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Seeking The Dawn [Ep V Side Fic]


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Keane Residence, around 08:20

"About time."  Dana Keane, concerned mother to four dogs and a teenage daughter, grumped as Autumn shuffled into the kitchen, yawning, and made a bee-line for the coffee pot.  An observant maternal eye noted the slight touches of makeup and attention paid to the fiery tumble of red hair as Autumn filled her mug, sweetened and added cream, then sipped, absently ruffling the fur of the large German Shepherd, Briggs, as he politely nudged her for a petting.  "So Jason, Cassie, and Devin Jauntsen, hmm?"  Hazel eyes narrowed.  "This isn't some double date, I take it?"

"What?  No!"  Autumn seemed jolted out of her distraction by the question, laughing a little.  "I mean, Cassie and Devin are just friends, I think.  And just because Jase is coming along doesn't make it automatically a date, mom."  her daughter added, cheeks pinking a little as Dana made a feminine snort of disbelief.

"Not technically, no." Autumn's mother said mock-sternly as though suspecting, and disapproving of, shenanigans.  She then smiled a little as she turned back to the griddle pan.  "Well, seeing as I'm feeding extra mouths, you'd better pull out some eggs and get to work."

The two of them worked in companionable silence for a short while, music from the radio unobtrusively filling the air in the comfortable kitchen.  Preparations were almost complete when the soft rumble of an engine outside sparked an excited bark or two from the dogs, all four of whom were hanging around just out from under foot, hoping for dropped tidbits with large pleading eyes.  Dana looked at where Autumn had been, sighing and shaking her head with a smile as, with a soft patter of feet, the younger redhead hurried to the door.  "Not a date, my butt."  she commented quietly to Lexi, who merely panted good-naturedly and let out a little whine of protest at the lack of dropped bacon bits.

Jason climbed out of the Charger as he removed his mirrored shades, hooking them into the neck of his t-shirt as he closed the car door behind him, and breathed deeply, pale eyes sweeping over the fields and woods surrounding the Keane home.  The morning dew had already mostly burned away, but the day still felt fresh and new to him as he made his way around the car and headed up the front steps onto the porch.  The country air was quiet, despite the sporadic barking of the dogs inside as they sensed a familiar presence, and there was a peacefulness that hung over the scene which was not lost on him.

The front door opened as he approached, and Autumn slipped out quickly, closing it behind her and turning to face him, a smile curving her lips before she stepped forward and comfortably slipped her arms around his neck.  "Hey."  she murmured, smile becoming a grin as she felt his hands slide over her waist in a return embrace.

"Hey." he echoed with a slight twitch of his lips answering her smile.  He could smell the warm scent of her hair, and resisted the temptation to simply bury his face in it.

"I just wanted to thank you for last night."  Autumn said in a low tone, mindful her mother might be listening as she studied the flicker of reflected sunlight - as well as the deeper flame her nearness kindled - in his pale green eyes.  He looked a little tired, as might be expected, but alert and focused as usual.

"You're welc-"  Jason started, but stopped as Autumn, grinning, put a finger over his lips, shifting her body against his, pressing closer.

"I said I wanted to thank you, not say thank you." she breathed as she leaned up and kissed him, feeling the zip and zing of that flame running through her nerves at the contact, her arms tightening around his neck as, for a long moment, the two forgot everything else.

So much so, in fact, that the purring whine of a high performance motorcycle didn't intrude on their private moment until it was too late.

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The Ducati purred and came to a stop at an angle in front of Jason's car, making it impossible for him to pull away without having to back up first.  Classic Devin.  Cassie's arms were tight around his waist and her grip loosened considerably as the bike slowed down.  As Jason and Autumn kissed he revved the bike loudly, adding no opportunity for a quiet moment.  Devin lifted his leg over the bike and offered Cassie a hand to help her off so they could remove their helmets.

"Didn't know you could jaunt a whole motorcycle, with us on it," Cassie laughed nervously.  Referring to Devin going down an alleyway not but a moment ago and them suddenly appearing not far from Autumn's home.

"Me either," Devin said with a mixture of worry and mirth.  "Glad it worked, we could have ended up in Idaho or the inside of a mountain or something.  Woo."  Cassie glared at him, mentally chastising him with her glare.  He laughed.  "Relax, Blondie, I'm kidding.  My motorcycle I can do.  Cars cause a nose bleed and massive headache, but I'm getting there."

He took a few steps to the new couple and smirked in the devilish Devin manner.  "My sister is so pissed at the two of you.  This?"  He waggled his finger in between the two of them.  "Oh, she is livid.  I love it, don't ever change you crazy kids.  So, we doing this or what?  Feed me, I'm famished."  He smiled and winked at Autumn.  "I'll need my strength if I'm going to be surrounded by depression and chronic alcoholism all day."

"Wow," Cassie said in mock surprise.  "Culturally insensitive-"

"-and racist." Autumn finished for her, rolling her eyes at the ex-bully turned annoying companion against The Dark.  She looked at the watch she wasn't wearing.  "And it's only eight-thirty.  Way to get a jump on the day, Deej."  Autumn used his moniker, reminding him that she'd been given a letter name by Marissa was now an official member of their Inner Circle... whatever that meant.

"Yeah," he inhaled proudly.  "You're welcome."

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"Lets fight inside," Cassandra suggested as she headed for the front door. "I can smell breakfast cooking from out here. And coffee. Once the adrenaline from thinking Devin was going to kill us wears off, I'm definitely going to need coffee."

She did have the presence of mind to wait for Autumn to go ahead of her back into the house though. They were friends, but Cassie hadn't been invited into the house before. Maybe she was a vampire?

Jesus, were there vampires? There were psychic space aliens and interdimensional monsters and psychic powers...what wasn't there? And who knew it and when did they know?

Following Autumn in, with the boys right on her heels, Cass waved hello to Mrs Keane. "Hey," she chirped in greeting. "Smells awesome! Also, I'm Cassandra, hi." Offering a hand to shake, she added, "Jason's the tall one annnnnd sorry in advance for Devin. We have to take him around with us for a school project. It's kind of like that egg thing, only instead of an egg, it's Devin."

She turned around a little to flash Devin a grin as she took a seat at the table.

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As the troop of teens tromped into what looked like the quintessential Montana home, all stacked stone and golden wood and natural light, Dana Keane leaned out of the kitchen doorway as four dogs darted past her to investigate the newcomers. "Autumn, can you-?" she called over the chorus of canine greetings/challenges/inquiries.

"Yep, got it." Letting Devin's comments about his sister being angry slide for the moment, because why in the world would she be angry, the energetic redhead intervened on the hungry reporter's behalf, maneuvering between Cassie and Briggs as she stretched to nudge Zephyr with her bare foot when the sprightly little Shepherd mix circled around. "Noooo, c'mon, guys," she laughed, "You know the rules. I'll introduce you after breakfast. Let's go. Those squirrels have been teasing you all morning, so now's your chance." Herding the two youngest fosters away from the long hickory table, she glanced back at the oldest of the quartet. "Come on, Lex," she smiled encouragingly, leaning down a little to scratch behind the Pit's ears as she trotted up, pressing her nose against the back of Autumn's knee. "There you go. Good girl, thank you." There was a brief pause, the two younger dogs waiting expectantly by the door, and the Girl Scout turned, arching one copper eyebrow in amusement. "You, too, mister." The big rust sable Shepherd had been studying the pair of tall male visitors in wary curiosity, planting himself quietly between the two of them and his human charges... but his ears twitched at something in Autumn's voice, flicking briefly in her direction before the rest of him followed suit. "Be right back," she grinned at her guests as her four-legged housemates crowded around the glass doors to the backyard. "Probably."

The sliding door opened, accompanied by a brief wave of excited barking as all five of Dana's "children" poured out into the bright gold and green of the late summer morning, and then closed again, leaving the pretty vet, and her daughter's... friends?... alone in the quiet.

"Nice to meet you, Cassie," she smiled as she joined them in the sunlit dining room, hazel eyes warm with that bemused glimmer the young journalist instantly pegged as 'maternal.' The resemblance between mother and daughter was undeniable as the taller woman sipped her coffee and watched Autumn playing out back with the small pack they’d somehow accumulated in the last year or so, though the elder Keane’s hair was darker, her frame more slender than athletic. “And Devin Jauntsen. I admit, I’m a little surprised. You’re one of the last people I expected Autumn to invite over, even as a school project.” The warmth in her expression cooled dramatically as she peered at the wealthy young gymnast over the rim of her mug, something in her tone suggesting a rattlesnake would have been both less unwelcome, and less surprising.

You’re Autumn’s mom?” Devin asked, affecting an air of incredulity. “I would never have guessed. I just assumed she had a stunningly beautiful sister. If I’d known, I’d have worn a nicer shirt,” he lamented, glancing down at his choice of attire and shaking his head. “It’s nice to meet you anyway, Mrs. Keane,” he added with a polite smile, amping up the charm he’d practiced over years of dealing with private schools and agents and the watchful eye of his mother. “It is ‘Mrs.’ right?” The juvenile Casanova grinned.

“Thankfully,” Dana replied dryly. "If you guys want to wash up before we eat, there's a bathroom just down there." Lifting her mug, she indicated the hallway, and then tilted her head, smiling again at Jase with an undeniable spark of mischief in her eyes. "Jason, you remember, don't you? Would you mind showing them while I finish up in here?"


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Cassandra's eyes immediately narrowed as Dana spoke. Words jumped out at her.

"Hang on," she said, twisting around to look at Jason. "You...remember?" A slow grin spread across her face. "This isn't your first time here."

Then she was on her feet, reaching instinctively behind her to grab the chair back before it fell over.

"So?" Cass pressed, folding her arms and getting up in Jase's space. "Spill it? What are we talking about here? Study session? Hot date? Something...in between?"

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Jason, for his part, finished pouring himself a coffee as  Cass rounded the table and commenced the inquisition, casting her an expression that was typically neutral but for a raised eyebrow, his icy green eyes unwavering from Cass as he took a sip of the black brew in his hand. (Number 5: I am permitting this uninvited invasion of my space because I find the person tolerable or agreeable,  is how Autumn would have mentally catalogued the expression.)  "It's on the right, just down the hall."  was all he said as he lowered the mug.  "I can show you if you need, though."

