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WEIRDER STUFF
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Weirder Stuff Episode V - Rainbow Weave

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Charlie and Sophia had the chance to catch up together, hug, kiss (with unwanted commentary from Devin), and Charlie promised to secure that reservation within the next few days, before they split.

Other members of the Fellowship and their families had straightforward, happy reunion scenes. Charlie of course, came out to a waiting Lucius Cole, trying to look somehow like he was taking the high road, and a glowering Hannah Fuhrman, whose expression bespoke of an inner voice that wanted to bellow 'Cad, scoundrel, ruffian!' at her ex-husband. They stood apart several feet, despite giving the impression they were divided by a canyon.

At least Susanna did not inflict her existence onto this moment, which was a blessing at least for Charlie. Hannah was quickest off the mark, swooping in to enfold Charlie in a tight hug, with a stream of "Oh, my baby boy" and "What the hell are they doing in that hospital?" Charlie, who did know what was going on in this town, patted her on the back and offered his best reassuring smile. "False alarm, Mom. Nothing to worry about."

"Makes me wonder what our taxes are going towards," declared Lucius, ignoring the disapproving looks of Hannah and Charlie to come over and clap a hand on his son's shoulder. "We can gripe at dinner. All three of us. My treat." He raised his hands defensively. "Not gonna be petty after something like this. Besides," he added with a grin, "I think your mother would like to hear about your new girlfriend."

How did he find out about that!? Worse, Hannah looked like she was willing to take that temporary olive branch. Exeunt a deeply curious mother, smug father and embarrassed Charlie.

Edited by Charlie Cole

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Cade didn't leave until he'd seen the accommodations for the smilodon, leading it there, and with calm and reassuring words, coaxing it within.  He looked to the guards, and to Taggart.   "If you mistreat them, I'll know, and I promise, I won't be pleased, none of us will.  If you need me to come back and help you move them humanely, then fine, I'll do that."

Unlike some of the others, no one was waiting for Cade when he exit the hospital.  That was of course because his father walked beside him, saying nothing.   It easy to tell that the elder Allister was upset, but he was holding it in.

"Your mother and sister are waiting at home.   Before we go home, we're going to talk."  It was all that he said, and Cade understood that he was in trouble.   At the very least, everyone was safe, his friends weren't hurt, and the cats had been rescued to boot.   

The memory of what they'd been subjected to, how they'd been found, it threatened to rouse his anger again, and he sighed. "Okay Dad."

They nodded as they passed the others, and got in the Sheriff's SUV. After a ten minute drive, they were in the middle of nowhere, and stopped.   "Out."

The two of them got out and Ian looked at his son, and took a deep breath.   "Cade, I'm going to talk, and you're going to listen.  After  I've done so, I'll give you a chance to talk."  He was being incredibly fair, given how angry he was.

"First, I'm disappointed that you didn't tell me what was going on.  I've raised you better than that, Your mother raised you better."   The look in Cade's eyes showed he definitely had thoughts on this, but he remained silent.

"If you EVER speak to me like you did in that room, Son that was beyond embarrassing.   I can't believe you did that.   Let alone the fact you're dating Marissa Jauntsen.  I've warned you to stay the hell away from those twins.   Hell I warned you about Jason, but you ignored all of it.   Now I know they have super powers, and that my hands are basically tied, How exactly do you expect me to feel about this? "

He looked at him and scowled.  He obviously had alot more, but he'd held off.  "Alright, say what you want to say son."

"All you were doing was letting Jason and Devin bait you.  They know what buttons to push, and will do so as the whim strikes them.   You calling them, and by extension, all of us monsters, wasn't helping.   I didn't tell you what was going on because I wasn't all that sure about it all myself.  Would you have actually believed any of this, if I had told you?"

Cade steeled himself, as he saw the fury rise in his dad's eyes.  "As for who I choose to date, that's my business had?"isn't it?  You didn't like Cora, and now Marissa?  hell it sounds like you just want me to remain some celibate little toy soldier, so I can focus on other things.  That's not what I am.  Yes, I still dream of playing pro baseball.   God willing I'll still do it.  As to my dating life, I don't see that as your busniess.  Yes, Marissa can be a manipulative bitch,  and her brother can be an annoying and insufferable ass.  That said, I actually trust them.  The two of them have earned my trust.  I've saved their lives, and they saved mine.  I trust all of my friends, and you've seen why.  We have each others' backs."

As Cade wound down, his father began closing the distance.  It was surprising, that he wrapped his arms around him.   "Alright son.  I'm going to let this go, this time.   That said I expect you to keep up with school, and everything else.   You can't tell your mother and sister, they'll worry far too much.  We'll keep this between us for now."

Cade returned his father's embrace and then they parted.  "Alright Dad."   As they moved to get back into the SUV, Ian looked at his son.   "Seriously, Marissa Jauntsen.  You just have a thing for troublesome women it seems."   

Cade said nothing, knowing the truth of the matter, but he smiled back in answer.
 

Edited by Cade

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By the time they’d emerged into the loading area again, Autumn had mostly calmed down, the girl’s righteous anger at the cats’ mistreatment diminished in large part by the warm, soft body of the quiescent feline in her arms. She was nearly twice the size of the house cats at Dana Keane’s clinic, but felt heavier even than that as the redhead carefully cradled the traumatized creature to her chest, fingers idly smoothing the golden fur just as someone might stroke the hair of a sick child or a suffering friend- a physical expression of comfort and reassurance transmitted through touch. “Listen, I’ll catch up with you guys,” she promised the three young men who’d followed her through the doorway, one side of her generous mouth curving in a slight half-smile. “Also… That could’ve gone a lot worse, so, um… Good job over there.” Trailing after Cade and the massive smilodon, she followed a member of the facility staff out of the loading dock and through a maze of corridors, now well-lit and only hovering at the normal level of sterile creepiness unique to hospital hallways. 

