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((This fic is the last open fiction for this interim period. It takes place on the Sunday afternoon following 'Winning First' and the off-screen self-defence class taught by Lilly. It is assumed all the Fellowship are invited, though not all are expected to show.)) The bath water was cold. That was by design rather than neglect, at least. Jason's muscles ached from the workout Hank had put him through all morning, and the lanky youth had bruises purpling nicely on his ribs, arms, legs and, in one case, his face. After the calisthenics had come the unarmed and armed combat practice, using pads and gloves for the first, followed by dummy wooden knives wrapped in duct tape for the second. Hank had pushed him hard emotionally as well as physically, delivering stinging criticism of his student's technique (which didn't faze Jason) before moving to humiliating and painful takedowns when Jase made a dumb mistake. That did get Jason's attention, and more than once he'd considered hurling his friend and instructor a dozen feet or so. Hank had laughed at the look in his eyes, inviting him to go ahead, or else quit - it'd be the same result either way. And Jase had risen from the floor and resumed his stance without a word. They'd taken a break just before noon, sitting down over a cup of coffee and a sandwich to go over the morning's work. "You're overthinking the moves." Hank had advised. "Don't get me wrong - thinking's good. But it's also why you're a little slow. You're trying to reason out what should come faster: I do this, you do that. And I know why, kid." he'd said, cutting Jason off. "Like I said, you'll learn. You need to fight with some emotion, but to do that you need to keep that temper on a longer leash than you do now. You're either all brain or all instinct." He'd gently punched Jase's shoulder. "We'll get you there." Jason remembered that simple encouragement as he lay submerged in the icy cold bath, now and then feeling a lump of frozen water bump against the side of his face, the only part of him that wasn't numbed by the immersion. He hoped Hank had been right - the fury in his core felt very far away right now as the ice stole all sensation, but he knew that if the right conditions were met, it would come roaring back up from the depths of his soul like a beast. He needed those middle gears, and his somewhat harsh training at Hank's hands was the only way he could think of to learn that kind of control under stress. Groaning softly, he rose from the water and stepped from the bath, examining himself in the mirror with a clinical eye. He ached, but the bruises would fade swiftly enough at his age. Indeed, he felt a certain satisfaction at the stiffness in his muscles and the soreness of the discoloured patches. He had endured, not lost his temper even when provoked, and come through a harsh few hours of training without 'cheating' by using his psychokinetic gifts. He called a towel to his hand and dried off, wincing a little at the pain when he was a touch too rough, then got dressed and went downstairs. There was no food prepared today, unless one counted the pot of leftover chili in the fridge. If people cared to stick around after feeling out what each of them was capable of, powers-wise, then he would provide as a host should. Otherwise, today's meeting was going to be in the large field out back which he used himself for practice. Most of the others didn't have physically-oriented gifts - at least not of the 'moving things' variety, but he was interested to see if Lilly could replicate her astonishing kick, or whether Charlie's shape-shifting could make him stronger, or run faster, or perform in ways other than 'simply' growing claws, teeth and armor plates. Also, he had an idea for everyone to settle and meditate first, try to feel each other through the 'Shine', as he had with Clara yesterday. To feel how the Shine connected them and everything around them in a subharmonic kind of way. He wasn't sure how, exactly, but the Shine let him feel objects at rest or in motion around him, and touch them as though with his own hands, sensory feedback and all. It allowed Devin to be connected to all points in space with only minor concentration. It allowed Lona to sense and heal injury. And so on with all the others, even those whose powers were harder to quantify, such as Lilly. Something sure had allowed her to kick multiple hundred-pounds of beast through a tree. And Clara could seemingly interact on a more fundamental level with the Shine, enhancing it - perhaps nullifying it too? He paused as he got a bottle of water from the fridge, thinking it over. It fit the pattern - Lona had caused pain in Liam and could take it away. He could excite or quiet molecular activity. Hmmm. There was much to be found out about their gifts. Hopefully today would yield some results. He headed outside to the porch, sitting down a trifle stiffly, and waited for people to show.