Dana's snort of quiet laughter at the mischief she had sown was unheard by the teens as Autumn's mom headed back out into the kitchen.  "Nuh-uh."  Shelly intrepid and plucky reporter pressed.  "I want to know details.  How did this-"  her finger traversed from Jason towards Autumn, who had just come back in from taking the dogs outside and froze, her attitude that of a deer scenting danger. "-become a thing?"

Jase cast a glance at Autumn, then returned his gaze to Cassie.  "We went camping - as friends.  We discovered a mutual attraction." he stated simply, without any sense that he was embarrassed or uncomfortable.  "If Autumn wishes to share more details than that, it's up to her."  he finished, a faint twitch of his lips indicating a smile.  "I'm immune to embarrassment - she is not."

"Clarify, please."  Cass asked with a grin.  "Are you guys dating now?  Do you even date?" she gave Bannon a long, scrutinising stare.  "I never had you down as the dating type."

"I'm full of surprises."  Jase replied evenly, a glint of something that might be humor in his eyes.  There was a quiet choked off laugh from Devin.

"So you are dating."  Cass's tone was triumphant.  She glanced from his unruffled stare to Autumn's beet-red face.  "Wow.  And her mom knows you too."

"Dana was kind enough to invite me in for dinner when we came back from camping."  Jase said with a slight nod.  His head tilted slightly to one side as he regarded her.  "Do you have enough for a scandalous expose in the paper, do you think?"

Edited by GDP_ST
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While Cass distracted the guards, Devin slipped away.  He smirked and shook his head as he was mildly entertained by Cass wanting to be all in their business like the reporter in training she was.  The kitchen was only a few steps away, and closer than the bathroom he'd have to look for on his own, so he made his way in there.  Waffles and eggs and bacon were all on the menu it seemed and the wonder mom that was Dana Keane had everything well in hand.  Still, it was more than one person could handle on any day and with her assistant pulled away for tabloid interview, she was nursing her coffee while juggling the morning's breakfast.  Devin could see the headline now: "Bat Boy Found, But Captured and Eaten By New Power Couple, Jase and Autumn!"

He smiled at that.

"Do, uh," the back of his hand tapped nervously and gently into the palm of his other.  "Can I uh, help out with anything?"  He asked the lovely redhead.  "Waffles!  Nice.  One of my favorites."  Small talk that didn't involve being a pervert or an ass was easily one Devin's weak spots, but it wasn't just the Fellowship or the school he needed to endear himself to on his path to redemption, it was the families of those he'd wronged too.  He'd learned that from his mom, or, more to the point, the few books she'd written on the topic coupled with copious internet searches.  "I do this thing where I whip the eggs seperately from the yolks then mix them afterward.  It uh, makes the waffle more airy, or, fluffy, I guess."

Dana was annoyed that Devin Jauntsen was even in her home, let alone her kitchen attempting to make small talk with her.  Still, for her daughter's sake, she finished her sip of coffee and set the mug on her counter top as she chopped the eggs in the pan gently, scrambling them.  "You can make waffles?"  She asked incredulously.  It came out a bit more abrasive than she'd intended but with an diplomatic half smile she recovered her composure.  "Up on the hill, lording over Shelly, most people just assume the Jauntsens have servants and maids to make all their meals."

"Yeah, with the storm clouds and the bats... I know, but we had to do away with the weather machine, EPA guidelines.  Bats, wouldn't you know it, are endangered in these parts, which I warned mom about before we moved to Montana."  He shrugged defeatedly.  "No one listens to me."  Despite her current position on Devin the boy had mastered the art of schmoozing awhile back.  He knew that Mrs. Keane, despite not liking him, wouldn't do or say anything that would embarrass or hurt her daughter's standing with her friends, let alone her new boyfriend.  He stepped up and washed his hands in the sink, before picking up a knife and setting a strawberry on the cutting board and did a rolling cut with practiced accuracy.  "The staff we kept sacrificing to our dark gods to keep us wealthy and young, so no one answers our ads for help anymore.  Needless to say last Christmas was rough.  All dark pagan worship and sacrifice, then we were stuck ordering pizza."

"You never turn off the smarm, do you?"  Dana asked with an appraising eyebrow raised.

"Sorry, defense mechanism." He smiled that charming smile of his as another slice of strawberry rolled off the knife's edge.  The thickness and angle were exactly the same as the one before it, as Devin's keen sense of distance, angles, and measurements unconsciously aided in this small task.  "I learned to take care of myself, Mrs. Keane.  Our parents really aren't the most nurturing sort.  So, we've learned to watch after each other.  I took up the cooking, and cleaning.  Marissa handles the dishes and laundry and keeps up with our schedules so we don't miss appointments, dentist, doctor, stuff like that."  There was an awkward pause, the sort one felt when the distinct feeling that the listener didn't care about what the speaker was saying, crept over him.  "Your dogs are cool," strawberry slices were piling up giving Dana reason to pause as her proficient and educated skills of observation from years of work in the medical field, noticed the strange fluidity and accuracy of the sixteen year old boy slicing strawberries with laser precision like a chef who'd had nearly thirty years to practice.  "We weren't allowed pets.  They were a distraction, Mom said."

"A distraction," she offered him a look of genuine interest now.  Adding a pinch of salt and pepper to the eggs she mixed them together in the pan with the spatula and finally tilted the fluffy yellow goodness out onto a larger serving plate.  As she cracked more eggs, she followed up.  "From what?"

"Oh, our Mom had this whole child stardom thing planned for us.  It was up at four in the morning for workouts, rehearsals breakfast and school prep, then school, then back for workouts, rehearsals, auditions."  He shrugged dismissing his past.  "Typical MaliCali life.  Pets, video games, friends... wasn't really in the cards for us.  We had a social life, but it was with other kids whom our Mom had previously screened and would improve our image or positively promote our brand."

"Sounds like it was rough," Dana commented dismissively yet with just enough compassion as a mother to understand that not all children were given the love and nurturing that her daughter was given.  "So, what are you getting at, Devin?  Hmm?  Am I supposed to listen to your story and accept that everything you and your sister did to my daughter over the last several years is completely justified because the Jauntsen twins didn't get their pony?"

Devin sighed and set down the knife.  Twisting the stem from the cut strawberry he was cutting he popped into his mouth.  "No, of course not," he chewed.  "Look, Mrs. Keane, I know I've been a jerk, hurtful even.  I-I'm not that guy anymore.  I like your daughter, a lot."  She raised an eye brow at him, shifting her posture like a jealous father ready to law down the law to protect her daughter from love triangle drama.  Realizing how he phrased it, Devin scrunched his face at her and recoiled slightly.  "What?  No.  No, not like that.  I know it seems strange.  That I sort of just pulled a one-eighty one day and now Jason and Autumn, and all of us are all chummy and it makes as much sense to us as it does to all of you, the parents.  Believe me, the Cassidy's don't even let me into their home, let alone invite me to breakfast."

"And do you understand why?" She asked him, tilting her coffee and realizing she just took a motherly tone with him.

"What?  Oh, wow," he seemed caught off guard for a moment.  "Uh, so.. yeah, wow, we-we're doing this?  The ol' pull the Mom card out and lay it on the table.  Yeah, of course I know.  I was an absolute terror, I get it.  Bu-but, look at it from my end.  I'm trying really hard at something that doesn't really come with an instruction manual.  You adults are always telling how we're getting older and we need to start accepting more responsibility and put our adult pants on... but... you don't ever stop treating us like kids.  Autumn is amazing and beautiful and fun.  She's grounded and has her act together like no other person I've met before.  I screwed up, I did things I can't take back but all I want is the chance to be a friend to her now.  To be forgiven and offered a chance to start over, y'know?"

She shifted the eggs in the pan and let them slide off onto the platter.  "Have you told her that?"

Devin stopped chewing his second strawberry and glared off into nowhere.  Shit.  He just got mommed.  "I... I guess I haven't.  Hard to start over if I've never bothered to apologize, huh?  Good call, Mrs. Keane."

"Yeah," she smiled to herself.  "Been doing this for a couple years.  I've picked up a trick or two."

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"Do you have enough for a scandalous expose in the paper, do you think?"

"I had enough for that before you even opened your mouth," Cassandra replied, still grinning. "Now I have enough for an actual book."

Then she yawned and stretched, smirking slightly as she started down the hallway towards the bathroom to wash up before eating. Cass hadn't gotten more than a few steps though before pausing and looking back at Jase over her shoulder.

"But that's if I was writing for gossip columns, you know? I have seriously important things to write about these days. Gods and heroes. Villainy. The end of the world. If you want page time, you're going to have to sell this relationship a bit more. I mean, if you're worried about embarrassing Autumn, there must be an embarrassing story in there, right?"

She gave Autumn a grin and a wink to let her know she was mostly just kidding.


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If only she’d stayed outside just a few more moments… There is no god, Autumn reaffirmed to herself in that moment, crimson flames creeping up her throat to scorch the sides of her face. Or at least, not a merciful one. Fuck. Distraction?


“Ohhh, heyy, coffee!” the expressive redhead exclaimed as Cassie winked at her, pivoting on one foot to retrieve the mug she’d abandoned in her haste to meet Jason out front- ‘Happy Camper,’ it read, in a cheery blue font above the illustration of a tent. It was, at least good coffee, although admittedly not as good as whatever they stocked at the Bannon house. That stuff barely needed any cream or sugar at all. She was just debating whether to ask him what brand they got when something pricked at the girl’s awareness.

It was quiet.

Blinking, she glanced around the dining room, a creeping sense of unease slithering up her spine. She and Jase were there… Cass had just gone to wash up… Her mom was in the kitchen…

Devin was gone. He was in her house, unsupervised- oh god, what if he was in her room?! Autumn’s eyes went wide at the thought, as if the teleporter were a toddler who’d disappeared in a shopping mall. Oh, for-! I just took my eyes off him for a second! There’s no telling what he’s getting into on his own!