“We’ve been apprised of the situation,” the older woman stated crisply as they walked at a brisk pace toward the treatment rooms, glancing over her shoulder at the teen and her semi-conscious charge. The red-haired girl’s expression- grave and pensive- seemed ill-suited for her freckled features, lines of worry deepening across her brow every time the cat’s head shifted, or the slender filaments protruding from the bandages around its skull flexed or moved. She looked young, in her sneakers and hooded sweatshirt; probably too young for all of this, the technician mused, her brusque, professional manner softening slightly. “The biomedical labs down here are normally meant for Project patients, so they’re well equipped, and we’ve already been informed that your friend there is special, with an... unusual brain.” They turned a corner and were greeted quietly by two more members of the medical staff, who directed them into a brightly-lit exam room nearby. “We have everything we need to get those probes out safely, make sure it’s treated well, and do what we can to help it recover. We’ll take very good care of it. You have my word on that.” 

“...Okay,” Autumn answered dubiously, peering up at the taller woman before gently arranging the exhausted feline on the padded table as carefully as she could manage. “And she’s a ‘she,’” the redhead added, her palm resting momentarily on the cat’s side, feeling the reassuring regularity of her breathing despite the trauma the animal- was she just an animal?- had endured. A part of her was reluctant to leave, to trust that these people would be any better than the ones they’d left on the floor on the other side of Devin’s portal, but...

“We’ll take very good care of her,” Autumn’s guide reaffirmed, acknowledging the correction. “And,” she added, with a faintly maternal smile, “if possible, we’ll try to contact you when she’s feeling better. No promises, but I’ll see what I can do, as a gesture of good faith.” The young vitakinetic blinked up at her at that, wide blue eyes meeting coffee-brown ones; something about the other woman seemed familiar in that instant, but only vaguely, the dim flicker of an old memory fading almost as quickly as it had surfaced. 

“That would actually be really cool,” Autumn admitted gratefully, as something more akin to a genuine smile flitted briefly across the worried girl’s lips. “Thank you.” As the activity in the exam room increased, she was led by yet another uniformed staff member back through the gleaming labyrinth with its vaguely antiseptic smell to rejoin the others in the conference room. Everyone was milling about, and from the few snatches of conversation she caught, it seemed they were finally being released. ...Which was good news. Probably… question mark? She wanted to go home, but anxious as she was to see her mom there was also so much she still wanted to know, questions she hadn’t been able to ask yet.

Catching sight of Ms. Giles and the major, the redhead started to approach them through the crowd, but stopped suddenly, distracted by the odd exchange between another redhead- the new girl… Kat? she thought, whose delicate, androgynous features reminded her a little of a younger Sean Cassidy before all his changes- and Jason Freaking Bannon. The waifish newcomer was staring fixedly at something, and as Autumn watched Kat’s face go first pink, then scarlet, she followed the direction of the girl’s gaze. At first, she’d thought maybe he’d gotten hurt again and she hadn’t noticed, or that the gamine French import had spilled something, but no. The gray sweatpants he’d been wearing were clean, and Jase himself seemed fine- amused, even. It took a few moments of watching them, uncomprehending, before all the pieces finally clicked into place, and Autumn’s curiosity was “rewarded” with the sudden realization that it wasn’t his pants that had Kat so transfixed, but what they suggested. 

Oh. Oh, god. 

It was almost as bad as realizing she and Cade Allister had practically gotten to second base in the storage room, and she felt her own cheeks flooding with sudden warmth as she tried desperately to look anywhere else. What was seen, however, could not be unseen; somehow, it seemed unfair that with all the awful strangeness that had been going on there never seemed to be a convenient pit to some hellish but arguably less embarrassing dimension that might swallow her up. She just prayed silently to whatever gods were listening that her hyper-aware friend had, by some miracle, not noticed, because even if it was an accident she was pretty sure that getting caught staring at him a second time would qualify as creeper material. He didn’t give the impression of having noticed, at least, but she couldn’t be totally sure that meant he actually hadn’t. She wondered, briefly, how much those pale green eyes actually observed… Fortunately, introductions to Kat’s father derailed that train of thought, and Autumn smiled at the sudden flicker of recognition in his eyes. “Nice to see you again, Mr. Williams,” the athletic teen greeted the captain politely, remembering his face from the group she and Cass had run into earlier. “I’m glad you made it back okay. I wasn’t sure-” 

“Hey, Granola!” Devin interrupted unapologetically, then glanced at the uniformed man and his tiny daughter and added as an afterthought, “Oh, hey.” Turning back to Autumn, who was peering at him with the closest approximation of disdain she could manage after observing Marissa over the last few days, the teleporter grinned. “About to go see Lona, just wanted to give you one last chance to beg me not to go, maybe drag me off to wreck another storage room. Y’know, since you couldn’t resist getting your hands on me earlier.” His eyebrows twitched suggestively, and it was impossible to tell whether he was just drawing out the joke, or genuinely acting the playboy he was reputed to be. She shouldn’t have been surprised by anything that came out of a Jauntsen twin’s mouth, and yet… Here they were. Startled laughter spilled from her lips as she shook her head and replied, “Nah, I’m good,” and he shrugged, still grinning as he took a couple of steps backward. “You don’t know what you’re missing. I am all kinds of impressive, and you still owe me that make out sesh.” Before she could deny it, Jaunt smirked and spread his hands as if to say, ‘Not saying, just saying’ and blinked out of the room in a rippling haze of purple. 

