, wait,” she felt his hand tighten around her arm, stopping her. Devin was a joker, sure, but he was never really a handsy guy with his antics, he generally kept them to himself. When she turned to face him he met her eyes. “Real quick, look… um, I know I deserve it, and everything you said was spot on for the most part, I just want you to know Autumn, seriously… that I’m sorry. I’ve got a lot of work to do before I earn your trust and respect, I get that, but all jokes aside, I’m trying. I want to be your friend, I want to find some way to close that chapter on our past and maybe write some better ones, you know? With me being a better and more likable guy and you… I don’t know,” he chuckled. ”You’re pretty great, so I guess you just don’t have to do anything but be you.” He watched a faint pink flush spreading beneath the freckled skin of her cheeks as one eyebrow arched skeptically upward. “But,” he nodded, looking grimly serious. “If you can’t forgive, I understand. Please know though that until this craziness is done, whether you love me or hate me, care for me or are careless, miss me or think me invisible… I’ll be there for you. For all of you. I mean it. Don’t hesitate to call me.” He took a deep breath and tried to compose himself a bit. Perhaps he’d felt like he had said too much. He cleared his throat and motioned past her, signaling he wasn’t going to hold her up any more. “Considering what we’re about to do, I uh, didn’t want to die without you knowing how sorry I was. For everything.” Autumn’s wide blue eyes were serious as they studied Devin’s expression, and she was quiet for a moment, simultaneously waiting for the punchline and considering what he’d said. It didn’t seem like he was kidding, but this was also Devin, and he had a tendency to spring his signature brand of snark when you were least expecting it. When he let the words just hang there between them, awkwardly, instead of trying to twist them into a joke, she nodded. “Yeah. You’re right. You are trying. I’ll give you that much.” The corner of her mouth twitched upward slightly, a crooked half-grin on her freckled features. “I can’t promise I’m not gonna give you shit about it, though, or get pissed off, because even if I am pretty great, I’m not perfect yet. So.” With a decisive huff, she turned back toward the door and grabbed his arm, leading him through it along with her. “We take care of all this, survive the night, and go from there. Not a closed chapter, necessarily, but…” Releasing him as they entered the garage, the red-haired vitakinetic glanced back at the former bully over her shoulder and grabbed a sturdy-looking backpack from a shelving unit along with the crowbar that had lain next to it. “Maybe a new page, at least. Deal?” "Fair enough,” he said and then she saw it. That signature smirk of his that told her he was still in there, somewhere, under all the turbulent currents crashing against the rocks of his mind- and she was pretty sure there were actual rocks in his head. “C’mon, let’s get back, and um… thanks.” He slid his arm around her and this time he looked at her for a moment before they left. “You know, if you uh, take a deep breath before, it doesn’t jerk as much. It’s the vacuum pulling the breath from your lungs. It’s an instant, so it doesn’t get all of it. I don’t even notice it anymore.” She drew in a deep breath experimentally and felt the pull as reality shifted, but he was right: only a portion of that breath got drawn from her lungs and she hardly felt a thing this time. Before she could blink they were back with the others and he let her go wordlessly. As his arm slid away from her waist he just walked off, his eyes still empty and his head still full while his heart remained heavy. Watching him go with a pensive expression, Autumn let the pry bar slip through her fingers until it rested on the ground, braced against her thigh. A new page... Yeah. That could work. She slipped a handful of elastic bands from beneath the bracelet on her wrist and held them up. "If anybody needs a hair-tie, speak now or forever hold your peace."
  23. “Thanks,” she murmured, flashing a thin smile up at the lean youth whose kisses still burned on her lips; if any of that warmth lingered for him, however, he gave no outward sign of it, his pale eyes focused instead on the trees around them. Something had hit him, Jay had said. Something. Hands trembling, Autumn gingerly reached out to brush the leaf litter and bits of bark from her childhood friend’s forehead and tried not to think about what that particular word signified. Jacob’s handsome features were dark and sticky with his own blood, his expression distant as he struggled, disoriented, to make sense of where he was. “Hey. Hold still,” she chided him gently, turning his face back toward her as he tried in vain to make sense of the patterns of light and shadow moving around them. “I need to have a look at you, okay?” "Why is it I always get hit in the head when you guys are around?" The sudden intrusive echo of those words rang in her ears as clearly as if she were kneeling on blood-spattered commercial tile rather than dirt and dried leaves, and for a few seconds Autumn just stared down at her wounded friend, eyes fixed on the crimson smear darkening the soil beneath his head. Avian laughter mocked her, the muffled din of the birds’ raucous cries and far-off chattering overlaid with that of the students who’d gathered to watch two seniors destroy the school weirdo. This was Jay staring up at her, though, not the inscrutable Jason Bannon, and without the latter’s glacial composure the fear and confusion of the former were achingly easy to read. Autumn shook off the déjà vu with a shudder, tracing the shape of his brow bone with her fingertips; one side was swollen badly, already turning a deep, livid purple. Probably where he was hit? Hmm. Gingerly lifting the dark hair plastered against his scalp, she could only grimace at the ugly wound she found there as something twisted in her stomach. Even if it turned out to be superficial, it still looked… un-good. “Fuck,” she muttered aloud, disregarding for now the grit and blood smeared across his forehead and instead studying Jacob’s oddly mismatched pupils with a grimace- one little more than a pinprick, the other a deep black well in the warm hazel of his eyes. That, and his inability to focus, along with the gash on his head, ticked enough boxes that she didn’t really need supernatural powers to decide he had a concussion. But- Oh, fuck. Fuck, fuck fuck. Warmth and color alike drained from her cheeks as the restless tide of her Shine drifted through his prone form, describing vividly what her eyes alone couldn’t tell her: beyond the jagged edges of pain from the laceration on his head and the assortment of other cuts and contusions was a slow, insidious pulse that pressed outward against his skull, pooling and swelling and silently smothering the bright spark of his vitality like twilight swallowing the day. How long had he been lying there before they’d found him? What if they hadn’t come by? Shaken, the pale young woman swallowed hard. She wasn’t a doctor or surgeon or triage nurse by any stretch of the imagination, didn’t know the clinical terms for what she was seeing or how to even begin describing it to an actual medical professional if she had to… But she knew what it meant. Okay. Okay okay okay. Chill. Focus. You can’t help him if you’re freaking the fuck out, Autumn. Do not freak the fuck out. He’s not dying. You’ve done this before. You’re good. It’s good. It’s fine. Repeating those last words to herself like a silent mantra to stem the rising tide of panic that demanded