“Um. Jase, did you see where Devin went?” she asked, trying to quell the rising sense of panic at the idea of the more annoying Jauntsen poking around in her dresser. Or desk. Or under her bed… Oh, god.

Wordlessly, Jason pointed toward the kitchen, a faint suggestion of amusement in the almost imperceptible quirk of his mouth, and as Autumn glanced in the direction of the doorway she realized she could just make out the sound of conversation over the radio. Exhaling bodily, the animated young woman’s shoulders dropped a full inch as she relaxed and took a long, steadying sip from her mug. 

"Cool," she replied as casually as possible, narrowly resisting the urge to run upstairs and close her bedroom door. "Cool."

Edited by Autumn Keane
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"I don't think you need to worry too much."  Jase said quietly, moving closer to her while they were alone.

"Worry too much?!  It's Devin."

"Who has always been a good guest when at my home."  Jason set down his mug and slid his hands over Autumn's waist as she half-turned towards him, blue eyes flicking up to meet his gaze.  The redhead decided to hold onto her coffee, cupping the mug in both hands before her chest - not because she *didn't* want to set it down and find other things for her hands to do, but because she *did*, and now was not the time.  "I see no reason he'd not be a good guest in yours."

"Mmm."  Autumn's answer was both wordless and noncommittal, despite Jason's apparent confidence.  His mouth quirked in another one of those mischievous smiles, his gaze was warm, and she felt heat rising in her face again as he leaned down-

"Okay, all washed up."  Cassie announced just a touch louder than was necessary as she breezed back into the room.  "You're up, Tall, Dark and Pluckless."  She made a shooing gesture.  "Go, scoot.  Make sure to clean those paws before breakfast, mister."  The blonde reporter fixed Autumn with a grin.  "Don't worry, we've got plenty to talk about."

Looking at Cassie with a raised brow, then back at Autumn, Jason shrugged. "Back in a moment, then." he said quietly before leaning down and planting a quick kiss on Autumn's lips that turned her bright red.  With a noise that might have been a chuckle, the tall slender young man stepped away, eyes gleaming impishly, and headed for the bathroom.

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"What is so juicy about this?"  Devin asked walking out of the kitchen with a bowl of strawberry slices and a stack of plates and utensils.  "They're dating, so what?"

Placing the strawberries on the table he set the plates down as well and leaned himself back to peer into the kitchen and for a moment Autumn pursed her lips at the thought of Devin leaning to take a look at her mom's butt while she wasn't looking.  Then, in a purple pulse and a muted 'bamf' the plates and utensils scattered, leaving little wavering comet trails of violet energy as they all went to their respective place settings at the table.

Autumn slapped his arm with the back of his hand, mouthing softly a string of hushed words that looked and maybe sounded like: "What the hell? My mom."  She looked nervously over his shoulder as Shelly's problem child smirked that devilish smirk of his.

"Chill, I checked first."  He smiled and winked and turned back to the kitchen.  In only a single step he spun back on his heels and walked backwards.  "Don't worry, I got this.  You two..." he waved them off, shooing them from 'his' work area.  "...go play, or whatever you do."

He spun back around and entered the kitchen only to meet Dana adding the last pan full of eggs to the large fluffy pile.  "Devin, you don't have to do this, I appreciate it, but-"

"No, no," he waved his hands dismissing the argument.  "Really, it's cool.  Autumn has the guests entertained, it saves us from just wandering about with our hands our pockets while you two rush to get all this done.  Besides, I don't feel right not doing my part.  Feeding five people can't be easy."

"You're," she raised a distrustful eyebrow at him.  "A little different from what I expected."

"I was the school bully, Mrs. Keane,"  Devin began tonging the latest batch of waffles and adding them to the large serving plate as Mrs. Keane diced up a variety of fruits.  "That doesn't mean I wasn't raised without manners or standards of propriety, I simply chose to set them aside for the sake of tormenting others.  It was a hoot while it lasted but now it's time to mend what fences I can and move on to other things, like getting super powers and saving the world, or something."  He just had to insert that little grain of truth.  "That's why I don't wear safety equipment during the labs at school.  I'm hoping there's an accident and something sticks.  Being Montana, knowing my luck, I'll get bit by a radioactive horse or worse, something Canadian."

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Cassandra watched the kiss with a grin, waited to hear the bathroom door shut, then said in an excessively nonchalant voice, "So..."

There was a lot of unspoken words in her word. She was intensely curious about Jase and how Jase worked as a boyfriend, for example. She was also a little concerned for Autumn and kind of jealous of Autumn because there was a kind of ambition revealed in her choice. Or maybe it was just hormones? Wow, that would really blow, wouldn't it?

Cass waved a hand back in the direction Jase had gone off in. "...that's a thing. How did that happen? Is...is he good?"

Somehow Autumn's face went from red to infrared, and she covered it with her hands just to feel the comparative coolness of them against her cheeks.

"I mean, like, as a boyfriend," Cassie clarified. She couldn't back down, even in the face of her friend's mortification. "Does he, like give you flowers?" She couldn't wait any longer to ask the hard-hitting questions. "Did you guys do it yet?"

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Oh. So, this was a thing that was happening now. Because the fact that she- Autumn Keane- was dating Jason Bannon was A Thing. And, now, it wasn't just a between-them Thing, but an out-in-the-open Thing. A Thing that, she was suddenly reminded, had apparently made Marissa angry, which... kind of made no sense, unless she was upset she didn't hear it from her. That seemed like a girl best friend reaction, right? Maybe? Autumn sighed, resigned to spending the rest of the day as a hot blushing mess. Glancing back in the direction of the kitchen and the delicious smells of breakfast pouring from the doorway, she weighed her options. Cassie was a friend now, even if they hadn't exactly put a label on it yet, and although she'd always considered Jason a fairly private sort of person, he didn't seem to mind being open about their status update. Obviously. Her lips were still tingling, slightly warmer than the rest of her face, as the red-cheeked redhead pressed them together. ...Which was not helpful, because it only made her think about how different it felt when he was the one doing that, and-


"As a boyfriend?" she repeated, pointedly focusing on the spirited reporter's actual questions and edging away from the doorway just in case either Devin or her mother happened to be paying attention. "I mean..." Autumn reflected for a moment on the events of the last few days, holding the warm mug in both hands as she took a long sip of her coffee. "It hasn't even been that long, just since Friday, so I don't really know. Like, no flowers and stuff, obviously, which is fine. The ones in his barn are way nicer, anyway.” She smiled at that, the sunlight catching the faint green flecks in her eyes as she turned to watch the dogs and squirrels through the sliding glass doors. “And no, we haven’t. Stuff just kind of happened when we went camping, like he said, and…” Exhaling, she took another drink, resolutely keeping her gaze fixed on the landscape and not on Cassie’s smirk. “And neither of us expected it to, so we weren’t… you know. Prepared.” The tone of her voice was suggestive, framing the word in audible quotation marks. Or we probably would have. I don’t even know how to describe it, honestly, just like…” The sensation of sparks turning her blood molten, of flickering flames in his fingertips, remained vivid even in her memory; despite her embarrassment, the Titian-haired Girl Scout grinned. “Like fwoosh,” she elaborated, gesturing expansively with one hand as she turned back to Cassandra.

Fwoosh?” the intrepid journalist asked, her grin equal parts skepticism and amusement.

“Yeah,” Autumn nodded, still smiling even as the pink in her cheeks deepened again. “Like the sound of something suddenly catching fire, you know? Physics. Chemistry. Honestly, I kind of feel a little bit like a crazy person around him in a very, um, sciencey way, and a totally different kind of crazy person when I think about how crazy it is. I mean, he’s Jason Effing Bannon, right? And that’s a whole thing on its own, but…” She glanced again in the direction of the doorway, the music, and the mouthwatering scent of bacon and lowered her voice. “But when we left Bunnee’s last night, I went to his house. I know, I know. I just showed up, and asked for a shower and a hug, and Cass, he just said ‘okay’ and freaking gave them to me. Like, sat there for over an hour and just hugged me while my clothes were in the laundry and talked to me until I calmed down, and then he brought me home and dropped me off at the end of the driveway so I could ride back up, and I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’m totally out of my depth with him, and it’s probably either the best idea ever or the worst, but I need to know.” Autumn paused to take a much-needed breath, her expression utterly earnest. “You know?”

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Cassandra's teasing grin faded as Autumn talked until it was just a little smile, then maybe not even that. There were thoughts on top of thoughts in her head, like time was slowing down and someone 'offstage' was narrating...

'there's four things you need to know about Autumn and Jase right now...



What Autumn was describing sounded romantic and head over heels, but it also sounded like...a crush? Relationships weren't 'the best' or 'the worst' idea ever, were they? They were always somewhere in between, and usually skewing wildly up and down and all around. But then again, what the hell did Cassie know? She was running on pure intuition here...

Regardless, Cass was sure of one thing. Jase would have done that for any of the Fellowship. Accepted without judgement, listened without complaint, given without qualm. That didn't make it not special, but...it wasn't romantic. It wasn't a gesture in the way she felt like Autumn was reacting to it as.

And that's where she felt a stab of concern. Sooner or later Autumn was going to crash head into the fact that Jase didn't...think like her. Didn't feel like her. It was hard for Cassie to articulate even to herself what the difference exactly was, but she felt it keenly. Everything about him, from his choice of words to his body language implied a gulf between him and everyone else. Like a black hole, it couldn't be seen, but its presence could be inferred from how it affected him. He was going to break her heart.

...but it didn't matter. In that snapshot in her own head, that moment of clarity, Cassandra could see too that trying to talk Autumn down, or 'warn' her about any of this would not only not work, but they'd likely make things worse. She could feel Autumn pulling away, feeling as if she had to pick between her prince Jase and the others in the group. And then Jase, how would he react to that? If he had to choose, which way would he go?


Time started again and Cassandra smiled wistfully. "I guess I don't really know. I had a crush on a guy in grade school, but he moved away. Me and my boyfriend started dating just sort of...because? We already hung out all the time together anyway, it just kind of felt right. I guess I haven't really had that sort of...intensity you're talking about." She tugged a few strands of her blonde hair out from the rest and wiggled it around absently. "All teasing aside, if you're happy about it, I'm behind it."