“Motherfucker,” Autumn breathed, raking a hand back through her hair with a bemused sigh. She couldn’t say that she actively liked Devin, and definitely didn’t particularly trust him after years of his being a dick to everyone, but she had to admit that he had his moments. ...Few and far between though they might be. Turning back to apologize to the captain, she just managed to glimpse his back- and the top of Kat’s brightly-colored head- on their way out. “Motherfucker,” she muttered again, more intensely. She’d try to remember to say something to the slight androgyne next time she saw her… 

Oh!

That reminded her of something else that she’d forgotten she was supposed to remember. Standing on her tiptoes to scan the room, the fresh-faced redhead chewed at her lower lip. She’d meant to find a moment to talk to Jason’s dad about all the craziness, but then the whole ordeal with Cook had happened, and then Etienne (whom she wasn’t worried about in the slightest, sleazeball that he was), and the cats, and- aha! Gar Bannon was busy talking quietly with Hank Graskle, not too far from where Jase stood quietly at the periphery of the room. Summoning up what Cassandra had authoritatively described as “pluck” earlier that morning, she ran her fingers quickly through the hopelessly dishevelled mass of her copper curls and straightened the front of her hoodie. 

“Excuse me, Mr. Ban- Sorry, um, Gar?” Autumn interjected as she approached the pair, glancing furtively up at the imposing figure of the former Marine and unconsciously squaring her shoulders. What she knew about Hank Graskle would fit on a Post-It note with room to spare, and none of it was complimentary, but less than a day ago she could’ve said the same about Jase. It was worth considering, maybe. “I apologize for interrupting, and I know you’re probably still trying to take all this in. I just thought…” She hesitated, her freckled nose crinkling slightly in consternation as she shifted her weight from her heels to the balls of her feet and back again. He’d been so nice yesterday, but she was keenly aware of how it felt to have all this sprung on her at once, and as she was rapidly finding, adults didn’t always have all the answers. “Now that you know about all of us, is it still okay if I come by to hang out once in a while? I don’t wanna make you uncomfortable,” the redhead added quickly. “And if you aren’t okay with it, I totally understand, because this is a whole lot. I just had a really good time yesterday, so...” Her shoulders hitched upward in an expressive shrug, a familiar mixture of hope and anxiety in her clear, guileless eyes.      

Both men looked at the young redhead with varying expressions. Hank's was surprise and curiosity, his dark eyes flicking from Autumn's face to his friend's, trying to discern the dynamic at work. Gar, by contrast, blinked then smiled very faintly, an expression that put Autumn in mind of Jase, only with more warmth. "You knew all this weird stuff... and about my boy there-" he indicated the silently watching young man a handful of feet apart from them "-and you still want to come around and hang out?" He smiled wider and put a hand on her shoulder, patting it once. "Anytime you want, Autumn. Yeah, it is a lot to take in, no doubt about it. But Jase likes you - at least I think he does." Gar's tone was light, though it was plain he was still coming to grips with more than just the strange powers and conspiracies. "You're welcome at our home."

Relief flooded through the animated young woman in an almost visible wave, the uncertainty clouding her expressive features replaced by warm enthusiasm as the tension drained from her face. “Thank you,” she replied with an answering smile as she echoed the older man’s words. “And, I guess I kinda like him, too. Or at least, I think I do.” Jason and Marissa were both friends, apparently (although the latter still had several years of tormenting Autumn to account for, and Jase had pretty much admitted to being in love with the maybe-reformed villainess, which made the whole thing kind of awkward) so it was reassuring that all of the awfulness of the last several hours hadn’t spoiled one of the few arguably positive things to happen to her in recent memory. She paused, considering the conflicting emotions on Gar’s careworn face and wondering if her mother would wear the same expression if she knew the truth about everything. Would she see her daughter differently? Would she feel something had changed about Autumn herself, even though it was just a change in what she knew about Autumn? 

“Look, um,” the redhead continued tentatively, hoping she wasn’t pushing too deeply into other people’s personal affairs, “I haven’t really known him very long, so it may not be my place to say so, but he’s still Jase, you know? He hasn’t changed.” There was a moment of relative quiet as she kicked herself mentally for once again probably saying more than she should have. Maybe that was her real superpower, and the other stuff was just extra. “Anyway,” she added with a quick smile, ignoring the sensation of heat suffusing her skin and the uncomfortable weight of the men’s gazes. “I’ll, um, let you guys get back to your conversation. Sorry, and thanks again.” Thrusting her hands awkwardly into the well-worn pockets of her hoodie, Autumn turned to find the friend in question watching from a few feet away. 

“Hey.” The rosy-cheeked young woman could sense the two men behind her withdrawing diplomatically as she greeted the Effing One, his expression as frustratingly inscrutable as ever. It remained so as she closed most of the distance between them, those jade-hued eyes impassively observing her approach. “Hey,” he repeated calmly, without a hint of irony. 

“I just wanted to say thanks. For earlier, I mean, backing me up on the change of plans to get the cats out of there. It meant a lot.” 

“You’re welcome,” Jason replied simply, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. 