she either cry or worse, Autumn exhaled slowly and deliberately and blinked back tears. Crying wouldn’t help. Yelling wouldn’t help. Helping would help. “Okay,” she managed after a moment, eyes still stinging. She could fix this. She could. Nothing was broken, at least, so it should be fine to move him, right? “Okay, fuck,” she began, nudging him gently back to wakefulness. “Listen. Jacob, I-“ Before she could get further, a pair of notifications chimed simultaneously from her phone and Jason’s, followed almost immediately by another. “Oh, god damn it, seriously?” she demanded of no one in particular, glancing briefly skyward. Of course they’d have to start talking again now. Well, whatever. It could wait. “Jay,” she tried again more urgently, hoping the use of the nickname would hold his wavering attention. “C’mon. I need you to sit up for me.” He groaned in protest and she scowled, lines of worry etched between her brows and around her lips. Heedless of the scarlet staining her hands, she raked her fingers back through the dishevelled curls that had escaped her haphazard braid. “Seriously. Work with me here. If I have to pick you up and give myself a… a hernia, or something-“ She left the rest of the threat unspoken. “Come on.” Grunting softly, the redhead took hold of his shoulders and leaned back, pressing her knees into the soft earth as she heaved. Jacob grunted in pain and, bracing one hand on the ground, helped push himself upward. “Oh, thank fuck.” Autumn allowed herself a sigh of relief as she settled back on her heels, tentatively plucking away some of the leaves that were all but glued to the side of his head. “Okay. Now look at me, all right?” Resting her palms on either side of his jaw, she gave him a shaky, apologetic smile and leaned closer. “This is gonna feel weird, and I’m sorry, and I know you’re tired, but I need you to concentrate. I want you to count my freckles for me, all the ones you can see on my face, okay?” “’s too many,” he mumbled drunkenly, the corners of his mouth curving upward slightly. “Don’ have all day.” “I didn’t say you had to count them all, smart ass,” she retorted, turning his chin back toward her as his attention wandered again, forcing him to meet her gaze. “Just count.” Not that long ago, being this close to Jacob Crocker would’ve had her heart racing for far more pleasurable reasons, but right now it was all anxiety rather than anticipation. It was the first time she’d really, consciously tried to use her powers on someone who didn’t possess any of their own, and there hadn’t exactly been a lot of opportunities to use her abilities even on those who did. She had to get this right; even if healing wasn’t her strength, there weren’t any other options. There was no resistance as she exhaled, reached out and into him with the red-gold current of her Shine; no answering flicker of invisible radiance as it flowed through her fingertips and rippled along nerve and bone. She could feel the same faint, soft glow that seemed to permeate everything living, but that was all, and for an instant Autumn wondered why she’d thought there might be more. Because he was more, maybe? At least to her. But even that thought was swept away in the rushing waves of energy weaving flesh to flesh, stitching together what had been severed so violently. The bleeding and swelling on his brain were the most critical, requiring not just the repair of damaged tissue but the dissolution and reabsorption of the blood itself, the reduction of inflammation, the reinforcement of bone- it was complicated and engrossing, her Shine guiding her intuitively through a process that would have taken hours of delicate surgery to manage elsewhere. She’d done this before. She could do this. She was doing this. “Autumn.” The sound of her name snapped her back to awareness of the world and she blinked dazedly at the interruption, her head jerking upward. Jason’s eyes narrowed as he circled around into his girlfriend’s field of view, the mouth she’d so often admired lately thinning into a faint frown as he read the message on his phone. There followed a moment’s silence then, an unnatural stillness in his manner that reminded her of something he’d said before about things disrupting his thought process. "It's Marissa,” he relayed tersely. Then, just as succinctly: “Charlie is dead." Glancing up from the screen he scanned the trees once more, then tapped out a quick, staccato reply as she stared up at him, sea-hued eyes uncomprehending. What? Autumn wanted to ask. What the actual fuck? But the question wouldn’t form on her lips. Dimly, she realized Jacob’s blood felt slightly cool on her hands, the weirdly metallic smell mingling with the scent of the earth beneath her. Someone she knew was dead. Someone she knew was missing. Someone she knew had almost died. "I've told everyone to meet at my dad's table. We should hurry." He paused, considering her for a moment, and then added, “I’ll let them know about Jacob and Tawny.” “No, not yet.” At his expression, Autumn swallowed and shook her tousled head, ignoring the piercing, glacial gaze that scrutinized her; a part of her recognized that the only reason it didn’t bother her was because she was probably already frozen, numb to shock and horror as her brain went into preservation mode. “It won’t help, and there’s no point making people panic any more than they probably will be already. I’m taking care of Jacob and Tawny is Devin’s friend. If you put this in the group chat, he’ll go running off half-cocked to do something stupid all on his own. Besides.” She hesitated, drawing in a slow, deep breath. Devin wasn’t exactly on her list of favorite people, but he deserved better than just a text. “This is important enough to tell him in person. I need to get Jay back over to Nathan, and we can talk about it when we get to your dad’s. All right?” “All right,” he replied neutrally, glancing once more at his phone and nodding slightly in confirmation before putting it away. And then with that singular focus that left everything else drifting somewhere on the periphery of existence, Jason dismissed the conversation as if it had never been and once more focused on the sights and sounds of the forest around them. "Mother fucker," Autumn swore a few moments later as the clear, cheerful sound of an acoustic guitar rang through the clearing from her back pocket. "Little busy right now," she muttered. Her fingers were dark with blood as she tried to concentrate on closing the remainder of her friend’s wounds, but the song persisted, and then began to repeat. "Son of a- uggghhh, god fucking damn it," she growled, glancing up at the silent figure nearby. "Hey, can you-" Exhaling, the frustrated redhead closed her eyes for a moment, counting slowly to four as she did so. Not his fault, don’t take it out on him. Jesus, this day is fucked, though. "Sorry,” she tried again, less intensely this time. “Would you mind answering that for me? I've kind of got my hands full." "Sure." Jason had been hanging back, staying out of the way and letting Autumn do her thing, but at her request he stepped forward and smoothly knelt beside her, his hand dipping into the pocket of her shorts like a cat's paw would scoop a fish from a stream, emerging with the still-ringing phone. Staying next to Autumn and the softly-groaning Jacob, he keyed the touch-screen answer button with his thumb, his tone calm as still lakewater as he took the call. "Autumn's phone." "Autumn-" Dana's worried voice broke off suddenly, the presumptive greeting dying away as the pretty vet on the other end of the connection processed the fact that it was not her daughter who'd answered. "No, who