The grin came back then. "And I can spy on him to tell you if he's cheating on you. Cassie Allen, psychic detective. A hundred a week, plus expenses."

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Autumn's answering grin was immediate, illuminating her freckled features with its sudden sincere intensity. "A hundred plus expenses? Oof. I don't know... That's a little out of my price range right now. Cookie sales have been kind of slow since they made us stop setting up outside the medical weed dispensaries," she quipped, shrugging a little. Swirling the half-full mug of coffee in one hand, the redhead narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. "What about skateboard lessons, though? How are your rates on those?"

"Hmm. The going rate." Cassie considered the question with all due seriousness. "I'd say, snacks and drinks for when we started to work up an appetite. Those are friend prices," she added considerately.

"Deal." Her new friend's smile broadened visibly; 'Happy Camper,' indeed, Cass mused, with only a little of that earlier bittersweet feeling poking at the thought from somewhere in the back of her mind. "We can start there, then, and worry about the high-end services when and if I need them. Sometime this week, maybe? Like, after school, or something. I've kind of always wanted to learn, and it would be nice to hang out without looming existential threats. I mean, apart from the normal ones like the oceans being clogged by giant islands of plastic, ethnic cleansing, the planet being literally on fire, and the imminent collapse of society due to unsustainable population growth and agricultural practices." She blinked and smiled again, and took another long drink of coffee.

Yep. Happy Camper.

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Devin walked out with his hands full.  He had a plate of waffles in one and bowl of fruit in his other, on his forearm rest the giant plate of eggs.  "I really hate to break up this intense female bonding, I do.  It's sweet to see you two giggling and making friendly before you eventually move on to experimenting with one another before college to test the boundaries of your sexuality.  Video is mandatory."  Dana's head panned into view in the door frame after that last part.  "But if someone could grab the OJ on the counter and Autumn if you could snag some glasses from the cabinet, I don't know where you guys keep them, that would be all kinds of helpful."

He was being incredibly helpful, and as he deftly managed to set down everything he was carrying Autumn was pretty sure that after breakfast, unless they left in a hurry, he'd stay to do the dishes and maybe help her mother with the spot of dusting and laundry she mentioned for her weekend to-do list..  Yet, it was hard to tell with him if this was just part of his usual charade of misleading pranks or he was honestly this homely and sincere in his desire to help out.  The two ladies looked at him like there was a growth sprouting from his forehead.

He glared at them and his posture shifted.  He clapped at them like some effeminate New York Fashion designer, or Ruby Rod.  "C'mon!  Chop, chop!"  He clapped his hands and strutted off back into the kitchen in the same effeminate manner in an incredibly over-exaggerated swagger in his hips.  DeeJay may have been a complete pain in the ass most of the time, but sometimes he was downright entertaining.

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"Uh, right.  I'll just wash up real quick."  Autumn nodded, taking another sip of her coffee for the road, then almost losing the mouthful when she turned around as she caught sight of the tall figure behind her.

"I'll get the glasses."  Jason said, having come back into the room without calling attention to himself, giving Cass a raised eyebrow as she tried not to choke on her coffee.  As usual, the slender youth had been near-silent, fitting into the space around him with no extraneous noise or movement.  Stalking, it could only be described as, though that word held connotations of intent, which wasn't present.  It was just Jase being Jase, doing what came naturally.

Probably, anyway.  The fact that the instinct of moving stealthily came naturally to him was perhaps not a comforting notion to others.

OJ procured, glasses found, and Autumn having returned from cleaning up - she had gone upstairs and discreetly closed her bedroom door whilst the others were busy - the teens and their bemused hostess sat down to breakfast with alacrity.  Dana found herself studying Autumn's friends, noting their differences to one another, and yet an indefinable something that was common to them all, a sense of strong personality radiating from them, from the expressive and entertaining (at times) wise-assery of Devin, to Cassandra's bright-eyed and intelligent perkiness, to Jase's eerie poise and expressions so understated that a smile would be missed if you did not see the twitch of his lip or the gleam in his eyes, and of course her own daughter, vivacious and laughing, smiling and bantering with her friends as they passed condiments and drinks, now and then going pink under her freckles as she and Jason shared a glance.  They all seemed to radiate energy, a subharmonic that was magnetically infectious, made them seem larger than life even as they discussed the mundane matters of school, of Jase's dad's effort to get the farm up and running, and of travel arrangements for the day.

Breakfast over, the four friends practically shooed Dana out of the kitchen and cleaned up, Devin and Jason slyly making use of their gifts once the maternal back was turned and she couldn't see pans scrubbing themselves, or cleaned glasses popping onto the cupboard shelves in small explosions of purple light, or dishes in the rack being dried with a glance, the moisture on them forming a small cloud of steam in the air which swiftly dissipated.  In fact, the guys were having so much fun showing off that there wasn't much for Cass and Autumn to actually do other than keep an eye out for Dana and sip coffee, until finally the cleanup was done and they were ready to head out.

"So."  Devin looked at Autumn as they descended from the porch and walked over to the vehicles.  "We agreed to come out for the Rez visit without asking questions before, but now I think we need to know what's going on.  Where we going exactly, and who're we lookin' for, Grano-  Autumn?"   Jason nodded taciturn agreement, his pale eyes on his girlfriend's face, and Cassie perked up, looking curious.  As they reached where the Ducatti and Charger were parked, it was plain Autumn had the floor.

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“I’m honestly not one hundred percent sure where, specifically, I need to go once we get there. I just know they should be expecting me, and I know what I’m supposed to tell them when I get there, and who I’m supposed to ask for. It’s just…” Autumn hesitated as she thrust her hands into the pockets of her beloved red hoodie, the fingers of one hand curling unconsciously around the small, cloth-wrapped object there. “It’s a family thing, and the person I’m looking for should- I hope- have more answers. I asked if people wanted to come because it’s also related to what’s happening here in Shelly, and someone else might catch something I’d miss, or think of a question I might not ask, or whatever. So, I’m going for personal reasons, but it doesn’t just affect me, and it might help with all the other stuff.” Her nose crinkled in something like a grimace, the freckles there merging into a miniature Rorschach image before smoothing out again. “I know that’s vague, and I promise I’m not trying to be all cloak-and-dagger about this, I’m just not sure what to tell you guys.”

“Do you trust us?” Devin asked, direct as ever.

Taken aback, Autumn frowned curiously at the resident wild card. “Do I trust you, as a group, or you, specifically?”

“As a group,” he replied soberly, and then shrugged, shooting a sly half-grin in her direction. “Pretty sure we all know the answer to the other one.”

“Mmm. Mostly, I guess,” she conceded slowly, reflecting on what Jason had told her about his own admittedly complicated family dynamic. That had required trust on his part, right? Trust that she wouldn’t laugh at him, or run screaming, or whatever, and at least two of the three people here were her friends. So…

“So tell us ‘mostly.’”

Autumn’s initial response was a soft, sharp ugh as she stopped walking and briefly closed her eyes, the quiet subvocalization scarcely more than a frustrated huff that melded with the sound of rocks shifting underfoot and then faded to a sigh. The fact that a reasonable request had originated in Devin Jauntsen’s brain, especially after he’d been kissing up to her mom all morning, was annoying as all fuck. …But it was reasonable, she had to admit.

“Okay. I’m going because after the whole hospital thing I found out my family- my mom’s side,” she clarified, glancing around at the other teens, “has some kind of agreement with the Blackfeet, going way back. Way back. When we’re old enough, we’re supposed to be taken up there to meet with the elders for some kind of ritual. I don’t know the specifics. Mom never did it, apparently, moved away and went to college and got married and all that. She never liked Grandpa talking about all the old stories and stuff anyway. So, now it’s my turn. It’s just that-” She swallowed hard, liquid blue eyes suddenly brighter in the sunlight. “There’s nobody to take me, anymore, you know? So I have to do that part on my own.” Digging her heels into the gravel with a little shrug and a smile, Autumn breathed in the morning air, silently willing the familiar scents to fill her lungs, to drive out the dull ache of memory in her chest.

It’s fine, Autumn. He’d be here if he could, but you don’t need him to be.

No. I know. But it would’ve been nice, wouldn’t it?

Exhaling, she straightened her shoulders, setting the thought aside, and continued. “Anyway, the person who told me knows at least a little about what’s going on… Not who you guys are, or anything like that, just about the Dark and this whole…” Pulling one hand free of her jacket, the redhead described a vague circle in space. “Cycle, and stuff in general. And they suggested I bring anyone else like me to the Rez, in case the elders could help them, too. There’s…” A little frown knit the girl’s brows, then, as she thought about the journals, and the talisman, and the conversation she needed to have with Dana at some point that afternoon. “A few other things, too, but I think they can wait. At least for now, until I can talk to the guy I need to see up at the reservation, and all of us can sit down and go over everything after. And, I promise,” she added quickly, emphatically, “whatever else you guys want to know then, I’ll tell you, as long as it’s my story to tell.” Nathan had respected her willingness to keep the others’ identities to herself, so it seemed only fair to do the same for him. Maybe that wouldn’t be necessary later on, but, she reasoned, it wasn’t her call to make.

“And, also. Thanks. For going with me, I mean,” she added, squinting slightly in the morning sun.

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Maybe it was what Dana had told him in the kitchen, but Devin was feeling a bit more closer to Autumn than he had any other time they'd all been together.  The snark and quips didn't seem to have the fire they usually possessed in his mind.  Instead he simply reached out and gave her a pat on the shoulder.  "You're not on your own, Granola.  With all that's going on, the things we know and have to keep secret.  Fighting with how those secrets tear away at us, I get it.  We're the closest thing to family we have most days."

He was borderline sweet when not being an ass.  "If you need us, then we're here for you.  All the rest can wait til later."  He walked to his bike and offered Cassie her helmet, which she noticed smelled a lot like Tawny's shampoo.  Quickly his composure returned and the telltale Devin smirk returned to his features.  "Besides, some of those reservation girls are super hot, you couldn't keep me away from this trip."

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Cassandra smirked and donned the second-hand helmet, then nodded at Autumn.