“And also, thanks for keeping your word with Cassie and Devin, even if they were stupid promises in the first place, and nobody else had to make them. I mean, seriously, you saw what Charlie did to those guys, and Devin could put somebody in a mountain,” the individualistic young woman grumbled, remembering what the teleporter had suggested might happen if they’d gotten separated, and then brightened suddenly as another thought occurred to her. “Oh! And, listen, I think everyone else has my number in their phones already if they need me, but you just have a landline or something, right? Here, hang on.” Turning back to the conference table, Autumn unceremoniously swept up the pen Devin had abandoned and jotted down her phone number on one of the napkins left over from what passed for lunch, presenting it to Jase before shoving her hands back in her pockets. “In case of emergency, or if you get bored, or whatever,” she explained with an easy grin, though the color remained high in her cheeks. “I need to go grab Major Taggart and Ms. Giles before they kick us all out, or my mom decides to start digging and come find me, so… see you later?” 

In typical Jase fashion, the laconic young man's response was a quiet, "Yes," followed by another slight curve of his lips.

Flashing a quick smile in his direction, the redhead was off and moving through the dwindling crowd, making her way over to the two agency representatives. She didn’t really expect them to answer her question, and so she wasn’t too disappointed when they exchanged pointed glances at the mention of the park. “Miss… Keane,” the major frowned, his sharp eyes considering the earnest features of the teenage girl in front of him- the same girl who’d initially warned his men about the otherworldly beasts in the hallway, and one of the pair that had volunteered to help defend the hospital. She looked normal enough, but he knew all too well how little appearances mattered. “I would like to help you. Unfortunately, there are strict protocols to observe, and I’m not at liberty to discuss Glacier National Park, Site B, or anything else about our operations until I receive authorization to do so.” 

“Right. Got it.” Autumn nodded. “Hopefully we’ll hear back from you guys about that authorization pretty soon, since there’s a chance Cassandra’s dad is still there.” She wasn’t like Marissa or the other, more socially adept members of their extended group- she didn’t have any special talent for getting people to do things, and probably couldn’t lie effectively if her life depended on it. There was also no implicit threat or suggestion of bluster in her expression or her tone, which gave her concise assessment of the situation a certain measure of gravity it might otherwise not have carried. Teenagers were nothing, after all, if not impulsive, headstrong creatures, as they’d already demonstrated vividly with the impromptu rescue mission, and the two adults knew it. “Thanks for your help, and it was nice to meet you, Ms. Giles, Major Taggart.” 

“Likewise, Autumn,” the attractive older woman replied, returning the redhead’s polite smile with one of her own. “And, I promise, we’ll be in touch.” Her Branch Nine counterpart nodded his agreement, watching the spirited teen’s departure for a moment before returning his attention- and his ire- to the files Cook had left behind. 

And then, there was nothing left to do but go out and find her mom, a reunion she might have subconsciously been delaying; most of her other classmates were either busy with their own affairs or, in at least one notable case, not really people Autumn wanted to interact with, anyway. There was no point putting it off any longer, though, and even though she wasn’t really afraid that Dana would yell at her or anything, now that it was all over the feeling of exhaustion she’d been ignoring was starting to settle in, and she didn’t really feel up to a long conversation. She made a mental note to catch up with Cassie tomorrow- right now, she just wanted to be home, and in her own bed. She’d barely made it ten feet from the building when her mother- still wearing her work uniform- swept her into a tight hug with an exclamation of relief that twisted Autumn’s stomach uncomfortably: the pretty veterinarian had been waiting for who knew how long, probably worried out of her mind, and would likely never know the real reason why. 

“Hey, mom,” she exhaled with a faint smile, returning the embrace. They stood like that on the sidewalk for several moments, until Autumn realized her mother was shaking. Not just shaking… Crying. Startled, the blue-eyed teen pulled her closer, resting her chin on the other woman’s shoulder. “Mom, mom, I’m okay, all right? I’m okay,” she mumbled into Dana’s hair, her throat tightening as tears welled up in her own eyes. What had they told her? “I promise, I’m okay. I’m sorry. I love you.” That much, at least, was true. The older redhead pulled back, finally, framing her daughter’s face in her hands and searching her eyes with an expression that contained a confusing array of emotions Autumn couldn’t isolate or interpret. 

“I know,” she whispered intensely, a fresh wave of tears threatening to spill down her cheeks as she kissed Autumn’s forehead in a fiercely maternal gesture, pulling her into another quick hug. “I love you too. Come on. Let’s get out of here. Are you hungry? Did they feed you?” she asked, one arm sliding around her child’s waist as the younger girl turned with her to cross the parking lot, leaving the hospital and all its secrets behind.

Edited by Autumn Keane
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Sean exited the Marias Medical Center after his friends, wide exotic eyes wincing at the last sharp rays of light before the sun sunk below the horizon. The shapely intersex boy drifted over to his SUV with a loose languor, almost as though he was sleepwalking. His brain still psionically overclocked, he was hyper-aware of all the stimuli his senses were processing - the waning heat of the evening, the rustle of leaves and branches of the decorative trees and bushes, the lingering traces of exhaust and cigarette smoke permeating the parking lot, and more.

Yet, when Sean reached his Grand Cherokee, he blinked in surprise at finding his parents and younger sister Laurie already there. Carolyn Cassidy swooped in and hugged her only son, ignoring the slight stiffness he always had with physical affection since he entered his awkward puberty. After a moment, he hugged her back. His mother, nor his father and Laurie, missed his long and wan expression.