is-?" The pause was much shorter this time, and the relief almost audible. "Jason. Thank God. Is Autumn with you?" "She's here, Dana." If there was a warming to the tone, it was barely perceptible as Jase caught the sideways glance Autumn gave him at the mention of her mom's name. His head tilted, analysing the relief in Dana's voice. She had been expecting something... bad news? "She's fine, but helping someone with something. What's up?” The response was hushed as she lowered her voice, the animated conversation in the background fading by degrees as it was replaced by the soft sound of grass and pine needles underfoot. "The sheriff just came by while Ian was over talking to some of the other local 'boys' club' members. Lucius Cole's son, Charlie, was-" She took a slow, shuddering breath, and when she continued there was an audible note of fear underscoring the carefully chosen words. "They found his body, Jason. You guys go to- went to school with him, right?” He answered after only a momentary hesitation, his eyes glancing sideways at Autumn as he spoke calmly. "Yes. Charlie was one of us, Dana." he said with a faint emphasis on the 'us'. "We got the word a few minutes ago." "News travels fast in a small town," the older redhead muttered on the other end of the line. "Right. Well, before my husband sends out a search party, tell her I said to get back here. They're talking about shutting everything down early, so-" The sound of another, muffled conversation cut into the end of her sentence, as though Dana had suddenly pressed her hand over the phone, but even if the words themselves were indistinct, the tense, angry tone of the other speaker was not. "Sorry, Jason. Or Jase, rather," she amended. "Listen, Autumn said you guys have some kind of plan tonight. And I won't lie, it's taking everything I have to even consider going along with this. But now...” Another pause, another uncertain breath. “Just, when she's done with whatever it is she's doing, I need her over here. Please." "I understand. One moment." Jason looked at Autumn. "News about Charlie is going public. Your mother needs you back over there ASAP. Got a message?" he inquired tersely. "Um." She blinked up at him, surprised at both the question and the sharp manner of its asking, then at the canopy of sun-gilded green that framed his impassive features. It was such a jarring contrast from before, but... That was before. "Yeah, uh, tell her Jay's with us and we'll head over as soon as we can." She paused, glancing down at Jacob, and then sighed, rubbing idly at her forehead with the back of her hand. If she never had to do this again it would still be too soon. "And to go ahead and start packing up." He nodded, straightening up to stand as he spoke again into the phone, his eyes resuming their scan of their surroundings. "Jacob is with us, and we'll be there as soon as we can. Autumn says to begin packing up." he told his girlfriend's mother, then after a moment added. "I second that. The sooner the better, Dana." he advised in much the same tone as one would use to warn of incoming rain. "We'll be there soon." "All right," the elder Keane woman sighed wearily. "Thanks, Jase. I'll let the boys know." There was a soft chirp, and the call ended. He tucked Autumn's phone into his pocket for now and glanced down at her. "How is he doing?" he asked, pale eyes intent for a moment on the blood-matted hair of Jacob's scalp. "Want some help moving him?" "Mmmm," she nodded, meeting his gaze for a moment before returning her attention to her childhood friend, frowning thoughtfully as she checked his pupils again. "Please. He's heavier than he looks. I think I was able to deal with the worst of it, at least the bleeding and the swelling on his brain, but he'll probably hate life until at least tomorrow morning." She paused, glancing back up at her inscrutable, impenetrable boyfriend with a curious, searching expression as her eyes roamed his face. "Hey. Are you okay?" It was a ridiculous question, she knew, even as she asked, but something in the brusqueness of his manner demanded it. "Not really. Things are not as I would have them be." He moved to crouch beside Jacob, slinging one of the larger boy's muscular arms around his shoulders and one of his own arms going around Jay's waist. He cast another glance at Autumn, frost melting somewhat in the glacial jade of his eyes as they met hers. He smiled, very slightly. "But I am functioning. I cannot really do otherwise." With that Bannon stood, easily supporting the athlete despite his own comparatively slender stature as though their positions had been reversed. "Easy now." he told Jacob. "One foot in front of the other." "Oh, good, because if you'd said 'yes' I'd probably have lost it," the freckled young redhead replied with something that could almost pass for a smile in dim lighting. Almost. After all, if even Jason Bannon could admit to being less than sanguine, things really were totally fucked, she realized. With the immediate crisis before her over, and Jacob tentatively vertical, there was nothing now to distract Autumn from- well, everything, and the bloodless coils of nausea and horror in her belly looped around themselves once more. Charlie Cole was dead, Jay had been attacked, and Tawny had been taken by... Something. An icy frisson prickled the back of her neck as she remembered the choice of words: not someone, but something. And she could still be- Fuck. Oh my god, Autumn, you’re such a dumbass. "Shit." Teeth catching at her lower lip as she patted her pockets agitatedly, Autumn groaned in despair and self-contempt. "I didn't even think- Tawny. I thought we should tell Devin in person after we saw my parents and got Jay back, but I'm an idiot. Jesus, fuck. He could just meet us." A slight movement caught her eye as her phone floated - mercifully behind the semi-conscious Jacob - to her hand as Jase began to walk with the other boy. "Agreed. Here." the Effing Boyfriend said, his eyes back to scanning the path ahead. "Text him as we move." Jacob was conscious enough to walk with aid, now, though from the occasional faint grunt it was plain his head was suffering. "Tired..." he mumbled again, dimly wondering why he felt so light on his feet when they felt so loosely attached right now. He was faintly aware that his head was spinning and his balance was off-kilter, but he wasn't stumbling. "You've a concussion." Jason said quietly, eyes still moving. "Stay awake, stay focused. Just concentrate on walking right now." For a brief moment as she watched him leading Jacob toward the treeline, Autumn considered asking Jase whether he was agreeing that she was, in fact, an idiot, or that Devin should meet up with them, or both. Probably both. Still swearing softly to herself, she opened up the contact list on her phone and tapped the teleporter’s name, half-consciously trailing along behind them under a shifting veil of shadow and light. -----Monday, 09/02/2019; 17:25----- <<<To: Devin>>> [From: Autumn] Gotta take care of smth before we get there, but need to talk to you. Meet us here?