'Doubt, indulged and cherished, is in danger of becoming denial; but if honest, and bent on thorough investigation, it may soon lead to full establishment of the truth.' The Bannon farmhouse kitchen was much as Clara remembered it from her last visit. Neat, orderly and clean, a shrine to mealtimes. The air was full of the smell of chili from a large slow-cooker, and the proper young woman sat nursing a glass of iced tea Jason had poured her before tending to the crockpot, her thoughts still turning over the conversation with her host and pushing the memory of the stolen kiss to the back of her head, easy enough to do in lieu of the other matters to think about. Psychopathy, monsters, psychic powers, other dimensions, the Tree, Cody Sikes, Etienne... all these things demanded her attention in addition to the insights into her own issues. She was grateful that Jason didn't seem to need to make conversation, leaving her be in companionable silence, her eyes roaming the room without really seeing as she processed her thoughts. Jason finished added a few touches to the pot and covered it once more. Expecting a few people to come, he'd folded out the extendable table and gotten more chairs around it, allowing for a comfortable seating of eight or so, if necessary. He had also prepared in other ways - the kitchen door was propped open behind the screen, and around the front of the house he'd taped a large sign to the front door with one word written on it: 'KITCHEN' Details taken care of, he sat down across from Clara and picked up his current kitchen reading material - a treatise on the care and cross-genetics of Orchidaceae. Pages turned relatively swiftly, but quietly, interrupted only by the occasional pause for a sip of tea or glance at his guest to ensure she was comfortable. Sitting in the hazy warmth of the last of summer's rays from the window, he radiated comfortable stillness and calm.
March 27th (Roughly one month after Lion, Wench and Warzone) ,, "Well," Professor Jensen sighed as she squinted down at the steady flow of data scrolling across the screen of her tablet, "I think we're done with this battery of tests." ,, "Agreed." Dr Chase said as she eyeballed the matching set of figures on her own screen. She looked up and out through the reinforced transparent viewing window. "The changes to his cellular structure are significantly beyond those I studied when he first arrived at the Academy, but they seem to be stabilising again now." She then added what both women were thinking. "Fortunately." ,, "Rapid secondary mutation." Jensen summed up as she turned to look at Director Drumm. "No sign of the cellular changes trending towards the malignant. As you can see, his cell formations are becoming more efficiently aligned as his mutation progresses." Jericho Drumm nodded and pushed away from where he had been leaning on the rear wall of the lab. As he came forwards, Chase handed him a pair of polarised goggles which the Director donned without argument before glancing out of the similarly-polarised observation window. ,, Alexander Andrews was floating roughly six feet off the floor, clad in a pair of shorts and nothing else, with a huge bank of lights arrayed around him in a roughly circular pattern. The lights were releasing a steady pulse of light, heat, UV and IR rays, enough to cause melanoma and blindness in anyone else after a mere ten minutes of exposure, but young Andrews was just soaking it up. Literally. ,, "This is kept hush hush." the Director told the doctor and the scientist. "Need to know only. Bad enough that they tried to snatch Alex and Aradia last month: if they knew this, they'd have put up one hell of a bigger fight." He squinted through the goggles at the young man and smirked. "A living sun." ,, "Not technically." Jensen said in her best scientist voice as she came to stand by Drumm. He glanced at her and she shrugged. "Well, the definition needs work." ,, "What would you call him, Professor?" the rakishly handsome man asked her with a sly smile. ,, "Well, he's technically a catalytic absorber. They are usually Class 3 mutants, but with Mr Andrews, there's an interesting twist. He can use the absorbed energy in a number of ways, giving him greater versatility. Combined with his power output, I'd say that puts him at Class 5. Next year?" she shrugged and made a gesture of helpless surrender. "Who knows." ,, "He's also a young man." Dr Lucia Chase said, a note of somewhat prim disapproval in her voice. "For all of his power. I worry about the possible emotional effects of his further mutation." ,, "We all have to learn to grow into our capabilities." Drumm replied. "That is what we're here for, doctor. I trust you and Professor Jensen to keep a close eye on Alex." The line was delivered deadpan, and Drumm gave no sign of noticing the faint flush on both womens cheeks in the dark booth. "Keep me updated." he told them as he left the room. ,, * * * * * * Alex was deep in thought as he wandered across the grounds, the spring thaw being helped along a little by the summery radiance he shed in his wake. The doctor and the professor had been straightforward in informing him of their findings. He was changing, growing further and further away from the norm, and the most significant differences were on the cellular level. The glow, the heat - they were just symptoms of the fact that every single one of his body's cells was akin to a tiny, inefficient star. ,, It's kind of cool he mused as he passed a group of girls heading the other way. He flashed the knot of freshmen a warm, if somewhat preoccupied smile in response to the staccato chorus of "Hi Alex" before shoving his hands into the pockets of his thick black wool coat and went back to thinking. It's not all bad. I don't get tired so much, I hardly ever miss a shot at hoops now, I can fly... Not so bad at all. He kept on walking, not really to anyplace so much as just to walk, head down and his mane of sun-hued hair tumbling in the wind, and wondering why he had to keep telling himself that it wasn't so bad...