"Sean, are you okay?" Carolyn asked, barely suppressed worry in her tone, as she took a step back, but didn't let go of her son. "We were so worried, and they wouldn't tell us anything.

~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~

He had needed to know, and after sharing a look Giles and Taggart had agreed to his request. He had even acceded to their request and wouldn't mess their recording devices. He hadn't wanted others to hear this particular conversation, but if it was the price for access, he would play nice, for now.

He had watched Dr. Cook for a time from the other side of the security glass wall fronting his cell. The slumped shouldered doctor had returned his gaze with a resigned equanimity, as though he had expected this.

"It was mentioned that we - the Fellowship - weren't part of the program, yet you took a decided interest in me and my condition. Was it just to study... me, or did you have some reason to believe it had something with what I ended up being capable of?" Sean had said. He had tried to keep his voice level, controlled, but his tone rose stridently as he continued, cupping his capacious bosom crassly. "Did any of your tests or the medication I've been prescribed have anything to do with my development? Did you do this to me?!"

"You were my personal side-project, Sean. I did not cause your condition any more than I caused your friend's psychopathy - both are innate to yourselves," Dr. Cook had replied, sympathetic, regretful, ashamed. "I hoped to treat you using the advanced techniques I have learned as part of Kline's project. Those with your particular collection of conditions have a very short life span, Sean. I hoped to extend it at worst, perhaps even eliminate the negative effects it will have on you as you become a full adult."

Cook seemed calm, if melancholy, perhaps forlorn. Tasting the confluence of electrical impulses through his nervous system, Cook hadn't appeared to be lying.

~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~

"It's okay. I'm... okay, it's fine," Sean claimed.

Laurie folded her arms and tossed her head as she glanced around at others of the Fellowship with their own families, clearly sensing bullshit. Sean gave her a minute shake of the head, noticing Laurie stood a distinct inch, inch and half taller than their mother and idly wondered if she would end up at tall as Teagan.

"It's just not all what it seems," Sean added. "I'll tell you what I can, when we get home."

Sean had hoped ignorance could protect his family, his parents at least once Laurie had poked her head in - and then the rest of her - but that wasn't good enough now. They had to know at least some of what was happening. Maybe add an app to their phones that could immediately contact him if the Dark came after them. He should probably do that for all the parents, at least the ones who's kids had told them what's what.

"But right now, I just wanna go home, leave this place." These people, for a time, at least.

"We get it kiddo," Jack Cassidy said, after sharing a look with his wife. "Home it is. We'll grill something up for supper. And just tell us... what you feel comfortable with."

~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~

"And, did you? Eliminate those negative effects, or at least some of them, enough that I'm not looking at death just after, or even before graduating?" he had demanded, leaning forward as through he could drag the answers out of Cook through his cell.

Cook had looked at him somberly, obviously weighing his words, until finally sighing very slightly. "I... don't know. Perhaps I have extended the clock by a couple of years, but the sheer genetic dissonance, the warring as different genes with radically different purposes work against each other...? Your condition is fatal. I have been able to hold back the degradation of your body, but that was always a losing battle. Without being alarmist, soon you will start to experience negative symptoms, whether I keep helping you or not." He had shaken his head with a sense of defeat. "Perhaps more than this whole black project nonsense, that is the failure I feel worst about."

"Bummer." Terse and tight, he hadn't been able to keep the anger out of his voice. He had just thought it a matter of controlling his hormones, not a death sentence.

Dr. Cook had motioned for him to lean closer to the glass, conspiratorially. He had glanced back, only to see the door still closed, then had sidled up to the glass, willing to hear what Cook had to say.

"Site B," Cook had hissed.

~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~

Sean climbed up into the driver's seat of Little Bigfoot, Laurie climbing the passenger side rather than riding with their parents. He sat still, jaw tight, fingers white-knuckled on the steering will, just staring ahead without even turning his vehicle on. His mother gave him a concerned look from the passenger side of his dad's work truck, and he forced a smile on his face, giving her a wave and a nod that he'd see her at home.

As their parents drove away, Laurie saw something she couldn't remember the last time she saw. A single tear sliding down the enviable curve of her brother's cheek.

"What is it?" she asked softly, no demand or teasing in her voice, just deep concern for her very strange brother.

Sean was silent for a long moment, then slumped back against the seat. "It's killing me."

"What is?"

"My lips, my hips, my tits, everything that makes me more girl than boy," Sean admitted in low, snarling fury. He slammed his hand on the steering wheel, then the other. "I'm finally starting to be okay with it, even liking it some, in someways, and fucking Cook tells me its gonna fucking kill me. A few years, symptoms showing up soon than that."

Laurie swallowed a surprised gasp. Nothing Sean, or their parents, had told her had ever mentioned suggested this, nor anything she had painstakingly overheard. "He... Cook could be lying. He's lied about so much else."

"Not about this," Sean countered sharply. "Nor about having a cure, having a fix." For the first time, Sean turned his head to look at his sister, his strange eyes almost incandescent with a furious resolve. "But there might be somewhere to find one."

~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~

"There is technology at Site B - it is the reason Site B exists, Sean - to try and crack open a trove of technology so advanced that it might as well be magic," Cook had said in conspiratorial honesty. "A vessel. A massive ship, like a space-going Ark, caught somewhere between our plane of existence and another one, phased into the rock surrounding it. No terrestrial medicine can help you. But perhaps something there can, if you can find a way in. The quantum surge that this 'Dark' used for it's own purposes? That was the Key, a cyclotron device Site B is using to try and open the door." Cook had sighed and sat back on the spartan cot of his cell. "I am already in trouble, so I lose nothing by telling you all this. Kline has Site B entirely under his control. He has for years."