  24. Just say it, her brain urged as Ian excused himself, the game on hold while he greeted Lucius Cole and some of the city council members that had been the subject of boring adult conversation earlier. Frowning, she tapped her cards against the table, condensing them into one neat stack that concealed their faces from casual perusal. It was literally that simple. She just had to say the words- uncomplicated, normal English words- and her family would be in on the big secret. Well, she considered, at least they’d be in on part of the big secret. The important part they needed to know in order to, hopefully, stay safe, and at least sort of informed. All the stuff about aliens and government conspiracies and shadowy extrajudicial prisons could wait, probably. But being simple didn't make something easy, did it? If she told them the truth, there was the definite possibility- no, the definite likelihood they'd freak out. Her mom, maybe not so much, since she'd at least grown up with some of the stories even if she didn't believe them. Plus, there was the conversation from last night, and the letters, and the talisman… Those might help, a little. Her dad, though? Ugh. He'd probably want a psych eval or a drug test, or both. And, honestly, she had to admit that none of that was irrational. Accepting the undeniable nightmarish realness of the Weird didn't make it any easier to deal with, even after being shoved into the water at the deep end with the expectation that she'd either learn to swim pretty fucking quick, or drown. If she didn't tell them, though, and something happened... An icy frisson, completely at odds with the warmth of the late summer afternoon, prickled the baby-fine curls at the nape of Autumn's neck as she remembered the tiny, forlorn shoe forgotten in the corner of a dark basement. No. Not an option, she decided, laying her cards on the table quietly. She couldn't- wouldn't do that to them. "Hey, mom?" Just fucking say it, Autumn. She swallowed, taking a sip of watered-down lemonade to moisten a throat that had gone suddenly dry. Dana glanced at her daughter quizzically, her hazel eyes still bright with laughter at something Nathan had said- something Autumn had missed completely in agonizing over telling her parents what no parents would ever want or expect to hear from their child. Just. Fucking. – She inhaled. "Grandpa wasn't crazy. There is an- an evil, in Shelly, a Darkness. An, um." She hesitated as the avuncular warden tipped back his bottle in a long, deliberate swig, his attention fully on the girl he’d helped raise. "An Enemy, he called it. And tonight we're going to try to stop it, and I wanted to tell you in case..." Her voice trailed off in something like a hiccup, choked by a rising wave of emotion that flooded her sea-colored eyes like an incoming tide. Pale, bronze-flecked fingers twined together in a Gordian knot of anxiety. Good. You’ve got this. Keep going. Breathe. Drawing in a slow, quavering breath, she tried again, this time meeting her mother's gaze with some trepidation. "In case I, um. Didn't come home." Her mom looked at her for a long moment, seconds ticking by like hours as both Keane ladies looked at one another, each wrestling with the paralysis that came from fear - not for oneself but for another. Not too far away, Autumn's dad was laughing and chatting with Lucius Cole and a couple of the town Aldermen. The sun was shining, the music of the Carousel coming as though from a greater distance to the little island of stillness that marked the Keane picnic table. A stillness that was broken by the sound of a bottle softly being set down. Both women looked at the bottle, and at the hand that still loosely gripped it, as anchor points for their whirling thoughts as Nathan watched Dana carefully. The slim older redhead took a slow, deliberate breath, only the faintest quavering betraying her inner turmoil as she looked back at her daughter. "So." she nodded slowly, her tone almost deliberately clinical. Her 'trying not to freak out' voice - which was better than her 'you're in so much trouble young lady' voice, at least. "By 'we' you mean-?" "Some friends... and people we know." Autumn hesitated, then "It has to be us, Mom. It's kind of a whole thing-" "You know about this?" Dana looked sharply at Nathan, who shrugged and nodded his head slowly. “Some. I knew Autumn was special. I knew there was an evil here - big 'E' evil. I knew she wasn't alone - she didn't name names when I talked to her about it, either." The man who was as her uncle looked at her sternly. "I didn't know they'd be rushing off on Labor Day to go and fight it, though." "Right." There was a whole discussion yet to be had contained within that word, but Dana forced herself to focus on the immediate, important matter at hand as she looked back at her daughter, noting the way Autumn wasn't shifting her gaze away, noting that though she was plainly scared and worried, she wasn't panicking. "You know, I tried to get Jase to tell me what was up with you, what was going on." Dana's lips quirked wryly. "It was like trying to squeeze a stone for water. So - why does it have to be you and 'some friends', Autumn? Why not the sheriff, or the state troopers, or hell, even the National Guard? If this Dark Enemy is real and you can prove it, why not just get a bunch of men with guns to deal with it?" "So..." Autumn hedged uncomfortably, shifting the plastic cup a little to reveal a damp crescent of condensation beneath. "I mean, saying 'it's complicated' is kind of an understatement. We didn't really pick Labor Day in advance, or anything, but going up to the rez, and some of the things that have happened lately... It kind of changed our minds a little." As she spoke, the restless teen half-consciously fidgeted with her drink, nudging it now and again to add to the vague flower shape she was creating in delicate lines of pooling water. "It seemed like a good idea to just, you know.” Her shoulders twitched upward in a half-hearted shrug. “Get it over with before things get worse. And honestly, if getting a bunch of dudes with guns was an option, the people who get to make those decisions would've already done it." She paused for a moment at that, recalling the situation at the hospital, and exhaled. Maybe? Hopefully? But Site B and Crossroads existed right alongside whatever this Aeon Society was, and Branch Nine, as well. They'd seemed capable of dealing, mostly, with the things that had crossed over, or through, or whatever, but that was a totally different thing from actually crossing the threshold of the Door that Cass had described. "Or at least I hope they would've." With a quiet huff, the energetic young woman swung her legs over the bench seat of the picnic table and got to her feet, fingertips already drumming against her thighs as she moved. "The problem is that it's not here for them to go after it. It's like-" Exhaling, Autumn took a few more steps, slowly pacing the length of the table. "Okay, I could be totally wrong about this, because a lot of the whole subquantum theory thing is over my head, but, the way I picture it, it's like you're in a house. And you know there are people in the room next to you, but there's a wall there. You can't see them, can't touch them, or vice-versa, but they're there. There is a Door, though, and sometimes it's open, and someone on the other side can get through, or you could go over to the other side of the wall." She paused, gauging the effect of her words. The men with guns can't get through the Door, but we can." Probably. "We think." "You think." Dana echoed. "Okay. I'm following you down the rabbit hole here because the alternative is to drag you to the medical center and demand a CAT scan." Nathan stirred as though he were about to say something and Dana lifted a hand. "No. Nothing about whether it's true or not right now. Let's just be happy I'm suspending disbelief, okay?" She fixed Autumn with a penetrating stare. "And once you open this door - what then? What's on the other side? Something bad, right? What are you and your friends going to do about that, Autumn Rae? What is my little girl going to do about this Dark Enemy she's talking about? You're not soldiers. You're not cops. Why