"I've been wanting to go up there for a long time now, but especially since I started working out how to really use what I can do. I think there's things we need to know in the past, and the Blackfeet have been keeping the past a lot better than Shelly has. Plus, once I'm there...I don't know, maybe I can look back far enough. It seems like it should be way too far, but...I have to try."

She tugged at the chinstrap, drawing it snug, and worked her jaw a little. "Just do me one favor alright? If I get excited and start talking too fast, or accidentally insulting them or something because I'm too pushy or whatever? Just stand next to me so you can give me an elbow. And...Devin should be on the other side of you, for exactly the same reason."

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"So where would Jase stand?"  Autumn laughed, unable to repress a giggle at the image of her alternately nudging Cass and Devin with each elbow.  Her nose crinkled as she smiled at her hitherto silent boyfriend, who smiled faintly.

"Oh, he would have to lurk nearby."  Cassandra asserted blithely.  "Behind a tree or something." 

"That seems far away."  Autumn mock-pouted.  Jase flashed a quick grin at that.

"I could stand behind you."  he suggested with a raised eyebrow and a sly gleam in his eye as he stepped behind Autumn and slid his hands over her waist and round to her stomach.  The girl blushed to the roots of her fiery hair, but her grin was radiant.

"Mmm, yeah.  That's much better."  she assented, leaning back against him comfortably and trying not to giggle at the retching noises Devin was theatrically making.  Cassie rolled her eyes.

"That makes Autumn the only person who feels better when Jason is standing behind them."  she noted with a grin mostly hidden by the bike helmet.  "Figures."

"Also, thanks for inviting us along on something so personally important."  Jase quietly told Autumn, his breath stirring her hair.  "We're here for you, as Devin implied."  He kissed her cheek, leaning over one of her shoulders to do so.

"You kids are too cute."  Devin snarked as he got settled on the bike.  "So where to first?"

"Main town is Browning."  Jason put in as he let his hands slip from Autumn, stepping away and towards the Charger, the doors of which unlocked as though he had some manner of remote unlocking system - which, in a manner of speaking he did.  He looked at her questioningly.  "If you're not sure where to start, that seems the best course."  Autumn pondered for a moment, lightly chewing the edge of her lower lip, then nodded.  

"Yeah, let's try there first.  Like I said, I know who to ask for, and someone should have heard of them there, surely."

"Browning it is."  Devin patted the pillion seat of the Ducatti.  "Climb aboard and hang on tight, blondie."

"Can't Jase let me drive his car and then he ride with you?"  Cass asked plaintively.

"Never happen."  Jase and Devin said almost in unison, then gave each other a thumbs-up of masculine solidarity.  Sighing at the display of patriarchal oppression, Cassie climbed onto the bike as Autumn and Jason got into the Charger.

The drive out to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation was uneventful, even dull, though the wide open spaces and landscape were at least worth the viewing.  Keeping loose formation, the Ducatti and the Charger headed more or less straight west on Highway 2, through the town of Cut Bank and so on into the Reservation proper.  Other than the occasional long-haul Mack truck or local farmer's dusty pickup, there was not much in the way of traffic on the road, and not much to do other than take in the summer-baked expanse of plains, farmland, woods and creeks, dotted here and there with small clusters of houses barely large enough to be called a village.

The atmosphere in the Charger was relaxed.  Jase drove with laid-back attentiveness, keeping the powerful V8 on or around the speed limit as the strange Nordic folk music he listened to issued unintrusively from the speakers.  Now and then he'd glance over at Autumn, studying the way her curls shone like copper as they blew in the breeze from the open windows, or the pattern of freckles on the ivory of her cheeks.  Feeling his scrutiny, she would glance back at his composed features with a smile, seeing beyond the still ice of the surface to the warm gleam in his pale eyes.  They didn't speak - there didn't seem to be a need - rather they were content in this contained moment within the metal shell of the car, with the music and the landscape flashing past outside, to now and then exchange a glance and a smile.

Browning was not a large town, barely as large as Shelly, in fact.  But the young travellers could feel a difference here, accustomed as they were to the pall that hung over their home town, it had never occurred to them that other places might 'feel' different.  The awareness that their Shine granted them felt a gentle positive energy radiating around the settlement, pushing back against the darkness from the east.  There was a sense that this was a safe place - not in the sense that bad things could not happen, simply that they would be 'normal' bad things, regular human selfishness and evil rather than the work of an unholy parasitic Tree.  Cass, in particular, could sense it - and more besides, a stronger emanation of the energy the teens called 'Shine' further to the west of the town.  Calling to her from Site B.

The motorbike and the sports car parked up next to one another outside a general store on the central avenue.  A Subway across the street and a Taco Johns further down contrasted with a Blackfeet Trading Post, the Native American Bank and a Heritage Museum and Art Gallery.  Outside a liquor store next to the Subway, an old man sat in a chair under a sunshade, staring incuriously at the newcomers who, taking stock, looked at one another as if to say "What next?"

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The last hour had flown by like the scenery, bathed as it was in the golden haze of late summer, with the feeling of the wind and the sun all around her- and, now and again, the tickle of Jason’s hair sliding through her fingers as she watched the highway disappear beneath them. There was something inexplicably satisfying about driving like this, seeing the miles devoured by the great black beast that carried them forward, relentlessly and tirelessly forward, and she’d had the brief, wild thought that they could just… keep going. The two of them. That the broad and beautiful swath of earth and sky she’d always known was such a tiny part of what was actually out there, and if they just kept driving-

-but then they stopped, and as the low rumble of the engine quieted and stilled, she felt the weight of reality reasserting itself. The soles of her grey All-Stars hit the pavement, the passenger side door closed, and Autumn was up and moving on her own, ideas of slaking her wanderlust evaporating in the lazy air. Circling around the hood of the Charger, she peered down the sidewalk toward the bank and the faux-Mexican restaurant.

“Well, liquor store’s out,” the redhead mused aloud, tucking her hair behind her ears for the nth time already that morning. “Although, knowing my grandfather, that probably wouldn’t be the absolute worst place to start. The museum, maybe?” She eyed the gallery speculatively, considering their options. “There might be someone at the heritage center that either recognizes the name of the guy I’m looking for, or could point us to somebody else who does.” Taking a few steps in that direction, her fingers brushed the arm of the tall, lanky youth who had likewise scrutinized the most official-looking of the buildings on offer. “I say we start there,” she called over her shoulder, already moving on. Forward.

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"Who exactly are we looking for, Ay-Kay?"  Devin used her 'inner circle twins name', which felt weird since she'd almost gotten used to 'Granola'.  He set his helmet on the bike and smiled at Cassie as she quietly thanked him for taking hers and securing it.

She sighed and looked at the road for a brief moment.  Squinting in the sunlight as she returned her stare on Devin she once again had to attack the rogue strand of hair that one again made a break for it.  "All I have is a name: Laughing Joe."

"Awesome, shouldn't be too hard to find now that was can ask around."  Devin shrugged in a 'case closed', laissez faire manner.

"Before you start 'Devining'," Autumn made sure she held one hundred percent of his attention before she continued.  "Let's begin with the Heritage Center.  If we come up with nothing we'll do it your way."

"You don't even know 'my way'."  He laughed.

"Walk down each side of the road and ask everyone if they know Laughing Joe."  All three said lazily in unison while looking at him.  Devin's eyes just darted from side to side, refusing to make eye contact with any of them.  Okay.  Maybe they did know.

"Alright, smart asses.  Let's hit this heritage center first.  After I get a drink, you guys thirsty?  Subway looks promising, it's guarded by Chief Sits-With-Hooch, it seems."  He smiled at Cassie.  "If I buy you a drink I'm not gonna have to chew through my arm in the morning to get away from you, am I?"

"A drink doesn't sound too bad." Jase admitted after an hour of driving while Cassie playfully back handed Devin in the gut.

"I got it guys, it's cool," Devin raised up his hands to halt the entourage from following him.  "Cassie can help me carry, you two hang back and do your 'planning thing'... we got this."  Autumn noticed the guy signal Devin launched at Jase, a slight nod and smirk that told him he was giving the love birds a few minutes of alone time after the car ride.  It did occured to her that Jase and Devin certainly didn't always get a long, but they were the closest thing to 'bros' on the team.  Maybe that's why they were bros?

It was only about ten minutes, the local Subway was certainly not packed at almost ten in the morning, that was certain.  Devin and Cassie crossed the road, holding everyone's orders and sipping their own while they laughed and giggled about some joke or another and they seemed to be providing the other with an endless means of entertainment.  Devin broke up Jase's and Autumn's conversation by implying they were doing something intimate that they certainly were not but they handed over the drinks and the soon the party was once again ready to continue their epic quest.

After about five steps of enjoyed silence, Devin had to say something.  "Do you think they'll have peyote?"

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"Devin, you can jump anywhere at will, and you want peyote?" Cassandra asked skeptically. "You'll send yourself to the moon, or jump into a psychedelic dimension and get lost or something." She took a deep drink through the straw of her soda, then added, "Friends don't let friends teleport while tripping balls."

"Besides it's probably sacred or something, right?" She directed that last question to Autumn, who seemed to be the expert present. "Is there anything we should definitely not do or say or anything? Also...is the plural Blackfeet or Blackfoots?"

As they walked Cassie eyed the Heritage Center. Seemed like a cool place. She wondered if they had a policy about photos but decided not to ask. Sometimes it was better to ask forgiveness than permission.

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"Blackfeet would be technically correct. This land we stand on is the Blackfeet Nation."  Jason said quietly as the four of them moved down the sidewalk towards the heritage center.  "The native word for their tribe, siksika, means Blackfoot, and is not a plural.  Linguistically, you could refer to them as the Blackfeet or as the Blackfoot Tribe.  Also, unusually, they're one of the only Native American peoples who dislike the term 'native american'.  They're perfectly happy being referred to as Indians."

"Hey, I remember you said something like that before."  Devin nodded around a sip of his soda.  "At Bunnee's, right?"

"Studying the area's history, especially the weird parts, there was a lot of mention of the Blackfeet, such as the Upside Down Thunder reference."  Jason nodded.  "Not all of it relevant at the time, but I stored it away anyway."