Huh. That hadn't been at all what he had expected Cook to say. "I know most of my friends hate you, or at least hate and are disgusted by what you've done. I am too, to some degree. But thanks for what you've tried to do for me, at least." He had glanced over his shoulder to see if the guards were coming, but the door was still closed. "You - they - haven't found a way in yet? You've must've gotten something from it, to have developed some of this tech."

"As I understand it, initially the vessel welcomed people aboard. We made some light-year jumps in technology from that early phase. Then, for reasons I am unclear about, it sealed itself off. You must appreciate that Site B was never my focus."

"I appreciate it less now that you say it's only something there that'll have save me from a shortened, if over-endowed, life."

"Perhaps. If such a technology exists anywhere, then it is there. A slim hope at best, I know."

"If a slim hope is all there is, I guess I'll take it."

The door had opened behind him at that moment and an Airman told him his time was up. He hadn't put up a fuss, just given Dr. Cook a nod, thanking him for what he had tried to do at least, then followed the Airman out. He had stopped by to see Giles and Taggart before leaving, giving them a hard, brittle look. They had returned it unwaveringly, though their eyes was tight. When he had asked if they could provide him a spare holoprojector, just to look at and try to figure out, they had denied him, all of them knowing he had really wanted to asked about something else, and while his patience might have been greater than, say, Jason's, it was still finite, especially considering it might be the only way he might have a full life.

~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~+~~

"Site B," Sean said firmly as the SUV bloomed to life with a though. "One way or another, I'm going to Site B."

"You really plan on telling mom and dad about all weird in Shelly?" Laurie asked. There was no doubt in her voice that he would tell her everything.

"Most of it. Not the dying part. Not until every option or far-fetched idea is exhausted and there's nothing left. And you aren't either. You better not, Laurie. But the rest, yeah, most of it. Shame and secrets, I think they just make the Dark stronger."

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He was characteristically quiet as he walked out of the hospital between Hank and his father, the red and blue lights of various emergency vehicles and the brighter lights set up by the 'FEMA' personnel - actually Project personnel - playing over his lean, angular features.  The day had been eventful, and even for him there was a processing period as he ordered and categorised the events of the day, both mundane and weird, exciting and merely interesting.  

He had been attacked.  Autumn had come to rescue him at her own risk, and even Cassie had stepped into a dangerous situation ostensibly on his behalf - though he wondered if some of that hadn't just been some natural peacemaker's instinct to quell the fighting.  Fifty-fifty, he decided, was the most likely answer.  He had restrained himself from cutting loose with his power... only to use it later against monsters and mercenaries.  He and his friends had uncovered the roots of the Project, and discovered that even within shadows there were deeper patches of darkness.  He had menaced Dr Cook... and been threatened with death by someone he had considered a friend.

That last had made him pause, retreating from the conversation, restraining his impulse to treat the threat as real and immediate and thus respond appropriately.  Because the appropriate response for him, the one that came easily and first to the forefront of his mind was 'neutralise the threat'.  Intimidation was a lost cause on Jason - either he assessed someone as incapable of carrying through on a threat, or he assessed them as being capable - which meant they had to be taken out of the picture.  Devin had teetered for a heartbeat on the edge of receiving what military minds liked to call a 'preemptive strike', and likely hadn't even known it.  It was that last realisation that had stayed Jason's hand.  Devin had threatened him out of fear and anger, not considering - perhaps just not having the understanding to consider - how that would be perceived by someone like Jase.  Devin had pointed a loaded gun at him, and in Jason's world view someone didn't do that without intent to pull the trigger.  But, he realised, Devin might not see it that way.  He might not have thought that through, strange though that concept was to the detached young man.

And the truth was he didn't want to kill Devin.  But now he wasn't sure he could trust him, or Marissa.  He'd never offered either of them so much as a harsh word, and yet they turned on him with threats, insults and ridiculous assertions the moment he so much as showed teeth to someone else - an enemy at that.  They'd done it over the Liam fiasco, and now again with his rattling of Cook.  That volatility made for unreliable fellows.  Perhaps polite distancing of himself from them was the best policy.

"So... gonna use that number?"  Hank said.  Jason, his inner train of thought quieting for a moment, glanced at the former Marine questioningly.  Hank pointed at his pockets and mimed a telephone gesture with his thumb and finger.  "The redhead's number.  Gonna use it?"  he asked with a grin.

"Oh, fer Chrissakes Hank."  Gar sighed, shaking his head as they climbed into the pickup.  "Don't you think there's more important things to talk about?"

"Yes... and no."  Graskle shrugged as he slid behind the wheel.  "Girl likes him.  Sure, there's this Dark, and evil scientists, and mercs, and secret societies, and all sorts of shit.  Jason and his pals have got super powers, and your boy is different from how you thought he was.  Keene girl's right though - he's no different from how he's always been.  And... she seems to like him anyway."  Gar Bannon mulled that over as he turned his hazel eyes on his son.

"Is there something more there?"  he asked Jason, half-expecting a 'geez, dad' or a roll of the eyes or some other teenage boy behaviour when the subject of girls came up.  But his son just shrugged.