you, is what I'm asking." Her reply was almost immediate, requiring no serious consideration or agonizing because she'd asked herself this same question more than once over the past week. Why me? Why any of us? The answer was simple, and for a moment there was no element of pleading or hesitation in Autumn's voice, just the quiet certainty of someone who, peering out a window, was commenting on the weather. "Because there isn't anybody else." Her words hung in the air for a long moment, faint trills of birdsong and distant laughter brushing against, but not quite breaking the uncomfortable silence as she swallowed again, hard, and regarded her mother with as much conviction as she could muster. "We're it, Mom. Some of us can do things that, honestly, I don't have any explanation for. It's-" She sighed, a short, sharp exhalation, and braced her hands atop her head, fingers lacing together amid the coppery strands that had been teased free of the imprisoning braid by the wind. "The Blackfeet call it the 'Dawning Light.' Some of us call it 'Shine,' because that's what it does, what it is, like a verb and a noun at the same time. I've gone through a couple of Grandpa's journals." Nodding at Nathan briefly, a tacit acknowledgement that he'd been right about what she'd find in the study, she continued. "And talked to Laughing Joe up at the reservation. There are lots of stories about the fact that people like us, who can do what we can do, would show up one day and... I guess, clear away the Darkness that's been growing here, cut out the tumor and let things heal. I'm not trying to sound dramatic, or anything, but we really are it." "Okay... Okay." Her mom was really trying, Autumn realised as she watched the veterinarian's slender fingers fidget with the cards in her hand. Really trying not to freak the hell out. Really trying not to stand up and demand to know what the damn hell was going on. Really trying not to ground Autumn for life for either telling her the greatest cruellest whopper in family history or to try and protect her daughter from the chance of death she'd felt was enough to warrant warning her mom over. Dana took a deep breath, closing her eyes and stilling the restless motion of her hands. "You, and 'some others', have powers. That's what you're saying. Weird mojo, God forgive me for even entertaining the thought." She opened her hazel eyes and regarded Autumn intensely. "I've got a pretty good guess who all you mean when you say 'we', 'some friends', and 'people we know', you know. It's not hard to put together." "Yeah, but it's also not all my secret to tell." Autumn admitted. "What you suspect isn't the same as me blabbing other people's business." "What's to stop me grounding you?" Dana asked bluntly. "Just locking you away in your room for the night? Jesus wept, Autumn, assuming I believe every particular of what you just told me, why should I let you go into that sort of danger?!" "She told you." Nathan interjected, calm, quiet, but with a certain element of forcefulness. "It's her and her friends, or nothing. Assuming she didn't just escape anyway, you'd be making things worse for the ones going. Dana, listen to me." He leaned forward slightly. "You recall that mess at the Marias Medical Center on Tuesday? Biological containment leak, it was called. And those fellas claiming to be from the CDC sure wrapped everything up neatly. But that doesn't gel up with some reports from people who saw strange things that day. I've been talking to folks. Monsters, and ice forming from nowhere, and people appearing and disappearing. And a couple of the sheriff's boys who I know say they can't rightly remember what happened that day. But Autumn here, and 'some other' kids, were right in the middle of it." There was a long, pregnant pause as Dana looked at Nathan, considering his words, then at Autumn. "Fine." she said at length. "But... if you come back - and you had better come back, Autumn Rae Keane-" The dreaded full name was invoked like a binding, a maternal geas. "-We're going to have a talk. I want to know everything. Beg, get permission from others to discuss it, whatever you need to do. Everything. That's my condition for not boarding you up in your room. Take it or leave it." "When I come back," Autumn repeated, nodding solemnly. She had a vague idea how much trust was being banked in that demand, what it meant for her mother to even consider taking her seriously at all; pointing out that if she really wanted to get out of being grounded, she would, didn't seem necessary. "And, Dad, too. He'll need to know, if he's staying." Frowning a little, tiny creases like arrows appearing between her brows, the red-haired teen reconsidered. "Maybe even if he isn't. But I also need you guys to do something for me. A couple of somethings. Just, I guess for my own peace of mind. Mom," she continued, most of the earlier nervousness gone as her hands slipped from the crown of her head back to her sides. It was a strange feeling, actually having the conversation she'd been dreading, the one that had gone a dozen different ways in her head. It started as all tension and nerves and feeling like she couldn't breathe, and then... Then it wasn't much of anything at all. Just plans being made, as if there was nothing extraordinary about the whole completely unbelievable situation. Huh. "You, and Dad, and, if they want, Uncle Nathan and Jay, need to stay at the house tonight. It doesn't matter what the excuse is. Just, once I leave," she added, her sea-colored eyes uncharacteristically grave as they studied the familiar perfection of her mother's features, "don't go out for anything. Unless the Crockers have a talisman, too, home is the safest place from the Dark, or as safe as any place can be. If the stories are true, it shouldn't be able to affect any of you there." "And on that note." The restive teen paced a few steps back the way she'd come, putting some real and metaphorical distance between herself and her audience. She could feel the softness of the earth beneath her heels, beneath the thin rubber soles of her well-worn sneakers, as she turned her attention to the warden. "Nathan. Thanks. For telling me about the journals, and the trip to the rez. For carrying around something that shouldn't have been your problem. You said you guys would support me, as the 'Kavanagh in the hot seat,' and maybe later on that'll mean something different than it does today, but just know I appreciate it." Cutting her eyes briefly in Dana's direction, Autumn took a deep breath. "If I'm not back by tomorrow morning,” she stated emphatically, “if something happens and we get stuck over there, or it takes longer than we thought, I need you to go to the Old Town Hall, and I need you to burn it down.” It wasn’t a normal request, to be sure, but this wasn’t a normal conversation, either, and the earnest young woman’s expression was rigid with the knowledge of what she was asking. “This is important." There was a soft silence broken only by Dana's intake of breath, then Nathan nodded slowly. "So that's the place, huh?" he asked, eyes narrowing in his weather-tanned features. "Okay. I'll see it done. And don't worry none about Jake and me and your folks. We'll stay over, keep the light in the window for you and your friends." "Yeah. Whatever happens, don't go exploring in the Town Hall with some half-assed idea of looking for us." Autumn fidgeted, trying not to let a tremor enter her voice as she thought of those she loved roaming that Dark place. "Just... burn it down." "And once you've beaten the Enemy, then what?" Dana asked softly, hope in her eyes. "Normal life resumes?" Autumn hesitated