"Wish I could store everything I read inside my head."  Autumn grumped.  "School would be so fuckin' easy."

"Everything I read. Everything I see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.  Every good experience, every bad one.  Every thought, feeling and impulse I have.  None of them forgotten, none of them faded with time.  A thought, and I am back in the moment the memory originated with no filter of time to dull the sensations." Jase's voice was calm, but the words held a gravity to them as he turned his head, icy gaze studying the shopfronts and surroundings as he spoke.  "I don't seem to have much, if any, of a subconscious to hide things in.  I sometimes wonder whether if I would be sane, if I were not as I am."

The others exchanged glances, then Autumn looped her arm through his.  "Well," the redhead smiled.  "I'm glad you're you.  For all sorts of reasons."

"Sanity is overrated anyway."  Cass grinned.  "Pluck is better."

"All ya'll are crazy anyway."  Devin's comment reinforced the ripple of amusement, and even Jase smiled, an actual curve of his lips that revealed a hint of dimple in the normally smooth cheeks.

The Blackfeet Heritage Center & Art Gallery stood on the corner of a block, right next to an open area that, signs indicated, held the Museum of the Plains Indian.  The building was small-ish, built of - or at least made to look as if it were built of - wood and riverstone, and the small plaza outside was adorned with various sculptures of past chiefs of the tribe, who stared impassively at the teens as they walked inside.  The entrance opened up into a large, square room, walls adorned with local art and displays featuring aspects of Blackfoot life and culture.  As the four looked about and started to drift slightly apart, a girl about their own age, perhaps a year or two older and Blackfoot from the looks of her, approached them.

"Heya." she said laconically, eyeing them each in turn.  "Welcome to the Blackfeet Heritage Center."  Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt with the museum logo on it, she turned her gaze to Jason and her eyes widened.  "Oh, hi.  Dude with the lighter."  she said with a half-smile.  "Uh... Jase, right?  I'm-"

"Mary."  Jason nodded.  "I remember."

"Right."  she nodded, her smile widening as she shoved her hands into her back pockets, looking up at him.  "So what brings you here?"

In answer Jason looked at Autumn, who still had her arm looped through his.  "So, um..." The redhead cleared her throat.  "We're looking for someone called, uh, Laughing Joe?"  She felt her face heating slightly as the native- sorry, Indian girl looked from Jase, to her, and then at their linked arms, then back at her again.  "I was kinda given the impression people would know him?" she ventured as Mary frowned.

"Who wants to see him?"  she asked, hands coming out of the back pockets of her jeans as she folded her arms, studying the Shellyites anew.  "He's a busy guy."  Autumn straightened slightly, clear sea-blue eyes meeting Mary's dark gaze.

"Owen Kavanagh's granddaughter."  she said with as much dignity as she could.  The effect was notable: Mary blinked and lost some of her hard-edged suspicion, reappraising Autumn with a solemn stare, before nodding slowly once.

"Granddad!" she called over one shoulder, her eyes studying the teens.  A bead curtain at the far end of the display gallery room rattled, and an old man stepped out.

Laughing Joe was tall and lean, his skin darkened by the sun and weathered to the consistency of boot leather.  Smile lines around his mouth and crow's feet around his eyes indicated that his monicker was, at least in part, grounded in fact.  He walked with a slight limp and the aid of a cane, but his smile was genuine as he came forward, eyes the colour of flint alighting on Autumn.

"Granddad, this is-"

"I know who it is.  Been expecting her."  The old man's voice was deep, surprisingly strong in such a lean frame.  "Now I see her, and her friends, shining brightly.  Come on in, granddaughter of my friend - and her friends.  Be welcome."  He offered Autumn his hand.  "You look like your mother, but a lot like Owen too."  he said as the bemused girl took it.  "Come on, this way." he said after a brief handshake.  "We can do proper introductions in the back."

Leaving Mary behind, they followed him through into a room that, whilst smaller than the main gallery, was packed full of history.  This, it seemed, was the real heritage center, and the room Shone in a strange way, a sort of gentle silvery radiance that was different to the golden brightness the teens emanated from within.  Glancing around, Autumn could see, yes, a couple of the medicine bundles - or talismans, or whatever they were - affixed over the doors and the windows.  Desks littered with artifacts and trinkets were everywhere, and only a modicum of order prevented the room from looking like a junkyard of native american art.

"Pull up chairs, if you can find 'em."  Laughing Joe said, motioning around with a hand as he took a seat, keen gaze studying the four of them intently now that they were alone.  "Who're your friends, girl?"

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Autumn was struck, simultaneously, by two impressions: first, that she was glad that this man had been friends with her grandfather, with his gracious demeanor and forthright manner, and second, that this place was protected in the same way Owen's study had been. At least, it felt that way, which meant that she could relax a little about hanging the bundle from her grandparents' place in her own home. Smiling, she gestured toward each of the teens in turn. "This is Cassie, my partner in crime," the redhead grinned broadly, "and this is Devin... and I apologize for him in advance, for whatever he says, and this..." Glancing up at the laconic young man next to her, she inched a little closer to him. "Is Jason. I hope it's okay that they came with me, Warden Crocker suggested it."

Cassandra gave the old man a thumbs up and a smile, and greeted him with a bright, "Hey."

"It's nice to meet you Mr. uh, Joe." Devin offered the older man a nod. "So, uh," he jerked a thumb towards the door that would take them back out to the lobby, and to Mary. "Is she seeing anyone?" Cassie looked at Autumn and made a little 'elbow jab' gesture... suggesting that was her cue.

With a quick heavenward glance, the redhead nudged Devin sharply with her elbow. "Like I said, apologies in advance."

"Ow, what?" he exclaimed, scowling as he rubbed his side.

Joe laughed, his grin infectious. "Mary? Oh, she's currently between boyfriends. But you can dally around another day, kiddo." Joe smiled broadly as he took in the four. "Seems to me to be downright provident, four of you being here." As Jason nodded in his own silent greeting and the teens grabbed chairs, Joe fixed Autumn with a friendly grin. "So. Warden Crocker sent you to me? Nate's a good man." The gaze took on a sharp, knowing air. "Anything else bring you here?"

Devin looked to Autumn. It was obvious he wanted to say something- when didn't he?- but he gestured from her to Joe. "It's your show, Granola. Glare if you need us." He winked and smiled at her, his consideration earning a warm grin of approval from Cassie.

"Mmm," she assented, tucking a rogue curl behind her ear before flashing a quick scrunched-nose scowl at the teleporter. "Nathan sent to me to ask about some kind of ritual, but I also got into Grandpa's study, and found his journals, and a couple of letters he left, and one of those..." Autumn glanced pointedly at one of the bundles above the entrances to the room. "...And," exhaling quietly, she pulled the little cloth-wrapped object from her pocket. "And a lockbox full of these." Unfolding the brightly-patterned bandana she'd carried it in, the redhead revealed a maybe-copper bracelet that looked oddly familiar.

Cassandra frowned at the bracelet, then glanced at Devin. "Isn't that... Devin, lemme see your arm for a second."

Devin held out his arm, positioning his wrist near the bracelet Autumn was presenting to the group. "I got this from The Land of Upside-Down Thunder. How did your Grandpa have a whole box of them?" The freckled girl’s response was a helpless shrug and a quick shake of her head.

"You got it where, boy?" Joe was not laughing - or smiling - now. He stared at the bracelet on Devin's wrist, then at Devin as though the young man had claimed he found it on the moon.

"It's not exactly the same...but yeah..." Cassandra murmured thoughtfully, studying the designs engraved on both bracelets- similar, yes, but not quite identical.

"The Land of Upside-Down Thunder. The other side,” he explained, unsure if Joe’s question was from disbelief or ignorance. “It's a nightmare realm, darkness and corruption everywhere. It pulled me through, but I-" Devin stopped short as he suddenly remembered he didn't know this man from Adam and decided not to inadvertently spill any more of his friends’ secrets. "Aaaand, you probably think I'm crazy. Never mind."

"So." The old man sat back in his chair, his manner thoughtful rather than disbelieving. "You've seen it. Just you?"

"We all have." Jason spoke up quietly. Autumn nodded in silent agreement, her blue eyes uncharacteristically grave.

"Most of us haven't been there, but...yeah..." Cassie remarked.

"Actually," Autumn shook her head, glancing over at the clever blonde. "Most of us have. At least the ones of us here. At the trailer."

Cassandra frowned, "I didn't think you were there for that... Wait, no, that was like where you first..." She winces. "Sorry. Never mind. Wrong time."

Recognition dawned on the redhead's features that they were talking about two separate events, two separate slices of awful from the same evil pie. "Yeah, no. Different trailer, sorry. Not the party you guys went to."

Cassie nodded, quietly working to piece together the fragments of things she’d seen, heard, and intuited so far. There were so many threads to weave together, and so many things that had happened it was hard to keep track of them all; once in a while, though, she was sure if she could just see a little more, she’d be able to make out a pattern…

"Something is there,” Devin interjected, jarring the seer from her musings. “On the other side. Autumn brought us here as rocks to cling to. She has questions, we all do, now, I suppose. Help her and then we can go from there. I know her Granddad was important to her, so..." He half-smiled. "That's more important right now."

"Okay." Joe had been rubbing his chin thoughtfully, listening to the various recountings of events. "Okay," he repeated and took a deep breath, seeming a little shaken. "Never thought this day would come, personally." He fixed Autumn with a look. "You wouldn't have been able to find these things if you didn't have the Light. So everything I've been told, all the secret stuff I've had passed to me... It's all true. And now I'm having to take a moment, here." He took a hip flask from his pocket and took a long pull from it, restoppering it with fingers that shook a little. "All of you got it. It's not my imagination, or wishful thinking, right?" he asked the teens. "The Dawning Light?"

Autumn nodded. "Yeah. There are others, too, who didn't come with us."

"We call it the Shine, though," Cassie elaborated a little.

The hip flask in Joe's hand began to shimmer and blur with a purple aura before blinking out of his hand and appearing in Devin's with all the same fan-fare, save reversed as the object rematerialized. He held it up and showed Joe. "Yep. We’re just big balls of pure sunshine and bad assery." He leaned over and handed Joe back his flask. "But we're flying blind."