"We get along." he said with a faint smile as he glanced out of the passenger side window, watching as Autumn hugged a slender woman who must be her mother, as Sean got into his Grand Cherokee with Laurie, and as Marissa smiled and talked with her parents.  "She doesn't seem to judge me.  And she's fun.  But no, dad, we're not dating.  Until yesterday evening she was terrified of me - well, at least very scared." he amended.

"Because you're a psychopath?"

"In part.  Also because she's never heard anything good about me, plus her first actual conversation with me involved me sticking a door closed with telekinesis, then freezing some water into ice-cubes and telling her all about the weird stuff going on."  Jason smiled faintly.  "And that was last Friday.  So yeah, it's logical to surmise she sees me as a friend at best, and I'm perfectly fine with that."

"Really?"  Hank couldn't contain his skepticism.  Jason's face was composed as he looked round at his friend.

"Me?  Doing the 'high school dating' thing?  Probably not."  he stated without any discernible bitterness.  "Firstly, I don't 'crush' on girls.  I literally can't.  Secondly, unless I want a love life filled with pretense and deception, the girl would have to know what I am.  And let's face it, no normal and very few abnormal people want to date a psychopath."

"You say so."  Hank steered his pickup into the school parking lot.  "But I say she looked interested.  Not 'tongue-hanging out' interested, but probably wouldn't say no to a movie and burger."

"I bow to your vastly superior knowledge."  Jason's tone was more dry than the Sahara in drought season.  "After all, it's well known what a ladies man Hank Graskle is."

"Hey."  Hank sounded hurt.  "I don't have to play the field anymore in order to be a coach."

"You say so."  Jase replied, mimicking Graskle's earlier noncommittal tone with a wry grin as he slipped from the pickup and headed over to his Charger.  "I'll see you back home.  If you get a head start you might make it back a little behind me."

=============================

The three of them sat up late that night over their coffees as Jason filled in the details that his earlier, hasty explanation to his father hadn't been able to include.  For once, Gar Bannon didn't so much as reach for his hip flask, not even to add a shot to his coffee as he sat across from his peculiar, strange and baffling son.  Hank just listened as Gar and Jason talked, watching father come to a true understanding of his son.

"I imagine it's like realising you've been raising a stranger."  Jason said, pale eyes studying his father's face as he came to the end of the long tale.  "If it is any consolation, it was hard for me to not tell you.  About me, and later about the strangeness in Shelly.  But I was protecting both of us in different ways."

"So...The flowers..? Are they part of a mask?"  Gar asked intently.  Jason shook his head.

"No, I like to grow things." he admitted simply.  "Flowers especially.  I like beautiful things."  He paused, eyes narrowing as he considered.  "Beauty is amoral.  Storms, coral reefs, the void of space, a fire.  All beautiful, all dangerous in their way.  They are neither good nor evil, but they are beautiful.  Truth is beauty - it can be cruel, and unkind, and harsh.  But it is real.  Lies are ugly - even when they seem kind or gentle, they are still false.  I don't think good and evil are real things - I think they're illusions that those unlike me need in order to make sense of life."

"So what about this Dark?" Hank spoke up.  "Seems pretty evil to me."  Jason shrugged.

"I think it's a corruption of natural forces.  Something that is not Meant To Be - the opposite of beauty.  There is beauty found everywhere in nature, if one knows how to look at it - but the Dark destroys that beauty:  violates it's precepts.  I suppose if the principle of beauty is my version of 'good', then the Dark is my version of 'evil'."  He shrugged again.  "It's not a perfect philosophical model, but it works for me.  And I tinker with it as I develop and learn, as my breadth of experience grows."  He smiled wryly.  "I'm not yet seventeen, after all."

Gar made a short, guttural noise in the back of his throat, then stood up and walked around the table before catching his son in a fierce hug.  "Promise me you'll make it to seventeen, son."  he said in a muffled tone, his face against Jason's hair.

"I can't."  Jason said simply.  "I might die.  And then I'd die breaking a promise."  His arms came up and he slowly returned his father's hug.  "But I can promise that I will be as careful as my responsibility to my friends and our struggle allows.  We have to fight the Dark, dad.  There's no-one else that can.  And it has to be fought."

"Because it's ugly?"  Gar smiled, his eyes wet with tears as he drew back a little, looking into the composed, wry gaze of his boy.  Jason smiled a little, and nodded.

"Because it's ugly."  He tilted his head to one side.  "So... Am I grounded?"

Hank guffawed, and Gar stared for a second before chuckling despite himself.  "Would you even let me ground you?"  he asked with heavy irony.

"You are my father."  Jason's answer was simple and calm.  "If there is anyone I love, it is you.  If you levy a punishment on me while I live under your roof, I will abide."

The answer to that was another heartfelt hug.  "No, you're not grounded.  How the hell can I punish you for... Damn, no parenting manual covers this.  You are staying home from school tomorrow, though.  You're supposed to be battered and bruised, so it's probably best you not turn up looking fresh and healthy.  So you can help me with some overdue straightening up around the farm."  In answer to Jason's quizzical gaze, his dad smirked.  "Yeah.  No way I'm going back to janitor at the prison now I know what's going on under it.  So it looks like I'm going to have to fall back on being a farmer."  He poked Jason's shoulder.  "And your punishment is going to be helping me get started and figure out how we're going to do this."

For the first time in awhile, both men saw Jason smile properly, a wide genuine smile as he nodded assent.  "I have some ideas about that."

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Teresa was waiting for Cassie when she came out of the hospital, shading her eyes a little from the transition to daylight.