then, pondering the whole 'alien conspiracy', the secret organisations, the mysterious Site B, Jase being an actual alien rather than just acting like one... Was there such a thing as “normal life," anymore? She wasn't sure- which seemed especially strange when, not that long ago, she'd been completely certain that the answer was "yes." Now, though, even if she couldn't penetrate the full depths of the mystery she'd been caught up in (and, if she was totally honest with herself, wasn't sure she really wanted to just yet), there was no denying that it had been a comfortable lie. A veneer of normalcy painted over something deeper, and much darker and stranger, than she could ever have imagined. But... it wasn't all bad, was it? The feeling of Marissa Jauntsen, of all people, hugging her like an actual human person for just a few moments, sharing genuine feeling in the wake of a near-tragedy. The flames of the setting sun illuminating laughter in pale green eyes as she soared over Shelly in the arms of someone she really, really liked. The sensation of enormity, of connection and unfathomable hugeness, of knowing what it really meant to actually touch someone. The vague memory of a spiral, a circle, a twisting ring woven from life and death and everything in between, a pattern observed simultaneously as the weaver and as a single skein amid the tapestry's warp and weft. And her family, the people she loved, were a part of that, too- part of whatever was happening, even if they didn't see it, and even if she didn't have the words to explain it. "I think," she began slowly, carefully, "that's the hope. Or, at least as close to normal life as we can get. Just..." Autumn sighed, raking a hand back through the haphazard plait that seemed determined to unweave itself before the end of the day. "Things are already changing, and even if we go in there and save the day and all of that, and even if nothing else happens afterward, 'normal' is probably going to look different than it does right now, because we'll know more. We'll see the world differently, I guess. Does that make sense?" "It does." Not for the first time this week, Dana found herself looking at her daughter not as a little girl, or even a teenager, but as a young woman who was growing up and out, often in unpredictable ways, but undoubtedly as her own person. Was the terrible secret and mysterious powers she'd talked about responsible? Was it her new circle of friends, from the impenetrable boy she seemed head over heels for, to the perky Cassandra and the admittedly-not-as-bad-as-feared Devin Jauntsen? Was it just... growing up? All of the above, perhaps, she decided as she got up from the table and circled round it, beckoning her girl to her and giving her a fierce hug. "You've grown. Right under my nose. And here I thought I was ready for it." she murmured, squeezing her eyes shut as she tried not to cry. Taking a breath, she straightened up and moved them to sit together. "So... " she began, looking for a way to broach the topic. "What do you do? I mean, your special powers thing. What is it?" "My 'special powers thing'?" Autumn repeated, surprise and laughter registering in the sudden flash of a smile and the crinkling of her nose. Pressed close against her mother's side as they sat down again at the table, she could feel the tension in the slender vet's body echoed in her own. She's trying, the girl reminded herself as she took the older woman's hand, squeezing it softly in a gesture that was both comfort and comfort-seeking, simultaneously a response to the unasked-for reassurance that she was still Dana's little girl, and a tactile inquiry whether the reverse was still true. Even without the benefit of her Shine, the younger redhead could feel the faint rhythm of her mother's pulse through the light golden-ivory skin, the almost imperceptible twitch of the muscle at the base of her thumb. With it, there was so much more, information she could interpret intuitively but didn't yet understand well enough academically to really explain. "I'm not sure what to call it." She mulled it over for a moment, musing on both Jason and Devin's comments, considering once more how it all felt, how intrinsically her abilites seemed to be linked to emotion- to passion, Jase had said, like two sides of a coin. That it should be used as an extension of her will, and not feared. “It's just sort of... life, I guess. I can see it, feel it." Frowning thoughtfully, Autumn shifted a little in her seat, angling toward her mother rather than curling up against her like the child a part of her still wanted to be. "Change it, in some ways, I think. Heal living things. Improve them." Her voice dropped a little, and she glanced furtively in the direction her father had gone, checking he was still occupied. "Or... The, um, opposite. There's a lot I still don't know, but the more I do with it, it seems like the more I'm able to do. I can show you...? If you want," she added quickly. "I don't want to, y'know, freak you out or anything, but if it'll help..." Autumn's voice trailed off, eyes wide and expectant as she glanced from one grown-up to the other. "Maybe it would help, at that." Dana sighed after a moment’s consideration. "There's so much I'm taking on faith, and then there's your grandfather and his stories..." her voice trailed off, and Autumn could only imagine the lingering guilt her mom felt at not believing her father when he'd needed her to. The slim auburn-haired woman smiled at Autumn, a sad smile tinged with hope, and nodded. "Show me something, then?" She paused, flashing her daughter a wider smile. "Something non-gross, if you can." she added, throwing a wink at Nathan who was leaning closer, his own expression betraying an underlying excitement. After all the years and all the stories, the Warden was more than ready to see something wondrous, or so it seemed. “Non-gross” cut out a lot of the most obvious options, but also the ones that might- on reflection- have been just a little bit on the traumatic side. She was reminded, suddenly, of Charlie's physical transformations, and narrowly suppressed a shiver. They were, if she was being generous, impressive, but... Yeah, no. The whole point is to reassure them, not make this worse. Nothing crazy, Autumn. No, like... slicing your fucking hand open and then healing yourself, or whatever. Her abilities weren't, she thought, as visually disturbing as his- or as obvious as, say, Devin's or Kat's- but even if her mom was used to the sight of blood, that didn't mean she liked it. So, okay. That left her with the subtle approach. "Right. Non-gross." Nodding absently, Autumn got to her feet, Dana's fingers slipping from her grasp as she moved to the end of the table. "So, just to warn you, I haven't actually practiced this yet. Jas-" Fuck! "-someone," she continued in a rush, a bloom of crimson staining her cheeks as Dana's eyes rolled heavenward. "Suggested it yesterday, and it seemed like a good idea. So." Kneeling on the grass between the two adults, the red-haired vitakinetic gave herself a solid mental kick, swearing softly under her breath. Even if some things were probably super-obvious, and even if this was her mom and Nathan, both of whom were people she trusted, it wasn't like they'd all talked about who to tell, or not. In fact, she reflected guiltily as she reached up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear, as a group they hadn't really agreed on much of anything at all, so far. Exhaling slowly as her mother and her "uncle" craned their heads curiously to watch, she ran her fingers lightly over the broken blades of grass, her vision shifting until the carpet