With a smirk, Devin nudged Autumn and whispered, "Tell me that wasn't cool though."

 Incredulous and wide-eyed, she smacked his arm with the back of her hand, hissing under her breath. "Stop it! You can't just take people's stuff!"

"I gave it back," the unrepentant Jauntsen protested even as she sighed.

“I swear, we can't take you anywhere," Autumn grumbled, more to herself than anything.

"Holy shit." The old-timer looked like he'd seen a ghost, then abruptly he laughed. "Holy shit!" he exclaimed, still laughing. "It's real." And the teens realised the old man was crying even as he laughed, tears working their way down the craggy leather of his cheeks. Jason leaned forward, offering a handkerchief, seemingly unmoved by the man's emotional display, then sat back and waited as Joe collected himself. "Alright then." The old Indian said eventually, nodding. "So, you've gotta understand, kids, this is all ancient stories and stuff handed down through medicine men since before we had bows and arrows - so it's said. So if there's gaps in the story, or things that don't make sense, treat it as one of them allygoryes."

"Uh, one sec before you get started." Cassandra held up her phone. "Mind if I record this? So we don't have to keep pestering you if we forget something."

"Not at all." Joe shook his head. "We're supposed to keep it secret until it's time, but now it's time. So... Record away, girl."

"Thanks!" Cassie manipulated her phone, then nodded. "Okay, go for it."

Devin looked to Jase and leaned towards him, silently whispering. "What's an allegory? We fought one of those yet?"

"A story, or poem, or sometimes a picture that can have a hidden meaning." Jase murmured in response. "Like some of the Bible stories - not literally true, but true in a sense."

"Oh! Okay," Devin nodded. "Got it."

Joe had taken another hit from his flask while this exchange had been taking place, and now set it aside before handing Jason back his handkerchief with a nod of thanks. "Alright. I'm translating some stuff from the old tongue, so it might be odd, but here goes. Long time ago, this land was hit by a star that was a giant boat, ridden by two men who were not men, but gods. But they looked like men, and talked like men, and so the Blackfoot tribe met with them and talked with them, and found they were very wise, and had mighty medicine."

Cassie brightened at that, a fiercely triumphant expression blooming on her face for a moment. It didn’t totally confirm her theory, and she’d definitely need more information to be one-hundred-percent sure, but it also didn’t not confirm it, either.

Resting her elbow on her knee, chin on her palm, Autumn idly twisted the bracelet in her other hand, features rapt as a child's as she listened. Wedged between Cassie and Devin, she focused on the older man’s words, letting the sound of his voice paint pictures in her mind’s eye of the events he was describing.

"Their star boat was broken, and its glow escaped into the land, causing strong shadows to rise. Because the stronger the light, the stronger the shadow it casts. And the two men-who-were-not saw this, and were angry - with themselves, and with the other gods who had caused them to crash their boat. One of the men wanted to bury the wrecked boat, to keep it from the hands of normal Man, who would not be able to use the magic inside safely. But the other was maddened at the thought of never sailing in his star boat again. And so the two men fought, with weapons and magic that shook the earth, and one of the men was the victor. But the other did not die."

Autumn stiffened slightly, teeth catching at the inside of her lower lip as she frowned.

They had never seen Devin so quiet. His attention was fully fixed on the old Laughing Joe, listening to his story like a five-year-old might sit and listen at story time. He leaned in, resting his elbows on knees and just listened, for once in his life.

Jason was motionless, his face expressionless as he listened, but like the others, his gaze was fixed on the old storyteller.

"The winner was the Trickster, who all the Indian peoples call Coyote, in one form or another. He won because he liked Man, and did not want him to be destroyed, which would have happened if the other god, the Huntsman, had his way and tried to sail the ship again. Coyote spent some time with us, as his wounds healed, and he warned us of the dark place to the east, where he and the Huntsman had fought. He said we did not have the Light to fight the Dark or heal the wound their fight had caused, but he could show us how to guard ourselves... and then he gave us those bracelets to keep, for one day warriors with the Light would come forward, and they would need protection from the Dark. And the Huntsman... He became a spirit thing. Angry, tied to the Darkness. He became the eater of hearts, the cannibal who turns brother against brother. The Wendigo."

"Yeah, we've seen him. He's a dick." Devin said flatly.

"Fuck," Autumn murmured under her breath, not bothering this time to apologize for her language. It made sense. The puzzle pieces that had shifted in the basement of the Old Town Hall were slowly beginning to fall into place.

Laughing Joe nodded sombrely. "His power was limited to causing madness and violence before. But it seems to have grown, if he can now draw you into the wound that is his realm."

"So, a god couldn't beat the Dark, and now us, warriors are supposed to do it?" He seemed all manner of skeptical. "No way. No flippin' way. How're we supposed to beat a god? I'm barely passing algebra!"

The old man shrugged. "Hell if I know, son. I just know you're the first to develop the Light, like the gods themselves had. You can feel it, use it, and wield it. For all I know, you're the new gods." He winked gravely. "Don't let it go to your head though."

"We met him too," Cassandra said. "Coyote. He told me a lot of stuff that sort of dovetails with what you're saying. ...left a few things out though. Please go on."

Joe's eyes widened, then he nodded slowly. "He's been walking the earth since that time. Now and then he's returned to this place - to keep an eye on it, I'm guessing. Otherwise, he's been off doing whatever he does." The old man rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "The talisman your granddad left you? He left instructions, right?" he asked Autumn, who nodded. "Follow 'em. As for the bracelets... They're for you - anyone with the Light, really. All I know is they grant 'protection'. That's it." He squinted at Devin. "I'd sure like to know how you got one on your wrist though, boy."

"And why it almost killed Cassie," Autumn half-asked, half-stated quietly.

"Because I'm a god and she was still getting a grasp of her powers. My greatness was too much for her mortal frame to endure." Devin looked at her shaking his head. "Obviously."

"Devin," Autumn groaned softly. "Please, shut up."

"I think it might have been because it had already bonded with you." Cassandra looked at Joe. "They can only be used by one person, right? Once they link...that's it?"

Joe shrugged. "I've never seen one worn by someone with the Light before. So your guess is as good as mine”

Cassie nodded. "Imma go with that."

Autumn frowned a little at Cass then, her lips compressing into a thin line, but she said nothing, instead rewrapping the bracelet in her hand and tucking it back into her pocket.

"So, do your stories tell of a third?” Devin asked. “Someone who exists in the Land of Upside Down Thunder? Because mine was given to me by a woman there. I didn't get mine from this realm.”

Joe looked thoughtful, his gaze distant as he plainly tried to dredge up some mention of a third mythic figure. "It's said that the Trickster and the Huntsman had followers - people they ruled over. Not men, but looking like men. There's one old, old tale of a war party of ours meeting a handful of warriors in strange, bright clothing with strange weapons. These warriors hunted our war party for sport, it is said, and only three men returned home, and none of them without scars. One of these men told that the shining warriors asked about a horned man - which the earlier tales tell was the description of the Huntsman. When a larger war party went out, to seek revenge, the trail of the strangers disappeared into thin air. As if they had simply gone."

"I can definitely confirm the horns," Cassie muttered.

Tilting her head, Autumn peered over at Devin thoughtfully. "Does that sound like the woman you met?"

"No, she was," Devin looked to the floor trying to recall her features. "She was... normal it seemed. Her head was covered with a helmet, but, I didn't feel a Shine from her. Then again, I'd just blown up the school and torn my organs apart by rapidly jumping to avoid the explosion... so, she could've looked like Beebo for all I remember."

Grimacing, the red-haired teen nodded. "Okay, yeah. I guess that's fair."

"A mystery, then." Jason murmured, his manner somewhat preoccupied as he turned over the terminology in his head. Two gods... the Trickster... Strange warlike followers hunting for their god, perhaps?

Autumn straightened in her chair, again chewing the inside of her lower lip as she considered what her grandfather's friend had said. "All right. So it's basically just as my grandfather wrote, then, and we need to figure the rest out on our own. One of the things I'm curious about, though... And, admittedly," she added with a little smile, "it's kind of trivial compared to everything else. How did the lock to his study end up... um, 'tuned,' I guess? To people with the Light."

Cassandra checks her phone to make sure it's still recording, then starts drifting away from Devin, Jase and Autumn to check the room out more, looking at the books on the shelves, and just sort of poking around as she listens to Joe.

"You noticed that, huh?" Joe's eyes crinkled at the edges, the old man seeming somewhat pleased. "That was my doing. I don't have the Light - but I can feel it a little. All medicine men have, since the old times. And like the talisman, we've got some tricks to sort of... bend strands of the Light, in little ways. Rituals that look hokey and stuff, but they work. Mostly."

She nodded, her expression relaxing slightly into an easy smile. "Yeah, it was pretty cool, honestly. I guess Mom gave up trying to get past it, at some point." Swinging her legs back and forth, the toes of her shoes scuffing at the floor, Autumn exhaled, clear blue eyes meeting the old man's deep brown ones. "So. What can you tell me about the ritual I'm supposed to do?"

"Oh, that?" Joe smiled a little. "That's little initiation for the Kavanagh and Crocker line, a bit of a ceremony to bring them under our umbrella, so to speak. They learn some of the tales about the dark spirit, with some examples of the sinister stuff in Shelly's past, and then they learn about the talisman bundle, and hopefully enough belief is scared into 'em that they do what they're supposed to and protect their homes and watch for the cycle to start up so they can keep their loved ones close. That's about it, really. You already know it all, and your Light is stronger than any medicine I can give you to ward off the spirit."

Autumn hmm’ed at that and nodded. Nathan had said this was for both the families, that the elders checked to see if they had the Dawning Light… But if Joe was right, that meant none of the Kavanaghs had- at least, not in recent memory. It was a lot to take in.

"You mentioned we could 'heal the land' where the fight happened," Cassandra said. She looked over at Joe. "Do any of your stories mention how to do that?"

"Plant trees and dance in the rain would be my guess." Devin said sarcastically. "We've all seen The Tree. I think if we're going to heal the land, we need to start there."