"Hey," Cassandra said, mustering up what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

Her mom was not smiling. The first thing out of her mouth was, "Are you okay?"

Cassie nodded. "Yeah, it was just precautions they were taking, you know? I don't think we were really exposed to anything. They just have to be careful."

"No," Mrs Allen replied, "You have to be careful. What were you even doing here? Chasing down another 'story?'" She even made scare marks in the air with her fingers.

"Visiting a friend, actually," Cassandra retorted. "Yeah, I have friends. One of them got hurt, so I came here. That's really all there was to it. The rest is wrong time wrong place."

Teresa hesitated, then said, "Your friend's okay then? How did she get hurt?"

Cass shook her head. "He got jumped by some other students..." and Teresa immediately looked skyward in exasperation.

"Honey, you can't... Just tell me you weren't in the fight."

"I wasn't!"

Cassandra's mother eyed her narrowly, then covered her face. She nodded into her palms, then extended her arms, waving at Cassie to beckon her in. Then came the hug, almost painfully tight for a second.

"When they called, I thought I was going to throw up," she whispered. "Then out here, waiting, feeling like that...feeling like I was going to lose you too... I'm sorry, baby. I'm not trying to...box you in, I just...I can't..."

Cassie hugged her back, letting her talk. When she spoke it was in much softer tones. "You're not going to lose me. It's just...not everything's because of me, or even about me. Sometimes things just happen."

Teresa broke into a teary-eyed chuckle. "Didn't I tell you that last year?"

That memory turned the warm mood growing in Cassandra cold again. "Yeah. When you thought I was delusional about dad."

"Yeah. I guess being the adult in the room doesn't make me immune. Just...promise me you'll be careful."

Cassandra hesitated, then nodded. "I'll be careful."

Her mom was apparently satisfied by that, and they went over to the car and got in. "So...I'm kind of a wreck, kiddo. Feel like pizza tonight?"

"Sure." Cass fell silent as they pulled out of the medical center's parking lot and headed out. After a few minutes she asked, "Hey mom? Purely hypothetical question."

"Uh huh?"

"If dad showed up at the front door tomorrow...what would you do? How...how would it make you feel?"

Teresa grimaced. "Baby..."

"I'm serious. Like...I think I'd be happy, but I'd also be mad, and...confused...I don't know. It's weird."

"It doesn't matter. He's not coming back. You HAVE to let this go."

"But..."

"No!" The tires screeched for a second as Teresa had to jam the brakes to stop in time for a red light. "No buts. I can't DEAL with this right now. He's gone, you HAVE to let him go. I know it's hard, I know it sucks, but you're not just hurting yourself, baby. You're hurting me. I...I still have to let him go too. And..." She trailed off, suddenly horribly aware of how close she'd come to telling Cassie how much she reminded her of him. Of how hard it was to move on with her daughter, all unknowing, talking like him and walking like him and putting her face where it didn't belong...just like him.

"I'd be mad," she finally said. "I'd cry, and I'd hug him, and then I'd be so mad because of what he put us through."

"Even if it wasn't his fault?"

Teresa nodded and wiped her eyes. The light turned green and she started driving again. "Even then. Feelings don't care about what's fair, you know?"

Cassandra thought about that and nodded. "But you'd forgive him."

"Maybe. Probably. I don't know, hon. Can we just talk about what you did at school today?"

Cass sighed and sat back in the backseat, belatedly clicking her seatbelt into place. "Okay." Then she fell silent though, and Teresa didn't press.

The next conversation they had was about pizza toppings. Cassie loved pizza, but tonight her mind was distant. Somewhere out there was a man who could fix all this. It'd be hard to have him back, but only for a while. Her mom would get used to it again, he'd come back to himself, and they'd all heal. All she had to do was find him. And rescue him.

She wouldn't be able to do that if she was careful.

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Posted (edited)

The next few days were relatively quiet.  The fuss and furore over the hospital incident died down, though there was still gossip flying around about the strange miasma that had permeated most of downtown Shelly.  Rumors of strange gas leaks, biological agents, mass hallucinations caused by chemicals in the water and even aliens.  For the teens of the Fellowship, despite reeling from the assault of the Dark, the revelations of the Project and Crossroads, and their own personal differences and demons, life went on.  On Wednesday school was abuzz with gossip about the fight in the halls, the weirdness around the hospital incident, and the fact that neither Jason Bannon nor his two senior attackers was in school.  They had been suspended. They had been expelled.  Bannon was in a coma.  The rumors floated around like clouds of vapour, each trailing wisps of further speculation.

Reporters from state-level media were in town covering the hospital story and the strange miasma, but were met with a frustratingly impassive sheriff and mayor who, together with the FEMA officials, were sticking to the story of the bio-contaminant scare turning out to be nothing in the end and having no comment at all about the weird haze over town, putting it down to weather or ionic atmospheric interference, depending on whom one spoke to.  The more astute journalists sensed there was a story here somewhere, but were unable to get at it.  One or two of them would remain in town to try and chase down what had really happened, but most would be gone by the end of Thursday.

Normal life, such as it was, resumed with Labor Day weekend fast approaching.

Spoiler

 

Epsiode V is now wrapped.  XP is awarded as per the XP thread - if anyone feels they've fulfilled an Aspiration, PM me and let me know, and I'll make adjustments.

Nice posting, peeps.  Intermission threads and a new project will be launched over the next couple days.

 

 

Edited by GDP_ST

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