of fading green differentiated itself into countless individual clusters of leaves, their entwined roots spreading out in a seemingly-infinite net just beneath the surface of the soil. The sounds of the afternoon grew dim, distant in Autumn's ears, and the breeze that lifted the hair from her brow was cool, but the sun on her face, her bare arms and legs, was warm, a suffusion of light and heat that sank into her skin and bones as the grass tickled her fingertips. It was only crushed, she knew, not dead, and though there was no pain, no real sense of injury, the plant's primitive repair system was... aware? Hmm. Yeah. That seemed like the right word. Aware, in some way, of the damage that had been done. It would have to be in order to function, she supposed, simultaneously curious about how that worked, exactly, and intrigued by the prospect of more focused exploration later. Setting that aside for the moment, she drew in another deep breath and reached out, feeling her Shine trace the ragged edges of the slender green leaves that had been trampled underfoot. The energy she felt was smaller, quieter than she'd sensed in flesh-and-blood beings, but no less vigorous or tenacious for all that. Without the distraction of perceived hurts or shared sensation, healing the "wounds" of that single plant was almost shockingly easy, and as her fingers stroked the torn blades of grass meditatively, they slowly straightened, brightening at the infusion of vitality in her touch until one small cluster of green was vibrant as midsummer. "Well, I'll be..." Nathan Crocker's oath trailed off as he watched the small miracle unfold. Dana just stared, eyes widening as the import of what she was seeing hit home, then she seemed to recover a little, looking at her daughter with fresh eyes. "And it works in reverse, too?" she stated rather than asked. As Autumn nodded a trifle uncomfortably, Dana reached out and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "The boy whose leg you broke in that fight?" Autumn nodded again, slowly. "That was sort of an accident." she admitted, remembering the fight, the heady red taste of her power as it had lashed out. "I mean, I wanted to hurt him - not too bad, just enough to stop him, to defend myself and Jason," she added hastily. "But I wasn't really thinking about how I was doing it. My... Shine just filled in the blanks. I kicked him, and it made the kick... worse, I guess." "Hmm." Dana's expression was thoughtful as she helped Autumn back up to sit next to her. "Normally my next question would be: 'Why couldn't Jase use his own Shine to defend himself?' - but we're pretending I don't know he's one of the other teenagers you're talking about, and like you said, it’s not your secret to tell. Yet." she added significantly, then looked at the verdant, lush patch of grass Autumn had coaxed into renewed life. "That's... well, that's pretty damn amazing." she said quietly, a tinge of awe entering her voice. "I wish..." Her voice trailed off then, and she simply hugged Autumn tightly with one arm. Autumn didn't need to ask what her mother's unspoken wish was. Of course Owen Kavanagh would have gotten a kick out of seeing this. And, of course, in one of the worst possible ironies, the same powers he'd have been thrilled to see with his own eyes could've told her something was wrong, could at least have made sure he got treatment if not actually saved his life directly, and of course they hadn't appeared until after he was gone. It wasn't the first time she'd thought about just how fucking unfair it was- but that's not what Dana meant, and Autumn knew it. And... Owen'd had a choice, hadn't he? As unfathomable as his decision seemed to the ones who loved him, he'd decided not to speak up. Not to sacrifice his stupid selfish pride. Not to pursue treatment. The feeling of grief was still there as she returned her mother's embrace, still rose up unbidden from some internal sea, but she was surprised at the fleeting nature of the emotion this time- it wasn’t a torrent or a violent upwelling, but a wave that rushed against the shore of her consciousness and then slowly, quietly withdrew. Maybe it had something to do with the ritual the night before, or maybe there was too much going on to really process any of it fully; either possibility seemed totally reasonable. After tonight, she promised herself silently, pressing her cheek against her mom's shoulder. After tonight, assuming there was an after, she was gonna go up into the treehouse and get so high she wouldn't need Jase to fly her anywhere. 9'12" high. Johnny Cash eating cake in a bush with his bare hands high. Elon Musk sending a Tesla into space high. Turn down the television because she couldn't taste the mac and cheese high. Absolutely fucking orbital. "Me, too." Focusing back on the present, Autumn glanced across the table at the warden. "Would've made a lot of this way easier. Nathan wouldn't have gotten stuck having to tell me, for starters." She smiled a little, the expression more apology than jest. "But the easy way wasn't how Grandpa did things, so I guess... The hard way, it is. It's just a whole lot.” She made a face, something like a grimace, but relented as something else occurred to her. “On the plus side, I don't have to deal with it completely by myself." "Right," Dana agreed, her brows knitting together as she glanced over her daughter's head toward the Carousel and the crowds there. "You have your friends, who I'm pretending for now not to know about." "For now." The younger redhead nodded, despite the urge to clarify that most of them weren’t actually friends at all. "But I'll get permission to tell you what I can, or have them tell you themselves." Her phone vibrated in her pocket, and, sighing at the thought of some other galaxy-brain-level comment in the group text she'd started earlier, Autumn fished it out and swiped at the screen. -----Monday, 09/02/2019; 16:44----- [From: Kat] Hey, I'm omw to get one of your armbands That was reassuring, at least. Two down, eight to go. "Speaking of which, I need to go take care of something." The freckled teen leaned up and gave her mom a quick peck on the cheek as she swung her legs over the bench and got to her feet. "Just headed over to the car for a few, shouldn't take long. If Dad comes back, Uncle Nathan can finish my hand for me." Her mother’s worried frown gave her pause for a moment. “I just need to give out armbands for the party. I’ll explain later. It’s.. a whole story, more Grandpa stuff, but I’ll tell you. Promise.” As Dana sighed and reluctantly waved her on, Autumn flashed her a smile she hoped was reassuring and headed toward the Jeep, typing all the way.