"Yeah, but how?" Cass said, turning to face Devin. "It's huge. I've seen it."

Distracted from her thoughts as the freckles on her cheeks vanished beneath a wave of crimson, Autumn glared at Cassie and Devin in turn. "Do not finish that thought, Deej. I can see it all over your face."

Devin pursed his lips together, as though he was fighting a pitched battle against some great force within his soul. "Okay," he finally exhaled. "Fine."

"That's what she said." Jason said quietly, a faint gleam in his eyes as a grin tugged at one corner of his lips.

Cassie threw her hands up. "Aww, I was going to try to keep it going too. I was just about to say how impressive I thought it was he could keep a grip on himself."

"Even if it does lead to blindness." Jase commented, nodding sagely.

"Oh, come on." Devin glared at Autumn while gesturing to the other two. Joe's presence became a momentary afterthought. "How come they get a pass?"

"I swear," the blushing redhead sighed, raking a hand back through her hair. "I literally cannot even right now, with any of you." Autumn covered her face with her hands, taking a few steps away from the group as she pleaded with all the gods, any god to just... incinerate her on the spot, right there in front of everyone. ...to no avail.

Cassandra looked back at Joe, still grinning. "Seriously though...anything about the cleaning thing?"

Joe was chuckling, his eyes bright as he watched the by-play. Shaking his head, he said, "There's purifying dances and ceremonies, but somehow I think this will take more than rattles and sacred feathers."

"Trickster - Coyote - said that we have to destroy the skull, and that will do it." Jason commented, all business again as he looked at Cassie. "Isn't that right?"

"Makes sense." Joe nodded approvingly

Cassie frowned. "I don't remember him mentioning destroying the skull...but there is a skull over there. On the throne. And yeah, that does make sense. The throne is what...does it, I think. So the skull must be sort of a center of power."

"The throne Is what does what, exactly?" Autumn asked.

Cassandra shakes her head. "I'm not sure. The guy, the Air Force guy...he threw it off. He didn't go in. But I remember he was like...drawn to it. You could see it in his face. He couldn't take his eyes off of it. It wanted him to come to it. I think that's what happened to Cody."

"Okay," Devin said with all his usual assertive bravado. "Then let’s go break that sh-" he paused and collected himself. "Thing."

Autumn folded her arms over her head, slowly pacing the length of the room. "Okay. So. We deal with Cody. We deal with this spirit. We clean whatever's festering in the wound this ship made out, help it heal. More or less in that order. Yeah?"

"Seems so." Jason nodded, sitting motionless in his chair save for the turning of his head as he watched Autumn.

"I'm not sure the wound was made by the ship anymore. At least not ALL of the wound. I always thought it was weird the Dark is so far away from it. I think it's because the 'wound' that the Dark got in through was made by this fight," said Cassie.

"Maybe," Autumn shrugged, unfazed, her eyes moving around the room, skimming over the artifacts and the faint, luminous overlay of silver that limned them as she walked. "So we deal with Cody. We deal with this spirit. We clean whatever's festering in the wound between worlds out, help it heal. What else do we need to find out?"

Cassie considered. "I think, if we follow the Man in Black's plan, that's when we head to the ship."

"Site B." Jason murmured, and Cass nodded in agreement.

Autumn pursed her lips, the image of snowy mountains vivid in her mind's eye. "In the short-term, what do we need, though? Aeon's not calling back, so we're on our own."

"Well, some of these bracelets, for one,” Cassie remarked. “And then...we just need to be ready to fight. If Cody was possessed or something by this Huntsman, there's no telling what he'll be able to do."

"I have a dozen. You can pick the one you like,” Autumn replied somewhat tautly.

"OH! And Enterich,” Cass exclaimed. “We should find him. Find out what he knows."

"Ente- oh! The one who told Air Force Guy to..." Autumn paled a little, going still as she remembered what had happened in the basement. "Yeah. him."

Devin looked to Joe and shrugged. "You get used to this. Someone says, 'loan me a quarter' and they all pace about and discern the meaning of his cryptic words: why does he need the quarter? Who else knows about the bargain of the quarter and why just a quarter? Will two dimes and a nickel suffice? If not, why?" He rolled his eyes and shrugged. "I'm still on break the skull."

"That is definitely the end goal." Cassie nodded again.

"You're also still on, 'That's what she said,'" the third official member of the Jauntsen Inner Circle quipped, a little dryly.

"We train. We pick our bracelets. Then we go to the Old Town Hall and we do what needs doing." Jase's voice was as calm as his features. “Everything after that... comes after that."

"See?" Devin gestured to Jason. "That's my plan. I like that. Let's to the thing."

"Sounds like you don't need anything more than what you've already got." Laughing Joe advised.

"Oh, sure. Lay out a simple, straightforward list of how we can proceed, and we're talking too much. Jason says the same thing, though, and suddenly it's reasonable. Ugh," Autumn huffed quietly. This was not how she envisioned this meeting going. At all.

"That's my superpower." Jase's smile was microscopic, but definite, eliciting a faint, answering smile from his girlfriend.

Cassandra had half-turned away, a thoughtful concentration pinching her forehead. "I think I may know how to get a lead on Enterich...but... Hey Laughing Joe?" She looked up at him. "This is all getting all out of control here, and we're kind of wasting your time now, but I have one more question before we go."

"Shoot." Joe leaned back in his chair, eyes on her.

"Do any of your stories tell you where any of these things happened? Like...the ship crashing, or where your people and Coyote talked, or any of that? Like, are they places around here we could visit? Or those three warriors...anything like that."

"The star boat came down in the mountains to the east, so it's said. Coyote hid it from the eyes of Men... But there's a lot of official looking business going into and out of Glacier National Park. If folks have found it, then it makes sense that's where to start looking." Joe said, frowning as he considered. "As for the other events? They took place hereabouts in what is now called Montana. I've no idea where my people first met the god-men, or where the shining warriors hunted the braves, or any of that."

Cassandra nodded and let her breath out. "Okay, figured I'd ask. Thanks for all of this. It's been a huge help."

"My pleasure." Joe got to his feet, looking around at the four of them, his gaze sober. "Y'all have got a long road ahead. Miles stretching out, not all of them easy ones. You and your friends are welcome back here, though."

The angsty loudmouth of the group got up to excuse himself, assuming the meeting was over, and took up a pen to begin writing something on a post-it there on one of the shelves. He passed the yellow square to Joe, where Devin’s phone number had been hastily scrawled. "If you need to Joe, please, call us. You helped us out, we owe you, big time. We're here." He smiled and shrugged. "And, y'know, pass that to Mary if she’s into gods or whatnot."

Autumn's hands slid from the crown of her head, finding their way into the back pockets of her jeans as she hung back, watching the others. It was an uncomfortable feeling, bringing other people into something that was hers, inviting them into her house and her life… But that was a good thing, right? Wasn’t change supposed to be uncomfortable?

The older man snorted a chuckle, nodding as he tucked the post-it into a pocket. Jason rose from his chair, nodding to Joe, then looked at the others questioningly as if to ask if they were all done. He smiled slightly as his eyes moved to Autumn, studying her expression and posture with his customary intentness. "Are we ready to go?" he asked, both generally to the group at large and specifically to her.

"Yeah," she nodded with a little smile, grateful for the distraction. "I think so. The kids are getting restless. Go ahead, I'll be right there."

"This is a nice pen," Devin said on his way out. "Writes good, I'm totally keeping this." Cassie snatched it from his hand with a roll of her eyes and set it back on the desk, pushing Devin out of the room. "Hey! C'mon!"

"Haven't we stolen enough from the Indians?" Cass asked him archly. "Come on." She took his arm and escorted him from the back room back into the building proper, where he immediately began hitting on Mary, much to Cassie’s chagrin.

"Thank you." Jason said quietly to Joe as he stepped after the bickering pair. Casting a glance at Autumn, he added. "I'll be outside." before following Devin and Cass from the room.

Joe turned to Autumn, his gaze inquisitive. "Something on your mind?"

"So, listen, I know that was a lot," she began, smiling as she stepped forward. "And like they all said, thanks for this. Everything's kind of been dropped in our laps, and we really have no idea what we're doing. Which, I guess, is kind of obvious."

The leathery face creased in another one of those beaming smiles. "You're handling it well. Think I was half as composed when I was tapped to be medicine man and told all this stuff?" He raised a hand and grasped Autumn's shoulder. "Your ancestors are watching you, and they're proud, girl. Take it from one who knows."

Oh, god. I am not going to cry in front of this man. Nope. Not happening. "Thanks," she breathed, her eyes brightening with emotion. "And, you know. I'm, um. I'm glad you were his friend. He didn't have a lot of those. So. Yeah. I guess that's it. I'll talk to mom tonight, and..." Sighing, Autumn licked her lips. "And deal with the rest as it happens. But at least now we all know we're not totally crazy, right?"

"Well, not for believing in Light and Darkness. We might still be crazy for standing against it - but then, someone's got to." Laughing Joe said, his gaze more serious. "You be sure to stop by and let me know how it all turns out, once you win, hey?"

"Yeah." She nodded, pushing the hair back from her face. "Yeah, I'll be sure to do that. Listen, um. Would it be really weird if I gave you a hug?"

"It'd be weird not to." Joe laughed, opening his arms.

Relieved, Autumn embraced the old man who'd been a friend of her grandfather's, and who'd given them more information than she could've hoped. It was exactly the kind of hug she'd expected from someone with his name, and exactly the kind she needed- warm and restorative. They talked for a few minutes more, with the youngest Kavanagh asking Joe a few more personal questions- how her grandfather had come by the lockbox, how they’d become friends, and finally... how to pronounce his name, which she sheepishly admitted she’d avoided on purpose. By the time Autumn headed out to join her friends she was smiling again, and glanced down the sidewalk toward the fast food restaurants. "So," she asked. "Anybody hungry?"

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Fic closed and wrapped.  +3XP for all participants.  Not only was good fun RP had, secrets were uncovered and the puzzle is almost a complete picture, which accounts for 2 of the xp  A bonus point is added for a fast-paced, lively IC chat and a timely wrap.  This fic took a lot less time than it might have otherwise.


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