  25. Around 3:30pm. Do dragons bask? It was an idle thought, but one that nevertheless brought a smile to Autumn’s lips. They’d been sitting like that for a while, warmed by the late summer sun: Jase’s head resting on her thigh as he lay stretched full-length across the blanket near Camp Keane-Crocker, the amber-flecked fingers of one hand running idly through the tousled bronze of his hair. The other rested below his rib cage, imprisoned there by the lean arms folded over it, where now and again she could just detect a subtle, soundless vibration as her fingernails grazed his scalp. Jacob had wandered off not long after Jason and Dana had returned from the Jeep, following a quick flurry of text messages which Nathan surmised likely came from his Homecoming date; rather than just hang out and wait for round two of the Dadquisition to start, Autumn broke out the soccer ball. Though not an athlete, Jase was quick on his feet and had the advantage of height over her, and what started as a simple game of “keep-away” had quickly turned competitive, drawing whistles of encouragement and cheers from the adults present as they abandoned a discussion of the city’s recent zoning approval for an expansion of the country club and the potential revision of some residential property lines. Back and forth the pair darted, weaving between the trees that defined the claim the two families had staked, and without field, net, or scorekeeping battled for possession and- ostensibly- bragging rights. Time after that had vanished in a haze of exhilaration and frustration; of tangled limbs and collisions, tumbles that left dark smudges of green on their skin and clothes and blades of grass in their hair; of fleet-footed evasions and of the sound of Autumn’s laughter and oaths of vengeance ringing out across the picnic area. It’d felt like she could run forever like that, with the thunder of blood in her ears and the sun and the breeze on her face, and the tall, lean figure always either just ahead of her, or just behind as their shadows danced across the ground: the thrill of the chase, without any real fear of being caught. But, eventually, reality had imposed- which, she decided, was just rude- and although Jase refused to complain, she could see the intensity of the exertion was beginning to wear on him, his angular face flushed and intent on the game, and even her lungs and legs had started to protest the pace they were keeping. A draw, they’d agreed finally, as if it were certain they’d be able to try again another day. To be continued. And, collapsing on the blanket where they’d remained, they’d shared a bottle of water and just… breathed. What is he thinking about? the red-haired girl wondered, studying the curiously immobile mask of his features in repose. The grand unified theory he and Sean were working on? Some new fertilizer composition for his garden? The upcoming pre-apocalyptic battle, perhaps? Or maybe he’d already filed that away, satisfied with his own planning and preparation. There was no hint of what thoughts or dreams moved beneath the surface, and except for the occasional twitch of his eyelashes and the slow rise and fall of his chest, there was little in the way of outward signs to suggest that any vital force animated him at all. “Bannon the Impenetrable,” she murmured, and then caught her breath as those ageless jade eyes opened and focused on her, hints of copper bright as the band around his wrist glimmering lazily within. “Just thinking out loud. But-” Autumn hesitated for a moment, tearing herself away from the threat of face-searing immolation lurking in those pale green depths to watch her parents and Nathan chatting with one of the teachers who’d stopped by. Her hands slid away from him as Jason sat up and braced himself upright on his palms, noting the direction of her gaze. “But,” he suggested quietly, “you have something you need to say.” “Mmm.” She nodded, teeth worrying at the inside of her lower lip as she frowned. “I do, just… Not yet. I know I have to, and I will,” she insisted, meeting his eyes. “My mom, at least. And Nathan, because he kind of knows what’s up, already. Not about all of us, I mean, but about the Dark being real. If it goes wrong, later, I was thinking of asking him to at least make sure the Old Town Hall gets torched, you know?” “I was considering asking Hank the same.” The Effing Boyfriend said quietly, his eyes coming back to rest on her freckled features. He smiled faintly, an ironic twist of his lips. “Perhaps they will team up.” His smile faded as he regarded her intently, reading and studying, attempting to divine her intent and mood. “Do you want me to stick around while you talk to your mother? I’m told my demonstrations cut through the red tape of disbelief quite swiftly.” Autumn blinked, eyes widening suddenly at the memory of being cornered in the girls’ bathroom while Jason pulled ice cubes from the faucet like some stage magician, with a smiling Clara as his slightly manic assistant. No. No, no, no, that was definitely not what she had in mind, and her head was already shaking before the words even formed. “Um, I’m pretty solid on demonstrations, I think. If it gets to that point, I’ll figure something out. Honestly, I’m kind of hoping she doesn’t need one, but…” Autumn’s voice trailed off, and a crooked little half-smile tugged at one corner of her mouth as her shoulders twitched upward in something like a shrug. “I did, right? So, I guess we’ll see.” Her wide, clear eyes moved over his face for a moment, taking in the symmetry of his features and searching for some hint of what was going on behind them, some suggestion that might inform her rudimentary grasp of Bannonology. Was he concerned for her? Curious how she would handle things? Thinking about his own father? It was nice that he’d offered to hang out, to help, but surely there were things he wanted to do, or say… Weren’t there? “Honestly, I’m good, thanks. I’m gonna just…” She exhaled, the curve of her lips tremulous as she glanced back in the direction of her family. “Just chill with them for a little longer. And, hey, maybe your dad might like it if you spent some more time with him, too, instead of that darn red-haired girl that keeps dragging you off.” Her nose scrunched slightly in self-deprecation, and the rose-cheeked redhead leaned forward, resting her freckled brow against his tanned one. “If you don’t mind, though, when I talk to my dad… or if things get out of hand with the whole conversation… it might be nice to have my boyfriend there as moral support. You know, since he’s got that whole ‘alien genius’ angle going for him.” The answer was a kiss, a gentle press of his lips on hers that lasted forever and ended frustratingly soon. “I’m a text away.” Jase said softly, his eyes gazing deep into hers as he reached up slender fingers and toyed with a loose curl of bright copper hair. Dropping his hand again, he started to gather his feet under him, making ready to rise. “I’ll go and see how my dad and Hank are. Both of them like you, by the way. I can tell because they keep teasing me about you.” She grinned at that, a pleased flush blooming beneath the surface of her skin that had nothing at all to do with the kiss, despite the warm sparks still zinging through her nerves. Gar was a good person. Not perfect, but good. She could sense it in the same way she could feel an oncoming storm, or the weight of someone's eyes on her. That he liked her, or approved of her enough to tease Jason about their relationship, was definitely a bright spot in the day. As for Hank- Legs still crossed, Autumn planted her feet and pressed the soles into the earth, straightening as she did so. There hadn't been anything like a for-real conversation with Hank Graskle yet, but he was friends with both of the Bannon guys, so... that was a thing that needed to happen, if only to learn a little more about the man. Understanding over fear, she reminded herself. Smiling impishly up at Jason as he rose alongside her, she replied simply, "Good," because it was, for any of a number of reasons, and squeezed his hand before releasing him back into the wild. She watched him go for a moment, weight shifting slightly from her heels to her toes as her eyes tracked the tall, rangy figure back across the picnic area, and then drew in a long, steadying breath. "Hey," she interjected, sinking onto the seat next to Dana with a smile; already, the sunlight had begun to change. "We brought cards, right? It's been a minute since I got to beat Dad at Rummy." Just a little more time. Just a little longer, please.
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